Monday 29 September 2014

One Church

Talking of little-visited attractions, a great many of our smaller parish churches also stand unvisited, overlooked and underappreciated. And yet there are very few, even of the most unappealing and unpromising, that don't contain something of interest. A case in point: on Saturday I was up in the Peak District again, passing through the Staffordshire village of Wetton, where the parish church has a handsome old tower, but is otherwise essentially a Georgian box of around 1820 unconvincingly Gothicised with Y-tracery windows. It's an uninviting exterior, promising nothing and, on first sight of the interior, delivering nothing (though there's a plaque erected in 1905 by a Massachusetts lady - an Adams indeed - commemorating her 17th-century Wetton forebears).
  On the West well, however, is an initially baffling exhibit of squares of grey material bearing the outlines of feet - or rather shoes  (and the odd hand) - each bearing initials and a date. These images, it transpires, were pricked out on the lead roof of the tower over a period from the mid-18th century through to around 1820 by the bored and daredevil youth of the village, who had a tradition of climbing up onto the leads. There they would make their mark by tracing the outline of their shod foot, often embellishing it with patterns as well as initials and dates. These marks are 'lead graffiti' and something along their lines is to be found on most old lead roofs, often left by the makers. The tower roof of Wetton, however, had a remarkable collection of more than 200 visible at the time when the lead was replaced - at once a curious chronicle of village life and a record of changing fashions in footwear. A record was duly made of these graffiti and a range of the more interesting marks were cut out and displayed on the church wall.
 Among them is the outlined foot of the young Samuel Carrington, who became the village schoolmaster and a noted antiquarian and palaentologist. He emigrated to America with his father at the age of 21, but came back very soon, not liking what he found, and vowed to settle for the rest of his life in his native village. Which he did, becoming the 'wise man' of the village and energetically pursuing his antiquarian interests, digging out many of the ancient burial sites round about (with the more famous Thomas Bateman). When he died in 1870, a subscription raised the money for a gravestone designed by George Gilbert Scott Jr, no less. It is still in the churchyard, a Gothic design playfully embellished with carvings of Carrington's favourite fossils.
 All this from one unpromising village church.
 Wetton's pub, by the way, The Royal Oak, hosts an annual toe wrestling championship. But that's another story.

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