Letter from our Patron
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall
Thaxted was my home for 13 years from 2002 until 2015. I arrived in the town, almost by accident, on a glorious April morning: seeing the church for the first time made an indelible impression on me. I fell immediately in love with its beauty and grandeur, as the spring sunlight poured in through the clerestory. There are few more impressive parish churches anywhere in the country. Later I came to understand its fascinating history and the central part it has played in Thaxted life, primarily as a place of worship, of course, but also as a focal point for the whole community and as the backdrop to countless glorious concerts and other events.
I was honoured to serve as a Trustee of Thaxted Church for several years, and that experience taught me that beauty and grandeur are costly to maintain. It takes constant effort to find the resource to keep this magnificent building in good repair, so that it can go on fulfilling the role it has had in the town for hundreds of years and also evolve to meet modern expectations, and I pay tribute to the many people who work tirelessly to keep it going. So now, as Patron of the Friends of Thaxted Church, I want to encourage you to help this effort by becoming a Friend yourself. All friendships are rewarding. I can say from experience that supporting this great church brings a special kind of joy. I hope you will feel able to contribute to making sure it has a secure future.
Thaxted Church Trust and a proposed new guide to its history
The Trust is currently planning a new guide to the church. That poses a problem. There is very little archival information about its construction and only brief glimpses of its history before the 18th Century. For this reason, Tom Wilson, Suzanne Compagnoni and I decided that we would tap into the expertise of those who knew the church really well and were prepared to come along on a Saturday morning in late July to discuss its interior. Our panel was: Fr. Richard Rowe, Bruce Munro, Mike Goacher and Sybil King. Our tour began in the earliest part of the church, the nave (1340) and the west aisle (1360), through the crossing (about 1400) to the east aisle (late 1400s), along to the tower (1340) and spire (about 1490), thence to the chancel, the last part of the church to be completed (about 1500).
It was both fascinating and eye-opening. We found the original site of the font close to the west door, discussed the significance of the void beneath the chancel (possibly a reliquary and place of pilgrimage), looked at the painted, and now much faded beams in the chancel aisles (a possible project), discussed the way the tower would have had to be strengthened to support the spire and ended by looking at possible sites for roof lighting to bring out the details of the wood and stone detailing.
At the end of it we had a great deal of material and sporadic conversations have continued as we have tried to put it all in context.
Next comes the difficult bit. We have to write it up!
NEW LIGHTING SCHEME FOR
Antony Wordsworth, Assistant Churchwarden
The focus of fundraising for Thaxted Church is currently an exciting new lighting scheme, and the Friends of Thaxted Church are participating in this project with enthusiasm. As many of you will know, the current lighting is inadequate for reading during services or for many of the activities that take place in the church.
The programme for the next stage is as follows:
The PCC will be asked to agree the specification at their meeting on the 25th September
This will then be submitted to the Diocesan Advisory Committee and Chancellor
Subject to receiving a Faculty (giving permission) from the Diocesan Committee, installation should start in the New Year. It will take about three months to complete.
The PCC would like to thank the Trustees and all members of the Friends for the enormous support they are giving to this project.
Arthur Burns’ Lecture:
'Thaxted's Red Vicar - Myth or Reality'
Fr. Christopher Brown
A large and expectant audience arrived in Thaxted church on Saturday 20 July 2019 to hear Arthur Burns, Professor of Modern History at King’s College London, deliver a lecture entitled: ‘Conrad Noel’s Thaxted: Myth or Reality?’. A very entertaining and instructive afternoon was to follow. Arthur Burns was introduced by Richard Till, who briefly referred to three of Noel’s more lively predecessors as Vicars of Thaxted, who could lay claim to the title of being ‘turbulent priests’.
Arthur Burns acknowledged at the start of his lecture that ‘Thaxted is full of good stories’. Beginning with the well-known incidents, popularly referred to together as ‘The Battle of the Flags’, he stripped away some of the myths surrounding the events, and told the tale afresh using contemporary accounts of what was said and done, both by Noel, his opponents and his supporters. He showed how, contrary to some current perceptions, Noel found considerable support locally for his actions.
The overall purpose of the lecture was to re-appraise Noel’s long ministry in the context of the Church of England nationally. Burns noted that Daisy, Countess of Warwick had appointed Noel to Thaxted in order to give him the financial means to continue preaching Christian Socialism around the country. Although Noel continued to have a voice on the national stage, he devoted much of his time locally, preaching Christian Socialism here for over 30 years.
Burns considered the effect of Noel’s ministry both locally and nationally. Locally, Burns noted, Noel was immediately succeeded as Vicar by Jack Putterill and Peter Elers, and by an eminent Cambridge scientist, Joseph Needham, who had been one of Noel’s disciples, and was Reader in Thaxted in the 1970s and 1980s. Burns concluded that: ‘Thaxted can claim to have the most sustained tradition of Christian Socialist ministry in any English parish in the 20thcentury’.
Burns addressed Noel’s wider influence, concluding that ‘Nationally his impact was a crucial inspiration to subsequent generations, lay and clerical, including Tom Driberg, Frank Field and Eric Heffer’.
Arthur Burns’ knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm for his subject were greatly appreciated. After a vote of thanks offered by Christopher Brown, the audience enjoyed generous refreshment provided by the Friends, and continued discussing Noel with each other and the lecturer, who is making Noel a central feature of his forthcoming magnum opus, Watch this space!
The plan is for modern LED lights to be installed, which will be discreetly positioned beneath the clerestory windows in the upper part of the wall of the nave and behind the roof timbers of the North and South aisles. Separate lights will illuminate the underside of the arches. A sub committee of the Friends has also selected six high-level features of the church to be illuminated with timer-operated spotlights. In addition, moveable stage lighting will enhance future concerts and other performances.
Discussion on the proposal has been ongoing for over two years, partly because of the importance of preserving the habitat of resident bats, a protected species. We have taken advice from the Bat Conservation Trust, who are delighted with the compromises we have made to accommodate our bats.