InfoBritain - Travel Through History In The UK :
Binton Church, Warwickshire
Detail from the west window of St Peter's Church, Binton
St Peter's Church in the Warwickshire village of Binton was built in 1875, on a church site dating to at least 1286. A number of interesting features recall the long history of Binton Church. At the gate for example there are steps built into the wall, which were used for easy dismounting by people arriving on horse back. A ring for tethering horses is still set in the wall by the gate. Going back further in time, there are yew trees in the churchyard, a characteristic feature of many churchyards. These remarkably long lived trees recall pre Christian times when trees were objects of worship.
St Peter's Church, however, is best known for its link with Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Royal Navy who in 1910 led a British expedition to Antarctica, hoping to reach the South Pole for the first time. This link was established when Scott married Kathleen Bruce, sister of Binton's rector. Binton then became a place Scott would visit regularly. In fact Binton Church was one of the last places Scott visited in England before setting off for Antarctica in the spring of 1910. At the culmination of the two year expedition that followed Scott and his team of four men finally reached the South Pole after an agonsing journey in January 1912, a month after a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen. On the journey back to their base on the Antarctic coast, the British group died of cold, dehydration and malnutrition. These events caused a huge reaction in Britain, with Scott and his men quickly entering a mythology of suffering and self sacrifice. At Binton Church a stained glass designer, Charles Eamer Kempe, was commissioned to create a memorial window to Scott, which can still be seen today.
After seeing the windows I pondered on the reasons why Scott's expedition in particular should have been picked out as a religious parable. And it's not just at Binton Church that this religious link is seen. A memorial built at Mount Wise Park near Scott's childhood home in Devonport shows an angel carrying Scott up to heaven. There is a bronze tablet memorial at St Paul's Cathedral, and preserved sledge flags are kept at Exeter Cathedral. Why was the Scott story linked with religion in this way? There's the self sacrifice of course, seen particularly strongly in the fate of Captain Lawrence Oates, a member of the Pole party who, badly injured by frost bite, crawled off into the snow rather than remain a burden on his comrades. As well as self sacrifice, there was a sense of trust and faith in Scott's leadership which endured to the end, which seems to mimic aspects of the Christian experience. But history has been full of suffering, self sacrifice and loyalty. Why should Scott's story in particular be transfigured into stained glass? It might be a fanciful idea but I do wonder if our thoughts might not wander right back to the origins of religion itself. Some academics - Olga Soffer professor of anthropology at UCLA for example - believe that religion evolved in human societies during the most recent ice ages. At this time there is evidence that under the stress of a desperate battle for survival, egalitarian hunter gatherer societies evolved into hierarchical societies. This type of society could develop more efficient specialisation of tasks. Religion was then used to bolster the position of a holy man leader who sat at the top of the new and potentially unstable hierarchy. So if this is true there is a very ancient link between religion and the cold. Maybe that is why Scott and his men were turned into stained glass window images in a church in Warwickshire.
View from the door of Binton Church
Binton Church is generally open to visitors when not being used for services. There is a wide ranging display of information relating to British Antarctic exploration. Journals at the church describe how the view from the church door across the church yard and the countryside beyond was one of Scott's favourites. In the spring of 1910 he paused to take one last look at this view before leaving for Cardiff, to join his ship the Terra Nova, bound for Antarctica.
Directions: Binton is about two miles west of Startford Upon Avon, off the A46. Click here for an interactive map centred on Binton Church.
Contact: Binton Parish Council.
Telephone: 01789 750164