Sunday, March 12, 2006

Light on the past

click photo to enlarge
"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there"
L. P. Hartley (1895-1972), English novelist

One of the pleasures of living in a small country with a long history is that, wherever you go, you bump into the past. Though Henry Ford ("history is more or less bunk") didn't apparently agree, a knowledge of the past is fundamentally important to people. Paul Gaugin's painting, "Whence come we? What are we? Whither go we?" sums up three of life's most important questions. The present day fascination with genealogy is just a small manifestation of the importance of the first of those questions. So too is the building conservation movement.

This photograph shows the church of St John the Baptist (Old Church), at Pilling, Lancashire, which dates from 1717. It is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, having been redundant for many years, following the building of a "new" church in 1887. When this new building was opened permission was given for the demolition of the old church. Thank heavens it didn't happen, because this old building gives us a real insight into the churches in which our ancestors worshipped during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The interior is light and painted white, as the Georgians liked it. On the east wall hangs a Royal Coat of Arms of George I dated 1719, and on the south wall are two boards of the same date painted with the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. The two-decker pulpit (originally a three-decker), the altar rails and the crudely carved pews must be from 1717. However, the intrusive north gallery on its columns was added in 1813 to accomodate an increasing population. The installation of this feature necessitated raising the height of the walls of the church by over one metre. A few memorials, and a nineteenth century stove complete the picture. Interestingly, the stone paving or "flags" as they are known in Lancashire, were added in the twentieth century. The original church would have been unflagged with rushes laid on the floor, and renewed periodically!

I took this photograph, looking towards the altar, to capture the character of the interior, but also because the quality of the light through the clear glass of the arched windows was absolutely marvellous. The light and shadows, combined with the original fittings and furnishings, gives the church a clean, slightly stark atmosphere that allows us a glimpse of the past.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen