Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Cemeteries and Gardens

An idea of Norfolk
© Godric Godricson
 This posting is something like a winter letter from Norfolk because we are settling into the colder weather and I dwell on happy recollections of warmer weather. In this time of austerity, I also want to maintain hope in the future of creation at a time when the economic system seems to snatch hope away from us all. I want to say something about the beauty of creation in this amazing county full of ruins,  monuments and cemeteries.  I came across the beauty of Norfolk and East Anglia many years ago by reference to the changing seasons and by walking around the cemeteries and archaeology of the County.

In addition to Norfolk, I also have connections with the Isle of Wight and ‘the North’ as you can see from some of the photographs used in this blog. However, my own private garden and the communal gardens comprised of the cemeteries of Norfolk continues to be a special pleasure. The landscape changes through the year and the leaves are very much now beginning to discolour and fall. The leaves really need to be swept away by the winter winds into the compost bins which will be ready for next year when they become the medium that grows next years salad crops.  We return to the idea of time and tide in this dark season and, again, we notice that seasonality through our lives. Those with an understanding of the cemetery and of history are not upset by this seasonal variation or by a recognition of our ultimate mortality.

In addition to the wider metaphors surrounding the garden and the cemetery, I re-call that that I came across the beauty of creation when walking down a very long lane in the heat of the Norfolk summer.  The lane in question is around 6 miles away from where I live and I encountered this at the end of a long walk.  On this occasion, I took a break in a churchyard and I surveyed the scene around me.  Now, I am no fan of what churches tend to do to their cemeteries especially when I have walked a long way and feel hot and mildly de-hydrated.  This particular parish had decided to turn a rural mediaeval and Georgian cemetery into an urban play park.  Magnificent headstones and monuments had been torn down and piled up at the edge of the cemetery like so much building material.  Resources needed by genealogists were left to decay and weather. You can tell I am no fan of modernism and I dislike what planners do to ancient sites. Regrettably, this cemetery was no different to many others up and down England.

Whilst contemplating the fate of ancient buildings and ancient burial sites in the heat of the day,  I also contemplated the long walk home and the frailty of the human form.  The heat was oppressive in the extreme and, as with many English villages, there was no shop where I could buy refreshment.  I had an insight into the life of the pilgrim and what it feels like when one fails to plan for the return home.  However, I could not have imagined that things would be so positive.  The journey home took me down a very long lane and on either side of the lane, the abundance of the natural world came to the fore and I had a glimpse into the life of our ancestors and into rural Norfolk.  On either side of the lane I could see a whole range of fruit and berries that had not needed mankind’s assistance and which flourished.  I came across the usual apples and greengages whilst also finding sloes and rosehips.  The hedge was utterly comprised of blackberries and elderberries and it was difficult to know where to begin in picking the fruit or a least marking the place where it grew for a return visit. 

© Godric Godricson
A few days later, after I had recovered from my very long walk, I returned to the same cemetery and the lane I had visited earlier.  I am a little ashamed to say I did take my car on this occasion because I knew that I would be burdened by the weight of fruit and the goodness that was so freely surrendered by the Earth.  I picked huge amounts of blackberries and elderberries because I knew that I would turn these into the most delicious jam and preserves.  I want to say at this point that I have never made jam before and when I went home I didn't know how to make it although I had watched older relatives and wanted to emulate their achievements.  I would not make wine because that would be ultimately far too tempting.  I took along the most unlikely receptacles for the blackberries and elderberries.  From the garden,  I had had selections of plastic buckets that had previously held composted chicken manure.  I had washed the buckets well but they looked comical when one compared their original use to the beauty of their contents.

Creation is truly marvellous and on several days I walked down the lane with my plastic buckets picking blackberries and elderberries destined for jam. My home is now full of jars where condensed sunshine has been turned into food and throughout the year I will share in the bounty of nature on a daily basis.  Each time I have my porridge I will stir into the bowl some Blackberry conserve made from fruit gathered both from the lane and in the cemetery. I will remember those days in the sun.  There is nothing so blue as a summer sky in Norfolk and nothing so wonderful as fruit from the hedgerow.  The sky in Norfolk is enormous and unfettered by buildings.  The sky is huge and the wheat fields are golden and it is hard to imagine what this scene really looks like unless one has walked along lanes and looked into the distance towards a distant Church tower.  Rabbits run down the side of the field and partridge and pheasant can be seen in abundance.  On one occasion whilst walking quietly down the lane at the end of the day I came across  a small herd of deer who walked down the side of the field before disappearing into woodland.

As we move into the winter, the blackberry and elderberry have disappeared from the hedgerow.  The fruit became bloated and began to decline as the year turned.  Still, there is no end to the abundance of that area and the hedgerow has a feeling of the supermarket in its season.  If you know where to look you can find all of the fruits that you need for immediate consumption and for preserving.  I am truly humbled by what our ancestors knew and how they managed to use this abundance to their own survival.  This Christmas I will be able to celebrate using sloe gin and I will toast the New Year in traditional fashion and in doing so I will emulate our ancestors and remember the good times.

Norfolk is an amazing county where individuals can see the abundance of nature in  the private garden and the cemetery.  The abundance of the hedgerow and the beauty of the world is something that we often take for granted but in these very simple little jars of jam I see a reflection of eternal creation and hope for the future.  Where is this lane?  Well, that is a secret that I’m keeping to myself.  Somewhere in Norfolk you may come across a person with a bucket looking very self-satisfied as he trudges along.  Look carefully and you may have found me and found where I am the happiest.

Saint Mary's - Roman Coffin

Roman Coffin
One of my favourite visits was to Saint Mary’s Church near Swaffham which is one of the oldest religious buildings in Norfolk. The Church from the 6th Century is built on the remains of a Roman temple and represents a palimpsest or a pile of buildings built on the same site.

The Church was a domestic dwelling until the 1960’s before being stripped down to the stones to reveal the inner core. The Roman coffin in the picture and was found on the site. A lot has been written about the building although I haven’t read a lot on line about the burial customs of the Romans although this coffin seems late Roman and probably from the 3rd or 4th century.

East Lexham - Saint Andrew

William and Ann Dunham
© Godric Godricson

This is one of those simple monuments that allows us to look at dates and events in the lives of real people in England although such possibilities occur throughout the United Kingdom. The moument has the honest simplicity that starts to resemble the traditional depictation of the tablets of stone brought down from the mountain by Moses.

William Dunham of East Lexham in Norfolk lived and worked and died in the same village. Ann Racking married William on 28 October 1814   in the same East Lexham. One can only imagine that they lived in close proximity to the present farm buildings that surround the Church in this fine village.

A daughter, Ann,  was born to the couple in 1815 and was baptised somewhat suspiciously in the village on  29 April 1815. One may only imagine that Ann was somewhat premature. It isn’t clear what became of Ann.

Saint Andrew East Lexham
© Godric Godricson
 The Church at East Lexham has nothing much in the cemetery of interest that still survives and the earliest monument would appear to be 18th Century with some badly eroded Putti swirling in an endless circle up to heaven. The scenery is quietly breath taking as befits this part of Norfolk. The Church is lovely and features on other web sites. The antiquity of the Church is clear and the building tells us about an honest faith that is  manifest in flint, stone and rubbl. The 21st Century would be bewildering to William Dunham although in the modern environment we are sometimes envious of the simplicty of the lives of people who have gone before.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hon. Isabella Stafford Jerningham - Costessey Hall

Hon. Isabella Stafford Jerningham
 Costessey Hall
"The remains of the Hon. Isabella Stafford Jerningham, who died at Genoa on January 1st, were interred in the family vault beneath the altar in the chapel at Costessey Hall.  At the same time was interred the body of the Hon. Frances Stafford Jerningham, who died at Paris in May, 1838.  It was placed by the side of the remains of her twin sister, the Hon. Georgiana Stafford Jerningham, who died at Leamington in 1841."

Title: Norfolk Annals  A Chronological Record of Remarkable Events in the Nineteeth Century, Vol. 1     Author: Charles Mackie

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Monuments and Latin

© Godric Godricson
The cemetery is a place where we 'monumentalise' the dead and record their positive virtues to the exclusion of all other traits. The dead become glorious and good and their weakness is forgotten and minimised. We make the cemetery into a place where the family and the community are re-united at least for a time in marble and, often, in a Latin that we no longer speak

Friday, 4 November 2011

"Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne"

Jean de Narde (December 2011)
© Godric Godricson

Jean de Narde is an interesting story of a French Napoleonic prisoner of war who was shot trying to escape in East Dereham in 1799. His monument was placed there by the Vicar of East Dereham in 1858 and this event is recorded in the diary of the Vicar now online.

A Norfolk Diary.

Feb. 17 1858. Today another cross was set up in the churchyard, the inscription under which will speak for itself.  'In memory of Jean de Narde, son of a Notary Public of St. Malo. A French prisoner of war, who, having escaped from the Bell tower of this church, was pursued and shot by a soldier. October 6th, 1799, aged 28 years.”

The obverse of the memorial reads.

"This memorial of his untimely fate has been erected by the Vicar and two friends who accompanied him on a visit to Paris as a tribute to that brave  and generous nation once our foes but now our allies and bretheren. Ainsi soit il. 1857"