Places of Worship - Cliffe History

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Places of Worship
The Parish Church

The oldest building in life is its exceptionally fine   church, mentioned in Domesday Book. It is dedicated to St.   Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, first Christian   Emperor of Rome. She is said to have discovered the cross on   which the Saviour suffered.

The original church has   gone, with the possible exception of a rough doorway which   may be Saxon. This can be seen on the outside of the north   wall. A Norman church followed, the chancel arch of which   remains.

The present nave, transepts, and lower part   of the tower date from 1260. The chancel was rebuilt, and   the aisles widened, about 1350. The belfry is 15th century   and the top of the tower is modern.

The chief   treasure of the church is a silver-gilt paten, dated 1525,   one of the finest mediaeval patens in existence. The   beautifully carved pulpit was “carefully repaired” and moved   to its present position in 1875. The hour glass bracket   attached to it, dated 1635, is an extreme rarity.

The   chancel is very fine. The ancient high-pitched roof and   beautiful East window were destroyed by Rector G. Green in   1732. He recorded his misdeed in the register book. The   church then had a flat roof until the 19th century when it   was by stages restored to its original height.

In the chancel are six ancient Miserere seats. Part of   the 15th century Rood screen remains, and a doorway which   gave access to the Rood can be seen in the wall above it. A   lower doorway has been blocked, concealing the little   stairway which led to the Rood loft. The walls of the   transepts were once bright with colour, and traces of these   mural paintings have been carefully preserves. On several of   the pillars are bold chevron designs.

A brass tablet   on a pillar near the organ records the gift of John Browne   to found a school, and on the floor nearby are brasses to   the memory of the Faunce family.
A list of Rectors from 1229 may be seen on the north wall   at the entrance to the chancel. Many of these fifty-seven   Rectors subsequently filled high offices in the Church. The   library of Rector Charles Burney (1815 – 1818) was bought   for the nation for £13,500. A curate, Rev. Arthur Broome,   called the meeting in London in 1884 which led to the   founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty   to Animals.

Repairs and improvements to the interior   of the church have been carried out from time to time. The   old box-pews were replaced by open seats in 1874, and the   East window restored to its former beauty in 1884.

The church bells were taken down and recast in 1862, and two   were added in 1864, making a fine peal of eight bells. A set   of “Rules” displayed in the belfry about 1870 – 1880, shows   that fines of 2d and 3d were imposed for a number of   offenses e.g. for using “improper language”, for not   attending the requisite number of services, and for not   sending an apology for absence. At this time the ‘foreman’,   (now called the captain) was Mr. John Elford, a nephew of   whom still lives in Cliffe, and his team of ringers were   James Burke, William Clarke, William Holden, Thomas   McCarthy, John Moon, James Price, William Spackman, Walter   Stanley, William Waghorn, Stanley Wood and John Mannouch   (Steeple Keeper.)

A hundred years ago both clock and   sundial could be seen on the south wall of the tower. The   churchwarden accounts contain many references to the cost of   maintenance, including “Beer when put up, and fixing the   hand 2/-. “ “Rearing and falling the Ladder 3/-. “  An   interesting entry made by the churchwardens in 1835 on the   flyleaf of an account cook records that “Cliffe Church Clock   repaired by Subscription having been still 37 years.” The   cost was £40.

The church registers date from 1558.   One of the early entries refers to the threat of the Spanish   Armada. “July 25th 1588. The camp begane at Tilbury in   Essex.” There is an entry concerning Penance in 1577, and in   “1679 John Browne was buried in linen and the forfeit was   paid 50/- to the poor and the rest to the Informer.”

The existing accounts kept by the Churchwardens and   Overseers of the Poor begin in 1728. These books are full of   fascinating information, and throw much light on the life in   the village in by-gone years. In this little community lived   and died James ye Fidler, Blinde Moall, Goodey Dorman and   Goodman Milton. “A payer of sheets for ye Parish bead” cost   6/6. “Going the bounds of the Parish” was an annual event,   and the man who led the way was paid £1 – 0 – 0 or more.   “Vermin were paid at the following rates:- foxes, otters,   badgers 1/- each, pole-cats, hedgehogs, 4d each; stoats and   moles, 2d each; sparrows 3d – 6d a dozen. In 1820, the price   was 1d each for old sparrows and ½d each for young ones.   Payment was made for 3892 of them. In 1808 there were many   payments for killing dogs, and one entry “For killing Mad   Dog, 5/-“may explain this curious slaughter.

Careful   account was kept of the collection of the rates and their   “disbursement” for the relief of the poor of the parish,   “likewise any Casual poor that fall on the said parish of   Cliff in the Course of one year – likewise all Surgery,   broken bones and Casual Midwifery.” The entries include “a   pair of stays for Ann Gibbs, 9/6,” “cutting of young   packman’s hear and gave him a wig 3/-“and a “wooden leg for   Moore, £1 – 2 – 3.” “Shaveing Jno Butchers head cost 2d, and   a Mts. Cole was paid 4/8 for her Donkey carrying Kitt Betts   to the Doctor.”

Here in the Parish Church chest   these handwritten books are a true record of the way of life   of the common people who have no memorial, but in their day   were a vital part of this parish of Cliffe.

St. Helen’s Church, as it appeared between 1868 and   1884, by which time the Nave’s and Aisles’ roofs had been   restored to the pitch of the Transepts roofs.

The Methodist Church
The Methodist Church is a fine building situated in the   heart of the village on a site immediately adjoining that of   the original Wesleyan Church. The old building has been in   existence for more than a hundred years, and after the   opening of the ‘new’ Church in 1902, was used for some years   as an infants’ school. It is now used as a Temperance Club.   At the rear of the Church is the Wesleyan Sunday School,   opened in 1909.

In Turner Street is the Christian Mission Hall. It was   founded in 1891, and has maintained a comparatively large   and faithful following ever since.

The Plymouth Brethren Meeting Hall is to be found in   Reed Street.

St. Helen’s Church – view of   interior showing the Jacobean pulpit, dated 1636, the list   of Rectors of the Parish, and the memorial tablet of Revd.   Charles Burney.

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