Farewell from Nicola (Outgoing Project Manager)

I like to think that I’ve been a bit of digital pioneer during my time as Project Manager with the Discover DeCrypt project – but on reflection, what I’ve really been is primarily an enthusiastic user of Twitter. As the voice of the project twitter account, I feel like I’ve really got to know the virtual community of Gloucester…and what a community it is! Creative, brave, innovative, and growing in confidence as the City’s perception of itself shifts and becomes more defined. Gloucester, it feels like to me, is a City on the brink of some seriously Good Things.

One area of the Discover DeCrypt’s own mini ‘digital revolution’ which I have singularly failed at is in the Blogosphere. Having been asked, cajoled, and eventually downright pleaded to write something by Project Assistant Jenine, there came a plaintive last email from her on the last day of my contract on the project – ‘please can you write your first and last blog post?.’ That was nearly two weeks ago, and as I sit here knee-deep in the challenges of my next project, that firm but gentle email still in my inbox, I think the time has come to finally deliver.

Over the final weeks of the project thoughts turn as much to the past as the future. The future of course of Discover DeCrypt is golden – with 3,000 visitors (or a third of the total forecast numbers for the entire year to the end of December) having passed through the doors, there’s no doubt of the appetite and enthusiasm for a truly new and uplifting contribution to Gloucester’s City Centre. But being myself very firmly part of the past now as far as the long history of the church and schoolroom is concerned, I think very fondly at this stage of the design team and contractor who together with me are part of this invisible army whose lives have been touched by (and whose professional skills have touched) the fabric of the place.

Project teams can be the most complex, intense pieces of theatre. United by a common goal (to complete a project), but divided by highly-specialised disciplines, they are brought together under pressurised circumstances and move through every possible emotion en route to a successful conclusion. There is plenty of sunshine and smiles as milestones are reached, and furrowed brows and thunder as we pass through stormy skies – the classic ‘forming, storming, norming’ of project management literature. At every meeting I thought to myself ‘I MUST take a photo of us all together at work’ – and as every meeting closed, I thought ‘next time.’ But then just as suddenly as you have formed – and got to know each other – and talked holidays, buildings, and family in the time that bookends the proper business of each meeting – it’s time to say goodbye. This being the heritage sector, which is after all not huge, there’s the hope your paths will cross again, but for now at least our voices (at times calm, at times urgent, at times – let’s face it – a little bit cross) are still as far as St Mary de Crypt and the Old Crypt Schoolrooms are concerned.

So – for the final time after multiple speeches which have been at times chaotic and others polished – is my final Roll Call of Honour for my fellow consultants:

Jonah Jay, Purcell/ Jonah Jay Architects (for making it look beautiful)

Alec Painter, Mildred Howells (for making it all add up)

Graham Cooke and Tim Bartlett, Martin Thomas Associates (for making it warm and bright)

Steve Swinbank, Mann Williams (for making it all stand up)

Bruce Kirk, Light Perceptions (for lighting it up)

Mark Magidson, Exhibition Plus (for telling the story)

Jon Wilkins, Wilkins Safety Group (for keeping it safe)

Geoff Buckley, Buckley Lewis (for keeping it legal)

…and Andy Hutchings for making it all happen on site.

Gentlemen – it has been a pleasure and a privilege.

Until the next time…


Iblogatory Notes (7)

Bread on waters

The Tudor Schoolrooms during their renovation

Like St Mary de Crypt church, the attached schoolrooms have seen many different uses during its long history, though not as dramatic as an ammunition store or an inn, or even as target practice for Royalist forces lodged at Llanthony!

Their use as a school is given emphasis by the many carved initials of pupils on the wooden wall finishes. Almost all of them will continue to be historic confessions of guilt by the perpetrators in the restored building. Yet they are such clumsy and immodest claims to history that nevertheless attract awe and amusement from visitors. Those moments in time, like the toy cannons (found during the excavation of the floor) capable of firing a small loading of explosive, are all footprints of our human existence even if they do not rank alongside the other more important and exquisite archaeological finds in the church. ‘Boys will be boys’ is a long standing and surviving fact of life, and perhaps our rôle now is to consider what marks our generation will leave for future ones to contemplate. And to be fair to the early pupils from 1539 on they, armed with such refined educational aids as stylus and slate (also found during excavation of the floor) formed a strong tradition of education that continues with the modern Crypt School.

In the 1960’s the oriel room over the archway to Marylone was a dwelling place for a family, with use also of the rooms above in the attic, where the natural light was limited (as now) to two very small dormer lights. The lady of the household cared for an ailing husband and acted as a token caretaker for the other rooms. That arrangement ceased in the late 60’s; the conditions were regarded as inadequate and the family rehoused. The archway up until then had been closed by large wooden doors preventing access through it to Marylone. In 1969 it was opened up and there began a lease of Marylone to the City Council as a public right of way.

The oriel room was soon converted to a kitchen (well-appointed for its time), making the two main rooms available for community use. It was at that point of development that the stairs in the NW corner of the church were constructed as a second means of access/egress through a new doorway to the upper schoolroom, then named the Raikes Room. The lower room became known as the Cooke Room. As well as the community use to which they were put, the rooms were invaluable to the congregation to lay on celebratory parish events; children enjoyed especially sliding on the highly polished wood of the Cooke Room floor, with no risk of splinters.

In that strange way that history wends its way through fits, starts and unexpected directions, the schoolrooms, latterly a drain on PCC resources, have actually become a significant catalyst in the drive to see the Discover deCrypt project through. The quality and significance of this Tudor building has enabled it to stretch out a hand of assistance to St Mary’s, the church to which it owes its birth.

Churchwarden St Mary de Crypt Church

The Big Reveal

I write this at the end of a busy weekend for the church of St Mary de Crypt, with a big smile on my face, now that the public has finally been able to see all the hard work that has gone into the Discover Decrypt project.

A quiet corner for prayer and reflection inside the main church, where anyone can go to pick up leaflets on the benefits of praying for mental health and serenity was one of my personal highlights.

Having already written about sneak peeks that I’d been fortunate enough to have before the official re-opening this weekend, there was plenty left over to surprise and delight me at the church’s Open Day Event on Saturday March 23rd.

I have written a lot about the potential the church space could have for events and community gatherings, but as I walked around the church on Saturday morning, what really struck me was the ease and comfort of places set aside for private worship and reflection. One such space, tucked in just beside the burial area of Robert Raikes, was a ‘prayer station’ with lots of information about how to pray and the benefits of Christian mindfulness. I made sure to leave my own prayer in the heart shaped tray, asking for the church to be blessed. Something about the act of writing down my thoughts on paper made my prayer feel more tangible and possible, and I hope the same will be true for other visitors who would like to share their own prayers this way. And for those of you who prefer to worship within the setting of a traditional service, the wonderful restoration of the church altar will not disappoint.

Some of the displays available in the main church opening, including the exhibition of the ‘wish bones’ made by local children.

Away from the quieter parts of the building, I started to see a curious collection of people, apparent visitors from Gloucester past. These included a Medieval monk, a couple of Civil War gentlemen and an arresting Victorian couple, out to stroll the grounds in their finest Sunday dress. Far from hallucinating, what I was really seeing was some of the actors and actresses from local drama company Tyger Productions bringing some of the characters from the church’s history to life.

Photo Credit: Riki @ Tyger Productions

The group was also there to promote an exciting production of Alice in Wonderland, to be shown at St Mary’s sometime in July 2019 (exact dates TBC). Auditions for all roles will soon be taking place, and the group welcomes any budding thespians to come along and try out. For more information, please see their website: http://www.tygerproductions.co.uk/.

As well as these theatrical volunteers, there were photographers, local artists and craftmakers, authors and patrons of the church, who all need congratulating on all the hard work that they put in to the event. If you missed the opening but want to come along and see the finished project, the church will be open again from Wednesday-Sunday, so please come along.

And finally, the Discover Decrypt project is always grateful for volunteers who can offer their time now that the church has re-opened. For more information please our website: https://discoverdecrypt.org.uk/volunteering/.

Maybe it’ll be your event I’ll be writing about next!

Until next time – Zoe.

“A Gift to Gloucester” – The Church of St. Mary de Crypt gets ready to spring into action

This afternoon (Saturday 9th March), the Church of St. Mary de Crypt opened its doors to around forty volunteers and visitors ahead of its official reopening in two weeks’ time.

Young and old were treated to a warm welcome from the Rector, Rev. Canon Nikki Arthy, who praised the efforts of everyone involved in the renovation project so far. Speaking briefly about her hopes for the relaunch, she described the church as “a gift to Gloucester”, as a space for worship, history, and community to all come together under one roof. Guests were then free to browse and preview the new exhibits that will be set up at the relaunch event.

Without giving too much away, the invitation to celebrate the relaunch on Saturday 23rd March, culminating with an open event at the church from 10-4pm, promises a day of “storytelling, music, and family fun”, as well as my personal favourite, “tea, coffee, and cake”.

Snack jokes aside, I’m also looking forward to the event in terms of the reaction from the general public who haven’t seen the church since it was closed for renovation, or perhaps ever at all. With the days getting longer as we draw into Spring, the impression of the early afternoon light coming through the stain glass windows can only be aptly described with one word – glorious.

But even if in a fortnight’s time we are met with the classic wet and windy conditions this country is famous for, I will be there trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious Rose Petal Trail and warming up with a cuppa and I hope many of my fellow Glostonians will join me.

So come along to Southgate Street on Saturday 23rd March as The Discover DeCrypt project invites you to take another look at the life, faith, and stories of the city. Who knows what you might discover right on your doorstep?

Iblogatory Notes (6)

Aspects Of Love

It is curious how events, even if they appear of small significance at the time, can often make the difference between success and failure. In the early 1990’s it was my perception that St Mary de Crypt had an uphill struggle to survive as a church or, indeed, as any place contributing to the city scene; the population of the city centre had dwindled to a level that meant the church could only expect support from those living in the suburbs. So, I began expressing the need to plan for an alternative life before simple financial facts of life led to a slow painful death.

The problems then were exacerbated by being unable to leave the church unattended at any time, so it could no longer remain open to passing visitors as had been the case. We saw an open church as an essential part of what we did in the city, but had insufficient resources to see it through.

Then, in 1994, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber launched his Open Churches Trust, giving grants to churches to enable them to stay open. In his words:

‘Britain’s churches are one of the country’s unsung assets…..I founded this Trust to help keep these treasures open.’

The grant we received for several years enabled us to pay the costs incurred by volunteers, but its value to us was much more because it came at the right time and enabled us to bridge a period of reduced resources until we began to get increased support from Gloucester’s Civic Trust and their volunteers. Very fitting as the Civic Trust had a Rector of SMdC as its founding Chair!

That support was consolidated when Eve Stuart-Kelso and husband Derryck adopted the church as their focus of care, and became members of the congregation. The effect of their involvement was massive, with new drive and aims that helped us take further steps into the early moves towards what is now Discover deCrypt.

– Peter

Churchwarden at St Mary de Crypt

Zoe’s Blog – Introduction to St. Mary de Crypt and the Old Schoolrooms

It wasn’t a typical office lunchtime when I donned a hard hat, his-vis jacket, and steel capped boots to see the final reconstruction work at The Gloucester DeCrypt project, but nevertheless it was an effort worth taking.

I moved to Gloucester around eighteen months ago, so for the entire time I’ve lived in the city the project site on Southgate Street has been closed whilst undergoing an extensive renovation to its grounds. As unfamiliar as I am with local history, it’s hard to walk past The Crypt’s imposing walls and archway, a sharp contrast to the charity shops and high street stores surrounding it, without being filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity about what might be going on inside. In the hopes that other passers-by may feel similarly enchanted, I wanted to blog about my experiences with the project, starting with that all important introduction to the Crypt buildings themselves.

A place of worship and study since Norman times, the church of St Mary de Crypt and the Old Crypt school rooms are full of history which restorers have tried to honour without infringing on any of the necessary modern additions that will reintroduce the buildings as bright and inclusive areas suitable for the 21st Century visitor. The idea of keeping close to tradition as much as possible even can be found in the most utilitarian of spaces – even the walls in the two new toilets in the church use the design pattern of the tiles that paved the church entrance in Victorian times. Underfloor heating and brilliant lighting will add warmth in every sense to the services and concerts yet to be held there.

Although it was still incomplete when I visited, the area I’m most excited about seeing come to fruition is the small landing area between the church and the first floor. It gave a wonderful view of the church floor from above and its beautiful stained glass windows, and I’m sure it’ll be a space fought over for keen heritage photographers in days to come! I’m equally glad the space will be serviced by a lift, so that everyone has the opportunity to view the chapel from above, regardless of their physical mobility, lack of accessibility being an issue which can often be a challenging aspect of older church buildings.

It isn’t long now until the church and school rooms will be open to the public – with a weekend of reopening events beginning on Friday the 23rd of March. Over the next few months I’m hoping to attend some of the concerts and groups being held at the Church and blogging about my experiences, including a run through of the opening weekend festivities which I’ll be writing about in my next post. So, if you’re interested in, or already planning, to hold an event at St Mary De Crypt after its reopening please get in touch via our comments or website www.discoverdecrpt.org.uk and let me know what I should be writing about next!

  • Zoe

Iblogatory Notes (5)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

String Quartet musicians performing as part of Gloucester History Festival at the Church

The Discover deCrypt project is not just about creating a practical flexible space that can be cleaned, maintained and heated. We are very fortunate to have on board in the management/development team Jessica Gordon, who, as our Community Outreach person, has made great strides in readiness for the opening in Spring 2019.

One aspect of her work has been the involvement of local musical talent in events to get the place known for its potential in the performing arts. The acoustics are remarkable, and the setting very rewarding, even before the major works now under way. Especially heart-warming have been the recitals given by young musicians of all kinds, some playing various instruments, with others singing a great range of musical styles. This fits very well with the school and church combining to be a place and resource of learning; we were blessed by it, and the young performers grew visibly in stature from having such a good platform to exercise their skills.

Against this background, my mind wanders back to when we were well served by a succession of 6th form musicians from Crypt and Sir Thomas Rich’s schools who played the organ for Sunday services. Young organists were also encouraged to play in a series of organ recitals, among them Robert Poyser (now organist and choirmaster at Beverley Minster) and Luke Bond (who played the organ for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan).

SMdC, despite having to cope with less than ideal conditions (which the project will now put right!), has a precedent for drama events too, with Theatre Roundabout’s performance of Pilgrim’s Progress, A Grain of Mustard Seed (composed by Roger Jones for the bicentenary of Robert Raikes in 1979), Eight in the Crypt (commissioned by rector Canon David Paton and written by Norman Brown; an imaginative introduction to the noted characters of SMdC).

It is so exiting to have been part of what has been, but even more so to have contributed a little to what will be!

– Peter

Churchwarden at St Mary de Crypt

A little taste of history

Gloucestershire Archives GBR/J5/1As part of the work on our interpretation panels, with our interpretation designer Exhibition Plus, we made a visit to the Gloucestershire Archives to see what treasures it holds about our buildings. As a medieval historian by trade, I was extremely eager to volunteer for this particular job; I love archives, it can be such a treasure trove! We tried the patience of the Archive staff to the limit with ordering a full trolley full of archive boxes and folders. They patiently gave out item after item during a visit which stretched over two days. (Images with permission of Gloucestershire Archives, GBR/J5/1, http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives)

We found several maps, a lot of architect’s drawings, letters and notebooks related to the history of the church and schoolroom. We also found some lovely old photos and postcards giving a peak into the more recent history of Southgate Street (image Gloucestershire Archives, SRprints/GL80.112aGS)

Gloucestershire Archives SRprints/GL80.112aGSBut my favourite item (no surprise there from a medieval historian) was the earliest image of St Mary de Crypt Church that we have so far. On a parchment rental roll dating from 1455, there is this lovely hand-drawn image of St Mary de Crypt Church. The roll contains a list of rents, presented in such a way as to reflect the geographical location of Gloucestershire Archives GBR/J5/1the buildings running along either side of Southgate Street.  On the corner of Southgate Street and Greyfriars we find these lovely images of St Mary de Crypt Church – very recognisable with its distinctive south porch – and opposite, Greyfriars. It’s very special to see a drawing of the church from this time, more than five centuries old, and nearly a hundred years before the Schoolrooms were built in the early sixteenth century!

The Archives are open and free to use for anyone, you can just order online if you would like to have a look at this, or other old Gloucester documents!

Jenine, Project Assistant

Iblogatory Notes (4)

A re-baptism

There has already been publicity about the wonderful rainwater gulley found when the schoolroom floor was excavated, and how the steady watching brief of an archaeologist was welcome to oversee its ‘re-birth’. I was fascinated by the simple elegance of the structure, and puzzled that it could be so emphatically covered with dense and thick concrete with a fine, hard tile finish. This unlooked for discovery was the most exciting of the project so far; there was no doubt that we could not entomb it again, and must find the resources to keep it on view.

But that is not what I remember most about my first view of the gulley. I could go into detailed research about how long it has been unknown, unseen, unloved; how long it has been since the rainwater from the church was diverted into a pipe from the east to the west side of the school, thereby enabling the new floor to be laid, but that was less important than what actually happened.

There is no doubt that the floor in its form at the start of the project had been so for many decades, going back at least to the early 1900’s; good enough for me, someone who laments not having taken history more seriously at school when there was far less of it to worry about.

Having been told about the gulley, I went to see it immediately. There it was, freshly uncovered and looking proud of itself, and rid of the pipe that had lain over it for too long. This was after a long dry spell of weather, when the first drops of rain began to fall. Within a few moments we saw a tear, then a trickle, then a flow of water begin to flow the length of its shallow but wide surface across the width of the school and into the remnants of the removed drain. It was a special moment, a re-baptism, a benediction, a justification. Spine-tingling.


Churchwarden St Mary de Crypt

Hidden Lives

Volunteering – The Historical Research Group

I knew when I met Jess to talk about volunteering back in 2016 that the historical research group was the perfect match for me. I had recently started my own history blog creating biographies of people from the details on gravestones in churchyards and cemeteries and Discover DeCrypt wanted to do the same with their surviving tombs and memorials. I was looking for a volunteer role where I could use my skills and knowledge, which didn’t over-commit me to specific times and where I could work with other people and on my own. I really value the regular volunteer meetings where we can give and receive feedback and plan our next tasks.

Hidden Lives has been wonderful to be part of and it has been rewarding to see people coming into the church to view our findings in the two exhibitions we’ve had so far. The individual stories have been fascinating to work on and even more so when we’ve been able to find living descendants of our subjects, locally or from as far afield as Oregon, USA. They have kindly provided extra material such as photographs; in return we have been able to fill in gaps in their family history or share documents and newspaper clippings they had not seen.


The forthcoming Hidden Lives booklet will bring together the stories we’ve told so far along with plenty of new material that we hope will bring the parish’s varied and colourful population to life. We’ve included the well-known personalities and prominent Gloucester business people you may already be familiar with but my own favourites are the stories drawn from obscurity, of people long forgotten by most but whose interesting lives we can connect with across the divide of time. I hope you enjoy them too.

Sue Hickman,
Historical Research Group Volunteer