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2004-02-27 - 8:13 p.m.

Wonders of the Forest of Arden no 79. Sir John Peeche of Hampton in Arden gave the advowson in Honiley to his son Nicholas in 1318. Approximately 400 years later John Sanders was entertaining Sir Christopher Wren – by then an old man – at Honiley when Wren designed a church on the tablecloth . Sanders – at his own expense - got Francis Smith to build it in 1723. Smith had already designed the almshouses at Temple Balsall about three miles to the north at the other point on the watershed. The Temple is where the Blythe stops its southward drift to circumvent Hampton Hill and treks back towards Coleshill. Between the Temple and Honiley is where they now test the Subaru rally cars.

St John the Baptist Honiley is on the crest overlooking the artificial lake that was created around Kenilworth Castle – which drains eventually into the Avon and then south west through the Vale of Evesham via Stratford. St John aligns east via Kenilworth Castle and Abbey to Stoneleigh church on the banks of the Sowe and then to Bubbenhall church on the upper Avon – which apparently has Green Man on a corbel something I must see. If I said the alignment to the west went through Tanworth church (1330) you’d be right to have your doubts. It may go through Tom Hill which overlooks it from the north

(In the Doomesday book the Hundred containing Coventry is called Stoneleigh – so while even today you can see how important Coventry was in medieval times, earlier Stoneleigh must have had the edge in some way. You can see in the Domesday book how there was nothing of note between the place where St John sits and Hampton Hill on the other side of the Blythe– yet for some reason that’s where the Templars chose their site. I guess they wanted to keep themselves to themselves (as do Subaru).)

There is some evidence that St Johns Honiley was established by Simon de Monfort who is tied up with the Templars (possibly their fall) and owned Kenilworth as well. Near St Johns there is evidence of a holy well and a tradition of penitential bathing – plus a putative site for the practice.

The Wren church is extraordinary – I was celebrating the opening of Mike Kelley’s exhibition in Liverpool by driving over the watershed listening to the final MC5 album when I decided I would look into it, having spotted it earlier in the week. It is set symmetrically between two late 17C houses which was served the manor – to the north and now disappeared.

I can’t think of another English parish church which is on the conventional village church pattern with spire and box pews and yet is so completely full-on baroque. The most baroque endeavours are Hawksmoor’s in London eg St Georges where Ted married Sylvia and Peter Chatterton used to rehearse. Warwick is baoque gothic as are the towers of Westminster Abbey but they embrace baroque grandeur.

This is baroque intimacy – but cold and introverted rather than cloying – cold like El Greco’s spirituality. There is a memorial at the east end – 1920s – with a shield whose motif is an earthen spiral. The place is utterly in the spirit of the late Regan von Schweitzer and the leaflets on the table suggest that they are for events her friends are cracking on with it despite everything. The Coventry and Warwick Spirituality Group invite you to a workshop on Spirituality and the Environment on 7 May at Offa House in Coventry.

Below the church on the banks of Kenilworth’s artificial lake Henry V built Plaisuance – now an earth rectangle that you can sit on in the sun. He made it in 1414 as a private retreat. Henry VIII knocked it down. The path from Kenilworth to the Plaisuance carries on to Honiley.

I drove down the lane to Beausale and turned left and up to the high point where I could see across the Avon valley to the ridge that carries the Fosse Way and beyond that to the Cotswold line and possibly Cropredy where the Fairports have their annual bash. Then down onto Park Vale the old road which went round the artificial Lake turning off to Leek Wooton whose church also overlooks the Avon Valley and the Saxon Mill which they are currently refurbishing – the main crossing of the Avon in Saxon times (I would guess) between the Warwick-Leamington Road near where the River Leam joins and that astonishing place on the way to Hill Wootton which Pevsner says is embellished with beasties.

PW and I were discussing the bard – esp his daughters. I said that he was so much more into the biography but I was getting up to speed on location.There is a quality in this time – in the acceleration of the days into March, the most fatal of months – especially at the end of the days as they strain their length to the next instants.

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