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The Christmas Eve Service at Whitcombe Church

By Marion Tait

Christmas Eve at Whitcombe
Christmas Eve at Whitcombe

Whitcombe Church stands in a field within an impressive setting. The adjacent hamlet consists of the Manor House, cottages and thatched barns which are arranged round a green. In 1973 the church was vested in the care of the Church Conservation Trust.

On Christmas Eve 2016 Whitcombe Church was transformed into a magical setting.

As the guests arrived the candles from within the church shone brightly offering a welcoming glow and guided one hundred and thirty invited guests across a field, along a track, through a gate and up a path which lead to the south door of the 12th century church.

On entering the church it took a few minutes for our eyes to become accustomed to the candle light and oil lamps. As we became aware of our surroundings we beheld an amazing scene which captured the essence of the night.

The sweet, musty aroma from the straw, the burning scent of wax from the candles and the tangy smell of oil from the hanging lamps permeated the air and the soft warm colours and the hazy veil created a warm and inviting atmosphere.

Singing Christmas Carols in Whitcombe Church

Singing Christmas Carols in

Whitcombe Church

The church was packed to capacity to witness this very special service.

The musicians were seated in the chancel and in the nave seating arrangements consisted of dozens of straw bales for the congregation.

On the north wall was a medieval painting depicting St Christopher with the Christ Child sat pick-a-back on his shoulder. St Christopher holds an Orb in his left hand and blesses with his right. He is crossing a stream which clearly contains fish, a crab and a mermaid.

The Service began with ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ which is a favourite that most churches use every year. The first verse was sung delightfully by Zoe and Eva Staddon. Further carols included ‘Silent Night’ ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ which were sung by the congregation with great enthusiasm.

The music was provided by the brilliant New Hardy Players and evoked the style of West Gallery Bands. Alastair Simpson, trombone. Juliet Braidwood, flute. Harriet Still, violin. Mike Staddon, violin. Catherine Oakley, cello. Fiona Staddon, bass clarinet. Angela Laycock, tenor recorder with Tim Laycock on concertina and as band leader.

The Service continued with carols and lessons interspersed with poetry throughout.

The Lessons were read by Roger Holehouse: Isiah-The Birth is Foretold, Alec Walters: Luke-The Birth, and Richard Illingworth: John-The Word.

The chosen readings really set the scene and told of the wonders of the birth of Christ.


Tim Laycock read ‘The Shep’erd Bwoy’ verse 3

Poems in the Dorset Dialect by William Barnes. First Collection 1879

When the cwold winter win’ do blow over the hill,
An’ the hore-vrost do whiten the grass,
An’ the breath o’ the no’th is so cwold, as to chill
The warm blood of woone’s heart as do pass;
When the ice o’ the pond is so slipp’ry as glass,
There, a-zingen a zong,
Or a-whislen among
The sheep, the poor shep’erd do bide all day long.

Brian Caddy read ‘I’m Out O’ Door’ verse 1

Poems in the Dorset Dialect by William Barnes. Third Collection

I’m Out O’ Door
I’m out, when, in the Winter’s blast,
The zun, a-runnen lowly round,
Do mark the sheades the hedge do cast
At noon, in hoarvrost, on the ground.
I’m out when snow’s a-lyen white
In keen-air’d vields that I do pass,
An’ moonbeams, vrom, above, do smite
On ice an’ sleeper’s window-glass.
I’m out o’door,
When win’ do zweep,
by hangen steep,
Or hollow deep,
At Lindenore.

Both these verses refer to the frost which had recently decorated Barnes’ country side that he loved so dearly.

Alan Chedzoy read ‘Zummer Thoughts in Winter Time’ verse 1

Poems in the Dorset Dialect by William Barnes. Third Collection

Well, aya, last evenen, as I shook
My locks ov hay by leecombe brook,
The yollow zun did weakly glance
Apon the winter mead askance,
A-casten out my narrow sheade
Athirt the brook, an’ on the mead,
The while agean my lwonesome ears
Did rustle weatherbeaten spears,
Below the withy’s leafless head
That over hung the river’s bed;
I there did think o’ days that dried
The new-mow’d grass o’ zummer-tide,
When white-sleeve’d mowers’ whetted bleades
Rung sh’ill along the green-bough’d gleades,
An’ maidens gay, we’ playsome chaps,
A-zot wi’ dinners in their laps,
Did talk we’ merry words that rung
Around the ring, vrom tongue to tongue;
An’ welcome, when the leaves ha’ died,
Be zummer thoughts in winter-tide.

The last carol, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ was followed by the Blessing, and Happy Birthday was sung whole heartedly to those who celebrated birthdays on that special day: Marion Tait, Brian Caddy, Dave Burbidge and Juliet Braidwood.

The Service ended with the resounding sound of Linden Lea being sung enthusiastically by all.  Although many people know the music was composed by Vaughan Williams many are unaware that the words were written by William Barnes.

Minette and Alec Walters
Minette and Alec Walters cutting the Christmas Cake

A retiring collection of £500 was raised in aid of Julia’s House and The Churches Conservation Trust.  Thank you to all who gave so generously.

It had been a very poignant service for it was at this church Reverend William Barnes had given his last service 15th February 1885 the same place as he began as a curate many years before in spring 1847.  On fine Sundays his wife, Julia would accompany him over the Whitcombe hills where the bell was heard when he appeared in sight. 

(Laura’s Reflections of her father)  William Barnes Collection.

Following the Christmas Service, our charming hosts Minette and Alec Walters very kindly welcomed us to their home and we were lead the way we had come, through the south door, down the path through the gate, along the track and on to the Manor House.

The tables were laden with a magnificent, mouth-watering spread consisting of such a wide choice of delicious delicacies to suit all palettes.  The buffet was beautifully presented and included sweet and savoury canapes, delicate triangular sandwiches with such fillings as cream cheese and smoked salmon, platters of assorted meat and pies, fresh sea food and scrumptious cake including Dorset apple cake.  The Christmas cake was iced and decorated artistically with iced holly leaves and a red ribbon.  The buffet was exquisitely executed, with wine and soft drinks to compliment.

Our hosts were presented with a bouquet of flowers and chocolates for their kindness in hosting the splendid event and opening their home to us all.

It had been a truly magical, memorable evening; one of which William Barnes would have been proud.

The churches connected with William Barnes are owned and managed by the Church Conservation Trust which looks after 350 churches throughout the country.

Whitcombe and Winterborne Came are open 365 days a year from morning to dusk and the Trust always welcomes visitors and volunteers.

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