Saturday, 18 March 2017

Mount Grace Priory


The Carthusian order represented a late eleventh century attempt to reconcile the coenobitic tradition of a community of faith with the eremetic tradition of solitary faith. Therefore, whilst the majority of the monk's time was spent in silent prayer, labour and isolation within their respective 'cells', they did come together for collective services twice daily within a small conventual church. This is one of the reasons for the more humble scale of the Carthusian churches relative to, say, a Benedictine foundation like Fountains Abbey that was designed around collective worship focused on the church. 

However, if the word 'cell' evokes images of a small place of confinement, think again. Think instead of a self-contained house and garden, with food and drink brought to you via a J-shaped serving hatch, cleverly designed to avoid direct contact with the 'conversi' (lay brothers) who served them. 

Today, we visited the finest surviving example of a Carthusian house in Britain, Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire, located on the once busy pilgrimage route between York and Durham. 



As well as the extensive ruins, this fascinating site includes a reconstructed cell that really does allow one to picture something of the material culture destroyed at the Dissolution. English Heritage deserve credit for their management and interpretation of this site. We received a lovely warm welcome and one of the staff members even took it upon herself to go and photocopy a sheet for us recording the mason's marks on the site.


Effective interpretation can enable visitors to imaginatively step back into the past. 

We will definitely be returning to this marvellous place - not least because they are in the early stages of constructing a new café to cater for visitors. The thought that the cake therein might prove to be as good as the priory site itself has our Ragged Rambler tastebuds tingling with anticipation. Huzzah!

Friday, 17 March 2017

St Thomas, Foxley


It was marvellous! It was more than marvellous - marvellouser than marvellous even! It felt miraculous, as if we were wandering within a landscape portrait painted from the dreams of angels. 

Eye of Aunty

I was relaxing within the soothing environs of a medieval church in the East of Norfolk when I felt a 'presence' - a curmudgeonly and defiant presence! With a shiver I turned and, lo, there was the eye of Aunty Gary staring at me through a small hole in the medieval roof screen. Gadzooks! 

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Grim Grouch!

I had been in a blue funk, but I knew not why. I tried to smile but could only muster a rictus grin. I walked, head down, towards St Nicholas Church, Little Saxham, Suffolk - and then I looked up AIEEEEEEEEEEE!

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Dolan Bar!

All church water storage enthusiasts will know the excitement of happening upon a water tank. So it was today when, in a location in the East of England, Ragged Ramblers saw a beautiful rivetted galvinised tank. 

Having run our eager fingers over the smooth button Maxwell rivets, with a sense of rising excitement we noticed something special lurking under the water-line; something that all water storage tank enthusiasts dream of - oh it couldn't be... surely not! But it was! For what we had seen was one of the rarest and most cherished of water storage features - a Dolan bracing bar!

"Dolan bar!" we shouted with jubilation as we danced about...
"Dolan bar, huzzah!"

Sheep Deep Suffolk

What a fantastic sight it was today when Ragged Ramblers arrived at Holy Trinity, Middleton, north Suffolk. There they were, organic lawnmowers - a wonderful thing to see creatures, fringed by sunshine, roaming and grazing in between the long shadows of the tombs. 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

First Ragged Ramble of 2016!

A party of Ragged Ramblers explored some churches in north Norfolk yesterday. We began our day with a rendezvouz in a café in Holt ("who goes there!"). Sufficiently fortified with hot beveridges, off we went in search of some wonderful old places - and we found them! Now, what I'm going to do here is choose a single feature from each church that I found of particular interest. I know this won't be easy, but here goes...

First of the day was St Andrew's, Langham (pictured above). Buffetting by the blustery gusts of the tail-end of some ridiculously named Atlantic weather incident, the cool calm of the church interior came as a welcome relief. 

I was intriguid by this crudely carved graffito etched into the east end of the font, reading 'Alice Nettles 1692'. I wonder who she was and what became of her; who carved this and why? It would be interesting to take a look at the parish register and in search of traces of her presence. 

Next up was St Andrew's, Field Dalling. Peering over a lichen-clad wall at the church in the distance, I had a good feeling about this one. And I was not to be disappointed: a lovely welcoming church, bathed in light. 

The story of a good church is ever-evolving. In 1995 a parishioner, Nick Hammond, was inspired to make this handsome chandolier when he saw the 'original' hanging in Colombra Cathedral, Portugal. The central orbs are made from turned oak whilst the ornate candles are crafted in copper. This is a labour of love; a gift from the heart. By the end of 2006 the piece was completed and during the Carol Service that Christmas, Nick presented the chandolier to the church. Wonderful! 

Feeling invigorated and, increasingly, relaxed, we moved on to our next destination, All Saints, Morston. 

I liked this church VERY much and it hasn't been easy to filter out much that delights and intrigues. However, the eye-catchter for me here are the carved details on the rood screen.

Although defaced, enough survives to get a sense of their former splendour.  I have seen finer carving, but these honest little figures are charming. In particular, I love the feather-legged angel - who needs a face when you've got legs like that eh!

Our next destination was St Nicholas, Blakeney. The 'star' for me here is this fabulous seven-light thirteenth century window, one of only two such survivors in Britain. As you see (above) my fellow Ramblers were equally captivated by this vista. A bit special!

Our last stop of the day was at St Agnes, Cawston. Once again, choosing a single feature to highlight has been very difficult. After all, there is the magnificent ashlar-clad tower, the angel roof, the rood screen with doors still in place, some lovely medieval glass and more besides. However, the thing that grabs me above all others here is this carved niche. I just love the big-headed wodewose (mythical wild man of the woods) and dragon. I want to see both of these push free from their spandrels after all these centuries and scamper off into some sun-dappled glade of lore. This is where these figures belong - in the realm of the imagination. That is where they came from. 

Finally, what with all the beauty, the wonder, the learning and discovery, the laughter, the poignant moments - well, it was simply too much for some of us...

Postscript: my travel companions may have noted an omission here - namely, Winterton. It was the glass what done it!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Because they were smaller in those days...

As our Reader will appreciate, in ye olde days people were smaller. In fact, the further back in time you go the smaller those folks were. Ergo, the smaller the church the older it must be. Here we have a particularly ancient structure - certainly pre-Conquest! This is the original church now to be found within Thorington Church, Suffolk. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Keith Vaughan - A Life Well Lived

Oh what a busy bee I've been this week. It began with me exploring some of the great Cistertian abbeys in Yorkshire; today, I've been perambulating with Ragged Ramblers in north Suffolk; on Wednesday, meanwhile, I travelled with Mr Many Coats to south west Norfolk. It is this latter journey I wish to focus on here. 

One of the churches we stopped at was Carleton Rode (pictured above). 
"Looks promising..." observed Mr Many Coats as we peered over the wall with a tingle of anticipation putting spring into our steps. 

To our suprise, upon entering the church we witnessed a hive of activity as people busied themselves with what turned out to be preparations for an exhibition of quilts and flowers (brilliant combination!). 

Being of a gregarious disposition, we were soon chatting to the volunteers about their work. Although we have no hands-on experience of quilt making or flower arranging, we Ragged Ramblers give full respect to the makers of things - especially when - as in this case - it is an expression of community pride that brings people together. 

"Lovely surprise!" I exclaimed to Mr Many Coats as we stepped through the open north door and into the graveyard. 

Within a few paces we met with more serendipity, for there before us stood a gravestone of elegant proportions that drew us towards it. 

What a lovely tribute: a fine collection of adjectives for someone who was clearly dearly loved. I never had the good fortune to meet Keith Vaughan, but, on the basis of this memorial, I sure wish I had. 

Having joked about the list of words that might sum us up once we are departed, we walked in silence, draped in the gentle warmth of Autumnal sunshine as we contemplated the generous feelings Keith had inspired. I can't speak for Mr Many Coats, but it certainly made me reflect on the importance of a life well lived. 

~ Munro Tweeder-Harris Esq. ~

St Andrews Church, Westhall, Suffolk

In some churches a seven sacrament font like this would be enough on its own to justify a visit...

And when you look closely, some wonderful gesso work is revealed:

However, here at Westhall Church in Suffolk there are SO many treasures that a Ragged Rambler hardly knows where to start! 

For instance, there's this stonking great Norman doorway with decorative surround...

Not to mention the lower panels of a fifteenth century rood screen

But it doesn't stop here...

Lovely ancient oak benches replete with compass drawn 'daisywheels'!

And talking of graffiti archaeology, here's a bearded man carved into the soft ashlar of one of the piers. 

Oh yeh, there are medieval wall paintings as well. 

Finally, as I returned to my flask I had a thought: do bats crap in their sleep?