St Mary’s, Hadleigh
I had been to Hadleigh church a few years previously, but I didn’t remember much about it except its size and setting: it was large, and set within a courtyard-type space, with the old guildhall on one side of the churchyard-lawn hybrid, and a huge Tudor gateway on its tower side. This gateway once led to the now-demolished medieval Deanery . I was more than surprised to discover that its tower was medieval: it is the only large church in Suffolk with one. I thought that spires – which I don’t like much – were Victorian features; but it turns out that even if they are medieval, I am still not entirely convinced…
I was due at a friend’s house in Hadleigh at 2pm, so I decided to stop on the way. It was a beautiful, bright day, and I followed a couple with two small children into the church. They went to the play area at the back of the church, and inside the church already was an older couple. I stopped to ask if they would mind my playing the cello. After enquiring if I was ‘the person playing in all the churches’, the man said, ‘We’d love you to! We saw a message of yours in a visitors’ book last year, and we hoped we might bump into you some time.’
As I played, other people came in and out, while the children continued to play at the back of the church. It was a wonderful atmosphere: the church seemed a well-used, well-loved community space, available for use on a weekend as any other community space might be, whether a library, park or playground. Just as it should be, but rarely is, I thought. I felt overjoyed. The acoustic was good, and the church was warm in the bright sunshine. I had to take off some layers.
Soon after, a lady came into the church with a girl in a wheelchair. Then a second lady joined them. They asked if I they could sit near the front to listen. Afterwards, we chatted: they asked questions about what I was doing, and said how much they enjoyed the music. ‘Imogen likes it, she hasn’t smiled this much all day!’ they said. I asked after her: they told me they were carers from Colchester, and that Imogen, who was 21, lived in Hadleigh, and she was on respite care this week while her family were away.
‘She doesn’t really speak,’ they said, ‘but you can tell she liked it. I’m not sure she’s ever heard a cello before – perhaps not even live music’.
They were so enthusiastic, both about the cello music they had heard and about my project, and after asking if I was raising money for any charities – ‘you should have a bucket!’ – insisted on giving me a donation, £5 for the Suffolk Historic Churches Trust. For the second time in a couple of weeks, I was deeply touched by the strangers I had met in a church. I suppose I have a tendency to underestimate the effect music – and the sound of a cello – can have on people. If I ever doubted the human race, which is far too easy to do if you listen to the news, my faith was restored by these two encounters.
I arrived later than I intended at Rebecca’s house, after my extended chats in the church. Even without taking any photos: I must have left my camera battery at home in the charger, but it was probably for the best. I looked forward to going back with time to dawdle.