With thanks to Anthony Halford.
The Royal Visit on Tuesday 23rd July gave an opportunity to celebrate both the Priory’s 900 years and the people who have contributed to Priory life and Priory 900.
This short address was given before the royal couple’s arrival, and has been printed in the Bridlington Priory magazine for anyone who was not able to be there.
“Welcome to the Priory and to our Priory 900 celebrations on this special day. It is not a service as reported in the press, more like a lunch time concert. We welcome our Royal visitors, Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to join with us in listening to the choir and then viewing the Priory as we continue to enjoy our music.
“It is a good moment for the Priory 900 committee to say thank you to all the people here, both from the church and from Bridlington and beyond who have helped us make these 900 years celebrations so exciting and fulfilling. Priory 900 certainly would have been commemorated if Poppy Weston had not been Chair of the committee but her inspired vision gave the year a unique dimension, so a special thank you to you Poppy from all of us. Thanks to all those who helped prepare the church for today – cleaning, flower arranging, setting out chairs, preparing the music.
“We are celebrating today all the faithful people who through 900 years of Priory history have sustained the worship and witnessed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, but also to all those people from Bridlington, believers and unbelievers who have valued and value the Priory Church – births, marriages and deaths, civic occasions, remembrance services and by generous giving. The Priory Church is a wonderful asset for the town and the community. Now as we celebrate 900 years of Priory life it is appropriate to outline briefly those momentous years.
“In 1066 Gilbert de Gant, a powerful Norman baron from Flanders, was granted extensive land in East Yorkshire by William the Conqueror after having helped quell the northern rebellions. It was his son Walter who in 1113 founded the Priory. Henry 1 was encouraging Augustinian foundations and so it was a small group of canons were based here in Bridlington Priory.
“There was a small Anglo- Saxon church in the NW corner and the canons must have worked hard to build other accommodation. Soon though, Walter’s son Gilbert, who loved the Priory and whose Tournai marble tombstone is our oldest relic, quarrelled with the Lord of Holderness in the civil war that followed Henry 1’s death in 1135. The Bayle was probably used as a fortress and the canons turned out.
“Only when Henry II established order in 1154 was peace restored and the canons allowed to return. Building then began in earnest. The cloisters date from 1170, the time of Robert the Scribe – his library of illuminated manuscripts were renowned across Europe.
“At the same time in the NW corner, this magnificent church was begun and by 1250 had reached the North porch where the carved head of Henry111 adorns a capital. Through the reign of Edward 1,11 and 111 despite wars in France the Priory was almost completed. The church had been a building site for 250 years . How fortuitous it was that at this moment in 1363 St. John of Bridlington became Prior. His saintly life drew people to the church. He was canonised in 1401 as the last English saint.
“Bridlington Priory became a place for pilgrimage. St. John of Bridlington became the patron saint of the Lancastrian kings Henry1V and Henry V. They both visited the shrine of St John. Henry V1 founded the choir school which is why they are allowed to wear red – a royal foundation.
“Two pilgrimages in August this year, one from York and the other from Beverley will commemorate this period in the church’s history They will arrive in Bridlington on Wednesday 28th August, St Augustine’s day.
“A famous pilgrimage site brings, however, great wealth and the fine perpendicular architecture of the SW corner and the Great West Window witness to that. There was less discipline, more easy living and Henry V111 as the new Head of the English Church used it as a reason to dissolve the monasteries.
“As William Woode, the prior at the time, supported the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion in the North hoping to protect the old ways of life, the Priory was particularly targeted. Prior Woode was executed in 1537 on the Knavesmire in York; nothing was left of our great Priory but the nave we have today. The shrine of St. John was burnt in the Market Place.
“How fitting it is that today we should be welcoming Royal visitors to celebrate these 900 years. It is to be informal, a thank you, some music, a tour by the Prince and Duchess while the congregation chat among themselves and listen to more music.”The Royal Visit
Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrived at 1:40. It had rained in the morning but mercifully the rain eased for their arrival. The convoy of limousines looked splendid as they swept into Church Green. The Church Bells tolled magnificently ( they had been ringing for 40 minutes), the Royal Standard flew bravely and the Royal couple stepped out to meet the Civic Party. The Lord Lieutenant and her son The Hon Simon Cunliffe Lister introduced the Royal couple to the High Sheriff of the East Riding, The Chairman and the Chief Executive, The Town Mayor and Mayoress of Bridlington. Into the Priory gates and they were introduced to the Archdeacon of the East Riding, and their hosts for the visit Poppy Weston and Revd John Wardle. The Royal couple came through the West Door and were taken to a model of the Priory before 1536.
A violin solo by Ben Couper, especially written for the occasion, was played as the Royal couple walked down the aisle chatting so amiably to so many of the congregation. They were obviously enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and they contributed greatly by their warmth and interest. The choir then sang; ‘We are waiting for Thy Loving Kindness O God’ by Mc Kie and then’ Let all the World in Every Corner Sing’ by Vaughan Williams There must have been at least 50 in the choir and they sang superbly. Loud applause followed.
The Royal Party talked to Michael Smith , Organist and Master of the Choristers, Keith Jackson who had served 48 years in the choir and Stan Wright who had served 44 . They spoke also to Charlie Leeson, Head Chorister, and Yvonne Kurvits (Priory 900 committee). They were then taken to see the piano cover with 900 little finger prints from Burlington Infants and the St John of Bridlington Exhibition. Inside the North Porch the Prince saw the carved Head of his ancestor Henry 111 with a bird’s nest close by. The tapestry ladies were waiting. Doris Casson, Pat Meek and many others had come especially for the occasion. Margaret Kozimor and Di Jackson showed the Royal couple the new tapestry of St John. All the beautiful tapestries were much appreciated.
Near the cloisters Pat Norton, Churchwarden emeritus, The Chief Lord of the Feoffees and our curate Andrew Moreland were introduced. Conversations were always relaxed , appreciative and interesting. After this the Priory 900 committee were thanked for all their hard work in making this celebratory year such a success. The visitors’ statement was signed ( copies are available for a donation to Priory funds) and gifts presented.
Robyn Fraser, accompanied by Emmie Fraser and Grace Kemp, presented a posy to the Duchess. It was from Mediaeval times : sweet smelling Marian herbs, such as marjoram, sage, rosemary and thyme, mixed with roses, feverfew, pinks and lavender.
The royal couple exited by the West door. They paused to look at the carving of the tree trunk by Stphen Carvill and admired his skill. The Prince asked for a photograph when it was finished. It was these interested comments that made the day seem so special. The Priory’s great qualities were truly recognised.
As the choir exited to a cheerful voluntary the congregation burst into spontaneous applause a tribute to the choir and to the visit which had been so memorable.