A simple ceremony at the top of my Grandad’s world in 1932
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Ascension Day 1932
I grew up in St Peter’s in Thanet, a place that whenever I include it on an address it feels like an assertion that it is a village with its own identity and history. Not just a conurbation of Broadstairs as it is today. Quite rightly too.
The village of course is named after its church. A daughter church of Minster Abbey established in 1070. The building has a late Norman nave and an Early English Chancel. Its exterior as with many local buildings is flint and shines like polished black glass on a wet day when the sun is low in the sky in winter.
The church’s tower is 81ft, has battlements and contains a ring of 7 bells. It is tall enough to be seen from the sea and was used as a Naval signalling station in Napoleonic times. It still claims the right to fly the White Ensign to this day. The tower also has a large crack on its west side that is reputed to have been caused by the Dover Straits earthquake in 1580. For those of you who know your Dee, you’ll understand the signs and portents.
Over 500 years later in 1989 I was 4 and my brother wasn’t even born. The parish St Peter In Thanet released a book: Peeps into the past, memories of the village. It contains recollections from local residents from the village and their youth. It includes a piece from former prime minister Ted Heath, but more importantly (to me) there is a piece from my Grandad. About Ascension day 1932.
I’m going to read it for you now.
Ascension Day 1932 – By Laurie Springett
May, 1932, stands out in my memory when, as a lad, I was a member of the Y.P.F (Young Peoples’ Fellowship). During the course of one of our meetings that month the curate, the Reverend N. Hodgson, asked us a question which caused quite a stir. He enquired whether anyone would be willing to have prayers and a short service at the top of the Church tower on ascension Day.
At first we were speechless and just looked at him as this was something quite new. We wondered what our parents and friends would say but the idea seemed to have certain logic and the thought of climbing up the tower staircase appealed to us.
On the following Thursday morning at about 6.45 a.m. a dozen of us turned up, having risen early, and made our way to Church. As I walked along I wondered whether anyone else would be there and I was accordingly glad to see my friends already waiting.
We climbed the tower at a fair pace eager to reach the top. On up past the bells and at last were there. What a view! The air was fresh after the exertion and we stood as a group while the service of prayers and the Ascension Day Collect was said. Way above the world the words seemed to take on real meaning. It was a unique experience, exclusive to us; a moment I have never forgotten.
When the short service ended, conversation commenced. We went to the edge, some gingerly, to look over the top. It seemed we could see for miles. In the distance was the sea but the landscape was mainly flat fields made interesting by the occasional clump of trees. We looked down on the adjacent farmyard and saw the vast barn roof from a different angle. On the other side was Dane Court, almost hidden from view amongst the trees.
Beneath Us few people were about and those who were resembled tiny model figures. Mr. Hodgson asked if we could name anyone we saw but there was no one I knew. We hurried back down the steps eager to go home and recount our story.
I remember that the Ascension Day weather always seemed bright and sunny, except for 1934, when poured with rain. That year the service was held in the bellringers’ corner.
Eventually the custom ceased so I count myself fortunate to be one of the very few people, probably in England, to have experienced this simple ceremony.
Ascension Day has never attained the same status as other major feast days but Mr. Hodgson’s idea made it special for us. As soon as Easter was over we counted the days till Ascension Day arrived.
Perhaps in 1989, when the tower is restored, one of our curates will reintroduce the custom. If so i shall be there; but this time as one of the model figures on the ground! However, I shall be looking up at the youthful Quest members gazing down on me, remembering how I stood on top of the world sixty years ago.
I read that for the first time at home over Christmas with my family and I wonder: Of all the things he could have written about, the treasure trove of stories and information about the village that he was, why choose this recollection. He would have been about 13 or 14 at the time of its events. Perhaps there is something about climbing a blasted tower that touches everyone, especially if done on ascension day – a potent mix.
I’ve only ever been up the tower once in the early 90’s. I too remember similar feelings to my Grandad. That new view of a familiar landscape augmented by height. I am extremely grateful that this was the story he chose to tell and leave behind,
I am lucky to know in such detail what my Grandad was seeing, feeling and participating in in 1932 and will do for the rest of my life. I am reminded (to paraphrase the methodist book of prayer) that he once dwelt on earth, confined by time and space. And had faith in every time and place. And as a child, grandad worshiped at the top of a tower of a blasted tower on Ascension Day in 1932.
The above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.