While on holiday last week, I visited the Church of St Thomas Becket, Fairfield, in Kent. This is a tiny church in a beautiful but slightly strange setting: down an unsignposted country lane, in the middle of a field in Romney Marsh, surrounded by sheep, and miles from anywhere. To gain access, I had to park on the lane, find the key hanging by the back door of a nearby farmhouse, and then cross the marsh by a footpath, past grazing sheep and gambolling lambs.
This is a lovely picture of it (click picture to go to the source page):
Though this picture captures the lonely setting very well:
The interior is even more of a surprise: a perfectly-preserved Georgian interior, complete with box pews and a “triple-decker” pulpit:
Triple-decker pulpits date from the 18th century, and consist of (going from right to left as you look at the example here) the parish clerk’s desk, immediately behind the minister’s reading desk, from which the clerk would read the notices and generally keep an eye on proceedings; the reading desk from which the minister would lead the service (usually morning or evening prayer from the Book of Common Prayer); and then the pulpit, which the minister would enter (having donned his black preaching gown) in order to preach the sermon. There are very few of these left, since most were ripped out in the 19th Century.
The church also has an old, pedal-powered harmonium and organ: I had a go on the harmonium, since no-one was about, and had an enjoyable five minutes pumping away with my feet while playing the TLH version of the “Gloria in Excelsis”.
At the back of the church is a poem by Joan Warburg, published in Country Life in 1966. This captures the spirit of the place perfectly (and also refers to the floods in November 1960, when the church was, like Piglet, “Completely Surrounded by Water”):
St Thomas Becket, Fairfield
My parish is the lonely marsh,
My service at the water’s edge;
Wailing of sea-birds, sweet and harsh,
The susurration of the sedge.
Bleating of a hundred sheep,
Where pilgrims and crusaders sleep.
I was too small a church to preach
The gospel to such mighty men;
I’d little Latin and could teach
But simple shepherds; now as then
I loved the frailest and the least,
Scattering words for bird and beast.
The humble hands that built me
Of solid wood and stone
To last throughout Eternity,
Eight hundred years are gone:
Buried beneath the Kentish sod,
And I must intercede with God.
One winter as I watched alone
The whole marsh lay in flood,
Salt waters lapped against my stone
Leaving great waves of mud.
Strange creatures swam for sanctuary,
As ark-like I withstood that sea.
So still I guard the coast and look
Beyond the sea, across the Downs.
I that was writ in Domesday book,
Have watched tall ships and towns
Spring up as flowers, and pass away
Within the fading of a day.
No-one comes to worship, yet
The feathery fronds of water weeds
Wave ghostly hands through grey sea fret:
The sedges and the singing reeds
Seem, as they supplicate and sway,
Murmorous spirits come to pray.
I am nothing but Thy house,
Empty stands the sacred porch;
Yet I can shelter shrew and mouse,
Light a glow-worm for Thy torch.
From a spider’s tapestry
Weave a splendour fit for Thee.