Friday 27 December 2019

A pure blood line

Matthew’s opening verses state Jesus’ descent from Abraham and David, and set out a line of descent from them until Joseph (Abraham begat Isaac, and so on, in over forty steps).  It is increasingly noticed that four times it includes additionally the name of the mother, and it intrigues some of those who notice this that the circumstances of each conception was, in some way or another, scandalous.  In drawing people’s attention to this last week, I gently offered some parallels from the current news.

Matthew is clear that Joseph has no union with Mary before Jesus' is born, yet the line he traces is that of Joseph.  It may simply be that Matthew does not share our understanding of genetics.  An adopted son, or a child fathered by a younger brother on behalf of a deceased older brother, each might be seen as the real son of the father who had not helped conceive him or her.

Judah fathers Perez by his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had disguised herself as a prostitute to trick him into sex.  The death of his son, her husband, had left her at the mercy of his family.  They had consistently prevented her from then having children by any of his other sons.  Judah was all for having her burnt to death, but comes to see that ‘she is more righteous than I’ (Genesis 38.26).  The newspaper story is of a woman whose punishment for a crime against her in-laws had been mitigated because she had been the subject of coercive control by them.   

Salmon fathers Boaz by Rahab, genuinely a prostitute, who had sheltered the Jewish spies in Jericho and whose family was thus spared when Jericho (literally) fell.  The line of descent thus includes both those who entered the ‘promised land’ and the Canaanites who already lived there.  The newspaper story is of the attempted defence of genocidal ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and Kachin in Myanmar.

Boaz in turn fathers Obed by Ruth, who had also been widowed and who had come to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law who came from there.  She is a Moabitess who has to glean in the fields to have food.  Obed’s son Jesse (often presented in Christian art literally as the root of Jesus’ family tree) thus had one Jewish grandparent, one Canaanite and two Moabite.  The newspaper story is an unbroken continuation of the Windrush story – a young women brought up in this country rendered homeless because her parents could not produce British passports.  It might have been of asylum seekers going to Food Banks or having commitments to them removed from the new version of the EU Withdawal Bill.

David fathers Solomon by ‘the wife of Uriah’.  Bathsheba, who had caught the King’s eye and been summoned to his bedroom, is not named.  The King had actually compassed Uriah’s death when his attempt to conceal Solomon’s older brother’s parentage failed.  The newspaper story is a continuation of the Me Too story – a young actress summoned for an audition which turned out also to be in the Director’s bedroom.

It is impossible to be sure what was in Matthew’s mind.  On the one hand he is clearly setting out Joseph’s and Jesus’ unambiguously ideal male parental line – pure bred, pedigree.  On the other hand he has Joseph descended from both the ethically cleaned and the ethnic cleansers, from Canaanite and Moabite stock, from among the abused and exploited; it weaves everything from genocide to the instinct for honour killing into the story.

Does the following sentence ‘now the birth of Jesus the Christ took place in this way’ (Matthew 1.18) belong not as the introduction to Mary’s story but as the conclusion of this ancestral tale – ‘the circumstances of Jesus’ birth is the next consistent part of this story’?

Does the careful description of Joseph facing his dilemma as a ‘righteous man’ (1.19) actually root him as the descendant of not only righteous Tamar but of a string of foreign and sexually compromised righteous women?

What Matthew himself cannot have intended, but what I valued noticing, is that Joseph is aware of such circumstances being one of ‘disgrace’ (1.19) and one if which he is ‘afraid’ (1.20) - so when John spells this out as ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) the impact of grace is so much more powerful (poured out on those who know what disgrace means), as is truth when it charts the way for those who are afraid to do what is right.

After preaching some of this on the Sunday before Christmas, my eye lit on the painted list of incumbents – my respectable heritage (Peter Mullins, in line from William Grimshaw and Patrick Brontë).  A closer examination reveals Commonwealth and Restoration expulsions at the top of the board and a single belated female name near the bottom.  I’d guess that there are stories of neglect and perhaps even of abuse not made clear at least somewhere on the board as well – recent news stories would make this seem likely in many parishes - and I am simply an inheritor of it all equally rather than a self-flattered holder of a distinguished office.

The picture (an old Brontë Society postcard reproducing an earlier photo) was part of a Christmas present.  The old decrepit single clock and face removed in 1868 is absent.  The new clock and faces installed in 1870 and the heightening of the tower to accommodate them are also absent.  I wondered whether this indicated an 1869 photo - but local historian Steven Wood tells me that it is actually a doctored photo from the 1870s seeking to recreate what the church would have looked like in the Brontës' time but forgetting to add in the old clock face.

Saturday 14 December 2019

What just happened?

Half a dozen points not (much) noticed in the commentaries we all saw yesterday.

Conservative Party strategists know that they need to garner the support of 25% of the electorate to be able to govern with a majority.  They achieved over 29%.  Two things follow.  One is that their party legitimately forms the Government and can claim authority to deliver the whole of its manifesto.  The other is that it does so without the direct support of 70% of the electorate (which isn’t unusual – something similar was true of the Blair, Brown, Cameron and May Governments).

More people turned out and voted for the potential ‘let us at least have a Second Referendum’ alliance (Labour, Scottish Nationalist, Liberal Democrat and Green) than voted for the ‘get Brexit done’ parties (Conservative and Brexit).  But our electoral system delivered 263 seats to those ‘stop Johnson’ parties and 365 seats to those ‘back him on Brexit’ parties.

This was in part because the potential alliance parties failed to agree to stand aside for whichever one of them was best placed to defeat the Conservatives in key seats, while in sharp contrast the Brexit party did choose to stand aside in Conservative held seats and the majority of its previous electoral supporters clearly voted tactically for the Conservatives in Labour held seats.  It might not be too extreme to conclude that Liberal Democrat votes lost it for Labour (and for themselves) and Brexit party votes won it for the Conservatives.

Although this is generally true, in some particular seats I notice it isn't true at all and in these it could have been worse for Labour if the Brexit party supporters had stood aside - for example, there are two Hull seats where the successful Labour candidate would have been ousted if the Conservative and Brexit party votes had been combined.

If the north of England was a separate country (the three  ‘economic regions’ North, North East and Yorkshire & Humber– roughly everything north of a Chester-Cleethorpes line), it would still have a majority Labour Government despite the spectacular and decisive Conservative inroads: Labour 88 seats and Conservative 68 seats (about half newly taken from Labour) with Liberal Democrat and the Speaker one seat each. 

Government funding for building new hospitals is programmed to deliver a single new hospital in this whole area during the lifetime of this parliament (in Leeds).  Universal Credit will now be fully rolled out across this area during the lifetime of this parliament (without now any effective parliamentary pressure to further modify how the transition is handled for existing benefit claimants).  And, although this is the one supposition in this blog post, manufacturing-related industry in Keighley, fishing-related industry in Great Grimsby and steel-related industry in Scunthorpe (the three constituencies in which I have been an incumbent for most of the last thirty years, each now with a new Conservative MP, two with absolute majorities) will find it tough to weather the economic turbulence of the period of new trading relationship negotiations and are unlikely to find the new trading terms which then emerge transformative.

Which raises one intriguing possibility.  What effect on Government policy might there be if good new constituency MPs consistently feed back the impact things like this are having on their constituents and their own chances of re-election?

Notwithstanding things like Greta Thunberg being labelled Time magazine’s Person of the Year, the average voter doesn’t regard the climate emergency as an issue deceive enough to affect their behaviour.  2.7% voted Green and some others will have switched or retained their vote chiefly because they had weighed the parties’ different environmental policies, but most voting appeared to have been on the basis of Brexit and/or domestic policy issues, there was certainly negligible feed-back from canvassing warning party campaign strategists that it was a significant issue, and there was no genuinely destabilising kick-back on the leaders of the Conservative and Brexit parties for not bothering to prioritise a television debate on the issue.

The picture is one of St Michael’s, Haworth’s redundant eighteenth century font in the churchyard.  I  took the picture this week while beginning to develop some material for a potential William Grimshaw related leaflet; it carries his name, the date 1749, and the text I have indeed baptized you with water but He will baptize you with THE HOLY GHOST.

The two paragraphs in italics were added on 15th December.

Monday 9 December 2019

Still not reflecting

Well, I am reflecting a bit: apart from anything else we've had an Archdeacon's inspection, election campaign induced nausea, my own annual external Ministerial Development Review process, and a tide of Christmas preparation.  Just nothing yet suitable to resume blogging. 

The top picture is an Advent / Christmas season banner for St Michael's created during All Age Worship there at the beginning of the month: each bauble carries a member of the congregation's hope for something to be transformed (the set reading was about spears being reforged as pruning hooks) and the presents carry the message 'Come let us walk in the light fot he Lord' (the concluding words of that reading). 

The bottom picture was taken when parking ahead of collective worship at Stanbury Primary School a couple of days later when they (the pupils, not the sheep) were treated to a very similar theme. 

And I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland, Robert Powers' Overstory and Jean Sprackland's Green Noise.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Early Christian Ilkley

I would travel a great distance to see the sorts of treasures in All Saints’, Ilkley, so it is beyond absurd that, until now, I haven’t travelled the short distance across the moor to see them.

The church is built within the site of a Roman fort and was founded at the very beginning of local Christian life in the seventh century.  Windows in what may well have been the first stone church were of reused Roman stone.  The first picture shows the pagan carving on a Roman altar.  The second picture shows this and a similar stone with the window shapes cut into them.  The windows would have been at ninety degrees.

And eighth century stone crosses also survive.  The first picture shows one – the head and main body actually come from different crosses.  The bottom two picture show details of the carving on it.

If Ilkley’s church was a seventh century foundation, how much later was Haworth’s less than ten miles away?  We have no idea.  I speculate that ‘there has been worship on this site for at least a thousand years’ and add ‘a site with hill, springs, and a St Michael dedication can indicate Christians taking over a pagan site' and, although there is absolutely no direct evidence to back this speculation, the survivals at Ilkley hint that something like this is indeed possible.     

Sunday 24 November 2019

Blogging hiatus

Closer than before to the 260 year old William Grimshaw chandelier in St Michael's, Haworth - attempting to clean it a bit as part of yesterday's 'spring clean' after two months of successful rewiring and relighting work going on in the church.

Grimshaw chose Philippians 1.21 ('to live is Christ, to die is gain') as a text  engraved onto the chandelier.  I was pressed again the other day to produce some Grimshaw material (to balance the Bronte material we have in abundance) and might use the text when I do so.

But a more pressing issue (just as the rewiring completes) turns out to be the need to repair (and plan to replace) the electronic action of the organ which has chosen this moment to malfunction - a cheap and poor buy in the 1980s we now learn.  Here is the back off the console under remedial inspection.

Meanwhile. outside St Gabriel's, Stanbury this morning, we thought we spotted a horned creature with a curled lip, which is as good as I can do at the moment until my blogging zeal returns.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Sicily round trip






Monday 7 October 2019

Sursum corda

We are the weather (the creative title for a new book) succinctly evokes our interdependence with nature. 

Equally evocatively, recently published research suggests that less than half the cells in our bodies are human: the majority of our body’s cells are everything from air in our lungs and fungi on our skin to bacteria in our gut and viruses in our blood.  We are an ecosystem.  The boundary between us and the rest of nature is nowhere near as sharp as we might have thought.

What these evoke is more immediate and fresh than the well valued reminder that we are all star dust, all made up only of elements first created in the stars.

But an observation which I tripped across this week renews that image for me as well.  It is that the instinct of the alchemists was right.  Gold can be made from base metal.  In fact, all the gold we have was so made in the nuclear reactions at the centre of past stars.  All the alchemists lacked was a realisation that their work on this planet could never be sufficient to begin to replicate the process.

I want God to make my baseness golden.  It turns out that this is a real possibility - yet a possibility which earth-bound resources cannot alchemise.  Which, of course, takes me back to the beginning of George Herbert’s Easter

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.  Sing his praise
                                                  Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                                  With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Meanwhile, the long needed re-wiring of St Michael's, Haworth began this week, and I am eager to see the impact of the new lighting scheme which will emerge in November

Saturday 28 September 2019

A frightening prospect

There are lots of things to fear about the prospect of an unpredictable result of an election if we had one soon.

Many people would vote on the issue of Brexit – those looking for a ‘no deal’ exit might vote Conservative, those looking for a confirmatory referendum on a fresh version of the Theresa May ‘exit’ deal might vote Labour, those looking to ‘remain’ might vote Lib Dem.  But a new Government would claim a mandate for its whole Manifesto.  So what if a voter wanted ‘no deal’ but didn’t want a particularly right-wing Conservative programme, or wanted the results of renegotiations put back to the people but didn’t want a particularly left-wing Labour programme?  How would the will of the people be expressed or interpreted by all that?

Meanwhile, the will of the people expressed in Cameron’s other referendum meant we retain the present ‘first past the post’ electoral system.  A good showing for the definite ‘no deal’ Brexit party and/or for the definite ‘remain’ Lib Dems might actually produce some very unexpected results.  For example, a previously safe Conservative seat might find the majority ‘no deal’ votes split between Brexit and Conservative candidates and a previously second placed ‘remain’ Lib Dem MP elected as a result.  Or a previously safe Labour seat might find that the Lib Dems had leached off many Labour ‘remain’ voters and a previously second placed ‘no deal’ Conservative MP elected as a result.

And it can’t be unlikely that as a result the new Parliament would have no party with a clear majority anyway, reflecting the truth that the country is fundamentally divided, and leaving us in the parliamentary stalemate in which we are at present.  It is theoretically possible that it would have substantial blocks of Brexit, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems and nationalist parties no easy combination of which could combine to form a majority administration at all.

In these circumstances, I couldn't see people, publicists, politicians or press becoming politer and more subtle in presenting their perception that the will of the people is with their own point of view.

Which leaves me with the potato people created at last night’s Friday Church in preparation for St James’, Cross Roads’ Harvest Festival next week.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Mercy brings mercy

The footnotes in the edition of the New Revised Standard Version published as the Jewish Annotated New Testament are always worth a look, but I wasn’t much helped preparing to preach on Luke 16.1-8 this morning by its The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation. 

The writings of Kenneth Bailey can also produce significant alternative perspectives, but his opening many commentators affirm that this parable is the most difficult... the seeming incongruity of a story which praises a scoundrel has been an embarrassment to the Church since Julian the Apostate used the parable to assert the inferiority of the Christian faith and its founder didn’t promise well either.

Both sources turn out to be sniffy about the very popular suggestion that the steward might simply have been removing exorbitant interest charges, something Bailey traces back to a single 1902 Expository Times article which makes groundless assumptions about the original social context.

Anyway, as a fool rushing in where angels have failed to point out where the stepping stones are, I attempted a re-write.

There was a huge corporation which had a credit-control manager.  Suspicions were raised that this manager was allowing serious losses to occur.  So he was summoned and told, “bring your passwords and access codes along to Human Resources first thing in the morning” and he knew he was losing his job.
He asked himself, “What can I do without it? I am not good at anything else, and I could never pay my mortgage on social security.  Perhaps there is one thing I could do so I could still hold my head up high in this industry.” 

So, from a lap top at home, one by one he accessed the accounts of those who owed most.  He contacted the first at home and asked, “How much can you actually pay?”  He got an answer and he said, “if you’ve paid that by direct transfer overnight, I’ll close your account as fully paid at the start of business tomorrow.”  He did the same thing with a lot of the others. 

The following morning he turned up at Human Resources at the appointed time and found his line manager was also there.  Spread out in front of him with a print out of all the accounts which had been altered and closed overnight.  They both knew exactly what the situation was.  They looked each other in the eye.

Just how many different ways might this story end?

Suggestions at West Lane Baptist Church this morning included the sacking of the credit-control manager, his prosecution, his praise for bringing in a flow of cash just as the corporation was about to go bust, and the sacking of his line manager for extreme failures in supervision.

His line manager said, “we have never before recovered this amount from our bad debtors in a single week, and we’ve never found anyone so aware of the weaknesses in our computer systems;
I tell you what, we would actually benefit from you coming on board in a new role to deal with our worst defaulters and to ensure our computer network is much more secure – if only the people in corporate social responsibility and those on our ethics committee had half your understanding of the lives of our clients and the weakness of our systems and a quarter of your problem solving skills”.

The problem of securing the viability of this or any other interpretation is the loss of the original context in which the Galilean rabbi spoke the story. 

Bailey does have an intriguing hint in his close reading.  The two striking elements of the story are the steward’s ruse of having the bills altered and the master’s commendation of this dishonesty.  Just perhaps, it is this parallel (irresponsible remission of what is owed financially on one side and radical forgiveness on the other) which is the clue – extraordinary mercy shown, unexpected mercy received.

If so, the final sentence has a striking tone.  The master commended the dishonest steward because he had acted shrewdly - for the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light becomes not so much if only the people in corporate social responsibility and those on our ethics committee had half your understanding of the lives of our clients and the weakness of our systems as much as if even those involved in corrupt business practice are often onto the mutual value of forgiveness, mercy and remission, why are so many religious people (for the avoidance of doubt, that would include me) not only not onto this but actually mired in judgmental strictness instead?

The top picture is the relaying of track this week on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway a few hundred yards from our house and from the ‘Railway Children’ tunnel.

The bottom picture is the discovery, at yesterday’s Heritage Open Day, that the 1848 church school room at Stanbury (now our St Gabriel’s church) also had its own badged crockery.

Sunday 15 September 2019

A frightening vacuum

There is an objective crisis the disturbing nature of which is being drowned out by partisan noise (the manoeuvres we once condemned in others we now embrace ourselves, the strategies we once deployed yourselves we now denigrate as the undemocratic moves of others).

Six things are true.

1.  The Prime Minister does not have the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons.

2.  There is also no willingness in the House of Commons to pass an actual motion of no confidence (which is the route by which opposition parties have toppled such Prime Ministers in the past).

3.  And there is not majority for having General Election (which was how such Prime Ministers would have simply resolved the matter before the Fixed Term Parliament Act but can no longer do so).

So, the Prime Minster cannot govern nor be removed (although he can continue to make policy announcements and follow through those which do not require parliamentary approval).

4.  There is no majority in the House of Commons for rescinding Article 50 (don’t let the partisan noise about a ‘remoaner parliament’ distract anyone about that).

5.  There is also no majority for leaving the EU under the terms agreed by the previous Prime Minister (several parliamentary votes prove that).

6.  And there is no majority for leaving without a deal (a couple of parliamentary votes prove that).

So, the House of Commons could not resolve a way forward on the issue of our EU membership even if it was sitting at present.

The objective crisis isn’t fundamentally that we have ‘people versus parliament’ or ‘Prime Minister against parliament’ or ‘parliament sidelined’ (however loudly partisan noise brays that these things are the case). 

It is that we have hit parliamentary ‘stale mate’ – and what happens when we have no Government or parliamentary moves open is a genuinely dangerous situation.

Meanwhile, the hands on one of the faces of St Michael’s, Haworth’s tower clock are also twisted and mutually unmoveable – the flag on the tower heavy with rain broke loose and tied itself around them – so the clock cannot operate at the moment at all.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Primary motivations

I am told that an analysis of those who voted to leave the European Union shows the pressing concern for about a third was national sovereignty, for about a third the control of migration, and for about a third anger for those being left behind.

And the scriptures set for Matins yesterday brought us round again to the familiar call from Micah 6:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

Do justly

Most of what our state chooses to do has to be shaped by treaties into which we have freely entered and from which we can freely withdraw (in each case, aware of some of the consequences and unaware of others).  For example, we are involved (and will soon not be involved) in the European Union’s provisional free trade agreement with the South American Mercosur countries, a treaty which would oblige the various partners to observe international climate justice agreements, and we may be about to exchange that position simply to be obligation to be subject to World Trade Organisation terms of trade instead (the result of a different treaty, and, ironically, a body the membership of which is not determined directly by the general electorate); this is all in part so that states don’t take competitive advantage of each other by preferential or punitive terms or by acting less justly to workforce or to planet.

In these circumstances, what is the assertion of individual sovereignty fundamentally about?  Is it that my state should have freedom to act as it likes – for example, simply to assert its power by the imposition of tariffs on other sovereign states or its lack of power by acquiesce to trading conditions set by other individual sovereign states, free to dominate where it can and free to find itself dominated where it cannot?  Or might the over-ruling (sovereignty) we seek be a shared search not to take advantage of each other, to agree fair remuneration and safety for workers and reduce our harmful human impact on our environment – to do justly?

Love mercy

Our state is set in the middle of unavoidable tides of population growth and movement.  A cartoon which sticks in my memory would serve as an example – people being sucked up from a third world cityscape into a hovering machine from which emanates the reassurance “Don’t worry – it is only your midwives, engineers and IT specialists we are taking”.   Meanwhile, those who are told to ‘go home to the country you came from’ (in a Presidential tweet, chanted by a mob, shouted at them in the street, blazoned by the Home Secretary on the side of a bus, hinted at  in plain sight in forms like ‘they are taking over our schools’, sneered behind their backs, in formal expulsion notifications) do not have in common that they are migrants or the children of migrants and do not have in common that they are less assimilated into local culture than those whose home here is never questioned in this way.  They do have in common that they are visibly part of either an ethnic or religious minority.  They may have served in the armed forces (or be unemployed) or be married to a Prince (or single) or support a local baseball or cricket team (or have a sporting hero from another country) or have spent their whole working life working in a caring profession while paying taxes (or not).

In these circumstances, what are controls on migration fundamentally about?  Is it that I should have as much freedom of movement as can be managed (perhaps for holiday, business or retirement living) while those unlike me should not?   Is it that I should hold to myself and those like me as much security and resources as I can set a boundary around?  Or might the movement possibilities (migration control) we seek be a search to move in tiny ways towards partial solutions to the hard problem of how to be slightly less inequitable in the midst of the climate and resource crises in which we live – to love mercy?

Walk humbly

Our state contains many who are left behind in all this.  The example frequently and helpfully identified is those who have seen the most recent traditional industries decline around them, who have felt very little ‘trickle down’ prosperity take their place, and who do not perceive political processes around them as being concerned with any of this, communities whose plight is only now beginning to be more visible as they find the political possibilities to be heard (it matters not whether this is by calculated targeted political views or by desperate lashing out).  But this is only one feature - many more are not so visible, those unable to work because their possible asylum status is still being explored, those whose minimum wages from work caring for the people with dementia or cleaning our most prosperous business premises requires them to work in two jobs to afford basic living in our capital, those in the process of benefits reallocation or who have been sanctioned to live for a few weeks on no income.

In these circumstances whose voices should we be amplifying and heeding concerned at their vulnerability and non-inclusion (anger for those being left behind)?  With an awful realisation about the extent to which our prosperity is predicated on others desperation, alongside and aware of whom should we be developing our opinions and policies – to walk humbly?

The picture is from Greenbelt.

Sunday 1 September 2019

As others see themselves

The top two pictures are from Greenbelt last weekend, a general scene and a session organised by USPG exploring David Lammy’s “the world does not need any more white saviours”.  The bottom two are from the relaunch of the twinning between Haworth and Machu Picchu this weekend, Yorkshire and Peruvian flags on Main Street and a web link in the Old School Room.  

The link in my mind is how fertile encountering alternative perspectives and personal links can be in potentially focussing what we see: I think it was USPG which took the Bishop of Lincoln to a climate justice event in Fiji where face-to-face encounter with Bishop of Polynesia’s concern about the impact of rising sea levels on small Pacific islands has resulted in a much higher profile for the issue in Lincolnshire churches.

Thursday 29 August 2019


The town is as proud of its Shrove Tuesday races...

... as it is of John Newton and William Cowper...

... with this image among the Newton memorials in the Parish Church...

... this playfulness in the grounds of the Cowper Memorial Church.... 

... and Cowper's writing shed ('not much bigger than a sedan chair')

... alongside lace workers' ingenious light amplifying...

.. which gives rise to our phrase 'flash light'.

Monday 19 August 2019

Brontë bits

A good Catholic friend of St Michael’s, Haworth (enthusiastic both as an diligent Deputy Lieutenant and as a volunteer tour guide in the church) has identified an article in the Leeds Mercury of 27th August 1879 by someone who visited the village while the Brontë era church was in the process of being demolished.  He had valued recent research on the grave, so shared his discovery with me.

The hand of the spoiler is at work.  Many of the old pews are gone, more will quickly follow, and the old barn-like edifice, which possess no feature of elegance but the stone arcading down the centre of the church, will soon be numbered with the things of the past.  The Brontë Slab has been removed to safe custody until it can be restored to its position in the wall of the new church, but here is the inscribed stone that covers the remains of the gifted family.

The Brontë Slab would be the monument which indeed now has a position on the wall of the 1880 church.  But the inscribed stone that covers the remains of the gifted family isn’t something I’ve come across referenced before.  He speculates as to whether it was a ledger stone.  My guess is that it might simply be an identification name on that part of the paving which could in theory be lifted for future additional burials in the graves beneath – although, if the conditions laid down in advance for Patrick Bronte’s burial had been followed through to the letter following his death sixteen years earlier, the space beneath the stone would in fact have been concreted in.

Meanwhile, I spent a couple of hours this morning in the Brontë Parsonage Museum library re-reading more thoroughly the first half of a little book Patrick Brontë owned; I’ll need to go back again next month and finish it.  He inscribed the book as just & excellent in all its parts which potentially gives it some importance in understanding the man.

It is an anonymous 1836 publication (by ‘a poor man’) An Earnest Address to the Working Classes about the aims and objects of the religious and political parties of the day.  I expect someone has worked on it generally or from a Brontë point of view but I haven’t in fact yet found it digitalised or referenced in any of the obvious places from search engines to Brontë Studies.  A couple of small connections which I’ve noted down might serve as a taste of those which could be made.

Patrick Brontë’s own 1835 tract The Signs of the Times showed antipathy to ‘the voluntary principle’, that is to say, the principle that ministers and places of worship should be maintained by the subscription of those who attended them.   It is very relevant that he was in the middle of disputes led by local nonconformists about setting a Church Rate.  I find the author of An Earnest Address waxes eloquent on the same subject with the same terminology – he asks what would minister to the poor if places of worship were in fact attended by those who could afford to finance them.

Charlotte Bronte’s 1843 letter to her sister Emma in which she tells of her curious venture into a Catholic confessional in Brussels (an incident replicated in due course in Villette) ends with her saying I think you had better not tell papa of this.  This would certainly have been wise if her father had shared the opinion of the author of An Earnest Address.  I find that he professes to be scandalised by the ideas which the priest might put in the minds of innocent young women and says How any Papist can make up their minds to allow their wives and daughters to pass through the pollution of a Popish confessional, I cannot imagine.

Finally, I got inside the near-by substantial but long redundant Brontë Cinema yesterday and took a couple of poor pictures; it was in use 1923 to 1956 so has in fact been a store rather than a cinema since before I was born.

Monday 12 August 2019

Wedding labour

I took my first wedding on 10th August 1985 - having been carefully tutored in the tasks of equipping myself with ‘registrar’s ink’ and then writing out the details four times (once each in duplicate registers, then on a certificate for the couple, and then on a ‘quarterly return’ copy for the local Registry Office).  It was a laborious process then and has remained so on the four hundred or so occasions I have repeated the exercise since. 

On Saturday, another 10th August as it happens, I did it for what might be the last time.  I’m not now due to take another wedding until after the date on which new legislation may be implemented to abolish the eighteenth century registration system.  All church registers in current use would be due to be closed off.  In future a single marriage document will need to be prepared (possibly on-line) to be signed at the wedding.  It will be the responsibility of the couple to lodge it at the local Register Office themselves, and it will be Register Offices which then issue wedding certificates in future.

It is going to save the Government quite a bit of money publishing and securely distributing church registers, and soliciting and processing quarterly returns (there is a team of people at the General Register office who key in the hand written returns they receive) – although I can see quite a few of the new documents going astray before they are properly lodged.

Part of me regrets the passing of the old system – perhaps both historic nostalgia and the loss of an area of very minor expertise play their part.  Part of me is greatly relieved not to have to go on putting so much effort in.

I told the couple of Saturday that the 250 years or so the present system has run covers perhaps only a quarter of the 1000 years in which Christian marriages have taken place on the site.  The eighteenth century reforms arose in part because of Government concern about clandestine weddings (could we really be sure who was married?), and the secure production and distribution of standard registers may not have been a practical option much sooner.  The twenty-first reforms arise in part because of Government concern about sham marriage and identity theft, and on-line options are quite new.

One feature of the new document will be that it records the name of the couples’ mothers as well as fathers.  The seventeenth century style which we are just about to lose comes from an era when the bride was moving from being the legal responsibility of one male person to that of another, and moving on from that perception in the registration process was certainly long over due.

The older photograph is from the 1911 history of the Cross Roads Co-Operative Society and shows the first shop.  The newer one was taken today.

Monday 29 July 2019

Not together burdened.

The demutualisation of Building Societies in the 1980s and 1990s feels like the great symbol of our fatal abandonment of interdependence. 

Many individuals might have enough resources to build or buy themselves a home.  Many others would not, unless what was literally their clubbing together generated the necessary capital.  Profit generated within many of those societies was not destined to be taken out but to be furnish further loans - until it dawned on some of those whose homes had already been built or bought that ‘terminating’ the club would mean they could have the accumulated capital for themselves in addition to their homes - cutting off the access of others to housing loans not inflated by the need to pay profit to bank share-holders.

Thatcherite legislation triggered this possibility by, on one hand, enabled commercial banks to make building loans and, on the other, Building Societies to operate as share-held commerical Banks.  So in the 1990s I twice received an unsolicited cheques or shares simply because I had money in a Building Society which was being demutualised.  I knew enough about why this mattered not to hold onto this dirty money but to give my windfall away to a housing charity.  But I did not know enough to forsee everything from the loans crisis which was to follow to the rise of ‘generation rent’.

I’ve been thinking about all this again as I’ve continued to reflect on interdependence – I now suspect that de-mutual is an opposite of sum-phero.  I also suspect that the absence of a societal appetite for mutuality is a symbol of the false binary of sovereignty / subjugation which may be part of what lies behind the country’s Brexit divide – something about which I’m preparing to talk.

And it is also at the front of my mind because I’ve been reminded of the origins of the co-operative movement – the modern English form of which was pioneered by Lancashire weavers eighteen miles away in Rochdale in 1844 when they secured more affordable groceries through a mutual society which operated without needing to generate an owner’s profit.

Within twenty years that movement had reached here.  The maps of Cross Roads in 1848 (a scatter of hamlets) and 1910 (the hamlets were coalescing into the present village, with the Parish Church built that year) come from the Golden Jubilee history of the Lees and Cross Roads Co-operative Industrial Society Limited founded in 1861; clicking on either image will enlarge it.   

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Hostile to Africa

I’ve just read on-line last week’s joint All-Parliamentary Groups report Visa Problems for African Visitors to the UK. 

African applicants are twice as likely to be refused as those from other parts of the world. 

Some of the individual case studies make me cry. 

Mauritarian applicants cannot apply from their own country so have to get a visa to travel to Morocco so that they can apply from there – something only those with particular levels of financial and time resources can contemplate doing. 

The London International Festival of Theatre was asked why it was not recruiting UK dancers when it applied on behalf of Congolese dancers explicitly invited to share their experience of Civil War. 

Some of those invited by the Government’s own Department for International Development have been refused or approval has delayed so long as to make attendance at the relevant events impossible. 

The rolling out of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s world leading work on preventing Ebola epidemics has been thwarted by a refusal to allow emerging local medical researchers to visit the UK.

I was blissfully unaware of all this when walking in the western end of the parish the day after the report was published.