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Photo: J Thomas
John Wesley preaching from his father's tomb at Epworth, Lincolnshire.
A compact novelised history
This is the story of one community's struggle to bring New Jerusalem out of the clouds during a quarter of a millennium of radical change. The spiritual dynamism inspired by John Wesley in these parishes was multiplied throughout the British Isles and steadily contributed to the welfare and stability of the nation when Europe was in ferment and the beast of anarchy was baying at the door. King George III himself fully recognised the part played by Methodism. He even donated ships' timbers for the building of Wesley's Chapel in the City of London and presented them in person.
On Moody Bush Hill, just off the bridle path which traces a lackadaisical course to South Croxton, stands a forgotten relic of feudal times. It is neither milestone nor monolith, neither cairn nor cornerstone, a granite tooth inscribed with the words Moody Bush. No one knows how it came to be there or who was the mason who tooled its weather-hewn face. Legend claims that it marks the meeting place of the old hundreds court which debated local affairs when William the Conqueror took it into his head that the Gallic touch was needed to civilise the mongrel peasants of this island. Where the mighty emperors of Rome had failed, he would not!
It is an idyllic landscape, thickly populated with oak and ash, with elder, blackthorn and sycamore, diligently tilled for almost a thousand years since the Vikings first tamed its forests and subdued its stubborn clay with their peerless ploughshares. It rests at the heart of a heart-shaped county, about as far from any alien horizon or the cut and thrust of everything associated with seafaring as you can get.
Queniborough nestles in the valley, distinguished by the dragon's tail spire of St. Mary's church, and a mile or two to the north-west, the tower of St. Peter's Church rises foursquare in the parish of Syston. In the archaic tongue of its Anglo-Saxon settlers, the tiny hamlet was named Sithestun after the broad, blunt stone where its patriarchs gathered.
Little affects the tempo of its days. The warring factions to the north and south which contest the right of the Catholic Stuart over the Protestant Hanoverian for the nation's throne are no more than a whispered rumour. Ever since the Roman occupation, shiresfolk have preferred to cherish their roots rather than tangle with offcomers. The fact that St. Augustine, despatched by Pope Gregory I to these pagan shores, had converted Penda of Mercia's grandson, Offa, and the kingdom had grown fat and prosperous as a result, has long passed from memory. Those who work the land assume God's in his heaven and that they know how life should be lived.
But deep below their pattens and hunting-boots, nature still seethes. The middle ground is riven by an ancient fault line. Some say that, until the titanic upheavals of the Ice Age, the undulating plain which forms the backbone of Charnwood Forest was the highest range of peaks in England. Every so often the earth's core rumbles and sends forth a shuddering ripple which undermines buildings, causes lightning cracks to appear in plasterwork and stirs up a gale. Thunderstorms occur more regularly than anywhere else in the British Isles.
Today, these rocky outcrops, Breedon Hill, Beacon Hill, Burrough Hill, fortresses from the cradle of man, are stations in a chain of beacons. They might warn of advancing armies, hail a new sovereign or proclaim the birth of his heir.
So much for earthquake, wind and fire. But what of the still, small voice...?
Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire