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Archbishop Justus, Ltd


Hallo again to all.

Dust. Not what one normally associates with Eastertide. But dust, rather than flowers, came more to mind when we read in this week's News Centre of a seventeenth-century manuscript 'which lay forgotten for years in a town hall vault', the apparent work of a proto-feminist.

St Peter's Church, Stanley, West Yorkshire, 1912
St Stephen's Church, Stanley, West Yorkshire,
rebuilt in 1912 after a devastating fire

And as we added to our New This Week section the web site for St Peter's Church in Stanley, West Yorkshire, we noted the sad news that the church building is now closed and services held in the infant school nearby. Looking at archival black-and-white photos of the church's past, we were saddened by its dubious future.

Photographs from 1911 in Stanley. A manuscript from the seventeenth century. Two examples of materials that are our means back into the past and ways we can understand our present. If we don't do our utmost to preserve our own parish records and histories, our stories—often dull, sometimes sad, occasionally glorious, but withal human—may not reach the future.

In general, parish archives are better looked after in the UK than other parts of the Anglican Communion, since many of those records come under the custody of civil bodies and are microfilmed and stored in government-funded optimal conditions. But every parish with one keen person can do something. (What about scanning photographs? Digitising is another form of preservation.)

Preserving parish materials, at one extreme, may simply mean not throwing away a document that, a hundred years hence, could shed light on a parish. At the other extreme are climate-controlled rooms, hydrometers, acid-free boxes and the like. Alas, few parishes have the staff or the budgets to house and maintain records in such ideal conditions. But every church can do something to ensure that its papers and photographs aren't stowed away in a damp cellar or filed near a furnace. The Auburn (New York) Daily, April 1906As tiresome as looking after files and papers and records can be—and as many cubic feet as they can require—they are the stuff of magic.

Indeed 'Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away', but we know the names of some of those sons and daughters because of documents purposefully preserved—or fortuitously surviving. We'd not be able to bring you a story from a parish in an upstate New York town had not a number of materials survived (and a talented rector-historian not agreed to write a new parish history). It's a saga of power, politics, class warfare, love, jealousy, guns—and a woman in black. A small chapter in a parish almost 200 years old, it foreshadows something of the social upheavals that colour its later twentieth-century history. If Puccini's Tosca was once criticised as a 'shabby little shocker', the story of the life and death of the Reverend Leonard Christler doubtless falls into that category. But like that still-fascinating opera, it's a compelling story.

See you next Sunday. (In the meantime, if you've a few spare hours, do have a look in your church's cellar...)

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 21 April 2002