One of the lovely things about the UK is the number of old churches that still exist at the heart of many communities. And, now that we are experiencing the longest heatwave since 1976, they are literally and metaphorically the coolest places to visit.
Of course, congregations are shrinking and ageing. Many people, today either don’t go to church at all, or, they go to the more vibrant ‘evangelical’ churches, of which there are many.
However, there is something quintessentially English about a country village church. I have written previously about the Ivy Church at Ampney St Mary.
Congregations have an uphill struggle to maintain and repair these old buildings and are constantly putting on events to raise the necessary funds. It is really hard work for small communities. And, Sandhurst is a small village; but it has some rare treasures and a wealth of history within the grounds of its beautiful church. So, this week it was a pleasure to support them by visiting St Lawrence Church For their flower festival.
The festival was entitled, “Strictly Music and Dance”. All the floral displays were based on the theme. There was an amazing variety of music and dance styles represented from the old playground song, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.
There has been a church on this site since the time of Henry 1st (1100-1135), when it belonged to St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester. The present church is partly 14th century but was mainly rebuilt in 1858. It has some impressive features.
Outside there is a lychgate which was decorated with flowers, then at the entrance to the church the porch was surrounded by them. Inside the porch was a magnificent display of sunflowers. Once inside the door there is a truly remarkable baptismal font made of lead. It is thought to have been made around 1135 near Bristol, out of lead mined in the Mendip hills. It is beautifully engraved with scrolls and figures. My favourite was the figure of Jesus. Apparently, there are 6 fonts of this type in Gloucestershire so I must find the other 5. It is exquisite. This font was surrounded by flowers ‘A La Ronde’ to remind us of country dancing round the maypole on a village green.
There is also an antique carved oak pulpit from the time of King James 1st (1603-1625) which was surrounded by a sparkling floral display showing the glitz and glamour of Ballroom dancing.
One of the features of any old church is the stained glass and this little church has some beautiful examples. But for me the most moving were a fairly recent one to commemorate the local men who died in WW1, and one to honour a young man from the village, Frederick Watts, who died in WW2. I was very moved to meet an elderly lady at the church who knew this young man. She told me that he was her brother’s playmate from childhood and she remembered him well.
It was quite difficult taking photos because of the backlight from the stained-glass windows but I hope you enjoy those I managed to take: