Saturday 29 August 2020


Sorry for the hiatus: it was an exceptionally busy week. Happily, however, most of the busyness revolved around family and pleasure.
  Yesterday I was strolling around Newark-on-Trent with my Derbyshire cousin. Newark is one of those quiet, understated, red-brick Mercian towns that always feel like some kind of spiritual home to me, and always persuade me that England is a sounder, saner, friendlier and altogether nicer country than it might seem to those of us who live down South. Like many such towns, it also has some excellent architecture, both domestic and public, a discernible ancient street plan, and, as its focal point, a fine marketplace and a splendid church. There is also, in Newark's case, the battered ruin of a magnificent castle, looking out over the wide river Trent to parkland and meadows beyond.
  The church, St Mary Magdalene, is one of England's great parish churches. Although it was much restored in Victorian times, it is still essentially and authentically an ancient church, a happy mix of Early English (crossing and West tower) and Perpendicular, with a wide, lofty interior, lit by huge 15th-century windows. Luckily we found it open – but most of the nave and South aisle, and all of the North aisle, crossing, transepts and chancel were roped off and could only be admired from a distance and along very limited sight lines. This was, of course, a disappointment, though in these  Covid-crazed times it is quite something to find a church open at all. Chatting to a verger on the way out, I got the impression, not for the first time, that the doughty volunteers doing their best to open their beloved churches are not at all happy with the Church of England hierarchy's extraordinary eagerness to close them down and keep them closed long after the reopening of other places where people gather together, for secular rather than sacred purposes. Let's hope there is enough vitality left in the body of its worshippers to prevent the C of E from accomplishing its own demise just yet.


  1. You probably weren't able to see the Dance of Death panel, which somehow managed to survive the purges. It really is the most remarkable painting.

  2. Sadly not, Mary – or much else. Still, it was something simply to set foot in a church, especially one of such stunning quality...