Raining and dull. Wore my best blue suit. Got to St Mary’s Church about 10 minutes early, and found a good congregation already there. I slipped into the back pew, just behind Harding and dear old Lambert, who looks spryer than he ever did at the Museum. The hideous church, with its absurdly thin columns, was bitterly cold. A few lights were on, and there were two candles burning on the altar, while the organ played sad, twittery music. Hull came in, and went up to the front. Councillors appeared in ones and twos, doctors, the Mayor and the Town Clerk. I could see old Benham’s bald head, and wondered if he felt satisfied that he had outlived Laver. In front of me was Miss Newman from Wiles’ the printer. Dr Penry Rowland came in late, and sat next to me. The choir appeared and took their places, and, much to my surprise Benton came in with Canon Campbell, looking huge and solemn. The Canon and Benton, apparently fearing they would be too late to meet the body, came hurrying down the nave in long strides, their robes fluttering behind them and making them look like two birds of prey intent on a kill.
I heard shuffling and scuffling. The glass doors were opened, I caught a glimpse of the heaving coffin, and Canon Campbell’s voice rang out “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” Slowly the coffin came up the aisle, the Canon and Benton walking in front, and behind them Beckett the undertaker. There was one wreath lying on it.
Just behind came Laver’s sister Mrs Lyon-Campbell, close on 80, and several other women, one of whom was quite young and good looking, I think a niece.
The service began with a dreary hymn, which ended with the Masonic phrase “so mote it be”. Only the Choir sang, or rather intoned, this as nobody else had the slightest idea what it meant. The service dragged on. Benton read the lesson in his ridiculous theatrical voice. I thought of how Laver would have laughed at him. I thought too of the old man, now lying still and fixed in that polished box, how he must have come to this church as a little boy, and his father before him, when they lived in the old house in Head Street. Their garden gate leading into the churchyard is still there.
Now all is finished. He went so gently I can scarcely remember when I saw him last. I do not know when he was last in the Castle – not for about three weeks I believe. Perhaps the day when he came over to talk to me about my new job was the last time.
The December meeting was the last time he attended a [Museum] meeting. Little did he know that never again, after all those years, would he sit as Deputy to his hated enemy, Benham. How fortunate that rarely can we foretell the future.
The service ended. The Dead March, that wonderful music, thundered out, the coffin came swaying down the church, Campbell and Benton in front, all heads were bowed, but there was many a side-long glance. I thought there he goes, goodbye old man, you were often very kind to me in years gone by.
The congregation remained in prayer while the procession moved away, and then I came out quickly, past the figure of Sir Isaac Rebow, who has stared at so many coffins coming in and out of this church, and the one before it for that matter.
The Church of St Mary-at-the-Walls is no longer in use and is now Colchester Arts Centre.
E.J. Rudsdale Talk
I will be giving a talk as part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival on E.J. Rudsdale's Journals, entitled 'Creating History: A Civilian's Experience of the Second World War in Essex' on Thursday 30th October from 7.30-9.00pm at Anglia Ruskin University. Tickets are free. Book your ticket here. Many thanks, Catherine Pearson