Stories told by needlework

On 15 November 1889, quick thinking teacher Caroline Elizabeth Hanks, saved the Beverley Minster when a fire broke out in the roof above the choir. Her actions on the day saved the church from “irreparable damage”. Sadly, she died the following April, aged only 23. On 13 September 2021, Anthea and I accompanied our own Beverley on a visit to the town of Beverley, in part to see the minister that Caroline saved.

Jon remained at home, completing a work thing he forgot to complete yesterday. Apparently we both became slightly inebriated last night and the work thing may have slipped his mind during the lead up to a bit of joyous assembly. I have to admit to forgetting most of last night so I am not a reliable witness.

However, I was pretty close to sober this morning when we headed off, across the Wolds, to Beverley.

A potted history of Beverley Minster

A monastery was established in 706 by John, Bishop of York who died there in 721 and was buried with all the pomp possible. He became a saint. The monastery was abandoned around 900 following a visit from the Vikings. In 1190, a new building was built which was damaged by fire in 1188 because Caroline Elizabeth Hanks wasn’t there to help. A new building was begun two years later.

Like all of these things, it had bits added over the years until, sometime after 1400, the two towers were completed. In 1534 Henry VIII made himself head of the church and had a bit of fun with the church of Rome. The tomb of John, the Bishop of York, was robbed and destroyed. I don’t know why god let that happen. Though, weirdly, a new stone slab was placed in the church in 1936 over where his bones were said to reside. I don’t know how they got there.

Then, in 2021, we visited.

At midday, every day, a prayer is broadcast throughout the minster, asking god to protect everyone from a virus that, it would seem, he created. They’ve been doing it since the beginning of the pandemic. It would seem that god is ignoring them. In some strange way, they have given up any belief in god’s kindness because they were all wearing masks and insisting people put germ killing goop on their hands.

Still, hypocrisy aside, the minster is pretty amazing. Not least for the war chapels. Each one a testament to man’s inhumanity to other men (mostly). Memorials and plaques to battalions and officers, war battered flags hanging from the ceiling, it’s all very odd if you think god and Jesus are all about peace, love and casual miracles.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the war chapels. I thought they were quite moving. We also enjoyed looking for Mouseman’s mice in the final chapel. Apparently there’s 11 to find, but we couldn’t manage more than eight or nine.

Possibly the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a church for a long time is the embroidered life story of St John of Beverley. There are lots of needlework images of incredible miracles and the various impossible things that John did. Including the healing of the dumb boy. I can only assume he taught him something.

My favourite things in the minster, however, are the scores of tiny statues depicting all manner of things from men with heavy loads to satanic rituals involving nuns, from puffing bagpipe blowers to hurdy gurdy men.

We spent a long time looking at each and every one. Both the sacred and the profane. All good fun for all the family.

Having wandered around the minster for quite a while, we retired, parched and desperate, to the Cosy Tea Room. Somehow, Bev managed to eat a great slab of orange and chocolate cake, the sight of which was making me ill. Anthea had a scone while I had a cheese sandwich, both looked far more palatable.

Clearly not churched up enough, we then headed for St Mary’s, the daughter church to the minster, at the other end of town, where a pleasant surprise awaited us.

A number of the exterior statues have been lost to death and destruction over the years and some heritage money was given to the church to fix them up. Most were completely gone so it was decided to make new ones. The idea to create characters from the world of Narnia was inspired, if you ask me. Now, 14 statues adorn the western roof line.

Inside the church, a display featuring the plaster casts and drawings allows people to see them up close.

In the meanwhilst, work on the eastern roofline continues. The statues on this side are going to feature famous women. There’ll be Ada Lovelace and Mary Wollstonecraft, to name but two. Mary lived in Beverley for a bit – there’s a blue plaque on the house. I think Ada is included because she was amazing.

But enough church stuff, we cried. We needed a pub.

But we didn’t go to the Beverley Arms. Instead, Anthea treated us to the wonderful White Horse Inn or, as locals call it, Nellie’s.

Stepping into Nellie’s is like stepping back in time. A tangled collection of wobbly rooms, no technology allowed, only cash accepted. Being forced to speak to each other is a delight. Mind you, no phone means no photos.

Madame Edith was roundly told off for using her phone to look up Nellie’s. The barman suggested she read the walls, where the story is told over various rooms.

Ironic, really, as her pint was resting on this coaster at the time.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our tech free beer, we headed back to Polkington. There was a short lookout stop coming down of the Wolds but, sadly, the weather meant we couldn’t see York Minster.

Then, finally, back to see Jon who didn’t manage to finish what he had to finish yesterday.

A lasagne was created and put into the oven and we went to the pub where Jon and I had the unfortunate experience of drinking a pint of tasteless bitter. We agreed we would have got more taste out of a glass of water.

The lasagne was enjoyed much more than the beer and we laughed out ways through dinner and the remains of Bev’s apfelkak.

We managed to go to bed sober.

The reverse side of the coaster
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