Letter published in the Beds Times on 6.5.1893, page 3.
It was early in the "eighties" that one fine spring morning found me ascending the hill that leads to Ravensden Parish Church, a stranger bent on spying out the naked ness of the land! For strange rumours had reached me of a parish, within 5 miles of the county town, where a contumacious vicar refused to reside, or to give up his living – indeed, refused to do anything but allow decay and ruin to run riot in the church, the vicarage and the glebe land.
For once rumour was truthful. The inside walls of the church were green with mould and lichen, teeming too with damp and moisture, scarcely more beneficial to the health of the small knot of worshippers than was the drowsy service to their spiritual good.
In the churchyard I met a communicative little maiden, who volunteered to show me the vicarage. A more tumbledown barn could hardly be imagined. I did not wonder when she told me that the parson could not live there any longer and had gone back to Bedford with his family, coming over for the church services. The hanging doors and windows told their own tale – and if my memory serves me aright, the place called a kitchen was used as a hospital for diseased sheep.
Speaking of my visit a short time afterwards to a leading clergy man in the diocese I was told that nothing could be done in Dr Syers’s lifetime. He had a long purse, and "has all the law at his fingerends so we can’t tackle him" was the desponding answer to my question "Why has the Bishop allowed such a state of things to exist?"
So when last year I saw the announcement of this defiant gentleman’s death in the paper I felt quite glad, thinking that better days were in store for the neglected village.
One day last week in company with a clerical friend on the look out for a small living, I again found myself in Ravensden Churchyard. Having procured the keys we were about to open the door when an exclamation from my friend caused me to stop. "Read that" he proclaimed excitedly. The "that" was a notice to the effect that, for the present, the Church would be closed on Sundays. Signed J. Sunderland, Church Warden.
"What can the Bishop be about, to allow such a thing?" This again from my clerical companion.
"It means, I suppose, that the small knot of worshippers I remember here some years ago are to be handed over body and soul to the little white washed Zion at the Cross Roads – for the Church refuses to provide any spiritual food for her children." After this we were not surprised to find the church as it was, only a little greener, damper, and more dilapidated. But I was surprised to see the whited sepulchre into which the poor old barn called a vicarage had been turned. The sheep’s hospital with its raftered roof, which any human being could reach with his or her hand, had been repaired, the cocklofts above had been patched up and the building is now offered to an educated gentleman to make his home.
Now sir, I contend that no surveyor who knows his work had any right to lay hammer or nails to repair such a place. How dare he do it without appealing to the Bishop and Ordinary? Yet I am told that the present surveyor patched and botched up this miserable building, and then gave the late Vicar a 5 years certificate. Surely the Lord Bishop of Ely, the Archdeacon, the Rural Dean, will see this wrong righted. If it is impossible to recover full dilapidation from Dr Syers’ errors, is there no fund in the hands of the Commissioners to help the Biship rebuild this vicarage and make a decent habitation for a resident clergyman? If that were done a good man might be found to undertake the spiritual needs of this poor neglected parish. In that case doubtless the parishioners would do their level best to assist with the church itself and so this sad blot might be erased from the map of the diocese over which Alwyn, Lord Bishop of Ely presides.
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