That time of year...

I wonder, is there a time in your annual calendar you refer to as ‘that time of year’? For us it is always June and July. During these two months we squeeze the best part of our entire annual social life into about six weekends of frantic travelling about the country, bell-ringing with very old friends and generally meeting up with people we only see at this time of year.

It’s always a pleasure, but it does tend to throw you off your routine and I’m now right in the middle of our busiest period. Which would make this a terrible time to choose to embark on something new, something that requires a lot of learning from scratch or something that’s extremely time-consuming…you can guess where this is going can’t you.

 

So yes, on top of all the other things that are happening at the moment, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to grips with building a new website. If you saw my post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I found the initial stage quite a challenge. For someone who spends such a lot of time quietly stitching, I’m really not naturally a patient person, and trying to teach myself new things doesn’t always bring out the best in me.

But I’m pleased to say I bit my lip and got on with it. Inevitably once you really get down to something eventually it comes together. I’m now at the ‘playing with it stage‘ so I won’t ask you to race over and have a look just yet, but don’t worry, once it feels ok I’ll give you all the details.

I’ve been blogging now for nearly ten years in one guise or another and over that time I’ve changed so much and so indeed has the whole blogging community. For many people their blog has been superseded by other social media, especially Instagram, which it has to be said does make micro-blogging much easier to do and also it makes connecting with people who’re interested in what you have to say much easier too. Then there are so many people who simply seem to have run out of blogging steam. I miss hearing from them, but life changes and things move on.

The major change for me in recent years has been finding a balance between the three things that go to my core; observing the rhythms of the seasons, evangelising for Britain’s old places and creating slow-stitched pieces of art. Now I finally feel properly at home with what I’m doing and it’s come as such a relief. Thank you to everyone who has born with me chopping and changing, and the frequent dithering over past months and years.

I will never cease to be amazed that I can now speak directly to friends, artists, nature-lovers and history geeks across the globe with just a few clicks, and it is being a part of this truly incredible online community that makes me certain that although the format evolves, I’m definitely happy and grateful to carry on being a part of it.

So when the new website goes live, it will be evolution rather than revolution. Still the same haphazard mix of content, hopefully better presented, more flexible for what I might want to do in future and importantly under my own control.

And so after all that, you may well be going never mind all that waffle Anny, where’s this week’s dollop of heritage?

Well, I hope you’ll forgive me this week for not coming up with an entirely new piece. What with website building, weekends with friends, children ferrying and general spinning of plates, I’ve simply not sat down to do it properly. So instead here is a flavour of what we get up to on our annual ringing get-togethers from a couple of years ago and which first appeared on my old history blog.

A CHURCHY AFTERNOON…

IN WHICH WE DON’T GO FAR, BUT VISIT FOUR CHURCHES IN THE HEART OF ENGLAND…

The wonderful thing about being a history junkie living in England, is the prevalence of parish churches. Every one of them is a little time capsule, telling stories about our national, regional and very personal histories. I love looking at them for what their architecture tells us about their building history and then going inside, or walking around the graveyards and seeing the human histories remembered in tombs, memorials, windows and simple graves.

At the weekend, we visited four churches, all fairly close together in the Warwickshire/Worcestershire borders. Each very different in character, and each a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our past. None is particularly exceptional, but that’s the wonderful thing about them, wherever you go, a fascinating journey into history is waiting for you.

St Mary, Ullenhall, Warwickshire

This was our first stop. A strange little church, with a mix of architectural styles that can mean only one thing – Victorian! It was designed by John Pollard Seddon and built in 1875.

You need to walk around the outside to get a full impression – the rear is much prettier than the front, but you can’t tell from first glances. For me the clock face up on the odd little spire was the best bit.

St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Tanworth-in-Arden is one of those perfect villages where you imagine Miss Marple would feel at home, wisteria and hollyhocks around the doors. And the church lives up to that ideal too, standing right in the centre of the village.

There were people rehearsing in the church so we didn’t have a proper look around inside, but the cool interior felt serene.

Outside an unusual monument butts right up to the side door, but I couldn’t read the inscriptions, so I don’t know who it commemorated. One face appears to have had a new piece of stone inserted – it’s obviously still important to someone.

I didn’t know at the time, but Nick Drake’s ashes were interred in the churchyard and somehow that seems to fit well with the character of the music he left behind.

St Leonard’s, Beoley, Worcestershire.

This is another church close to a big town but hidden away on the side of a hill. A huge mixture of styles reflecting the age of the church, but I couldn’t help feeling that the hand of the Victorian renovator had been a bit overpowering.

There is a chapel to the left of the chancel – the Sheldon Chapel – built in 1580 for a recusant family, which was a peculiarly oversize attachment. I always want to see the faces of these effigies, but it was very difficult to get into a suitable position. I held the camera where I thought it should be and hoped.

This whole area, Worcestershire and Warwickshire was deeply embroiled in the turbulent religious times and politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with many characters involved in the Gunpowder Plot living in the region, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find the chapel there.

When we came home and I looked up Beoley, I found this lovely story which connects Shakespeare with Beoley – if you have a few minutes have a read and see what you think.

St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury, Worcestershire

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Now I must admit that I am not an impartial visitor to Hanbury. I spent the first twenty years of my life very close to Hanbury and it has a special place in my heart. That said, I’m sure anyone would find it a fascinating if not classically beautiful church.

The Vernon family who built and lived in Hanbury Hall (now managed by the National Trust)are closely connected to the church, with many of them buried in the Vernon Chapel. I rather like the marble figures in all their finery. I especially liked the juxtaposition of medieval door with the marble statue.

However, the very best thing about Hanbury is the position of the church itself, perched on top of a hill, with wide-open views across to the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills. Long before the church was built, there was an Iron Age hilltop fort there. Later the Saxons built a monastery on the site.

It’s exactly the sort of churchyard where you could sit and contemplate life the universe and everything.

A truly enjoyable afternoon of exploring.


Back next week, when we’ll still be in that time of year, but hopefully I’ll be better prepared. Having said that, I’m giving a talk to the Embroiderers’ Guild over in Northamptonshire next weekend, so that might be a bit optimistic!

Best wishes and happy stitching…