Friday, 17 April 2009
Beverley Minster re-visited
Well I went and did it today, nearly gave myself a heart attack climbing to the top of Beverley Minster in East Yorkshire with a heavy chest cold - I must be bloomin' mad! Took me 10 minutes to get my breath back. But wow - was it worth it? - it certainly was and is thoroughly recommended providing you are reasonably fit.
You may remember in a previous blog that I had visited Beverley Minster earlier this year for the first time in my life and was enthralled by it but I mentioned that I had never been to the top in the roof to see what's behind the glorious front facing part of the Minster that everyone sees. I took two of my three lads, one who is in his final year as an archeology student at Nottingham and he is doing his dissertation on the defences of Hull. The other lad is hoping to go to Liverpool University this year to read classics with archaeology. Both are passionate about history, particularly that which is on their own doorstep.
We went on spec for something to do, neither of them had ever been and it was such a nice day and when we got there, tours of the roof were available but we had missed the last one of the day. However the ever so friendly staff got hold of the virger (which is spelt correctly in this instance) who took us for the tour and we were spell-bound by it. Neil Pickford is a 'virger' rather than a verger because he's a carrier of the long metal rod and the Latin name for rod is 'virga'. His role is based on what was, 500 years ago a church bouncer using the rod as a practical tool to get the vicar through the mad thronging crowd of people and animals to the altar. Today fortunately the people of Beverley behave at services and his role is ceremonial, although he does much more in the background to keep the day to day running of the building as smooth as possible.
The virger, Mr Pickford was a friendly intelligent man full of information and a thousand facts about the minster in his head all articulately delivered at just the right level. The answers to our many questions were thoughtful and a testament to his depth of knowledge. I suspect we were lucky in that Neil only had the three of us to guide and did a great job - thanks Neil. So what did we see after 113 steps worth of cardio-vascular exercise? Wondrous vaults of roof space with some timbers nine hundred years old, some of them reused even at the time the Minster was built. There were different stages of construction which when pointed out are obvious.
There were the ornate windows with legalised graffiti etched upon them by workers and church staff responsible for the Minsters construction and maintenance. Not only were there names and dates, someone had etched the popular RAF planes (and a helicopter) that would have been seen around the Minster both in time of war and peace. The views through the spectacular windows were breathtaking looking both north toward Leconfield and the Wolds and also to the south and the Humber Bridge and much of the north and west of Hull. The picture below shows St Mary's Church in Beverley though the north window.
Then there was the huge quarter of a ton boss in the roof that could be lifted to create a hole in the ceiling through which large and heavy objects could be lifted upward into the roof space. The mechanism - a huge wheel worked by a person walking in it still works today and he ably demonstrated it for us.
There was plenty of evidence of dangerous periods in the life of the building when walls started to partially collapse and the fascinating and often highly technical work that was done to save the building - over 250 years ago. The masons who constructed this beautiful Gothic inspiration were on peace work and their collective marks can be seen over most of the masonry, a mark of reaching a certain point when payment was due. The sad thing is that most of these men were probably illiterate and were only known by their mark even in the books which showed that they had been paid. I am looking forward to seeing the published research about these amazing men and their incredible achievements.
After an hour of looking at how the Minster was constructed and looking at the evidence, we were left to tour the ground floor which in itself is both awesome and calming. Neil writes a blog for the Hull Daily Mail newspaper once a week on life at the Minster and you can catch an example of his witty repartee by clicking here.
I hope you may also one day have chance to see the history of centuries laid bare in the roof of this building.
Sorry for the length of the blog today - there was loads I had to miss out that I really wanted to tell you.