Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Reach, Cambridgeshire

When I was visiting Burwell a nice lady recommended a visit to "the lovely" St Etheldreda and the Holy Trinity at Reach (it was on my list as next to visit anyway). The village is lovely but the same cannot be said for the church since, like Lode, it's a Victorian new build devoid of style, soul or interest.

What is interesting are the remains of the original church to the east of the Victorian replacement - I wonder what happened to the original church?

HOLY TRINITY. 1860. With all the bold hideousness of which the High Victorian decades were capable in their less genteel representatives. The architect seems unrecorded. Front of grey stone with red brick dressings. The transition from the double doorway to the arched window above and the details of the bell-cote must be seen to be believed. Equally original and ugly the E end inside with an apse and transepts and, in the angle between the two small rooms, with a fat short angle column like a squint. In the upper part of the opening towards the apse big heavy wooden tracery. Behind the church the ruin of its predecessor - some low walls and the E wall with the gaping frame of the E window.

St Etheldreda and the Holy Trinity (2)

east arch

REACH. Its long wide green is fair to see with cream and rose-walled cottages round it, and it has the ruined all of an old church keeping company with the new church. But its interest is not in these things.

Here we are carried into ages past. Here the past has been like a river, depositing now something older than history, now something Roman, now a Saxon weapon or two, and at times the peat-cutters here have brought to light the fallen giants of a submerged forest; one was an oak 130 feet long. Here has been found also a wild bull’s skull with a flnt axe embedded in it; we have seen it at the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, where it arrived perhaps 2000 years after the blow was struck.

Here lived those subjects of Queen Boadicea who rose as one man at her call, so that we can picture the warriors of Reach rushing south to destroy the Roman city of Colchester. They were the Iceni, a warlike people who were also mighty engineers, and they left a great monument striding away from this village to Wood Ditton. It is the Devil’s Dyke, running straight for about six miles and filling the gap between fen and wooded heights.

Beginning here, and constructed with remarkable exactness, it was carried across country at an average height of 18 feet above the level of the plain. With a ditch at the foot, the rampart, 37 feet wide at the base and 12 at the top, rises 62 feet from the bottom of the dyke, with a slope of 50 feet on one side and half as much on the other. It kept war out and peace in for the Britons; in later ages it served the Saxons as part of their boundary between the kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia. British and Roman relics have been found in it, with Saxon weapons and implements in the ditch.

Chalk is quarried today at Reach as it has been for thousands of years. It was one of the inexhaustible stores of flints, the tools which made man master of the world. The Romans found another use for the chalk, building from it a fine villa whose remains lingered to fill another chapter in the history of the village and it was chalk from here which formed a lady chapel in Ely Cathedral.

The little inland port seized by the Saxons from the Britons became a centre of trade which survived the Conquest, and King John is said to have granted the villagers the right to hold a yearly fair. The fair still continues, and here every year come the Mayor and Corporation of Cambridge to proclaim it open, and to distribute new pennies.

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