Friday, 19 December 2014

St Peter & St Paul, Salle - Intimate Details

A Human Scale...

The fifteenth century church at Salle is massive. It is also very impressive, being universally recognised by experts as one of the great parish churches, not just of Norfolk, but within England itself. As I sit down to write about this hugely impressive place, then, I am mindful of the pantheon of writers that precede me: Pevsner, Betjeman, Cautley, Mortlock and Roberts, Simon Knott. What on earth could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been noted by these luminaries? The answer is, I'm going to focus on the small, intimate details within and around the church; a few of the things that, for me, 'humanise' this grand space. 

Paws for Reflection...

In a monumental space such as the interior of Salle, it is very easy to forget to look down. Both, overtly and subliminally the building is designed to entice you look heavenwards. However, if we look at the floor here we see something very interesting. Look, some tiny kitten's paw prints impressed within the fired floor tiles. Imagine the scene: in the shed, the freshly made tiles are laid out to dry. Oblivious to human endeavour a gaggle of kittens pad about on the still-wet tiles. A shout goes out perhaps:
"Get off them damned tiles!"

They scatter, leaving those of us with a mind to look, imagining their presence. It isn't just humans who leave their mark here then - although leave their mark they do...

"Remember Poor Joseph"

If you walk along the south aisle of the church and turn right into the chapel, you will see a large plain glazed window, immediately to your right-hand side. If you look upwards, you may be able to distinguish a small scrawl of writing etched into one of the panes. If you have binoculars or, as I did, a zoom lens, then you will be able to decipher a message written on May 12th 1802 (see above). It reads:
'Remember poor Joseph that painted the Church'*

So there we have it: 'poor' Joseph's humble, workaday contribution to the maintenance of this church memorialised in the window. Who wrote it though? I think it unlikely that it was Joseph himself. It is quite likely that he was illiterate. Indeed, the use of that word 'poor' to describe him could refer to him having a 'learning difficulty'. It would be interesting to examine the parish accounts for the period in order to establish what kinds of work were being undertaken in the spring of 1802. Perhaps some windows were being repaired and a glazier, having an affection for Joseph, decided to reach for his diamond and leave this for posterity. The Salle archive is held at the Norfolk Record Office. Some further work might even reveal the full identity of Joseph, a man whose story is woven into the fabric and history of this place. 

Hands that Carved...

At Salle, only the lower panels of the medieval rood screen survive. However, unusually, this does include the doors into the chancel. Within the spandrels (the almost triangular space between one side of the outer curve of the arches and the framework, pictured above), the legend of St George and the Dragon is depicted. 

The leaping horse in perpetual opposition to the fire-breathing dragon. Both figures lovingly carved by a steady hand; and behind that hand, a medieval mind. A man with assumptions and an outlook specific to his time and place, just as ours are to our own specific context; a medieval man, with different 'mental maps' to ours. I wonder, if we were to stand by his side  as he carved, asking him questions and getting to know him - would he seem 'other' to us, or would he be strangely familiar? And as I look at these two charming figures I am reminded of a wonderful little graffito I discovered at the nearby church of Marsham. Allow me to digress a little if I may...

© Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey - NMGS website
This scene was found low down on a pillar and is a wonderfully childlike depiction of a George and dragon. An interesting detail to note is the fringe at the bottom of the dragon figure. This is similarly represented in medieval manuscripts, and was carved by someone who had obviously seen plays where the dragon's costume would be adorned with tassles. Although far less accomplished that the Salle carving, they both have a charm that engages my imagination as well as my intellect. 

Eyes that See...

Continuing the theme of hands that carved, here is a superb medieval graffito, etched into the stone of a buttress. As you might imagine, the effects of the climate tend to make examples of external medieval graffiti archaeology a rare thing indeed. This is a very fine - and rather large! - example. Stylistically, the 'hand' is fifteenth century. It is an extremely accomplished piece of carving. Thus far, we haven't managed to decipher it, but it just shows how much there is to discover, 'as we pursue the many shades of meaning to be discovered in wonderful old places' (paraphrased from the Ragged Ramblers founding charter)

Now Go See For Yourself...

Finally, if you would like to see the view from Salle's massive tower, here is a previous post where we share this with you

A Tall Story (photos)

Atop a Tall Tower (video)

*I am indebted to Jill O'Shea, from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, for bringing this graffito to my attention

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Breath of Loved Ones

Sometimes it hits home. The first church of the day for Mr. Many Coats and I was All Saints, Horsford. It was a murky morning with smudgy skies and a tang of wood smoke in the air. I made my way through the churchyard gate and walked slowly towards the church. And then I saw this monument commemorating the fallen men from the village; lads who perished during the carnage of the First World War... more than just names on a cold marble monument though - names once spoken, warm on the breath of loved ones, 'Will, Tom, Harry, Reg, Fred, Bert...' 

Standing still and reflecting a while, I feel the terrible loss. It makes me savour the privilege of a day to come exploring things I love. 

Lives of the First World War

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Pond of Evil Aspect

WARNING: Members of the Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers are the UK's leading Evil Pond experts. It has taken us many years of study and training in order to be able to approach these pits of pure despair safely. Please DO NOT attempt to do this without the requisite training and equipment. Failure to heed our advice could have the most terrible - and terrifying! - consequences. 

"Today, I will be looking out for evil ponds Mr. Many Coats."

That was my opening line as I stepped into the Ragged Rambler's van. We had decided that we would be a-roving in north Norfolk and it seemed promising territory for some liquid malevolence. After a considerable drive, we came to a five-ways junction and looked at each other significantly. 

"Five is an evil number Munro" said Mr. Many Coats with a strange look in his eye. I nodded. A short while on, we came to a small hamlet and I noted the presence of a cluster of 'For Sale' signs...
"A sure sign that there be liquid evil in these parts" said I. And so it proved. 

Less than a mile henceforth, along a long hedge-fringed lane I felt the presence of an inky bleakness. I implored Mr. Many Coats to come to a halt. Disembarking from our vehicle we walked a short way back from whence we had come, and there it was. 

As you can see from the image above, we were presented with a category of pond that sends shivers of cold fear down the spine of even the most hardened Evil Pond explorer - an 'Eye of Aunty' pond! 

"Stand back Mr. Many Coats! Stand back immediately!" I implored as my companion began to clamber through the bare-limbed twigidge. Fortunately for him Mr. Many Coats listened, and beat a hasty retreat. I explained that it was imperative that we didn't look directly down into the ghastly depths of the water for if we did a most dreadful apparition would appear beneath the surface and we would find ourselves entranced.

"Indeed, Mr. Many Coats, there are reports of curious folk being enticed to enter the waters of an Aunty Pond never to be seen again." 

With deliberation and great care we assembled our equipment and using a system of mirrors and an automated camera on a specially constructed extension arm (designed by our very own Thadeus Basil-Snapper the third), we were able to procure some images of the watery surface. We are currently in the process of developing these (digital media cannot capture the ancient badness of an Aunty Pond) and hope to share the shocking results with you soon. 

In the meantime, go easy friends and beware those evil ponds. 


Friday, 12 December 2014

Cherish Our Churches - Defeat the Thieves!

I've just read the following plea made by Paul Hodge on the Norfolk Churches Facebook group page and wanted to share it here, as we attract a different demographic. 

"Reward to catch thieves
Lead thefts have more than doubled year-on-year in the Norfolk, Ely and St Edmundsbury dioceses. In 2013, there were 11 attacks, while this year there have been around 25.
Repairing damage done by thieves can cost thousands more than the price of the lead if water pours into ancient timbers and medieval masonry before the theft is discovered.
The EDP (Eastern Daily Press) has launched a £1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of roof raiders.
We are urging organisations, trusts and local authorities to support our campaign and add to the reward and help us snare the thieves.
Do you have information about lead theft? Call Norfolk police on 101. To support our campaign e-mail"

The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers are fully in support of this campaign. We cherish our churches and will do everything we can to encourage people to look out, and look after, them. 

A Plea to our Followers...
As regular visitors here will know, we have our own distinctive approach to heritage. We are often playful explorers of the English tradition of antiquarianism and eccentricity. We 'do different' and because of that we are attracting phenomenal visitor hits, in the hundreds of thousands. Here is a direct plea to our followers: if you live locally, then please spread word about this campaign to protect our churches. If you live afar and want to help protect the treasures that we so often share with you here, then please do invest in this heritage by offering a donation to bolster the reward to catch the thieves. 

In the longer term, one way we can help to protect our churches is to actively engage new visitors and audiences, and share our sense of wonder and love of churches with them. Engagement leads to a sense of ownership; ownership inspires people to act as custodians. It's about time some imagination and creativity was brought to the challenge of relating our ancient heritage to contemporary sensibilities and concerns. At present, many - maybe most! - people couldn't give a damn about our heritage. We need to reach them where they are starting from ie outreach, virtually and face-to-face where possible. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Being Uniquely Us

The 'Tree of Life' window, Sparham Church, Norfolk.
Created by Emma Blount

I'm not saying we Ragged Ramblers always achieve this, but a common set of values does seem to inspire and bring us together as we 'rove in search of historic delectations' (and cake!). Here they are...

Be kind
Be humble
Be tolerant
Be generous
Explore absurdity
Savour laughter
Reveal meaning
Inhabit the present
Let the old inspire the new
Dare to be different
Be uniquely you


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

"Can I Help You?"

Lovely reconstructed Norman door at Barton Bendish

Our party had already encountered an irate man in his dressing gown and pyjamas as we explored west Norfolk, so perhaps it was destined to be, 'one of those days'. Still, the encounter that followed our exploration of the delightful church at Barton Bendish will linger in my memory for at least a day or two (which is quite good for me nowadays!). 

We had got back into our motor vehicle and were pondering our next move when a fearsome looking woman wearing a body warmer, blonde set-perm and driving a range rover pulled up with seething deliberation next to us. She wound down her window and with the kind eyes of Margaret Thatcher, proceeded to stare in our direction. Eventually, and with some trepidation, our driver wound her window down. After a short and deliberately lingering pause, Body-warmer Woman spoke...

"Can I help you?"

Four little words: can... I... help... you? If I hadn't heard her myself I would never have believed that such a seemingly benign combination of words could be delivered with such stony intent. Later, I speculated that the tone of voice could only have been the result of many generations of squiarchical power and entitlement. The tone? Hmm... disdain... condescension... contempt... and still I struggle to evoke the sheer stony distance that Body-warmer Woman conveyed. 

So what had we done to earn such a response. Well, you see, we had transgressed in the most heinous manner. We had partially pulled up onto a roadside green outside the church, having inadvertently failed to notice that the church has a (badly signed!) carpark. 

Although we were polite and apologetic and moved off without any fuss, subsequently, I have had a little fun imagining various responses to her enquiry: 

"Can I help you?"

"Actually, yes you can. We were just having a discussion about the definition of passive-aggressive behaviour. Thank you for clarifying this matter."

"Can I help you?"

"Thank you for taking the time to show concern for our welfare. We had begun to think that the folk in these parts were - let us say - a tadge unfriendly. However, it is clear to us now that we were wrong in making such an assumption and for that we apologise."

"Can I help you?"

"Possibly you can. Referring to the inappropriate conduct of his father-in-law, Arthur Miller once described stupidity as, 'want of empathic power.' Would you agree with this?"

"Can I help you?"

"If you have some toilet roll and some wet wipes, yes. He might look angelic sitting there smiling in the passenger seat with his bobble-hat on, but poor Jonny's gone and buried a necessary!"

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. A gentleman just told us that the west door to this church was described by Pevsner as the finest in England. Is that really the case?"

"Can I help you?"

"Oh thank you! I'll get the cloth and bucket. Start with the windscreen will you..."

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. Can you help us get a sense of perspective please?"

~ Munro Tweeder-Harris Esq. ~

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Antiquarian travels beyond the borders of Norfolk

Ragged Ramblers rarely pass up an opportunity to venture outside the safety of home and the weekend just departed was one such moment.
With a call to visit a county rich in heritage and history, Thadeus Basil-Snapper (the third) donned tweed, stout boots and cap and ventured forth.
Travelling on a well appointed bicycle, he arrived in York to be fed on architecture and culture.

Navigating through the winding medieval "Shambles" streets, stopping to sample many touted wares in the various markets, from out of the misty gloom rose the twin towers of the Minster.

Glorious stone with intricate carvings, gargoyles, grotesques and features.
Delicate details in every niche, nook and cranny.

Entering the building through slightly less than grand modern glass doors and crossing the desk guardians' palms with  silver and paper, beautiful structures appeared.

Gaze upon this ceiling decoration for a few moments and enjoy its kaleidoscopic textures.

Figures of majesty under gilded canopies from the 15th century made up the choir screen separating the nave.

And turning, looking, seeing, eyes falling upon splendours of stained glass and tracery.

What struck Thadeus, was the number of 'little gems' hidden around corners and up in dark secluded corners.
A face of incredible detail and child-like impudence peeping from the stonework - gorgeous!

And so, having satiated his hunger for history and architecture, the Rambler, wended his way back through the "Shambles" and headed back to his temporary abode.

But before reaching the destination, one more delight appeared.
"The magic ball man" - a conjurer of contact juggling with skills not seen for many a year, entertained onlookers with feats of "oohs" and "ahhs" - most marvellous.

All in all, a trip to be savoured and recalled in darkened parlours with port, pipe and friends.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Jonny's Dancing Sparks

Jonny likes fire. Jonny's burning bright. Jonny glows chimney-red as the flames dance. Glow Jonny, glow!


Monday, 6 October 2014

A Message to the Future

Please click on image in order to enlarge

We never know what surprises await us during our explorations. Thus, when we walked into the rather lovely interior of Beeston-Next-Mileham Church in Suffolk, Mr. Many Coats and I had no idea that the 'star' find of a splendid day's Ragged Rambling would be a humble roof tile. However, this isn't any old roof tile, for etched into it is a message from the year 1924. The tile itself - currently tucked away in an annex room - begins thus:

"June 11th YEAR OF
OUR LORD 1924: IN 


The author then continues to list the dates and locations of his jobs restoring churches over the preceding six years (enlarge image and have a read for yourself).

We assume that the author of this testament was a plumber, L. Mobley, who also left the lead 'plaque' pictured above. 

For us, a time capsule like this, speaking from the roof of this church on a sunny June day ninety years ago, is an absolute treasure. Were it in our power we would definitely have these pieces on public display within the church, as they provide one of those rare connections between a 'grand' building and those, often all-too anonymous, tradesman who work to preserve it. Mr. Many Coats and I feel that parishioners and general visitors would be fascinated to learn by this. Hopefully, this will happen presently. In the meantime, we bring you a 'virtual' version.