Up on the field last evening at hen-shutting-in time I stood awhile in the gloaming. How sad to report that the nights do seem to be drawing in a little. As 9.30 approached there was still a little light left in the western sky though. The evening was still, damp and cool. Sheep, newly weaned lambs I think, which earlier that evening were flocked in a nearby field, bleating and bawling fit to burst moved out and grazed peacefully. How quiet it was.
My eye traveled across the fields to the little church of St Mary the Virgin which stands at the end of a grassed lane, sheltered by the conifers which bound Trelystan dingle. It's partly hidden by a number of ancient yews, huge beasts now, which grow to the south and west of the building. Through their dark foliage patches of the white painted building were visible. A low bell tower - or is it a steeple? - rose above the trees. In this scattered parish with no apparent centre we are not quite its nearest neighbour. It is a rare and precious small place. Old too. Very old.
Earlier in the day Doreen and I had been delving in the Archives. There's always something to find out isn't there? And one thing leads to another. I don't quite know at present what we are hoping to find out. I think we are looking for the known unknowns*. We adopt something of a scattergun approach - diving into whatever is available and hoping to hit 'pay dirt' - in my case that's the Churchwarden's Accounts from 1750 - 1851. It is exactly what it says it is: the accounts of the church kept by the churchwardens. There are no startling revelations, rather the prosaic and mundane records of maintenance and administration. Stone and slate, lats (sic) and lime for repairs are in perpetual motion. The nettles in the churchyard need cutting and surplices need washing. The stable (did we know there was a stable?) must be thatched. If there are horses then needs must provide - there is a 'horseblock' to maintain. We learn there was a gallery because fabric for curtains was bought. There is no gallery now, I wonder just where it was?
Where there is property there are boundaries which must be 'railed', gates which must be mended - as must doors and locks and keys. Somebody paid the glazier. Coal to heat the building was bought and hauled - the haulage could cost more than the price of the load.
We should not forget the purpose of this building - worship. There are prayer books to be bought and bindings repaired. Psalms must be sung - and the Psalm Singers paid. There are Prayers to be bought for the 'Fast'. Our Churchwardens must be 'initiated', the Apparitor visited and paid for his services - doing so entailing a significant journey in days of poor roads and unsophisticated transport. From here to Church Stretton today, in the Audi, I would allow myself perhaps 40 minutes. 250 years ago, how long? Who knows?
It was not an ostentatious place - and neither is it now - I suspect the Churchwardens' concerns are still the same too; keeping the fabric of the building in good repair with insufficient funds, always with one eye cocked for the higher authority of the 'big church' down the road.
Anything surprising? Yes indeed, one thing and delightfully so. A 'Dog Keeper' received payment on at least two occasions. A Dog Keeper? Hmm. Why was it necessary to keep a dog for a church in a field? I don't expect we'll ever know the answer to that - so that will be an 'unknown known' perhaps.
As an aside - and because I feel the need for a little illustration I'll add that the Churchwardens' Accounts for nearby Chirbury record a payments of 6d for keeping 'dogges out of church'. Dogs in, dogs out. What a world eh?
*In the words of Donald Rumsfeld: 'There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.' Quite.