Saturday, 9 July 2011

Vision on Houghton Hill

Please click on images in order to enlarge
In 1992 Bob Davey and the - then derelict - church of St Mary, at Houghton-On-The-Hill met for the first time. It proved to be a decisive moment, for Bob, with a resolute will and the skills of a trained engineer, dedicated himself to breathing - and, sometimes, heaving! - life back into the church. He is a man who saw things as they could be, and then did the spade work to realise that vision. The Ragged Society of Antiquarian Ramblers - some of whom are formerly horny handed sons of toil themselves - were aghast at the toil this transformation must have required - a true labour of love.

And when we stepped inside... well, what a spectacle! Now, Ragged Ramblers have visited Copford in Essex, with its spectacular twelfth century fresco wall paintings - and were duly awe-struck (see HERE). However, when we were faced with the spectacle which faced us at Houghton, we were astonished. I think it fair to say that the date range of these images is still contestable. However the church leaflet suggests that the oldest paintings originated in the eleventh century. Think about that for a moment...

... that is perhaps some 336,395 days old. The figures and the composition looked Romanesque to me, so a date somewhere in the 1090s feels about right - but, at this stage, who knows for sure...

 According to Bob, the wonderful elongated hands of the figures above signified prayer. What survives here are the 'setting out' paintings which were the foundation over which the colour and detail were applied. Here is a conjectural image of how this last judgement scene might once have appeared...

Having stared long and hard at the ancient walls, we were then fortunate enough to be allowed to ascend the tower and take in the view...

 Houghton-On-The-Hill church is a special place; a place which we Ragged Ramblers will be returning to in the future (not least, to explore further the abandoned medieval village in the field opposite the church, which so caught our 'eye'). 

Afterwards, sitting in the 'tour bus' we reflected that this visit was one of the pinnacles of the Ragged Rambling experience. 

We would, of course, like to thank Bob. We would also like to acknowledge the other gentleman who made us feel so welcome, and wore a smile well. 

[For further information, please see the St Mary church site, HERE]


  1. What an amazing church, what hats off to Mr Davey for saving it. How on earth was it ignored for so long?

  2. The horny handed sons of toil salute Master Davey's achievements and take this moment to make him an honorary member of their Company.

  3. I too have visited Houghton and really appreciated the spade work around the Hollyhocks. Some of the finest I've seen and the bright looking flowers certainly add to the very 'different' feel of the church.

  4. Hello Tom

    Like many ruinous churches, Houghton was but a mere shell covered in Ivy and to most eyes beyond repair. We of the Ragged Ramblers suspect it was not just the skills of an engineer, but more importantly the eye of an engineer like Bob Davey that was needed from the very beginning to see the potential of a building like St Marys. As for the wall paintings, well they were perhaps his reward!

  5. There are some who suspect the paintings are even older. Perhaps Pre-Conquest?

    The Venerable Tweed (Twede in the olde spelling)