I have known BQ for a long time, a very long time, in fact it is 72 years since we met on our first day at the Chislehurst and Sidcup County Grammar School and shared the trauma of adapting to life in this vast modern glass structure having moved from small village schools of less than 30 boys. It was an ordeal that one can never forget. Discipline was rigorous. Minor transgressions resulted in either detention or having to join the daily pressgang of miscreants sentenced to push a heavy roller back and forth on the school cricket pitch while their fellow pupils enjoyed lunch. More serious wrongdoing resulted in the dreaded cane, applied to the bare buttocks by the headmaster himself. Heaven help any boy who rejoined his class having succumbed to tears. The old lags always made a point of smiling broadly afterwards and, in the communal showers after PT, displayed the ugly red wheals on their bodies as a badge of honour.
In later years I have sometimes wondered why such brutality was needed or indeed permitted. Perhaps there was an acceptance of the need to ‘toughen up’ the younger generation. After all, it was only four years after the end of the Second World War and most children, including me, on leaving secondary school would then go on to do their National Service where ‘toughened up’ they would definitely need to be.
BQ and I have kept in touch ever since those far off days and met up when possible in between forging careers and and rearing children although for much of our lives we were living in different countries, and sometimes different continents. But in retirement, by coincidence, we have finished up little more than 10 miles apart.
Remarkably during our lengthy friendship we have seldom had a significant falling out, that is until we we were faced with the intractable satnav versus road-atlas and past knowledge dilemma. I am a committed satnav devotee, happy to blindly follow the electronic lady’s instructions although I realise that they might not always result in the best possible route. BQ is a techno-luddite preferring to rely on his memory of travelling around these roads during his past working life. And so, once again I allowed myself to be persuaded to deviate from the advised route and take a road that BQ assured me would take us more directly onto the A272 and so on to our destination. The inevitable followed when we found ourselves locked into a procession of slow moving vehicles through Winchester’s convoluted one-way system. Happily, 30 minutes later the atmosphere lightened when we moved from urban sprawl into perhaps one of the most attractive counties – West Sussex. And how could it not? There is surely nothing more beautiful and uplifting than the English countryside in the midst of Spring. MW
What a neat simple church in a lovely farmland setting, almost a picture postcard of the perfect English country church. However it’s simplicity is soon disturbed by a wonderful interior. which is early Gothic ‘single cell’ with a ‘splay foot’ spirelet hung with tiles. The church is a complete rebuild from around 1220
No finer sight than the wild spring flowers in the graveyard. Also clearly visible on the north side is the vestry, originally built in the 17th century by Henry Shelley, the ancestor of the poet, as a burial chamber.
For a church that has had no regular clergy since 1845 and was declared abandoned in 1980, the interior is magnificent; the only word to describe it is ‘bespoke’.
Everything is in its rightful place. A superb Queen Anne screen composed of three classical arches topped by a giant tympanum divides the nave from the chancel. A very fine arched roof and two of the three Georgian hatchments of the Butler family are visible on the north wall.
The eighteenth century pinewood box pews fill the whole nave.
Once entering the chancel one is struck by the perfect symmetry of design with no intrusive memorials – those to the Benet and Riches families which are attached to the right hand wall are in pleasing proportion. Beneath the Benet memorial there is a rectangular double piscina from the 13th century. The altar rails are fine turned 17th century balusters.
This is a power pulpit, climb it and imagine putting ‘the fear of God’ into a rapt congregation of upturned faces. Below is the custom built chair for the clerk who was obviously built like Billy Bunter. The lectern is designed to fit into the corner of the pew and is yet again in modern advertising jargon, ‘Bespoke’.
In such a tiny church the giant tympanum may have been a Royalist political statement. The Queen’s coat of arms is unmissable against a sea of drapery more reminiscent of a theatre. Was this the new Lord of the Manor, James Butler, divorcing himself from the previous occupier William Penn and Quakerism?
This inset brass commemorates Edward Shelley, (d. 1554) together with his wife and children. It has lost its depiction of the Holy Trinity, presumably carried out after the reformation. However this is as naught compared to the youngest son Edward Jnr. who was originally portrayed at the furthest left hand side. The lower part of his body can still be seen but his head was removed after he was hanged for sheltering a catholic priest in 1558. One’s is always astonished at the history to be found in such a humble abandoned church; all thanks to the Churches Preservation Society
Whilst researching the Church I noticed that a short distance away was ‘The Blue Idol Meeting House’, an intriguing name faintly reminiscent of old Amsterdam. This needed further investigation and, as we had time to spare before our reserved lunch, we made our way there and were rewarded by finding a most beautiful building set in equally attractive grounds.
It is the oldest surviving Quaker Meeting House. The building, with timbered walls and stone roof was built in 1580 and was originally called Little Slatters. However it fell onto hard times and was in a poor state of repair when it was purchased by William Penn and others and it has been a Quaker meeting house for the past 300 years. It’s unusual name of Blue Idol is possibly because it was once painted with a blue wash and for several decades was left standing idle.
William Penn was a prominent early Quaker and the founder not only of this meeting house, but more famously of both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, the state in which it lies.
We liked the Rising Sun pub in the village of Nutbourne, the interior was genuinely olde worlde and to quote their own website it ‘combines traditional and contemporary features creating a very pleasant and civilised ambience for enjoying a drink and some good conversation’. The staff were the perfect combination of being friendly and efficient and we enjoyed chatting to the genial owner for the past 40 years, Regan Howard. The award of three stars reflects our own unrealistic expectations of the range of menu choices in such a difficult period of emerging from yet another lockdown
After my usual disagreement with MW’s sat nav, I sat high in the Range Rover, such a nice change from his sporty model so close to the ground. It was our first outing after lockdown and before us – the A272 my favourite road in the south of England which follows the line of the South Downs from Winchester into Sussex.
Having read that our church was difficult to find we were sent on a long diversion before the village of Ashington and the road to the church was identified by the blasted sat nav, so yet again I was wrong.
Surveying the interior of the church whilst the drone was flying high above, something unique in our many visits took place as two strangers entered and proceeded straight to the altar rails, knelt and prayed for a considerable time.
It seems strange to report that despite running into many visitors this most acceptable behaviour should seem unusual to us in these times. Have we moved so far away from the concepts of prayer and belief that even I, a practising Christian should find this unusual?
Later. as they ate their sandwiches outside, I discovered that they were a Catholic married couple and I said I hoped that they were praying for the soul of Edward Shelley jnr.
Thence to the home of the Quakers and some quiet contemplation in the beautiful garden before the pangs of hunger disturbed my reverie.
The charming village pub was very welcoming although the meal was a little disappointing but who could blame them as they had been shut down for a long period
After such a long break even the return journey around the dreaded Chichester by pass and along the M.27 seemed pleasurable and for the first time, I and the sat nav were in complete agreement. BQ
- Crayfish and lettuce sandwich served with salted crisps and salad BQ
- Smoked mackerel ploughmans served with loaded fries with Sriracha mayo and cheese MW
- Sottano Malbec – Mendoza, Argentinia BQ
- Hesketh Midday Somewhere Shiraz – Australia MW