Beakheads alive and dead: Rose Hill children explore Iffley

When the first little boy whirled round the corner and first saw the west front of Iffley Church, he gasped, ‘What the hell?’ Now he and eleven other 7- and 8-year olds have modeled and painted beakheads of their own, and we can suddenly visualise those rows of ferocious pointed beaks glowing in reds and greens and ochres.

This Living Stones project is being run jointly with Rose Hill Primary School and the Rose Hill Junior Youth Club and funded through the Big Lottery. It is for small groups of children whose education is being enriched by a series of trips to the bigger world beyond school and home. Twelve children visit Iffley on four occasions each term. They walk down to the church with their youth club leader, Abi, and explore our church and its surroundings through every one of their senses, and through activities that open their eyes, ears and tongues to the history, beauty and heritage we all share with them. 

With the help of experienced Living Stones volunteers the children explore the church, the churchyard and the village. On their first trip they collect orienteering flags and start to feel confident here. Each child takes a photo of something that they find specially appealing. The Church Hall is their classroom: it was Iffley’s Parochial School from 1838 until Rose Hill Primary School was built after WW2.

During one memorable session they ‘adopted a beakhead’. They stood at the west front of the church and chose one of the sculptures to specially remember. ‘Look at its eyes, its ears, its furrowed forehead, its long beak. Has it got spots? Has it got wrinkles? What is its name?’ The children shut their eyes and tried to visualize ‘their’ beakhead, opened their eyes again to check, and proceeded to model beakheads out of clay, inventing stories for us adults to scribe about Daniel the Superhero, Mr Spotty, The Fantastic Birdor whatever they had named their character.

After painting their models, they grappled with the concepts: plant, animal, living, not living. They spotted all kinds of living things in the churchyard – worms, dandelion clocks, holly berries, a red kite – and found the gravestone to the sailor who ended his years as Iffley’s lock keeper. They walked down to the lock and got very wet, but only when it rained! And we fed the living creatures (ducks, geese, seagulls) with duck food given us by today’s lock keeper. 

One little girl said, ‘Are we going inside the church again? I love it.’  This week as you have noticed, we did not go inside the church. We will next time. Handbells and Norman Biscuits are on the agenda!