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St James, Cooling, Kent

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posted by alias Jelltex on Friday 27th of January 2017 06:42:57 AM

A short drive out of Cliffe is Cooling. Dominated by the castle, now the home of Mr Jools Holland esq, aka Piano Blokey from the TV and former member of Squeeze. It is he who ruined the album version of Uncertain Smile, which makes me happy as I have the Jools-less single version. The castle is a private home, but in passing I saw that part of the moat still has water, and I believe you can get married there, just arrange your own music, lest you will get the boogie woogie version of The Wedding March. In fact, I like Jools, I like what he does on New Year's Eve, even if it does mean the only place Roland Rivron now can get on TV, but is orchestra is great, and play, boogie woogie like no one else, and is the best place, we find, of spending seeing the old year out. Just along from the castle entrance, tucked in a dogleg of the road, is St James, not in the care of the Church Conservation Trust, and it is strongly suspected to be the inspiration of Pip's family graves in those opening paragraphs of Great Expectations: "My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister — Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine — who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle — I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers—pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence. Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip." St James stands tall, and impressive on a bright winter's morning, overlooking the slope that leads down to the marshes at the fringes of the River Thames. Right by the porch, you see the gravestone, surrounded by 14 tiny lozenge-shaped anthropomorphic grave markers; each one indicating a young life cut short. They might not all be the children those whom the main stone is for, but it is possible. ----------------------------------------------- The churchyard at Cooling is famous to readers of Dickens as the setting for the opening scenes of Great Expectations. By the tower are 'Pip's Graves', a group of thirteen eighteenth-century bodystones that Dickens described so well. The church is thirteenth century in date and is surprisingly large for so small a village. Since 1978 it has been owned by The Churches Conservation Trust, and cared for by local residents. At the back of the church is a set of three fourteenth-century benches - some of the earliest seats in existence. The chancel is particularly lavish and is arcaded with Purbeck marble shafts of thirteenth-century date. The arcading on the south side incorporates three sedilia and a fine double piscina, although the nineteenth-century raising of the floor level has made a nonsense of the composition. The tiny vestry gives the impression of a grotto, its walls being lined with hundreds of cockle shells. The fine east window depicting the Ascension dates from 1897 and is a good example of the work of Clayton and Bell. ------------------------------------------------ Charles Dickens used the churchyard of St James as his inspiration in the opening chapter of Great Expectations, where the hero Pip meets Magwitch the convict. The site - on the Hoo Peninsula with marshes stretching north to the Thames estuary, is dramatically desolate and bleak in winter, recalling the sinister opening scene in David Lean's 1946 film of the book. Here, you can find what have become known as 'Pip's Graves' - the forlorn gravestones of 13 babies that Dickens describes as "little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their [parents'] graves". Inside, the church is light and spacious. There is a 500-year-old timber door that still swings on its ancient hinges - even though it now leads to a blocked north doorway! Another quirky feature is the nineteenth-century vestry - its walls are lined from top to bottom with thousands of cockle shells - the emblem of St James. The monuments in the church walls and floor are a fascinating record of those who once lived here. They include a slab with a brass effigy of Feyth Brook, who died in 1508 and was the wife of Lord Cobham, of nearby Cooling Castle. Dickens fans should also visit St Mary's in Higham, the village where the novelist ended his days while writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood. ---------------------------------------------- St James' Church dates from the late 13th century. No evidence of an earlier building survives. It seems likely that the de Cobham family, who held the manor from 1241, were instrumental in its construction. The nave, chancel and the lower part of the tower were part of the initial building phase stretching into the 14th century. The tower was completed to the height at which it now stands by about 1400. St James' Church seems to have been little altered until the 19th century, when there was a sustained burst of activity in and around the church. The vestry was built onto the south wall, and the porch took on its present appearance. There was also a new pine reading desk, banners for the altar, carpets for the chancel, pulpit stairs and altar kneelers. In the space of a few years, the church was thoroughly renovated. The church itself is built of a characteristic Kentish mixture of ragstone and flint, with a variety of other stone, including chalk, also to be seen. The tower was probably the final part of the church to be completed, at the end of the 14th century. The small stone lean-to structure on the south wall is the 19th century vestry. The interior walls of the vestry are covered from floor to ceiling in the most unusual, yet appropriate form of decoration; they are lined with hundreds of cockle shells, mounted here in the 19th century. This shell was worn as an emblem by pilgrims to one of the most renowned holy sites in Western Europe, the shrine at Santiago de Compostela of St James - the patron saint of Cooling church. The porch over the current entrance was also rebuilt in the 19th century, after many hundreds of years during which access to the church was through a porch over the north door, which is now blocked up. Inside the church, the large north door is still swinging on its hinges before its blocked-up doorway! Although this north door has not been in use for many years, its construction of braced panels, long hinge arms and huge lock make it an intriguing survivor. There are six heavily-worn benches inside the church at the west end; these are possibly the original furniture dating back to the 14th century (the other benches inside the church were replaced in 1869). Halfway between the north and south doors stands the 13th-century font, perhaps the oldest unaltered feature of the church. The nave gangway is paved with four memorial slabs, one plain and uninscribed, the others of some interest. The first has a brass inscription to a man called Thomas Woodycare, who died in 1611; the second has no brass but only the recess where the plates have been lost, revealing the absence of four figures, an inscription and perhaps a badge. The final memorial displays both an inscription and a brass figure, of Feyth Brook, the wife of John Brook, Lord Cobham, who died in 1508. t James' Church is well known for its association with Charles Dickens, who lived nearby in Higham, and who is thought to have set the opening to Great Expectations in its churchyard, complete with the row of children's tombstones now inevitably referred to as Pip's graves. Dickens pictures them as '....five little stone lozenges each about a foot and a half long which were arranged in a neat row ... and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine....' In fact the Cooling graves belong to the children of two families, aged between 1 month and about a year and a half, who died in the late 18th and 19th centuries. It is impossible to stand in the churchyard and not feel the impact of that 'dark, flat wilderness ... intersected with dykes and mounds and gates' and the 'distinct savage lair' of the sea (Great Expectations).

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  • Published 07.04.22
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