Mice in the Minster

Some of you may know that my favourite church in the UK is Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire. This small self-deprecating building is in fact the cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Southwell.

Here’s one I took earlier

Never heard of it – shame upon you. Clearly you don’t read my blog regularly (See Ifotophilia for 9th November) – or perhaps when you zoom between the towns of Mansfield and Newark or Nottingham and Newark you take the main roads. Next time you travel between these towns look for the signposts to Southwell, but don’t call if you are in a rush.

Norman pillars in the Nave of Southwell Minster

Once inside you will be struck by the stunning Norman nave and the delightfully decorated Early English Choir. Then you must venture in to the Chapter House to see the beautifully carved leaves. (More of them another time)

If you have really sharp eyes you may notice on various pieces of woodwork in the Choir and adjacent areas there is an outbreak of mice – wooden ones. They could be on the legs of chairs, or running along the base of the altar rails or even up the arms of the Bishop’s throne. My excellent guide believed there were 15 of them (although some people claim there are 23) but I found 9, I think.

The mice were carved in to the furniture that was made by craftsmen at Robert Thompson’s workshop in the North Yorkshire village of Kilburn. Thompson himself, who lived between 1876 – 1955, once claimed that he was as poor as a church mouse. To make the point he carved a church mouse on the piece of furniture he was working on.

Even today each piece of furniture from the workshop in Kilburn carries somewhere on it an image of a mouse. Each mouse is carved individually so no two are the same. Some are plump, others lean and thin. On some items of furniture the carving may be incised.

It is a great way of retaining the attention of children when they are being taken round the Minster – unkind friends will add and that’s why I went looking of them.

But the challenge is on merry people see how many you can photograph when you visit. Happy New Year.

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