Avebury, Wiltshire – St James

Monday 27 November, and we are on a pre-Christmas break in Swindon. We had arranged to meet Geoff and Anne at Avebury, village with stone circle – NT website. We took up residence in the National Trust café. The museum, which needs a make-over, but is quite fascinating. One of the characters in the story – and the excavation story is almost as fascinating as the Stones – is Alexander Keiller, the marmalade man. We then went into the Manor – a building that dates back to the C16, was remodelled in the C18, and restored in the C20. The NT restored it earlier this century, and did each room in a different period – it was a TV programme in 2011 “To the Manor reborn”. It was decorated for Christmas and had a lovely atmosphere.

We had left it rather late to start exploring the site, and I only managed a walk round a quarter of the stone circle – it was rather muddy underfoot and I wanted to get to the church before it got too dark to photo. I want to come back in the summer, and do the landscape.

Finally I got to St James’ church – SU 100698. There is a benefice website here, but I can’t see any mention of Christmas on it. The NT museum did include a mention of all the local churches on one of their displays – let’s hope that this advertising survives the museum upgrade. All the churches were listed in Avebury church – how about one guide for all of them?

It makes you wonder when the first Christians were in Avebury – and what they made of the stones. Roman Christians from one of the villas nearby? There has been a Saxon church here since around 1000 AD – you can (apparently) see the outlines of two Saxon windows at the west of the Nave. Missed that!

Lovely stone work in the porch too.

The font is Norman, early C12. The carvings show two serpents with twisted tails, their heads turned towards the figure of a bishop holding a crozier.

Under the tower there is an interesting stone coffin, and some wood from the 1636 bell frame. The bells in the tower were restored in 1981. The oldest bell in the tower is the tenor, cast in 1719 by Avebury-born Richard Phelps, master of the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundary 1701-38. The Whitechapel Foundary – website – closed last year. John Taylor’s in Loughborough are still casting – website – I visited there several years ago, well worth a tour.

I liked the window, and the various bits of the church would be good to work out (but it was getting a bit cold and late. The Prayer Tree shows how many visitors they must get – why can’t the CofE get its act together to use its most visited churches to direct tourists to other ones nearby? The Taylor report on the Sustainability of Church Buildings was issued yesterday (20 December) by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport – web link. I shall read it once Christmas is over – but I have just searched the pdf for the words “tourist” and “tourism” and found just three occurrences in its 72 pages, so I don’t expect I shall be very enthused by it! Am I dedicated (sad?) enough to blog a government report?

The Rood Screen is C15. It was removed, probably early in the reign of Elizabeth I, and was carefully hidden behind a lath and plaster covering against the east wall of the nave. It was discovered there in 1812 and since repainted. The wooden screen below the loft is Victorian. It is rather lovely.

Outside there is a rather nice thatched wall. Many decades ago I had “I Spy in the Country” (or something similar) and I was never able to get “10 points” for a thatched wall. Now I need to find the book.

I went back to the café to warm up. Must come back in the summer.



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