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21 January 2009

by Glyn Paflin

About a will

BENJAMIN BRITTEN is no longer with us to write an opera about the restoration of a church. But if he had chosen to do so, material would have been close to hand — and it is not as unpromising as it sounds.

We who know of Noye’s Fludde and Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes may not associate Orford Church with Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West. But picture them — as a photo­grapher did — arriving at the Law Courts in the Strand in 1913, and an intriguing connection un­ravels.

The case was Capron v. Scott, concerning the will of Sir John Murray Scott, from whose estate worth £1,180,000 (more than £66 mil­­lion in today’s values) he left some nice things to Lady Sackville, Vita’s mother, “a vivacious but extremely slippery witness”, as Jane Allen puts it in her new book*.

The Scott family had hired no less a figure than F. E. Smith, later Lord Birken­head, as their counsel to con­test the will. We are not talking about run-of-the-mill nice things: Sir John was the heir to Sir Richard Wallace, to whom the nation owes the Wallace Collection.

The rest is history — or at least it kept high society and newspaper readers entertained. Vivacity won the day, and the Nicolsons invited the 12 jurors to their wedding. It all hap­pened while the Revd Edward Scott was restoring Orford Parish Church, where reminders of his family are “far from self-effacing”. The two stories interweave.

I have no space for other matters such as “The Affair of the Pews and the Rector’s Departure”. If church restoration grabs you, here is a de­tailed and plentifully illustrated in­ves­tigation that crosses over the Suffolk border into Ivy Compton-Burnett territory. Sales help Orford Museum and the church’s current restoration fund.

*The Wallace Connection: The story of the restoration of Orford Church (978-0-955473-0-7; £14.50 plus £2 p. & p. from Orford Museum Book, Bell House, Quay Street, Orford, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2NU; cheques payable to “Orford Museum”)

Make my rainy day

“THIS RELIGION is quite simple: the end of life is a higher and higher standard of living. That is what matters most. Success is to be mea­sured in terms of ‘what you have’. Each rung of the ladder scaled is a victory. . .”

Oh dear, it’s back down to earth with a bump, in that case; but it was interesting to read about what we used to call “materialism”, just as it blows up in our faces, in a chapter on “Understanding the World” in Derek Tasker’s The Church and Young People. The book dates from 1957 — the year when Harold Macmillan told people in Bedford that they had never had it so good.

The cover, drawn by A. Burgess Sharrocks, is classic Mowbrays: an urban street in an industrial land­scape, with a “Rock and Roll” dance hall and a cinema screening Sinners All. It caught a friend’s eye in Charing Cross Road — and for some reason he thought of me.

In the plus-ça-change category, I note the high pitch of Anglican anxiety about failing to reach young people. Refreshingly different from today, however, is the way the author, then King George VI Training Officer at the Church of England Youth Coun­cil (he was later a Canon of Southwark), still speaks the language of parish communion, evensong, visiting, etc.

Not that all is well, he finds. Ser­vices can be poorly prepared; some of the clergy make no effort to identify with those they are trying to minister to; the notices go on too long; office and responsibility are given to those who are not yet ready for them. “There has to be a tremendous amount of prayer to offset the pres­ence of the devil in full possession of one or two hearts. . .”

The direct and indirect influence of the press on young people is incalculable, he says. Subscribing to a well-known daily for two months, Fr Tasker finds that, out of 62 references to religion, welcome ones make up only 23 per cent. Thirteen per cent are “misconceptions about the Chris­tian faith, especially prayer”. Among other regrettable references, “Ap­proval of stunts” makes up four per cent.

I must find out what they were: then perhaps I will really understand the baby-boomers who are in charge of the C of E.

Mice and candles

COSMO the Christ Church Cat, who has become a steady feature of church life in Carmarthen, was already having a bad day when he en­countered some church mice drag­ging a Tesco bag of goodies across the floor, bold as brass.

“Today”, one told him, “is Candle­mas. And at Candlemas church mice have the right to help themselves to whatever’s left of the Advent and Christ­mas candles, without let or hindrance. And no church cat has the right to interfere with them in any way.”

“It’s in the Constitution of the Church in Wales,” the second mouse added authoritatively. “Chapter 43, section 87, sub-section 15, paragraph 27b. You ask the archdeacon.”

Cosmo was bemused. He didn’t know any archdeacons. And what on earth was Candlemas?

The Vicar came in. “Flaming com­mittees,” he grumbled. “There’s enough hot air in the Church in Wales these days to get Richard Branson’s balloon to America and back. . .” But from the Vicar Cosmo then found out what Candlemas really was, and even made a new resolution to stay awake through evensong. . .

The cockles of Christ Church Fabric Fund will be warmed if those who would like to read the full story (and it is one of 24) send £8 (including p. & p.) to Mrs Jean Long (Parish Secretary), Arfryn, Picton Place, Carmarthen SA31 3BZ. They should then receive Cosmo the Church Cat by Canon Patrick Thomas — a vicar with five children but, strangely, no cats.

Talking shop

THE CLOSURE of the Woolworths stores saddens the Revd Anthony J. Lane of Salisbury; but it has also brought back memories of training at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, between 1953 and 1955. Fr Evans CR lectured on the art of preaching. “When in the pulpit,” Fr Evans advised the students, “never use a sixpenny word when a three­penny one would do.”

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