Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Visiting John Newton

One of our sentimental favorite books is Mr Pipes And The British Hymn Makers by Douglas Bond. It's the story of an English church organist who befriends a couple of American kids temporarily living in his village. They have adventures and learn about hymns and the people who wrote them. It is a sweet, fun book. There are sequels but none was as well-loved as the first.

When we went to England and Scotland in 2005, we took the book along to reread. We wanted some reading that "fit" our surroundings and we thought we needed something to fill time. As it happens, we barely read anything on that trip.

But there was another reason I took the book along. We wanted to surprise the kids at the end of the trip with a visit to Olney, the real village in which the fictional story takes place. We wanted to visit the church and John Newton's grave. Of course "Amazing Grace" and John Newton's story is in the book.

Two days before our flight home, we stopped in a nondescript town near Olney and stayed at a utilitarian businessman's hotel, much different from the inns we'd gotten used to. We told the kids we had one more fun place to go the next day.

I don't remember exactly how or when they learned where we were. Did they see the "Welcome to Olney" sign? Or did we tell them?  I wish I could recall.  But they were very excited when they figured it out!
The town is the stereotypical English village we'd been looking for all month.  We spent some time walking around looking at the landmarks.  William Cowper's house. The site of the pancake race.  There was a Cowper and Newton Museum which we were anxious to visit, but it was closed.  We saw some women inside and lurked at the windows trying to get them to take pity on us and open up, but it didn't happen.

John Newton's church.

So we went to the church.  It's a beautiful place, full of stained glass.   We spent a long time exploring it and the grounds around it.  I think we ran into one person while we were there and he didn't speak to us. No tour guide, or even the pastor of the church greeted us. It was so quiet and lovely.

Cute kids smiling by a grave.  Tacky?

Newton's story in stained glass.

 It was one of the highlights of our trip.  We all enjoyed the day though it didn't make it any easier to drive to the airport to go home.  We haven't read about Mr. Pipes again but it is one of those books we will never give away. 


DADvocate said...

There is some evidence that my family is related to John Newton. My last name is Newton.

Curiously, my father's name on his birth certificate was John Newton because his parents couldn't agree upon a name and the doctor just put down "John Newton." Years later when he joined the Army during WWII, he had his name legally changed to what his parents eventually agreed on.

Like John Newton's wife, my mother's name is Mary Newton.

John Newton is truly an inspiring figure. My parents visited the same church as you about 15 years ago.

Birdie said...

What lovely photos!