Familiarity can breed contempt.
And sometimes, in Britain, we allow ourselves to treat some very beautiful places reprehensibly.
Like St Helen’s Church, in a Teeside village called Eston.
St Helens’s is a foursquare ancient church, built around 1100, out of stone blocks to withstand the elements. Dedicated in 1393, it was a place for pilgrims to call in as they travelled between Guisborough Priory, Whitby Abbey and Lindisfarne.
Around it grew up the village of Eston. In 1545, the people were given their own priest, and the church thrived. By the middle of the 19th century, St Helen’s was serving as the parish church of Eston; and in the early 20th century it had a thriving community and church choir.
But in 1985, the church was closed.
And when a building is not lived in – for no matter what reason – predators will move in and take it, piece by piece.
Thieves dismantled the vestry and took it away; and a fire completely destroyed the roof. After years of neglect it seemed there would be nothing for it but to demolish its ancient walls.
Except that Beamish Museum – which aims to preserve records of daily life and work in the North of England – stepped in. Stone by stone, with the help of the community the church served, it was taken down. And stone by stone, it was put up at the museum in County Durham.
And there it stands now. Moved in its entirety.
It has taken a great deal of time and the commitment of an entire community to get the stones and mortar of this little mediaeval church preserved in a safe place.
Imagine, then, the plight of one woman, who was told that her 14th century house must be demolished to make way for a new road.
May Alice Savidge had bought 1, Monkey Row, Ware, in Hertfordshire, about six years before the council said it must be demolished in 1953. She had spent her time revealing hand-cut floorboards which still bore the marks made by mediaeval joiners, and uncovering the original oak beams which gave the house its structure.
The house was built by a monk in about 1450: a hall with a minstrel’s gallery and adjoining living space.
May refused to let the demolition men have their way. She fought for 15 years: and by the time the bulldozers reached her house in 1959 – she was 58 – she was numbering and labelling every beam and every pane of glass, so that they could all be reassembled.
As the demolition firm took down the house she continued to sleep in it, even when the roof was gone. May found a site in Wells-Next-The-Sea for her house and a lorry made 11 trips to the site to deliver every last beam and roof tile.
As she grew older, living in a caravan, this woman painstakingly rebuilt the monk’s house.
Without electricity – using Victorian parafin lamps- she reassembled the frame during the first two years, and a local craftsman fixed it to the foundations for her. She had taken a rubbing of the mortar before the house was dismantled and used this as a yardstick to lay every brick and tile perfectly. All by herself.
It was not until she was in her seventies that she could live under her own roof once more.
She died aged 82, with the house a shell around her, and it fell to a friend to complete the project, selling some of the eclectic hoard of objects May had collected to fund the completion of what was named Ware Hall House.
And it’s still there today. In fact, you can go and stay overnight, for May’s friend runs the concern as a bed and breakfast.
So familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also breed love.
The passion for a place – earning a part in a building’s history; it can move mountains.