St Peter’s and St Paul’s, Ampton
Indoor temperature: 12.3˚C, humidity 73%
After my previous failed attempt to visit Ingham, I contacted the rector again and managed to arrange for both Ingham and Ampton to be left open for me the afternoon I was due to play at a WWI centenary event in Barningham church nearby.
It was pouring with rain and my satnav struggled to locate Ampton, so I did a full circle before I managed to end up at the church. I should have just memorised my route on the OS map. When I finally I reached the boundary wall of Ampton Hall, I knew I was in the right place.
Transferring my equipment to the church was a soggy task, but once I got inside my mood improved, despite the cold and dark. The light switches were easy to find, and lit up an interesting mix of features: a wooden coat of arms in the tower arch with almost no paint left on it, a wall painting fragment, a range of memorials, a side chapel with mosaics of St George and St Christopher, and old iron stove. I was curious to know its age, but all I could find out was that its presence was recorded by a nineteenth century historian.
I never quite managed to warm up, but I enjoyed the church and my practice there was productive. The most interesting feature I saved till last: the extensive graffiti on the arches, doorway and porch window frames. One carving looked like a cross between a musical instrument and a ribbon tied in a bow. The earliest clear date was 1589, and there were many symbols and pictures that I hadn’t encountered before.
Photographing the exterior of the church had to be undertaken through the open window of my car, from where I could more easily appreciate the picturesque setting of the little church. Then I headed to Ingham church, barely a mile down the road.
St Bartholomew’s, Ingham
Indoor temperature: 15.7˚C, humidity: 71%
I stepped into darkness through the church tower door. I opened the nave door to let in a little light and began searching for switches. I found them beside the entrance, but I still needed a torch to read the labels. The light revealed an unexpected sight in the nave: chairs were arranged in a circle, the walls were painted bright yellow, and the south porch had been converted into a kitchen. It reminded me of Mickfield, on a larger scale. The biggest surprise was that both nave walls were lined with large radiators, with barely a gap between them: it looked as though one might actually be able to warm up this church in winter. I could tell the heating had been on, in fact, as there was no chill in the air. Compared to Ampton at least.
I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about the set up. My first reaction was non-judgmental surprise. I wasn’t thinking about what I would rather have found inside. It certainly felt pleasant and welcoming; a used and appreciated ‘people-space’. It reflected a sense of community. But underneath, I suspect, there followed a hint of disappointment. The chairs and tables were ugly, the sort you find in a school, office or conference centre. They conflicted with the building, and some part of me had been looking forward to seeing, and playing in, a beautiful, ancient space, not a village hall.
It is the point at which I have to examine my priorities. Which is more important: aesthetics or functionality? It should be possible to have both, but perhaps not on the shoestring budget most churches exist on. I cannot find an explanation as to why the pews were removed, but according to the Blackbourne Team website, the church is indeed now used as a community centre as well as a place of worship. I have to conclude this is the best future for these buildings which are seeing dwindling congregations and church services. If a more flexible seating arrangement is necessary for such a use, is this not a reasonable price to pay? At least the chairs weren’t plastic.
From a cello playing perspective, I was grateful for the chairs on offer. They were padded and didn’t slope backwards, as plastic or fold up ones do, making for a much more comfortable playing experience. The acoustic was good, and I finished preparing my pieces for the evening event at Barningham. While I was playing, the keyholder, Margaret, came in to say hello and give me instructions for when I left the building. The heating had been on for a talk in the morning, and would soon come on again for an evening group, she told me.
The early dusk caught me out, as it often does for a few weeks when the clocks change: I forgot that I would need to take outdoor photos first, or run out of daylight. But along with the rain, it wasn’t the best day for exploring the churchyard anyway, so I resolved to go back another day.
St Andrew’s, Brockley
Two days later, I was due in Brockley for an afternoon concert. I had wanted to visit another church on the way, but I was worried about having enough time to practice, as completing my B&B duties had taken longer than I anticipated. So I settled on practising at home instead, and left for Brockley at the time I had agreed with James, my accompanist.
I found the church along a track next to a farm, more or less in the middle of fields – my favourite church location. The sun was shining and I was excited about the concert: I was hoping for, though not necessarily expecting, a small, rustic church. It seemed I was in luck. The nave was very short – about the same length as the chancel – and the porch was timbered. Inside was a very old plain hexagonal font whose age I would guess at around 13th century or perhaps earlier. I found a fair amount of graffiti: mostly symbols that, as usual, I couldn’t identify. It makes me realise that even the medieval graffiti experts can’t interpret even half of the symbols and carvings to be found in churches.
The heating was on, giving the church a red glow, and our practice soon got underway. The acoustic was good, but soon I regretted not giving my fingerboard the once-over with some methylated spirits before leaving home: it felt slightly sticky, making shifting (of hand position) more tricky than necessary. This, plus the fact I didn’t feel quite on top of my game today, meant that there were a few inaccuracies in my playing that irritated me, especially as they were almost all pieces I had played before. But probably that was the price to pay for not having done enough practice on this programme since my last, more challenging, concert two weeks before; and for fitting in a concert on the same weekend as having B&B guests, which inevitably means not feeling quite as fresh or concentrated as I’d ideally like. Still, it was an enjoyable occasion and I knew the audience wouldn’t have noticed anything was amiss. The excellent nibbles afterwards accompanied by chat with the audience rounded off a pleasant afternoon that perpetuated my enthusiasm for concerts in rustic little country churches.