A Puzzle at Rowlestone St Peter

Our anniversary church crawl ended at Rowlestone, with its fine tympanum and intriguing chancel arch capitals in the Herefordshire School early Norman style. The Christ in Majesty on the tympanum is beautifully preserved and easy to “read”, but how the carver loved his pigeons (or are they cockerels for St Peter?) – and what on earth is going on on those capitals? The assumption must be that they show Peter, the Patron Saint of the church, and an angel, but whay are the right-hand figures inverted? It’s not just a misplaced stone because the figures and the bird comprise a single stone. One theory is that is was just a mistake: perhaps the carver did the left-hand stone first and then started on the right-hand one, beginning with the saint and angel but inadvertently repeating the orientation of the first stone, and was then reluctant to waste his work. Or perhaps, according to another theory, it deliberately echoes Peter’s upside-down crucifixion (and beyond that his denial as well as his faith). I would feel more comfortable with the second theory if an analogue could be offered though. Either way, they are strongly and impressively carved, and they made a fine end to ur tour, as did a posh picnic on a bench in the sun in the churchyard before we returned home.

St Margaret’s, St Margaret’s

From Turnastone we carried on up the west slopes of the Golden Valley towards the Black Mountains, braving the network of single-track roads (we had to a long reverse to let the postie through). But it was well worth it to at last reach St Margaret’s Church in the dispersed parish also called St Margaret’s. It’s a typical little Norman two-cell building, beautifully kept – and boasting the finest rood loft in the county, in the Welsh style, dating from about 1500. (These lofts and screens were a late rather than early medieval thing). Now in bare wood, we can admire its exquisite carving, but I presume that back in the day it would have been highly-coloured in the usual way.

Pause to admire and ponder too the well-repainted eighteenth-century texts (“Go and sin more” confronts you over the door as you leave…) and the fine Arts and Crafts east window by A J Davies of the Bromsgrove Guild.

Not to be missed!

Turnastone, St Mary Magdalene – old and new working together for the future

Turnastone took its name from the Norman Ralph of Tournai who settled there and the present building shows 12th- and 12th-century work creating a simple open space of some elegance. The fine monument to Thomas AparrI (ApHarry/Parry) d.1522 and his wife speaks of continuity of use and worship despite a parish population of perhaps a couple of dozen, and the fine barrel roof of c,1500, a major restoration in the 1880s, and another recently in 2016-18 show how resilient manby “marginal” churches can be. Striking in that regard is the national pilot project to build a fully-reversible “Holiday Accommodation Pod” in the church (see the picture of the model and http://www.wyedoreparishes.org.uk/Turnastone_files/AccomUnit.htm) which is currently being adjudicated. To my mind it offers a win-win, providing good visitor accommodation, supporting local businesses, and generating funds to maintain the building, without prejudicing its historic fabric. When I was chair of the Cambridgeshire Historic Churches Conservation Trust my repeated message was that it is living use that best guarantees historic conservation.

St Bartholomew, Vowchurch: a symphony in wood

St Bartholomew’s is of course a mediaeval church, with its surviving stonework being mostly from the fourteenth century. But it is the woodwork that distinguishes it. The roof was rebuilt in 1613, supported on internal wall-posts, which gives it a curious aisled-but-not-aisled feel – perhaps the work of John Abell, although nearly all the woodwork of any standard in these parts seems to be attributed to him. From the seventeenth century also date the screen, with its “caryatids” – perhaps Eve and Adam (and Adam at least looks very like a portrait) and the support-work at the west end. To those we can add a good selection of pews inscribed by ?churchwardens, and a remarkable panel telling us that, “Heare Below Ly The body Of Thomas hill ande Marg(ar)et his Wife Whose Children Made This Skryne.”

So my puzzle from this church is, how would you best translate “skryne”? It’s a variant spelling of “shrine”, but that word could mean “chest” or “screen” as well. Over to you.

The lovely old couple in the photo are the brother of Lewis Caroll and his wife: he was vicar here once, and a reminder once again just how interesting the clergy were in these somewhat remote places – and I hasten to add how interesting they still are.

Faith in action at St Faith’s, Dorstone

Dorstone stands at the head of the Golden Valley, where the river Dore rises. D’Or and Dore make a wonderful wordplay, and it is indeed a wonderful and slightly hidden valley, once dominated of course by Dore Abbey at Abbeydore. Pilgrim shells welcomed us, fixed to the gate and notice boards, but this was the only church on our trail that was locked. Only, though, becauce that week they were celebrating Two Funerals and a Wedding and had valuable equipment on site – and two parishioners quickly welcomed us and returned in short order with a key. (Others were also visiting as the photos show.) The church is thirteenth century at its heart but was given a good Arts-and-Crafts makeover in the late nineteenth century, although the overambitious tower had to be cut down to size more recently. This was indeed a place of golden and warm welcome, and we were happy to part with a little of our own gold using their uptodate payment terminal. It was good to hear too of plans to reinstate the west gallery and install the usual facilities in the ample base of the tower (where the bells were reinstated recently too). All good!

A holy place for the Herefordshire Hardwicke

The parish of Hardwicke was carved out of that of Clifford, reputedly then the fourth largest in the country (by area…) in 1853. The promoters were the Penoyre family who lived locally at The Moor, and they commissioned a Monmouth architect, Thomas Tudor, who made a good fist of it. The first vicar was the resoundingly named Revd. W T Napleton Stallard Penoyre, who was succeeded by William Webb, a well-known astronomer and friend of Kilvert.

Puzzle of the day: Why the ship in the window?

UPDATE: the ever-resourceful Rob Walker suggests that there was a slaving conection with Jamaica: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146638593.

High above Hay: finding life at St Mary, Cusop

Yesterday was our 47th wedding anniversary, and we treated ourselves to a post-lockdown Church Crawl round many of the Abberydore Deanery churches that we haven’t yet visited. First up was the little chapel-sized church at Cusop, above Hay-on-Wye, which was begun by the Normans but well restored in the 19th century. Like all the churches in the deaney that we visited it was open, and clearly showing signs of life and adventure: a good sign in this very rural part of Hereford Diocese. CPAS are the patrons and the evangelical heritage shows here, not least in the memorial to William Seward, friend of the Wesleys, who sadly died soon after a hostile reception in Hay. His memory lives on here though.

On the way out we wondered at a beautifully conceived and executed tombstone that was inscribed “I am the Gate” and hada cut out through which the lychgate could be peeped.

Crusading Knights at Garway St Michael

Our latest church crawl took us to Garway Church, about half an hour south of Hereford in hidden country between the Monmouth and Abergavenny roads. A round trip could easily include Kilpeck, Grosmont, Kentchurch Gardens and one of several excellent pubs …

But, after Kilpeck, Garway is one of the stars among Herefordshire churches, and one of very few genuine surviving buildings of the Templars (later taken over by the Hospitallers after their suppression). It was a 12th-century foundation with a massive and genuinely defensible tower standing next to (now joined to) what was originally a circular naved church. The nave was squared off by the Hospitallers in the 15th century, but the foundations of the original circular walls are still visible (see bottom left photo above).

The splendid dog-toothed chancel arch with its ferocious cat-capital date from the Templars, while the Hospitallers seem to have enjoyed adding graffiti – see the Maltese cross, still the emblem of the Order of St John and St John Ambulance, and the cross with crosslets which is reminiscent of forms in use in Jerusalem and the East.

Later generations have (hooray) left their mark too: steps to nowhere leading to a lost rood gallery; a full set of splendidly chunky vernacular pews; a delicious little organ case; carved choir stalls – and a splendid tablecloth from a linked Sunday School in Africa, with the names of the children embroidered onto little felt fishes.

It has to be said that finding Garway Church can be a bit of an adventure, but in the end our satnav (HR2 8RJ) took us happily right to the end of the little lane that leads to it, and on which we found safe parking. So be brave, be bold and give it a go.

Aconbury St John the Baptist: from the Sisters of St John of Jerusalem to Diocesan Store

It was time to go south for our third trip out, a quarter of an hour down the Ross road to the delightful hamlet of Aconbury, off just about everyone’s beaten track these days but a great spot for a country spring walk. Park on the hard-standing not the grass though as the local farmer has some pretty big machinery to move around (and some nice grass to keep unspoiled).

Back in the day (in the thirteenth century in fact) the Sister of St John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers) had a priory here – it became an Augustinian house later after a big row – and you can still see the remains of a cloister on the south wall. An early piece of carved columns also hiding in the fifteenth century porch with its fine angels greeting you as you arrive. Not that you can go in now, though, as the building is preserved by virtue of being used a diocesan store. Every diocese needs one…

Before you leave for that country walk remember to look up and see the very picturesque shingled bell-turret added by G.G. Scott who restored the church in the nineteenth century (these Scotts got everywhere, even to the back of beyond like here).