Saturday, 16 October 2010

Impington, Cambridgeshire

Although I have previously avowed a dislike of the Cambridgeshire style, St Andrew is rather charming. Sadly it was locked with no sign of a keyholder which is annoying as Mee describes what sounds like an interesting wall painting of St Christopher. More irritating still is that I went in the hope of finding monuments to the Burgoyne family and he goes on to describe a brass to John Burgoyne and his wife and seven children! (John was my wife's 15th great grandfather). Even more so now I note that the church has its own website where very poor quality pictures show the St Christopher and the brass.

That said, however, it is pretty.

ST ANDREW. Nave, chancel, and W tower; pebble and stone rubble. Over-restored in 1879. W tower unbuttressed, with Dec bell-openings, battlements and pinnacles. Dec chancel with two-light windows internally surrounded by wide blank arches without capitals. The Perp E window much renewed. Perp windows and a good Perp timber porch with three-light side-openings and a bargeboarded gable. Pretty niche in the NE window, set diagonally, with a small vault in the canopy. - BENCHES with poppy-heads. - PAINTING. St Christopher, C15, N wall, well preserved. Also chancel E wall, painted niche flanked by small figures. - PLATE. Chalice and Paten inscribed 1713 and with the Pepys and Turner arms. - BRASS. John Burgoyne d. 1505 with wife and children.

Although not relevant to St Andrew I have included Mee's buried alive story which, if true, is extraordinary, for interest sake.

IMPINGTON. Samuel Pepys knew it well, for Impington Hall was the family mansion, begun in the middle of the 16th century by one of the Pepys family and theirs till the 19th was on its way. Though it has been enlarged, Pepys would recognise today the red brick house in the park, with the arms of Pepys and Talbot carved on an oak shield over the garden entrance. Several times he rode over
here from Cambridge to see his old uncle, Talbot Pepys, noting it all in the diary, and once describing how he slept in the best chamber, walked in the orchard with his cousins discussing his uncle’s will, and then went to church and listened to a good plain sermon. "At our coming in (he writes) the country people all rose with so much reverence; and when the parson begins, he begins Right Worshipful and Dearly Beloved to us." We are reminded of another vicar who used to begin "Dearly beloved Eliza" when his wife was his only congregation.

The village is among the orchards, with its church against a belt of trees, a simple little building with patchwork walls of stone and cobble, mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries but with fragments of Norman carving in an outside wall of the chancel, and with much that is new. We enter, as Pepys entered, by a charming black and white porch with traceried windows cut in oak, and there on the wall, framed in a scrollwork of leaves, is a 500-year-old painting which was probably hidden when Pepys came, for it was discovered under plaster last century. It shows St Christopher as a red-robed giant carrying his holy burden across a rocky stream. The Child holds the world in his hands; fishes swim round the saint’s feet; and at the door of his cell the hermit who set the giant working for Christ in this way holds out a lantern and waves an encouraging hand.

Another old wall-painting of a small figure is in a canopied niche between two angels in the chancel, and there is another exquisite niche in a window splay, with pinnacles rising from its dainty vaulted roof, where we counted 20 tiny rose bosses. The old church roof with its bosses is hidden under a new panelled ceiling. Generations of the Pepys family were baptised at the ancient font, and there is a fine brass of 1525 picturing a family here before them, John Burgoyne with his wife, two daughters, and seven sons. The knight is in armour with many curly-tailed dogs on his heraldic tabard; his wife is charming in a girdled gown and a pointed headdress.

Impington has one of the group of village colleges founded in Cambridgeshire for the purpose of training children to live the worthy lives of country folk. The college at Sawston was the pioneer of this praiseworthy education scheme, and similar schools have been opened at Bottisham, Linton, and Histon. So in this proud county a new generation is growing up with a wider appreciation not only of the usefulness of country life but also of its essential dignity.

Buried in the Snow

IMPINGTON furnishes among its records the most extraordinary parallel to Arctic peril and adventure that English annals afford, a burial alive of a human being for eight days; from the railway line skirting the park we see a stone marking the spot where she lay.

The victim was Elizabeth Woodcock, the wife of a farmer, who, setting forth on horseback on her return from marketing at Cambridge on Saturday, February 2, 1799, was overtaken by a snowstorm only a mile from home. Something, supposed to have been a bright falling meteor, startled her horse, which backed into a ditch, causing her to dismount, and then ran away across the fields. In pursuing it ` she lost one of her shoes and, her foot becoming frozen, she sank exhausted near a hedge where the snow had drifted deeply. Unable to rise again, she became buried by snow, enclosed in a mound six feet high, incapable of movement owing to the stiffness of her frozen clothes and the position in which she lay. A long struggle enabled her at last to get her hands free and push the snow from her face, so that it set in a cave-like formation about her head. In the morning she found that her breath had caused a sort of tunnel to form from her head to the outer air; and she retained sufficient presence of mind to utilise this for an expedient which was ultimately to lead to her rescue.

In her struggles she had lacerated her right arm on the stout stem of a bush near her; breaking off a branch from this bush, she fixed her coloured handkerchief to it and thrust it through the hole as a signal of distress to passers-by. Soon the outer extremity of the opening was closed by the formation of a thin sheet of ice, which acted as a window, letting in light so that she was never in absolute darkness, and enabling her to distinguish between night and day.

She heard the bells from clocks and belfries sound, and kept count of days and nights; she heard the cries of animals; she heard horses and carts pass, and even caught the talk of gypsies. Again and again she cried aloud, but no one heard.

Nature mercifully minimised her suffering. She felt no hunger, and thirst was quenched by her eating a little snow. Her only discomfort arose from the melting of her ice window, which caused her frozen clothes to thaw and her body to become sodden and greatly reduced in temperature. This discomfort was increased when, after six days a general thaw reduced the interior of her prison to slush. She was, however, too weak now to extricate herself. For four days and nights she had been sought by her husband and kin, but as no trace of her could be found they had sadly come to the conclusion that she had been robbed and murdered.

At last, on Sunday, February 10, eight days after her imprisonment, a neighbour taking a shortcut across the fields, saw her handkerchief fluttering from its twig. Approaching, he heard the sound of laboured breathing, and, looking through the tunnel in the snow, he saw a huddled figure. He was too terrified to address her, but called up a shepherd, who cried, "Are you there, Elizabeth Woodcock?" "Dear John Stittle, I know your voice; for God’s sake help me out of this place!" she said.

She was carried home, and for the next five months she battled for life, but frost and snow had done their work and she died on July 13 in the same year.

Flickr set.

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