The Strange Twists of Fate
We moved to Wilton in March 2015 expecting a quiet life.
Louise had her painting and textiles, with a nice litle studio (the third bedroom) with its double aspect light plus the verdant, local landscape as a new subject for her to capture in oils.
I had my man-cave with all my tools and now two kilns for my ceramics plus a beautiful walled garden, something that we had never had in our thirty nine years of marriage. This has allowed me to rekindle my love of Bonsai. I now have about 40 trees such as this Scots pine (below left) and I have also begun to make ‘Kusamono’ which are miniature gardens with moss and succulents (below right).
All of this was to be anticipated. We also hoped that we would make friends and be accepted by the community and this is where the unexpected comes into play.
Soon after we moved in we were approached by Shirley Hebbert who is a 96 year old force of nature! The Town Council were wanting to turn Old St. Mary’s Church in the Market Square into a Tourist Centre and a number of the locals were against this move. Shirley had been asked by the Churches Conservation Trust, who were the custodians of this ancient church, if she could find some local people who could put it to community use. The first idea was that it could be used as an art centre, hence the approach to us. It soon became apparent that the building would not be suitable for an art centre but it is a nice tranquil space and we were keen to help despite neither of us being of a religious bent.
A small steering group was formed. The Local Council wanted to know what we planned to do and asked for a report This I duly did, even though our plans at this stage consisted of a vague idea of holding a ‘History project/Festival’ based around the life of our patron Saint, Edith of Wilton and maybe turning the church into a performance space. At this Council meeting I discovered that there was a plan to create a ‘Heritage Trail booklet’ but it had been discussed for more than four years with no progress made. The next day I enquired as to who had the draft of this booklet? and offered to edit and design it for free as a contribution to our new home town.
The book consists of twelve pages of text describing nineteen sites of interest with a map and a quiz for children. In editing the book I became fascinated with the long and glorious history of this little town of Wilton, which had been the home of Kings, Egbert, Athelred and Alfred the Great, not to mention the largest Benedictine Monastery that gave us our patron Saint Edith and the historic Wilton House, seat of the Dukes of Pembroke,which now occupies the site.
As part of Wilton Week I found myself conducting a guided walk based on the Heritage Trail booklet adding extra snippets that would not fit in the book.
During the summer we converted our front room into a temporary gallery, we installed lighting and a picture hanging track system. Our first show was also part of Wilton Week and we were pleased with the response.
By now Louise and I were looking after the Church on an almost daily basis. I had begun to update the information book for visitors and document the monuments, we were making it look as if the church was cared for.
We get thousand of visitors from all over the world some just on holiday others visiting Wilton House and many seeking their ancestors. For example:
And the Fountain still works!
An early recruit to our group was Rebecca Lyons who is also a new resident in Wilton but more importantly is a medieval historian and it was thanks to her brilliant efforts that in September we held a two day seminar followed by a week of other activities and talks kicked off by a tour of the grounds of Wilton House that are not open to the Public.
William Herbert 18th Earl of Pembroke launched the proceedings and the final talk was on the Friday, in Old St. Mary’s Church, by Edward McGregor, from the Conservation Trust, myself and Rebecca Lyons.
So much for a quiet life…