Saturday, 17 October 2009

Quiet Witnesses

These simple chairs line the walls of the small North chapel of St. Clement, Old Romney in Kent. One of the most-visited of all the Marsh churches, it was built on an artificial mound to protect it from floodwaters. Old Romney churches have a sensibility that is unique, and in common say, with Fairfield and St. Mary-in-the-Marsh, St. Clement leaves a lasting impression on the visitor. Norman in origin, the nave was enlarged in the 13th century, when the aisles were added. Aside from this, it remains virtually unrestored, with an uneven floor, and a gallery which is reached by means of the narrow, somewhat vertiginous wooden staircase. Elsewhere, the rood-loft staircase, discovered in the 1920s retains its medieval door-frame. In the North chapel where these chairs reside is the mensa of the original medieval altar, with rails that date from the 18th century. The striking box pews also date from the late 18th century and retain the strawberry ice-cream pink that they were painted by the Rank film company for their film of 'Dr. Syn', based on Russell Thorndyke's novel 'A Tale of the Romney Marsh', written in 1915 and based on the exploits of the infamous 18th century smuggler in the region. The Royal Coat of Arms of George III also date back to the 18th century, which includes a lion with a benign yet smug expression. The capitals of the font are embellished with different figures and date back to the 14th century. Despite much depreciation, it is still possible to discern the characteristics of the individual grotesque creatures that they represent. Derek Jarman is buried in the churchyard, and his simple grave, marked by a solid piece of slate bearing his distinctive signature, often has flowers, messages and small votives that have been left by admirers as he lays in the shadow of the great yew near the church's perimeter fence.

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