10 August 2009


As northern barbarians, we had never previously visited Canterbury, the cradle of The Church of England. Disdaining the car, we strolled to Rye Station and bought day return tickets. From Rye the railway track is as straight as a die carrying you across Romney Marsh towards Ashford.

Of course Romney Marsh and its neighbour - Walland Marsh haven't actually been marshes for eight hundred years. It is rich agricultural land and when farms were labour intensive, the area had a much larger population than it has today. I had read about the churches of Romney Marsh - how some of them remain standing even though the communities they once served have dwindled away. As the train beat out its rhythm towards Ashford and Canterbury beyond, I noticed an amazing church sitting all alone in wide sheep pastures. Returning from Canterbury we saw it again.

On the last full day of our holiday, after visiting the beautiful High Weald town of Tenterdon, I was determined to find that isolated church and photograph it. We drove around the little back roads of The Marsh until we came to the Railway Inn at Appledore Station where a visiting electrician with a pencil stub behind his ear supplied us with directions to "Fairfield".
Although the outer brick skin of the church is relatively modern (1913), it hides a medieval secret timber lath construction (13th Century). I hope my photos show you how special this building is. There's no roadway to it, not even a properly defined path. Sheep graze around it. Amazingly, Sunday services are still held in St Thomas a Beckett once a month.

A lifelong atheist, I have nevertheless always been fascinated by England's country churches. They speak to me of simpler times, when deluded folk believed that no matter what hardships one might face in this world, there was a better life beyond. Old churches are fascinating architecturally and they were of course theatres for generations of family events - funerals, weddings, christenings. Imbued in the very stones one can detect wordless historical records of ancient rural communities - time marching on. If the church is unlocked and there's a visitors' book, I always leave a positive comment and put a few coins in the box.

Like the English pub, our green countryside, our Literature and music, the English country church is a part of our heritage which should make us proud to live on this amazing island of dreams.


  1. Sound like a really different kind of holiday Puds. There are so many wonderful parts of the UK that we take for granted and will never get to see.

    Could see you having a go at a English travelogue type book if you set your mind to it- two excellent recent examples are Stuart Maconie's 'Pies and Prejudice' and 'Adventures on the High Teas'- think you'd enjoy them.

    Not sure what your angle would be though- great Hull City away days or a tour of random schools in the UK?

  2. The times may not be so simple nowadays, but count me in among the "deluded folk" -- all the more reason.

    I know you feel strongly about this -- as do I -- but using pejorative language does not contribute to the spirit of having a civil conversation.

    I forgive you.

    Lovely photographs, by the way.

  3. BB - I have read "Pies and Prejudice". In spite of its Lancashire bias, I loved it - the style was endearingly familiar. Maybe you can write a book about Bangkok called "Pink Taxis and Ladyboys" as I know that you will already have much personal experience of both.
    RHYMES Glad you liked the photos but with regard to my choice of language I would rather make no comment or amendment. However, in the spirit of cordial Anglo-American relations, I forgive you for your criticism.

  4. Boy in crowd: "But the emperor has no clothes on!"

    Emperor: "I forgive you for your criticism."


  5. I love this church! I'm another church-loving lifelong atheist (sorry Bob). I love the history and the sense of community and the buildings and reading the gravestones and imagining people's lives. I believe in the innate goodness of people and I think we can be good to each other without needing to fear or worship a God to be so.


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