There are worlds within worlds that echo across church life. Bells and their ringers are one such orbit that until I started to seriously visit churches I was ignorant about. It wasn't that I didn't know that bells existed. It is just that the process of bell ringing was dealt with by other people. My involvement was mostly to stay away from the ropes, not touch things that didn't concern me and nod approvingly while appreciating the sound of a well rung peal.

Yet who wouldn't love to spend at least half an hour up in the Gods, looking at the enormously heavy bells and their ropes and frames?

After all these aren't things you can get to see every day. I reckon a significant proportion of people will be within earshot of a bell but few have actually seen them? Suffice to say I felt honoured, if a little scared, climbing up a set of *long* ladders to reach the bells at Wormingford.

See those ladders to the left, at the back... ladders like that!

I am actually a tiny bit scared of heights, and I have to steel myself and remember not to look down. This looking down advice is especially true when half way up a swaying ladder following a Tower Captain nearly twice my age who is shinning up and down easily and putting me to shame.  If you look down you freeze (or get the urge to throw yourself off), neither is a good option.

Once up there it is worth every second of the climb though.

Some towers have proper bell chambers, like this one at  Sible. It is homely and filled with pieces of mismatched furniture, and all things necessary to bell ringers. Then you wonder, as you've just squeezed your way up a narrow winding stone staircase... how the hell did they get any of this stuff up here? It must have been a nightmare to push it up the steep spiral steps in the half dark.

St Gregory Sudbury &  St Mary Belchamp Walter
Of course, there is also the graffiti. Those who ring bells love to scratch graffiti. Their names, their dates, sometimes the names of the bells that they ring, sometimes the change order. This piece, from Belchamp Walter makes me want to scuttle off to see if I can find something about the maker. Who why and what was going on here?

It isn't all memorialising either. There are more organic designs to be found; beautiful plants growing from the walls, birds singing and strutting across the stone. The top design is executed in low relief, the piece to the right covered in limewash but still flowering through. You wouldn't think there was so much life in a bell tower.

St Gregory Sudbury
But back to the then Issac Brazier (maker) who were you? What did you make ? Why were you in St Gregory's church tower in the 18th c ? What relationship did you have to the bells?



I thought I was taking a photograph of a crudely scratched cross. I nearly didn't bother because.... well, after a while you get pretty used to taking hundreds of pictures of crosses and tally marks.
Imagine how I felt when I got home and reviewed the photos. The cross had feet, and possibly a head! In fact, the cross has become a *he* - a little knight waiting for battle next to the chancel.
I can't possibly tell what time period the knight is from, the church was built in 1400 so he can't be from before that date, but he isn't detailed a enough to place him by the armour/helmet etc. Was he even a real person? Maybe he was the idea of a *real* man.
Here's another thing. There is a scratch dial design just to the side of a pillar niche. Great, we all know what a scratch dial looks like, and that it marks out time (albeit crudely). But how? How can this dial possibly work, inside, without the slanting direct light of the sun? It's mystifying.

 Is it a metaphysical scratch dial, a symbolic dial demonstrating not the real passing of time, but the idea of passing time? Maybe not all scratch dials are created equal, or are some of the scratch dials not scratch dials at all?
In the same vein I would also like to know which saint originally resided in that niche - because the graffiti is very definitely clustered by it. Whoever it was, they were the focus of the common man. Not much chance of me finding out right now though. The church is dedicated to All Saints. Someone was covering all their bases with that dedication!


A female face, presently hiding behind a noticeboard but looking up the nave, in company with the consecration marks, compass drawn designs and harp...


Looking for the Scarletts in West Bergholt part 2

I am not anything special, I don't even own a history qualification; nevertheless I like to spend a lot time in the past. Sometimes I think I am better in my own company, and as I am quite capable of peopling my surroundings with ghosts of those long gone I'm generally happy with this entertainment. Recently I went to Wormingford church and noticed some 17th c names, initials, a merchant mark and a date of 1673. After a bit of  sideways thinking, three ghosts popped into being as potential instigators of this graffiti. Let me introduce you...

There is the eldest, Christopher, he was born in West Bergholt in 1659. The middle boy, the *clever* boy Thomas was born in Wormingford in 1660 and the third son, called John (after his father) arrived in Copford in 1662. For those of you who aren't acquainted with the villages along the Suffolk/Essex border, all three villages are in quite close proximity to each other and to the town of Cochester.

Yes - I couldn't help myself. I did a little researching on line in order to try and piece together some of the boys' family tree. Mostly to see if they had uncles and cousins who could have scratched up the Wormingford graffiti.

Interestingly one of the first things to come to light was another sibling; the baby of the family, a girl called Frances. Of course I am going to approve of the name Frances; it is my name after all (I like little Frances a lot already, I'm sure she was very clever).

As for their surname,  Scarlett is an English metonymic occupational name for a dyer, or a seller of  bright red (expensive) cloth. By this time the name doesn't necessarily mean that the Scarletts were still dyers or cloth merchants, but I bet if you go down far enough it will have a cloth bottom. The Scarletts must have been pretty well off as a family, sending all three boys to the Grammar School in Colchester.

The little cherubs mother, one Mrs Frances Scarlett (nee Bettesworth) was the daughter of Thomas Bettesworth, and her people came from Winchester in Hampshire. She married John Scarlett, who interestingly doesn't appear at the Colchester Grammar School, although his brother Thomas does.

So the three boys' father was a John and their uncle a Thomas. Grammar school educated Uncle Thomas marries a Sara(h) Driwood, and there I can find no children (If anyone wants to chime in feel free, I'm not a paid up member of any genealogy sites).

Around 1662 Uncle Thomas has a 7 or 8 hearth house in West Bergholt called unimaginatively "Scarletts" and although I'm making a bit of a jump here ascribing that house to this man, it could fit.

In 1670 John Scarlett makes a land deal involving a piece of land near Church field Wormingford and is described as a "Gentleman". Both brothers seem to be doing well for themselves. Today Wormingford's Church lane runs into Bowdens Lane, a property called Bowdens being held for a while by a family called, you guessed it "Scarlett".

Go back a generation and the grandparents were one Christopher Scarlett and Alice Doggett. At this point I get some dates again. She was christened on the 14th of May 1601 and married on the 14th of July 1624. He died on the 23rd September of 1650. When they married they were living in Boxford Suffolk (not to be confused with the other two nearby Boxteds in Suffolk and Essex).

Meanwhile, we have his occupation to help in figuring out his social class.  He was a Mercer, as was Alice's father (a Mercer being a dealer in expensive cloth - I told you there would be cloth involved). Alice's father's memorial is set into the floor of the vestry area in Boxford. I remember seeing it because there is a large circle mark on the neighbouring stone, not to mention his brass mentioning the East India company. I'll return and get a photo another day.

Chappel (another local village this time in the Essex direction) may have been where Grandfather Christopher intended to live. A medieval freehold, called *Bacons* was sold in 1650 to one Christopher Scarlet, who was succeeded the same year by his son Thomas (that'll be Uncle Thomas I suppose). After a dispute the estate was split in 1664 between Thomas and a Stephen Smith of Crepping Hall. The status quo was maintained between the two families until 1713 when they both sold up to John Little. This means Uncle Thomas can potentially lay claim to two properties, Scarletts in Bergholt and Bacons in Chappel  (forgive me - this is starting to sound like a folk song)

Finally one last generation Great-grandfather John Scarlett, who married Mary Horsman. She was from a Norfolk family and her father held a knighthood. So money gets money, and with all the extra Christopher's and Thomas's you can't prove that the graffiti in Wormingford church was the Grammar School pupils I thought it might be; but it is corroborative that the three sons of John Scarlett are living close to, if not actually in Wormingford while their uncle is dividing his time between Chapel and West Bergholt.

As for the graffiti in this post? Well I thought I ought to go to West Bergholt and Copford to see if there was any. If I know anything about children it is that you have to make things fair. It's no good going to the birthplace of one and not doing the same for the other two. West Bergholt has some  lovely bits of graffiti on the porch door Go inside and you find Uncle Thomas' tombstone. No mention of a wife or children....

 Copford had no graffiti or tombstones to add to the story (it does have interesting wall paintings though). So here the Scarlett story stops for a while.


Charles Freeman

Helles memorial Gallipoli
In 1895 a male child was born to Caroline and George Freeman. He was christened Charles, gifted with his mother's maiden name as his middle name and spent his childhood in rural Gloucestershire. I can only guess at what the Freeman's hoped for their son's future, but I do know that every parent is hard wired to achieve a most basic human drive; that of protecting their child. The Great War disabused so many parents of this illusion of control, and 20 years after he was born Charles Stow Freeman was killed in Gallipoli.

Families deal with anxiety, loss and grief in different, sometimes creative ways. Fast forward 100 years and the piece of information that comes down to me is that Charles is an unlucky name. Because Charles Stow Freeman was killed, as was the next Charles (in the Second World War) the name Charles became emotionally charged, and dropped out of family use.

Sherborne Gloucester
However Charles could so easily have been a James, or a Thomas, (like his two cousins fighting in France). It could have been Walter, or William.  What matters isn't the name, but recognising the multitude of names.  The proverb runs that "Truth is the daughter of time", but the truth is that we haven't really moved on so far in the last 100 years, scratch the surface and the hostility bleeds through.

So maybe the best I can do is read the names, the dates, the ages, of those men memorialised; and when I feel sick with the sheer volume of all that loss, remember to look around; to notice and nurture the relationships  I have with others, as well as be grateful for the freedoms I take for granted.  Remember to see to that and see that those who follow do the same.