Hepstonstall: Church of St Thomas a Becket

I took advantage (again) of His Majesty’s Government’s decision to subside bus fares until March's end. For two pounds, I travelled from Burnley to Hebden Bridge, from whence I walked up the great hill to Heptonstall. This is a quaint, ancient village which seems not to have yet departed the eighteenth-century. Cobbled streets, pretty cottages, homely pubs and various horses trotting about all persuaded me that I might just have entered a time warp. I was careful not to use my phone too much, lest wary villagers haul me before the local Justice on charges of magik and devilry for having employed a talking box of lights.

The locals I found somewhat sullen; so few offered friendly greeting that I resolved to bark “Good Day!” At any who came within a stone’s throw. My face was the colour of beet for having ascended that great hill so I may have appeared incapable of conversation. Nevertheless, I enjoyed wandering about, observing the vernacular architecture and John Wesley’s Chapel of 1764, which I suspect the locals regard as one of the ‘new-builds’.

It was the parish church I was chiefly desirous of seeing. Like many places, the citizenry elected to build a bigger church in the nineteenth century than they had hitherto enjoyed, but here they left the old one standing. Just about, anyway. It has no roof or glazing; just its walls, window tracery and pillars remain. One may enter and touch medieval stones, while a hundred yards off sits the newer, grander replacement. Built around 1260, but much interfered with, this parish church of St Thomas a Becket was described by Wesley as “the ugliest church I know”. Now ruinous, it is one of the most atmospheric and charming places that I know. The new church is architecturally graceful, but internally it uses some rather naff-looking modern furniture and is rather unhelpfully divided in two by an organ loft. Otherwise, it is very ordinary and unremarkable. Old Thomas a Becket, in contrast, has taken on a rather stately personality.

Old age does not always bestow wisdom. Solomon, who warned against old and foolish kings, contrasting them with poor but wise youths, became such a ruler. May each of us, the older we become, grow in grace, multiply in wisdom and burgeon in love. You have been a weak and feeble Christian, your faith has been unattractive, your body has become weak and tired. Yet now is the time to grasp that dignity you always lacked, to bless others more than ever you did before.