Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire – St Mary the Virgin

We finished the day (Sunday 26 May) by going to Tewkesbury Abbey – the parish church of St Mary the Virgin – for Solemn Evensong and Benediction. The Abbey is at SO 891324, with a posh noticeboard, and a website – http://www.tewkesburyabbey.org.uk/. There are lots of things I could have photographed, but on this occasion writing a blog was not my primary reason for going! Last time we came was with the St Matthew’s choir about a year and a half ago – on that occasion I wasn’t here to blog either. I must go back and buy the guidebook! They do have an excellent sheet they hand to visitors, a time line and a what to see. It also lists their services, has a letter from the Vicar reminding us “As you walk round the Abbey using this guide you are invited to explore not only the history of this beautiful building but your own pilgrimage through life”, and pointing out that a £10 donation becomes worth £12.50 with gift aid (in churches were we often seem grateful for a handful of coins, it is good to see a bit more sense).

Work began on the church in 1087 and it was consecrated in 1121 by the Bishop of Worcester assisted by four others (bishops are like buses …). In 1102 the Benedictine monastery is founded by Abbot Giraldus who comes with 39 monks from the Abbey at Cranborne in Dorset. The East End was re-modelled in the 1400s when the Norman wooden ceiling was replaced by Lierne vaulting, the Despenser, Fitzhamon and Beauchamp chantries are built, and the stained glass is installed. The Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471, a pivotal battle of the Wars of the Roses, must have caused difficulties.

At the Dissolution the townspeople purchased the church for £453. 19 years later the lead covered wooden spire blew town – bet they wished they hadn’t bought it. Gilbert Scott led a major restoration in 1875. In 2021 it will be 900 years since its consecration – we must go back for the party.

The service was sung by the Cabot choir from Bristol They were extremely good – and the clergy and servers knew what they were doing with incense, sacrament and everything else. As someone who was raised a Baptist, I can’t say that Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is really part of my spiritual life, but I like worship done well – and this certainly ticked that box. It was a privilege to be there. “O thou the central orb” by Charles Wood is worth listening to.

As you can see, looking up is stunning – note the sun, an emblem of the House of York (they won the Battle of Tewkesbury). I didn’t look down and see the brass plaque marking the burial of Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales. I love the altar frontal. The High Altar is made of Purbeck marble, and was hidden in plain sight during the time of Cromwell by being sawn in half and laid on the seats in the Porch. I didn’t note which Chantry was which.

I liked this triptych with King Edmund and his wolf on the front row.

I think this is the so-called Wakeman cenotaph. John Wakeman was the last Abbot. He received a pension in 1539, and then was created the first Bishop of Gloucester in 1541 (I wonder if he returned the pension?). The style of the cadaver is dated a century earlier than the good Bishop. 

Two modern windows, designed by Tom Denny in 2002, mark the 900th anniversary of the Benedictines coming to Tewkesbury. The windows depict Benedict’s rule- “To Work is to Pray”. According to the Gloucester Cathedral site https://www.gloucestercathedral.org.uk/history-heritage/architecture/stained-glass/the-twentieth-and-twentyfirst-century–6538.php  there is a lot of his work in this area.

Enjoy these lovely carvings.

The sun was shining as we left. We dined in a pub just across the road, and drove back to our Stables residence.

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Deerhurst, Gloucester – Odda’s Chapel and St Mary the Virgin

Deerhurst is a small hamlet just into Gloucestershire, and has two fascinating churches which we visited on Sunday 26 May. Odda’s Chapel SO 870299 is an English Heritage site – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/oddas-chapel/. There is evidence of Roman and Saxon occupation in the vicinity, and the parish church is part of a C7 Abbey. The existence of this chapel was unknown until 1865 when it was discovered by the Reverend George Butterworth. He gets his picture on the EH display board, and I love the idea that when he meets St Peter this will be the first thing on the list. There was an entry in the medieval chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey which described a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity that stood opposite the gateway to Deerhurst Priory.

They also had Odda’s Stone, found in 1675. It said ‘Earl Odda had this Royal Hall built and dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity for the soul of his brother Aelfric, which left the body in this place. Bishop Ealdred dedicated it the second of the Ides of April in the fourteenth year of the reign of Edward, King of the English.’ The original is in Oxford.

Earl Odda was related to Edward the Confessor. For a short time he was responsible for the government of an area of SW England. His brother, Aelfric, in whose memory the building was erected, had died here three years earlier. The chapel went out of use in the C13.

I said hello to a lovely squirrel as I walked to the Priory church of St Mary the Virgin. It is many years since I have been here. Two useful websites, http://www.apperley-deerhurst.co.uk/deerhurst-church.html# and https://deerhurstfriends.co.uk/, and a very good guidebook.

You walk up the path, approaching the church from the south, through the floodgates, with Priory Farmhouse on your left. Their garden was looking lovely.

This is an ancient religious site – the oldest masonry dates to about 700. Tradition has it that Eanfrith, a Hwiccian king, had a daughter Ebba who was a Christian – you can read more about them at www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsBritain/EnglandHwicce.htm (we’re in the mid-600s). A century or so later we are (to quite the guide) “on much firmer ground with the family of Aethelmund and his son Aethelric, ealdormen of the Hwicce.” Aethelmund was killed at the Battle of Kempsford in 802. At some point in his youth Aethelric had been to Rome and was impressed by the great churches he saw – “I want my own beside the Severn”. Either Aethelric or his father may have been the representative of King Offa at the Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne in 800. Just think about that for a moment – a group of people planning a Coronation remembered to invite some chap from Wales, the letter arrived, and someone was sent. How about I retire and go and retrace the journey? It is probable that both Aethelmund and Aethelric are buried at Deerhurst.

Alphege, c953 to 1012, was professed monk at Deerhurst, then went to be a hermit at Weston, near Bath. He then became Abbot of Bath, Bishop of Winchester in 984, and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1006. He was killed by the Danes in 1012 – the first Martyr of Canterbury. Four years later the Treaty of Deerhurst made peace between English and Dane (and said how much tribute the English should pay to Cnut’s army. In 1017 Cnut (Canute) became King of all England. Edward the Confessor gave Deerhurst to his favourite foundation, the Abbey of St Denis in Paris. By 1100 the pre-eminence of Deerhurst had been overtaken by Evesham, Tewkesbury and other nearby abbeys. English Kings were not too pleased that the revenues from Deerhurst were going to the French, and Henry VI confiscated the lands and gave them to his new foundation of Eton College. In 1440 it became a simple cell of Tewkesbury Abbey.

Priory Farmhouse was the east wing of the medieval cloister, and you enter the church through the west door. The tower is pre-Norman (though there are several building stages and a C14 opening at the bell stage), and the west door is C14 (though you can see traces of the Saxon arch).

When you enter the light, high church, your eyes are drawn to the left, to the amazing Saxon font. It is the finest Saxon font is existence says the guide, and I don’t think I’d argue with that (though the pedestal of the one in Rothbury gives it a run for its money). It was discovered about 120 years ago being used as a drinking trough in a local farm. It was brought back to the church and reunited with its stem which bears the same pattern.

There is something amazing about an Incumbents Board that goes back almost a thousand years.

This is a church which would give an architectural history shivers down the spine – I love that some of the Saxon masonry is still visible. There is an amazing sense of continuity – no doubt the world of Conquest and tyrants and Black Death and Dissolution seemed just as godless as the world of Brexit and Boris.

There will also come a time when plastic chairs are no more.

Say hello to these Saxon faces. Originally they were on the outside of the door, and at some time were covered in plaster. There is a drawing of the church with two strange knobs either side of the door. During the C19 they were de-plastered, and moved inside.

I went outside where you can see the shape of the apse (this is what Ponteland would have had), and high on the wall is the Deerhurst angel. Nice to know he/she/it is looking down on us.

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Croome, Worcestershire – Hall and St Mary Magdalene

Croome is a National Trust property not far south from Pershore, so we headed there on Sunday 26 May. The car park was filling up as we arrived, and there were queues to get in. However they soon sorted us, and the chap went to get the wheelchair accessible buggy. He drove us down – quite a way through the Park. When we got to the House we were introduced to the stair climber. It worked.

The landscape and the house are the product of the vision (and money) of George William, 6th Earl of Coventry (1722-1809). He employed Capability Brown to the do the landscape and Robert Adam to do the house. Adam has returned from Italy two years before he started designing Croome in 1760. The old house was used as a template, and was altered and extended in the Palladian style. My NT guidebook tells me this is “named after the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, whose work aspired to the symmetry of classical temple architecture.”

Once inside we found a house which was empty, but they had done some interesting things with it. The Main Hall and Billiard Room are welcoming spaces, full of bustle and nice volunteers, then into the Long Gallery. The fact that there is not lots of ‘stuff’ means you appreciate the ceilings and fireplaces.

In the Saloon they had Croome Court, Worcestershire by Richard Wilson, circa 1758, and the current view by Anthony Bridge (and a display of other works by him). A fascinating display.

The next room had painted plasterwork, and Garniture by Amy Jayne Hughes, a display of ceramic work as a response to the porcelain collection in the next room. The golden box was an interesting display – enough to be interesting, but not overwhelming.

There was a tapestry by Grayston Perry, with a message about the class divide, the haves and have nots. I did wonder what it says about privilege that it costs £33.40 for a family to come and see it.

Sadly Julie couldn’t get upstairs to see the Worcester Embroiderers’ Guild exhibition, which she would have loved. Will we ever get to stage where, when taking buildings on and spending money on them, we will include the installation of properly lifts. They did it at Kew Palace, so it can be done.

Even more annoyingly, she couldn’t get downstairs to the café. We used the stair climber to exit the property and walked round the back. I went up to the Rotunda, but the paths were not really Julie-friendly, and the weather wasn’t brilliant. We buggied back to Reception.

After a sandwich for lunch, I walked down to the Church – SO 886450. Although the property is in the hands of the NT – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome – the church is cared for the by the Churches Conservation Trust – https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/visit/church-listing/st-mary-croome.html. I’ve just found the church page on the NT website – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome/features/st-mary-magdalene-church-croome – which is great.

The original church was destroyed by the 6th Earl when he rebuilt the house, and this new one was designed as an ‘eye catcher’ by Capability Brown. There is something typical about moving the convenient church further away just so it looks better!

Robert Adam designed the interior – as the website says: “the church is a perfect fantasy of the period, with elegant Gothick windows and plasterwork, pulpit, communion rails, commandments and creed boards.”

Some of the monuments were transferred from the old church, but it is difficult to work out which Baron Coventry was this. The first one is John, 4th Baron, 1654-87. I like the way his hand is reaching up to a the bosom of the lady.

This is Mary Craven, who married Thomas, the 2nd Baron, in 1627 and died in 1634. He lies nearby, looking like he needs a pillow. He died in 1661. Then I did the maths and realise that she died after they’d been married for only 7 years, and he was younger than me when he expired.

I think this is the first Baron, died 1639 or thereabouts.

I have to say that this was not up to the normal standard of CCT presentation. There was no guidebook, no cared-for displays, and no real interpretation. But the church was buzzing. It is the a convenient stop on the long walk from the NT Reception down into the Park, and practically everyone stops, wanders in, wanders round, and wanders out. I suspect that someone from the NT unlocks and locks – and that’s about it. There should be a proper display about the church, this is an ideal to location to advertise other CCT churches nearby – not just with a pile of leaflets, but with a proper display. Surely there could be a link with the Diocese of Worcester to advertise other nearby churches worth visiting. Is it too much to hope that there could be something which explains the faith that meant this church was built?

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White Ladies Aston, Worcestershire – St John the Baptist

We went on and turned off the main road to see St John the Baptist, White Ladies Aston – SO 922527. A small hamlet, a little village church, no website that I can find, but an excellent guidebook. A well kept churchyard with some ancient yews. The White Ladies are the Cistercian nuns of Worcester, who held part of the manor. The tower timbers date to circa 1545, the time of the ‘Mary Rose’ says the guide, the North Aisle is 1861, and the porch 1864.

It always seems odd to find bell ropes hanging down into the congregation, and there is an interesting ladder up the back (which I didn’t photo and didn’t try to climb!). The font is “of uncertain date” but has twelve well-cut sides. Interesting Lord’s Prayer plaque.

They had a WW1 at the back of the church – I bet I’ll be visiting churches in ten years time and still find WW1 displays untouched since 2018 – and three Sherwood memorials by the pulpit. The Reverend Henry Martin Sherwood was Vicar here for 70 years. He would have led the restoration of 1861, and died in 1912. His wife, Mary Emma, who died two years earlier is also remembered. You can imagine the work the pair of them must have done – and the changes that they saw.

In the Chancel are two memorials to military men of the C19. Major General John Montresor Pilcher (there’s a name to conjure with) died aged 90 in 1873. He was a member of the Royal Marine Infantry and helped for nine months looking after Napoleon at St Helena. Major General Richard Goodall Elrington died in 1845. He wins the prize for the number of words you can get on a memorial. On a quick read, I thought his wife Louisa only got the four lines at the bottom. Then I realised Louisa is one of his daughters, and “his wife Hannah” is simply recorded in the penultimate two lines. Did she travel with him as he conquered the world, or remain in Worcester waiting for him to return for his “brief intervals of repose.” That would be a fascinating bit of research.

In the East Window is a picture of Christ holding the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This is a 1938 window, designed by Donald B. Taunton, installed by Hardman’s of Birmingham.

Just a village church that most people would have driven past! I’m glad we stopped.

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Spetchley, Worcestershire – All Saints’

After time in Worcester on Saturday 25 May we headed out of town on the Evesham road and stopped so I could visit the Churches Conservation Trust church of All Saints, Spetchley – SO 895540. It is on the right as you drive along the A44, and there is a laybye just past it on the left. Spetchley Park Gardens look worth a visit – https://www.spetchleygardens.co.uk  – and you could park there. The church is one of the Churches Conservation Trust portfolio – https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/visit/church-listing/all-saints-spetchley.html.

In the C9 it was recorded that Coenwolf, King of Mercia, “upheld the law of Christ over the common people” at this place – Spetchley means a glade where moots or local assemblies were held. A century later it is recorded that the monks of Worcester held land here, Richard de Beverborne is recorded as first Rector in 1230. The estate was owned by the Lyttletons, then the Sheldons, and the Berkeley family acquired it in 1606. In April 1987 the church came into the CCT’s care.

The nave and chancel date from the early C14, and the tower was added in the C17. 

Rather a lovely porch, but you walk inside and wonder why it was saved. There’s a C13 chest just inside the door, and a later one in the Chancel. The pulpit is C19, and rather a striking blue – I wonder if anyone agreed to that colour, or the Lord of the Manor just gave them a pot of paint and told them to get on with it.

Then you get up to the Chancel, and look to your right. Then you know why the CCT took this church on.

This is the tomb of Sir Rowland Berkeley (1548-1611) and his wife Katharine Haywood. They settled in a house in Worcester’s Cornmarket in 1574 and he set up a business as a wool merchant and clothier. He was appointed as the first Master of the Honourable Company of Clothiers in the city and in 1584 opened a bank. He became a Magistrate, a Commissioner of the Peace, and then an MP in London at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. They had seven sons and nine daughters – his marriage and their baptisms took place at St Martin’s church in the Cornmarket, where he was churchwarden. Another church to visit!

This is the memorial to Sir Robert Berkeley (1584-1656), their father. He was an eminent lawyer and one of the judges of the Court of the King’s Bench, and he married Elizabeth Conyer by whom he had two sons and three daughters. He added this chapel, and erected the tomb to his father and mother in 1614.

This is his son Thomas Berkeley (1630-1693). At the age of 21 he fought at the Battle of Worcester. On the defeat of the Royalist cause he escaped to the Low Countries. There he married Ann Darrell, a Catholic, and was reconciled to the Catholic church. He was disinherited by his father Sir Robert, but allowed to live here and then at Ravenhill.

Robert (1650-1694) was Thomas’ brother, and succeeded his father while still a minor, his brother having been disinherited. He went on to be Deputy Lieutenant of the County and twice Sheriff of Worcester. He was a keen gardener, lived modestly and gave a large proportion of his wealth to charity. He married Elizabeth Blake.

It is fascinating to wonder about the lives of these people. Did Robert get as much pleasure from gardening as I do? What did he feel about his big brother’s religion – did he like his sister in law? What did their dad think about it all? It would be fascinating to know.

Some other brasses, memorials and Victorian glass.

I went outside and photoed the outside chapel – let’s put the family crest on that too.

I pondered two notices. In the church is this memorial to John Watson, churchwarden for 51 years. On the road outside is a sign to the Soul Sanctuary and Yoga Studio. If the church had had a few more like John Watson, perhaps it would still be in use. Perhaps if as a country we had not turned our backs on the faith of our forefathers, we might cherish these holy places and still use them for worship.

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Worcester – The Commandery

We spent Saturday 25 May in Worcester, and went to the Commandery, a Civil War museum that we hadn’t been to for many years. They had events on for Oak Apple Day, but the place was not exactly buzzing. They could do with having a trip to the Civil War centre in Newark and getting some new ideas how to liven the place up. Two things lifted the place for me – (1) an excellent café, (2) the painted chamber.

Before we look at those, here is the funeral pall that is supposed to have covered the coffin of Prince Arthur, first husband of Katharine of Aragon and brother of Prince Henry (later Henry VIII). He died in Ludlow in 1502, and is buried in the Cathedral here in Worcester.

The Painted Chamber is in the wing of The Commadery which was originally built as the infirmary to the Hospital of St Wulfstan. People in medieval times relied on prayer and the good will of God for their spiritual well being and their physical health. You can imagine people being carried to this room to pray for healing and forgiveness as their lives drew to an end. They would have recognised all the saints, and would have prayed for their intercession. The work came to an end at the Reformation, and the wall paintings were hidden with whitewash and the building sold to a private owner. They were re-discovered in 1935 – and I hope their colours will last now they are on view.

The first picture depicts the martyrdom of St Erasmus. He is lying on a trestle table with his hands tied behind his back, wearing only a bishop’s mitre. His intestines are being wound onto a windlass (apparatus for moving heavy weights) Four onlookers stand behind Erasmus, the third bears a sceptre and could be Emperor Diocletian. Erasmus was the Bishop of Formiae, Campagna, Italy and was martyred in 303 – he’s also known as St Elmo (as in fire). The patron saint of sailors (he continued preaching after a thunderbolt landed beside him, so protects sailors out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a storm), and he’s good for prayers when you’ve got abdominal problems. I think it is Peter with his keys next to it.

The martyrdom of Thomas a Becket is next to him. I shall never forget a wonderful candlelit tour of Canterbury Cathedral on an evening of the Precentors’ Conference, with members of the Cathedral choir, and an opportunity to pray by the place of his martyrdom. I didn’t make a note of who the next picture shows.

Next is St Michael weighing human souls, and the Blessed Virgin Mary next to him is adding her prayers, her rosary, to the scales to save a soul. Imagine lying here, waiting for your End, knowing that judgement follows in the next few hours.

Then we have images of Christ.

St Etheldreda is pictured wearing a crown, carrying a crozier, and with a book in her right hand. She was daughter of King Anna of East Anglia, eventually became a nun and founded the monastery at Ely. She died from a tumour on her neck – no doubt others did likewise in this room.

Finally, St Gudwal was a C7 ecclesiastic from Brittany – so he is dressed as an archbishop wearing a mitre, and carrying a staff capped with a patriarchal cross (with two horizontal bars). St Dunstan, Bishop of Worcester 957-960, brought his relics to Worcester from the monastery in Ghent where they had been taken for safe-keeping during Viking raids on Brittany.

In a world where we are obsessed with Brexit,  ignoring the millions living in poverty and relying on food banks, you do wonder if we’ve learned anything. Henry VIII got rid of the monasteries without replacing them with anything to care for the poor and destitute. We wouldn’t be that stupid, would we?

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Hanbury, Worcestershire – St Mary the Virgin

Friday 24 May and we are en route for a few days in Worcestershire. Hanbury Hall NT property is on our way – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hanbury-hall-and-gardens. The Vernon family moved to the estate in the 1570s, and Thomas Vernon started work on this house in about 1706. He had married Mary in 1680, became an MP, and wanted a Country Estate. The house was designed by provincial architects and craftsmen, but the interior decoration is by James Thornhill. He worked at Hampton Court, Greenwich Hospital, St Paul’s, and did this work in about 1710. The story is of Achilles, but there is a political theme – Achilles is Sarah Churchill, and Queen Anne could be the lady in green.

We could wander anywhere in the house, and they had a tablet for the things upstairs Julie couldn’t get to see. Lovely ceilings, furniture, and volunteers who would talk and explain. The family lived here until after the War, then the NT took it on (mainly because of the paintings).

I also had a wander round the garden – this is rather lovely.

We drove a mile or south to the village church of St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury. They have a good website – https://www.hanburychurch.org – although I can’t see a history page. The church stands on top of the hill, at grid ref SO 954644. There is a car park, steps up into the church, but once inside you find second hand books for sale, and a kettle to make yourself a drink. That’s known as the importance of welcome – and there’s a video on their website which says why welcome matters. Thank you.

The church tower was rebuilt in 1793, the nave is C13 and the north aisle C14. Both aisles were rebuilt in the C18. The box pews were installed in 1872.

The Chancel dates to 1860 and is by G.E. Street. Nice Victorian glass. The reredos is in alabaster – interesting portrayal of Judas.

There are various family memorials. This is to Richard Vernon, who died in 1627. Both he and his brother were curates in the area. I assume the second figure is his wife, but she doesn’t seem to be named anywhere.

There are lots of Thomas Vernons – you could work out which is which … There is a huge memorial on the south side which is the Thomas Vernon who commissioned Mr Thornhill to do the painting. His memorial is attributed to Edward Stanton and Christopher Horsemaile. The light was in the wrong place, and the camera had run out of battery power (why did I buy a camera that needs old-fashioned batteries?), so it was back to the mobile.

On the final memorial I photoed is a chap trying to read his book. I want one like this!

I liked the War Memorial window, with a nice image of St Martin. They have done some work on researching their war dead.

The font is C19.

In the north aisle is an exhibition which tells me this is the Archers’ Church. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a long-running Radio 4 serial. More information on the church website – https://www.hanburychurch.org/archers/. I used to be a regular listener. I started when it was on at 6.45 pm, and if I sat quietly I could stay up until it finished. I remember the Ambridge Mail Van Robbery of 1967 – so I was 5. I also remember (a few years later) when one of Shula’s boyfriends said he’d always wanted to make love in a cornfield. She said “there’s a blanket in the car”. Cue the music, Dum-de-dum-de-diddle-diddle-pom. (I was shocked!). There is a superb CD from Colin Walsh on the Lincoln Cathedral organ which includes Barwick Green, the Archers signature tune.

I went outside and enjoyed the view – it would have been a good day for a walk, but I’m still not feeling very fit and I am having to take life a bit more slowly. And we had a holiday cottage to get to!

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Wirksworth, Derbyshire – St Mary the Virgin

Wirksworth is a nearby town, but it is not very Julie-friendly (too many slopes and cobbles). On Tuesday 21 May I caught the yellow bus there (the lovely TrentBarton Sixes that run up and down the A6) and had an explore.

St Mary the Virgin is in the middle of the village at SK287539. It is now part of a 10 church team – I still need to blog Alderwasley, Bonsall, Brassington, Idridgehay and Middleton – and there is a website at http://wirksworthteamministry.co.uk/. At last I have found a church website which welcomes tourists:

We care for the historic church buildings in the communities we serve, and aim to facilitate their use for purposes in keeping with their heritage as sacred spaces. Most of our churches are open each day, certainly in the summer, and for many people visiting and exploring, the “space” that a church can provide is an opportunity to connect with their spiritual “heart”. … If you are visiting the area as a tourist, then you are very welcome to call in. While you are in the Derbyshire Dales then you might like to explore some of the other churches in the area. Details of all of them can be found on the Derbyshire Churches link at the bottom of this page.

They have a decent guidebook, though it’s showing its age, a treasure trail for children, and a Spiritual Journey leaflet, which aims to get you to sit and pray. Well done! They also have an excellent noticeboard. The church was accessible through the north door, and there is a straightforward permanent ramp.

There was a huge amount to photo and enjoy in this church. The Romans mined lead in these hills, and the first illustration to use is the lead miner himself in the South Transept. Known as T’owd man he isn’t Roman, but he’s pretty old. He’s carrying his pick and his kibble (bucket), and was originally in Bonsall, before being moved here in the 1870s. There’s some other ancient stonework in this area.

The oldest piece of stonework is probably this stone lid in the North Aisle. It is dated between 700 and 900 AD, and is thought to be the lid of the tomb of Betti. In the mid-600s Wirksworth was part of the kingdom of Mercia under its pagan king Penda. We came across him as the enemy of Paulinus in Lincoln and murderer of Oswald. His son Peada married Elchfrida, daughter of King Oswui of Northumbria – and it was agreed she could continue to practise her Christian faith. In 653 she came south with four monks, Adda, Betti, Diuma and Cedd. Cedd ended up in Lastingham in Yorkshire (must visit there again), Diuma at Repton – http://www.northernvicar.co.uk/2017/03/04/repton-derbyshire-st-wystan/  – Adda doesn’t seem to appear on google, and Betti apparently founded the church here. It would be lovely to think this is Betti’s coffin lid. It was found two feet below the surface, with the carving downwards, when the pavement in front of the altar was being removed in 1820. It was over a stone-built vault containing a large human skeleton. These days they could have dated it, and probably worked out if it came from Up North.

At the top left you have Christ washing the disciples’ feet, and then the Crucifixion (note the lamb and the four symbols of the Evangelists). Apparently this lamb, as opposed to what the leaflet describes as ‘the lively Agnus Dei of later times’, was banned by the Council of Constantinople in 692 – does that help date the stone? The next scene is the Blessed Virgin Mary being borne out for burial, which apparently has the posh name of koimesis. St John leads carrying the sacred palm, the other apostles carry her body on a stretcher, and the High Priest who seized hold of the bier is being dragged underneath. The leaflet tells me this is the earliest known portrayal of this story in Western Art (and who am I to argue?). On the right of the top row we have the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2). The Hand of God points down from above.

Apparently (according to the C5 Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle) Cain, Herod and Judas Iscariot are past redemption (and are seen burning in a brazier). Then we have the Ascension of Christ, the Annunciation, and Mission – Peter in a boat (signifying the church), Mary holding the Christ child, who is holding a scroll and pointing to Peter. The idea being that the word of God is transmitted to the Gentiles through Peter and the church – or you might think of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise: “Have you got the scrolls?” “No, I always walk like this.”

These figures are in the North Transept, and this font is C13.

The church is huge. The work of the Early English period (1250-70) includes the bottom of the tower. The rest of the tower is later, from the Decorated period, then there’s various Perpendicular period, and then the Victorians did quite a lot of work. You can imagine what it would have been like before the Reformation, full of colour and incense.

Let’s start at the East end. We have altars, tiles, memorials and a wonderful chair.

There are various lovely monuments, and I’ve tried to work out which is which. I think this is the tomb chest of Anthony Lowe, who died in 1555. He was Lord of the Manor of Ashleyhay and Alderwasley, Gentleman of the Bed-chamber and Standard Bearer to Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary. On the wall behind are the Royal Arms of Henry VIII.

In the North Choir Aisle we have two chest tombs. The left hand one is Ralph Gell who died in 1564. It is an alabaster tomb, and it shows Ralph with his first wife Godith Ashby and his second Emma Beresford. Note the long gown with square-cut sleeves, the circular caps of the women, and the dresses with bows. On the north side are three sons and five daughters, on the south five daughters and one son. Were all 14 his? The right hand one is his son Anthony who died in 1583. He was a lawyer in the Inner Temple in London, and founded the Free School and the Almhouses in Wirksworth.

On the north wall of the Sanctuary is a tablet to John Lowe of Alderwasley, who died in 1690. I can’t read the name on my second photo, and I can’t find out more about those commemorated in the brasses.

There are long memorials from both World Wars. You can imagine how many men marched away from this little town, and never came back.

There is a lot of Victorian glass – some by George Gilbert Scott, others by the School of Edward Burne Jones. Just enjoy the pictures – it includes Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, the Resurrection, a window with Nativity and Resurrection, and the Good Shepherd.

There are two modern Te Deum windows, early 1960s. The sun was in the wrong place, and the small images are rather nice. I like swallows on telegraph wires, and how many bicycles are there on stained glass windows?

The final three photos give an idea of the size of this church. It was rather lovely to have it to ourselves. There is plenty to see, and I could have given you a lot more photos.


I walked down to the station – the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway – had an ice cream and sat in the sun – then decided I would catch the dmu down to Duffield rather than the bus. First class comfort, and a seat in the cab. A chance to chat to the driver, and to Scott from my congregation who is in training. A delay in getting the bus south from Duffield due to the influx of school kids, so someone else had to sing Evensong at Derby Cathedral.

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Binsey, Oxfordshire – St Margaret of Antioch

After Deb and I had coffee in Oxford we drove to Binsey, a hamlet just outside the city. There are a few buildings beside the Thames, and the church is about 1/2 mile to the west (within sound of the A34 Oxford bypass) – grid reference SP 485 080. Apparently crop marks show that there were houses between the two. The benefice has a website at https://www.osneybenefice.org.uk/, but there is little about the church’s history on it. In the church there is a laminated A4 sheet, and that’s it. Surely there is someone in Oxford who could help them produce a booklet which would give us visitors the information we want, and earn the church some money.

St Margaret of Antioch is a C12 church, rebuilt a century later. The South Porch was also added in the C13. Before we enter the church, let’s have a look at St Margaret’s well, which is dedicated to St Frideswide. We have met Frideswide before, have a read about her life at http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/oxford/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8403000/8403977.stm

Tradition says she fled to Binsey to avoid a Mercian Prince who wanted her. He was struck blind at the gates of Oxford, but she healed him with water from this spring. The spring was made into a well, and became a centre of pilgrimage. Louis Carroll wrote about a Treacle Well – Wikipedia tells me that the medieval sense of the word ‘treacle’ is ‘healing ungent’. I can’t say I’m an expert on Louis Carroll, perhaps I’ll find time when this MA is over to sit in the sun and read Alice in Wonderland.

A nice carved door arch, and a simple church when you got inside. Worth looking up into the roof.

Some nice glass at both west and east ends, and an interesting altar.  Lovely Annunciation.

The Piscina has a drain down the front, which is a bit unusual, and Deb decided to have an investigate of the font. The Royal Arms is of the reign on Queen Anne, and there was one memorial on which they got their monies worth – plenty of names!

I liked the harmonium. When I was at Offord (back in the mid-1980s) Don used to play the harmonium at our little chapel. He would go into overdrive for “earthquake, wind and fire”, and then reign it in for “still small voice of calm”. That is a very long time ago! Nice that some friendships go back that far.

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Darjeeling via Oxford

On Wednesday 5 June I am giving a paper at our MA Conference in Derby. My title is ‘The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – Toy Train, Relic of the Raj, World Heritage Site’. I am excited, Laura is excited (she wants a trip to Darjeeling), everyone else manages to look interested!! It should be a fascinating day. Julie is speaking about Eva Peron. (One of our early dates was a trip to London in January 1981 to see Evita. It is a little depressing that most of our fellow students were not born in 1981). Details of the Conference are here –
https://uglypoliticsfragileworld.wordpress.com/ – all are welcome, and it’s free.

Adrian Shooter, the former Managing Director of Chiltern Railways, has a house called “The Beeches” in Steeple Aston. It has a circle of 2 foot gauge track and a Darjeeling Railway locomotive. He is about to move, so this was the last time his railway was open, and people were invited to visit. I am a member of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society so got a ticket – thank you!

I drove from Derby to Leamington, then caught the train to Oxford. I met Deb, who we first met when she came up to Newnham, Cambridge, in 1981. (She later defected to the dark (blue) side). We walked in to the centre and she showed me the pavement of flags outside New Road Baptist Church – a (very) inclusive church, here showing their support of Oxford Pride. I hope I lead an inclusive church, but I must admit that I did not know there were quite so many variations of how people identify their gender and sexuality.  After coffee we went and collected the car and drove to Binsey, a hamlet just outside the city (and I’ll blog that church next).

Deb dropped me off at Oxford station. They had a signal failure, so it was all rather chaotic. I had time to photo an Azuma – today is the last day of HST working on the GWR. I caught the local train north, and that was delayed as well.

When we arrived at Heywood one of the other chaps in the carriage had organised a lift to The Beeches, and I went too. It was a laid back welcome and it was great to be in the presence of a Darjeeling loco.

I had a ride, then enjoyed the BBQ. They tried to get the railcar to work.

Then there were opportunities to take some photos as the train ran round the loop.

I also had an explore of the sheds – including a set of Rail Mail trucks from the Post Office Railway.

My final photos were taken as the train ran round the garden. I was a good visit!

I walked back down to Heyford station, which is in rather a beautiful spot beside the canal. Quickest to go south to Oxford, then north again.

I was back in Derby in time to do an evening at St Matthew’s as part of our Bicentenary celebrations. 200 years of Railways – starting with the Mansfield and Pinxton in 1819, and ending with the demise of the HSTs. More details of Bicentenary celebrations at

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