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Church bell restoration, ringing and village life in Whitchurch Canonicorum & Chideock, Dorset

A Tale of Two Bell Towers

December 5th, 2013

Bell Towers

2013 Whitchurch Canonicorum Flower Festival

June 12th, 2013

Bell Towers

The annual flower festival inside the famous West Dorset church of St Candida and the Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum is a visual treat. Not only is the church a uniquely fascinating and beautiful building, the displays are arrestingly clever and appealing.

The theme in 2013 was hobbies and pastimes, hence the decorated bicycle wheel between the lectern and the organ, and the shrine of St Wite turned into a homage to hiking.

This video shows some of the hard work put into the festival by volunteers and friends of St Candida.

First bell ringing on Chideock’s St. Giles viewing gallery since Victorian times

June 12th, 2013

Bell Towers

The bells of the tower of St. Giles church in Chideock fell silent for a month and a half recently, while work was carried out to install a new floor and viewing gallery in the bell tower.

Once installed, the Chideock Bell Ringers were keen to ring the bells for not only the first time in six weeks, but the first time on a viewing gallery since Victorian times.

We see captain of the bells, Dave Symonds, make the final adjustments to the height of the ropes, then secure them to the wheels which swing the bells in the tower. He then joins in the historic first ringing.

Bellringing in slow motion at Whitchurch Canonicorum

February 11th, 2013

Jonathan Hudston

Look to! I wonder if this is a first for Dorset: bellringers filmed in slow motion, at the church of St Candida and Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum. Black and white too.

The action starts with Mark Symonds, Captain of the Bells at Whitchurch, giving the traditional call of “Look to… treble’s going… she’s gone.”

Chideock Bellringers’ Annual Dinner at The Clock House Inn

February 11th, 2013

Jonathan Hudston

Chideock Bellringers – led by their captain Dave Symonds – gather in The Clock House Inn to make merry. Among the subjects cropping up: how to persuade young people that bellringing is cool; and what to do with 30 acres of potatoes.

Whitchurch Canonicorum church tower bathed in golden light

February 3rd, 2013

Bell Towers

Here is a photograph, taken on a crisp Dorset winter afternoon, of St Candida and the Holy Cross church tower in Whitchurch Canonicorum.

St Candida and the Holy Cross church tower in Whitchurch Canonicorum

St Candida and the Holy Cross church tower in Whitchurch Canonicorum

Chideock & Whitchurch Canonicorum bellringers celebrate 2013

January 31st, 2013

Jonathan Hudston

If you live in Chideock or Whitchurch Canonicorum, or  in the Marshwood Vale, or in Bridport or Lyme Regis, there’s a very good chance that you’ll know somebody in this video, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

It’s also – I think – a good illustration of the pleasures of bellringing, which, needless to say, don’t always actually involve bells.

This video was filmed in Chideock late on December 31, 2012, and early in the morning of 1 January, 2013, but there’s much more to it than just ringing out out the old year, and ringing in the new.

For example, it’s also about how traditions get carried on. Dave Symonds, Captain of the Bells at Chideock, tells how he was encouraged to learn ringing, growing up as a boy in Whitchurch Canonicorum.

Will any of the spectators pictured in this video be inspired one day to take up bellringing? Will you? New recruits are always made very welcome. Watch and see!

A few explanatory notes: the bells are muffled before midnight, and then, as you see in the video, Dave Symonds performs the potentially dangerous task of taking the muffles off.

Dave is also well known as a very experienced thatcher, hence the joke in the video about his interest in people’s roofs.

The pub just over the road from the church of St Giles is The Clock House. People do sometimes stand outside to enjoy the sound of the bells.

The ‘whiteness’ of Whitchurch Canonicorum

January 9th, 2013

Jonathan Hudston

Rummaging through a store of books a bit earlier, I found my copy of Churches in the Landscape by Richard Morris, who was Research Officer of the Council for British Archaeology and went on to become the Council’s director.

Anyway, on being reunited with this tome, I went straight to the index to look up Chideock (sorry Chideock – no mention for you) and Whitchurch Canonicorum: three mentions, the most interesting being in a paragraph about why so many churches were called ‘white’.

Here’s an excerpt from what Richard Morris has to say:

“Whitchurch Canonicorum (recorded in King Alfred’s will as aet Hwitancyrccan) even acquired its own eponymous St Candida: candida being the Latin word for white, as in Bede’s reference to Nynia’s church at Whithorn which was known in the eighth century, at latest, as ad candidam casam ‘the white house’.

“The tradition of ‘white’ church names was thus venerable and certainly runs back to the first century of the English church, if not to the epoch of British Christianity that preceded it.

“It is not entirely clear what those names signified.

The tower of the church of St Candida and Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum in bright sunshine, and some graves in the churchyard

“A church built of cut (free) stone, perhaps light in colour, standing in contrast to darker structures of wood, is often offered as an explanation. This is plausible, especially if such names originated before stone churches before common.

“It can hardly have applied at Whithorn, however, where the local stone is dark-toned and difficult to cut into regular blocks.

“The evidence of excavation, most notably from the 11th century cathedral at York, where it has been shown that the whole building was sealed in an envelope of white plaster, suggests that ‘white’ may on occasion have to be taken more literally, as meaning a building was plastered or limewashed.”

I’ve often heard it said that Whitchurch Canonicorum is named after St Wite, whose shrine is in the church, but implicit in Richard Morris’s remarks (unless I’ve misread them) is the idea that St Wite was called after the place where her bones were entombed.

It’s not, incidentally, always been thought that the bones were those of St Wite.

In the mid-19th century, Whitchurch’s pastor was William Patrick Palmer, who was born in Ireland on 14 February 1803, went to Trinity College, Dublin, and then Oxford University.

In 1838 Palmer published a two-volume Treatise on the Church of Christ; in 1839 he married Sophia Mary Bonne, oldest daughter of Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, who invented the Beaufort scale of wind speeds.

How did Palmer come to be involved with St Wite? I’ll let Peter Nockles take up the story, with this excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

“In 1846 Bishop Richard Bagot of Bath and Wells presented Palmer to the vicarage of Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset, which he held until 1869, along with that of the vicarage of Monckton-Wyld, from 1864. From 1849 until 1858 he was prebend of Highchurch in Salisbury Cathedral.

“There is little evidence for Palmer’s life as a country pastor, but he always remained concerned with the church’s spiritual efficiency as well as her theological orthodoxy…

“In the early part of his incumbency at Whitchurch Canonicorum, Palmer opened the coffin of St Wite, in which there were reputed to be relics. A small box containing a few bones was found, but Palmer was persuaded that the bones were those of the De Mandevilles, one-time lords of the vale.

“Palmer’s mistake—the bones were later identified as those of St Wite—was surprising given that he had enquired very deeply into the subject of St Wite.”

Nockles leaves it there. It would be good to know more about Palmer’s investigations.

Postcards from Whitchurch Canonicorum

St Candida & Holy Cross Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

We stumbled upon these three fascinating postcards of Whitchurch Canonicorum, taken by Alwyn Ladell, on Flickr. The shot of the church of St Candida and Holy Cross was taken in 1907 (original on Flickr), the sepia-toned shot of St Wite’s shrine was postmarked in 1939 (original on Flickr) and the other shrine shot is undated (original on Flickr).

St Candida & Holy Cross Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

Sent to: “Mrs C Grant, Binnegar, Near Wareham”
W & E Frost’s Series.
Postmarked Whitchurch Canonicorum, 1907.

The Shrine, St Candida & Holy Cross Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

The “West Dorset” Series.
Postmarked 1939.

The Shrine, St Candida & Holy Cross Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

Postally unused.

Let steeple bells be swungen!

December 22nd, 2012

Jonathan Hudston

An excerpt from Ding Dong Merrily On High, sung by the choir at St Candida and Holy Cross in Whitchurch Canonicorum at the Christmas Carol service (December 20, 2012).