When I read in our local magazine today the awful news that our local church is threatened with closure, I was really dismayed. Religion holds little sway with me and as such I am not a churchgoer, however, I am a lover of social history and vernacular architecture and am passionate about preserving these fine local buildings that have been so obviously central to village lives in the past.
In our small and rambling community with a present-day swelled population of around 1,000 we have a derelict Tabernacle, a redundant Methodist Church (now converted to a private house), a large Baptist Chapel and three Anglican Churches, (one a small turn-of-the-century daughter church). Two are fine buildings in English Style one of which is Anglo-Saxon. Both have stood for almost a thousand years.
The principal church, St. Peter's has just been surveyed and is it seems, in need of urgent repairs to the tune of £450,000 to ensure its being kept open to the public and to preserve it for the future but what are the chances of raising such a vast amount of money? Most grant monies or lottery funding have to be matched: that would still leave a whopping balance to be raised.
A few years ago a local committee was formed to set about raising several thousands of pounds for repairs. This we did by dint of a festival but this new estimate is truly daunting.
We are both blessed and cursed in this community to have two such impressive flint buildings of irreplaceable historical importance. St. Mary's, derelict and in disrepair for forty years was taken 'under the wing' of a local couple who along with a groups of 'friends' have quite literally raised heaven to restore the fabric and turn it into a valuable venue for exhibitions and concerts. I fear St. Peter's with its remarkable round Saxon tower may fare worse in these stringent times. I do hope not. The craftsmanship and devotion that raised it deserves help. Once these historic buildings fall they will be gone forever and following generations will be all the poorer.
Some years ago I wrote this poem in celebration of the lives and beliefs of those dedicated to building our heritage.
Building on Belief
My cart of hand-picked flints was sold - I sought to head off home
But an inner voice did tell me, ‘your work is not yet done.’
I joined the gang from near and far, we toiled from dawn ‘til dusk,
Digging trenches, hauling stones and making mortar dust.
I marked my nearing birthday by lashing scaffolds tall,
Each passing year I measured high upon the growing walls.
I faced each stone within its course and never did I flinch
For I was driven onward as I laid each unique flint.
Men who worked around me from youths to sinewy old,
Shared the lift of spirit as our sweat damped wood and stone.
We climbed the rising tower, roofed the chancel tall,
Carved the door and paved the floor with care and love and awe.
We of faith and fortitude, raised the building heavenward
With eyes that saw and ears that heard, yet could not read a single word.
With eyes that saw and ears that heard. Yet could not read a single word.
Bells toll for all time but Faith fades and shrinks so thin,
Though the church in which I dressed the flints is much the same within.
My sweat and tears are dry now, centuries have passed by
Workmanship is all that’s left to mark the question 'Why?'
A tower clawing skyward seeking answers from above?
Millennia of insight, hatred, guidance ...love?
I whose hands did build this church so very long ago,
Invested half a lifetime and my heart and soul and breath,
Eager sent the drift of prayer, so certain on my death,
That truth and love would ease the lot of fellows yet to come
But still the bells toll out His words, ‘My work is not yet done,
My work is not yet done ...’