Betjeman on the Pilgrims’ Way

David Meara’s book on John Betjeman appeared towards the end of last year as we faced renewed Covid restrictions.

A Passion For Places: England Through The eyes of John Betjeman is a book which makes one want to go out and ‘church crawl’ as Betjeman would have described his explorations.

In the foreword Simon Jenkins recalls walking around Southwark with Betjeman.

In what he calls an ‘extended essay’, the author David Meara endeavours to cover all the Poet Laureate’s passion for churches, places and railways.

Church crawling is how Betjeman called his days out looking at churches .

He had so many favourite ones that not all can get a mention in the 96 page paperback but it is interesting see that strong favourites include some on the Pilgrims’ Way which could be called a long church crawl.

The extraordinary St Peter & St Paul at Albury in Surrey was on the original way until 1785 when the road was closed and the village moved.

The ancient Saxon church which has a 15th-century St Christopher wall painting, a chapel remodelled by Pugin and featured in Four Weddings and A Funeral film, may be visited via the gateway at the south end of Albury Street 10am-5pm; winter 3pm.

Kemsing church in Kent associated with St Edith of Wilton was another favourite. Betjeman would have appreciated not just the 13th-century door, worn by pilgrims, but the rood figures by Nina Comper whose work he championed.

Chilham church, another Kentish church, was not only a Betjeman favourite but it is also one of the author’s who has known the building since childhood holidays. For many the village, with its castle, pub and church all in a row, is the last overnight stop before the climax of their pilgrimage.

A Passion for Places: England Through The Eyes of John Betjeman by David Meara (Amberely; £15.99).

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