Any poor waif wandering in the area near Pembridge last Friday could have spent a happy evening in St. Mary’s Church where they would have been welcomed, initially by little portable lamps lighting the way to the church door and thereafter with cushions and blankets, wine and nibbles. The latest MiQP concert featured the Cathedral School Senior Chamber Choir and Cantabile singing the hits of yesteryear from Gilbert and Sullivan. It was an evening to lighten the spirits – and surely we all need that at the moment – with familiar tunes and probably familiar words, performed with vigour and aplomb as ever by the young musicians. 

Introduced with plenty of alliteration (to remind those of us old enough to remember The Good Old Days), the entertainment included items from HMS Pinafore, The Mikado and several from  The Pirates of Penzance. What could cheer one up more than listening to extracts from a love story where the hero is apprenticed to a band of orphan pirates by mistake, is not entitled to be freed until his twenty first birthday (which will not be until he is in his eighties as he was born on February 29th) and falls in love with a girl who decides to wait decades for him?  His decision to destroy the pirate gang (taken out of a dutiful adherence to a law-abiding life) has to be reversed when he realises he is still bound to them (by the problem with his birthday) and he is unable after all, to lead the police in their attempt to arrest the gang. All ends happily of course when the pirates surrender to the police as they are all fervent royalists and loyal to Queen Victoria and, apparently, all orphaned noblemen, who, as a result are allowed to marry the model Major-General’s daughters.

There were skipping, carefree and blushing maidens, diffident youths, rollicking pirates and rustic policemen with convincing bucolic accents, squabbling schoolgirls and a most impressive Major-General who managed to sing “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” without his teeth getting in the way of the words! What a tongue-twister. Church mouse was in awe.​

It was an excellent opportunity to visit this interesting church; it was in this very building in 1301 that 15 year old Joan of Genville married 14 year old Roger Mortimer. It appears likely that after Roger’s ill-fated rebellion in 1321, Joan paid for the rebuilding of the church which is Grade 1 Listed. Little remains of the original Norman building but there is still plenty to interest the visitor including a medieval sanctuary knocker, C13th font, C17th wall paintings and some interesting memorials.

It is one of several churches in the county with a separate bell-tower; this one is absolutely stunning. Also Grade I Listed, and largely timber-framed with a shingled spire, it was totally restored in 1983. The earliest timbers may have come from a nearby manor house or castle. Architecturally, it is almost unique in England and has more in common with Swedish or Norwegian bell towers. Originally a place of safety for local inhabitants, there are holes in the door said to have been made by shot.

Thanks to the musicians and staff of the Cathedral School, and of course, to Jackie and her team from St. Mary’s Pembridge.

Church Mouse

Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust