The Church and its Betjeman Association
Sir John Betjeman CBA 1906-1984, Poet Laureate 1972-1984
"Betjeman was right; a truly wonderful church". So said the Clarke family from Yorkshire when they visited the church in 2003 - but looking through the visitors' books those first three words are echoed time and time again. So what is this connection?
Sir John Betjeman CBE was a frequent broadcaster on the BBC, firstly on radio and later on television. His Metroland documentaries of new towns and the expansion of the suburbs and the railways have been hailed as masters of the genre. In July 1949 he broadcast, on the BBC Western Region, probably on the Home Service (the Home Service was the forerunner of Radio 4 and had regional offices) an article called The Church of St Protus. It was published in 1952 in a collection of essays on architecture called First and Last Loves and is further published in Coming Home an anthology of his writings by his daughter the late Candida Lycett- Green in 1997. Both books are readily available in second hand bookshops and often on the table in the Betjeman Corner (see below)
Betjeman styled himself as a church crawler something which gave him great pleasure. "It introduces you to the history of England in stone and wood and glass which is always truer than what you read in books". His love of churches was probably equalled by his love of station architecture, probably fostered by his love of trains "Of all the country churches of the west I have seen, I think that Blisland is the most beautiful. I was a boy when I first saw it thirty or more years ago". These words have resonated with many of the visitors who have come to see the church - some as far afield as New Zealand.
So we can probably date his initial visit to 1919 or slightly earlier. Betjeman we know, during his holidays at Trebetherick as a boy and teenager, was a keen cyclist and would pedal far and wide. In 1919, it was only 25 years since the decorations of F C Eden and Edward Vernon Collins were finished and so they would have still been fresh and crisp in colour, the gold leaf still rich and vibrant and the greens and reds so much brighter than they are today some 100 years later.
The church (which is open on 364 days every year) owes a huge debt of gratitude to the love that Sir John had for our church. Not only do we welcome many visitors from all over the world every year who come simply because of his writings and donate generously.
In 2006, on the centenary of his birth, the Daily Telegraph ran a competition amongst six of his favourite churches to see which could gain the most votes and so be the favourite. In an almost manic campaign we asked visitors to the church, shop and pub, e-mail contacts, friends, relations and work colleagues to vote for us. It worked; we won - and subsequently received over £19,000 from donations from friends of the church from all over the world.
To celebrate we held an evensong service in 2006, on the centenary of his birth, with readings of his poetry (in place of the usual psalms and canticles), a service enjoyed by nearly 100 people
To acknowledge the debt that we owe to Sir John Betjeman, the church has opened a Betjeman Corner under the West Window which he clearly loved. There is a table full of books, DVDs and CDs by, or about, the great man. We hope that these will bring in much needed funds for the church over time and encourage people to give towards the upkeep of the church.
You will find biographies of his life and loves, books about his interests, books on Cornwall and collections of his writings. There are also DVDs made for the BBC and CDs of his poetry, as we are able to find them
See also www.betjemansociety.com
We are grateful to all who have donated books etc and would encourage those who may have something of interest, to contact a member of the PCC
Our thanks to the late Candida Lycett-Green who graciously gave us permission to use the writings of her father, and also to Hodder and Stoughton, his publishers, who hold the copyright
The statue in St. Pancras Station, London