Recycling has been going on for centuries, despite us, smugly crediting ourselves with inventing it. Without delving in too deep into the ancient past, take for example building materials.
It was all very well for the Abbot of St Albans to sanction the building of a new church, but it was the parishioners who had to come up with the readies. Tall order when the population of Caldecote in the 14th century rarely exceeded 70 souls (and even fewer after the Black Death in 1348/9). And so the parishioners scrimped and saved – and recycled.
Building materials, wood included, were expensive. Geological evidence suggests that this area of Hertfordshire had always been tree-less so wood had to be sourced from further afield. Small wonder that our parishioners (who were, after all, responsible for the upkeep of the fabric of the church) grabbed whatever was available to improvise – and with good results, too. Look at the seat in one of the north pews – a cupboard door in previous life perhaps? No attempt to plug a keyhole was made but the wood matches exactly that used in remaining pews.
Although the existence of a church in the days of the Domesday Book can only be inferred (a priest is mentioned but not the building), everything points to the then lord of the manor of Caldecote, Ranulph de Limesey, on whose instigation it must have been built. Lord de Limesey was Norman – and so was his church. When it was being part-demolished, in the 14th century, to make way for the gothic structure we see today, some stone and flint was incorporated in the new, clunch walls. And somewhere, our master masons got hold of a block of clunch, very clearly intended as a sun-dial (perhaps elsewhere?) and later discarded (or picked up by mistake?). Here, owing to its position in the corner of the south wall and the porch, which is in shade for most of the morning, it is definitely relieved from its time-keeping duties!
And what about a row of wafer-thin red bricks/tiles between the flint base and the clunch wall of the south porch? Archaeologists testify to the existence of a Roman villa in the area: when it was demolished, those Roman bricks were serviceable enough to be re-used, rather effectively one must say, in other building projects at the time (cf. Hitchin church tower!).
There is evidence that in later repairs anything that was to hand was used for patching up. Look closely at a stone slab in the south porch floor – does it remind you of anything? Of course, it is an old headstone, its inscription long obliterated. Perhaps the relatives of the deceased moved away so the headstone was put to other uses.
My final example is the outcome of one of those “Eureka” moments and a rather poignant example of Reformation ‘vandalism’ in Caldecote.
Medieval church was the site of burials, available to those well enough off to afford them. We know, from surviving records, who lies buried under the church floor. In those days a handsome brass would have marked the spot. Sadly, these were also targeted by the Reformation zealots, ripped out and sold for scrap (note how some things never change!). And because they were scrap it did not matter how roughly they were treated. We have an example of one such action. At some point the font pedestal was repaired. What was used? Yes, pieces of a ruined brass! I puzzled for a long time over a lump sticking out of a stone because every time I swept around the font the brush would catch it. And then it came to me, when I had a closer look with a magnifying glass and ran my finger over its surface. It felt ribbed and incised and immediately an image of a brass sprang to mind. Whose was it? Was it Robert Lee’s, who died in 1536 and was a priest here? Or perhaps Elen Sagor’s, or Ellen Bodye’s? I may be completely wrong but it is thrilling to speculate ….
Well, top marks for recycling because, thanks to it, there is much more to our little church than meets the eye. Just look around and you will come across a wealth of information left behind from centuries past by people who worshipped here and who cared for their church – even to the point of recycling and so unwittingly providing us with enough evidence to study its history!
On a lovely early June day I returned to Caldecote to check on the churchyard. And as I rounded a corner of the building I was slightly taken aback - the grass had grown! What's more, it was swaying in a gentle breeze like a miniature field of barley! Pretending I could not care, I checked for weeds but the long grass effectively suppressed their growth. Instead, the green grass was woven here and there with shades of blue, white and pink - some lovely meadow flowers I deliberately left undisturbed from previous visits.
The longer I looked, however, the more the graveyard grew on me. And finally I had to admit to myself that I loved this "new look". Now it has acquired an appearance of a peaceful parish churchyard (albeit carefully cultivated behind the scenes) rather than an overgrown mess of weeds and shrubs it used to be.
Oh yes, I deliberately left one plant (flower? weed?) behind to illustrate what the churchyard might have looked like had these been allowed to grow. And the plant has got bigger since last time and is now almost the same height as me. Lovely it may turn out to be, but totally unsuitable for our little graveyard. What do you think?
No sooner had the weather improved than the team G-B turned out in the graveyard in force to assess the condition of the new grass, sown late last autumn. It appears to have taken very nicely and is now ready to mow. Unfortunately, weeds also returned in force - small wonder as we are virtually in the middle of the fields. Since weeds appear to be throttling the new grass, they simply have to go!
For the last couple of days we have been weeding furiously and the appearance of the new lawn has changed dramatically. For instance, in just 2.5 hours today 4 bucketfuls of weeds have been removed from the worst affected areas. We will continue - weather permitting!
As you can see from the pictures, a stool is a must since work is rather monotonous. A decent knife is another must-have: I have been using a chef's knife on the most stubborn weeds with - as you can see - good results.
But it does not have to be work, work, work all the time. One is welcome to stop and take in the surroundings: a church, resplendent in the sun, birds twittering in the trees, pheasants shouting their rusty greetings and every now and then a sound of the 21st century disturbing the idyll. With a picnic and a good book there is nothing better than sit down and enjoy the rural peace.
If you, dear reader, have time on your hands and are spoiling for a workout - or a gentle exercise (and live in the area!), come and join us in Weeding Wars. You are welcome to spend a whole day here or just a few hours. Look below what a huge difference 2 little hours have made. So who knows, we might see you in Caldecote next time!
Team G-B (Grazyna and Brian)
On a particularly cold, windy and altogether perfectly dismal St Valentine’s Day Mike the Treasurer, Brian Events Organiser and myself welcomed three visitors from our mother organisation: Matthew Saunders, an outgoing (retiring) Director of Friends of Friendless Churches, Rachel Morley, Director Designate, due to take over next month, and Rebecca Whewell, Assistant Secretary. What the weather did not deliver, we more than made up for with our dedication and enthusiasm. It was Matthew’s second only visit to Caldecote, the first one being exactly ten years ago, when it coincided with setting up Caldecote Church Friends by Peter Robbins. (Peter unfortunately could not accompany us due to illness). I’d like to think that he favourably noted the “before” and “after” of the ten years in between!
Matthew delighted in re-discovering all the church’s interesting and significant features and duly documented them on camera. A warm, modest and most charming man, with encyclopaedic knowledge of all things church, it was a pleasure and a delight to talk and listen to him.
Rachel on the other hand, a lovely and personable young lady, full of zeal and enthusiasm, tried to take note of as much as she could of the church’s architecture and history but also found time to listen to some of our concerns. She promised to address the most pressing ones as new Director next month, much to our delight.
We hope that Rebecca also enjoyed her visit in Caldecote – her first I think! She very quietly and very tactfully stayed back, allowing Matthew and Rachel to spend as much time with us as possible.
It will be a sad day to see Matthew Saunders depart from FoFC, however, he is leaving the company in very capable hands of Rachel Morley who (it was obvious from the visit) is set to continue his sterling work with equal dedication and commitment and in time will, no doubt, make her own mark on its continued success in saving historical landmarks under threat.