Religion was at the heart of the work carried out by Lady Henry Somerset at Duxhurst, the village she founded in Surrey as a home for women and children affected by alcohol abuse: “the farm colony for inebriate women” as it was gloriously described in Whitaker’s Almanac.
Lady Henry’s faith developed over the years. During her early temperance days, she worked along side Methodist women on the streets of Ledbury, the market town near one of her family homes, Eastnor Castle. But by the time she was in her fifties, she was a devout Anglo-Catholic and she filled not only her home at Duxhurst (The Cottage) but many of the buildings there with religious imagery. Although the village was non-denominational, Lady Henry was proud to assert “We are not afraid of ritual. Rightly understood it is a great help to faith.”
The church she had built in the centre of the village, St Mary and the Angels, was very beautiful. Whilst on the outside it appeared rustic and simple, inside it was very spendid, full of valuable pictures and icons which she had brought back from her travels abroad as well as a splendid organ.
Sadly this wonderful church, which brought peace to the herats of so many people, is no longer standing. Its graveyeard is overgrown and many of the gravestones have been vandalised.
Yet, rather wonderfully, there will be a church service on the Duxhurst site on Sunday 19th June 2011. This special service is being arranged by the congregation of nearby Emmanuel Church at Sidlow, as part of its 150th anniversary celebrations. I am delighted that Duxhurst is being remembered in this way.
The service will be at 3.30pm, followed by a picnic tea. The service is open to all, something which would have pleased Lady Henry herself.
Details of Emmanuel Church’s 150th celebrations can be found on http://www.emmanuelchurchsidlow.co.uk under the special events section.
As part of their special weekend, I shall be giving a talk about Duxhurst at Emmanuel Church on Saturday 18th June.