Bench 8: St Collen’s churchyard

A new bench. Brand spanking new. Box-fresh. Is that word usually hyphenated? I’ve got a tendency to be liberal with my use of hyphens. I blame the giddiness brought about by an all-too-rare (there I go again) spotting of un bench nouveau, as our Gallic chums almost certainly don’t say.

Bench 8. Location:

We’re in the churchyard. St Collen’s is Llangollen’s principal – parish, I daresay – church. From what I can tell, it’s at the High Church end of the Church in Wales’s ministry. There’s another – St John’s, on Abbey Road – but a wander down there is for another time. What I mean when I say High Church (and this is both subjective and half-remembered from a youth part-spent in church choirs) is that we’re getting toward the Roman Catholic end of things. Smells and bells. Fancy.

St Collen’s is in the middle of town. The church’s land is a stone and grass island between the A5 and the river, backing onto the creamy hulk of The Hand Hotel. For a lot of folk it’s a handy cut-through. That’s how I’ve got here today. I’m on my way to the Co-op, and the quickest way from my place to the supermarket is to nip through The Hand’s car park, across the churchyard, and out the other side, coming out on to the main road opposite Kelly’s Chippy.

Approaching from The Hand

And there she is. Bench 8. Are benches gendered, and if so, are they female, like ships seem to be? Sure. Why not? Bench 8 in all its glory. The first – if I remember right – bench of postmodern construction that I’ve come across in town. No wood and cast iron here, buddy. No stainless steel and Hammerite. Some kind of plastic; a polycarbonate, I’d wager. Doesn’t need repainting, and won’t rust. Might not biodegrade either, come to think of it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A sturdy construction, and built to last, to the extent of being anchored at opposite corners as a protection against those who might add to their garden ornamentation through Commandment-troubling means. Let’s hope the bench stands by the church for the foreseeable.

A bench in a churchyard isn’t the most outrageous of installations, you might think. These are places of contemplation and of remembrance, as well as of hanging about waiting for the wedding photographer to get his precious lights just right. Of sly fags while the departed is being decanted from their hearse. Plus, they tend to be quiet spots for lunch, for having a bit of a ponder, for necking your cider (is that even a teenagerly thing any more, or has it gone the way of white dog poo and Spangles?) or simply for contemplating mortality.

However, this is the sole example of public seating to be had here. There’s a few low walls for pile-troubling perching, but this addition makes the place that little bit more welcoming. A bench is an invitation both to come and to stay, after all, and I daresay that in these days of aging congregations and dwindling church attendance levels, then a little bit of welcome is to be appreciated.

From the bench

I’m not a churchy fella, but St Collen’s seems to do its bit in outreach and community support terms, so that’s all good. Plus the newish vicar has a yen for music hall; his Twitter header at the time of writing has a pic of him with Ken Dodd, and you can’t say fairer than that. Mebbe he’s been instrumental in having this bench installed. Not Doddy. Dodd’s dead, baby, Dodd’s dead.

It’s entirely possible that the bench is a replacement for some long-gone predecessor. Whatever the reason for the bench’s genesis, though, I’m glad that it’s here.

It’s a lovely green spot. Folk get the cemetery treatment these days and appear to have done for some time, so the headstones hereabouts date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Tablets with brief family histories; children taken before their time, occupations and marital statuses recorded as being as important as the dates of death and of birth. Time and subsidence have made their effects felt. Headstones stand awkwardly, have been part-swallowed by the ground, have toppled. Tombs have slumped, their sides opened as though kicked out by the recalcitrant dead.

One memorial, though, is the undoubted star of the show. Llangollen’s most famous former residents, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the somewhat euphemistically-named Ladies of Llangollen, rest nearby. Their monument, an impressive structure with railings and a sense of being well-cared for, is just over there. A clear view from where I’m sitting. Pleasingly, the three faces of the memorial detail not only the Misses Butler and Ponsonby, but also commemorate the life of Mary Carryl, a lifelong companion and maidservant to the Ladies. We’ll get in time to Plas Newydd, where the three lived, and doubtless there’ll be an opportunity to chat about them some more then.

Time to shift. The Co-op waits for no man. Autumn is in full effect. There’s a bit of a chill, and a coffee from the Costa machine will be a welcome supplement for the walk back.

There’s more of this kind of thing here in book form.

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