About a week ago I heard that the Rectory which had been our family home from 1994 until 2002 had been demolished. Ever since I have been trying to work out where my feelings are on the ‘cry-cheer’ spectrum. When we moved out the plan was that the house should be demolished. But just because something is planned doesn’t mean it won’t be felt in unexpected ways when it happens.
We knew things weren’t going to be easy when we turned up with the removal company to move in. The builders were still at work in the kitchen (too many clergy readers will recognise that one) and the windows were still boarded up. The instruction had been given that it wouldn’t be safe to remove the massive sheets of chipboard until the house was inhabited. Having already made all the decorating decisions in the more or less dark, this wasn’t too much of a surprise.
The theory, I suppose, was that having vicar and spouse plus two children, 6 and 8, in residence was meant to put the fear of God into the local vandals and villains. The fact that the burglar alarm was yet to be installed and that the telephone had been disconnected (mobiles were rare and prohibitively expensive in those days) was neither here nor there. The Cherrys are in residence – think twice about messing around here, matey!
Not long after we moved in there was a tremendous kerfuffle in the garden in the early hours. I looked out and there were torches so I opened the window. ‘It’s the police, vicar. We are after someone. Don’t you worry about it’. Okay then. Back to bed and a peaceful sleep. Another day a big chase ended outside the back door at tea time and a young man was bundled off by burley police officers.
Part of the sadness of the story of All Saints Rectory, Loughborough, was that it was all planned as a good idea. The ancient Rectory had been inhabited until 1958 and the new one built under the guidance of the go-ahead incumbent in the early 60s, Canon Jones, who also introduced a nave altar in the church, moved the choir stalls and organ to the west end, and was a pioneer in developing ‘stewardship’. What the good Canon could never have envisaged was that a grand 1960s house with enormous plate glass windows and no fewer than three areas of flat roof would become, in just a few decades, not a contemporary statement of parsonical dignity but a palace of vulnerability. Things had changed, and what was intended as privacy became isolation. Just close enough to the town centre to be the place where stolen goods were dumped, but too far away to have enough people around to make a friendly atmosphere.
So – things happened. We got used to the nighttime noises, and learnt how to deal with callers at the door in ways that balanced the need to be charitable with the need to survive as a family. The first caller arrived as soon as the removal van appeared. But the callers were easier to deal with than the people who rather randomly found themselves in our large garden. It did look like a public park but our kids thought it was a safe place. It wasn’t. Thankfully nothing tragic happened, but it might have done – very early on. The kids were spinning round their new home on bicycles when beer bottles were hurled against the wall of the house from the churchyard.
The garden was huge. The council had been cutting the grass but that stopped when we moved in and I bought a lawn mower called a ‘commando’. It seemed appropriate. Then we got a powerful strimmer and I used to march out valiantly to do some ‘robo-gardening’ every now and then. One Saturday morning I was up early to try to bring some order to the horticultural chaos. I nearly leapt out of my skin when a figure sprang from the long grass where he had been sleeping. ‘Bloody hell, vicar’ he shouted as he marched indignantly down the drive.
Looking back on it now we can smile. The day the police holed up in our utility room for hours on end waiting to catch someone red-handed as they picked up stolen goods; the Saturday we invited people for coffee but could hardly speak to them as there was a queue of callers at the door wanting us to provide what was then called care in the community; the increasing efforts the diocese went to to make it safe – more fences, gates, security lights, a video camera so you could see who was at the front door.
The best fun was had when we gave away half the land to be a Wildlife Garden for the local community. Loads of people got involved. One day I got to drive a dumper to move gravel from the churchyard to the make the paths. And when people could be persuaded to come round (and no one liked to come to our house after dark) it was great. Photos of the all age football games on the lawn bring back cherished memories, as do those of lunches with parishioners sitting around folding tables in the entrance hall. And there is no doubt that the children who grew up there learnt much about both hospitality and the human condition.
And, while we were on edge for far too much of the time, the really horrible incident never actually happened; though there were enough near misses to force the issue.
‘What will happen when we leave? Can you imagine another incumbent living here?’ These were the questions I began putting to Churchwardens and Archdeacon. And in the end a house was bought – just outside the parish – and we moved into it. We felt the difference immediately. It seemed that we had become normal. Everyone rejoiced.
Now, a decade later, and after a public petition signed by a thousand people for whom it had become ‘a melting pot of crime’ and, ‘a haven for drug users and drinkers’, it has been demolished. A major fire a few years ago had made a serious mess of it, and like any garden neglected for decade it became a mountainous mass of brambles. The beech hedge which lined the long curvaceous driveway, and that we used to spend hours trimming, become a small urban woodland.
When recently in the neighbourhood I scrambled through the carefully cut hole in the security fencing to have a look around. I am sure it was misguided, but heck, this used to be my garden! But I only took a few paces through the undergrowth before I turned back. There was no mistaking what was fuelling the voluble activity of the small group of young men there, and it wasn’t just the cans. Less than 50 yards away a wedding party was coming out of the church, as oblivious of life in the Rectory as any such group ever has been.
So now its demolished. In time the area will be redeveloped. This is the up and down, down and up, of life. We are all part of it, part of the ebb and flow of order and chaos. Sometimes chaos comes close, too close, but blessed are those who can look back and remember the good times.
I am still not sure where I am on the ‘cry-cheer’ spectrum, but I can say rest in peace, All Saints Rectory.