YES - it all kind of began at Barsham. The fairs and the cultural mash-up of alternative living. But firstly I must credit the FAIRS ARCHIVE - when I started to think about writing about the Albion Fairs the Archive website was down. It was off-line for over a year and that gave me something of a free hand but now they are back I am trying to be careful not to duplicate their work.
So why Barsham? That was a question which took me a bit further than I anticipated ......
In The Sun In The East, the book about Norfolk and Suffolk fairs, artist Keith Payne wrote that he believed that he brought the idea for medieval fairs over from California. But, he also noted "We always made a point of only putting a fair on where the energy of the site was right, usually ancient sites. The Barsham church paddock was a very potent site, a meeting point of Telluric forces from far and wide. The church was once a stone circle with outriders in the paddock." Telluric is from the Latin tellus for "earth."
I was interested in the comment that there was a stone circle at Barsham because stone monuments are exceedingly rare, if not unheard of, in the East as the geology is one of chalk and flint. Yet, there are boulders that were carried by glaciers and scattered over the landscape as the glaciers melted and withdrew. These relics of the last Ice Age are often used as boundary markers, milestones or mounting stones. Indeed there were and are some of these stones at Barsham although one at least has been moved. Firstly there is the "Barsham Trysting Stone" which originally stood in Barsham Paddock and was given by the Rector to a doctor in Beccles, around 1930, for his rock garden.
It was considerably damaged and reduced by its removal two miles away. A similarly large rock was used to fill a pot-hole in a crossroads south of Barsham church and has since been recovered and placed outside the Village Hall. So, two stones do not make a circle although it is conceivable there were more which were lost. Or maybe just one stone is enough for pre-Christian ritual activity but there just doesn't seem to be any compelling evidence for any special significance for Barsham.....or does there?
For at the spring and autumn equinox, the setting sun hits a window at Holy Trinity Church in Barsham and illuminates a 5ft carving of Christ for four minutes. Surely this event is an echo of pre-Christian stone circles and passage graves?
The spectacle dates back to the 1300s, when a narrow window was built in the church tower, but it was lost for centuries. The carving of Christ is on the top of a traditional wooden rood screen which crosses the centre of the church. The original screen was torn down in the 16th century Reformation but it was rebuilt in 1870 with an identical figure of Christ in the same position. However, by then the window was obscured with a painting over it. The painting was taken down in 1979 but even then, the light show went unnoticed for several more years as it only happens for a few minutes or not at all if it is cloudy. The dates were eventually plotted and hence the realisation that Christ was only lit up on the equinox.
Then, there is the coincidence of the Barsham village sign. A controversial new sign was erected in January 1981 way before the above event was noticed. The sign was designed and made by the same Keith Payne quoted above regarding the standing stones. Mr Payne described the sign as a celebration of the sun. "Barsham is primarily an agricultural village placed on a very ancient site. It has been lived on and the land worked for almost 4000 years. I asked myself the question, 'What is the most important thing to the farmer?' and basically it is the sun and the moon. Without them you can't grow a thing." said Mr Payne.
The sign was made of Barsham oak cut by Mr Payne and it was erected on the main Beccles to Bungay road for the dawn of winter solstice. Mr Payne said: "It is a pagan sign, a sign of the times before the Christian church. There was the circle and the cross. The sign is a representation of the circle moving into the cross. The midsummer solstice is represented by the oak and rising sun. The mid-winter solstice is represented by the mistletoe for the moon and the setting sun. It is a celebration of the sun using the old Ogham tree calendar system with the symbol of the sun."
The sign was not traditional and it caused a bit of a controversy. One Barsham woman summed up the view of many others when she said: "I have never seen anything so ugly. I am sure it will cause an accident because people go along and cannot believe it, they drive all over the road." Mr Payne responded by saying that "if it evokes some kind of reaction it is working."
Elemental co-ordinator Jill Bruce had the last soothing words however: "Upon reading the piece in today's (Jan 18th) EDP about the controversy over the new Barsham sign, my initial reaction was to laugh, but then to feel very sad.
Even if one doesn't know of, or understand, the symbolism of it, the immediate impact is one of welcoming friendliness, surely the most basic quality for a village sign, representing, one would hope, the qualities of the people who live there.
It has tremendous presence and life; rising out of the land and reaching towards the sun, epitomising the energy and life of that very land and place on which it stands.
How refreshing that so much time, care and thought has been put into something which, in its profound symbolism, goes far beyond the puny insignificant little things that so often stand for village signs.
Here is something thst represents the very hart of the place, created by someone who, I am sure, cares very deeply for the place and its history.
How refreshingly different! I feel overjoyed that half the village population appreciate it, but so saddened that the other half should react so negatively.
One doesn't say that everyone should like everything, but this seems such an instantaneous negative reaction to something just because it is different. It is not what they expected from a village sign and so they desperately try and compare it with soemthing else.
Let them forget their preconceived ideas - go and look at it again, spend a little time near it, stand and watch as the rising sun shines on its gold - and think again.
Yours faithfully, Jill Bruce, Brentwood farm, Silfield, Wymondham.
Keith Payne was kind enought to comment: The sign is aligned to the solstices, east to summer, west to winter so twix the church and the sign Barsham has it covered! Sure. I'll tell the tale of the meeting, after arguments for and against it was going for a vote on whether it should stay or go,and by the mood in the hall it wasn't looking too good. But I had written previously to HRH enclosing a photo of the sign,so I stood up and asked that before the vote would they please listen to my friend John Sharkey. He stood and in the gravest of voices read her reply addressed to "My loyal people of Barsham" it went on to thank them for the "splendid" sign which she was honoured to have seen placed in her parish of Barsham as a symbol of celebration of her Jubilee. Stunned silence, End of story. Strangely it never made it into the EDP or even the Beccles and Bungay . Hey Ho life goes on.X K