Dominic Wightman

The Effigies of Crediton

William Peryam (1534–1604) of Little Fulford lies in the north side of the chancel. Adjacent to the west side of ‘Will’ is ‘Liz’, Elizabeth Tuckfield (1593–1630). Then John de Sully and his wife Isobel can be found at the end of the south choir aisle. John (1282–1388) was Lord of the Manor of nearby Iddesleigh, noted since for its public house, The Duke of York, recently frequented by Our King, where the author Michael Morpurgo of Warhorse fame says he talked to an old soldier with first-hand knowledge of the use of horses during the Great War.

The Church of the Holy Cross at Crediton in the county of Devon is often empty of live people, which helps. Once known by the Pythonesque name The Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him who Hung Thereon, the church today is an ancient and sacred space alive with dust and history and I heartily recommend a visit. The grand nave and chancel of the current building date from the fifteenth century. The existing structure is built on the site of what was the cathedral of the Bishop of Crediton until the mid-eleventh century when the see was transferred to nearby Exeter. Conveniently, it sits twixt Brampford Speke on whose riverbanks I flyfish the Exe, and Crediton Tandoori where I gorge on lamb saag most Saturday evenings (when fishless) during season.

I find my four friends to be patient listeners. They have now replaced the old monks – a housemaster, a headmaster and a teacher monk – who used to listen and advise on how best to conquer life’s rapids. All are now dead and gone, my monks, buried in Monks’ Wood cemetery at Ampleforth, a Benedictine school and monastery, in North Yorkshire.

The peace one can find in this fine church in Crediton, especially on the pew nearest to ‘John and Izzie’, elevates one’s thoughts. Problems solve themselves while dust dances in the light. Speaking to effigies is a practice I recommend to all my friends – they don’t talk back; they never sue and not once have they lost their tempers. 

The effigies have helped me map out a business plan and decipher a pressing recruitment challenge. We came up with some inspired moves for the backs in my son’s rugby team and I felt reassured in their presence of numbers at the recent death of a beloved labrador. I have role-played a court case with my effigy pals, pondered a complex moral quandary and worked through innumerable challenges to the point of viable outcomes.

The process I employ with the four is less Ghostbusters and more mentor mind mapping. (Mind mapping is when you write, draw, or think up pictures of a goal that you would like to achieve and then you brainstorm everything you need to do to achieve that goal. One can add mentors for assistance and wisdom). Some people are clever enough to mind map without the need for effigies – I am fool enough to require their help. I use the layout of Crediton church and my imagining of the characteristics of the effigies to build mind-maps in my head. Not wishing to big up their egos, I suppose the effigies merely provide effective sounding boards and some geographical parameters while existing in a quiet and holy place where one can think, open to the universe.

I hand a problem to each of my stone counsellors. Financial decisions tend go to Will, who was once Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer. Family issues and questions of morality go to the ladies. John tends to get lumbered with questions of strategy for no reason other than he looks like a cunning, card-playing chap. Then I work my way around the church in my mind’s eye, imagining an exchange of thoughts, often inspired by the coloured light that shines through the church windows, giving off Newtonian stimuli. You’d be amazed at how effective the whole process is. If we get stuck, then there is always that gigantic crucifix atop the main altar.

When I am disburdened, I light a candle, pray for their souls and for loved ones alive and dead, then put a few quid in the roof fund box. This is the most practical thanks I can give my counsellors for their guiding light as they would all erode without shelter from Devon rains – alas, some already suffer from worn noses.

Speaking to the dead was a capital offence punishable by stoning under Old Testament law. God in the Bible considers talking to the dead a detestable practice and He calls His people to be blameless. In mitigation, I do not believe I am really talking to the dead in Crediton church, but I confess that talking to my effigies is sometimes easier than talking to the living. I am reminded by them of Marcus Aurelius’ encouragement to, “Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”

When we are honest with ourselves, we are all mere effigies. As long as light is transmitted, who cares what state of living one’s assistants take?

As one of my Benedictines taught me, death is but a thin veil and we are never far from the dead. He was with two boys at Medjugorje who had recently lost a sister in a tragic accident. They pleaded with him to ask her to give them a sign that she was well. As he prayed out loud before them, a rose seller walked close by, and they were all overcome with the sweet smell of roses.

It is thus at Crediton church. I enter burdened with problems and leave smelling roses.

Photo Credit.

Retreating Revisionists

I was asked in a recent interview what ‘We’ – the interviewer was referring to small c conservatives – should do with the tide of historical revisionism currently sweeping Great Britain. My answer was that historical revisionism never really endures. Whatever the pressures and however much it costs us, we should continue to shine the light of truth; that the current peak in subjective irrationality shall inevitably pass, and someday soon. 

I added that we should take a look at the USSR where we have a detailed account of Russian Communists’ daily atrocities and failures, despite the Soviets’ assassinations of truth-tellers, their best efforts to propagandise and to sweep potential discomfitures under the carpet. Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate or Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle highlight the topic of moral integrity in Soviet Russia – both survived the censors’ shredders. Memoirs illuminate as do oral testimonies, and there is no shortage of factual observation in the autobiographies of Soviet dissidents. 

Sure, many of today’s Marxist revisionists no longer consider that the Soviet Union was socialist – instead, they propose, it was ‘capitalist and social imperialist’. But what sensible people are getting won over by that weird historical revisionism save gobby outliers like Owen Jones and Novara Media – the Marxists themselves – those few desperadoes among us who are forever in search of ‘true socialism’, especially if it brings in a few Patreon dollars? 

‘Real socialism’ is a repeat car crash as everyone knows.  

As I walked down Victoria Street after the interview, I wondered whether my answer had cut the mustard. 

On the one hand, I was sure that it had:  

I thought of Andrew Scott – known to most as Otto English (a Twitterer) – whose historical revisionism in the book he authored, Fake History, was so wonderfully eviscerated, and so soon after publication, on UnHerd by the historian Dominic Sandbrook: 

“Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but it strikes me that if you’re writing a book about “ten great lies” called Fake History, you probably ought to use your real name” – just the opening volley in a delightful annihilation by Sandbrook which is well worth the read. 

Another positive development that sprung to mind was the pressure put on revisionist National Trust executives recently by the group Restore Trust. Restore Trust opposes what it describes as a “woke” agenda – including National Trust displays about slavery and historical figures – and has said it wants to steer the charity “back to its core purpose of looking after our heritage and countryside”. It has endorsed five candidates who are standing for election to its council. Most prominent among them is the former supreme court judge Jonathan Sumption.

When faced with historical revisionism, I reckoned that there would always be sound and proud Britons who will kick up enough of a fuss and make sure that any dodgy revisionists climb back into their box, therefore my original answer to the interviewer sufficed. In any case, the revisionists were so few in number that their revisionism was mere behavioural bilingualism restricted to the dinner tables of Islington and possessed universities where it would fester in a harmless but temporary conformity before dissipating in the wind.  

As I passed by yet another lifeless card shop on Victoria Street where Jayem’s tobacconists once dwelt, my optimism began to fade. It occurred to me that sound people in our country might be a dwindling troop. Then, worse – fortunately from afar – I witnessed the horror of a Labour MP walking by in a grey suit and tie whilst sporting matching grey shoes. 

If a man can be that oblivious to sartorial self-annihilation, I surmised, what prevents a posse of similarly peculiar, revisionist lawmakers from forcing our children into answering history exam questions with untruths for marks? 

A flood of most horrible images including snapshots of Corbyn in a shell suit, Angela Rayner in a catsuit and Nick Brown in chaps fast polluted my mind. Dear God, Labour’s full of them, I remembered. How many months away from Education Secretary, Reichserziehungsminister Lloyd Russell-Moyle are we? When will the GCSE unit ‘The Rise of Nazism’ be reduced to mere interpretations of BDSM and leather fetishism? I felt a sweat coming on and was forced to take a deep breath of Westminster fumes – as foul post ULEZ as pre ULEZ, Mr Khan. 

After further contemplation on the train home, I decided that my original answer was the correct one. You see, when you remove the emotion from fact finding, as truth does by its very nature, you are left with that residue which we still call facts. Historiography is never as easy to manipulate as the prevailing recorders and propagandists think it is at their time of prevailing. Truths have a nasty habit of resurfacing however much you try to conceal them. Records emerge which counter the revisions and expose their authors as frauds. 

In today’s data-driven world where mirrors of mirrors exist and where there’s always an Alexa or CCTV camera at hand to record the reality, and a Dark Web to suck up data most humans never knew existed, the once cunning art of historical revisionism faces its greatest peril. Compliance Departments and annoying bloggers were never so widespread or pervasive. We live in a world of snoops and corroborators like never before, which presents us with big, new problems but stakes revisionists’ extinction, for they can no longer manipulate such a sea of facts. 

Goethe wrote that “it is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it” and perhaps he was right when in the nineteenth century important documents could be burned on ubiquitous hearths and primary sources were more easily lost – silenced forever by the tumult of war and political upheaval or in the binary swift upshot of a duel. 

Today’s deepfakes, bots and social media storms may have some bearing on time-sensitive phenomena like election results or what appears in the pages of newspapers and news websites, but they are still provably fake. The fact is that technology is far more likely to expose truth than to bend it, thus dashing revisionist hopes. Edward Gibbon’s “Truth, naked unblushing truth, the first virtue of more serious history” shall, I believe, almost always conquer the efforts of truth-benders, from wherever they herald on the political plane. Yes, truth may take time to decipher and technology to decrypt but truth shall continue, eventually, to prevail in our history books, on the information signs of our great country houses, and as the key moral arbiter in our oft-peculiar world.

Dominic Wightman is a businessman and Editor of Country Squire Magazine.

Photo Credit.

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