Mayflower connections this week; we were in Rotherhithe, where I preached on Corpus Christi (celebrated on Sunday) and also gave thanks for Fr Mark Nicholls' first twenty years of priesthood. He has served in northern England (he was ordained in Liverpool diocese), has spent four years as a parish priest in Zimbabwe, worked with Martin Warner at the Shrine in Walsingham, was parish priest in Rickmansworth in St Alban's Diocese, and now is very happily settled in the ancient riverside parish of Rotherhithe.
The first Rector noted in history was there just seven hundred years ago. More recently the Captain of the Mayflower was from the parish, and that vessel sailed from there before calling at my hometown, Plymouth, and setting off for the New World. So I thought our transatlantic friends might value a few images of the place. Not least because Plymouth, at least, is one place of which Americans seem to have heard… and if it is not, Rotherhithe should be.
The present Church in Rotherhithe dates from a rebuild in the mid eighteenth century, when clearly this was a very wealthy area (which it mostly is not just now). There is some magnificent church plate, and woodwork, plaster and chandeliers are of the finest.
There was also a grand eight-bedroomed Rectory, but that is to be sold and its replacement will look like a narrow tenement, or perhaps servants' quarters, attached to the old house. It was meant to be complete by October, and meanwhile Fr Nicholls is living half a mile away, waiting on the builders and also the local Planning Department who are having misgivings about the bricks.
Besides Captain Christopher Jones of the Mayflower in 1620, the other local hero is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great Victorian engineer who, with his father, pioneered the London Underground system by creating the first tunnel under the Thames. He devised boring machines which have been copied and developed for more recent tunnels such as the one under the English Channel, joining France to civilisation. The Thames tunnel was early in his career, and his started from Rotherhithe. The last work of his was, strangely enough, in Plymouth. The Tamar (or Royal Abert) Bridge, always known simply as the Brunel Bridge, joins Devon to Cornwall, and still carries trains down to the far Southwest a century and a half after Brunel designed it.
BP, I feel, could do with an engineer as audacious and inventive as Brunel to solve its problems in the Gulf of Mexico. I visited Biloxi and New Orleans more than fifty years ago, and have been saddened first by the devastation wrought by Katrina and now by the appalling oil spill on that fragile coast.
[The title of this blog comes from a series of quotations painted on the walls of the Mayflower Inn very near the parish church, where we had lunch after the Corpus Christi celebrations.]
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