St Peter’s, Lindsey
One Saturday afternoon I arranged to meet my friend Mark at Lindsey church, as he had requested to accompany me when I went there. I arrived first and found it locked, without a keyholder name or phone number in sight. It would certainly have been occasion for the echoed cry of despair, ‘where in God’s name is the key to this church?’ (see Onehouse church) if there had been a porch noticeboard to write it on. But there was nothing. The notices by the road were locked behind glass, and contained no useful information about how one would go about taking a look inside what I’d been led to believe was a very singular church indeed.
I probably would have given up and moved on to another church, but my first port of call for such problem solving was about to arrive. Mark, living in the neighbouring village of Kersey and always knowing someone who knows someone if he doesn’t have a direct acquaintance himself, remembered which house the key used to be kept at, and went in search. He reappeared a few minutes later with the desired object in his hand. He didn’t find it at the same house, he told me, but bumped into a villager who directed him to its new location.
While he was gone I had the opportunity to thoroughly inspect the stunning porch. The roof timbers had clearly been replaced, but the wooden frame of the porch doorway arch and the uprights on the sides looked original, although I did wonder for a moment if the arch had had a previous life elsewhere. It reminded me of a whale’s skeleton, or a ship’s.
The door was unlocked with the mighty key, and it required barely one step into the church to see the interior was quite as wonderful as the porch. It was bright and there was hardly a Victorian ‘upgrade’ in sight. Nearly everything about it looked ancient: the font, the pews in the chancel, the walls, the porch, the wall painting fragments. The grey floor bricks may not have been as old, but they were thoroughly in keeping with the character and colour of the church.
The most astonishing thing to me was the vast amount medieval graffiti on the pillars – ducks, to cats, to sun dials, to tudor roses, to repeated symbols which must have an important meaning of which I am unaware or have already forgotten. We went round each pillar, careful not to miss anything, feeling a direct connection to the people who engraved their marks in the stone hundreds of years ago, even when we could not decipher what the symbols or pictures meant. I could imagine a fascinating lifetime researching this subject.
I loved playing in such a history-infused setting. The acoustic seemed near perfect. Boomy acoustics are wonderful to play in, but not always wonderful to listen in. Here, I had the sense that the listening experience would be just as good as the playing experience.
This was definitely a church to add to my favourites, along with Thornham Parva and Blythburgh. The only niggle still at the back of my mind was the fact it was steadfastly locked against visitors. I felt indignation and some moral obligation on behalf of my future fellow visitors to bring this shortcoming to the attention of the parish, and decided I would make my complaint in the visitors’ book, softened by plentiful high praise of the church’s beauty.
We were just down the road from English Heritage’s 13th century St James’ chapel, and although not officially on my churches list, I felt it would be a pity, if not entirely wrong, to miss the opportunity to visit since we were so close by. The only problem was that it was now nearly 4 o’clock, and I’d forgotten to have lunch before leaving home. Normally I could simply have waited, but, after insufficient sleep the night before and a busy morning looking after guests, I found I couldn’t contemplate playing even one note more on the cello until I had eaten something.
As fortune would have it, the farm whose strawberries I always buy from the East of England Co op when they are in season was almost directly opposite the chapel. With no other options nearby, apart from eggs which were of no use to me without a kitchen, I bought a punnet from the farm gate; Mark bought another. For the first time in my life, as far as I can remember, I ate a whole punnet in one sitting. Mark was shocked. I was surprised. But I felt a whole lot better afterwards: I had underestimated the power of strawberries as a fuel.
Having acquired sufficient energy to once more unload my equipment and walk round to the entrance, I remembered that this chapel had an earth floor – and perhaps it will be the only one I encounter, excluding the floors of church ruins which I may one day use as an excuse to play outdoors. This presented me with a slight inconvenience: the only thing to sit on was a pew along the back wall, and therefore I couldn’t use my wooden spike holder, which required chair feet to secure it; nor could I use my non-slip one. The spike was going to have to go directly into the ground. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen: would the cello disappear up to its knees? Thankfully, it stopped sinking after perhaps a centimetre, and stayed there long enough for me to play it.
As I expected, the acoustic was not inspiring – I wondered for the first time if humidity affects sound, and concluded it must, since sound travels through air – and as my energy levels had only been raised to a few notches above zero by the strawberries, I played just a minute or two of music before declaring my cello retired for the rest of the day. Mark, looking like the ancient hermit of Lindsey with his trusty companion, Bob the dog, remained crouched down against the wall for a while, reading the bible which had been left open on the table.