The church of St Æthelmod

Here’s another excerpt from my work in progress, my next Radwinter book, Winterdyke… which I might call Winterdyke Wash, I’m dithering at the moment!

Thomas is researching the family history of a very wealthy family who made their money in agricultural machinery and are now in banking. Their driver, Roland, has taken him to a local church where he hopes to find information about various members of the family:

I said I was going into the church first of all and have a look round, and then I’d see if anything was visible in the way of family graves outside. I said I’d probably be about an hour… hinting that I expected to be doing my exploring on my own, but it didn’t surprise me that he got out of the car and came with me.
The curving path to the church must have been swept in time for the service last Sunday but much snow had fallen since so we walked between  banks of piled high, snow on snow, and I remembered the Christmas carol.. I tried to behave as I would have done if I was on my own doing some research, but I was very aware of the dark-haired man beside me. I stopped and looked at the church, an attractive old place, and I already knew that the oldest parts of the church of St Æthelmod were the west tower sawing upwards, and inside, the thirteenth century font.
“That’s the west tower,” I told my companion. “It’s got a ring of four bells and they were actually cast in Bagbrock which I believe isn’t far away is it?”
I was looking up at the rather splendid tower again the brilliant blue sky and I took a picture with my camera, not my phone. Roland murmured some polite comment and I went on to tell him that the bells, were cast by the son of a famous bell-founder from Essex. Father and son were both called Martin Christopher and apparently Martin the younger lived nearby for four years, casting these bells and others for neighbouring churches. I didn’t tell Roland that the nave and the chancel were rebuilt in the 1370’s, and there were two contemporary niches flanking the chancel arch. Nor did I mention that the timber frame of the nave roof was more recent, constructed in the 1600’s, at a similar time to the hanging of the bells.
I’d read that the church was made of ironstone and limestone; I had no idea what ironstone is – but I do now; it’s a sedimentary rock called ironstone because it has iron in it. It goes a sort of rusty brown when exposed to the air and apparently it’s also called tiger iron because it can become sort of stripy. I told Roland but he didn’t seem impressed either by the ironstone or my knowledge. Limestone obviously is a grey-white so the church had quite an attractive appearance beneath its covering of snow.

We went up to the church and I suddenly thought it might not be open, maybe locked as so many parish churches these days, but no it was open, and we stepped through the massive wooden door and into a sort of chilly vestibule where the parish notice boards hung, full of information about all sorts of things which went on in the church, and names and contact details for various church officials.
I had a brief look at them, but it was the church from nearly two hundred years ago that I was interested in! We went through another wooden door, one of a pair set into panelling, no doubt to help keep the chill out of the church.
It was a lovely church inside, and not too chilly. I stood for a moment looking round; I’m very familiar with churches as Marcus used to be a vicar, so I knew what I was looking at in terms of the architecture and fittings. The thirteenth century font stood quietly waiting for the next baptism; it looked to be in exceptionally good condition, may of the carvings still discernible after nearly eight hundred years. I could feel that Roland was fidgety beside me – not that he fidgeted, but he was clearly bored already.
Beside the door was a huge wooden panel with all the vicars form 1025 inscribed on it, and there was the name I sought, good old Jaarziel Hopper, 1790 – 1852… good grief he was old, ancient in those days, I must check his date of birth – I hadn’t properly explored the Hoppers yet.

He must have been a very wealthy man by the time he died… I’d been reading up about the area and discovered some interesting stuff – not about how he acquired his wealth originally, but how the family became richer. The area of Baggibrock was inclosed in 1847 under an Act of Parliament of 1843. This inclosure dealt with thousands of acres, but not the roads, tracks or dykes across this area. There were what were called open fields, not sure what that meant exactly but they had names like were Old Willow  End, Linden End, Brookfield, and Ell Fields There were over a hundred and fifty  allottees – those who received these parcels of hundreds of acres in 1847; the largest was a local lord, a bishop, an ecclesiastical school and, blow me, among other names – Caius Jonathan Oscar, Margaret Drage, Mary Humphreys Greene and others,  there was and the Reverend Jaarziel Hopper of Alemond Grange…
What did he have to do to acquire that – this historical research was beyond me, I’d get in touch with Livia – if she didn’t know, I bet she knew someone who did!

I began to wander round the church, not quite sure what I was looking for; however for a small church it had some mighty fine features, some might expensive features – but old expensive, not modern.
Roland wandered for a while with me, making uh-huh, hmm-mm, sort of noises when I pointed things out to him. He was itching to ask what this had to do with my research, I could tell, but had obviously (well, obvious to me) been briefed not to.
I took various photos, of the font, of the board with the vicars’ names, of a small window with rather lovely stained glass of a load of musicians and a Biblical king… well, I had done my homework so I guess this might have been King David:

And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy.
So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel; and of his brethren, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and of the sons of Merari their brethren, Ethan the son of Kushaiah;

and with them their brethren of the second degree, Zechariah, Ben, and Jaaziel,

So Jaaziel was a musician appointed by the Levites, with a load of his brethren. There were singers, and guys to sound the cymbals of brass, and people with psalteries and harps and there were trumpets too – and yes, in the stained glass were a load of blokes with earnest expressions, curly hair, cymbals, harps and trumpets. There was a thing at the back which I took to be the ark – not Noah’s boat, but the Ark of the Covenant.
“Rock and roll,” someone said, making me jump.

© Lois Elsden

If you haven’t yet read any of my Radwinter books, here is a link:

This book will be the first which is not in an ordina

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