Three afternoons to launch The Light Ships

 

The Light Ships Launch at Whaplode Church
The Light Ships Launch at Whaplode Church

The culmination of The Light Ships project will happen in November 2014 in three events to celebrate the place of art in the life of the village and the church at:

Whaplode Church – Saturday 8 November

Wrangle Church – Saturday 22 November

Gosberton Church – Saturday 29 November

Each event will be from 2.00pm until 4.30pm,with the book launch at about 3.00pm

In addition to the presentation of The Light Ships book, there will be

  • An exhibition of art inspired by Lincolnshire churches
  • Archive films of Boston and the fenland villages
  • Tea, coffee and cake – and a chance to meet other people who’ve been involved

Each weekend will have special features: at Wrangle Church a peal will be rung to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the bells, while at Gosberton there will be a Christmas Tree Festival organised by the community. Others special moments are being planned as I write…

If you can’t come on Saturday afternoon, the exhibitions will be open from 10am to 4.00pm on the Saturday and Sunday of each weekend.

The events will be informal and everyone is welcome – bring a friend, spread the word.

If you’re able to be there, a phone call or email would be really helpful so we can organize the right number of cakes! You can let Lauren know at Transported on:

01406 701006 or 07747 271824 or TransportedLauren@1Life.co.uk

But that’s not essential: the important thing is to come and help us celebrate these wonderful buildings and the place they’ve held in our villages for hundreds of years. Click on the picture below to download the invitation to your computer.

The Light Ships Invitation

Now, it’s back to the proofreading – the final text goes to the printers on Monday…

A southern light ship sheltered in a northern land

It’s been quiet on The Light Ships blog because there’s so much to do getting the book ready and preparing for the events which will be happening in November – more news about all that next week. But in the meantime, here are some photos of the Italian Chapel, on the island of Lamb Holm. I had a longstanding invitation to give a lecture in Kirkwall at the end of September so I got to spend a weekend in Orkney, which is one of the loveliest and most interesting places I know. When a friend took me to see the Chapel I saw why it is the most visited site in an area not short of wonderful monuments right back to Neolithic times.

The chapel was created by Italian prisoners of war, who were in Orkney to work on the Churchill Barriers which link several islands and close the eastern approach to Scapa Flow. The men requested a chapel and were assigned a couple of Nissen huts. In a few months of 1943, using only salvaged materials and working in their spare time, they created an extraordinary vision of the kind of church they were used to attending at home. Several men were skilled craftsman, including the painter Domenico Chiocchetti, who was responsible for the Madonna and Child among much else.

When they left, in September 1944, they entrusted the chapel to the people of Orkney who have looked after it impeccably in subsequent years. Signor Chiocchetti and others of the men involved returned in later years to do repairs and add further embellishments, cementing a friendship that had grown in the least auspicious of circumstances, and across all the cultural distance between Orkney and Italy. Today, the Italian Chapel continues to bear witness to humanity’s creativity in its search for meaning: a northern light ship.

Making a mark

 

You expect to see stained glass in an English parish church: it’s one of the visual signs that instantly identifies a church as such, like a spire. Most of it was put in by the Victorians, because so much was destroyed by puritans and other iconoclasts in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Victorians meant well, and some of their work is very fine, but often it’s literal, sentimental and crudely coloured, like the pictures in the King James Bible I was given at primary school.

And so, as a result, we see the splash of colour in a church, but don’t often look at the pictures it makes. These three windows, which fill the Victorian apse added to the east end of Sutton St James church, are what you see when you come into the church. When I was there, the southern one glowed with sunshine (which is why the photograph is so dark and bright), but I didn’t look very closely.

But a conversation with Pauline Stebbings changed its appearance entirely. The central window, she said, had been commissioned by her grandmother as a memorial to her grandfather, in 1947. When she had died two years later, the children had installed the northern window and then, when one of them had died in 1951, the third window was made. Pauline remembers the family being involved in deciding the design of the windows:

I do like them and so many people say how good they are. I can remember when I was small, having them on the big table – the plan of it all and working out what scenes they put in and all that.  But the family did say it didn’t matter how many more of them died, there wouldn’t be any more put in, because I suppose they’d cost the earth now. But it would be a lot of money then, wouldn’t it?’

So these images were created in the years after the Second World War, by a local farming family to honour and remember those they had loved. No more and no less than the continuing process of the generations leaving their mark on their church, for themselves and those who come after.

Poetry, film and the strangeness of the recent past

A Passion for Churches (1974)2

What would you be, you wide East Anglian sky,

Without church towers to recognise you by?

John Betjeman, A Passion for Churches (1974)

It’s impossible not to look at and write about English village churches without the presence of John Betjeman. Although he will be remembered as a highly original poet, and was widely appreciated as such in his lifetime, it was his television films that made Betjeman such a recognisable figure in the 1960s and 1970s. Made in television’s salad days, before its executives thought they knew what was good, these are highly personal portraits of places and things that Betjeman loved: the seaside, trains, architecture and, repeatedly, churches.

One of the best, A Passion for Churches, is about Norfolk’s churches and it can be watched on the BBC iPlayer. In it Betjeman visits some wonderful places: Trunch, Sandringham (where Tony Fitt-Savage was organist at the time), Cley-next-the Sea.

But it’s the people who steal the show: the mothers with their children at a Wednesday afternoon Sunday School; the young couple getting married (he went on to be a Bishop of Manchester). He meets the Chaplain of the Broads, chugging about on a boat to greet the holidaymakers, a vicar dedicated to his model railway and another going out to see the men on the Smith’s Point Light Ship. There’s 6am Easter service on the quay at Lowestoft with a Salvation Army band, people singing hymns in the wind and sun. And there’s Billy West, a bellringer for 60 years, saying:

Ah that’s music in your ear, that’s music in the ear. Once that gets hold of you, I suppose that’s like smoking cigarettes; once that gets hold of you that, that’s a drug: you can’t get rid of it. There’s something about it, I don’t know what it is, but you’d go anywhere for it. If there weren’t somewhere where there were some bells I’d go crazy, I know I should. Bells are life to me. I mean, it never seems Sunday to me if we don’t hear the bells.

But it’s hearing the Norfolk in Mr West’s voice that gives that statement its poetry.

A Passion for Churches (1974)8

 

And poetry runs throughout the film as Betjeman shifts easily from prose to verse in a way no one would dare to do today.

And should we let the poor old churches die?

Do the stones speak? My word, of course they do.

Here in the midst of life they cry aloud:

’You’ve used us to build houses for your prayer;

You’ve left us here to die beside the road.’

 

Christ, son of God, come down to me and save:

How fearful and how final seems the grave.

Only through death and resurrection come;

Only from shadows can we see the light;

Only at our lowest comes the gleam:

Help us, we’re all alone and full of fear.

Drowning, we stretch our hands to you for aid

And wholly unexpectedly you come:

Most tolerant and all embracing church.

A Passion for Churches was made forty years ago. It’s not just the clothes and plummy voices that seem to belong to another age. Such public statements of belief would cause embarrassment in public life today. It’s Philip Larkin’s post-religious ‘Church Going’ rather than Betjeman’s faith that fits the tenor of the age.

Nothing is more remote than the recent past: not yet history but how we were is already unthinkably strange. Thus we live and pass and all that we believe to be normal is just more of the vast oddity of human beings.

In some churches all prayer has ceased.

St. Benedict’s, Norwich, is a tower alone.

But better let it stand

A lighthouse beckoning to a changing world.

A Passion for Churches (1974)4

A young painter in Moulton Chapel

Rex Thorpe - Moulton Chapel (1904)

Fred Thorpe was born in Moulton Chapel in 1894 and attended the primary school there. He painted this picture at school, when he was about ten years old – so it dates from about 1904. It’s a bit the worse for wear, but its colours have remained beautifully vivid, and like many children’s drawings it’s full of attention to the detail of life. Children are often excellent at looking, though their technical control of paint and pencil may not yet be as strong.

After school, Fred went into farming, working as a cultivating and threshing contractor, initially with steam engines – probably like this one, lovingly maintained by the Dawson family of Bicker, and which you can see at the Steam Threshing event in aid of church funds, this coming weekend. Both his son and his grandson followed hi into the contracting business, working across lower South Holland.

Steam engine, Bicker

Fred must have been proud of his picture to hang on to it, and now it has become a treasure passed on in his family. I came across it thanks to Rebecca Lee, who is working on one of the other Transported commissions in the area: Outside Broadcast. Rebecca took the photo and I’m grateful to both her and Rex for permission to share it here. It’s left me wondering about the many small and unknown artistic treasures there may be on walls, in drawers and in people’s memories, about the places and people who matter to them in the villages of South Holland…

Whaplode Church Flower Festival

Whaplode Church

Whaplode flower festival starts today

Church flower festivals, which are such a beautiful aspect of life in the Lincolnshire fenlands mostly take place in the spring. But one or two cannily wait until later in the year and Whaplode is one of those. If you have some time this weekend, do try to get there. As well as the flowers, there’s an organ recital, bell ringing, live music, teas, a hog roast and much more – all at one of the most beautiful, interesting churches in the Fens.

It’s the kind of celebration that has been going in churches and churchyards for hundreds of years: a community coming together to celebrate being who they are. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Whaplode Flower Festival – Long may it continue.

Links

 

Flowers Whaplode August 2014 flyer