Dis­cover De­crypt is breath­ing new life into two his­toric build­ings

St Mary de Crypt Church and the Old Crypt School­room in Glouces­ter pro­duced two world fa­mous Chris­tian lead­ers, schooled ‘Long John Sil­ver’, and is the burial place of ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - WORDS: Marcus Stan­ton

Walk along South­gate Street in Glouces­ter to­wards the Quays and you will dis­cover a hid­den gem. The Grade 1 medieval church of St Mary de Crypt Church stands next to one of the few re­main­ing Tu­dor school­rooms in the coun­try, The Old Crypt School­room. Th­ese re­mark­able build­ings are un­der­go­ing a £2 mil­lion re­gen­er­a­tion thanks to a lo­cal char­ity called Dis­cover De­crypt. The re­gen­er­a­tion is project-man­aged by ex­perts in her­itage re­gen­er­a­tion, The Prince’s Foun­da­tion. The build­ings are be­ing brought back into pub­lic use as a place of wor­ship, a com­mu­nity hub and a venue for the arts, cul­ture and learn­ing that ev­ery­one can en­joy.

The sto­ries that sur­round the build­ings are fas­ci­nat­ing. St Mary de Crypt Church and the Old Crypt School­room are of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance be­cause they pro­duced two world fa­mous Chris­tian lead­ers: Robert Raikes and Ge­orge White­field. Raikes is one of the founders of the in­ter­na­tional Sun­day School Move­ment; he was bap­tised in the church, went to the Crypt School and lived op­po­site the church in a house which is now the Robert Raikes pub. Ge­orge White­field is one of the founders of Method­ism; a charis­matic preacher, he was also bap­tised here, at­tended the Crypt School and lived in South­gate Street in the Bell Inn. White­field preached his first ser­mon from the pul­pit which is still in the church to­day; it was said that af­ter­wards there were com­plaints to the Bishop that his en­thu­si­as­tic de­liv­ery had driven 15 peo­ple mad!

Raikes is buried in the church in the chapel that bears his name. Just out­side the Raikes Chapel is what is thought to be the orig­i­nal 18th­cen­tury font in which both Raikes and White­field were bap­tised. The church also owns a first edi­tion of White­field’s ser­mons, pub­lished af­ter his first trip to Amer­ica. On re­open­ing, the church will of­fer in­ter­ac­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion trails cel­e­brat­ing the lives, the faith and the in­flu­ence of both men. Along­side Raikes and White­field, there will also be an in­ter­ac­tive trail cel­e­brat­ing the life and work of Joan Cook, the woman who was re­spon­si­ble for the build­ing of the Old Crypt School­room, the first free school for Glouces­ter.

St Mary de Crypt is an ex­cep­tional church not only be­cause it is beau­ti­ful and his­toric but also be­cause it is a unique and ir­re­place­able part of Glouces­ter’s proud his­tory. It has been de­scribed as a ‘Cathe­dral in Minia­ture’ be­cause its large choir is taller and longer than its nave. It is rare in be­ing one of only a few medieval churches to have a crypt, and a crypt that had a rather un­usual use dur­ing the English Civil War. In 1643, whilst the City was be­sieged by the Roy­al­ists, the crypt con­tained the main mag­a­zine of the Par­lia­men­tary de­fend­ers.

The tall east win­dow with panel trac­ery is filled with 19th-cen­tury stained glass which is a copy of a medieval Euro­pean credo win­dow. In the east­ern blind bays of the Sanc­tu­ary are mu­ti­lated medieval wall paint­ings dat­ing from around 1530. Th­ese were white­washed over at the time of the Ref­or­ma­tion; whilst one is in quite poor con­di­tion the other one is recog­nis­able as de­pict­ing the Ado­ra­tion of the Magi.

The bell tower is also fas­ci­nat­ing; it con­tains eight bells cast and hung in 1710 by Glouces­ter’s fa­mous Rud­hall Bell Foundry. The bells are still rung to­day.

Raikes, White­field and Cook are not the only fa­mous names as­so­ci­ated with Dis­cover De Crypt. Buried in the church is James ‘Jemmy’ Wood, the no­to­ri­ously mean Glouces­ter banker, who was the in­spi­ra­tion for Charles Dick­ens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in ‘A Christ­mas Carol’. Lo­cals ap­par­ently threw stones at his cof­fin as it was car­ried through the streets to the church. The Vic­to­rian poet Wil­liam Ernest Hen­ley, fa­mous for his 1865 poem ‘In­vic­tus’, at­tended the school. A friend of Robert Louis Steven­son, Hen­ley be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for Long John Sil­ver in ‘Trea­sure Is­land’ af­ter tu­ber­cu­lo­sis of the bone led to the am­pu­ta­tion of his left leg be­low the knee.

The school out­grew the site in 1860 but there is still a strong link with the suc­cess­ful Crypt School (now out­side

‘Dis­cover De­crypt will en­sure that once again th­ese build­ings stand at the heart of our com­mu­nity’

the city cen­tre at Podsmead Road). The church hosts var­i­ous school ser­vices and each year at the Crypt School Founders’ Day Ser­vice in Glouces­ter Cathe­dral, the head boy presents the Rec­tor of St Mary de Crypt with a red rose as quid pro quo rent for the land on which the school­room stands.

The sen­si­tive pro­gramme of re­gen­er­a­tion, car­ried out by Croft Build­ing & Con­ser­va­tion, has been un­der­way since the be­gin­ning of the year and is ex­pected to be com­pleted ready for re­open­ing in March 2019. The works in­clude re­pairs to the fabric of the build­ings, in par­tic­u­lar the Tu­dor pan­elling (com­plete with 18th- and 19th-cen­tury graf­fiti) and brick­work of the school­room. Re­pairs will make the school­room avail­able for flex­i­ble use once again: the up­stairs will also be equipped as an art stu­dio, with high qual­ity light and an ad­join­ing kitchen; down­stairs will have a sto­ry­telling area with cof­fee point and fam­ily-friendly fa­cil­i­ties. Both rooms will be avail­able as an af­ford­able venue for com­mu­nity use: for meet­ings, train­ing, classes and work­shops. New heat­ing and light­ing will be in­stalled through­out. Toi­lets, new stairs and a lift will make the com­mu­nity spa­ces fully ac­ces­si­ble. The in­te­rior of the church is be­ing re­ordered, re­mov­ing most of the pews to al­low a more flex­i­ble use of the nave for ser­vices, con­certs, drama, ex­hi­bi­tions and large com­mu­nity gath­er­ings. Parts of the Vic­to­rian tiling will be lifted to un­cover the ear­lier flag­stones be­neath; Dis­cover De­crypt’s His­tor­i­cal Re­search Group is in­volved in record­ing and re­search­ing any new ma­te­rial dis­cov­ered as the floor­ing comes up. The com­pleted project will un­doubt­edly be the most ex­cit­ing new venue in the City Cen­tre, also avail­able to pri­vate groups who want a unique venue for their func­tion or event.

Dis­cover De­crypt’s com­mu­nity art project ‘Dry Bones Live’ draws on words from the Old Tes­ta­ment prophet Ezekiel. School groups, groups work­ing with those liv­ing with de­men­tia, In­clu­sion Glouces­ter­shire and oth­ers are all con­tribut­ing to the re­newal of this com­mu­nity space. “St Mary de Crypt Church and the Old Crypt School­room were built by and for the com­mu­nity of Glouces­ter,” ex­plains the Rec­tor, Canon Nikki Arthy, “Dis­cover De­crypt will en­sure that once again th­ese build­ings stand at the heart of our com­mu­nity where ev­ery­one is wel­come to wor­ship, to en­joy art and cre­ativ­ity, to hear and play mu­sic, to take part in fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties or sim­ply to soak up the beauty, spir­i­tu­al­ity and his­tory of the place.”

The Prince’s Foun­da­tion has sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence de­liv­er­ing work to im­prove the built en­vi­ron­ment, save her­itage and pro­mote cul­ture. The Foun­da­tion runs com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion projects across the UK in a broad range of sub­ject ar­eas, in­clud­ing tra­di­tional arts, de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture, build­ing crafts and her­itage.

“We are de­lighted to be restor­ing the build­ing in a way that saves and celebrates its won­der­ful her­itage, but also de­vel­ops it in a way that means it can be used and en­joyed by res­i­dents and vis­i­tors to­day,” says Ni­cola Dyer, se­nior project man­ager of The Prince’s Foun­da­tion. “Glouces­ter is a re­ally ex­cit­ing place to be right now, with so much am­bi­tion and ap­petite for cul­ture and her­itage-led re­gen­er­a­tion.”

The project has been made pos­si­ble with the gen­er­ous sup­port of a num­ber of fun­ders in­clud­ing the Her­itage Lottery Fund.

Canon Nikki Arthy LEFT:

ABOVE: Lysons Memo­rial

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