Goltho St George
Derek Hunt has completed his commissioned glass pieces, that will be installed soon.
At Goltho, a ploughed field bulges –
divulges its secrets one pottery shard at a time.
There was a village here.
Then, for six hundred years, just a church.
The new bell lurches in the wind,
headstones lean in at strange angles –
a tangle of brambles and branches and epitaphs.
“THE COMING OF THE LORD DRAWETH NIGH.”
The sky reaches down and smooths the edges of the bricks.
Fourteen forty-six was a bad year.
But, back before the crops failed,
there was a village here.
The rabbits dig up human bones
and undermine the church;
it perches on the hilltop like a crow.
A row of angels gather on the ceiling,
kneeling upside down in silent prayer.
They stare at the sloping floor,
hoping more than anything that this place stays up.
At the top of the slope,
with his back to the sun,
St Michael looks on and waits for heaven to be restored
by the fire of his sword and the strength of these stones.
And, in the unexplored warrens below,
the rabbits dig up human bones.
Nineteen paces lie between them.
Both have seen better days,
but the way he has his back turned
has earned a thousand years of mistrust.
As the dust gathers inside them both
and the undergrowth closes in,
she regards her twin with suspicion –
it’s an admission that he has aged a little better.
Trees tear open a fenced-off plot.
The graves squat in solid opposition;
their positions cannot change.
And, strange as it seems for those who have seen them,
these two are closer than we can know –
nineteen paces lie between them.
One day, the trees will take it back;
they stand packed in like undertakers in a lift.
Leaves drift nonchalantly around the door.
Eight hundred years – maybe more –
but they are patient. They have the time.
They have many generations and the wind on their side.
The saint himself was a military man,
so the bricks and tiles stand firm
and have a certain martial bearing.
But sharing the lift, quiet as you like,
are all these undertakers,
dressed root to tip in black.
There’s no way not to know it –
one day, the trees will take it back.
There is a quiet here.
As you steer carefully down the causeway,
a drop on either side,
it hides behind the trees, the gate
and hundreds of years. There is a quiet here.
The tower leans gently to the west;
the rest of the building just sits.
You know that it’s been waiting for you.
That weathered crest above the door
is more than just a decoration.
With some hesitation, you walk the path and step inside.
It feels as if something is drawing near.
Not quite a thing that you can name, but just –
there is a quiet here.
This modest, homely red brick church is the sole reminder of an important medieval settlement at Goltho dating from as early as c.850 which was mysteriously abandoned after the plague years of the fourteenth century. The present church stands in the midst of farmland and is built on the site of a larger, medieval stone-built church once attached to a substantial medieval manor and dependent on the erstwhile Gilbertine priory at the neighbouring village of Bullington. Medieval Goltho was fortified by a motte and bailey castle, the earthworks of which can be found nearby. If you look closely, you can find reminders of the original medieval church in the fabric of St George’s. For example, the legacy of the local fourteenth-century merchant family, the Granthams, is preserved in the seventeenth-century inscribed ledger stone to Thomas Grantham in the floor of the nave. Other stone ledgers (one in the shape of a coffin; another acting as a doorstep to the church) date from the medieval period. The nave, complete with mullioned windows, dates from the sixteenth century and is now whitewashed and furnished with two box pews at the chancel end, a two-storey pulpit and a gallery, all of which are probably eighteenth-century additions. Looking up from the nave, you are able to see the exposed timber frame of the roof. Inside the west end gable is a Victorian bellcote containing a bell recovered from the church of St John the Baptist at Amber Hill. The chancel, an early eighteenth-century addition to the church, contains a Queen Anne period reredos which boasts a pediment, majestically completing the view from the west end of the nave. Below can be seen communion rails well suited to this rare survivor of a lost community.