Old churches can be fascinating places. If walls could talk what stories they could tell of people from ages past – the rich who provided the funds, the poor who laboured on its construction and those of high and low estate who worshipped under its roof.
Sometimes there are fascinating snippets written on stone tablets.
Take for example the plaque inside St Mary’s Church in Dedham, Essex in memory of Judith Eyre “who died much lamented in the 35th year of her age… in consequence of having accidentally swallowed a pin”.
Local folklore has it that the pin fell into a Christmas pudding. It may indeed have been a tragic happening but do you not wonder whether it was genuinely an accident? Or did somebody have it in for poor Judith and, quite literally, spiked her food?
And then there is the tragic tale of Thomas Prockter Ching told at St Mary Magdalene in Launceston, Cornwall. At the young age of 22 he was shipwrecked but then “suffered a more cruel fate at the hands of ignorant savages, by whom the crew was decoyed and murdered”.
This sad story surely raises the question: if the crew was indeed murdered, who lived to tell the tale and bring the gruesome tidings home to Launceston?
But much as I enjoy looking round old churches on my own, that pleasure is tinged with melancholy. Here is John Betjeman’s poem ‘A Cockney Amorist’.
Those last four lines – they get me every time.
Oh when my love, my darling,
You’ve left me here alone,
I’ll walk the streets of London
Which once seemed all our own.
The vast suburban churches
Together we have found:
The ones which smelt of gaslight
The ones in incense drown’d;
I’ll use them now for praying in
And not for looking round.
No more the Hackney Empire
Shall find us in its stalls
When on the limelit crooner
The thankful curtain falls,
And soft electric lamplight
Reveals the gilded walls.
I will not go to Finsbury Park
The putting course to see
Nor cross the crowded High Road
To Williamsons’ to tea,
For these and all the other things
Were part of you and me.
I love you, oh my darling,
And what I can’t make out
Is why since you have left me
I’m somehow still about.