Southwark day out 2008
On Saturday 1st March, St. David’s’ Day, we boarded the train for London Bridge to join the East Wickham Singers and some other members of the Jubilate Choir to sing Evensong at Southwark Cathedral.
I have lived in London all my life but I have never before been to Southwark Cathedral, although I have been past it many times on the train.
My first impression was how much smaller the building looked than Norwich Cathedral, which we had visited the previous Saturday. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful building of pale coloured stone and stained glass windows.
The grounds of the Cathedral were mostly paved and strewn with tables and chairs where people sat eating lunch, and talking in the surprisingly mild spring sunshine.
I could see the back of a colourful looking market against the railings around the grounds and many little shops selling burgers and sandwiches. There was a smell of very greasy frying fish and chips in the air as we walked through the grounds. The whole atmosphere was of a noisy, busy city street. As we entered the building the first thing that I noticed was the silence, even though there were still a lot of people wandering about inside. The distant sound of the Westminster chimes and the grating of trains rolling in and out of London Bridge Station interrupted the silence occasionally. A very earnest young man showed us to the choir room where the practice had already started, I left Peter and Jessie and headed back to the Cathedral to join the other tourists and have a look around. There were no guided tours here, but you could buy an audio tour or a guidebook if you wished.
There had apparently been a church on this site since Norman times but Southwark Cathedral only came into existence in 1905 when the diocese of Southwark was created. I started to wander along the North Aisle towards the tomb of John Gower, an early English Poet; on the way, I passed a large colourful poster telling me that the diocese of Southwark is twinned with Matabeleland in Zimbabwe and asking people to pray for the people of Zimbabwe. I have no objection to this but wondered what Matabeleland and Southwark have in common to have become twinned. I walked on along the aisle past the stone benches that are attached to the wall, there was an old chap sitting on one of them dozing, he had a Zimmer frame and several large plastic bags, an all too familiar sight in London. He stayed there all the afternoon, through evensong and was still there when we finally left the Cathedral in the evening to make our way home. Perhaps we can pray for him too. I walked on around the North Transept, past The Harvard Chapel, and through the Retrochoir and then back through the South Transept and along the South Aisle. There were many beautiful stained glass windows, and many memorials to people who had once lived in the parishes of the original churches. The south aisle boasts of a large Monument and window dedicated to William Shakespeare and a tablet to Sam Wanamaker who was a prime mover in the building of the new Globe Theatre. Finally I walked across the Nave to look at the Bosses from the 15th Century, the Nave has been re-built four times, the last time was in the 1890’s. The Nave also houses a memorial to those whose lives were lost in the Marchioness disaster in 1989; difficult to believe it was that long ago.
I left the old Cathedral building and walked over to the shop, which is housed in the new building built as part of the millennium project. To get there you have to walk across a paved pathway, each pavement is inscribed with the name of one of the churches in the Dioceses of Southwark, I joined many people who were looking for the paving slab that belonged to their own church. I found the Church of the Cross, Thamesmead and St. Mary’s Welling and Ascension, Plumstead but St. Michaels was nowhere to be seen… until I came to the alcove that leads to the toilets and there we were! Not perhaps the most auspicious place but like St. Michael‘s itself fulfilling a useful purpose! I looked at the archaeological pit at one end of this colonnade; it shows building work through much of London’s history from the surface of a Roman Road, to the medieval priory that had once stood on the site. This was exposed when the site was cleared to build the millennium buildings that are now adjacent to the site.
After a brief visit to the Cathedral shop and some time leafing through some of the books on sale there I returned to the Cathedral and sat and listened to the choir practicing the music for Evensong. While sitting there, I noticed the wonderful chandelier that hung over the Altar. At the very top there was a crown in gold and red, I wondered if it was meant to represent the sovereign’s crown. Below this there was some very fine ironwork with curling fronds of gold lacquered leaves and flowers and in turn below this a Bishops Mitre again in red and gold below this hung the chandelier itself.
The afternoon passed very quickly, and I much enjoyed listening to the choir and watching the tourists come and go. As Evensong approached, I noticed several familiar faces from Abbey Wood along with some mums and dads from the Jubilate Choir appearing in the pews. It was a lovely service where the choir were responsible for all the singing and most of the responses, the congregation joining in the single hymn at the end of the service ‘Guide me O thou Great Jehovah’.
At the end of the service everyone gathered in the Nave and Choir Room to go about their plans for the evening. I returned home with my children, they had worked hard and were tired, but they had had a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon. Jubilate offers the children who are part of it so many opportunities and experiences that they would otherwise not have a chance to participate in as well as the fun they have while taking part.
Written by Sue