There were about twenty of us in the chilly Church this afternoon waiting for a guided tour. At the back of the Church, enticingly set out on a trestle table, were tea cups and plates of biscuits. I’m sure
I wasn’t the only one eyeing them covetously.
I was pleased to note that I knew a good seven of the people there. I must be getting better at getting to
know people. And by the end of the session I could add quite a few more names to faces because we were, indeed, a friendly lot.
The Church Archivist had
one of those microphones which you pin onto your coat lapel, tucking the “business end” away out of sight. This helpful gadget enabled our speaker to render his address in a booming voice, the better to be heard by our little assembly.
And being portable it didn’t make any difference when we went walkabout through the Chancel, the Lady Chapel, the Nave and the Tower.
I know so much more now about all the different stained
glass windows, about the various benefactors of the church, and the Australian Connection. If I ever go to Melbourne, in Australia, I just have to go to the Cathedral and search out the memorials to the Henty Family, who set off for the other side of the world
in 1829 with a sort of “starter set” of merino sheep to found the sheep industry in Australia.
Going a little further back in time, to 1298 and one
Archbishop Peckham came to visit with a retinue of fifty men and horses. It cost £18 to provide all he demanded of his hosts – a quarter of wheat, a quarter of oats, four gallons of best ale, a fat ox carcase, a male pig, a fat mutton carcase,
two fat geese, four fat hens, 100 eggs and free hay. You may remember me saying, in a previous blog, how much I welcomed visitors – but there are limits, you know. I think I might have arranged to be away on holiday when Archbishop Peckham came to call...
I am a great fan of guided tours. Once upon a time, when I was young and foolish and far too self-important, I used to ignore guided tours, believing myself more than capable of finding out all I needed to know
from a guide book. What I didn’t realise then was that it’s the guided tour that provides you with all the stories which the guide books don’t tell you. The very best guided tour Mr B and I ever went on was of beautiful Bath,
where our guide spent over two hours walking us through the history of his beloved city, regaling us with tales ancient and modern which I still remember to this day. He wouldn’t take a penny for his time, even refusing to let us buy him a cup of coffee.
For him, the reward was introducing visitors to the city he loved.
And I must have had him at the back of my mind when I found myself signing up to be a “Watcher”
– someone who will spend an afternoon, once a month, welcoming visitors to our Church and (if they wish it) giving them a guided tour. I shall have to do a bit of studying and learn a few of the best stories off by heart. I need to remember who was who
and when they featured in the history of the church.
There will, almost certainly, be some visitors who ask awkward questions – like my friend Eleanor this afternoon who made me giggle
every time she asked a question. So, for example, when we were all invited to gaze upon the ancient wooden screen with its row of formidable-looking spikes separating the Chancel from the nave, Eleanor wanted to know whether “Elf & Safety”
had ever taken an interest in the dangers they presented to unwary worshippers.
At the back of the Church is the Memorial to more than 80 men who died in
the First World War. With the help of a friend I am aiming to find out more about the people behind the names – where they lived, what they did before they went to war, and when and where they died – as part of what’s called The Great War
Project. I‘ve started a new page on this website if you would like to know more about this – just click on “Great War Project” on the menu bar on the left hand side.
I’ll let you know how I get on as a “Watcher”. Apparently we don’t have that many visitors but, if I’m lucky, someone may wander in and want to know how many church bells there are, why there
is a window dedicated to Victorian poet Robert Southey, and all about the amazing mosaics which decorate the walls of the Nave.
So long as nobody asks me about
the health and safey implications of those scary spikes...