Home Page Broad-brush artwork will make the churchyard a brighter place 21/11/14

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Hart of the Matter

It’s taken a fair old time to get the project off the ground, but it really does look as if the proposed renovation of St Mary’s Churchyard is going to be quite splendid.


If you were lucky enough today to have had the time to pop into the church and inspect the display of artwork which will be used to brighten up that area you will no doubt have been as impressed as I was.


This is just the sort of thing you see in other towns around the country and which makes you envious that we haven’t got it in Haverhill. Well, now we’re going to have.


The undergrowth has been cleared, trees chopped down and the gravestones put back in place, so we can see the panels in the walls of the Gurteen building which backs the area – blocked up windows, I would assume – and which will be filled by the brightly-coloured artwork created by our local schools.


The design of each panel is based on a building or event in Haverhill’s history, represented by a photograph, some of them going back over a hundred years, which will be placed near the panel. The celebration of Haverhill’s history is most welcome, even though it is heavily skewed, as one might expect, towards Victorian buildings.


They are the town’s greatest heritage and it is good to see how pupils have re-interpreted them. Sadly, one panel perpetuates the myth of Cleves House and visitors may be misled into actually believing that Ann of Cleves came here, or that the very attractive house in Hamlet Road was the property identified in her dowry from Henry VIII, neither of which is true, research has recently established.


It is a famous myth, but if we were going to have myths we should perhaps also have had the ‘Castle’ and Ann Suckling’s ghost represented.


Nevertheless, Haverhill would not be the first town in the country to perpetuate a myth which reflects well on its history and desirability as a destination, and I don’t suppose it will be the last – and the panel is very eye-catching and effectively done.


It was not made clear how far, if at all, Haverhill Local History Group was involved in researching the panels, but whoever did it has done an excellent job, in general. It’s not easy deciding what to feature in something like this.


It’s a bit like adapting a well-loved book for the screen – there will always be dissatisfied nerds who regret that the dramatisation is not word for word from the original, without realising that a film is a very different animal from a book and cannot be treated the same.


Much as historical nerds like me might have wished that a panel had been devoted to probably the most famous person in his time and highest achiever ever to come out of Haverhill - one Brihtmaru - it would have been the kiss of death to such a project to treat it that academically.


What was needed was broad-brush interpretation of what is around us and what people know and remember, and that is exactly what we have got, brought to life exotically by primary and secondary school pupils.


It is the modern equivalent of the way stained glass windows used to tell people stories in churches, and the panels even reference the shape of such windows, aided by the shape of the recesses into which they need to fit – and, incidentally, mirroring the windows of the church opposite in a very pleasing symmetry.


I assume the panels have been made in a substance which repels graffiti, although it is to be hoped the renovation will make the area less dubious anyway. There will be lighting included which should result in lifting the churchyard out of its current reputation as a dodgy place at night.


Sadly, I don’t think the original idea of gating off the church path at either end so that it can be closed off if required has been proceeded with. There used to be railings around it and gates, which were all taken down for the war effort and then turned out not to be usable material.


Nowadays the tendency is to want areas to be as open as possible to everyone, so railings might send the wrong message. But the churchyard, with its magnificent trees, forms a delightful arena for performances, with the main drawback being the security needed to man the path and prevent unwanted interruption.


For several years the town council used to bring professional touring companies with outdoor Shakespeare to the churchyard. More recently the local group of actors with which I have been associated has done something similar, but has now moved it out to East Town Park, mainly due to the competition in noise from the Bell.


But with the Bell closed, if the area could have been easily fenced off it might once again have formed such a venue, and more convenient than East Town Park for those with no transport.


As it stands, though, the plan looks very exciting, and will be set within a range of new planting which should make it a very attractive area, as Haverhill In Bloom are among the prime movers in the whole initiative. It shows what can (eventually) be achieved when everyone gets together and maybe therein lies some good hope for the future.


·         If you don’t know who Brihtmaru was, shame on you as a Haverhill resident. Born and brought up in Haverhill in the 13th century, he trod the sort of path more famously followed by Thomas Cromwell 300 years later, without the unfortunate ending. He went to London and worked his way up to become for many years the first minister of Henry III.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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