Angel Lamb looked at herself in the mirror and wondered why her reflection looked back at her like an excited girl, her naive namesake with the cheeks and arched eyebrows, hair bouncing and curling down to the nape and the gold bangle earings just arcing out from under.
“If only!” She thought.
Madelie Carew sat at the back, closest to the wall, her view obstructed by the pillar nearest the altar rail. The rib at the top of the pew pressed into her shoulder blades as she leaned back staring at the arch from that pillar to the side-chapel, the lady chapel, and it’s wooden screen of spiked ornamental bars guarding the statues within. She rose, stretched her shoulders back and shrugged to release the tension and walked to and through the gap into the lady chapel. The paving stones were uneven around the slab where the donor generations before had been interred, their name now rubbed illegible. She stood at its edge, toes on the still readable date ‘1666’.
Angel finished tidying her father’s vestments and the choir’s Surplices, this time ignoring the mirror as she passed it again. Left the vestry and turned from the pulpit to walk the nave aisle and out. At the old carved font where the draught from the open door was the nearest they got to cool air in the summer she turned to check all the flowers had been removed. At the altar, at the window niches, at the feet of the surviving statuettes from the Civil War and the empty niches where flowers were laid as midsummer cushions or winter wreaths and lastly at the Lady Chapel. Where she saw the figure in the chancel.
There was no sun brightening the stained glass so Angel didn’t recognise the woman, almost a silhouette herself in grey jumper and slacks. She walked round the last pew to the white distempered sidewall and on to where the Lady Chapel extension stepped out from the main church. Here the walls were still their original stone blocks, locally quarried and now dulled with their age. The surface had not been smoothed as the main church walls but remained almost in their rough-hewn state. Smoothed by tool but still scarred by the chisels themselves.
“Hello.” Angel spoke quietly as she neared, not wanting to startle the visitor she now recognised. “Have you come for a chat or just a bit of quiet?”
Madelie turned at the words, smiled in recognition of Angel and said “Hi.” Looking back down at the slab on the floor, ” I was just thinking about Anne.” She tapped her foot lightly on the stone.
“Is she there, under all that stone, all those years?” She drew her shoe over the name and date, ‘Anne Rooker 1666′”.
“I suppose so.” Angel felt the solemnity of looking down at the last resting place.
“Was she famous? I suppose she was just a rich old lady that wanted to guarantee her place in heaven, or did they call it ‘Paradise’ in those days?”
Angel put one hand on Madelie’s shoulder and pointed with the other to the window.
“She paid for that window too. It looks better when the sun shines through it and there is a little inscription on that plaque near the top.”
“Oh, yes, I never noticed it before. Not that I have been in this bit often, nor the main church for that matter. Its a nice old place; peaceful”.
Angel read aloud the words carved and black painted:
“This chapel and window donated at the insistence of Annie Rooker. 1600-1666.”
“Odd thing to say, ‘insistence’. Wouldn’t they have said ‘For the glory of God’ or in memory of some ladedah’s wife or daughter. Was she some haughty lady of the manor who just expected vicars to do as they were told and build chapels whenever.?”
“No, It was the Parish that built it. I suppose the vicar and Bishop must have agreed. I just read the words and keep this place dusted for my dad. Well he’s the vicar here and it’s part of my new-leaf doing it. Mind you a bit of sweeping and dusting takes no time. Polishing the screen is a bit of a drag but I talk to the two Mary’s up there.”
“Yes, I wondered about that”. Madelie wondered again, very briefly then shrugged and turned back to look at the window. Dull colours broken by thick leaded supports. She stood back to interpret the design. Two figures halfway up a hill, they seemed to be waving sticks. Behind them stood a tower that seemed to be in flames, or it might just be the sun bursting out from the top of the tower. Balancing the ‘tower’ and above and between the two figures could be seen the white drapery of a flying angel hovering in grey clouds.
“They say it was Annie Rooker’s design. It’s a bit odd, reminds me of Jack and Jill.” Angel spoke.
Both women turned and and walked through the nave, each touched the rough stone font as they walked passed. One of the oak doors stood open, it’s blackened panels contrasting with the still shiny internal blocks of the other door. They walked through the short porch and out.
“Jack and Jill, my foote! I fought tooth and nail to get this built. The villagers owed this to my girls”.
The sun fleetingly skipped through the colours of the stain-glass then receded again.
“I’ve seen you in the pub and around, I didn’t realise your dad’s the vicar. Do you live here?” Asked Madelie as they walked the short distance down the slope from the church and into full sight of the vicarage.
“Yes, for my sins!” With a small embarrassed giggle from Angel.
“You’re not living up to your name then?”
“Well, actually, I’m trying. Especially for dad. I had a bit of an escape a few weeks ago and I’m keeping a bit careful. Nearly had a run-in with old Walter.”
“One of the local bobbies, the young one. He gets in the pub a lot. I’ve seen you sitting with him a few times.”
“Old Walter! That’s his name! No wonder he never told me.. I even got him to walk me home one night. I was being eyed-up by a bloke I didn’t fancy. You know, the one who turned up dead from booze and drugs.” Madelie smiled at the memory of the friendly Policeman walking beside her. The women had slowly walked to the Vicarage gate and stopped automatically.
“Were you going home? I just assumed……..” Madelie queried.
“Yes, I said I would do some baking with mum. I am rubbish but offered and she took me up on it.
Better go. Oh, you never answered. In the church. Were you there for the quiet? If so then I seem to have busted that, sorry. If you need a chat, dad, sorry, the vicar, is in church for a while around six most evenings. Or if you like we could meet up in the pub for a talk or just a laugh.”
“Just a laugh would make a change.”
“Tonight, tomorrow? I work evenings in the bar weekdays but usually drag off for a break. ”
“Okay, tonight is good.” Said Madelie decisively. ” and you can tell me all you know about that Annie what’s-her-name.”
“That’s all I know, what’s on that plaque thing.” She walked up the path to the door, turned and called out “Bye!” with a wave of her hand and was responded to by Madelie as she was lost to sight by the trees.
Angel checked her varnished nails were still pristine after the little light dusting in the church before pushing the front door and calling out she was home.
“It’s Rooker, Annie Rooker!”
The Jolly Puritan was short of customers that evening. Football on the television kept many regulars in their homes. Some of the younger men had been nagging at the landlord to fix up a television in the bar so they could watch the sport, whether football or the latest craze of snooker from Sheffield while they drank. The landlord was equally nagged by the old regulars to keep it quiet and let them get on with darts, dominoes and a quiet pint. He had no problem either way but was concerned about having to fix the television aerial onto the the old chimney stack. Not so much his doing because it would have to be someone else using hooked ladders on the ancient ridge tiles and then fitting bands on the stack to support the weight of the aerial. Even the new-fangled ones would be pretty heavy, though not so bad as the giant ‘H’ that was most common. Anyway, he suspected that in the current new age of historical-romanticism the local council would not allow it. None of the old buildings around this part of town had aerials. “Ruin the skyline” explained one planning officer.
Mind you, that hadn’t stopped them allowing the historic shops further down from ripping out the old interior walls to make bigger internal spaces. That led to one or two redesigning their shop fronts into plate-glass where the mannequins could spend their time staring out at the passers-by. Leaving the old upper floors with their overhangs and still-stuccoed walls looking like left-overs from another Time. Which they were. Town planners and local politicians sometimes had best interests and made worst results.
The publican of the Jolly Puritan mulled this over as he sat figuring an order for the morning dray.
Above, the sombre Puritan on the swinging board looked down at the changes too. Looked at the naked mannequins and swayed gently with the breeze. Held his good book more tightly to him and tapped a thumb on the leather in irritation. “Came the Revolution, came the Witchfinder.” His hand clenched and rapped more steadily. As he rapped so the sign swayed a little more. A little more.
The breeze increased and slid leaves across the street.
Halfway up the hill, Church Lane, in the well of the small bell tower a step over from the LadyChapel the rope from the smallest of the six bells must have slipped off its peg in the breeze and swung heavily down. The sudden pull on the bell rope, it’s furry ‘Sally’ and back-rope dangling almost to the floor must have been just enough to swing even that serious weight, followed by a single dolorous chime.
It was Friday night in the oldest pub in town, not quite as busy as usual. The enthusiastic footballers had boycotted the pub in favour of watching the live football on the newest twentyone inch television at the ‘Well-End’ pub the other end of town. Dominoes and darts however were in full cry with the occasional shout from the bar-billiards table jammed in a corner. Regulars and irregulars gathered and chatted with news and jokes. Supping beers or downing pints amidst the noisy, convivial atmosphere of the pub and its blue haze of cigarette smoke.
The vicar sat at his usual table and mixed his cigar smoke into atmosphere. Beside him sat Walter and Busie who would sit briefly until the bar looked too busy for Angel to cover alone and then dash over to help. Back to the table when the bar cleared, usually with a tray of refills for all.
“She okay?” Said the vicar, meaning his daughter behind the bar.
“Yes, Madelie is keeping her company,” he referred to the woman’s back, sitting on the brass-legged bar stool. Smoke from her cigarette curling up from the ash-tray and dispersing head height into the rest of the blue-misted room.
The evening blared and rattled on then faded down as last glasses were downed and people left in small groups or singles. Four men stood outside and shared from a packet of cigarettes, all gently swaying in rhythm as they lit or shared a match to get the tobacco ignited.
“Who was third?” Joked one, “Put that light out!” joined another. And they swayed more as they grinned at what was once no joking matter.
Swaying above them, enjoying the scene below, the Jolly Puritan tipped the contents of his frothy tankard onto the oblivious men on the pavement. “Who lit the fire?” He mouthed silently. His counterpart remained stock still, finger tipped between pages of his book.
The few remaining in the pub were sitting round the table nearest the open fireplace and its logs placed ready for an excuse of winter to be lit.
“Angel said you were interested in the Lady Chapel and Annie Rooker” the vicar started the conversation once they had tidied up the empties ready for a final washing and closing up by Busie. He always insisted on shooing everyone out before he finished the cleaning jobs needed and the last checks before he could relax in his back room and then try to get some sleep.
Madelie looked at Angel then the vicar,……….. “You would get every fact known to man, and woman, if you asked Lady Matilda. She’s our Grand Master of the Historical Association, you know. But,” he paused, “she might give you the written facts as she sees them and a bit less of the gossip. Any village has factions, you know. You’re quite new here but you must have seen some of it already. This place was Saxon, then Viking followed by whatever until the English Civil War. Many villages were one or the other, or pretended to be to survive the Puritans’, or Cavaliers’ armies and looting. Not necessarily your good old rape and pillage after battle but often looting, or rather ‘requisitioning’ of supplies for the troops. Anyway, I doubt if Burnthorpe was much different to other villages.” He took a gulp from his pint of bitter and a slug from his whisky chaser.
He continued, “I can give you my version. The long one or the shorter one, depends how interested you are.” He smiled, giving Madelie an option to back out of any storytelling if she wanted.
“The real story is good, but not too long.”
“Yes, don’t go on like you do with your prehistoric war stories, please don’t.” Mock-pleaded Angel.
“Okay.” He cleared his throat, “It was a dark and stormy night and the cavaliers were seated round their camp fire….” Angel clapped her hand over her fathers mouth.
“No! No! This is serious! Madelie just wants the bare bones of how the Lady Chapel got built and why she ‘insisted’ on it, like the plaque says.”
“You want the truth eh? I was rich in those days. Not the richest but I owned the brewery after my husband died. ‘E ran off and died later, if truth be known. Where you sit now is where I sat. My daughter Mary helped me and her friend Sarah from the Smithy. Plus the menfolk we hired hereabouts to do the little jobs we couldn’t. And the mill, as it was then. That was mine by inheritance. So you see I was rich enough. Paid me way, didn’t need finery but could’ve.
I could read and write through having been taught by the vicar. He always had his eye on me, from too young an age. Taught me letters and numbers well enough but when he tried to teach me more. …… I taught meself with the Brewers son. Marriage and death are all but one so it happened. There I was, a rich widow-woman with a business to run, mill and brewery, and a scarty daughter. I alone taught me daughter Mary. I needed no man, nor she.
She was bright and took to running the mill while I stayed in the brewery. I could cuff the men to keep them right and give better than I got. Sarah, the smithy’s daughter had a mouth and hand like her father’s but took to Mary and kept the buggers’ hands and mouths off her. But they looked like angels. Both on ‘em.”
Her father held up a hand in surrender as Angel removed her hand from his mouth. They sat with assorted smiles and head shaking as the vicar slowly, ceremoniously raised his beer mug to the bar. “It’s a longish, shortish story but here’s the gist. At the beginning of the Civil War, here, Burnthorpe was in the middle of neither side but both Cavalier and Cromwell, or rather Puritans, quite fancied a prosperous little village as it was, even then, so would make forays into town. They never did much actual harm. They took it in turns to visit, as it were. In between linking various yeomanry or cavalry units of whichever side to wherever their main army was. Down to Oxford probably but generally not here. She……”
“Owned the brewery and the old mill on Rookery Hill”
“It’s from her name then, I thought it was because of the birds there!” Angel spoke.
“Here is where you get the short version”, continued her father, “At the last spasm of the Civil War the village was ‘hosting’ a straggle of seriously loyal Royalists, seriously Royal too if you will forgive the way I put it.” He looked around but the studied silence meant continue.
“A unit of the Model Army under the command of a somewhat ferocious major sat themselves the other side, below the summit of Rookery Hill and scouted the town, well, village. As the mill was handy they broke in and raided the food store and took both young woman captive. That we know because it was their story after the event. Cromwell’s lot then planned to attack, ‘sack’, was the term the girls used; the village. ‘Lay it waste’. I believe Mary said. I didn’t know they did such thing. I assumed the Model Army was just that.”
“Don’t believe it, all men sink to animals and worse when their blood’s up and their hands is red!”
“The upshot was that the girls escaped. On purpose or not the mill got set on fire. Perhaps they set the fire to escape, maybe just an accident. Sarah, or one of them, bashed a couple of men with a pole or some such to get past the guard. With the mill quickly bursting into flame behind them they escaped down the hill and crashed their way into the brewery. Well, this place. The brewery was this building and the outhouses. I s’pose they drank in this very room and whatever they called the lounge.” He directed his beer hand at the connecting room and took another, finishing swallow.
“More beer, more beer for more story!” He pleasantly appealed.
“They were caught, besmirched and tied by thugs. They wasn’t soldiers despite their uniforms or their religion. It was that very smithy’s son that set his sister and Mary free, who set the fires for the village folk to see they were about to be attacked. God save ‘im; as ‘e did. Yes, Sarah smacked a man about the head with a broom handle. Brave maid! And they came down the hill, shoutin’, yellin’. Where was the Watch in the church tower? Why was no warning sounded? He wasn’t asleep, he was well-bribed!”
“So, it ended up like a Viking raid, there was plenty of those in this area, well, here. The major got mad. Sent his men down to do as much damage as they could despite no one in the village being armed or had ever cared to put up any resistance at any time over those years. As far as I have read.
Well, they ransacked all the houses, drank this place dry. It was the brewery but a ‘drinking-hall’ as the Vikings might have called it.” He took a sip of his replacement beer.
“Then it got too savage. They did the usual trick of stabling themselves in the churchyard and quartering in the church itself. The major commandeered this place for himself and a couple of henchmen.” Vicar looked at his watch. He was enjoying his storytelling too much and was creeping into the long version. ” Sorry, I am getting too old for this story. I am going to be really brief, assuming you just want the ending.”
Angel put a hand on her father’s shoulder and in mock tiredness said, “Why was the LadyChapel built? And the stained window? Otherwise we will all be asleep. You can tell us the gory details another day, if we really need to know.”
“Gory! I had gory, I saw gory. I saw death no one should be witness to”
“The soldiers stayed a few days, a week or so. Have you heard of Mathew Hopkins? He was there. At the start or soon after, when, I don’t know.” He paused. Madelie, at whom the question was aimed, shook her head.
“Mostly known as Witchfinder General, self styled, self appointed. Brilliant at inciting, crowd-baiting and getting his own way. And finding a witch wherever he looked. Here, in Burnthorpe he found two.”
Madelie guessed their names “Sarah and Mary.” She nodded as he spoke their names.
“WItches! Burnt because they were two women living alone in the mill. Burnt because they could argue in words bigger than I knew, because she could read and write. So-called trial! Burnt because they dared to escape and never explained how. Because they defended themselves. Were stood on faggots, tied together, killed by flame and smoke because they killed a man with a broomstick. Because they were two loving girls!”
“So-called trial in the church. Nothing written except it happened. Sentenced and executed, just outside the church itself.”
“Where the chapel is” Again it was Madelie.
The vicar nodded, finished his latest bitter in a long pull, Adam’s apple jogging as he swallowed.
“No idea where the money actually came from. Took years. Annie sold the ruined mill, to a new-rich landowner who gained from the years of war and settlements of the Commonwealth. She eventually went to London for some months canvassing for compensation. When she returned she had money but not enough so she petitioned the church, anyone with land and money and begged from everyone in the village. Years it lasted and another trip to London at the Restoration. The Restoration, bubonic plague and the 1666 fire of London all came and went. Right after that fire, days after, Annie got permission to build the chapel, found she had money enough to start and pledges from the village to finish the job.”
He tapped both hands on the table in a miniature drum roll. “She wanted a memorial to Mary and Sarah and she didn’t rest until it was done. Twenty five years it took, give or take. Sold and borrowed everything except this place. She it was that re-named the brewery to the pub name it has now; ‘The Jolly Puritan’. When she went and died the parish made certain it was finished. Scared not to, some say.”
“There y’go,” he stood up, “and so must I, sermons to write and all that jazz.” The group all moved, murmured and started to say goodnights. Busie waved Angel away when she offered to help lock-up so the final trio left with cheerful calls as he bolted the door. He moved to the other bar to check it was bolted too. On his return he noticed the Bible that had been knocked to the floor. He picked it up without comment and placed it on the shelf.
“I warned them there would be consequences. They brought it on themselves.”
The vicar, ex-major Lamb walked pensively up the lane to the vicarage. Behind him, strolling more slowly were Angel and Madelie. “Well, at least we know,” said Madelie. “Three hundred years ago it must have been so different, so tough for Annie, Mary, Sarah and the others.”
“I still find it tough most of the time,” Angel said, slowed a little and leaned into Madelie’s shoulder.
“Yes, there are rubbish moments,” agreed Madelie. Their fingers linked as they walked on.
a tale from Burnthorpe