Stories on Whalls: St. Leonard’s Church, Wollaton, Nottingham.


The church has a two-light window which remembers Henry Charles Russell(1842–1922) who had served as Rector of the church from 1876 to 1922 and features St Francis with a whole collection of birds and St Nicholas with two children, one of whom holds a doll. See also mention of the War Memorial window in the section below. The dedication reads “To the Glory of God and in loving memory of Henry Charles Russell Rector of this Parish/1876-1922- I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the Life of the world to come”. (List of works by Christopher Whall).

I like the idea of messy churches. They suggest that appreciating faith itself is a very messy business, and not a matter of keeping everything in neat and tidy boxes which can be ticked off like so many key performance indicators. Resurrection? Tick. Life after Death? Tick Tick. Heaven and Hell? Tick tick double tick you pass. On to the next level of redemption. Well, that’s alright then.

The journey to St. Leonard’s Church was a messy affair today. What with the clocks going forward and the good burghers of Nottingham taking to the streets in their push-chairs, armchairs and wheely bins, the air was alive with sonic and visual mess on the buses, in the streets and across Wollaton Park. I passed a woman photographing an insect as if in prayer; park benches dedicated to extinguished runners and riders; and deer frozen to the spot, their feet still rooted to the winter.

“I want a Lamborghini with internet” “Let’s make Bisto gravy.” “I don’t want Bisto gravy.” “You don’t have to have Bisto gravy.” “If you throw stones at the ducks daddy will not be happy.” “It’s such a good film: no explosions and no one gets shot.”

The beautiful thing about mess, junk or scrap – the detritus of everyday life – is that the creative process is hugely dependent on it for its efficacy. Baudelaire described the metamorphosis of raw reality into crafted artefact as the transformation of mud into gold and Samuel Beckett spoke of seeking in art “a form that accommodates the mess.”

Scrap’s lack of specificity provides us with the conceptual space to make decisions about it, to determine its character and identity, rather than being confronted with a predetermined identity.

Scrap forces us to be creative.

Scrap fuelled creativity brings into existence new ideas, original ways of doing things and new creations of all kinds. Creativity becomes available to everyone, not requiring any special talent or innate ability but becomes something that can be taught and encouraged.

A messy church points to a creative church; one which takes fragments of life and of human existence and forges a coherent whole from many disparate elements which at first sight seem unprepossessing and incapable of leading to very much at all.

Humble scrap materials such as junk, detritus, the unworthy, the broken and the discarded, offer us opportunity of preservation, of conservation and of human development beyond what we might imagine is possible at first sight.

Many thanks to Mary and Malcolm Stacey for their advice. For more information about St. Leonard’s Church in Wollaton, the Wollaton Antiphonal and St. Leonard’s Messy Church, please click here.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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