Second Sunday before Advent

Richard Hollingdale
Sunday 16th November, 2014

I was rather saddened last September by the death of Rev Ian Paisley, the northern Irish politician. Like anyone who has followed the politics of these islands over the last 30-40 years, I had been very aware of him since I first became interested in current affairs as a teenager. He was a towering figure, a great bear of a man with a booming voice. I didn’t agree at all with his political views, nor his religious views, but I had to admire someone who stood up so passionately and consistently for the principles he deeply believed in. As a politican he was hardline – no surrender! – and I remember him frequently berating the then Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, always seemingly with a group of press in tow. As a religious leader I remember him protesting vociferously when Pope John Paul II addressed the EU assembly, calling the Pope the Antichrist to his face. As a preacher, which is really why I mention him today, he was a fiery orator, calling up hellfire and brimstone and eternal damnation on all those he thought had departed from God’s path.

Zephaniah strikes me rather as the Ian Paisley of his day. Distress and devastation on the day of the Lord’s wrath. All will be consumed; all will face a terrible end. This sort of rhetoric has always been a part of both the Jewish and Christian traditions, even if we do not hear it much these days. We find hints of it too at the end of the reading from Matthew, where the servant will be thrown into the darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. But is God really like that?

Let’s look a little closer at the parable in our reading from Matthew, which is often quoted to encourage Christians to use their talents in God’s service, because the word ‘talent’ suggests individual skills and abilities to the modern ear. Like the first two servants in the story, our waiting for our master’s return should be purposeful, not idle. But actually the word ‘talent’ is a translation of the Greek word talanton, which referred to a sum of money equivalent to 6000 drachmas – a substantial sum in those days, worth several years’ salary to the servants. Now while I don’t think this parable is an encouragement to us to invest in the Stockmarket, which of course did not exist in the 1st Century, its hearers would have known exactly how to make a profit from such a significant amount. Nevertheless, I don’t think this parable is really about economics. Instead it uses an economic example to illustrate some important truths about the Christian life and the character of God.

Today I want to focus for a few minutes on the third servant in the story. He buries the money in the ground and leaves it there to keep it safe. Why? Because he is scared of his master. He thinks he is harsh and exploits people. We don’t know if his master really is like that, but that is the servant’s perception. He is afraid that if he risks trying to increase the money he may lose it altogether and face terrible consequences when his master returns. So, paralysed by fear, he buries it and leaves it untouched.

Now it may be that the master is exactly as this servant describes; certainly his actions do tend to confirm the servant’s view. Yet might the master be reacting as much to the servant's characterization of him as he is revealing his true character? Is he – albeit unconsciously – playing a role? Maybe so. But whatever the truth here, surely it is the case that what we expect of a given situation or person very much determines the experience we then have.

Isn’t the same true of our expectations of God? I think each of us has fairly clear expectations of God that profoundly shape our experience of God. We all have a picture of God and our experience of God is coloured by that picture. For some, God is loving and kind, like a benevolent grandparent. For others, God is stern and judgmental. For some, God is protective; for others, God is always on the verge of anger. These pictures shape not just how we think about God but how we actually experience so many events in our day-to-day life that we connect to God and to our life of faith. We see what we are looking for.

This certainly happens in everyday life. For example, do we see conflict as something awful and to avoid at all costs? Then it probably will be. Or do we imagine conflict as a chance to grow? If so, then we will probably experience it as just that. Is a crisis a threat or an opportunity? Is a challenge a problem to overcome or a puzzle to be welcomed? So often our experience of life is deeply shaped by our expectations.

And how do we view failure? Are we so scared of failure – in God’s eyes, in others’ eyes, in our own eyes – that we never take risks or try anything new, like the third servant? Yet how can we advance and grow as a person if we never take a risk? Undoubtedly, sometimes we need to be shaken out of our comfort zone – or out of our complacency, as Zephaniah puts it. Perhaps that is the purpose in his fiery language. Surely it is by trying and failing that we learn and grow.

But equally we might ask if we are afraid of success. Do we think that success will change us, but not for the better? Will our friends not like us as much? Will success change our life in ways that we cannot handle, ways that are out of our control? Can we cope with not being in control of the outcome? That can also be a powerful reason for not taking risks.

Today’s gospel should reassure us that God will not be angry with us and judge us harshly if we do spread our wings and have a go. God wants us to take some risks. Like the first two servants, we will be rewarded with success – but not because we deserve it or we have earned it, but because it is a gift from God.

The master puts it like this in the story, in his remarkable – and rather subversive – conclusion. “To all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” It seems cruel and unfair, but the master is very accurately describing the way the world operates. The poor continue to get poorer. The rich continue to prosper, even when they have run companies or countries into the ground and brought them to the edge of ruin. Dare I say ‘bankers’?

But the master’s conclusion also describes the kingdom of God. More is given to those who have. Given. Not earned. The abundance that overflows from God and takes form in the person of Jesus. Such a generous gift, and if we accept it and the good news it represents; if we live well, following the way of Jesus, and if we do so in the here and now, not waiting timidly for the master to return, God will give us even more.

Isn’t that the sort of God we might want to believe in?

And that is the question I would like to leave us with today: what sort of God do we believe in? That’s a crucial question for us to reflect on, and perhaps for us to share and discuss with each other. How similar will our answers be, I wonder?

So as we approach Advent and we prepare once again to welcome Christ, the Son of God, I pray that we may all be able to come a little closer to knowing just which God it is that we are welcoming.

News feed

Parkland
Friday 19th July 2013
Ram Hall
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Blind Hall
Wednesday 10th July 2013

A description in Victoria County History tell us that 'the lower rooms have chamfered ceiling beams. A central chimney-stack has a ten foot fireplace towards the east wing. The fore-court is entered by a gateway having brick posts with moulded and ball heads of red sandstone. A barn, chiefly of red brickwork dated 1735, with the initials E and DP has a few older timbers in the roof and gable-heads.

The name Blind Hall is used in the 1841 Census Return located on Blind Lane an old coaching road and also used to transport stones form Quarry Field behind Blind Hall.

The ownership of Blind Hall can be traced back to the 1600s. The first document dated 20th October 1606, is called a 'Deed for quiet enjoyment' Thomas Bysshop of Berkswell surrendered to Henry Palmer of Solihull, gentleman, for £330 the house and land. The property remained in the possession of the Palmer family until 1782 when it passed to Lord of the Manor, Sir John Eardley Wilmot. In 1832 the Brown family came to the farm as tenants, their descendants staying until after the Second World War.

For further information on Blind Hall please refer to:
Berkswell Miscellany Vol IV Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group 1988. This manuscript is

Berkswell Hall
Thursday 13th June 2013

Berkswell Hall

The Manor of Berkswell dates from the late medieval period. In 1600s Samuel Marrow built a substantial twenty two roomed house of brick, with a five bay entrance. In 1814, a descendent, Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot built the house that we see today which is believed to be the result of major alterations of the earlier house. Sir John became Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania where he died in 1847.

After a brief period as a school for boys, Berkswell Hall was bought in 1861 by Thomas Walker, a local iron master and owner of the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. in Wednesbury. It was Walker who enlarged the estate, formed the lake, built the lodges, coach house and stabling. The elegant Hall had richly papered walls and decorated ceilings, marble mantelpieces in most rooms including the nineteen bedrooms. The gilt, mahogany and stone staircase is what gives the Hall its Grade II* listing today.

Joshua Hirst Wheatley was the next owner in 1888. The Reading Room in the village, opened by his wife Edith, was built at his expense as were repairs to the Church Bells. Upon Joshua’s death his son Charles Wheatley and his wife Christobel moved into Berkswell Hall in 1925. Upon Charles’ death in 1943, Christobel continued the management of the Estate, taking a great interest in village affairs and hosting the annual Church Fete at Berkswell Hall until ill health forced her to sell in 1984, when the Hall was converted into luxury apartments.

The Well House
Wednesday 12th June 2013

The Well House

The Well House originally formed part of ‘The Glebe Lands’ (ie an area of land within an ecclesiastical parish used to support a parish priest). It is thought that a building has been on the site of the present building since the Church was built in Norman times.

According to Hearth Tax returns the Rectory, with seven taxable hearths, was one of the four largest houses in the village between 1662 and 1673. The building consisted of eight bays of building and an additional three bays called the backhouse, with mention in 1701 of ‘a little lower piece adjoining to the end of the house which is against the church door’.

From 1659 until his death in 1710 Manuel Lugg served as Rector at Berkswell. His inventory at this time informs us that the house was seven bed roomed with a Men’s Chamber for the servants.

The Glebe Terriers show that this Rectory was rebuilt between 1711 and 1722 but it is not clear whether this building was rebuilt by incorporating the earlier building or by building from scratch on the same site.

The 1722 Terrier describes ‘seven bayes of new building and (again) a piece of building adjoining the end against the Church door’ The later represented a large bay of new building called the brewhouse. The new building was in red brick with stone quoins forming a decorative contrast with the adjoining walls and moulded window surrounds. There were two wings with a recessed centre. The wings had curvilinear gables reflecting an increasing Dutch influence at that time. Internally there was now an impressive staircase with turned spiral balusters and a moulded handrail.

In 1865 the property was occupied by the then incumbent, Dr Henry Watson who had been assistant mathematics master at Harrow School. Dr Watson was a learned mathematician who continued to teach students, many Cambridge undergraduates. To accommodate these students a large Victorian building was erected at the rear of the house.

Maud, the youngest child of Reverend Watson became distinguished by being the first Ladies Lawn Tennis Champion in July 1884. She won the title at the age of nineteen defeating her sister Lilian in three sets. She retained the Wimbledon title the following year. Maud died in June 1946 at the age of eighty one and is buried with her sister in the churchyard at Berkswell. In 1994 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of her achievement, Berkswell Tennis Club staged a Victorian tennis afternoon held in the grounds of the Well House.

During the Great War of 1914-1918, the building was established and maintained as a hospital for British sick and wounded. Maud Watson MBE was the organiser and Matron in Charge.

Following the sale of the property by the Church Commissioners in 1955 the Victorian extension was demolished and a number of alterations were made to the original William and Mary building both outside and inside.

The property has always had a link with the Well in Berkswell as a stream from the Well runs through part of the garden and hence through land of Berkswell Hall. A survey map of Berkswell Glebe dated 1782 shows five fish ponds fed, presumably, by the stream.

Part of the Well House garden and orchard fronting Lavender Hall Lane was sold separately to form the sites of three houses. Later the coach house was also sold and converted to a private house.

For further information on the Well House please refer to: Rebuilding the Rectory by Jack Tucker, Berkswell Miscellany Vol III Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group 1987,copies in then Warwick Record Office and the l Archives of the Berkswell Museum

Berkswell Church of England Primary School
Wednesday 12th June 2013

The school moved to its present site in the heart of the village in 1839. The building consisted of two classrooms, at one end a room for the ‘big children’ and at the other a room for the ‘mixed infants’. In the centre was the Headteacher’s house presided over by the Headteacher’s wife known as ‘Ratty Mary’. Much later this central part was made into a classroom but retained its open fire until major alteration work in 1960. The other source of heat were three enclosed iron tortoise stoves using coke with the clinkers having to be removed at least once every hour to maintain the heat output. Wet clothes were draped over the stoves iron rails to dry. The classrooms were painted green and faded yellow. Each day a bucket with a tin mug tied to the handle was filled from the only water supply, the Well across the road. Attendances at some points in the year were very low as the children had to assist their families with the harvest, or acting as bird scares for local farmers after the land had been seeded.

During World War II the school was used as a refuge by people fleeing the bombing in Coventry. The skylight glass was broken and replaced with a panel from a bombed out pub in Coventry, the etched glass bearing the world ‘Bar Parlour’.

From mid 1950s renovations and extensions provide the school with the high standards it has today.

For furtber information on Berkswell School please refer to:
Berkwell Society Local History Group Publications 2 (2002) and 4 (2006).

The Bear Inn
Monday 6th August 2012

The Bear Inn - History

The Bear Inn

The building is a Grade II listed building dating back to the sixteenth century. While we do not know when the Bear first became an Inn, the sign is the Bear and Ragged Staff, which is the crest of the Earls of Warwick. From 1277 to 1557 the Earls of Warwick held the Manor of Berkswell.

The Quarter Sessions of 1641 report that John Allen was granted a licence to run a victualling house in Berkswell. It is not certain of the location of such a building but it does show there has been an Inn in Berkswell for centuries.

Many soldiers were quartered in Berkswell during the Civil War and while renovation work was being carried out in the 1980s, a helmet and boot, belonging to the Cromwellian era, were found embedded in one of the interior walls of what is now the Bear Inn.

The Bear Inn has been renovated many times over the years but it still retains a wealth of timber beams including one reputed to be thirteenth century brought from an old manor at Cheylesmore.

By 1841 the fifty year old innkeeper, Henry Britain, described as victualler, maltster and farmer of fifty acres, together with is hs wife Mary rented the Bear, its garden and buildings from the Lord of the Manor, Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot. On Henry’s death in 1867, William Gregg, a licensed victualler from Birmingham took over the management of the Inn. A guide book produced in 1874 states that ‘The Bear and Ragged Staff Commercial Inn is a large house, well fitted up with every convenience. It is much resorted to by pleasure parties from Birmingham and Coventry’ (1).

The popularity of the Bear increased further over the years, a ledger dated 1895/6 records a variety of services offered: a band of five played there and their meals cost 10 shillings; Dr. Watson was charged 8 shillings for a carriage to Meriden Hall from Berkswell Rectory (the Well House); 1 shilling was charged for the stabling of a pony overnight; a bottle of whiskey was 3 shillings and 6 pence while their best sherry was 6 shillings a bottle; Mr Edam paid 1 pound 17 shillings and 6 pence for a journey of forty two miles in a dog cart and 11 shillings for two rooms with breakfasts, sandwiches and brandy.

What is now the car park was, in 1800s, the venue for the entertainment accompanying the October Stattis Fair when local Friendly Societies carried their banners and games and competitions were held plus a pig roasting and a procession to the Church led by a band. Farm servants would come from a very wide area to this Fair to be hired by local farmers. The Fair continued until the beginning of the First World War in 1914. Although the Annual Flower/Horticultural Show held by the Sick and Dividend Club was held in the field.

During the Second World War the bar of the Bear was a popular venue for people wishing to escape the Coventry blitz. They were allowed to sleep over and the floor of the bar was always crowded with bodies.

Over the years many clubs and societies have met at the Bear such as the Friendly Sick Society, the Coventry Churchwarden Pipe Club and the Society for the Prosecution of Felons. Berkswell Society still meet there today together with local functions being held reflecting the importance of the Bear to parish life.

For further in depth detail about the Bear Inn please refer to:

(1) Berkswell Miscellany Vol II, Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group published by Heart of England School Community Services 1986; copies in Warwick Record Office and the archives of the Berkswell Museum..

The Well
Monday 6th August 2012

History
The name "Berkswell" has long been attributed to the presence of the well - "In Domesday book it is written Berchewelle, having first had that denomination (as I guess) from the large Spring which boileth up on the South side of the Churchyard" wrote the Warwickshire historian Sir William Dugdale in the mid 18th century.

In the crypt of Berkswell's church are a round sandstone base and a stone carved foot which were found in 1967 between the walls of the Norman crypt and the foundations of the earlier Saxon church. It is thought that they were likely to have been parts of a pagan shrine originally situated by the well. Augustine instructed the early missionaries to use established places of worship when they set up Christian churches so it is possible that the situation of the current church owes its position to the well.

The English place names society suggested that the name Berkswell means Well or Spring of Bercul, a personal name that is found in Mercia ( wherein "Berkswell" lay) in the eighth century.
Christianity had been brought to this area by travelling monks from Lichfield. A local leader,Bercul, is said to have been baptised in the well.

The well was the source of water for many villagers, including the school, right up until the mid twentieth century. In the nineteenth century a pipe was laid from the Well to Berkswell Hall where a hydraulic water ram lifted it for use in the Hall up until the eve of the second world war. The well was refurbished in to its present form in 1851.

Berkswell Museum
Thursday 2nd August 2012

The Cottage
The building was originally two cottages and typical of the half-timber framed cottages found in this county, as distinct from the more patterned type found in other counties such as Cheshire and Suffolk.
The construction consists of horizontal and vertical framing similar to those built in the later 17th century in Warwickshire. Around 1790, local hand-made 4½ inch bricks were used to replace the original wattle and daub infill between the framing. The timbers were seasoned in-situ, hence the twisted shapes and sloping floors.
In the early 1900’s the roof, then made of straw thatch, was replaced with machine-made tiles on new rafters, placed alongside earlier rafters, which can still be seen at the eaves, painted white.
The ground floor would originally have been beaten earth covered with wattles. This was replaced with quarry tiles in the early 18th century. The dormer windows were a 20th century addition.
One upper room, which now houses the farming exhibits, has a very old elm boarded floor, although the floor of the other room is modern.
The fire-grate in the kitchen dates probably from between 1790 and 1820.
Latterly the cottage was used as the home of the District Nurse and Midwife.
Gertrude Dewson, the first District Nurse to be appointed, came to the left-hand cottage at the age of 16 in 1915. Later she became Mrs Sandey, wife of the under-chauffeur at Berkswell Hall, and, the right-hand cottage being empty, the two cottages were converted to one for their occupation. A later District Nurse insisted on water being laid on and a bathroom being constructed. Prior to this, water had to be fetched from the well.

The Collection
The original collection, made by Kenneth Hope, has been considerably extended and consists of memorabilia, farm implements, tools and household items, etc together with Church and Parish documents. It also has areas devoted to various famous inhabitants: the first Wimbledon Ladies tennis champion, Maud Watson; R.E.S. Wyatt a former England cricket captain; Jeremy Brett the actor better known as Sherlock Holmes; and Colonel Huggins a former commander of a Royal Artillery Territorial Regiment.
In front of the museum is the canon which was brought back to Berkswell by Captain A E Wilmot of the Royal Navy; it arrived 3 years after it was captured from the Russians in Kertch in 1855. It was fired with great ceremony in 1856. When it was fired a second time at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the blast broke windows all over the village so it is not proposed to fire it for Queen Eliaabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

For information on the museum phone 01676 522 077. Details on the archive centre are on the Berkswell and District history group website: www.berkswell-history.org

Windmill
Wednesday 1st August 2012

Berkswell Windmill is a four sails tower mill constructed in 1826 on the site of a former post mill, near the village of Balsall Common, in the parish of Berkswell. The windmill is built in brick with a wooden boat shaped cap, and is turned into the wind by an endless chain winding mechanism.
The windmill is a Grade II star Listed Building and a Scheduled Monument. It is in private ownership and sits in the owner's garden. Visitors may view it from the roadside and are asked to be respectful of the fact that a family lives there.

History
Historically it was used to grind flour and animal feeds, and in 1927 the milling wheels were adapted to run off a diesel engine, not reliant upon the variable nature of the wind.

It is thought to be the most complete and original mill in the UK, having all of its original machinery. The mill was finally closed in 1948, after the last miller John Hammond died. Previously he and his wife Gertrude kept pigs which they fed on waste from the mill, as well as chickens and cows to make butter which they sold in Coventry. They are both buried in Berkswell Churchyard.

The Millwright Derek Ogden and specialist engineer and windmill expert John Boucher, restored the Mill for its then owner between 1973 and 1975. It was mostly complete, with sails and all internal machinery and tools, for making flour and animal feed. However, after the death of the owner, the windmill again fell into some disrepair until purchased by the current owner in 2004.

The windmill today

It is currently undergoing further extensive restoration work, in part with generous funding from English Heritage and with help from John Boucher who the owner is thrilled to have back after all these years! The refurbishment work includes some internal work such as replacement of rotten timber, removing the windmill's Cap (whole roof section to be completely refurbishment), a new curb (so the cap can rotate again), some replacement bricks and complete re-pointing of the brick tower, and finally rebuilding the perimeter wall and new sails again. This is expected to allow the windmill to operate on wind power again, albeit infrequently, on demonstration days. It is hoped to re-open the Mill to visitors in 2013 on the first Saturday of every month. Guided tours will also be offered for parties such as schools, and cream teas will be available, when re-opened in 2013.

"The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill"

Volunteers, current age range 12 – 86, and including a “Young Millers Group”, regularly help out with the refurbishment work demonstration days, and a charity has been registered with the Charity Commission that is known as "The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill".

There is a constant need for volunteer tour guides and help with general maintenance and the refreshments. Full training is given and The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill always have an enjoyable time.

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