Monday, 5 September 2011

Roses, Saints, and Sinners

Peter Harkness (retired 1989)

After lunch at the Fox on Saturday, I was keen to show our Australian visitors around the village. The village Post Office and Stores is next door to The Fox and both stand in front of All Saints Church. As we approach the main door of the church, we could clearly see that it was paddlocked shut. I moaned a bit that in the 30 years we had lived in the area, I had never been able to go inside.

As we made our way back through the modern part of the graveyard, I spotted a familiar figure approaching carrying a huge bunch of keys. It was Peter Harkness of Harkness Roses. He was going in to prepare the church for Sunday's Harvest Festival service and offered to show us around.


The tour began at the porch doors which were originally part of the medieval Rood Screen. Once through those, the lock of the main door was opened with the biggest key I have ever seen.

The church dates from Norman times, its first 4 or 5 pastors (granted the 'living' by the Lord of the Manor) all had the Norman 'de' prefix to their surnames. It's a pretty little church with a fascinating history. The pastor at the time of the Civil War, Richard Way,  was 'relieved' of his position (and living) in 1645 because he would not adhere to the Puritan rules. He was reinstated in 1661.

William, Viscount Beauchamp, 1507, Wivenhoe, Essex

Even the priest's chair had a fascinating history, having been made from 'recycled' pew ends and benches. The carved elephant and castle on the top of the chair-back predated any first-hand knowledge of elephants.(Image right shows similar elephant and castle from the same period)

Peter Harkness has written a book (1999), chronicling the fascinating history of the Church - All Saints ... and Sinners, the story of a village church.

The church has some of the finest medieval gargoyles in the county and the interior's history bears the marks of the millinarianist incumbent, William Woolaston Pym. He it was who 'caused the centre doors of the chancel screen to be rmoved' around 1831.

Pym calculated that the Second Coming would be in 1847. When he asked the village painter early in 1847 to repaint his front gate, the man replied 'That I won't, if you'll forgive me saying so, Sir. 'Twould be a stupid waste of my time and good paint if, as you say, the old world won't last more than these 'ere few months.'

It was a priviledge to be given such a long and informative tour by Peter Harkness. Our guests agreed with us that it had been the perfect end to a perfect afternoon.