A Guardian’s Grandson

The ten-year-old grandson of one of the Guardians recalls his family's stays in Walsingham, including the night that Fr Patten died
Well, my recollections of our visits to the Shrine have been clouded by time but…. A typical holiday/pilgrimage/Guardians' Chapter would begin with the tedious journey from the other side of the country. The treat that tempered the tedium was the stop for lunch at a rather grand hotel. I went there recently and my grandfather would not be impressed with it any more than some of the other changes which he would note were he to undertake a similar journey today! We would arrive at the Shrine, usually in the late afternoon, where the complexities of parking the car would be the first of many bits of bureaucracy that would have to be dealt with. We entered through the large double gates and were usually provided with an effusive welcome from the Sister in charge of the hospice. We were always expected, and if we had not arrived by the time supper was finished in the Refectory it would instead be waiting for us on the table in the room just off the entrance. I suspect that as a Guardian and his family we were perhaps treated quite well in this respect. Our rooms usually were in the hospice and, again presumably because of who he was and only if there was room, grandfather was provided with a private sitting room which was at the very top of the building. We shared this with another Guardian and his family who would invariably be doing much as we were, of course. The bedrooms were ‘interesting’! Beds were adequate for the likes of me but they would not win awards for comfort! The heating system was also interesting. I recall that it was hot air pumped through grills in the rooms. Always too hot or too cold, the great feature of the system was the ducting which allowed the snores of fellow residents to permeate through the building! Small price to pay however for the unique atmosphere of peace and contentment, and I dare to say love, which radiated through the whole place. Quite often the hospice would be full and I was allocated a room in the College. I felt very privileged and of course in those days only men were put there! A typical day for us on our holiday (rather than pilgrimage) would perhaps be a trip to Wells-next-the-sea or Blakeney. Holkham Beach was another favourite with long walks to the sea and other adventures which included trying to look through the shuttered windows of a beach hut which we were led to believe belonged to the Queen. Every day started however with breakfast in the Refectory and I remember very well the deep sense of loss of community when my wife and I visited the Shrine some years later to find a new Refectory building with tables that could only accommodate four people. Gone were the days of the long trestle tables and benches where you would sit in the midst of everything. There was no ‘saving of places’. Everyone mixed with everyone such that you might be sitting next to a little old lady from somewhere one day and a canon of the church the next. And even if you were not next door to them, such were the ergonomics of it all that neither of them would be very far away! Conversation was always lively and as you might imagine was always far ranging. Every day was a little special but of course Sunday was always particular. Masses were said throughout the Shrine every day and servers were always required. I was brought up in a high church and was taught to serve by a man who knew exactly what high standard was demanded. I was used to serving alternate Saturday evenings at Benediction and at the 8am Sunday mass so I had a fair idea of what was required. You can imagine then perhaps that serving in the Shrine held no particular fears for a 10 year old. However……..! It was absolutely necessary to do one's homework the evening before, to be absolutely sure that you knew which chapel you had to head for the following morning as you led your priest from the vestry. Without a through geography lesson the unedifying experience of wandering around until one found an empty chapel to step into was a real possibility. I once served at a tridentine mass and had not a clue where we were in the service for most of the time; my grandfather (the Guardian), who also served from time to time, told of an occasion when he was unsure of how to ring the bell at the consecration. Was it a pick up and shake bell or did one push it? He decided on the latter and was mortified to watch as the bell clattered off down the steps to join the bemused congregation. top of page Sprinkling was of course mandatory and I doubt that I will ever forget joining the queue to go down to the waiting priest and taking the offered water. On our last visit to the Shrine some 15 or so years ago we were sprinkled but I happened on an occasion when piped music was accompanying the sprinkling. My particular view is that this is a very special moment and one which should only be disturbed by one's fellow pilgrims. My grandfather would have fought long and hard to have such a distraction removed. Indeed if he were still at his post the loudspeakers would never have been installed in the first place! But I understand that this is not the general practice now. The Stations of the Cross was always on the list of things to do, and this was all the more special and poignant as one moved from one to another through the garden. It all seemed much more real and believable to the 10 year old. Fr Hope Patten’s death occurred whilst we were at the Shrine. The Guardians had assembled for an Episcopal Pilgrimage (I am grateful for the commentary which Fr Derrick Lingwood provided in a 1958 edition of Our Lady’s Mirror, which on the one hand confirms my recollection of events whilst at the same time reminding me of others which I had forgotten). We had all assembled for Benediction. I remember the Elevation of the Host, I think, and after that, oddly, nothing; the service had perhaps come to an abrupt end. We heard, I think, that Hope Patten had been taken ill but more than that we did not know. At any event it was late for a 10 year old and I was sent to bed with a companion, another young boy whose father was also a Guardian. Shortly afterwards the Shrine bell began to toll and I remember my friend saying that he thought that the bell was tolling once for each year of the life of Fr Patten and that he had died. And so it was. His open coffin was brought into the Shrine the next day, much to the surprise of my mother who I suspect, had she known, would not have got us places where we could see things! My mother tells me that we went to the funeral in the Parish Church; I don’t remember that at all. After the service we went back home leaving my grandfather at the Shrine, perhaps to be involved in the election of the new Administrator? He would normally have returned with us. I don’t remember meeting Fr Hope Patten; if I did, I suspect that it would have been rather at arm's length. On the other hand I do remember very well, meeting and being entertained by his successor, Fr Colin Stephenson. This was a charismatic man and a gifted raconteur. His ability to tell stories was extraordinary and he would recount these tales during evenings which we spent with him either for drinks or dinner. He told us a story of going to London and collecting a statue of St Agatha and returning with her laid in the back of his car covered by a sheet. He stopped at a service station somewhere to refuel and only later realised that the feet of the statue were exposed to anyone who might care to look. Was it a murder that had been committed by a dog-collared individual or was that someone sleeping a good night off? It all sounds a bit prosaic written like this; at the time I wondered if we would all ever stop laughing! Fr Stephenson had a wooden leg (I hope I am getting this right!!) after he either fell or was pushed into a well in the African Desert during the Second War. I cannot think that I have imagined this. We all knew the Sister in Charge of the hospice very well, well enough for the elder members of the family to have kisses bestowed on them by her. The difficulty was I gather in positioning one's face just so that her wimple did not get in the way of the procedure! Grandfather also used to visit the anchorite who lived in a shed in the garden somewhere. He used to tell us that, despite not having any form of outside communication, newspapers or radio, her grasp and knowledge of what was going on in the world was remarkable. Enid Chadwick was another of our friends. She and my grandmother got on particularly well. You will know of course that she was an artist of some renown. We last saw her on our last visit to Norfolk. We took a house for a couple of weeks at Brancaster and in between doing holiday things we visited the Shrine to be sprinkled and looked up Enid, who was then in fine form and was clearly pleased to see us. She gave my daughter a very pretty necklace. We were never to see her again. I am coming to the end of this. However I remember long evening walks past the Parish Church along the haunted lane; I remember the conviviality of it all. I was very fortunate to have been in the privileged position that I was. There is no doubt that we were provided with perks of the job and had access to some extraordinary people who were kind enough not to be patronising or arrogant, but instead welcomed even a small boy like me into their ‘presence’. top of page