Tag Archives: heritage

St Mary the Virgin Church, Fordwich, Near Canterbury, Kent

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Popped in to see St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich after doing that traditional Sunday activity of visiting the DIY shop.   This is one of seventeen Kent churches entrusted to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, a charity who sole function is to ensure that the historical and material aspects of local Churches is maintained and that they can remain open to the public.

Fordwich sits comfortably and sleepily on the banks of the Stour as it winds it’s way to the sea.  The present town bears very little relation to the buzzing place it must have been when it served as the main port for the arrival of Caen stone from France during the Norman reconstruction of the nearby Canterbury Cathedral in 12C and 13C.  Nowadays it’s main claim to fame is that it is the smallest place in the country to have a Town Council and it also has two fine pubs one of which is conveniently opposite the miniscule Town Hall!

Having negotiated my way past innumerable gravestones I arrived at the Church door.  The church itself is very much more substantial than the Romney Marsh building I visited last Sunday and the setting is no where near as unique but that said it does have some interesting features.  I guess from an historical point of view the sarcophagus (that supposedly once contained the remains of St Augustine of Canterbury) is of note. dating from 1100, it is carved with columns and with fishscale tiles on the sloping top  making it look a bit like a Greek temple but but beyond that the thing itself is pretty featureless.

The painting (1688) above the tympanium represents the Royal Arms of William III and Commandments but the best thing about it is the way it exactly follows the shape of the chancel arch below and so serves to emphasise the architectural structure of the building as well as to remind us to be good and pious.

And then there is the fine hand-pumped organ with a large lever protruding from the rear which, no doubt,  someone who didn’t pay enough attention to the commandments above the Chancel Arch was obliged to pump up and down until given the signal to stop from the organist.

And finally, the crowning glory has got to be the curious bully-beef tin hooked on the side of one of the pews.  It certainly never had the honour of holding any relics but what a fantastic piece of folk art – and I have no idea what it was made to hold!

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent ©Robert Greshoff

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, Kent
©Robert Greshoff

St Thomas a Becket Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh

Romney Marsh has got to be one of my favourite places in Kent.  The silent and bleak desolation is contrasted only by the endless groups of sheep nibbling at the grass and the plaintive bleats from the new lambs.  Yesterday was a gloriously sunny day so it was a perfect time to visit St Thomas a Beckett Church near Fairfield.  Apparently (according to Simon Jenkins) this is one of Kent’s most visited churches and it is in a wonderful location so one can easily understand why but if you strip out the setting, the building itself is rather plain and uninspiring.

The church now sits isolated and alone amongst the sheep and the steady trickle of visitors most of whom seem to park on the road, walk to the church and then back to their cars to drive off without stopping.  I found the atmosphere there quite compelling and was really struck by the amazing silence that surrounds the place.

The sign on the gate says that the Church key is available at the nearest house.  I was very happy to find the large key hanging next to the back door of said house.  No security, just a small note saying to please replace the key after use – wonderful.  And it was a fine looking key too!

There has been a church on this site since the 13C but all the associated houses have long gone.  The existing church structure was restored in about 1910 after it had become virtually derelict so all the exterior brickwork and roof is from that date which gives it quite a early 20C feel but the interior has certainly retained some of the original timbers.  It also has some marvellous (and very recently painted) box pews, a fine split pulpit and a lead font but I guess even taking these into account the best thing about this church is without doubt it’s location which is utterly unique.

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

St Thomas a Beckett Church, Fairfield, Romney Marsh, Kent

Red Telephone Box resurrection in Kent and “La Cabina”

Easter is a good time to think of resurrection.

I have passed the yard of #UniquelyBritish countless times since moving to Kent 10 years ago but I visited the place for the first time last week.  Their yard is situated next door to the busy A2 motorway on it’s way to Dover but because the landscape is elevated at that point you wouldn’t realise the road is there.  And there is not much else around aside from countryside which creates a slightly incongruous and somewhat surreal environment for these red telephone boxes.

#UniquelyBritish have been resurrecting these red telephone boxes for years and send them out all over the world and are the only company in Kent doing this work and one of three or four nationwide.  They also do postboxes and some of the more standard architectural salvage stuff but the phoneboxes are the undoubted stars.  There seems to little point in regurgitating the history of these iconic British objects here, but if you are curious to know more, this is a good place to start:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_telephone_box

The place made me think of the slightly weird Spanish movie La Cabina (“The Telephone Box”), an Emmy award-winning, 1972 film directed by Spanish director Antonio Mercero, and written by him and José Luis Garci.  The plot is simple:  A new phone-box is delivered to a own square.   A father tries to make a call and is trapped in it.  All efforts to release him fail and eventually he is carried away (in the box) to a hellish place where hundreds of similar telephone boxes are stored resplendent with their ex-occupants.  A weird but compelling movie.

If you’re interested it is about 30 minutes long and can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFeERCVkAPg

Now the pictures:

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The innards of Canterbury Cathedral

With the Getty Museum project now complete, I thought I take a few pics of the wonderful roofspace up at the top of the cathedral.  Unfortunately the numerous firewalls prevent one getting a vista of the entire roofspace and one can only imagine what that view must be like.  But each section on it’s own has a degree of dynamism particularly those that have windows.  The other sections, without the benefit of natural light are vast caverns of darkness and in these conditiions (even with the few measly lights that there are, turned on) the rather incongruous signpost, is a very useful addition.  Carrying a compass helps too!

You get to the roof via a very long, continuous and pretty steep stone stairway complete with irregular tread heights which make slipping a constant hazard.  If you were to miss a step and start an involuntary descent, you’ll keep on going until you hit the bottom.  So one tends to use the rusty handrail thoughtfully provided.  Stone staircases in cramped settings are really difficult (if not impossible!) to shoot in such a way that demonstrates both their height and steepness.  Nevertheless I gave it a try and failed on both those counts.  But as the shot looks to me more like a snail shell than a staircase, I claim success in showing a stone staircase as a snail shell.

The last shot was taken from the Clerestory which I took simply because I was there!

Back to the world of new buildings tomorrow.

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Cathedral Book Launch in Canterbury

Well, It’s done!

After meeting Jonathan for the first time yesterday afternoon (what a nice guy!) we quickly settled into a book-signing routine (a novel experience for both of us) and emerged later to find our subject bathed in wonderful warm late afternoon sunlight.

The evening event was good too and JF gave a short lively presentation that simultaneously illustrated the complexity of and his passion for his subject.

It was amazing that despite working together over the past 2 1/2 years we had not met together as a group so last night was the first time the writer, publishers, book designer and photographer met up at the same time!

One more event in May and then the project will be truly behind us and it will be time to start pursuing the next one, whatever that turns out to be.

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