Whilst staying in Herbrandston for Christmas me and John drive north to Llanfihangel. We drive through a village called Bethlehem.
This third volume of Thankful Villages has theme of schools and their closures but Llanfihangel is the rarest of villages; it has a working school over 175 years old.
The village is proud of its’ school, they have a book detailing it’s history and the school playground is brightly coloured with a mural painted by the children.
A tiny stream separates the school from the graveyard. The weather is fearsome and blows right through us. The Y Ffarmers pub feeds us by an open fire.
As is often the case, an elder gentleman stops and asks us what we are doing. ‘Have you seen some changes?’ asks John.
‘Everything changes,’ he replies, not in resignation but in quiet acceptance.
I took my best friend John Jervis to spend Christmas with me in Herbrandston. John is a tower of strength but the gentlest of men. His present to me was a book about a dog on a train and a cup with ‘Jazz’ written on it. I bought him Planet of the Apes comics.
Herbrandston is on the south westerly tip of Wales and surrounded by refineries’ industry and abandoned forts. There is one pub called the Taberna Inn which is also the local shop and the post office. Peter the landlord loves trains and leaves updated and hand corrected timetables on each table.
I recorded the mass on Christmas Eve and you can here them singing here. We met Colin that night who told the opening story.
Rebecca gave me a book of Welsh Hymns which had ‘All Through the Night’ in it and on which this is based.
You can buy Thankful Villages volume 3 here www.hefnet.com
Elfrieda Warren sent me some photos of the old Hunstanworth School. She also sent me a poem written by Hilda Everitt for the day the school closed down in 1974. The school’s teacher at the time was Bronwen Winskill.
Hilda’s granddaughter Ruby lives in the village today but goes to school elsewhere. She reads the poem here.
We stayed in Hunstanworth for five days. We took long walks to Blanchland and the surrounding hills and forests.
The roofs in the village have the most beautiful tiled designs in them. The landscape lifts you. This might be the prettiest of the Thankful Villages.
The old school house is there and still has the Devil’s Stride in its driveway. The Devil’s Stride is a huge pole, which would have ropes hanging from it. The children would run with the ropes then swing into the air.
We take disposable film cameras and Fisher Price cassette players to East Carlton.
Me and Abigail have designed a game. We have a map of the village and have drawn a grid over it. We split up and wander round the village for the length of one side of a C90 cassette.
The lines on the grid on the Y axis denote pitch and the lines on the X axis denote tonality. The idea is that the shape of our walk around the village will dictate a tune. What we see and hear would inform the words. We say what we see into our cheap plastic recorders. We try to speak and take pictures without thinking. We let memories and observations collide.
We let the village create it’s own song. We chase the light.
A set of coincidences.
I have been looking for local musicians to help me capture the villages. Dan Mayfield often plays violin with me but also belongs to a family that plays in Morris sides.
His mother Becky grew up in Horncastle near High Toynton. I arranged for them to visit St John’s the Baptist’s church together and do a rendition of Lincolnshire’s most famous folk song, The Lincolnshire Poacher. To gain access to the church we must collect the key from Alison Bell at her Yoga studio opposite. It turns out that Alison and Becky haven’t seen each other since they attended school together. Alison brings a friend and a dog to watch the Mayfield family play folks songs in the church.
The smaller the audience, the bigger the heart.
The Lincolnshire Poacher was used to disguise codes and was broadcast by the numbers stations during the Cold War by the British intelligence service.
When I arrive in Minting a strange and wild-looking cat climbs into my car and refuses to leave. David finds me trying to coax the cat out. David is a school head who lives in the old school house. He is a keen member of the historical society, a musician, and makes his own notebooks.
David is also a keen detectorist and was happy to show me his boxes of finds from the fields around his home.
He took me detectoring and we found something quickly. He dug a small hole and found an old Chinese coin.
David had found some before around the village.
Apparently Francis Bashforth, the local rector in 1857 to 1908, invented a new system for measuring the velocity of bullets and often visited China.
A few weeks after my visit David sent me the coin in the post.
Me and my friend Tim drove up to Wysall the day after Trump was elected. We commiserated with councillor Sam Stephens in the Plough.
Sam was there to give me a DVD of cine film from 1969 to 1971. Two sisters known only as the Miss Evans took the film in the village. The films had been found in a house clearance after the two sisters had passed. It had taken him a few days to track down the only DVD copy in the village so I suggested he best back it up.
After watching the DVD I showed it to Julia who remembered the Miss Evans and she talked to me about the village at that time with her small dog on her lap.
The film showed the last day of the village school before it closed. We watched the children dance in the playground and Julia told me all about Mrs Kettle, the teacher.
I’m grateful to be travelling with friends. I am taking Bill and David to their first Thankful Village. Meldon is the most northerly of the Thankful Villages and one of the smallest.
‘I’m not sure why it’s called a village’ says the landowner who finds us noodling around his silos. Crows squawk overhead and his long eared dog licks our faces and microphones.
The theme of the school house will come to thread it’s way through Volume 3 of Thankful Villages and here we hear it’s first mention. It’s strange to imagine a school for so few houses and this idea of a remote place of learning stays with me.
David leads us into a soft fluttering melody and we leave for lunch.
Photographs by Chris Trew and Sarah Barnaby
I visit Ousby whilst playing live shows for the first Thankful Villages album with British Sea Power. It’s odd to be moving into the last phase of the project whilst unveiling it’s beginning to people.
I stay just outside the village and visit it twice. There’s an open caravan park and a closed pub called the Fox. I find a small wooden shelter with a weather vane on top and fight against the wind.
A horse stares at me, a dog barks at me, another horse draws a carriage across the top of the green. The pub, church and community hall all look a little forlorn but the green is clean and neat with new playground equipment.
I shouldn’t play with my phone in these remote places but the garbled news gradually reaches me of a tragedy. It is the day that Jo Cox was murdered, Brexit was looming.
It’s nearly spring but there are still the tiniest scraps of snow in Bigby. I arrive in the evening just as night started to fall. I return again at 5:30 am the next day to be there for the break of dawn.
I only see Bigby in the half-light. I only see Bigby when my eyes are heavy with tiredness.
I wrote a tune in between my two visits in a nearby bed and breakfast. I think of light snow and black night.
I record Bigby with the oldest and newest technology. I leave an iPad in the graveyard taking time-lapse photos of the sun rising behind the church whilst I fumble with 120 film in an old plastic Diana camera. The film pops out and I lose photographs.
Bigby is old and new too with trim new-builds hidden behind the old houses. My photos are muted and ghostly when developed.