November 2014

THE FRIENDS OF ST GREGORY’S MINSTER KIRKDALE

newsletter november 2014

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Dear Friend 

If you haven’t yet come across it, a really enjoyable excursion into the past 100 years or so of Kirkdale’s history awaits you in the DVD published by the Ryedale Family History Group in 2008: Kirkdale Parish Magazine 1942-1965 and A Short Account of St. Gregory’s Minster by the Revd F. W. Powell, 1909.

To deal with the latter item first: Frederick Walter Powell, Incumbent from 1904 to 1930 (his remains lie in the chancel), originally wrote his booklet only a couple of years after moving to Kirkdale, as an appeal to “the public, who come so numerously to see S. Gregory’s ancient church” for gifts towards the extensive restoration of which the Minster then stood in great need. “To raise a sum sufficient to make the Parish Church fit for worship and to provide for the safety of its unique memorials, would be the work of years” he wrote, “[But] we do not doubt for a moment that this help will be forthcoming. We do not expect another son of Gamal to come, like Orm, and take upon himself the whole cost of the restoration (albeit he would have a very good reception), for S. Gregory’s Minster is not now, as it was in his day, ‘all broken down and fallen’; it needs, indeed, but a few hundred pounds to make it worthy of its purpose and of its patron. We cannot but hope that the English people who are giving their thousands for the restoration of Selby Abbey, will, of their bounty, spare one thousand to restore the ancient Saxon Church of S. Gregory’s, Kirkdale.”

This major restoration was almost immediately tackled, in 1907; and in the reprint of his booklet in 1909 (the version on the DVD), giving a fairly detailed listing of the works undertaken, Mr Powell could thank “many kind and generous subscribers, whose help has allowed the work to be carried out within measurable distance of completion, for only £300 is now required to make up the amount of its estimated cost.”

He wrote this history and account of the restoration of 1907, he says, “for the sake of those who may wish to know the history of this church in ages to come. Had the successors of Hawarth and Brand, the priests who inscribed on the Sundial the work of the first restoration, only given us some account of the structural alterations which took place from time to time, instead of recording the charges for whipping out dogs and destroying foxes, how different would be our knowledge of the former state of S. Gregory’s Minster.” That sentiment may be heard expressed again in conversations around the Minster at this very moment, as the experts debate the foundations exposed beneath the east end of the 1881 rebuild of the chancel, under the Archaeological Watching Brief (a condition of permission to improve external drainage).

     “Whipping out dogs and destroying foxes”? These are expenses which Mr Powell found mentioned in old registers of the church (reaching back, he reports, to 1578). In 1698 “the parson and the most respectable part of the congregation” were caused such annoyance “by the perpetual howling of dogs” (presumably brought to church by the least respectable part of the congregation!) that a man had to be paid ten shillings to drive them out. And well into the 19th century it was still a responsibility of the church (as was the case in many other rural parishes) to pay bounties for the heads of foxes and the skins of ‘foulmarts’ (polecats) which preyed upon the farmers’ chickens and the gentry’s pheasants: a shilling for a fox-head and fourpence for a foulmart.

     More relevant to our own attitudes towards St Gregory’s Minster are Mr Powell’s comments upon those visitors - “tourists” - who came “so numerously” to view the sundial. Barriers had to be raised to protect the church against them.

They “deface its walls and portals by carving their names side by side with Edward the King, and Gregory, Saint and Patron.” Therefore included in the plan for restoration was “the removal of the more valuable relics to the interior, and the fixing of a pair of efficient gates to the porch, to replace the old ones long since disappeared.” The gates would be designed to ensure “the least disappointment to those who come to see the sundial, and not to deface the church.”

Accordingly, lockable gates were installed and the two ancient tomb-covers were removed from the exterior west wall and mounted on plinths in the arcade of the north aisle. The church was always kept locked in those days and frustrated visitors would sometimes leave indignant messages of objection.

The Vicar wrote: “The disappointment of the tourist sometimes assumes an angry tone. ‘My House shall be called the House of Prayer,’ writes one (on our notice board!) who tells us that he has come fifty miles to find the church door locked. If he came for devotion, we wondered why he came so far? and if he came to see the church, we thought he might have come a little further and obtained the key, which is kept at Nawton, and also found the church there, open and more suitable for the purpose of week-day prayer than the cold and damp S. Gregory’s. Another disappointed visitor also defaces the notice board to ask ‘if we are afraid the hymn books will be taken?’  ‘Worse things than that,’ we might answer, judging from the external desecration of the itinerant penknife. In answer to such as think all churches should be open, we can only say that the position of S. Gregory’s is so singular, there being no houses near in which a caretaker might reside, that to leave it open would be to court worse disaster than it has already suffered from unaccompanied visitors.”

     If, today, those 18th and 19th-century carved initials have themselves become a curiosity for visitors to ask about, the church still has specific cause to worry about the risks of the daily unlocked door. Yet in the Visitors’ Book is ample evidence that people greatly appreciate finding the church standing with arms (well, door) open to welcome in the visitor. It was during the incumbency of the Rev. Maurice Beardshaw (1935-56) that this policy was adopted, and from then on his monthly piece in the Parish Magazine makes intermittent mention of the quite significant income from visitors’ donations (and this happy situation still holds good today).

However, barely two generations but two World Wars on from Mr Powell’s days, the Rev. Maurice Beardshaw’s ministry was having to adjust to a greatly changed society and parish.

There was for a time the impact of a large military presence in the area. Families grieved over sons killed or maimed in the war. Demobilised men returning to civilian life suffered problems of readjustment in family and community. Facing the peace was as challenging as coping with war.  Disappointment over church attendance, even at the Church’s greater festivals, is a regular theme in the Vicar’s letter in the Parish Magazine.

So is the constant struggle to meet the Diocesan Quota (“for which we are asked the sum of £19/12/- and we look upon it as a point of honour that this should be paid in full, as it has been done in many years past”).

And then there was the organ. Damp and Mice. “The instrument […] is certainly a good one and deserves to be kept in good order and also complete in every particular.” But some of the stops have stopped working and some “give vent to ciphering notes when they ought not”! Messrs Harrison and Harrison came down from Durham and inspected its innards and presented an estimate for renovation which startled the Church Council. Yet already at the following Epiphany service the Vicar was able to call off a fund-raising meeting and announce instead a “munificent gift” - some anonymous donors  had sent him “a single cheque for the whole sum of money  required for this work (£44).”

In a later magazine issued after Easter 1955 he was moved to write: “There must be very few Parish Churches in the land which could have exceeded the reverence of the Choral Communion Service at Kirkdale. It was over-powering and over-whelming in its reality and every one must have felt that they really had been at church.” Organ and choir were then, as they have remained, far more than an aesthetic adornment to worship in Kirkdale.

The alert reader will not have failed to spot the theme lurking behind this selection of snippets from the records of Kirkdale. We, the parishioners, the congregation, the Friends, are privileged to have in our care one of England’s ecclesiastical treasures, which is also a living and thriving place of worship at the heart of a lively community.

The needs it has always felt, the crises great or small it has always confronted, are still with us. The call upon the generosity of those who care for this place remains as burdensome as ever it was. The reward, there for all, whether givers or not, to enjoy, is often expressed in words found among visitors’ comments. They speak of the beauty and tranquillity of the ancient church in its natural setting, of the manifest care of those who tend it inside and out, of the aura of antiquity; and now and again of something intangible yet by some other faculty genuinely felt: a perception that, just as Orm Gamalson himself came to understand (in Herbert Read’s poem Kirkdale), the dove’s feather had fallen in “a holy place”.

Mr Powell and Mr Beardshaw were fortunate with their benefactors, whose good works of giving still today form part of the fabric and furniture of the Minster. But they would surely have welcomed the support which a Friends’ organisation has proved it can deliver - and not in terms of cash grants alone but also in effectually attracting together and co-ordinating the enthusiasm and varied competences of people sharing a desire to do something for this place.

Think, for example, of the intention, the talents, the organisation and the toil offered by Friends in the fine recently dedicated altar-rail kneelers, the solemn reinterment of handsomely recoffined ancient human remains in a fittingly marked grave, the special work-force mustered for cleaning the church after recent interior works, the conjunction of parish and Friends in pilgrimages, the archaeologist’s Friendly donation of services in kind, the generous donations to the Friends from the Ryedale Show Committee and from magnanimous individual Friends in support of special projects, the publication of scholarly monographs broadly relating to St Gregory’s and Kirkdale, and much more. All justifications for Friends to congratulate themselves.

But there are more challenges upon us even now. The Trustees are poised to make very substantial grants to the JCC for necessary works on the Minster and its curtilage following the Architect’s Quinquennial Report; and for providing a toilet facility and for underwriting the recently launched Organ Appeal. Many Friends are also regular members of the congregation who are being asked to increase their direct giving to the Church. It’s a difficult time for givers and for the replenishing of coffers. So if you know of a modern-day son or daughter of Gamal who would like his or her munificence to be remembered for a thousand years, please put him or her in touch with the Vicar or the Chairman. We’d provide the persuasive dove’s feather and the memorial sundial.

   Finally, some updating. The Friends’ Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne in September was again a most memorable and enriching experience: scores of heavily pregnant seals joined in our open-air seaward singing. Our Patron the Abbot received us cordially at Ampleforth and made us work at construing the iconography of the Abbey Church. The Friends’ presentation of the exceedingly handsome new altar-rail kneelers has been mentioned above; as have the archaeological uncoverings . Another uncovering - of bats in the stables - has put an abrupt stop to work on the toilet facility, pending a costly Bat Report. Apparently we now also have bats in the belfry.

     Your Secretary, Treasurer and I, and all the Trustees thank you once more for your ongoing support and wish you a very happy Christmas. We hope to see you at one of the Carol Services.

Yours,

Sid Bradley

Chairman

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The Trustees: Mrs Heather Harris (Chairman); Mrs Margery Roberts (Honorary Secretary); Mrs Diana Pearce (Honorary Treasurer); Reverend Susan Binks; Professor Sid Bradley; Mr Bob Chapple; Mrs Erica Dineen; Mr James Lloyd; Mr Gordon Mellor and Mr John Turner.  “The Friends of St Gregory’s Minster” is a charity registered with the Charity Commission, Charity Number 700344.

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