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St Andrew, Claxton
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Late in the afternoon on this February day we came to this high-hedge surrounded ancient space, miles from anywhere, just a cottage or two for company, the nearest major road miles away. It is a small church, but was obviously once of more consequence, because all along the north wall is the ghost of an arcade - there was once an aisle here. On the south side, the red-brick porch and windows in the tower show that money was still being spent early in the 16th century, but not a great deal has happened since.
Inside, there is a creamy grey light, an 18th century feel that comes from the whitewashed walls and painted box pews cut back to form benches. Everything is simple, from the bare wood of the sanctuary to the clear glass in the windows. For once, the 15th century font, very similar to that at Wheatacre, seems elaborate, blowsy and redolent with meaning, the 18th century memorial unnecessarily loud. Both are out of kilter with the mood of this place.
Someone in the 1920s decided to cheer the place up with devotional pictures, possibly obtained from some Anglo-catholic repository. One depicts the children of many nations coming unto Christ, and reminds us that many of those who built the British Empire believed it had a divine mission to spread the Word to foreign lands. Here, the Empire is represented by its children, and there they all are in the picture: an Indian, a Polynesian, a Chinese, a European and an African (naked of course). It reminds me of similar images I have seen featuring Queen Victoria. Another picture depicts the Holy Family as they might have been if Christ had been born into the Edwardian upper middle classes. They are all truly awful, but absolutely compelling. Such things must once have been more common, and one day no doubt we shall mourn their passing, uncatalogued and unrecorded.
Simon Knott, February 2005
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