The Monday after the workshop, we headed for Bakewell. Nick was happily ensconced in a hotel in the centre of the Derbyshire town while Alethea and Deb were tucked away up the hill. We were to meet at the church but, with Nick’s electric wheelchair still at the Nightingale Centre, being too big for the car, we were obliged to get out the manual chair and push.
Anyone who knows Bakewell will understand when I say that this was an act of pure heroism on the part of my companion, who rose to the occasion and got the chair right to the northern entrance of the church. It is no mean feat.; the hill is deceptively long and steep. I was already feeling the first intimations of the cold that was to cause so much trouble, so was very grateful not to be behind the chair for once.
Bakewell church is a magnificent place to visit; it has everything. From a long history through carved stone crosses dating back over a thousand years, to beautiful stained glass, ancient artefacts and a fabulous collection of Tudor tombs and old wooden misericords, the ‘mercy seats’ upon which the ecclesiastical derrière could perch during long services.
We have been here so many times…it never fails to reveal something new that we had overlooked. It is a perfect place to take friends who are visiting as it encapsulates so much of the area’s history.
This time, we didn’t even get through the door before we made a new discovery… though we did have some unexpected help. It was the gardener who pointed out the plaque over the south door…one I had seen and photographed, almost by accident, but never read.
The inscription is to commemorate the life of Johnathan Brunt who died in 1779. Even at such a tender age, he is listed as being the ship’s surgeon. Brunt served on a ship called the Sturdy Beggar that sailed out of Liverpool. At 160 tons and armed with sixteen guns, the ship was a privateer… which makes him a pirate, albeit a legal one. The privateers were heavily armed ships designed for fighting.
They bore letters of marque, by which the Crown authorised what was essentially legal piracy, where the ships attacked enemies of the state at sea for the profit of booty. They provided service as a private, marine militia whilst lining their own pockets at the expense of the enemy. Brunt’s ship had been attacking Spanish and American ships in the Atlantic… it was not an occupation without risk. Brunt came from a local village, Over Haddon, and other members of his family are buried close by in the churchyard. He died aged just nineteen, when his ship sank off the island of Fayal in the Azores.
The story is over two hundred years old, yet beside the stone crosses and strange carvings in the porch alone, this is recent history. It is also, in some strange way, very personal… it is the story of a young lad seeking adventure and his fortune and also a tale that hints at the grief of his family when he was lost to the sea. It was in a pensive mood that we headed back down into the town. Bakewell is far from the sea…only the River Wye flows endlessly through the town, teeming with trout and new life. Why did the young man dream of the sea? Did he want to go…or was he a younger son, forced to seek his fortune? There is much we do not know, but we had been given a glimpse. It is tales like these that illustrate the continuing human story told by the old places and why they still have so much to teach about who we are and what we might become.