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Churches

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Yesterday I managed to take a half-decent photograph of a bluebell (that’s it above, I was quite pleased with it), explored two 12th century churches, visited a cathedral and witnessed four colleagues throw themselves off the top of it, tracked down three more First World War Memorials, conned my way into the Military Garrison Church and visited a rural life centre, where I became a bludger … and I was still home in time for tea.

It was a pretty full on day, so let’s break it down into bite-sized chunks.

The weather report on Friday told me it was going to rain all weekend. It lied. When I sat in the garden with my coffee when I got up there were distinct signs of blue above so I grabbed the camera and headed out. First stop was an old church (more on that later) and then heading back through Guildford, I realised I was in time to see four of our reporters abseil off the cathedral tower in aid of the fund to repair the building. As I’d sponsored them, I thought I’d go and make sure they got the job done.

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Now poor James here was first over the edge and it  was chucking it down with rain when he made his descent.

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It had brightened up by the time Matt came down. And all four actually completed the challenge so I had to cough up the cash.

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They were helped by a bit of patriotic cheerleading on the ground :)

Having never visited Guildford Cathedral, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and explore.

It’s made of brick, featured in The Omen and was begun in the 1930s only for work to stop during the Second World War. When building restrictions were lifted, work recommenced and services were held there from 1947, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1961.

It’s imposing with its stark red brick sitting at the top of Stag Hill overlooking the town. Inside, it is beautiful in an austere sort of way and it has lovely lines, which I quite enjoyed.

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But I have to confess, I don’t really like it.

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It’s peaceful and it has an air of serenity.

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And everyone there was very lovely and welcoming. And for a while I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.

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And then I realised … it has no history.

You see, I don’t visit churches to be spiritual, I go because they tell stories. And this cathedral has no stories to tell, no quirkiness to uncover, no gargoyles insolently mooning at me from on high. It’s just too new. It can’t help it, it’s not its fault … it just really isn’t my cup of tea.

It was fun watching the guys jump off the roof though.

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And I did love the view across Guildford from the top of Stag Hill.

So, wanting to step back in time a little, I headed to a couple of small villages further south in the county. And by accident stumbled across the Rural Life Centre at Tilford, so I thought I’d take a look. It was woodworking day but there weren’t many people there.

I did, however, meet a lovely man who was turning wood on a foot-powered lathe. He reckoned humans had been working wood in this way for millennia. He let me have a go and it was loads of fun. Apparently this officially makes me a Bludger. I shall be adding this to my CV. In fact, we are having our annual reviews at work at the moment and under the ‘do you have any skills not utilised in your current role?’ box, I shall now be able to write Bludging.

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I shall fill you in on conning my way into the Garrison Church, the First World Ward Memorials and the two 12th century churches I found in another post.

 

 

 

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A lot of churches are turning over part of their graveyards to wildlife.

Personally, I think graveyards that are left to grow a little wild are stunning, although I know not everyone thinks the same.

Some prefer the beautifully manicured cemeteries and graveyards. I think there is a place for both.

I went for a walk around the village earlier, and the graveyard at St Peter’s Church in Yateley just reinforced my view that a little wilderness can look amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so lovely.

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I’m getting used to going on a church hunt and finding the doors locked. I can understand it, although it is a sad reflection on society, but I know that some light-fingered members of the population might be tempted to walk away with precious items, or others just damage the building for the sake of it.

I wasn’t too bothered about this on Wednesday’s little sojourn, however, because what I wanted to see was on the outside of the buildings (see Thursday’s rude gargoyles post). Man wasn’t remotely concerned – apparently it IS possible to have too much of a good thing.

However, every single one of the four churches we visited had an open door policy and so I got to go inside. They are obviously very trusting in this part of the world, or else they have a very low crime rate – either way, I was happy.

 

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In fact the only issue we had was my complete inability to negotiate the junctions of the A1. Heading towards Colsterworth, I managed to miss the exit I wanted and decided I could just as easily take the next one and drove aimlessly round the countryside for a while, with no signal for the sat nav on Man’s phone. When we went to the next church I came off the A1 100 yards early and ended up sitting looking at a concrete bunker!

When we did finally make it to Colsterworth, we found a lovely little village on a hill being almost entirely dug up for road works. It made parking a little interesting, but we got there in the end.

St John the Baptist Church, Colsterworth, Lincolnshire. Pretty little place. Looking at the village and the number of older looking cottages, it was probably considered a sizeable settlement in days gone by. The church is certainly reasonably substantial. Roman remains have been found about half a mile away and it is pretty close to the great Roman road Ermine Street.

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As you may be aware, I went on a hunt for gargoyles and grotesques, which I found in abundance and not all of them were rude! Some of them were still designed to scare though.

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This guy looks very angry about something.

Local research reckons the origins of the  church were in Saxon times (you can read about it here), with additions or improvements made in the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th centuries. It is a Grade I listed building , which at least affords it a certain amount of protection.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was this amazing herringbone stonework and the distinct line above the rounded arches where the herringbone stops and straight brick work replaces it.

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This, apparently, was the original outside wall. Well, I say original, it is the older part of this building, there may have been an early wooden structure or a pagan temple on the site. But this stonework is Saxon. In the top right of the picture you can see an opening that experts believe may have been an original window.

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Here’s a close up.

Inside the church is also the remains of a Runic cross estimated to be from the 9th or 10th century. Just look at that lovely carving.

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I wonder if people will be admiring our current gravestones in 1,000 years time? Somehow I doubt it. These things, however, appear to have been built to last.

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Here’s another view of that lovely north wall and at the end of the aisle you can see a rather beautiful font.

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The stem is 15th century and it is highly decorated. Parts of the bowl are estimated to be 12th century. Can you see the difference in the shape of the arches?

But what really makes this church unique is this.

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If you go through the door at the eastern end of the north aisle, squeeze yourself into the four-foot gap behind the organ and look up (or straight ahead if you are taller than 5ft 2!), you find this sundial, carved by Sir Isaac Newton at the tender age of nine years.

This was Newton’s childhood church. He was born on Christmas Day 1642 (we were on the Julian rather than the Gregorian Calendar then) a few months after the death of his father in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, a little hamlet nearby. His home, Woolsthorpe Manor, is now in the hands of the National Trust. A few years later his mother remarried the Reverend Barnabus Smith, vicar of St John the Baptist. So this carving was probably created in around 1650 ish.

Apparently the young Sir Isaac was not overly enamoured with his stepfather and once threatened to ‘burn them and the house down over them’ – no love lost there then.

He did, though, appear to be better disposed towards this church because when he died he left the grand sum of £3 in his will for repairs to the church floor.

 

 

 

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Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

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Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

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Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.

 

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This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

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And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

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And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

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This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

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Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

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Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

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Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

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And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

Many will know of my Fifty before Fifty challenge and that one of those challenges is to attempt to visit all of the Churches Conservation Trust churches. And, as you can see from the countdown clock on the right, I only have 18 months to go.

Well during my period of blogging absence, I also failed miserably to knock many of my challenges off my list (except perhaps reading) so I really have to get a bit of a gallop on here.

On Monday, Man and I went to Skegness. It’s his birthday this week when he will once again become as old as I am for six months and he wanted to ride a roller coaster (more on that in another post). However, it seemed a wasted opportunity to drive straight past a perfectly good church, so we took a little detour to Haceby, Lincolnshire.

I checked before hand and the church of St Barbara was open all day. 170b

And indeed it was. I love locations like this. It was a couple of miles off the A52 up a single track road and when we arrived it was pretty  much in the middle of nowhere.

Haceby was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and must once have been a thriving village. Now it is a farm and a couple of cottages and this pretty little church on a hill.

Now it was called St Barbara’s but the CTC pamphlet inside the church said St Margaret. That confused me. A little research and I discovered it actually had a double dedication. I find St Barbara more interesting. Turkish, over-protective dad who locked her in a tower to stop her getting sullied by the outside world (Rapunzel origins?), she secretly became Christian. He didn’t like that, tried to kill her, a miracle created a hole in the wall and she escaped. Chase ensued, he caught her, there were a couple more miracles. He chopped her head off and was struck by lightning on the way home – serves him right. On the other hand, another argument is she didn’t exist at all.

So, the church. It dates from the 12th century and was added to over the next 400 years.

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The outside is quite plain, no gargoyles or grotesques, but I did find this tiny little blocked door in the north wall.

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I love these tiny doors, they must have had very miniature clergy. Apparently the arch around the door is called a Caernarfon Arch because it is predominantly found in castles in Wales. Why is it here? We’re a long way from Wales.

St Barbara’s is famous for the remnants of a wall painting.

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This was originally a Doom painting, you can just make out the devil directing a group of big-bellied lost souls towards hell on the right and Christ sits at the top with saved souls and angels.

But is has been overpainted with the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne and you can see the lion on the left and make out the three lions of England and an Irish harp on the shield in the centre.

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The interior is light and airy. You can see the very plain 14th century font in the corner.

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The arch to the bell tower caught my eye. It is seriously wonky. The right hand side appears to bow quite drastically. Really, it isn’t just the camera angle, it is definitely lopsided.

But for me the exciting part of this church was in the porch.

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Graffiti. We all know how I love graffiti – ancient and modern – it appeals to the reprobate in me and, for me, it brings the people using this fine building to life, makes them more real. There are a few dates on here. TE was merrily scrawling away in 1677 for example.

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On the other side, it looks like someone has engraved the sails of a windmill. There are certainly a lot of windmills is this lovely flat part of the world and I can only imagine there were more in times past, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

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Strangely, if I saw modern graffiti on a church, I would probably say it was desecration and not be impressed at all – but I enjoy this old graffiti and I wonder who the local vandals were.

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These I thought were strange. On the seat in the porch there are several outlines that look distinctly like footprints to me.

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I can’t find any information about them except a few mentions that they are there. Well, I know that, I saw them, what I want to know is why people felt the need to etch round their feet.

It’s nice to be on the church trail again, I’ve missed it. According to my list, I have now checked off 50 CTC churches – so, less than 300 to go then.

Before we leave St Barbara’s, Man noticed this.

There’s a cheese string in the churchyard :)

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Well it amused me anyway.

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Man was in Nottingham this weekend, I was in Hampshire. I decided to travel to Wiltshire to see some of the Churches Conservation Trust churches that I am looking for as part of my Fifty before Fifty challenge.

Mistake. Never leave the navigator behind, even if you do have googlemaps.

Now the problem with these churches, or actually the charm, is that they are often in the back of beyond. They aren’t used any more for a reason and often that reason is because there were not enough people living in the area any more.

So St Andrew’s, Rolleston, Wiltshire. I met two couples at the previous church I had visited on Saturday (this was number seven) who said drive past the B&B and take the dirt track. So I did and followed it left and ended up in a field.

I retraced my route and took the dirt track the other side of the B&B, which I drove down very slowly peering up any gap in the trees, all of which turned out to be private driveways. I’m surprised I didn’t get arrested by someone thinking I was casing the joints :)

I eventually, on the second loop of this unmade road, decided to ask someone. Instead of turning left up the first road, I should have gone straight on … the one that looked as though it went into a field rather than the one that actually did go into a field.

Just when I thought the dirt track had ended, there was St Andrew’s.

IMG_6963bWhat a pretty little place.

It became briefly famous once because someone thought Jane Seymour had been baptised here, Well she had, unfortunately the Jane Seymour in question was neither Henry VIII’s wife nor the actress of the same name, but a villager called Jane Seymour in 1637. So everyone forgot about St Andrew’s again.

Which is a shame, because it’s lovely.

Once again it has the distinctive chequerboard masonry of stone and flint. It glitters in the sunlight.

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The church was begun in the 13th century, although the bell cote and the porch are much later editions – 1845 in fact. The bell, however, is 14th century so was there another bell cote here at one time, or was the bell brought from somewhere else? I don’t know.

IMG_6942bInside the porch is a nice little surprise.

IMG_6959bThis is the remains of a mass dial – a sun dial to tell parishoners what time mass would be held. It is on the original doorway.

IMG_6962bIt also has some lovely windows. This is the north window. It dates from 1370. I am not sure why the north side of the church isn’t dressed with the stone and flint like the south side is.

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It did mean, though, that the old north doorway could be seen very easily.

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This is the south window. This one is 16th century. Both this and all the other windows were given new external hoods in the 1845 restoration. The heads on them reflect the trend for gothic revival at the time.

IMG_6944bThe font is early fourteenth century. I love it, nice and simple, no fussiness to it at all. It’s practical and designed to stand the test of time, which it has. The cover is 17th century.

IMG_6945bThe pews are much more ornate but they are not the original seating. These are oak and date from the early 17th century. They weren’t made for St Andrew’s either. They were originally in the redundant church of Haydon near Sherbourne in Dorset and were moved here in 1981.

This church was owned by the Knights Hospitallers from the 14th century until the dissolution and, apparently, the dedication to St Andrew wasn’t mentioned until 1845. I wonder who, if anyone, it was previously dedicated too. I shall try and found out.

Behind the church there was a much more modern memorial that caught my eye.

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A gravestone to 24-year-old Barbara Knipe, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, killed on active service in 1940. I’d like to find out more about her too and how she ended up here.

It was worth the drive and the getting lost. I think these places are always worth the drive. There is so much to discover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6830bYesterday I went on a church hunt.

I set myself a route, planned in advance for once, to take in seven Churches Conservation Trust churches in Wiltshire as part of my Fifty before Fifty challenge.

And the big surprise of the day? People.

I saw other people visiting the churches. Now St Giles’ Church at Imber (the ghost church of the title) was packed to the rafters but I could understand that. The church is in the middle of a Ministry of Defence training zone and only open to the public on certain days of the year – see yesterday’s post for details.

But I also ran into a photographer at the ruins of St Leonard’s Church in Sutton Veny and then two couples at St Mary’s at Maddington (well actually, I ran into them outside St Mary’s Church in Shrewton because all five of us were in the wrong place but a very nice couple directed us to the correct location).

I was nice to see other people taking interest in these redundant churches.

But I digress (as usual).

IMG_6839bThis is St Giles Church hidden away in the lost viillage of Imber in the middle of Salisbury Plain. And it is pictured in the afternoon sunlight just before those rain clouds in the distance started leaking on me.

It’s a strangely sad place, mainly because it sits in the middle of the village commandeered by the military in 1943 and never returned to the villagers but also because the interior of the church has almost been stripped out – almost, but not quite.

There are no pews, the font has gone and so have the effigy tombs (a trip to Edington Priory where they were removed to is now on the cards).

But although at first glance it looks empty, there is actually still plenty to see.

An original church was built in the 12th century. This one was begun with the nave in the 13th century. The 14th century saw the addition of the north and south aisles, the north porch and the tower. This photo is of the south side.

The old chancel was replaced in 1849 and a vestry added. The vestry was closed yesterday but I couldn’t resist pulling back the curtains …

IMG_6846b… and taking a very quick snap of the two medieval heads that have been relocated there.

But there was also lots to see that wasn’t behind curtains.

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Starting in the south porch you can see the chequerboard style of masonry that is so common in churches in Wiltshire. It’s a combination of stone and flint.

You can see a stoup to the right which would have contained holy water and above that a carved rose. The shield on the opposite side of the arch bears the coat of arms of the First Lord of Hungerford, Lord of the Manor in the 15th century.

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The porch also contains these… late 17th century graffiti. I’m sorry, but I’m still a fan of graffiti – I find it interesting and expressive. This must have taken some time. I wonder if the culprits then cleansed themselves with the holy water in the stoup afterwards. Maybe graffiti wasn’t frowned upon in the 17th century – I have no idea.

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This was near the west tower door. I couldn’t find out anything about this one though.

IMG_6837bAlso in the tower is this. It’s not a logarithm table, its the plain changes on the five bells for perfect pealing. The bells aren’t at St Giles anymore, they were taken away in 1950. One bell is still in existence and is part of the ring of ten bells at Edington.

IMG_6843bThis is a memorial to another Lord of the Manor John Wadman from 1745. The vestry is now directly behind this wall but you can see there was a window there once.

On the walls of the north aisle there are the remains of 15th century wall paintings.

IMG_6827bThis one is the best preserved.

This represents avarice. There’s a man holding a bag of money in each hand standing between two devils.

IMG_6826bEvidence of painting is on the nave arches too.

As usual, I would have loved to have seen the church in its heyday.

IMG_6831bAnd in the floor of the nave there are these ledger stones. These commemorate Sarah Harris (1663) and John Wadman (1688) predecessor, I presume, of the other John Wadman.

At the other end of the nave and at the top of the building rather than the bottom, you can see this.

IMG_6849bIt’s the carved head of a bishop and this wooden boss is at the apex of the nave roof, just above the last tie beam. Always remember to look up and down.

I am so glad I took the time to see this little church. It is inaccessible for most of the year and although a lot of the inside has been removed, there was still plenty to see.

I am, however, now going to have to try and track down the treasures (mainly the tombs) that have been removed and relocated.