Running a Heritage Open Day at a rural church is a bit of a double-edged sword. After all, we were up against local competition such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Fountains and the city centre attractions of Ripon Museums.
That said, I was delighted by the turnout and the amount of help proffered by our heritage volunteers, tea makers, artists and embroiders. We had visitors from Durham, Masham and even as far away as Ripon, who came to see the embroidery, learn about the stained glass and enjoy the ambiance of our church.
We had a quiet morning, allowing us time to get the kettle on and to ensure the church looked its best (no easy feat considering that building work has already begun and the churchyard now contains portaloos). The weather kept people away, looking ever ominous and periodically dumping large amounts of rain in short bursts. I did feel a little dejected at first!
Then, come noon, the place came alive. Whilst I will readily admit I am no expert on church textiles (knowing at least three different terms in total), I ended up speaking to a lot of interested visitors who had many, many difficult questions about embroidery. I managed to fend off most of these with the help of Joan Wilkinson, a volunteer and local embroiderer. Visitors were very impressed with the quality of the textiles and amazed that they had been found bundled up in a box in a corner of a church!
St John’s is like a little encyclopedia for post-medieval stained glass. The Morris & Company window tends to grab headlines but, in reality, the fascinating east window provides a much more interesting story. I have subsequently met with Phil, our stained glass conservator, who can’t wait to get his hands on the east window and return it to the glorious colours so indicative of George Hedgeland’s work.
George fell in and out of fashion very quickly during the 1850’s. After his success at the Great Exhibition of 1851, he was commissioned for a wide variety of works including the big west window at Norwich Cathedral. As at Norwich, our window has been varnished over to dull the colours – I assume our Victorian predecessors were suffering some imbalance of humours due to the vivid hues of Hedgeland’s glass.
I for one can’t wait to see Hedgeland’s window returned to its former glory. I’ve invited everyone back next year to see the finished article and I hope you will join us next year too!