A Fifield mystery

Riddle: when is a window not a window?
This riddle came about when the new needlepoint stained glass window came to be hung in Fifield church. There was a crack in the plaster – not much of a crack, but it would be sensible to repair it before the needlework covered it. Local builder Robin Perry and his crew re-plastered the area of the crack, but then more areas of unkeyed plaster became apparent. Scaffolding was installed. Robin Perry’s men returned and hacked out more unkeyed plaster until suddenly, working near the apex of the roof, a large rectangular area of wall appeared, leaving a hole supported by timbers which showed not modern saw-teeth marks, but mediaeval adze marks. The hole lines up with the slit window in Fifield Church’s tower and theories were rife: it had been closed when the tower was added; it was to do with the gallery on the West Wall; the Victorians filled it in when they restored the church; it was only Victorian and the mediaeval adze marked timbers were just recycled timbers. No one was sure.

The true origin is both prosaic and fascinating. When the tower was built in mediaeval times, the bells were cast somewhere nearby and carried across to the church to be hoisted into the tower, but the tower door was too small so the carpenters of the day cut a hole in the West Wall for the bells to be hoisted up through the church and then across into the tower, and then closed the hole. Mystery solved.

Catherine Hitchens

February – March 2020