vestryview

A view backstage at Beverley Minster

We have a niche that wants filling

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford contemplates a commemoration
I should like to issue a statement on be’alf of aaaall members of Church of England Guild of Vergers (sic), Beverley Minster branch:
“After a long process of due consultation and consideration the executive committee ‘as unanimously voted in favour of the following proposal. ‘We note the forthcoming 60th anniversary of t’election of our glorious leader Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith; records its gratification with ‘er dignificated conduct over the said six decades, and proposes that the relevant h’anniversary should be marked by a suitable permanent commemorative object – viz. one life-like statue, to be produced by comrades from the allied Guild of Masons – which is to be mounted permanently in a suitably prominent location around the exterior of the People’s Palace of Beverley Minster Parish Church. We call on all right-minded citizens (male and female) to support this campaign as a constant reminder of t’struggle for equal rights and suchforth.’
Motion proposed by Comrade John Dell: seconded by Comrade Neil Pickford.
Sorry, had a bit of a 1970s flashback there, probably prompted by recollections of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Ah, those were the days: industrial disputes, trade union officials stalking the land, dominating the ‘Today’ programme with their garbled syntax; British Leyland headquarters (probably) regularly updating a noticeboard saying :’X minutes since last strike’; British music still largely ruling the civilised world (excluding France) and I, a muscular Adonis who only weighed nine stone four.
As a bumptious 21 year old in that year I religiously bought three copies of the Sex Pistols’ notorious ‘God Save the Queen’ in an attempt to make it Number One on the 25th anniversary and therefore shake the very foundations of ‘The Bourgoisie’(who, or whatever that was). What a prat.
How things have changed in the intervening third of a century. Several weeks ago the largest British-owned car manufacturer didn’t… (actually, what is the biggest British-owned car manufacturer now? I’ve lost touch); there wasn’t a single British act in our own pop charts, let alone overseas (ah, the shame – damn you Simon Cowell). Oh, and I’m six (and a bit) stone heavier – and not a prat.
So when John suggested it would be a good idea to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee next year with a statue I listened with interest – not least because the last time a monarch celebrated 60 years on the throne we took it as a good excuse to transform Beverley Minster.
The Reverend Nolloth, our vicar from 1880 to 1921 was a wealthy man who married an even wealthier woman. They had no children and so adopted the Minster as their surrogate offspring, lavishing their fortunes to beautify the building in whatever way they felt best – and we see the glorious results to this day.
In the years leading up to Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the Nolloths helped fund a major statue-carving exercise that filled vacant niches around the West Door (both inside and outside) and on both our west towers. An incredible enterprise, a total of 190 external figures and 24 internal ones were carved, initially by full-time Minster mason Robert Smith with the project finally completed by Percy Baker in 1905.
Pride of place was reserved for the contemporary figure of the Queen, which was mounted in place on the north tower, looking straight up Highgate (incidentally, the statue immediately above her is of Henry Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland – one of only three surviving mediaeval external statues. The others are of St John of Beverley and King Athelstan, and are found high up on each side of the east window. They can be seen by craning your neck while driving from Flemingate – which is not recommended, incidentally. But I digress).
Now then, if you look up at the north walls from Highgate you will see there are still a few empty niches and, surely, it would make a lot of sense both historically and as a simple mark of respect, to use one of these to host a 3D image of Her Majesty, the leader of the Church of England.
After all, she’s already been to the Minster twice (in 1997 and again in 2002, to mark her golden jubilee) while Vikky herself never once visited, despite our patriotic endeavour.
I have no idea how much such a commission would cost these days although I’m sure, if money was tight, we could ask China to knock out several thousand of them cheaply which we could sell on, and so subsidise our efforts. But if we are going to do anything about it then it’s probably the right moment to start something rolling.
Is there anyone out there who will volunteer to set up a fund-raising campaign? I’d do it myself but I’ve got to shift a whole heap of chairs over the next few weeks and I doubt I’ll have the time. But I’ll happily chip in a fiver (equivalent to one hours pay, after tax) as a goodwill gesture. I could probably raise the money by selling my surplus copies of ‘God Save the Queen’ to some museum dedicated to The Decade That Style Forgot.
I’d quite like to forget a lot of it myself – eurggh, how embarrassing.

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