A hundred children from two local schools have looked Iffley’s famous beakheads in the eye. Clad in hi-viz vests and bright blue hard hats, they climbed up on the scaffolding and discussed the weathered Norman stonework with Gavin, stonecarver with Sally Strachey Conservation Ltd.
Before their climb Sally and her team explained the properties of stone and lime. The children were bursting with questions. Afterwards a 10-year-old from St Mary & St John Primary School told me what he had learned. ‘Lime is dangerous. When someone dies of a very infectious disease they used to be buried in lime so that nothing is left.’
They were scared as they waited, three at a time, to climb the scaffolding.
and held tight coming down again.
Afterwards they made their own beakheads in clay with the help of artists Jo Acty and Sally Levell.
The carvings on the church are 850 years old. It is no wonder they need looking after from time to time. Even older is the ancient yew tree in the churchyard, probably the oldest tree in Oxfordshire and almost twice as old as the church. The children discovered its distinctive smell, its peeling pinkish bark and some of the creatures who live in and under the tree. They were awed by its huge trunk, its spiky twigs and its bushy fronds of needles as well as its seriously poisonous properties. ‘I’m scared!’ confided a 6-year-old grinning.
The younger children who visited from Rose Hill Primary School were lucky with the weather. Watching them play on the Glebe Field was a vivid reminder of the Iffley of the past, full of children.
The last word, as always, was from the church itself. ‘I was stunned by the church!’ the teachers said, after soaking up its peace and beauty while listening to the ethereal sound of handbells ringing.
These children were gloriously terrified, excited and receptive. The conservation team and the Living Stones volunteers were thrilled with the two school visits. They felt the children had really engaged with the building, its history and its environment. ‘Super children and all so interested,’ they said. ‘They loved it all, bells, the tree, carvings, putty, defying heights, artwork, the lot.’ ‘Climbing up on the scaffolding to see the beastly beaks with the children was fabulous.’ Liz Burton, headteacher of St Mary & St John, said, ‘The children got so much out of the day! We definitely want to do some more work in Iffley next year.’
The vicar felt, ‘It seemed to me that it was all that we had hoped for from Living Stones and more!