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Word from Wormingford

18 April 2017

In this archive column from 2006, Ronald Blythe waits for the bus with the tin chapel’s ghosts


THOSE of us who wait regularly in the same place for the bus or the train are drawn unknowingly into a meditation on that particular spot. One sees people, not talking after maybe the brief greeting, lost in what this spot provides and their own experience of it.

I am waiting for a bus that I caught when I was a child en route to my aunt’s house. Once, the conductor would shout, “Chapel Corner!” when the bus arrived where I am standing this morning in the cold spring rain, and it would rattle to a stop at a ragged grass diamond to which nothing was done unless the roadman gave it a swoosh now and then.

But today, I note, having nothing else to do, Chapel Corner is a sort of sign city with often only me as its occasional citizen. So, instead of contemplating Duncan’s flat field opposite, and the little cottage that was the Lemonade Shop (a spoonful of yellow crystals in half a pint of water for a penny), I find myself counting all the things a village bus stop must have, the latest being the elevation of the timetable from four drawing pins in the shelter to a fine steel frame on a pole. Nothing is too good for a timetable. Drawing pins are now reduced to supporting our flower-festival notice, and a picture of a fat lady who has slimmed. Or Stour Valley Jazz.

Foreign travellers search around for the Chapel, not knowing that it can be seen only in our heads, like the rough grass patch at the Y-bend which ordained where we would disappear on foot.

The Chapel was built of pale-green corrugated iron in 1898 by the Primitive Methodists, and it resonated when it rained, which, they said, helped the singing. Folk came to it from miles around. Poverty-stricken farmworkers had paid weekly pennies to erect it.

Before this, the Primitive Methodists, who had broken away from the main Methodists in 1811, and who were avant-garde in their admiration for Quakers and in their allowing women to preach, had met in our village forge, a stage having been assembled over the forge itself for the preacher to stand on — and what better picture of salvation and perdition? Preachers came from far and wide. One of them defined a miracle as “something wonderful, like a newborn babe carrying a sack of flour up a chimney”.

In 1970, the Tin Chapel was replaced with a smart bungalow. For a while, the little lost congregation found refuge among the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, and then, when this chapel became a house, with the Baptists at Bures. Now, when they go to heaven, their funerals are at the parish church, and we sing their redemptive hymns, “Lord, it is eventide: the light of day is waning”, and “The sands of Time are sinking”.

I remember these labouring folk as I wait for the bus, and how their crowded voices would have poured through the galvanised iron on to the raggedy green.

But to an inventory of bus-stop progress. First, and a true blessing, arrived a strong shelter with a vast, handsome bench engraved “B. R. 1959”, a golden-wedding present from the Grange, and which was once packed with travellers who now go about in four-by-fours, etc. But then came, hard on its heels, vast direction plates, concrete bollards, stone curbs, four yards of tarmac for wheelchairs, the spring planting of crocuses and daffodils, 30-miles-an-hour signs, and every kind of hoisted-up reading-matter imaginable.

“Where to?” enquires the driver.

“The Tin Chapel.”

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