On 14 March 1946 an RAF Lancaster bomber took off from Aston Down aerodrome, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, on a training flight. The pilot was Squadron Leader Reg Heber Thomas. As it climbed away from the runway, all four engines failed – totally and simultaneously.
The pilot tried to make an emergency landing, but the aircraft stalled. It plunged towards the ground, and crashed into a large Victorian house on the hill opposite the aerodrome. The house burst into flames with a tremendous explosion.
Both members of the crew were killed instantly. The house was Templewood, and its roof and upper storey were utterly destroyed. Templewood stood just a few yards from the church of St Mary of the Angels, Brownshill – now in our care – which was totally unscathed.
Was he a symbol of fertility? An ancient god bringing forth new life? Or was he something to be feared?
The term 'Green Man', when applied to these creatures in churches, was first coined by Lady Raglan, whose article 'The Green Man in Church Architecture' appeared in the journal 'Folklore' in 1939. Previously, these fascinating forms were known rather drily as Foliate Heads.
You’ll find the church at Llangeview down a single-track country lane. In an ancient circular churchyard, it sits softly resplendent.
Its Old Red Sandstone walls are stippled with uneven grains of the sand, from burnished reds and ochres to pools of olive green.
The earliest recorded mention of St David’s church is in 1254, however, the almost circular churchyard surrounded by a bank and itself encircled by a ditch suggests occupation of this Monmouthshire site dates far beyond its 13th-century records.
Most the surviving building dates from the 15th century: the windows, the rood beam and loft all date to this century.
Margaret Marloes lived in south Wales in the 1300s. Her uncle built her a small chapel at Llandawke, where she created a beguinage – a community of like-minded holy women who lived together without taking vows. In a leafy dell, they lived, worked and worshipped together.
Margaret dedicated herself to the religious life – but she wasn’t a nun (there were only three communities of nuns in Wales at that time, two following Cistercian Rule and one Benedictine). Margaret’s brother, Philip, acted as the chaplain for this small, informal community.
Margaret is a rare example of local ‘canonisation by acclamation’ – i.e. her life and work were so special that she was acclaimed locally as a saint. But who was this woman? Her name doesn’t appear in any calendar of saints-nor is any feast or festival associated with her.
Long Crichel is a small and rather sleepy village in the Cranborne Chase. Shockwaves must have rippled through its country lanes in 1945, when a group of artists, critics, authors and gay rights activists moved in to the Long Crichel House… right next to the church.
Long Crichel House had been the church rectory until 1945 when it was sold to music critic and novelist, Eddy Sackville-West; his partner, music critic, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Edward Eardley Knollys of the Bloomsbury Set. Soon literary critic, Raymond Mortimer joined them.
The new owners of Long Crichel House had a wide circle of creative and influential friends who would meet here. The house – and village - became a retreat for like-minded people, including writers, composers, poets, artists and actors.
The ancient church at Llandawke, Carmarthenshire nestles into a watery dell. Hidden from the roadside and encircled with trees, the churchyard is a picture of serenity and repose. But here, the dead don’t rest in peace.
To the south of the churchyard, is a gravestone. It looks like any other. But after reading the epitaph, the hairs will stand on the back of your neck. It marks the grave of Rebecca Uphill, a young woman who died suddenly.
O ponder well her sudden fall
Ye thoughtless blooming virgins all
Ye little think who read this stone
How soon the case might be your own
Churches taught me how to use a camera. With churches, as the purest water is filtrated through stone and shale, so they do with light. They hold within their percolated space a light-broth thick with atmosphere. #thread 1/7
Whilst a photograph can hint at time’s passage, churches press the grubby nose of the past right up to the present. Whereas photographs can halt time’s procession, churches suck it in with an imperceptible hoarding of time. 2/7
In these sacred nooks a gathering takes place. It’s here that an ocean of generations comes to shore - the monuments, inscriptions, and carvings; the rood, encaustic and vaulting - washed up like driftwood. 3/7
To enter some churchyards, you have to pass under a small shelter. Often they incorporate a stone platform and seats. They’re known as lychgates, and traditionally, bodies were kept here before burial.
Its name comes from the Old English word for a corpse - 'lic'.
Under a lychgate, a shrouded corpse and its pallbearers would be sheltered before burial. The 1549 Prayer Book ordered the priest to meet the corpse at the churchyard entrance; however, some lychgates existed before this date.
Once the cleric had met the deceased and the burial attendants at the gate, they could proceed into the church.
For a long while, the spirits had only themselves. Time stagnated; graves grew tangled, and in the summer, there were no hymns but flinty chitters of swallows, no offerings save nests of house-martins clustered under gutters, no Eucharist but the sun that touched the sea
Each day, nature prevailed a little over human making. Up here I sit, and the whole Llŷn peninsula might be sleeping, wrapped in its patchwork stitched with hedges, the tilting church turned chalk-bright in moonlight, jackdaws going silent, the pale tide dwindling.
These lines are from a poem by Giles Watson about our church at Penllech. The paintings are by the one and only @cobbybrook. Giles and Martin toured the UK to create a book full of Martin's original, beautiful art, and Giles's poetry- all inspired by the places they visited.
St Luke's in Milland, Sussex is known as the church in the woods. It sits in a clearing softly dappled with sunlight and cloaked in tall trees of many greens. As you approach, wild chamomile is crushed underfoot releasing heady fragrance.
In the village of Llanfair Kilgeddin, deep in Monmouthshire's coal-mining country, lies an astonishing expression of the Arts & Crafts movement.
Inside St Mary's church saints and seasons, planets and pomegranates, whales and walruses are scratched into the wall plaster.
The panels depict the Benedicite; the hymn of praise to God's creation flowing over the walls. They radiate the warmth of three successive summers, when they were painted in 1888-1890.
The artist was Heywood Sumner. An archaeologist as well as an artist, Sumner re-invented the classical technique of sgraffito, in which layers of coloured plaster are overlaid and then a design scratched through to reveal the underlying colours.
In 1852, Captain Charles Colby was deployed in Rawalpindi, India (now Pakistan), when he was mauled by a tiger and died from his wounds. His coffin was sent back to his home parish of Manordeifi, Pembrokeshire for burial...
According to local lore, Colby's family initially believed he had been killed in action. However, when the coffin arrived it was oddly shaped and smelled peculiar, so Colby’s family decided to open it and they discovered ... not a man, but the remains of a tiger!
They sent a telegraph to India explaining there must have been a mistake. A return telegraph read simply: "Tiger in box. Sahib [Captain Colby] in tiger".
A memorial to the unfortunate Captain Colby can be found in Manordeifi Old Church.
The parish church is a time-crash. It’s a headrush of place. It’s past and present and future bundled into one building. The parish church puts our small lives into context.
The parish church is not like a castle or a pub. It is the spiritual investment of generations.
In the Middle Ages, babies were exorcised in the church porch. This took place before baptism, to banish the devil from the new-born so it could be brought safely into the church. But a myth about babies, devils, baptism and north doors persists…
On a roadside outside Halifax is a tower. It’s a landmark, but it looks a little lost. Inside is a plaque remembering a woman called Ann. Until recently few knew who this woman was, or why she's important. Her memorial, hanging in the dark tower, wasn’t of much interest.
Until the 1970s, the tower was attached to rather grand Georgian church. The church had been funded largely by William Walker, Ann’s grandfather. The edifice of 1775 was demolished in 1974, but we managed to save the tower, and rescued the Walker family monuments.
In 1832, Ann fell in love with her neighbour, Anne Lister.The couple worshipped side-by-side at Lightcliffe church, sharing a velvet-lined box pew.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Derwent Valley is a small chapel. Hidden behind trees and draped in ivy, is a jewel of the Arts & Crafts movement. This private treasure house was dreamt up by Louisa Harris, who didn't like how things were done at the parish church...
There is a balance between the new life breaking through and the morbidity of the decayed building. A picturesque lake created to the east of the church in the 19th century brought about the collapse of the nave arcade, as the chalk columns sucked up moisture and crumbled.
In the 1940s, Eastwell Park in Kent was taken over by the army for tank training exercises. Shocks from nearby explosions didn’t help the vulnerable structure. But in February 1951, after weeks of heavy rain the nave roof collapsed and took the arcade with it.
It's Friday! Do you have any plans to bake this weekend? That is - if you can get hold of some flour! If you're #baking with self-raising (self-rising) flour, you might give a nod to its inventor, Bristol baker Henry Jones.
In 1845, Jones applied for a patent for a revolutionary invention that would change baking forever - a process of baking without yeast! The patent is now held @bristolarchives. Jones's patent flour made baking much easier and faster and of course he claimed it tasted better too!
Within a year, Jones's self-raising flour was so popular that he was appointed purveyor of patent flour and biscuits to Queen Victoria! Jones later worked with Florence Nightingale to improve the quality of bread given to soldiers deployed in the Crimea.
Thomas Davies Lloyd lived a life of Gothic fantasy, but died in financial ruin. Upon coming into his inheritance at the age of 25, he went on a building spree. He began with Bronwydd in Ceredigion, transforming the modest 18th-century house into a Gothic castle.
By the mid-1850s work was complete. Bronwydd became what Lloyd described as ‘a romantic Rhineland castle with patterned roof-tiling’. Splendidly and dominantly sited, with its towers and turrets, baronial hall, lavish interior with mural paintings and stained glass.
But Lloyd was not satisfied. Three years later he set out on a project to build a house within the surviving walls and towers of Newport Castle. Happily, the work at Newport survives; that at Bronwydd does not. Sold by his heirs in 1937, now it lies in ruins.
At St Cadoc's, Llangattock Vibon Avel, when it came to stained glass, no expense was spared.
Every window in this medieval church bursts with Victorian vibrancy, with examples from some of the very best makers of the era.
Charles Eamer Kempe created the window in the Rolls Chapel: a four light line-up of superstar saints. But the luminous St Michael in golden armour steals the show. His wings shimmer with peacock feathers, and a blood-red creature - half man half beast watches from his feet.
Earlier in his career, Kempe crafted an orchestra of angels to fill the double tiers of the west window. They play under starry skies with a fantasy citadel behind them.
One angel plays the triangle, an instrument first documented in the 10th century.