Lanercost Priory, Cumbria – St Mary Magdalene (again)

On Saturday 19 August 2023 we drove up to the Military Road and headed west. We ended up at café next to Lanercost Priory. The menu didn’t say that breakfast was only available until 1100 (it was now almost 1200), but the chef said he/she would make us waffles and bacon – “must be in a good mood” said the lass on the till.

We walked next door to St Mary Magdalene church and the Priory – I blogged the church in 2015, nice to visit again – www.northernvicar.co.uk/2015/06/15/lanercost-priory-cumbria-st-mary-magdalene/

This time I didn’t get decent photos of the exterior or interior of the church, and we managed to keep J away from the booksale. There was a lovely atmosphere in the building, although I do wish that tourist hotspots like this would be used as a focus to get visitors out to other, less visible, churches. I would also like to develop some material telling the visitors about Christianity – I suspect the majority have got very little clue what it is all about. It was good to see some work from the local school – be fascinating to do a simple poll as to how many of the church’s visitors could tell the story of the Good Samaritan or that of Jonah.

Last time I photoed the woollen embroidered Dossal by William Morris, which is behind the altar. It was embroidered by Mrs Bulkeley, the wife of the then Vicar, and Mrs Dodgson and Mrs Chapman, wives of previous Vicars, and first hung in the Priory on Easter Day 1887. They had a major restoration programme in 2013 and now have a good display about it too. I wrote last time that “in order to preserve it, the church has put a programme in place to protect the dossal from light, insects, mice and, to quote the book, ‘contamination by candle wax, spillage of communion wine and contact with decorative vegetation and water’.” I dared to wonder how it would work in the face of the flower arrangers. It seems to be OK! Well done.

Last time I included a photo of this window and commented that it “replaces a former window, broken by a football during a kick-around involving the then Vicar’s sons.” I had a comment from a family member telling me that they remember it as a cricket ball. The church leaflet still says “football” – I think we need a Commission to get to the truth!

Much more importantly – this time let me tell you a little about Eva Sydney Hone, known as Evie. Born in Dublin in 1894 she suffered from polio at the age of 12, was educated by a governess, and moved to London just before WW1. Wikipedia notes that her three sisters all married army officers, and were all widowed by the War. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Westminster Technical Institute – one of her tutors was Walter Sickert (I’ve heard of him!). She began designing stained glass in 1933. She worked under Wilhemina Geddes, whose work we have visited in Wallsend – www.northernvicar.co.uk/2013/09/15/wallsend-st-luke/ (that church is open for the Heritage Open Weekends next month – well worth a visit).

There are about 50 of Evie’s windows, 40 in Ireland and 10 in England (the most famous being at Eton). Some nice photos at www.manresa.ie/about/manresa-campus/evie-hone-at-manresa a good article at https://roaringwaterjournal.com/2018/09/23/evie-hone-and-the-modernisation-of-irish-stained-glass/ and more information at

https://artuk.org/discover/artists/hone-evie-18941955 and at

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/evie-hone-1308

The Lanercost connection is the artist Winifred Nicolson who was a friend of Evie’s at the Byam Shaw School. She lived at Bankside Farmhouse on the line of the Wall, and the family seat was Naworth Castle, just down the road. Her grandfather, George Howard, was a friend of William Morris – hence the dosall. Evie died in 1955.

In the north west corner of the church is a cross, which I missed last time I visited the church. I looked it up in “Pevsner” – and found he describes Evie’s window as “mucky”. I will accept his words on the cross-shaft: “Dogtooth decoration runs along its edges. Inscription in Roman lettering, translated: ‘In the 1,214th year from the incarnation … Otto being Emperor in Germany, Philip reigning in France, John in England, William in Scotland, this cross was made.’ It was reused to record the death of a child in 1657. The base stands on the cross north of the church” (Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cumbria; Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, Yale UP, 2010, page 485).

Last time I quoted this memorial. It is worth quoting again. “In this church lies buried Charles Howard Fifth Son of George Sixth Earl of Carlisle also Mary his wife daughter of James Parke Baron Wensleydale, who died at the age of 21 after one year of married love. He mourned for her all his life finding his consolation in sincere and simple piety in unselfish and fervent love for old and young and in a single minded and ardent devotion to the cause of progress and liberty which cause he supported with unwavering steadfastness for 39 years as Member of Parliament for East Cumberland. He died beloved of all AD 1879 aged 65 years. Their son George Howard places this tablet in loving remembrance.” Even the aristocracy know pain.

Then, less than forty years later, two brothers died in WW1 – “the only children”. To quote Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Charlton_(artist): “The Great War brought the pain and suffering of soldiers in battle directly home to Charlton. While he did attempt to record the early days of the war in two canvases painted in 1915 that now hang in Laing Art Gallery, and at Gateshead Art Gallery, nothing prepared him for the tragedy that hit hard in 1916. On 24 June, his eldest son, Lieutenant Hugh Vaughan Charlton of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed on the Western Front aged 32. Seven days later, his youngest son, Captain John Macfarlane Charlton, serving in the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish), a keen ornithologist and author, was killed in action on the first day of the Somme, his 21st birthday. In a poignant canvas, now lost, the two bright young men sit with their grandmother; while in another painting by their father entitled The Brothers H.V.C. and J.M.C., Sandisdyke, two handsome and promising young men with their three dogs look up to the viewer. Heartbroken, the artist painted a posthumous portrait of John that was exhibited in the spring of 1917 alongside Sunset: Cumberland, 28 Sep 1916. The shock of the loss of his two sons on the Western Front was too much to bear and on 10 November 1917, while the war still raged, Charlton died after a brief illness at Banks House, Lanercost at the age of 68. ‘He felt the loss of his two suns profoundly,’ read his obituary in The Graphic.” On a happier note, earlier in his career “he had a job in the Newcastle bookshop of Mr Robinson, a keen collector of the work of Thomas Bewick, ‘the father of wood engraving,’ gave him an appreciation of graphic art. It was here that the budding artist began to imitate the master’s work, much to the delight of two of Bewick’s ageing sisters.”

Let’s finish with a happier face. High on the wall by the Chancel.

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northernvicar July 2023

Our last month in Derbyshire, and we can still find new experiences. Kedleston was a favourite spot during lockdown, but my days of walking “The Long Walk” are over. On Monday 3 July I found they now have a Tramper to hire, so I accepted my condition and enjoyed the ride. Memo to self – reduce speed before seeking to go through a gate!

My brother and I decided we needed a day’s jaunt round Lincolnshire to do the railway lines I should have done over the last seven years, and I managed a day in London to do HS1 and the western end of the Central Line.

Two visits to The Christie in Manchester for chemotherapy – on both occasions delays in the blood department meant several hours of waiting. I wish they were as good at doing bloods as they are at doing gardens!

We ended our time in Derbyshire with afternoon tea at Oakhill in Cromford (a lovely 60th birthday present that needed to be used) and lunch at Croots in Duffield (which has always welcomed us).

Moving was stressful. These days firms do a video survey, and seem to think that is enough – even when they get the contract. Do not complain about the number of books you have to move if you haven’t come and seen them! We got there in the end – northernvicar is northern again. So here is Hadrian’s Wall at Heddon (in the pouring rain), and the signal box at Hexham.

The final train ride of the month was a trip from Hexham to Manchester. I had forgotten how gorgeous the line is from Hexham to Carlisle – there will be more photos as time goes on.

Posted in Northumberland, Personal, Railway interest, Roman | 1 Comment

northernvicar June 2023

The Ecclesbourne Railway have done a superb job with a disabled access coach – other railways, please take note. We had a visit on Sunday 4 June, and I got on the footplate at Shottle.

We went to Hardwick Hall on Monday 5 June, meeting our friend John. It is rather amusing that he was my Best Man forty years ago, now he gets free admission as Julie’s “essential carer”.

Then a series of train trips as I went to and fro to Manchester for various hospital jollies.

We managed a week in Wales, and called in to the Roman City at Wroxeter en route. I had listened to an English Heritage podcast about their revamped visitor experience at Wroxeter. They hadn’t done a huge amount to the museum, but they had some lovely things on display. There was also a lad with some replicas, and it was fascinating to talk to him. I grabbed the audio guide, and that was good. Simple to use – point at the sign and you get the introduction, then press A, B, or C to get the curator, or the archaeologist, or some Romans. There were plenty of seats, so I took my time and listened to a legionary, a rich woman, and the slaves – we forget how much the Empire depended on enslaved people.

Most of the Welsh holiday seemed to be trains – I have a very patient wife! Ffestiniog, Conwy Valley Line, Welsh Highland Heritage, Llangollen (to their new station at Corwen), and the Fairbourne.

When we got home, my roses are gorgeous and I am now retired. The white one is “Rambling Rector”, the pink one “St Edmund”.

On Saturday 24 June, Julie had a date at the “Bodies in the Library” conference at the British Library – she has blogged about it here. My nephew and I explored London – the east ends of the Victoria and Central Lines, and all the way to Barking Riverside!

Hannah and Amy had a break in Devon. Ilfracombe advertised itself for the likes of me in 1867. I have never been to Ilfracombe.

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northernvicar May 2023

On May 1 May I woke about 0500, listened to the dawn chorus, and thought “I’ve retired!” Time to pack, but also to find some trains. The Severn Valley Railway on Saturday 6 May was a good way of avoiding the Coronation, and the Middleton line took the Bank Holiday Monday.

While we were in Lincoln, back in the last Millennium, we visited the trolley bus museum at Sandtoft. I remember the highlight being fish and chips for lunch on a bus. I had always been meaning to go back, and we managed it on Sunday 14 May (now I’m retired). The museum has developed. Not a huge run round, but each bus makes several circuits in both directions, and you can see how they deal with the overhead wiring and all the technology. They are lovely and quiet – a technology we should have hung on to.

We also visited Blyborough and Kirton churches, and have blogged them separately.

An afternoon trip to Stratford, and a lovely walk beside the Cromford Canal. The blossom has been stunning this year.

I needed to do the Matlock line – bit daft not to have done the one so near home! Then the Churnet Valley and Foxfield Railways on Sunday 28 May.

Then a few nights in Northumberland at the end of the month, with a ride on the Metro. We’ll be moving north in a few weeks.

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northernvicar April 2023

As I come to take early retirement and move from Derbyshire back to Northumberland, there are railway lines in the Midlands that need doing. We start with Steeple Grange.

The most magnificent tree in the Vicarage garden is a gorgeous Magnolia.

Then a trip to Liverpool.

One service at Easter, and Julie preached. Then a few days in North Wales to do some of the narrow gauge lines.

There was a lot of hospital at the end of April, but also an opportunity to photo this roadsign in Stoke-on-Trent.

My final service was on Sunday 30 April. I had only come out of hospital (after a week in) on Friday, and was worried about getting up. It was all a bit much. However it needed to be done. I was staggered by the amount of cars already parked by the Red Cow and people in church. In all we apparently had 150 adults and 12 children there – I had done 120 Orders of Service!. I did the welcome, the talk and the eucharistic prayer, Chris (my predecessor) did the rest, Rachael (curate) read the lesson, Clive did the prayers. Sumsion in F from a decent sized choir. My talk was basically a slide show of 30 glorious years – I used the text Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). It all went smoothly, even though it was an hour and ten minutes. Then down to the Hall, but I was shattered by then!

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Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire – St Andrew’s

Last time we went to St Andrew’s church, Kirton in Lindsey, was when I was at Lincoln Theological College in about 1992 – I remember the kids having a lovely play at a flower festival. Sunday 14 May 2023 we finally went back – visiting as part of the West Lindsey Churches Festival – www.churchfestival.info. The church is in the middle of the town at SK934985, but good luck navigating the one-way system! They have an excellent website at https://www.standrewsunitedchurch.org.uk/, which comments that “when the roads were laid out by the Vikings or Saxons or Romans they gave no thought to parking cars.” It suggests where you might find space. There is a good section on church history  at https://www.standrewsunitedchurch.org.uk/the-church-building-history – and phone numbers for access to the building, but it is a shame if a town centre church like this is usually locked. It also has a page at https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/st-andrew-kirton-lindsey

Interestingly this is a United Church – not just CE (and you can tell by the mass of denominational magazines and posters on display). The Methodists and Baptists have closed their buildings – the Baptist chapel becoming a church hall – and worship together. As a former Ecumenical Officer I would be interested to know how this works. There was also a headline in the parish magazine “Where have all the Vicars gone?”, which seemed a reference to the fact they have been in Anglican vacancy for several years. O well, too late for me to apply!

The name “Kirton” means “town of the church” and there are suggestions that the earliest Christian church (?7th century) could be built on the site of a Roman temple. Tradition has it that St Paulinus preached here. In 1023 the manor and soke was owned by Lady Godiva and her descendent Earl Edwin of Mercia held it until 1066. It then passed to the monarchy, then the Ducky of Cornwall (we’re a long way from Cornwall!). The original church was enlarged in 1140, rebuilt in the Early English style. The Manor was often gifted to nobles who served the crown, but always passed back to the monarch or the Prince of Wales on the death of the Lord or Lady in question. So Queen Isabella and the Black Prince both held it at some point. In 1799 George IV, when still Prince Regent, sold the Lordship of the Manor to discharge his gambling debts to John Julius Angerstein, a wealthy Russian Jew (who’s art collection later formed the basis of the National Gallery). I love the idea of selling a manor and church to pay your gambling debts.

The tower is rather splendid – erected in the 1200s. It has a splendid West Door with dog-tooth carving.

Good noticeboard outside, but why advertise the postcode rather than the website or the office phone number? We went inside and were welcomed – a good number of people there, serving tea and cake, looking around, ringing the bells and playing the organ – a lovely community feel. Locals and visitors together. I’m not normally a fan of coloured fabric chairs, but here they seem to work – and how lovely it is that you can move them around. We couldn’t do anything this welcoming in St Edmund’s round all the Victorian pews. They had some excellent displays – permanent and temporary – and a display of historical records. The work had certainly been put in for this weekend, and it seemed to be paying off.

Nice too that the Eucharistic vessels were out on display on the altar – although we could ask whether we need something which tells people what we use them for.

Sitting and having tea, you notice that the pillars on the north side rest on stones which once formed part of the earlier (?Saxon) church. Nice figures round the top. Looking up into the Nave roof is lovely too.

It is also nice to look up and see the ringers at work. There are eight bells, and a fine Arts and Crafts ceiling.

The Knight is probably Sir Gilbert Waterhouse who served Henry III. He may have been defaced by the Puritans, and was hidden under the floor before being re-installed in 1862. Also memorials to a Vicar’s wife, a Curate, and an RAF squadron. 

At the other end of life we have a font, we have flowers suitable for a wedding (or a Coronation celebration), and a medieval altar to sustain us through life.

We went back outside, and I wandered round to have a look at the Priest’s Door and Tympanum – rather lovely. A very nice visit to this splendid and welcoming church. Julie reminds me I am supposed to record access – she could get in easily in her powerchair (and even easier if we had asked for the double porch door to be opened), and there is an excellent accessible loo.

One cannot leave Kirton without paying a visit to Kirton Lime Sidings signal box – SE950014. This stands on the line from Gainsborough to Barnetby via Brigg, a line which used to have a Saturday-only service, and which now has a once daily train (which was replaced by a bus three days last week). It was built by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway in 1886. It had just started to rain, but we got out of the car anyway. A long drive home, but worth it for a good day out.

Posted in Lincolnshire, Railway interest | 1 Comment

Blyborough, Lincolnshire – St Alkmund

In recent years there has been a West Lindsey Churches Festival in Lincolnshire – www.churchfestival.info. It is spread over two weekends, and I had had plans to do it properly as part of my sabbatical. They produce a nice brochure, so we had a look to see where we could get to. On Sunday 14 May 2023 somehow we went from Sandtoft Transport Museum to St Alkmund’s church Blyborough – SK934945. It is a grade 1 listed church, first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086), rebuilt in 1876/7 by James Fowler of Louth. Wild churchyard, and nice figures on the tower. They had a simple wooden ramp which meant Julie could get in in her powerchair. No loo.

There was a nice buzz about the place and a pretty grotty leaflet on sale – a long-term project for the Church Festival team would be to work with the churches to do decent leaflets. An interesting war memorial and a couple of Victorian windows.

The beam across the Chancel Arch supports a 600 year old crucifix carved by Flemish craftsmen. Interesting arch by the altar.

The one manual organ was built by G.M. Holdich circa 1870. He was born in 1816, one of a clerical family, and served his apprenticeship with the firm of James Chapman Bishop. He built over fifty organs and exhibited at the Great Exhibition. His most famous organ is the “new organ” at Lichfield Cathedral in 1861, but most of his are village organs. It has three flats with gilded dummy pipes and a battlement stop. It has open, dulciana, clarabella, principle and direction (yes, I understood all of that from the poster attached), with ebony stop handles with paper labels, and no pedals. Apparently the Luard family who lived at the hall at the start of the C20 were very musical, one of them being Bertram Luard Selby, who was organist of Salisbury and Rochester cathedrals and musical editor of Hymns A&M (Revised), and is buried in the churchyard. The Vicar in 1900 was John Hallam had been organ scholar of Corpus Christi in Cambridge – makes you wonder how he managed his music in this little village.

The tomb of Robert Conyng died in 1434. His head is supported on a cushion by angels, with a hound at his feet. He is wearing his Mass vestments decorated with water bougets (says the leaflet). The inscription reads “Here lies Robert Conyng, sometime rector of this church, who died 3 May 1434. On whose soul God have mercy.” Wikipedia tells me that “Water-bougets, which are really the old form of water-bucket, were leather bags or bottles, two of which were carried on a stick over the shoulder. The heraldic water-bouget represents the pair.”

Some other interesting lumps of stone, a font dating to who knows?, and a nice hatchment bearing the Luard motto “Prospice” – apparently there is a Browning poem of the same name, it means facing death without fear.

I had a wander round the outside, and rather like all the faces. A lovely little church, and it is good to see maintenance work being done. The church features on this website –  https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/st-alkmund-blyborough, but there is no church website I can find, or contact details on achurchnearyou. One other useful task for a Festival would be to tell us whether churches are only open for this one weekend, or how access is possible the rest of the year.

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Book review: Faith in the City of London

My Beloved Wife – https://northernreader.wordpress.com/ – does the book reviews. Unicorn Publishing – www.unicornpublishing.org – were kind enough to send her some books, and this one is right up my street. “Faith in the City of London”, Niki Gorick, Unicorn Publishing, 2020 – ISBN 978-1-912690-73-2.

I worked in the City between 1984 and 1987 as the librarian for Bischoff & Co, a solicitors’ firm on Chiswell Street (round the back of the Barbican) – which is why I have given you the ISBN of this book. Sometimes I used to go to lunchtime services, often at Wesley’s Chapel or at St Lawrence Jewry. I should have gone more often and I should have explored more widely. More recently I have attended worship at All Hallows by the Tower (a memorial service for a previous churchwarden there who then retired to Bury St Edmunds – we had after service drinkies at Trinity House, the headquarters of the lighthouse people (a place well worth a visit), and in St Paul’s Cathedral. (I will never forget a lunchtime communion there. It was a bit like saying your prayers in St Pancras station, but when they invited us to say the Lord’s Prayer in our own language and so many voices prayed around me in so many tongues, it felt like the day of Pentecost).

I have also visited several City Churches simply to explore – if you search “London” in the side bar of this blog you will find a dozen churches, so that’s about a quarter of them. I had plans to do more, indeed I had often thought that spending a few weeks in London after retirement to visit all the churches, museums, and all those things I would like to do, would be a huge pleasure – my health has other ideas. Ah well! Let’s enjoy this book.

150 pages of stunning photos. Not photos of the architecture, the curiousities, the things I photo, but photos of churches at work and people in them. It is mainly Anglican churches – there are a few photos of the Sikhs meeting at St Etheldreda and the Muslims at prayer in the banqueting room of a City Livery Company – but the overwhelming impression is of White Anglicans at worship. Some of the breadth of the Church of England is captured, but there are a lot of vestments on view.

The photos really are stunning. Niki is obviously a very talented photographer – her website – www.nikigorick.com – is superb. Highly recommended, and I will just have to have some virtual London visits. For this book she took her time getting to know the churches, the clergy and the people – and she has captured wonderful images of worship, prayer, and all the other aspects of church life. I would be very surprised if the church folk who are photographed are not very pleased with the positive way in which they have been portrayed – good too to have the names of the clergy and details of the jobs they do. A few more photos of vergers, cleaners and the other people who keep these churches alive would have been nice.

I love the wedding photo from All Hallows by the Tower, the violinists in St Giles Cripplegate (page 130), and the Roman soldier in the crypt at All Hallows (page 138). I would have liked a few more photos of the churches in context – unless you know the City you don’t really visualise the medieval or Wren churches standing cheek by jowl with the tower blocks next door. A minor quibble!

Nice to have a foreword from the Lord Mayor, he knows how important these churches are. Niki’s preface is fascinating, as is the Introduction by Edward Lucie-Smith. I assume he is the “Jamaican-born English writer, poet, art critic, curator and broadcaster” on wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Lucie-Smith – but I don’t know that for certain. He links the history with modernity and social change, and has written a very thoughtful article. “In religions, as well as in purely financial terms, the ancient City of London is still very much what it has always been throughout its existence – a place where things begin” (page 13).

It would be fascinating to be able to have a 2023 update – how did Covid affect these churches, is the City still full of office workers using their church buildings? Reading the “Church Times” – something I will give up now I have retired – you get the image that the Diocese of London is at war with itself, but I have been in the CofE for long enough to know that the work gets done, and (most importantly) the worship gets offered, day in and day out, whatever the state of church politics.

It is worth noting that the website of the Friends of the City Churches – https://www.london-city-churches.org.uk/ – gives lots of information. Services, events, regular opening times – start here. (It is mentioned on the last page of the book, could have done with more prominance). www.cityoflondonguides.com is also worth a look.

A beautiful and thought-provoking book. Thank you for the opportunity to review it.

Finally a photo (photographer unknown) from facebook which made me smile – and has a London connection. My kind of Bond film!

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northernvicar January to March 2023

Let’s start a new year with a couple of rides on the Great Central Railway.

Then a few days in Cambridge. It was a pleasure to revisit both the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Scott Polar Reasearch Institute – places I often went to as a child. Captain Oates’ sleeping bag brought back lots of memories, and I like the notice in the lift.

Then a couple of local tram/train trips, and another visit to the Great Central. They do a superb breakfast!

Northern Rail had a flash ticket sale – it would have been rude to have ignored it!

I have been off work since October last year due to cancer, and have started the process to apply for early retirement on the grounds of ill health. I did take the United Candlemas service at St Matthew’s, which was a pleasure even though it wore me out. “Dad”, said Doctor Hannah, “there is a reason you are signed off work”.

A week near Settle at the beginning of February was a joy – Routster Cottage, booked through Sykes Cottages. Excellent wheelchair access. Several train trips!

Later in February we went back to Northumberland, and had a lovely day at Vindolanda.

Another trip on the Great Central when they were running the Mountsorrell branch.

Following my cancer surgery last year they have now decided some chemotherapy might slow it all down (it won’t get rid of it, but slowing down is a good thing!). I needed a trip to Manchester so they could install a portacath (a clever pump which sits under the skin and means they haven’t got to stick large tubes in me every time I need drugs). When you have a Northern Rail £10 voucher, why not go from Derby to Manchester via Morecambe?

I started March with another train ride – Cleethorpes and home on the Saturday only service via Brigg.

Fortnightly chemo started in Manchester on 8 March. I was fortunate enough not to have any of the horrendous side effects, but all the treatment makes me very tired. On the good days I tried to do things (and they often seem to involve trains!). Statfold Barn was wonderful, then a Midland Main Line diversion via Corby, a trip on Peak Rail, and my second Northern £10 offer – this time to Scarborough.

Sarah captured this photo of St Matthew’s, and I photoed the daffodils at St Edmund’s. Church life (and worship) continues, even if it doesn’t continue with me!

My favourite news story of the month is that Cambridge University Press, the King’s Printers, have reprinted the Book of Common Prayer, changing “Elizabeth” to “Charles”. Unfortunately they have also changed the mention of Elizabeth I in the ratification of the 39 Articles. This means that the wording has changed from: “Our Sovereign Lady ELIZABETH, by the grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith” to “Our Sovereign Lord CHARLES, by the grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith.” That puts my Order of Service typos into perspective! (It would have been even funnier if it had been Oxford University Press which had made the mistake).

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Clifton Campville, Staffordshire – St Andrew

Friday 31 March 2023 and we drove south of Derby to find three locked churches. Then we crossed the border into Staffordshire and Lichfield Diocese, and our luck changed. St Andrew’s Clifton Campville is in the centre of the village at SK252107, but I managed to find a parking space. Their website is https://measevalleychurches.com/our-churches/st-andrews-church-clifton-campville/. I will give them 10/10 for a website which says when the building is open, has some nice photos and a guide, and says “we have a disabled toilet and a movable ramp to aid wheelchair access through our main doors.” Unfortunately they lose marks because they also have a letter from Nadine Dorries as they were recipients of the “Culture Recovery Fund” post-Covid. How she, or anyone from the current government, can have the gall to write “it is my unwavering belief that culture must be for everyone” when all around us we see cultural activities being under-funded and cut back, is beyond me. Rant over! It is part of the Mease Valley Churches, so there are others to visit (apparently Harleston and Elford are usually open). My photos were taken on my phone as I had left the camera at home and I didn’t even get a photo which shows the size of the interior of the church.

I entered church and was greeted by a young man who turned out to be John the Rector. We had a good chat – when I mentioned I was a month off retiring he asked me if I’d do the job again (the answer is “yes” (most of the time)) – and we compared notes. It is a long time since I was Rector of a multi-parish benefice and knew the constant struggle of small numbers and large buildings. He’s also walking that tightrope between just doing what we’ve always done because it’s what we’ve always done and a small group of supporters want it, and trying new ways of getting people in and part of church life. I had noticed the plan to do something different on Palm Sunday, and hope it goes well. I also like a morning service on 7 May entitled “Cakes for the Coronation” – funny thought that I’ll have retired by then!

The village of Clyfton is first mentioned in a charter of 942, and was held by the King when they compiled Domesday. “There are eight hides with appendages. There is land for four ploughs. In the desmesne are two ploughs and two serfs and 33 villeins and 7 borders. With the priest have 11 ploughs. There ae two mills rendering 10s and there are 50 acres of meadow.” We had driven past what I assume is one of those mills on the way into the village. In 1296 Sir Geoffrey Camville, fourth member of the Camville family, was created Baron Camville of Clifton on becoming Lord of the Manor – and the village took his name.

A little of the C12 church survives – one assumes that anything earlier was rebuilt – and there was major work done in the C13. More rebuilding in the C14 gave us a lovely Gothic church. The guidebook tells us that “The Bishop’s Register entry of 22 April 1366 gives an interesting perspective on the setting up of a Chantry on the south side ‘in honour of the Holy Trinity, Mary the Mother of God, and all the Saints, and for the safety of the noble Sir Richard de Stafford, Kt … it was agreed that the priest should celebrate daily … at the altar of the Virgin at the south side of the church, on Sundays a mass of the Holy Trinity, on Mondays of the Holy Ghost, on Tuesday of St Thomas the Martyr, on Wednesday for the departed, on Thursdays of Corpus Christi, on Fridays of the Holy Cross, on Saturdays of the Virgin Mary, unless a double feast fall on one of those days, or the choir sing the office of S. Andrew.’” It is an interesting question as to how a priest in the wild north of Staffordshire was supposed to work out whether it was a double feast or not, but it must have been quite an establishment. In the Chancel we have some lovely stalls with misericords – it gives you an idea of the numbers here. (The modern choir stalls work quite well in front of them).

Various rectors had other jobs so they would find a mere curate to look after the village. Apparently between 1610 and 1619 three of the rectors, Richard Neile, John Overall and Thomas Morton, were also bishops of Lichfield – which makes you wonder how they got through three bishops in less than a decade. In the Chancel is a rather lovely memorial to members of the Pye family – I love that Sir Richard Pye was “a gentleman of inflexible integrity” and his brother, Baronet though he was, “chose the clerical state”. I must remember that line for my final order of service – “in 1994, I chose the clerical state”. The sculptor was John Rysbrach, who settled in England from Holland in 1720.

In 1830 it was recorded that work had been done on the roof, and that the income to the Rector was £2,500 a year – that was well worth having. The Rector was also reprimanded for grazing his cattle in the churchyard. I can safely say that in my 29 years of ministry I have never been reprimanded for grazing my cattle in the churchyard, though I was reprimanded in Cockfield when my sheep escaped onto the village main street.

The entrance to the chancel is marked by a beautiful screen – gorgeous carving.

The East Window contains C19 glass by Jones and Willis. The Easter Garden is quite something – well done!

You can enter the Lady Chapel from the Chancel or via the screen from the south aisle. The most amazing thing is the tomb of Sir John Vernon of Harleston and Eileen his wife, 1545. Just enjoy it – and remember that once it would have been brightly painted in red, green and gold. The couple themselves, the figures around the base, the animals below them, the smile on the lion –  I want one (though I could never afford it, and we’d never get permission for it).

The altar is 1927 – I’m not sure how it fits with the tomb, but I suppose that nothing really fits with the tomb.

In the south aisle are the remains of a wall painting. I could type out what the guidebook says about it, or I could include a photo of someone’s wonderful calligraphy. (How about giving it a good clean?).

I failed to photo the roof or the nave, but I did photo these three lovely faces on the columns.

Finally we went into the north chapel, a lovely place for a quiet pray. Gorgeous roof, and I wonder how old the graffiti is.

There’s a lot of this church I didn’t photo, but there is a limit to how long one can leave one’s wife in the car. Thanks John for your welcome.

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