Amidst all the frenetic activity, a momet of peace.
I did a tour of 20 villages in the ‘battlebus’ with Dominic on the Loudhailer and me walking about saying hello to the few people I met at Pilham.
I stood for a moment in the tiny church. There are more important things even than a General Election.
At the back of St Andrew’s church in Stainton le Vale there is a printed notice from 29th September 1901 that is witness to the vigour of the Anglican revival in rural England in the nineteenth century. The notice advertises not one but two harvest festivals on the same day, celebrated at 9:30am and 6pm, with another service in the adjourning village of Kirkmond le Mire at 2:30pm and collections for Lincoln and Market Rasen hospitals and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Society. The Rev. Winterbourne invites everybody in the parish “earnestly… to give thanks for the God’s love.”
This notice is an example of the vibrant rural life of the time and is contrary to the image of some dark age that we are led to believe was the case.
Coates is a tiny, sleepy hamlet where one can find one of the finest examples of a surviving mediaeval church, St Edith’s, in the country. Its most striking feature is its’ extremely rare, still intact, glorious rood screen. Most of these screens were ripped out during the Reformation. This specific example only managed to survive because of the hamlet’s remoteness.
Rood is the old English for ‘Cross’. The screen would have been topped with an image of Christ crucified, flanked by Mary and John and latterly replaced during the reign of Elizabeth 1st by the Royal Coat of Arms, which now hangs at the back of the church. It is in this quiet spot that one feels strongly the echoes of centuries past.
From atop the balcony of the rood screen the Exultet would have been sung in Latin during the Easter Vigil, always one of my favorite moments in the liturgy.
Every year on the first Monday in May our parish of the Holy Rood undertake a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk. Regarded as England’s Nazareth, it was founded in the eleventh century when Richeldis de Faverches, a local noble-woman, had a vision of the Holy House where Mary had the incarnation. It was dissolved in 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII and re-founded in the nineteenth century.
It is a very long drive, but there is something magically inspiring about the place. After mass in the Roman Catholic shrine we walked from the medieval Slipper Chapel, where pilgrims took off their shoes to walk the last mile to the old shrine. This was done whilst saying the Rosary and we then visited the Anglican shrine which is a place of real beauty and calm. Inside is a replica of the original Holy House. In my view the Anglican shrine is one of the finest modern churches in the country and certainly worth a visit.
The weather makes today a good day not to be canvassing.
I give you a new commandment
Love one another
Just as I have loved you
You also must love one another
By this love you have for one another
Everyone will know that you are my disciples.
We had previously visited and had a lovely time in Willoughton earlier in the campaign, speaking to the Primary School as they prepared for their own mock election. The church here is not typical for Lincolnshire having been built in the Georgian style.
The inside door was locked so I could not read the guide, but it is very attractive from the outside and has obviously been heavily restored with a lovely flat ceiling and rounded windows. It makes a nice change to the typically medieval churches found in the majority of Lincolnshire villages I have recently visited.
Austin Mitchell and friend
We went to the small hamlet of Snarford. Perhaps surprisingly, we met someone there from Essex, but this tiny, insignificant church is known throughout the country for its magnificent Tudor tombs.
Here lies Sir Thomas St Paul, Sheriff of Lincolnshire and MP for Grimsby who died in 1582. A keen Protestant, he might have had me done away with if we had met in the sixteenth century!
Anyway, he lies here alongside his wife and six children, his effigy beautifully presented. The current MP for Grimsby is Austin Mitchell. I wonder, will he make an equally magnificent tomb for himself?
Whilst canvassing in the tiny, remote village of West Torrington I took the opportunity to visit the church. I stood in this quiet spot not realizing that the first vicar here had been St Gilbert of Sempringham in the twelfth century. St Gilbert was the founder of the monastic order of Gilbertine. How strange that from this very place one of the towering figures of medieval monasticism started his career. I later went back into the churchyard and tried to imagine him there.
Earlier I had found a good guide in the open church of East Barkwith. This particular church has some nice perpendicular features, including the porch and also has a worn but attractive statue of the Virgin and Child above the entrance.
The church of St Nicholas, Searby was open, one of the first of the day. Congratulations. Inside I found another good guide on the history of St Nicholas. His generosity in leaving out stockings for the poor and the fact that his feast day occurs close to Christmas have resulted in him becoming Father Christmas. I don’t know why he became this church’s Saint, but of note there is a fine loft donated by a parishioner.
We travelled to Kettlethorpe. Here survives, in the shape of a gatehouse, the remains of the house of Katherine Swynford. She worshipped here with her second husband John of Gaunt and through him this ordinary lady is the ancestor of Kings, Queens and even Presidents. Her sister Philippa was married to Geoffrey Chaucer and she died in 1403.
One of the locals pointed out to me a cross in the churchyard which some think is a pagan site. How do they know? It is interesting to note what obscure echoes of history survive as well as stories of the great.
I was canvassing Claxby. The church there, St Marys, has some interesting features and provided a good guide to the village. It tells us that it is believed the village rests in a hollow at the foot of the Wolds. Bits of Roman mosaic have been found near the church and a Roman kiln for making pottery was also found.
Claxby is old Danish and the village is mentioned in the Domesday Book. There was a lead mine here between 1864 and 1882. The war memorial gives, unusually, the names of those who returned home. It is humbling to think of this long 2000 year history. All of those forgotten people who lived out their lives quietly and unobtrusively; probably with very few possessions, but with rich traditions, also now forgotten.
We went to church in Market Rasen. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Later, as I was re-reading the words they made a deep impression on me.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice
I know them and they follow me
I give them eternal life
They will never be lost.
Inspired by these words, I called out to my dog William to follow me for a walk. He resolutely stayed sitting still in the warmth.
We campaigned in Marshall’s Yard in Gainsborough. We first contented ourselves with saying Good Morning and talking to those who wanted to stop. I find this is a better approach than trying to hand out leaflets which people usually don’t want.
Gainsborough is, thanks to recent regeneration, a bustling, pleasant place. In addition to this those gems, the Old Hall and parish church are always there. In the afternoon I drove to Durham to take my son back to university. I just managed to get into the Cathedral before it closed. I then ambled around Palace Green and the Old Bailey. On Prebends Bridge is inscribed the following poem which I managed to remember.
Grey Towers of Durham
How well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half Castle ‘gainst the Scot
And long to wander in these venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgotten.
— Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
It is indeed a great delight to wander these quiet and almost deserted places. To listen to the bells of the Cathedral chiming the hours, there is even a distinctive smell to the place that brings back memories of friends now gone.
We stopped to canvass at Thoresway and luckily the church was open. The very words Thors Way point to a time when this part of Lincolnshire was firmly under Danelaw.
Opposite my cottage in Lincolnshire is a buried medieval village. Amazingly, my village had a higher recorded population in 1086, 39 peasants, than at any time until the late twentieth century. The paper, “Change and Continuity” – Rural Settlement in North West Lincolnshire, published by the Royal Commission says that “the remnants of Stainton le Vale are probably of the most extensive medieval excavations in the country.”
But back to Thoresway. My change and continuity book tells me that Thoresway has had a long history of change and acceleration, but the details of which are perhaps beyond recovery. However, the church is delightful. It is small and built from yellow sandstone. From the outside it appears to be a small church but it is impressive and seemingly spacious inside. A kind of Doctor Who Tardis.
We arrived in Scotton. The Church is St Genewys, named after a Bishop of the Clermont Ferrand region in France during the seventh century. My maternal grandmother was French and her family came from the La Puy Clermont Ferrand area in the Massif Central. Several villages in the region, St Genest, St Geneix and St Genes are named after the Bishop.
At the back of the church I found a very good guide to the building which also included a detailed and interesting section on St Genewys’ life. It was said that when he died his face glowed with happiness as though he had seen a marvellous vision.
The immediate impression on entering the church was one of great light and space. There are enormous plain windows which shower the interior with clear light and the nave is lined with slender columns. But perhaps most importantly, the church was open and is well worth a visit.
We went to Reepham. Around the church are some lovely stone houses and the Old Rectory. The main body of the church dates from the thirteenth century and in the Victorian chapel there are the remains of a delightful window. On the wall are listed all the “Incumbents” from 1253 up until the present day. Here is living history.
The reading of today seems to suit these churches.
I am the bread of life,
He who comes to me will never be hungry.
We canvassed through the villages of Keelby, Cabourne, Nettleton and the town of Caistor. I tried to go into the churches to have a look but every single one was locked. We really must get a movement going to keep these beautiful churches unlocked during the day, particularly in the larger villages like Keelby, and have some sort of life going on around and in them.
Today’s psalm is instructive:
Be a well of refuge to me,
A mighty stronghold to save me,
For you are my work, my stronghold,
For your names sake, lead me and guard me.
We started our canvassing in the village of Waddingham. In the village there is the church of St Mary and St Peter apparently built in the middle ages to serve not one but two villages, those of Waddingham and Stainton.
It has a thirteenth century chancel and a fifteenth century tower. Its interior is fairly stark but beautiful and inside we found a lady cleaning. She may know little of this buildings’ 800 year history but she loves and cares for the church.
These Medieval churches are an extraordinary oasis of calm in a changing world.
Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life. (John 6:22-29)