The two decorated pulpits - or ambones This year the Church of St John the Baptist in Mildenhall - or Minal as it is known locally - is staging a special exhibition to mark the bicentenary of the fitting out of the Church with its glorious 'Gothick' carving, box pews and ambones or pulpits.
The exhibition in the church tells visitors about the Rector who applied to the Diocese of Salisbury to make such bold changes to the parish church. He was supported by twelve wealthy parishioners who funded the operation.
The exhibition gives details of the re-designing of the church as it is recorded in documents held in the Record Office in Chippenham.
Greatly admired by the twentieth century poet and romantic, John Betjeman and featured in Simon Jenkins's book 'England's Thousand Best Churches', the furnishings
in this basically Norman building have achieved nation-wide fame - as the visitors' book clearly shows.
The Rector in 1816, the Reverend Charles Francis, was a typical eighteenth century parson who enjoyed the patronage of the then Earl of Ailesbury.
Educated at Marlborough Grammar School, son of Marlborough's Borough Mayor, he spent the whole of his ministry in parishes of which the Earl was Patron. Whilst he occupied the position of Rector in two of the Earl of Ailesbury's Yorkshire parishes, he also served on Marlborough Borough Council, was Mayor for three terms and also Chief Magistrate.
The box pews - each with its own door Two of the twelve state their reason for the changes to the church "I will now thank you to get the Bishop's licence"...signed Chas. Francis Rev Francis' simple memorial
In Wiltshire he was a Canon of the Cathedral and Rector of both Minal and Collingbourne Ducis, as well as Domestic Chaplain to the Earl. A busy man indeed - even before he took on the re-ordering of St John the Baptist in Minal.
A true Protestant, in his will Francis founded the Protestant Free School in Minal to educate poor children and children of parishioners. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries this school achieved a fine reputation until it was closed later in the last century - and is now a private house.
He also left sums of money to be distributed amongst the poor parishioners in Minal and Collingbourne Ducis, as well as in his two former Yorkshire parishes a month after his death. His obituary disclosed that he had a small private museum - like many parsons of the time, he was something of an antiquarian.
The exhibition, which will remain in the church for the summer, gives details of Francis's career both in the Church and in the Borough, with reproductions of his work done on the church building from 1802 until the major refurbishment in 1816.
A small set of panels also record the history of the Church over the centuries from the ownership of the land by Glastonbury Abbey in the ninth Century to the re-forming of the Church in England in the sixteenth century. There are also panels recording the more general history of the Church of England in the eighteenth century - the era of the gentleman parson to provide some background to the Francis story.
The Medieval piscina A pillar with uncovered remains of early painting Some of the church's Norman carving
Looking further back in its history, on display in the South aisle will be the medieval piscina - a washing place for vessels used during the Mass. This had been hidden behind the 1816 panelling until it was revealed in 2014.
The Church will be open during daylight hours during the summer months with parishioner stewards in attendance.
FOOTNOTE: Four articles marking the bicentenary have been published in The Parish Pump - the monthly magazine for Minal and Axford:
- Why the Church Interior was Refurbished Maurice Stanton
- Mildenhall and the 'Gothic Revival' Christopher Rogers
- An Aristocratic Saga - Rev. Charles Francis David Sherratt
- Twelve Good Men and True Stephen Hurd
All four articles can be read at this web address. [Click on photos to enlarge them]
The gallery installed in 1816 - the organ came later The church has a stunning exterior too...
Rachel Rivers collecting eggs off the conveyor beltThe current Waitrose television commercials have been causing a bit of a stir in the advertising and farming industries - and amongst television viewers. They are revolutionary - the one for the supermarket's free-range eggs has no voice over or music and simply shows hens clucking contentedly and scratching in their field.
As well as primetime television commercials, 'Waitrose TV' has explanatory 'Day at the Farm' reports viewable online. The one promoting Waitrose's free-range eggs features Rachel Rivers who is the poultry manager at Lawn Farm, Milton Lilbourne.
The farm of about 1,000 acres is owned by Canon Gerald Osborne, Dean of Pewsey and a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral. It lies mainly in the Pewsey Vale - south of Martinsell Hill and up onto Milton Down to the south, and now concentrates on cereals, beef cattle and free-range laying hens - thousands of them.
The farm, which is certified 'organic' by the Soil Association, stopped being a dairy farm in 2004 - partly because of the plummeting price of milk - and the following year won a contract with Waitrose to supply free-range eggs.
Rachel Rivers looks after 4,000 British Black Tail hens and two rearing sheds holding thousands of growing chicks - some of which will be sold on to other farms. They arrive as day old chicks, at sixteen weeks become point-of-lay pullets and go into the laying sheds. At eighteen to twenty weeks old they start laying. And will lay for up to 80 weeks.
Chicks at ten days A British Black Tail A frame from the Waitrose TV commercial
Each hen will lay about 319 eggs a year - that means the farm produces at least 1,700 eggs from each of its two large sheds a day. Once laid, the eggs roll gently onto a conveyor belt so they can be stacked at the end of the laying house. Every third day a lorry arrives to take the eggs to be graded and packed for the supermarket shelves.
The hens are free to roam within two large fields - protected by an electric fence. They are also protected by the dozen alpacas Rachel Rivers keeps as 'buddy animals' for the hens: "They draw the hens out into the field and they are good at deterring foxes."
Foxes do sometime risk being chased off by a cross alpaca. A fox has been known to jump up onto one of the corner posts - all four feet resting precariously on a post the diameter of a saucer.
The alpacas are now at their woolliest with their winter coats looking positively luxurious. At the end of this month they will be sheared - and their wool will fetch just about enough to pay the shearers.
Not only is the farm, organic, but the two hen houses having no mains electricity supply - despite the nearby giant pylons that stalk across the Vale - survive on two small wind turbines and solar panels.
It is quite obvious that these hens are having a very happy life - they have little groups of bushes to scratch around in and plenty of dust to wallow in. And they really do cluck around contentedly and follow Rachel Rivers - and a curious guest like your reporter - around as though they were pets. They are happy and Rachel is definitely happy - she just loves her job.
Alpacas...and hens Free to roam!
Of course you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs - and at the end of their laying life the hens go off to be processed for stock cubes, baby food and such like.
The television commercial was designed to support the Waitrose promise that "All our eggs are free-range". The independent television production company making the commercial and the miniature video documentary were at Lawn Farm for a fortnight and used drone cameras for some of the shots.
The commercials have even included some live coverage from the farm. "It is," says Rachel Rivers, "as it is - the cameras were set up and the chickens walked around them."
The longer video, with Rachel's voice over, has (as of May 1) had 28,938 hits on You Tube.
The other local farm featured in this Waitrose campaign is David Homer's dairy farm at Chisbury - on the edge of the Savernake Forest and with a Marlborough postal address. It's a bit worrying to find the opening caption of Waitrose TV's 'A Day at a Dairy Farm' telling viewers it is in Newbury.
I deliberately put the word "jungle" in inverted commas as, despite it being the 'home address' used by inhabitants there, it completely inappropriately describes the most remarkable community of hopeful people living under the most appalling conditions.
Here is an international community of people from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Iraq who are either fleeing political oppression and conflict or are genuinely seeking a better life in a stable, prosperous Europe and in particular in the UK.
Those we talked to clearly see the UK as the most welcoming country with the international language of English being a particular attraction. Many also have compatriots already living here who will assist newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers.
But what was I doing spending a day in the camp at Calais? One could justifiably be accused of 'voyeurism' or worse of self-interest - unless such a visit is going to provoke further positive action. It is too early to say what that action might be although ideas are floating around in the head.
But to return to the camp. It is literally 75 minutes away from St Pancras Station, a journey by Eurotunnel, plus 15 minutes in a hire car and there you are in the camp of mainly plastic shelters supported by wooden stakes driven into the ground - and juxtaposed with the well-appointed houses lining the outskirts of Calais.
Three gendarmes and five traffic cones on the track leading into the camp were the only minor obstruction on our way in. The presentation of a single passport was sufficient for the cones to be removed and for my companion and I to drive a further 100 yards, park by the side of the track and then go on foot to meet residents and volunteers.
The bulldozed camp
We crossed the vast bare area where three quarters of the camp was obliterated by bulldozers back in March. They chose a filthy day with the camp deep in mud, so, perhaps cynically, attempting to persuade those being evicted that anything would be better than that camp.
Into the camp library "Jungle Books" (all in English) in a small tent run by an Afghan pharmacist who had been there for three months, leaving his mother behind as he took the perilous journey through Turkey and Greece. His journey was recorded on the wall of the library in ‘post it’ notes pinned across a map of Asia and Europe.
Then to a small group of Afghan men being taught English by a young British woman from London.
Into the empty and peaceful "Church" - a large marquee with four seats but with pictures of Christ, Madonna and Child and St George slaying the dragon. I am moved to tears.
We walk back across the waste land to the camp proper. We have conversations with individuals, all too willing to tell their stories, but unwilling to be photographed for fear of identification. The majority of them carry smart phones: "I speak to my family once a month". At no point do we feel threatened and are met only with politeness, a firm handshake and that willingness to talk.
A Sudanese man with a bicycle approaches me. "If you give me £100, my brother in Cardiff will pay the money into your account. Here, you can speak to him!" I'm handed the phone and give the brother, Kalifa, my e-mail address for him to drop me a line so that I can give him my account number, assuring him that I would arrange for the money to be given to his brother in the jungle.......I'm still waiting!
It was a glorious, cloudless and warm spring day which perhaps gave a false impression of the awful conditions under which the migrants have been and still are living.
Tents... ...or white metal boxes
They live cooped up in these small 12 foot x 12 foot plastic covered shelters with portaloos nearby and the odd shower. Generators were providing electricity to small businesses that have sprung up - among them a hairdresser, food and second hand clothes shops.
Alongside the camp and through the impenetrable wire one can see rows of enormous and faceless white metal containers which provide “better” accommodation for those prepared to give up their identity by having their finger prints taken so they can be tracked. I know I would prefer the plastic, the humanity and sense of community to the inhuman metal.
During the day we meet only three women (from Sudan), walking along the road beside the camp on their way to the heavily guarded area set aside for women and children from which we are, understandably, turned away by the gendarmes on the gate.
The women have been in the camp for four months. Their only ambition is to get to England. They have yet to attempt the journey: “Under what circumstances would you consider returning to Eritrea?” – “That is not an option.”
A young Sudanese man tells me: “I was an IT graduate from the University of Khartoum and politically active within the opposition to Al-Bashir’s regime, but feared for my life and was forced to leave the country. My only ambition is to get to England – I cannot return home. I have attempted on four occasions to climb onto lorries in Calais bound for England – look at my bandaged hand which I damaged when I fell off one of the trucks.”
We are struck by the remarkable, predominantly young women volunteers from Colchester, London, and the Findhorn community in Scotland, teaching English to groups of men, cooking 1,000 meals a day to be transported either to the jungle or to those migrants that have been sent down the road to Dunkirk, and sorting the donated clothes and tins of food in a large warehouse 3 miles from the Jungle. Many of them come over for three or four days.
Here we got the impression that there could be better coordination of effort - that a permanent presence is required. Someone needs to be looking more strategically to see how to enable our fellow humans to return, not their countries of origin, but to a position where they can make a contribution to society.
So many clearly have the education and skills to make that contribution - rather than staying trapped in this awful state of limbo not having any idea of what the future holds.
We hear of 300 unaccompanied children living in the women’s enclave, but claiming to have family members in the UK and therefore having the legal right to travel. But there are delays while the families are checked by social workers, 'CRB' checked and the bureaucracy grinds on very slowly.
Meanwhile these children continue to suffer isolation, fear of abuse (in some cases apparently a realised fear) and who knows what legacy of mental health problems they will be left with.
A young doctor tells me that she has been given three days leave from her practice to work in the camp. She is in a truck with a red stethoscope around her neck, a table on which are some antiseptic creams and cough mixture, but no antibiotics: “I have no facilities here and so I really run a triage system assessing the men who come to the truck and sending them to the clinic run by Medécins sans Frontières or giving them reassurance that they will get better. We have a terrible epidemic of scabies at present.”
I am left with many mixed emotions, but finally sharing the hope of the migrants that this cannot continue forever. Something must and will be done. But what contribution can an individual make? What contribution can I make?
(Scabies is caused by mites that get under the skin and cause intense itching and bleeding. Infection can follow from the scratching. It is particularly prevalent where people are living huddled together so the mites can pass directly from one body to another.)
All photos by Nick Maurice - click on photos to enlarge them.