Mundon: Now and in England
St Mary, Mundon, Essex
This church was the real goal of my journey. Knowing how horrible the nearby suburban village of Latchingdon was I was a bit uncertain about the setting of this, but I needn't have worried. Two miles or so took me halfway to Maldon, and then a tiny lane ran off at a crossroads warning me it was a dead end and very narrow.
After half a mile a lane ran off to the hall, high hedged and just about wide enough for two cars to pass, as long as they breathed in. The lane ran for a mile, and then I was directed for about a quarter of a mile down a dirt track to my goal.
Open. The west end is so familiar to me from photographs there was a little shock of recognition. The half timbered belfry curves around the little red brick building. The tiny churchyard is surrounded by woodland. It was silent apart from the birdsong.
I thought of TS Eliot's Little Gidding from The Four Quartets:
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
Walking around, I found it to be a long, little church, if that makes sense. Utterly rustic, entirely vernacular. You step into darkness - obviously, there is no electricity - and the western quarter of the building is a simple crooked wooden structure, then you step through a low arch into a Norman church with 18th Century furnishings. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it. And it is.
It was shattered by a stray V1 in 1944, patched up in the late 1940s and then abandoned by the parish. By the 1960s it was roofless and overgrown. In 1970, the Diocese obtained a demolition order to get rid of it.
And then in 1973 the Friends of Friendless Churches obtained the lease. There was a restoration lasting three years at the hands of Laurence King, whose copy of Cox's 'English Church Furnishings' I had found in a Felixstowe bookshop earlier in the week. The Courtauld Institute rescued and stabilised the wall paintings. The 18th Century furnishings were repaired and restored. The east wall had to be rebuilt, and the wooden west end is apparently entirely unconnected to the rest of the church, because they move at different rates.
This is Essex's equivalent of Suffolk's Badley, and if it doesn't have the brasses that Badley has, the atmospheres are of a piece. The church is left open all the time. This is one of the loveliest churches I have visited in England.
I wandered around the graveyard and saw things that will be invisible in a couple of months - cast iron markers from the Maldon foundry, rare wooden gravemarkers, idiosyncratic headstones from local masons. Oh, and a human thigh bone!
I stayed here nearly an hour in all, but then it was time to start heading homewards.