A few words from a Warden

It’s several months since I wrote anything for the magazine, but as I’m editor this month, and need to make the pages up to number divisible by 4, I thought I’d jot down some things I’ve been musing about lately.

I don’t know if many people know what my day job is. I’m actually self-employed as a heritage educator. I do sessions in schools and historic houses; working clothes include farthingales, ruffs and crinolines! I also do a lot of historical research, going to archives to read real Tudor documents. Over the years I’ve got used to the handwriting called “secretary hand”: e’s are backwards, f and s easily confused and no difference between i and j – amongst other things. But one thing has made reading these documents so much easier. I was brought up on the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve soaked up Tudor turns of phrase through years of Mattins and Evensong. In the 1950s and early 60s these were the main church services for Anglicans. The BCP Communion service only happened once a month, if that. So I’ve chanted in an Anglican fashion all my life. In school and in church we had the various old fashioned bits of vocabulary explained, so it was no more odd than using the occasional “je ne sais quoi” or “status quo” in conversation – foreign expressions adopted into modern English. I think it’s one of the things that set me on a lifelong interest in language and how it’s used.

But back to those Tudor documents. Many of them are legal ones; leases, Wills, contracts, etc. Much of the language of the prayer book services is also like legal petitions or agreements. People address God as they would the monarch or a judge, full of humility. In the confessions they remind God of the Gospel promise to forgive the penitent, and ask for that promise to be honoured now. The language is so like that of the documents I read. Being very familiar with it helps me make sense of the documents however strange the handwriting. I’m very grateful to the authors of the Book of Common Prayer.

Barbara Elliott

St John the Baptist

Leytonstone

Serving God and the Community of Leytonstone for 180 years