Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A poignant visitation...




A few days just spent in Norfolk included a visit to the tiny village of Nordelph a few miles from Downham Market. It was here that the Uranian poet Edwin Emmanuel Bradford spent the lion's share of his clerical career. If you are looking at this slightly forbidding, bleak and isolated place and thinking this doesn't seem to be the kind of place that you would be posted to if you had a stellar career in the Church of England, you'd be right. Although, it's not clear exactly why Bradford ended up here it is very likely something to do with his sexuality.
Bradford started off his career in the 1890s in a very promising way being curate of the up-and-coming Anglican chaplaincies in St Petersburg and then at St George's Paris. On his return to England, he was posted as the Curate of Eton, the town not the school, which seems a good 're-entry' post before moving to the cure of souls of some large and prestigious parish. Things would have seemed set fair at that point but then, any canny interpreter of his listing in Crockford's Clerical Directory, would know that something must have gone badly wrong. His feet barely touch the ground on his way to being vicar of Nordelph: a church described on the Churches of Norfolk website as "probably the most remote of all Norfolk Churches". There was then, and basically still is now, a quarter of a mile of houses running in a single-file line up a single track road and a long, narrow irrigation canal called the Well Creek. That's it!

The panoramic photo at the top is the view from the row of housing that makes up the village, across the creek and into the Norfolk flatlands. On Sunday, when I visited, it was a cold, clear, crisp day, it was possible, on a short visit to appreciate that there was some beauty in the flat, misty landscape but to live there and to serve the very few people of this tiny village from 1917 till his death in 1944 must have been a saintly labour. (and yes, that creek is actually frozen solid!) And yet, by all accounts Bradford was a humble, quiet and charming man. There is a little more about him and a couple of photos (the originals of which are now in my collection) on the Norfolk Churches site but on this visit I had hoped to see the crumbling and overgrown church but instead I found this:


Opposite the church was a the school house, now in a parlous state with ivy and other foliage growing through the roof. It was here that Bradford taught and supervised the small group of village children in their education. I hadn't thought of it before I went but as I trawled up and down the side of the creek looking for the site of the church I also came across the graveyard. I spent a cold half-hour or so checking each grave but I could find no trace of Bradford. All in all, a sad and poignant visit.

3 comments:

pj said...

Fascinating to see. Thank you. Rather Jane Austenish in terms of the desperate humbleness. Perhaps the icy weather cheered him by forcing a blush to the 'honest English skin' of those long dead Empire lads.

Graham Cawthorn said...

Magical photographs - thanks for making the pilgrimage. I'd been curious to know what remained of him there and now I know. Sad that no trace of his grave can be found. But perhaps his spirit does not haunt the churchyard anyway, but more bucolic places...

James said...

It seems that the town of Holywell is seeking to "put Holywell on the map" [sic] by building a statue - no mention of dear Corvo though. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/northeastwales/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9313000/9313272.stm

 
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