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Published: July 17th 2018
The words of the song June is busting out all over come to mind this morning. From the arctic cold winter we now find ourselves sweltering in a heat wave the like of which we have not seen since the summer of 1976. The green lawns we are so proud of look like pale yellow straw fields. Flowers don't survive long in the heat of the day. We find it difficult to find shade in a hot muggy British summer. I am taken back to 1976, of trying to find shelter in local supermarkets around the New Forest. Putting hands and arms into cold freezers. Standing in the cold dairy aisles. Paddling in the sea in the pretty seaside town of Salcombe in Devon. The longest day has passed us by bringing thoughts of Autumn approaching and standing on that day in 1976 by Stonehenge. Roses scramble through the hedgerows, clematis climb through them. Hanging baskets full of blue Lobelia, fuschias, geraniums and petunias survive with a daily drenching from bath water.
Life has rumbled on. More nurses calling, visits from doctors and carers. Gabby still stands on the drive due to our care commitments which have increased over the
last few weeks. With higher doses of morphine being administered Glenns mum becomes more and more unresponsive and in the end does not know us. We have to move her to the hospice where they care for her for the last four weeks of her life. She sleeps more , eats nothing and it is a waiting game. A game which in the end did come to an end as she completed her lifes journey . A relief for all but the start of plans for the funeral and life without her. So still Gabby stayed firmly planted on the drive. We have no plans nor can we contemplate any at the moment.
My trip out was just a short one. A lunchtime visit to Chesterfields famous church. I had visited before but that was many years ago . My memories were of nothing special. No glass that caught my eye , no side chapels or memorials that gave me the wow factor nor any furniture or fittings that I could remember. I had climbed the tower and stood looking over the town and surrounding countryside. I had looked up and been in to the crooked wooden spire that
rises above the church and is world famous. Now that was something to behold .
The sun was beaming down as I stood outside the church dedicated to Saint Mary and All Saints. Dating back to the 14th century the listed building is well known for its twisted and leaning spire. A medieval interior comprising of some Early English , Decorated Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic features. It comprised as always of a nave, the aisles, the north and south transepts and chancel surrounded by four guild chapels . Restoration had been carried out by Gilbert Scott in 1843 and this is one or the sad reasons why the interior whilst feeling light also felt empty. Tragedy struck again in 1861 when lightening struck the building fracturing gas lighting pipes which started a fire. It smouldered on for close to four hours. Further restoration took place in 1896 and another fire, this time in 1961 destroyed what little remained of the interior. Perhaps all those misfortunes put together all made me feel that the building didn't move me very much the first time of visiting.
The spire itself was added to the tower in the 14th century around 1362
. So some facts as Sion would say. Unlike the Leaning tower or Pisa Chesterfield spire is both twisted and leaning. It twists by 45 degrees and leans 9 ft 6 in (2.9 m) from its true centre. The leaning characteristic was initially suspected to be the result of the absence of skilled craftsmen because of the Black Death which had occurred some 12 years before the spire was completed. This meant a lack of qualified and experienced carpenters. Another contributing factor was insufficient cross bracing and the use of unseasoned oak. What is believed now is that the twisting was caused by the lead that covers the spire. The lead causes this twisting phenomenon, because when the sun shines during the day the south side of the tower heats up, causing the lead there to expand at a greater rate than that of the north side of the tower, resulting in unequal expansion and contraction. This was compounded by the weight of the lead (approximately 33 tonnes) which the spire's bracing was not originally designed to bear. Also it was common practice to use unseasoned timber at the time the spire was built as when the wood was seasoned
it was too hard to work with, so as unseasoned wood was used they would have made adjustments as it was seasoning in place. Whatever the reason it twists, it turns and the myths around its construction are far more interesting. One legend goes that a virgin once married in the church and the church was so surprised that the spire turned round to look at the bride. It continues to look and if a virgin turns up again it will return to true. Another legend tells the story that the Devil is responsible for the twisting. A Bolsover blacksmith mis-shod the devils hooves. The devil leapt over the spire in pain knocking it out of shape. A similar story says he sat on the spire and wrapped his tail around it. The townsfolk rang the church bells and the Devil frightened by the clamour of the bells tried to jump off with his tail still wound around the spire causing it to twist .
Standing in the porch I was grateful for the coolness. It wasn't a highly ornate porch with intricate carving. In fact , it was plain and simple. Inside the church was light and airy.
The roof was simple too. I wondered if the original had been destroyed by fire and replaced with a much more simple affair. The walls were covered with stations of the cross but very few ornate memorials. I pondered on how many feet had walked the route I was taking. The great and good of Chesterfield coming in for day to day services , for baptisms, marriages and burials. There were few memorials on the walls. Perhaps the great and good spent their money on something else.
In one corner I found a display of knitted poppies commemorating the end of the First World War. These are popping up everywhere in this year 2018 - marking a hundred years since the end of the First World War. A tree of rememberance and a wonderful altar piece . A modern interpretation of an age old theme - the Madonna and child.
The side chapels looked more interesting as I walked round them. Peering in through gilded ironwork. I had only half an hour before returning to work. A whistle stop tour trying to look at what was inside . A wonderful norman font was the last thing I saw. I have to say I was more impressed than on my last visit. Perhaps my head was in a different place. Sometimes it is unwise to revisit somewhere you have been before. For me today I revisited and found it more interesting and rewarding than I had expected or remembered.
I ask you though to think - which of the stories of the leaning twisting tower do you prefer? The virgin or the devil - you choose . I think I like both of them.
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