I’m afraid that this newsletter is running a bit late, but with the easing of lockdown we decided to have a staycation and walked the southern half of the Offa’s Dyke path in England/Wales.  We were blessed with georgeous weather (though maybe a bit hot for walking) and the scenery was absolutely stunning.  I’m pleased to report that the other members of the working parties have been doing valiant work and we are getting many compliments from passers by and parishoners.  Well done the two Steves and Henry who form the mainstay of our mowing parties, and Michael who has been doing some tremendous clearing work on the walls round the churchyard.  This has allowed the Hall Committee to do some planting to brighten up the carpark, to organising the repair of the bench in front of the Hall and introduce some planters in front of the Hall.  The plants added this year were, out of necessity supplied by a local garden centre, but the Hall Committee are collecting seed from wildflowers in the churchyard and hope to plant these next year to enhance next years display.

Growing conditions have been mixed this year, and we were all getting concerned that the new wildflower area near the Memorial Garden woud not germinate due to the dry conditions in the early part of the year, but dedicated use of watering cans saved the day and we were treated to a spectacular display in July.  I’m sure that you all remember the picture below from our last newsletter, the difference is clear to see, even if my photo was only taken this week.  It was far more spectacular in July.  Well done Henry!

The grass in the field in front of the Shalfleet Village Hall had a late spurt of growth before it was cut for hay by Ian in mid July.  Since then we have tried to cut it with our tractor mower, but a combination of wet ground and mechanical issues meant that this was not possible.  However, one of the Steves came to the rescue and cut it using the smaller hand mower ready for the first wedding reception of the year; this, plus the first wedding in the Church since 2019 passed off well, and we received several complimentary comments on the way that we had maintained the churchyard and surrounding areas. 

We unfortunately had some damage to our church organ which may have been caused by water ingress.  There was no evidence of this on the roof timbers, but the Fabric Trust will be commissioning a detailed inspection of the roof above the organ in the coming months to make sure that the moss growth is not lifting the tiles and allowing the wind to force water up under them.  The Meteorological Office keeps telling us that climate change will mean more extreme weather, so it’s good to be reassured that we will be prepared for it.

We have a couple more weddings booked for this year, but hope to make a start on the renovation work on the east window in the south aisle after these have been completed.  Routine maintenance continues with the clearing of the drainage channels round the church, fixing broken lights inside the church and keeping the church walls free of any plants that may damage the stonework.

We have managed several informal, socially distanced, working parties over the last few months and are continuing to make some inroads into areas that have been neglected in recent years.  Our objective is, as always, to try and maintain a tidy churchyard that looks well cared for but still allows abundant areas for the local flora and fauna to flourish.  I must say that the displays of wildflowers in the new graveyard was spectacular this year and the number of butterflies and other insects that I saw during my many walks around the area was particularly gratifying.  The seed heads on the grasses this year were also the best that I have seen for many years. 

We have maintained the policy of keeping the main east/west path down the centre of the graveyard cut short and then cutting paths at intervals to the north and south to allow access to the graves.   The paths that we aim to mow are marked by grey posts.  Unfortunately, we are not able to mow as many as we would like on a regular basis as it is not always possible to get the mower between the graves.  We are now approaching the season when we will strim the whole area, leaving the cuttings on the ground for a while to allow the seeds to fall before removing them.  Once the grass is shorter, we hope to be organising working parties to continue our renovation of the northern boundary of the new graveyard.  Our outline plan for this area is to trim the ‘hedge’ back down to about 4 feet but leave several larger trees at intervals along the boundary to provide some height.  The hedge is not considered to be in sufficiently good condition to be ‘laid’, but we hope to be able to keep as many of the existing hedging plants as possible and intend to plant additional, locally sourced, ones in the gaps.  The new hedge will be cut regularly with the intention of creating a thicker hedge of no more than 6 feet high.  This will be easier for the ‘Friends’ to maintain in the future.

One aspect of working in the Church and churchyard that is particularly satisfying is meeting visitors who have come to remember their earlier lives in Shalfleet or to look up ancestors who have come from the area.  Steve was locking the church one evening and came across a visitor.  I quote his mail:

“As I was locking up the church yesterday, I met Thomas Hollis, a direct descendant of Thomas Hollis, owner of Shalfleet Manor from 1711.  We found his grave from the Burial Plan, which had been neatly strimmed by Henry the previous day.  Thomas emailed the early part of his family tree, which is attached.  The family were active in the village and at least two were church wardens.  I’ve sent young Thomas a photo of the church circa 1890 and he has taken postcards and a lot of photographs back to London to share with his family.  He asked me to pass his good wishes to all those involved in the church and churchyard care.”

The other exciting news is that we are hoping to make a start on the tree maintenance in the churchyard.  We have received a quote from a local tree surgeon to carry out work in four areas.

1.The large Yew tree in the northeast section of the original churchyard has been gradually leaning more and more to the south over the last few years.  The wet and windy winter has accelerated this, and we have been advised that the best thing to do would be to remove the two large trunks that are leaning over and then tidy up the stump to allow the re-growth that has already started on the north side to flourish.

2.The two oversized Bay trees by the northern entrance to the church have been steadily increasing in size over the last few years and the growth shows no sign of slowing down.  An inspection of the two trees showed that they had been cut back in previous years but seem to have emerged stronger than ever.  We have discussed this with the Parish Council and have agreed that the present location of these trees is inappropriate, and we have made a request to the Diocese and the local tree officer to remove them.  This will open up the front of the church more and may help with some of the damp problems in the porch.  It will certainly help with the presently endless clearing of brown bay leaves in the porch and on the gravel path to the front of the church.   Not to mention the ones that blow onto the main road and block up the drains there, resulting in flooding in Mill Road and, in extreme conditions, in the pub!

3. We have also requested permission to remove the tree on the western side of the path into the churchyard from the north; the tree is in the shade of the yews that border the churchyard and, as a consequence, has become tall and spindly and is overhanging the path as it searches for sunlight.  This results in significant leaf fall onto the path which has encouraged weed growth and made keeping the path clear an increasing problem.  The tree in question is shown in the picture above, with the bay trees by the porch in the background.

4. Finally, there are several small elm trees that are growing at the eastern side of the churchyard adjacent to Church Lane.  These trees are now of an age when they will likely contract Dutch Elm disease.  The roots are already damaging the retaining wall along Chapel Lane, allowing the trees to continue to grow would probably result in the wall failing.

The most recent project undertaken by the ‘Friends’ was the repair of the wall on the southern side of Chapel Lane next to Withyfields.  The wall had collapsed a while ago and was obstructing drainage down Chapel Lane.  There were logistic difficulties with Island Roads about carrying out the work, so a team of volunteers removed the fallen stones, cleaned up the area and re-built the wall.  The work was completed in a day despite the heavy rain, and we hope that it will last for many years.  Indeed, the first real trial came a few days later when the best part of 2 inches of rain fell in a couple of hours.  Not only did the wall survive, but the drains worked effectively, and the road was dry within hours of the rain finishing.  We hope that this will mean that the road will not get so icy in the winter.  The success of this has inspired us, and we hope to tackle the fallen wall just inside the eastern entrance to the churchyard from Chapel Lane soon.

Many thanks to all of you who keep paying your annual contributions to the Friends of Shalfleet Church, the donations that we receive help to fund the running costs of the equipment that we use, as well as minor repairs to the church structure.  We also need to make use of contractors to carry out specialised work such as the tree surgery.  The Friends and the Fabric Trust do not have any regular income, so we value all the support that we get, so if you know of anyone who may be interested in becoming part of our team, please encourage them to contact me so that I can provide more details.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Best Wishes

Rhod Powell

Fabric Trust Treasurer (6th August 2021)