Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Delighted To Meet Edward Conybeare

While the rest of the country has had floods we were treated to a pleasant early autumn day yesterday. It would have been rude not to accept such an invitation to go for a walk. So I set off with no particular plan in mind but soon found myself heading over Chapel Hill towards Barrington.

It would scarcely merit naming as a hill in some parts of the world but in this flat land it affords magnificent far-reaching views on a clear day, especially that kind of clarity that comes after a day of rain. On reaching Barrington I took a peep inside the church.

It was a nice old building with worn stone floors and that deep tranquillity that comes after centuries of worship.

My eye fell upon the list of vicars of the parish, a list that went back to 1347. The first thing I noticed was that one Thomas Finch held the office from 1775 till 1835, that's sixty years! There must be a story there and indeed there was. During his time the church saw a terrible decline, congregations dwindled and the fabric of the building deteriorated. Rev Finch did not even live in the village but on Sundays would ride to the top of Chapel Hill, look down on the church and, unless the church warden signalled to him that there was important business such a Christening or wedding to attend to, he would turn his horse and ride home without so much as setting foot in the parish. The other name that jumped out at me was that of Edward Conybeare; a name I'd heard before and, lets face it, not a name one would easily forget!

In the belfry was another notice. Here's what it says:

            1. The Bells are Holy Instruments dedicated to the Worship of God
and to be used only for His Glory. They must at all times be regarded and used
2. The Ringers obtain a part in the Sacred Ministry of Gods Church and must
behave always as His Ministers should do. 
3. The control of the ringing belongs by Law absolutely to the Vicar and the
Bells may only be used by such persons at such times and in such manner
as he may from time to time appoint.
4. Every ringer is expected to attend any Service for which he comes to ring
and to join devoutly in GODSWorship.
5. Drinking, smoking loud and boisterous talking or jesting and above
all disputing, are most unseemly amongst GODS Ministers in His House
and are hereby forbidden in this Belfry
                                                                                              Signed  December 1876
                                                                                                          Edward Conybeare
                                                                                                              Vicar of Barrington

Goodness knows what outrage prompted such a notice, but there was that man again, Edward Conybeare.

In fact much of the interior of the church as we see it today is attributable to Rev Conybeare for he spent over two thousand pounds of his own money restoring the church and was also persuasive in obtaining funds from elsewhere.

Here is the pulpit from which Conybeare preached. It is seventeenth century but was repaired at the good vicar's expense. And what is that strange object behind the pulpit? A candelabra?

You've guessed it, one of Mr Conybeare's highly original improvements. Much of the stained glass dates from Conybeare's time including one paid for by his five children in thanks for the idyllic upbringing they enjoyed at the vicarage. Their cousin also visited them there; she became better known as the writer Rose Macauley ("Towers Of Trebizond" etc.)

At a time when there was high unemployment in the village Conybeare set the young men to work making the ornate gate to the rood staircase in the church. He supervised this work himself having been taught the technique by a man from a neighbouring village. He also arranged for a better water-supply for the village to be dug by the unemployed men and ditches to be cleaned on the green.

But, (Google to the rescue) the place from which I knew his name was as the writer of an early book about the history of Cambridgeshire, a book which is often quoted in modern books but which I've never read. I'm sure there is much more to learn about the eccentric vicar but for now we'll leave him pedalling his tricycle through the lanes of Barrington with his wife sitting perched on the handlebars. Now is that the way that GODS Ministers should behave?

Take care.


  1. such history when you makes quotes to 1347! The archives in your part of the world John are so intruiging. So, the vicar in his younger days did flirt some with danger didn't he, having his wife travel on the handlebars; that was cosy....

  2. I do enjoy the way you dig beyond the surface John, to unearth the history attached to the images you post. Lovely church interior shot - I can imagine the shiny, smooth slate/paved flooring and the worn, wooden pews. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Once again you've given us enough to keep us busy for many hours, John. Such intriguing history! I'm always struck by how our immigrant ancestors brought something of home with them to these shores. We have Chapel Hill in many places, but especially North Carolina. And in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts we have "Great Barrington." As for the good Vicar Conybeare, that's when priests actually were GODS Ministers. (Sorry, I couldn't get the red in there.) I haven't met any priests like that for many years.

  4. Two colourful characters but they sound so different. I guess a lot of our churches owe something to the Revd Conybeare types - but I also guess a lot suffered from idle incumbents with a secure living.

  5. A lovely little chapel. I must say that Rev. Conybeare sounds as though he might have been a bit of a prig. It's hard to imagine the bell ringers having something so raucous up there as to prompt all those rules! Sounds more like a warning to fraternity boys than anything!

  6. The little church we went to when I was growing up had a bell and, on occasion, one of us younger people got to ring it before Sunday service. It was considered a rare and very fun privilege, and we were careful to be on our best behaviour if we got the chance to pull the rope.
    This is a very special church.

  7. Another fascinating tale, John. Thomas Finch had a pretty good gig . . . sixty years of light duty.

  8. another church with a tale..nicely told!

  9. A wonderful tale - I love the photo journey from wide outdoors, to indoors and more detail, then out again. One of Conybeare's lovely updates looks like a menorah.

  10. Ha, what a story within a story! Your posts are always entertaining and enjoyable, but I must say I am most disappointed to learn no boisterous jesting is allowed in the church. Dang it. What is our world coming to?

  11. I like these old list of vicars - they stretch so far back into the past in just a few names though. I'm sure there's gaps though or the post has fallen empty for a while. At St Giles in Chollerton in Nothumbria (the last one I saw) two vicars racked up 105 years between them in the 15th century.

  12. Interesting - that's not a candelabra, by the way. It's a Jewish menorah, which is lit every Sabbath evening in the home, and also has a prominent place in synagogues.
    I wonder if the vicar was looking back to the very earliest days of Christianity?


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