The National Trust Songs of Praise


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The National Trust

Pam Rhodes explores how a tiny island in the Lake District inspired a Victorian clergyman to become one of the founders of the National Trust.


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As spring gives way to summer,

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it's the perfect time to get out

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and enjoy some of the glories of the British countryside.

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And what better place to visit than this jewel in the county of Cumbria,

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the Lake District National Park.

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I'm here to explore how a tiny island

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inspired a Victorian clergyman

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to become one of the founders of the National Trust.

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And I'll be hearing about a poet who fused his faith

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with a love of his hometown.

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Wait. Wait. Come closer.

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I've something to tell.

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I like the language he used.

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Not for nothing he was admired by TS Eliot

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and some of the great poets, because he was good.

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And I'm celebrating with this amazing lady,

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who's been singing in her church choir for 70 years.

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Congratulations!

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As ever, we have wonderful hymns from around the country.

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But as I'm here in the Lake District,

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which has always been so popular with walkers,

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let's start with a hymn that asks that we should see

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where Christ is leading so that we can follow in his footsteps.

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The National Trust today

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is the largest voluntary conservation organisation in Europe,

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looking after about 800 miles of coastline,

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many historical buildings and huge swathes of the countryside.

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And its story may never have begun if it weren't for a little island

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in the middle of Grasmere lake.

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So why is this island so important?

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I'm dying to tell you, Pam.

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This little island came up for sale in 1893.

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It sparked a whole series of events.

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So four acres in the middle of Grasmere came up for sale

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in a private auction and it duly sold into private ownership.

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It had an impact on a man called Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley,

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who was a vicar of Crosthwaite in the North Lakes, and it was this

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island coming up for sale that made him passionately believe

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that an organisation could be formed that would acquire these pieces

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of land and look after them forever for everybody.

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He had a strong sense of stewardship, a sense of duty,

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not only to preserve the natural environment for the benefit

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of future generations and for our forebears,

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but also because he loved the natural world as well

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and he saw God in everything.

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So this was a man of vision. Where did that vision take him?

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His first port of call was to go and see a lady called Octavia Hill,

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whom he'd worked with in the city of London as a young man.

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He knew she was a seasoned campaigner,

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she knew how things worked, she knew how the system worked,

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she knew influential people.

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She advised him to go and talk to Sir Robert Hunter,

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who had a great legal brain.

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So it was the three of those people bringing different skills together

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that collaboratively managed to deliver this vision.

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The National Trust achieved almost immediate success

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and just a few weeks after its foundation

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was given its first property -

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five acres of clifftop at Dinas Oleu in Wales.

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The following year, in 1896, it bought its first building for £10 -

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Alfriston Clergy House in Sussex.

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And in 1902 it launched its first appeal

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to buy Brandelhow on Derwentwater in the Lake District.

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I think the thing that inspires me,

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Rawnsley obviously committed large parts of his life

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with people who were less well advantaged.

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And he had this passionate belief, this really philanthropic drive,

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that he wanted ordinary people, whatever their station in life,

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to have access to the good things

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and to have access to nature and natural beauty.

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I think that's just such an inspirational thing.

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Next, we hear from a choir who have come together

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because of their shared love of music, performance and faith -

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and it's a mix that's worked so well for Manchester Inspirational Voices

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that they are currently the Songs Of Praise Gospel Choir Of The Year.

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We hear them now with a song which is really a prayer

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that we never stop moving closer to God.

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# Bring us

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# Closer, closer, closer

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# To that perfect

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# Place

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# The stars are gathered

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# And illuminate

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# To see us safely

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# Through heaven's gate

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# We look behind us

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# At the wonder of the Earth

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# Only to remind us

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# When God came first

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# Way up there

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# Where peace remains

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# Where silence thunders

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# And the angels sing

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# Imagination

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# And amazing grace

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# Every woman, child and man

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# Every woman, child and man

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# Will one day

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# Will one day

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# Take each other's hand

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# Hand

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# Way up there

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# Where peace remains

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# Silence

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# The silence thunders

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# And the angels sing

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# And the angels sing

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# Imagination

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# And amazing grace

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# And amazing grace

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# Bring us

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# Bring us closer

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# To that perfect place

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# Getting closer

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# Closer to our home

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# We're getting closer

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# We're getting closer

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# To that perfect

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# Place. #

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Cumbria has always provided inspiration for poets.

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But Wordsworth's timeless image of daffodils fluttering

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and dancing in the breeze is a far cry from the much grittier picture

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of Cumbrian life revealed when the 20th-century poet

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Norman Nicholson wrote about the former Millom Ironworks.

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"For what does it matter if it rains all day?

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"And what's the good of knowing Which way the wind is blowing

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"When whichever way it blows it's a cold wind now."

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It looks a bit like walking on the surface of the moon because

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where we are is actually on the remains of the slag bank.

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When Norman lived here,

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this would have been growing in size all the time.

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It would have been glowing red

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as the spoil was tipped on a regular basis.

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And now it's barren, it's grey,

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but it's got that wonderful haunting beauty,

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especially when you look beyond what's left of the detritus

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from the ironworks and we can see the beautiful Duddon Estuary

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and beyond that we can look up the estuary

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and we can see the hills of the Lake District.

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The once-thriving Millom Ironworks closed in 1968,

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devastating the town.

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The expressiveness of Norman's poetry resonated

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with what was happening throughout the country.

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So what did he write about?

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It's not poetry which is about dancing daffodils, I have to say.

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"I wonder, Duddon, if you still remember

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"an oldish man with a nose like a pony's nose

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"Broad bones, legs long and lean but strong enough to carry him

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"Over Hard Knott at 70 years of age."

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It's more about poetry which extols the virtues of weeds

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as much as anything else.

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For example, if we just talk about weeds,

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he can see the strength and the durability of weeds

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and the fact that they shouldn't just be dismissed

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simply because they aren't cut up

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and put in a bouquet in the florist shop.

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"They don't ask for fertiliser or bits of rag to scare away birds.

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"They come without invitation;

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"And they don't take the hint when you want them to go.

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"Weeds are nobody's guests;

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"More like squatters."

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Do you think his work deserves more recognition today?

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Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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This is a poet who had this wonderful empathy

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with ordinary people.

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"Every inland fell is glinting

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"Black Combe alone still hides

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"Its bald, bleak forehead, balaclava'd out of sight."

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He sees things from a different angle

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and yet it's a different angle that makes you think,

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"Oh yes, that's right. I never thought of it like that."

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"Nobbut God.

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"First on There was silence.

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"And God said: 'Let there be clatter'. "

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A lot of his early poetry was to do with religion.

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He was very Christian in his outlook.

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One of the most appealing aspects of Nicholson's religious work

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is the way he transplanted the Bible stories

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from the Holy Land to Cumbria.

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So he writes about Joseph wandering around amongst the allotments.

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"Congratulations Herod.

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"You've done better than God.

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"Congratulations, Herod

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"But when all is done and said

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"The final sums of history may add up in the red."

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You can read into a lot of his work

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this Christian underlining of what his thoughts are.

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He's an underdog poet from an underdog town

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and, as we all know, the underdog will have his day.

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Later, we'll hear more about Norman Nicholson

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from one of his most notable admirers, Melvyn Bragg.

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Up and down the country today, choristers and congregations

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will have filled their churches with singing.

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Well, the Reverend Kate Bottley is in Norfolk meeting a lady

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who's been singing in her church choir for 70 years.

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In 1947, a 12-year-old Olwyn Barber joined St Faith's Church choir.

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She had no idea that she'd still be singing away

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in the same choir stall seven decades later.

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That makes her one of the UK's longest-serving choristers.

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The church has organised a special service in her honour

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and I've been invited to join in and to meet this amazing lady.

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You've been coming to this church for a long time.

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When did you first start worshipping here?

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When I was five, my mother first brought me

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and I went to Sunday school.

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How did you end up singing in the choir?

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I went along to see the rector and he told me

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to go and see the choirmaster, Mr Wilkinson.

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He said yes.

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That was quite a brave thing to do as a 12-year-old, wasn't it?

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To go and see the vicar and ask if you could be in the choir.

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I suppose it was but I didn't really think of it.

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You're a bit of a quiet revolutionary - that's what you are!

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# Dear Lord of thee three things I pray... #

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Now, I understand at the time there were no other girls in the choir.

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No.

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There was one soprano and two altos but we were the first girls.

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It wasn't usual for choirs to have ladies and girls.

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And how was that?

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What was that like - to be the first girls to sing in the choir?

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I think the boys thought it was a bit of a hoot sometimes.

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I first met her when I joined the choir

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as a schoolboy of eight years old

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and with other choirboys in those days,

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Olwyn took us under her wing.

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And we have a joke in our church these days

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that we would have to obtain a faculty if we wanted to remove her

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because she's part of the fixtures and fittings.

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I was thrilled to hear that you have now reached 70 years of singing.

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And what does it mean to you to sing in the choir?

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It's so lovely to be able to sing all God's praises.

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You know, the anthems.

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You can feel him speaking to you through the words and the music.

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It's very moving at times.

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She's wonderful. She is such an inspiration to us.

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All those years in one choir.

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Just, you know, what faith in God does that show?

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May God continue to bless you in your singing and music making.

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How does it feel to have a service dedicated to you?

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I'm thrilled about it.

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To be able to sing some of the hymns that I love.

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The ones that I've chosen.

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Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation, Loving Shepherd Of Thy Sheep.

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And Thine Be The Glory.

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How wonderful. I love that hymn.

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And why are those special to you?

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"Lo Jesus meets you", the second verse.

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And that's what I believe he will do in the end,

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is be there and greet you.

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It's something that I would hate not to have any longer

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and I'm so grateful that I'm still able to be here

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and sing God's praises.

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And what better way to sing God's praise

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than with Isaac Watts' wonderful hymn Sweet Is The Work?

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Earlier, we heard about the poet Norman Nicholson,

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who is much loved in his hometown

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and whose admirers include another native of Cumbria.

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Hello. Norman Nicholson was born in Millom in Cumberland in 1914.

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The son of a gentleman's outfitter...

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Melvyn Bragg is the president of the Norman Nicholson Society

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and he presented an edition of the South Bank Show

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about the poet in 1984.

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If I were to introduce you to Norman Nicholson as a man

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I would say, "Be careful!"

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He can be grumpy. He doesn't suffer fools gladly.

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But he knows a lot and he knows things that are worth knowing.

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And if he thinks you're worth trusting,

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you'll have good talk and a good walk.

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To be honest, I respond to it partly because I'm local too

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and so the local connection matters to me.

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But more than that, I think anyone can respond to it

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because he's talking about the world around him, the world as it is,

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the world of landscape.

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And that mattered to him a lot

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and he makes it matter to us by the way he writes.

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And also he writes very well. He's a very good craftsman poet.

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I like the language he uses.

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I like the fact that he brings in a lot of the northern words

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and he's very careful in his constructions.

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It was not for nothing he was admired by TS Eliot

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and some of the great poets because he was good.

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"I stump, stamp, blow a whistle over and over.

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"Staring into the rowdy air seeking you or you.

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"Anyone who can lip read the words of my whisper

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"as clear as a clang of a bell."

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This was his world, his entire world.

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And he drew on it and kept drawing on it and drawing on it

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to great richness really.

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Both in describing it and in taking wing from it

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as he did in his religious poems.

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He uses the place to express his religious views.

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One of my favourites is The Sea to the West.

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I did a reading with him at Grasmere.

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It was some anniversary of Wordsworth, I think.

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He read and I read and so on.

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He ended with Sea To The West, which is a wonderful poem.

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It is looking out, which he did from Millom, to the west

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across the sea,

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and this is the first and last stanza. He's here.

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"When the sea's to the west

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"The evenings are one dazzle -

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"You can find no sign of water.

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"Sun upflows the horizon;

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"Waves of shine

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"Heave, crest, fracture,

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"Explode on the shore;

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"The wide day burns

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"In the incandescent mantle of the air.

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"Then, on the stroke of bedtime,

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"I'd turn to the town,

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"Cycle past purpling dykes

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"To a brown drizzle

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"Where black-scum shadows

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"Stagnated between backyard walls.

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"I pulled the warm dark over my head

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"Like an eiderdown

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"Yet in that final stare when I

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"(Five times, perhaps, 15) -

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"Creak protesting away -

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"The sea to the west

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"The land darkening -

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"Let my eyes at the last be blinded

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"Not by the dark

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"But by dazzle."

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And that is a simple way of him speaking of the place,

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speaking of his feelings

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and speaking of his spiritual convictions, really.

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# In this world

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# I walk alone

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# With no place

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# To call my home

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# But there's one who holds my hand

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# The rocky road

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# Through barren lands

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# The way is dark

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# The road is steep

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# But he's become

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# My eyes to see

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# The strength to climb

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# My griefs to bear

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# The saviour lives

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# Inside me there

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# In your love

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# I find release

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# A haven from

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# My unbelief

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# Take my life

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# And let me be

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# A living prayer

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# My God to thee

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# In these trials of life I find

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# Another voice inside my mind

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# He comforts me and bids me live

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# Inside the love

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# The father gives

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# In your love

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# I find release

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# A haven from

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# My unbelief

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# Take my life

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# And let me be

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# A living prayer

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# My God to thee

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# Take my life

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# And let me be

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# A living prayer

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# My God to thee. #

0:29:480:29:53

We started the programme with Grasmere Island

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and we're going to end with it, too,

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because of a delightful postscript to the story

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of that Victorian clergyman

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who was so incensed by the private sale of this island

0:30:070:30:09

that he set up an organisation that became the National Trust.

0:30:090:30:14

Well, just earlier this year, 124 years later,

0:30:140:30:18

Grasmere Ireland has finally been bequeathed to the National Trust

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and therefore to the rest of us.

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So let's end with a hymn that speaks of the faithfulness of God

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year on year.

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Pam Rhodes explores how a tiny island in the Lake District inspired a Victorian clergyman to become one of the founders of the National Trust.

Music:

O Jesus I Have Promised from All Saints Church, Ecclesall For the Fruits Of His Creation from St Ninian's Cathedral, Perth Bring Us Closer by Manchester Inspirational Voices It Is a Most Wonderful Thing from St Aidan's Church, Leeds Sweet Is the Work from St German's Church, Cardiff A Living Prayer by Ward Thomas Lord, For the Years from All Saints Church, Cheltenham.