A DIFFERENT NIGHT OUT
Jackie finds a novel way of raising funds for Wretton church and finds it quite an experience to have a sleep over in that old building.
I can't quite remember when I came up with the idea, but when to put it into action was the next question. The idea was to get a sponsored sleep-in in Wretton Church, with the summer whizzing by at an alarming rate, a date needed to be set. My neighbour, John, had agreed to join me. Trisha Willis, the verger, was as keen as I was and had to be present for health and safety reasons.
The date was set for Saturday August 12 and that morning soon arrived. I combined a much-needed walk to the corner shop with seeking sponsors and, armed with sponsor forms and accompanied by dog, Albi, set off. The heavens opened by the time I headed back towards Wretton; determined to collect as much money as possible for the church restoration fund and unwilling to have my spirits dampened, I carried on. People were lovely, every face that greeted me was smiling and folk were acting kindly, confirming perhaps that they thought I was a bit mad. Many people handed me a fiver straight away, despite the rain I pressed on, choosing to ignore the look of disbelief from the drenched dog as we trudged up yet another drive.
After a well-deserved coffee and change of clothes we set off again, knocking on doors. A big thank you to Daphne and her family, incidentally, who not only gave generously but armed me with double chocolate chip cookies and a large bar of Fair Trade chocolate. When I eventually got home it was already five-o-clock, unfortunately I didn't get to everyone due to them being out and the grim weather. Made a quick tea consisting of stuffed mushrooms packed with garlic, (to ward off unwelcome spirits), followed by a hot bath..
At 8.30 headed up to the church in a car loaded with sleeping gear and provisions. Any worries soon dissolved on entering the church, it looked splendid and welcoming. Trisha had set out coffee and had the lights on, it looked almost Christmassy, I opened the biscuits but confessed that the chocolate that had been so kindlly donated didn't make it as far as the church. I held my head in shame as I watched the disbelief on John and Trisha's faces. What a special evening this was turning out to be. The clock struck nine and Trisha suggested that we go up to the tower and look at the clock, we didn't need any prompting. Up the ladder, which incidentally dates back to Victorian times, to inspect the clock mechanism. I didn't realise that it is the only hand wound church clock mechanism in East Anglia. What a lot of secrets the church had to reveal. We had a look at the marriage, death and baptism books; I was pleased to see Alexander Cavell's signature on many pages, remembering Doris Coate's book 'Stoke Ferry' mentioning that Edith Cavell's brother had been rector of the church.
Time for another coffee. I was pleasantly surprised at how warm it was, not at all how I had imagined it would be. Trisha also let me play the organ, which was great, she pointed out the numerous names scratched into the woodwork by boys whose job it had been to pump the bellows before it was changed to electric. Trisha is very knowledgeable and, not unlike the church, full of surprises; she went on to show us the chalice and various pieces of silver which belong to the church, we also inspected the pews, some dating back to the fifteenth century. Wretton church does have an unwelcome resident in the form of woodworm, the pews and kneelers showed evidence of that. Next was the opening of the priests door which is enchanting, as was the view the other side, we were greeted by the graveyard in almost complete darkness, rather like a secret garden. I nearly forgot to mention that I had a CD of medieval music, which helped to set the scene. After a third and final coffee with yet another chocolate cookie, thoughts turned to the time, it was one o-clock. With all the rain, the coffee and the fact that the temperature had dropped, I had to nip home for the loo. Armed with a torch and Albi striding out in front, I wasn't in the least bit scared.
Returning to retrieve my door keys, which I had left in the car, I had another trip back before finally returning to the church. As I approached I thought I spotted something behind one of the headstones, which sent my pulse racing; don't be daft I told myself but I was glad I had Albi with me. When I got inside John suggested that we took a photograph of ourselves using the self timer on my camera. Spookily there appeared to be a white mist in the picture, we set the camera up a second time and the same thing happened. John wanted to use his camera, he had charged the battery fully. Guess what; when he came to use his camera the battery was flat. Sometime later, in the church, Albi started to growl, which made us all feel uneasy. It turned out to be another neighbour with a friend trying to scare us, thanks Tina, it worked.
We had our campbeds set up by the altar, wasn't too happy about having my back towards it, but nothing was said. Trisha turned out the lights and the three candles we had lit. So we were in complete darkness listening to the rain Laying on my back trying to make out the various shapes on the hammer beamed roof I heard some snoring which turned out to be Albi, so much for him being on guard. I then heard a strange noise, I asked the others if they heard it and we all listened intently. Cromwell was said to have stabled his horses in the church, was it 'him' coming to check on his horses? I wonder if TV's 'Most Haunted' team would have uncovered anything.
Who was the last person to have slept in the church and how long ago? In fact it was a lovely feeling to be in such a special place, which would have served not only as a place of worship, but a place to reflect and to hear the latest news, a place that was the real hub of the community. As I told the people that I asked to sponsor me I am not a regular churchgoer but I feel that the church is a real treasure and has the potential to serve many purposes, it has been serving people for almost one thousand years, isn't it about time we returned the favour?
Thanks to everyone who gave so generously, the total raised at present is £400. Thank you Ray, who promised £20 if I wrote this article. Thanks to Trisha, who really made it an enjoyable experience. Finally, if you are at a loose end one night, give Trisha a call and have a 'night out' with a difference.