This is an iron boot-scraper. For the better part of a century, it stood outside the front door of a Church of England rectory in a Norfolk village perched on the cusp of the eastern England, a liminal place where a vastness of greyish-lavender salt marsh softens the edges of the North Sea.
The rectory sat on a hill above the rest of the village. Next to it was the late medieval ex-rectory it had superseded in 1924, and which its design consciously echoed. Across the way and slightly to the north, on the highest ground in the village, was the parish church, a 13th century building altered by major rebuilding campaigns in the 15th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearby were the old schoolhouse and the newer, early 19th century parish school with modest 20th century additions. Another neighbour was a house called Highfields, an ordinary Victorian farmhouse that had been enlarged and re-ordered in the 1930s by the same architect who built the rectory — a local man named John Page, who lived in or near the village for nearly all his long life. John Page had also worked on the older rectory, just as he would go on to work on many, perhaps even dozens of other houses and buildings in the village.
Anyone traveling to the village either from the nearby market town of Holt, or indeed from the fine cathedral city of Norwich, necessarily passed between these buildings. The rectory was, more or less, the southern-most building in the village. As such, its tall chimneys, sloping tiled roof and distinctive 1920s Queen Anne roofline provided visitors with their first impression of the place they were about to experience.
In 2016, however, the rector decided that the rectory in which she and her children had lived, apparently happily, for a few years was no longer required. The diocese agreed. In 2017, the ex-rectory was sold to private owners for £1m. After local objections that went all the way to the High Court, the necessary planning permissions were obtained.
And so it happened that a year ago today — 21 January 2019, at 3.14 in the afternoon — a lone hydraulic excavator tore down the central tall chimney of the rectory. As holes were smashed into the distinctive 1920s Queen Anne roof, throwing its red sand faced Hartshill rooftiles everywhere, a strangely sweet, fresh smell settled over the area. It was the resin, suddenly released from all those 1920s softwood battens, making contact with the sharp damp air of a winter evening on the north Norfolk coast.
The smell persisted for days. It was actually very pleasant, as long as one tried to forget the act of senseless, irreparable violence that had created it.Read the rest of this entry »