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Swanbourne: St. Swithun's Church, a reminiscence
St. Swithun's Church, Swanbourne

When one is young, it seems that within this treasured span there lies a time when, although one is no longer a child, and no longer restrained by parental fuss, the world is still perceived with a childlike wonder, before the earthy lure of adult pleasures begins to beckon. And so it was that having often thrilled to the sight of American jet fighters in the local skies, one summer’s day myself and a friend decided to cycle far beyond the realms of our known galaxy, and venture forth to the source of this excitement; the United States Air Force base at Upper Heyford. Thus in the proud tradition of the Famous Five, with sandwiches of jam and cheese, and lashings of ginger beer, we set off to seek adventure, and our expectations met with no disappointment as the Voodoos (as were being operated in the days before the Phantoms and F111s) roared off the runways in pairs, to climb steeply away and then circle, before setting course for their daily missions. And so in the afterglow of such excitement we wended our leisurely way homewards, and it would be in the susceptibility of this reflective mood that, on reaching the village of Swanbourne, the sight of a sunlit St. Swithun’s church, gloried in the warmth of a summer’s afternoon, impinged upon the mind an impression which seemed to far transcend a mere fleeting glance. Many years then passed, until a re-acquaintance with St. Swithun’s was made when, quite unexpectedly, a Mr. Charles Heady got in touch, asking if I might be interested in the wealth of information that, over the years, he had collected regarding Swanbourne, where at Moco Farm he had once been engaged in agriculture. And so began a collaboration which, after several months, culminated in a small book on the village, which pleasingly encapsulated not only the original intention but also, by kind permission of the Honourable John Fremantle, invaluable details from the Fremantle papers. Having kept in touch, one summer’s evening I then met with Mr. Heady in the parish church, and there listened as he and his friend spoke of times gone by, and of the people and the places that once they had known. And as they reminisced my thoughts regressed to that summer’s afternoon of long ago, and as if ordained there seemed to appear a revelation as to why that distant scene had possessed such meaning. For perhaps life is preordained; perhaps amongst those scenes upon which we chance a chosen few are destined for a significance above all others, as if to herald that which will one day come to pass along our earthly way. Lately I returned to Swanbourne church, but not only to photograph the many memorials, and the remnants of the wall paintings, but to also muse upon those scenes to which these sacred confines have borne past witness. To 1643, and the Parliamentarians who, against the onslaught of a Royalist attack, sought refuge in the church, before their forced surrender. And to 1836, when laid out in the church a ‘corpse,’ found hanging from a beam in a cow house, continued to have such a ‘florid appearance,’ with the limbs being neither stiff nor cold, and the body sometimes covered with perspiration, that ‘none of the villagers choose to go alone.’ And then to 1948, and the christening in the church of the first born of the famous film star Deborah Kerr, and her husband, Anthony Bartlett, a famed fighter pilot of World War Two. And of course to that summer’s eve in the company of Mr. Heady. But he has long since passed away, and in the autumn stillness of this country church I mused alone that this, perhaps, is how it shall be when our own journey’s end is reached. When there remain only scenes from the past upon which to dwell, and longings for what might have been. When the future shall be no more, and all that is left is silence, and memories.