Friday, 19 July 2013

A ruin

The other day we found a ruin that we did not know existed. We found it by accident. I have a job to do this evening at a place I have not visited for well over twenty-five years and I wanted to carry out a recce to make sure that I had the topography pretty firmly in my head.

This happened to be not that far from where Marcia feels the next book to be written will be set so it seemed reasonable that we should toddle off to have a chat with her people when I had done what I needed to do. So we did. And we got lost.

We often get lost. This is because I see a lane that I can’t remember and find myself wondering what is down there and where it goes and the temptation becomes too great for sanity and off we go. We’re not really lost, of course, because we know where we are more or less. I remember writing an article for Yachts and Yachting (I was then one of their columnists) entitled “You’re never really lost at sea”. This title was, of course, provocative and intentionally so but there is much truth in it. I won’t bore you with the details but it works by drawing a circle around that last place you were when you were last sure of your position – a circle whose radius represents the absolute furthest you could have gone since then. You will be somewhere in that circle and the odds are, if you are a cruising man, that a large amount of that will be land and you know you’re not ashore so that eliminates part of the circle. Then, by various processes of elimination you reduce the “possible” area to a minimum.

Since I knew that to the east and to the south was water (the English Channel), to the west was more water (the Kingsbridge Estuary) and to the north was a road (as opposed to a lane and one with a real number: the A379) I could hardly say that we were lost but we still didn’t know where we were.

Anyway, I’m driving up this very narrow and deep Devon lane when suddenly, and very unexpectedly, on the left there are some steps and the grass at the foot of them has been carefully tended. We stopped – if for no other reason than that I felt the steps were worth photographing. Marcia went up first and exclaimed in delight. There – we were in the middle of nowhere – was this ruined chapel surrounded by a graveyard.

After we returned home, I tried to retrace our steps on the map in the hope of finding out what this ruin was all about. It took ages but eventually I found it but all it says on the map is “Burial Ground”. If you want to see where we were the map reference is SX 796 408. The chapel is on the boundary between two parishes (which may or may not be important). It didn’t take that long to sort out that this had nothing to do with the Church of England. Anyway, after a good deal of fumbling about on Google I managed to find a photograph of it titled “Congregational Burial Ground”.

There are no Congregational Chapels in the area now. There was one in Dartmouth where my paternal grandparents and their family worshiped many years ago but that is now the Flavel Arts Centre which, among other things, now houses the town’s library where my mother worked many years ago.

The hall was named after the Rev. John Flavel, a Presbyterian, who arrived in Dartmouth in 1658 where things did not go that well for him. This from the Wikipedia entry: On the passing of the Act of Uniformity (1662) he was ejected, but continued to preach in private until the Five Mile Act drove him from Dartmouth. He kept as near it, however, as possible, removing to Slapton, five miles off, and there preached twice each Sunday to all who came, among whom were many of his old parishioners. On the granting of the indulgence of 1671 he returned to Dartmouth, and continued to officiate there even after the liberty to do so was withdrawn. In the end he found himself obliged to remove to London, travelling by sea and narrowly escaping shipwreck in a storm, which is said to have ceased in answer to his prayers. Finding that he would be safer at Dartmouth he returned there, and met with his people nightly in his own house, until in 1687, on the relaxation of the penal laws, they built a meeting-house for him. Just before his death he acted as moderator at a meeting of dissenting ministers held at Topsham. He died suddenly of paralysis at Exeter on 26 June 1691, and was buried in Dartmouth churchyard.

So who is it keeping the grass at the bottom of the steps and the graveyard itself in such food order? No idea but I intend to find out and will report back if it turns out to be interesting.

Meanwhile this week we have a diet of dogs – four of them to be precise. We had stopped in the entrance to a field in order to indulge in some coffee when this lot came driving past. All, two- and four-legged were in great spirits but I’m afraid there was too much going on to get their names.