The birds and the Belchamp boys.

Belchamp Walter is in Essex. Not that you would consider it an Essex parish, there are none of the tired old stereotypes here. Belchamps inhabitants are used to stepping over the border into Suffolk as Sudbury is only a three mile trip northwards.
Christ arriving at Jerusalem on a donkey (top left)
The church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and is stunning. Not in a blowsy, showy sort of a way though. When I visited it had been raining heavily and I had driven through quite a lot of flood water with fingers crossed and small prayers not to stall. I reached the church down a lane that was awash and it was worth every damp second as soon as I saw the medieval wall paintings which pull you up short the second you walk through the door.
Christ attended by the three Maries
  In 1330 the Nave was rebuilt and a tomb-recess added on the north side. I assume that this tomb doubled up as an Easter Sepulchre where the host was taken for ritual entombment on Good Friday; guarded until Easter Sunday and then "resurrected". Above it there is a passion cycle, and the medieval morality tale of the "Three living and the three dead" It is unusual to see a woman in the hunting party challenged by the animated corpses  but not unknown.
 
 
 
 There is also an impressive depiction of the Virgin feeding the Christ child with a supplicant at her feet.  A breastfeeding woman would have been a common sight in the 1350's and it is a perfect way to illustrate how the divine; although conceived immaculately, was made flesh and had to be sustained just like every other human child.
 
 
Walking around it struck me how there is a bird theme in this church. One bird perches upon the top of the Madonna's canopy, and possibly another on her chair. There is the Pelican in it's piety (the pelican sustaining and sometimes reviving its brood from death with its own blood) and a hawk in the hunting party of the "Three living/three dead".
 
 
There is also a graffiti bird, on the Southern pillar of the tower which I was pleased to find. Birds have become one of my favourite graffiti motifs. The tower was added in the middle of the 15th century so this bird can be no earlier - late to roost in comparison to its plaster painted cousins. 
 
Belchamp Walter is one of the churches mentioned by Violet Pritchard in her book "English Medieval Graffiti", so I had an idea about what I might expect to find.  However, if it wasn't for an  incredibly generous churchwarden who trusted me with a key, I would never have found any of the Pritchard graffiti at all, due to the fact that most of it was behind closed doors.
 
 
Happily the names Pritchard mentioned in her book were there, crumbling, but still there, and the flower still bloomed over the tower door. I couldn't place the scale by all of the graffiti as some of the surfaces were just too friable. The point of taking photos is to preserve, not to disturb. 
 
 
One of the names detailed by Pritchard belongs to a John Gyllet, vicar of Belchamp from 1528-1560 for whom I found the following entry 'nuper vicarius manet ibi cum concubina' Roughly translated I think this means "In our time, this priest kept there a mistress". He sounds like quite a character does John Gyllet! It was a shame that I couldn't make out his inscription with any surety. 

I had to climb the tower, if I get the chance I always climb the tower. I didn't go all the way up to the top, because it just became too dangerous, too gritty under foot, too dusty, the stair treads too worn.
 
 
Graffiti found in tower staircases is frequently attributed to the bell ringers, and often this is quite accurate. Sometimes the bell ringers will even be so good as to tell you which bell they did duty with, but sometimes people mark out their place in history independently of any chimes.
 
 
It would be nice to think that some of these family names were still living nearby.
 

Not all were cut into the underside of the treads, some were written in pencil ...
 
 
...and when some were dated to the period of WWI ...
 
 
 I thought I would look a couple of them up. 

 
F.H. Scrivener, is keen to tell us that he is the sexton and clerk. In a very agrarian parish like Belchamp finding him in the records ought to be easy. When I looked at the graffiti in Troston it was hard work just to find a match, but in Belchamp the opposite proved true. There were just too many F. Scrivener's around and about. 
 
 
Same is true for Harry here. Who would have through that there were two sets of Scrivener brothers, both with the initials FS and HS? Not to mention the rest of the Scriveners who lived in the adjoining parishes, one Frank Scrivener who helped to run a pub, another Frank Scrivener who came to a very sad end in a chaff cutter!
 

One possible Frank Scrivener is 16 years old in 1914 and his brother Harry 11 years old living with their father Harry and mother Sarah at Rookery farm. I think that they are just a shade to young, so I  discounted them.
 
Fortunately for me Frank H Scrivener (the H stands for Herbert) sexton and clerk distinguishes himself by his middle initial and I find him in the 1901 census and again in the 1911 census. He is about 20 years old in 1914, his brother Harry C Scrivener 18 years. They are both still living with their parents James and Jane in North Waver Belchamp. Their older brother Frederick had already entered the army, enlisting in the Royal Tank Corps on the 5th of November 1909. 
 
 
When both boys were at school they won a prize for good attendance (Suffolk Free press news clipping May 25th 1904)  and when they left school they both found jobs in agriculture.

I find Harry again on March 1st 1916 at a Belchamp district tribunal (courtesy of the Suffolk Free press again).  Mr Wilson of Fisher's farm (120 acres) gains an exemption for his employee H.C. Scrivener. Younger brother Harry who is working as a stockman is considered too vital to the war effort at home and is exempted from joining up.
 
I can't definitively identify Frank, but he may have had an application heard at the same tribunal (RTB Payne of Borley applies for an exemption for Frank Scrivener a ploughman - refused).
 
Exemptions were granted for 3 or 6 months in most cases; so on the 12th of July 1916 Harry is back  with Mr Wison sponsoring him again. This time his age is mentioned (20 years old), his occupation (stallion leader, ploughman) and his application is refused. The chairman notes "We told you last time that when the stallion season is over this man will have to go".

So I don't know for sure why the boys scratched their names on that Dec 22nd in Belchamp Walter. But I suspect that they had an idea of what was coming and they certainly felt that they were more valuable at home.

Then I decided not to go any further. I had researched all the Scrivener lines in Belchamp Walter back to 1841 and had seen them though farm changes, deaths, marriages and misadventures. When I didn't find their names on the war memorial I allowed myself  a little hope that perhaps they came back to their church and their graffiti safe and sound.