Highnam

This, said Agent Jeff, is a place that monkey tree lovers shouldn’t miss! It’s the churchyard of The Holy Innocents Church in Highnam, Gloucestershire. Jeff was so overwhelmed and overstimulated by monkeys, he even made me a short film clip to show just how abundant they are!

This is a part of the country that I am very fond of, it’s beautiful and it is no surprise to find such a gem in such a lovely part of the country. This is ‘my’ Gloucester:

1 My Gloucester

I spent a week in Gloucester in March 2009, as I was a student at Hartpury college on a beekeeping course. Here, amongst the early flowering blackthorn in an early spring, I learnt all about honey bees, and discovered the most gorgeous book – ‘The Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee’ by Dorothy Hodges. And my love of bees and nature and pollen was cemented forever. (A longer piece about this experience is on Ronnie’s blog – here). Here, in Gloucestershire I visited the historic settlement at Hartpury, which still looks medieval, and is home to the Hartpury bee shelter – an exquisite carved stone structure built to hold straw ‘skeps’ (used before hives), and the only one of its kind. Here, I visited Painswick, the Rococo gardens, and the churchyard with the 99 yew trees – no, that’s not a postcard, that’s what it really looks like. And here, in Gloucester, I wandered the cloisters of Gloucester cathedral. All heart-sighingly gorgeous.

But I did not know about the next gem, and yet I was so close. Highnam. This is the satellite view from Google:

highnam aerial

The website for the church – here – tells me that this is one of the most significant Victorian Victorian churches in the country, a Grade 1 Listed Building. Commissioned by Thomas Gambier Parry, the owner of nearby Highnam Court, and consecrated in 1851. The church is decorated by frescoes painted by said Mr Parry. his son, Hubert Parry inherited the estate – known for setting Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ to music.

But, why, dear reader, did Thomas Parry build – and paint all the frescoes – in this church? Well, I’ll let Rebsie Fairholm from her blog, Sulis Manoeuvre, tell the story:

When Thomas Gambier Parry’s young wife Isabella died of tuberculosis, following closely on the deaths of three of their children from the same cause, he was a bit put out. As he was an extremely wealthy artist and art collector whose family had got rich in the East India Company, he had the means to honour his lost loves in the way he felt they deserved. These days most people are content to commemorate their loved ones by planting a tree or getting a little plaque put on a park bench. But the Victorians were of a different mindset and didn’t do anything by halves; for the depth of Gambier Parry’s loss, nothing less would do than a personal cathedral of grief.

And so, in the grounds of his country estate at Highnam Court, three miles north of Gloucester, he set aside a square of land in a field and built Isabella an enormous temple of decorative neo-Gothic opulence and painted the inside of it himself; a decorated monument to melancholy, his stricken love etched in with every brush mark.

I was absolutely fascinated by this account. A ‘personal cathedral of grief’… so moving, the desire to do something so huge, and time-consuming with his grief. And, of course, so fortunate to have both time, money and land to do this.

Parry lived in Highnam Court and the church is linked by a footpath from the estate. At Highnam Court, Parry created a fabulous garden, Wikipedia tells us:

Parry started to lay out the Highnam Court gardens in 1840 and was one of the first to make a pinetum (an arboretum specializing in growing conifers); by 1874 the gardens rivalled any in the UK.

The gardens are visible here on satellite:

2 GL Highnam area

Of the churchyard, Rebsie continues:

The churchyard is delineated by a low stone wall perched on a ha-ha which rises from the surrounding field. A row of tidy Irish yews forms a genteel avenue down one side with tall monkey-puzzle trees screening the perimeter (Thomas Gambier Parry, among his many interests and skills, had a thing about conifers and planted them liberally all round his estate). On the opposite side, a wide grassy dell sweeps down to a very romantic little gate-in-the-wall with a path curving away beyond.

Yes, the yews are visible from the satellite, and if you look carefully, you can see the five mature monkey puzzle trees – circled in red and labelled in white. Yes, not one to do things by half, there are five trees, but also, eight newer trees too – shown with a red dot and labelled in yellow, which must have been planted in the last 10 to 20 years, the church having undergone a major restoration in 1994.

3 GL Highnam map

So this was the monkey abundance that delighted Agent Jeff, and he has photographed all the Highnam monkeys, or should that be ‘Holy Innocent’ monkeys.

4 GL Highnam map with photos

So, thanks to Agent Jeff for an excellent haul of monkeys, and for so carefully capturing them. And for showing me another part of this lovely county, Gloucestershire. Thanks.

Highnam churchyard.

Highnam churchyard. Delightful.

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