Wednesday, 26 May 2010

In Memory of Charley North, 1975-1993

Rougham church, in North-West Norfolk. This is a church which changed the way I see things. It 'humanised' and broadened my perspective.

Inside there is an ambience; an indefinable atmosphere - a warm stillness perhaps. This is something I would normally associate more with a humble, rustic aisle-less church in, say Heckingham. It is not that this is a grand church anywhere near the scale, of, say, Salle church. No, it's somewhere in between; but there's just something so right here; something that stirs my imagination and whispers to me to not settle for the ordinariness of the day-to-day.

Objectively, there are lots of fine features and lovely details to enrich a visit. I might speak of the elegantly chamfered pillars for instance - a feature I find, both, aesthetically pleasing and architecturally interesting. And there are many other fine things I would walk you to and share with you, were you by my side. This is also a space where we could sit down in comfortable silence for a while; a space to take notice and be still - a space where we could also, if we choose, talk easily and let our imaginations roam wide and far.

I can see this now. I can see this because of something that happened several summers ago when I visited here with a good friend. We had been analysing the church as historians; examining the surviving evidence and attempting to recreate the churches' past, in the abstract. Although we were focusing on human stories, we were thinking as historians.

We then walked outside into what was a glorious summer day. As we perambulated the churchyard we reached a 'wild' area on the north side of the church. There was a mown path wending its way through the long grass, tickled by the slightest of breezes. We walked a few paces and were greeted with a site that made us stop and think and feel...

Charley's gravestone, in Winter 2010

For there, in a small clearing, was a gravestone with fresh flowers in memory of a young woman, Charley North, 1975-1993. We stood silent and in respect; moved to think of this young woman and the pain of her passing. The poignancy of this moment was punctuated by the fresh flowers laid lovingly on her grave. For me, this changed everything. Indeed, I would also go so far as to say that this was the germinal moment when this blog began to be born.

In the light of this moment I now feel my way through these spaces as much as I think to discover them. As focal points and meeting places for the community for so many hundreds of years, a parish church has witnessed all of the bitter-sweet spans of life. It has been a marker against which wider events took place. In those still places, we stand in the footprints of others; physically, in that same place where their hearts raced and their tears fell. Pettiness, day-dreams, discomfort, hope... all of these and more have been felt here before we pass through. A sense of this time and connection makes me aware that we are not only time-travellers in the present; we are, simultaneously, and instantly, part of the story too. In those still places, I am moved, imaginatively, to reach out for those past presences. Whether we are Christians; whether we hold another faith; whether we live without faith - we should, in my opinion,  all be humble in the face of this.

A medieval church is a space where I am open to possibilities. Here, my imagination is challenged and stretched. I begin to feel for the nature of things and our place within it.   The movement of seasons and the natural life which passes through are part of the story too. I am full of wonder and inspired to creativity...



  1. Yes, it was Mr. Many Coats...

  2. A very thoughtful piece. Beautiful, thoughtful and poignant. Thanks.