The Porch - Cliffe History

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The Porch

St. Helen’s porch presents a striking appearance, due to its size and style. Faced with bonded flint and rag-stone and surmounted by distinctive battlements, it could conceivably give the impression of being the entrance to a castle rather than a church. Built in the 14th century it would have been added to the existing building at the time of the widening of the South Aisle. The interior is spacious, with two windows and two sturdy wooden benches running the length of both walls. Writing in ‘The Clyffe Parish Almanack for 1872’ the Rector — The Reverend H. R. Lloyd — includes the following:— ‘You must know that we owe the plastering and re-seating of the church porch to the good feelings and liberality of my late Churchwarden, Mr. John Osmotherly’. This must have been one of the last benefactions of Mr. Osmotherly, for the same Rector goes on to say ‘I deeply regret to say my late Churchwarden, for as you all know and feel with sorrow, it has pleased God to remove him out of this life into the other world’. A further restoration took place in 1897 when new seats were provided and the walls plastered. The Reverend Canon F. S. Gammon — Rector from 1938 - 1957, made mention of these benches when writing in the Parish Magazine of March 1950— ‘The Church Porch has a couple of long benches in it where people like to sit and talk, waiting for the bus, perhaps. They are called gossip seats, and were intended to afford people a place where they could talk before entering the silence of the church, where talking to one another is best avoided’.
Electricity provides the light here now, the wiring having been made permanent in 1973, the coloured lantern shade being the gift of the daughter of a local farmer. Modern facilities do make life easier for we are reminded that an oil lamp used to hang in the porch and certain parishioners can recall how the Reverend Canon A. T. Wallis — Rector from 1915 - 1937— conscientiously attended to the cleaning and filling of all the lamps every Friday morning.
The wooden ceiling is also the floor of the Porch Room above. A beam of substantial dimensions bears the inscription ‘I. Harvey and R. Knight Churchwardens 1817. I O Carp’. This beam may well have been in use elsewhere, being incorporated here complete with carvings when this ceiling was repaired and restored during the incumbency of the Reverend H. R. Lloyd early in the 1870’s. The floor of the Porch Room was also restored in 1897 during the time the Reverend W. H. Grove was Rector.
The door leading into the Church itself is large and in two parts. It is unlikely this door is the original. Most early doors were highly decorated by the smith, but there is nothing particularly remarkable about the iron-work of this door. The style of the lock also suggests this door may not be the first to be fitted here. Certainly the key in present use is not the original; this was apparently lost during the late 1960’s - early 1970 period. The small borings in both sections of the door reveal an unwise attempt to secure massive doors with hasps and a modern padlock, A new key has since been cast being 9” in length, but plain and undecorated and therefore of no artistic or historical value. Even so the present key is not left in the lock (or even in the building) as a precaution against theft and vandalism. However there maybe some parishioners alive today who recall the times when the original key was left available under the bench near the door. Two nails remain in situ to bear evidence of this, and of the honesty of the God-fearing people of those days. It is worth noting the size of the doorway for there is an entry in the Burial Register of 1905 recording the funeral of one Eliza Bennett aged 53 which took place on 10th July. A special note is added to the effect that “The body was so enormous that it was impossible to bring it into Church’; so straight to grave — (6’3” long; 5’ broad)”.
There seems to be no evidence of an outer door to the porch although a sketch in the book “A Week’s Tramp in Dickens’ Land” by Wm. R. Hughes (published 1891) shows what appears to be half-gates across the entrance. Also two architects’ drawings measured and plotted in the church in July 1893 by Arthur Vercoe, and subsequently printed in ‘The Building News’ of 24th August and 4th September 1896, include half-gates similar to those shown in the sketch.
A point worth noting in this age when graffiti is so prevalent is that in times past little scratchings were often made on church entrances and elsewhere, sometimes by masons, but very often by the faithful who would make a small cross in the stone-work (a votive cross) as evidence of a vow. Look carefully on the outer arch of this porch and you will see two or three such crosses. These are the marks that hallow places of worship as much as the more obvious and conventional signs. Look also for the marks of masons on the outer arch.
A significant feature of the porch is the Stoup on the right-hand side near the entrance to the church. Here holy water (water blessed by the priest) would be kept, and the faithful on entering and leaving the building would reverently dip the tips of the fingers of their hand in the water and make the sign of the cross upon themselves to indicate self-consecration and a renewal of baptismal vows. Regretfully this practice fell into desuetude following the Reformation and many holy water stoups were destroyed. Unhappily the projecting part of this stoup has been hacked away but we are fortunate in retaining something of the history and customs of times past. If such simple practices as signing oneself with the sign of the cross upon entry to a church building were the custom today.
In times past greater importance was attached to the porch than it is today — and far more ceremonies and customs took place here. In the Middle Ages the priest would receive those to be baptised in the porch where he would breathe on the infant and use salt as a form of exorcising evil, before proceeding into the church for the remainder of the rite. The first part of the Churching of Women service was held in the porch as was also Part 1 of Holy Matrimony. On Holy Saturday the New Fire was kindled and blessed in the porch before the Easter ceremonies commenced.
Markets were held regularly in the porches of our churches and civil business, the signing of deeds and documents carried out there. Evidence of secular use of the porch exists in the notice board found on the West wall which is still reserved for local parish and area councils. It may be of interest to mention that in recent years surplus produce from the Harvest Thanksgiving services has been sold off in this porch. Also on 22nd May 1976 we held a ‘Porch Market’ which proved decidedly attractive. Cakes produce, plants, clothes and various oddments were sold and the sum of £26.00 was raised. Today our ‘Porch Market’, being so popular and extensive, now overflows the Porch and almost the whole church is employed.
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