Thursday, 4 August 2011

Bonchurch - Isle of Wight

17th Century inscription
© Godric Godricson
 I wanted to say something about the Old Church in the smallest village on the Isle of Wight (Bonchurch) before returning to East Anglia. The link will tell you of the size of the Church which is truly tiny. The dedication of the Church to Saint Boniface indicates that this is a very ancient Church with few dedications to this Saint in the UK and very few (if any) of recent date.

18th Century porch
© Godric Godricson

From the South side
© Godric Godricson
 The Church has a location on the side of a hill as the landscape slips into the sea. The Church is shrouded in ancient trees left alone by the Victorians who built a larger Church up the hill where the land better suited a bigger Church. However, the older Church was allowed to remain and it still has Episcopalian services through the year. The churchyard is a jewel to visit and very few people do that. On the day that I visited there were very few people there and that is the best way to experience the churchyard and the Church itself. There is a small stream that flows on the other side of the church yard and the sound of this stream heading down the hillside is wonderful. It is clear that Saint Boniface saw the potential of this site and founded the Church accordingly.

The Churchyard probably starts in the period of Saint Boniface and we can see monuments from the 17th Century until the 19th Century. Chest tombs sit side by side with broken monuments and dark, rich moss carpets the ground. The land slopes gently away and we can see how the site fits in with a secluded spot on a hillside that fitted so well with the ancient monastic ideal.

Chale - Isle of Wight

"I accept my crown!"
© Godric Godricson

I came across this unusual monument in the cemetery of Saint Andrew's at Chale in the Isle of Wight. The island is a beautiful part of the UK and somewhere to visit although the ferry can be expensive. Chale is a beautiful village and one encapsulates something of the history of the Island and its people.

The crown on a cushion is well designed and produced and in this photo is framed by an atmospheric sky as a front came in from The Solent. The medieval cemetery has a range of monuments through the last two hundred years including a European Prince who was later exhumed and re-buried elsewhere as well as people from the island.

There is a modest and understated monument in the Church to those who were killed in the last war which should not be overlooked if you visit the Church.
See also the Karoli plaque celebrating Count Michael (1917 – 1939) and Count Adam Karoli

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

King's Lynn - Millfleet (Jewish)

Camera pressed to the railings
© Godric Godricson

King's Lynn is an ancient town in the western part of Norfolk and is usually much neglected by visitors to the county and by the authorities when they produce long-term plans.  The town is full of interesting architecture and ancient monuments although the tourist authorities tend to by-pass King's Lynn in favour of Norwich which is the 'County town' or regional capital.

The ancient town has a wide range ecclesiastical architecture ranging from the ruins of the insignificant to the ruins of the  magnificent and much visited.  Somewhere, in this wide-ranging continuum  you'll find a number of places to visit all of which have a history of burials.  Unlike European cities which often have no observable cemeteries in the town centre, King's Lynn has has a medieval past where burial sites are placed 'Cheek by jowl'  with the living.  Whilst this did create important environmental health issues it also produces diverse contemporary town planning.

From the street
© Godric Godricson

When I visited Kings Lynn it mid July 2011 it was extremely wet and unseasonably windy.  The trees were blown here and there and the rain was torrential, to say the least.  Despite this the archaeological and historical sites are provocative.

Here we find the Millfleet Jewish cemetery on the edge of the public housing scheme. This is a burial site used by "Dutch Jews" until 1849 although I suspect this term "Dutch"  is really a term for 'Ashkenazi'. People pass by this small cemetery and don't seem to notice this interesting place on their doorstep. A place that that says something about migration and diversity.

King's Lynn - All Saint's

This is a magnificent church in King's Lynn set amongst the ' car crash' that is the "Hillingdon Square" housing development. 

Brick lined grave
Possible Slate ledger stone
© Godric Godricson

Whilst this housing  development may have been a major development in 1960s architecture, it has rather distorted and confused the surrounding geographical area.  The church seems to be hemmed in on all sides by modern development to the point where it is held down and squashed.  Moreover, the railings that probably surrounded the cemetery  on three to four sides have all been removed and the cemetery has become little more than an open space for the housing development.  Unincorporated into its surroundings, the church is isolated and alone and is the subject of vandalism and  community disinterest.  However, it seems to be the way of things that there is little involvement of the local community with this ancient monument and place of worship.  The Anglo-Catholic tradition, once the powerhouse of 19th century Episcopalian worship in the United Kingdom has not continued into the 21st century with its former vigour.  People living nearby have no interest in the building or the cemetery and seen her involvement with building or the tradition that it represents.  The cemetery itself is now largely municipal in nature and contains very little of interest although one can see a brick lined grave atmospherically situated.  The large ledger stone on the surface is swept with rain.  Surprisingly, this interesting church and cemetery is only 100 yards or so away from the Jewish cemetery

King's Lynn - Saint Margaret's

Saint Margaret's Church
Re-sited monuments
This is a truly magnificent building and if it were anywhere else other than Kings Lane it would be much visited, publicised and developed.  As it is, the cemetery and Church is situated in the ancient quarter of the town and is slightly overlooked by visitors in favour of the High Street. 

The church itself  is like a cathedral in miniature and amazing in its size and location so close to the harbour.  It is quite clearly the centre of the old town of King's Lynn and the cemetery (at one point) would have been very much a desirable place to be buried.  Regrettably, the church authorities have done what many Church of England parishes have done and since the 1960s they have cleared the site.  Whilst not totally cleansing the cemetery of headstones,  the Church authorities have redeveloped the monuments in such a way that a mechanised mower can cut the grass and keep the place tidy.  In effect, this means that the upright headstones from the 18th and 19th centuries have been placed on the edge of the cemetery and this effectively destroyed the dialogue between the monument, church and the town.  I am sure that many people were congratulated on the cost saving involved but the effect is quite unpleasing and became 'municipal' in character.  At St Margarets the headstones have been lined up around the edge and now form a sort of triple wall which separates the church and cemetery from the surrounding buildings.  What we can see is a form of institutional vandalism and it is to be hoped that some recording of the headstones in situ took place before they were removed.  At St Margarets the headstones form a barrier between the cemetery and the ruins of St Margarets Priory which has been formed from the rather beautiful domestic dwellings.  In this sense the people of Kings Lane still live in close proximity to their ancestors who rest on the other side of the wall.

The majority of the monuments at St Margarets are upright and have been replaced in this form although there are two or more chest tombs which remain and which are  interesting.  Unusually, St Margarets has removed some monuments in favour of providing vehicular access to the properties formed from the ruins of St Margarets Priory and this is fairly atypical.  I have not come across another cemetery where vehicular access has been formed in such a way and one may only imagine that the parish needed a faculty from the diocesan authorities to create this novelty.

Saint Margaret's
Priory arch
The Episcopalian authorities are truly blessed with monuments and remains in that some of the monuments they do have are cast aside and thrown.We can see that a 13th century stone sarcophagus has been thrown out of the building here at some point in a previous restoration of cleansing of the building.  The broken segments lie on the boundary line between the church and the street outside.  It seems that it may have been better to collect up these pieces and place them inside the building where the originated and in this manner continue the dialogue between the artefact and building.  The discarding of a stone sarcophagus seems in some way part of the church's wider discarding its own history and antiquity.

Saint Margarets is an interest in church.   If you are visiting Kings Lane to have a look at St Margarets but also have a look at the cemetery itself.  On a sunny day you will find people wandering around quite happily and it has none of the doom and gloom seen in other town centre cemeteries in other cities in the United Kingdom.  There is no  graffiti or dereliction etc.  Whilst the church authorities have cleared away some of the monuments they also clear away the refuse that tends to surrounded many buildings in municipal areas.