Saturday, 23 April 2022

Reminders of Saint George
and his fading but enduring
popularity in England today

Flagging enthusiasm? Saint George’s Flag fluttering above the church tower in Stony Stratford … a reminder that today is Saint George’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The flag of Saint George is flying above the tower of the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles under the bright blue skies of April.

I should say fluttering rather flying, because the weather has been so mild here all week, with very little breeze in this sunshine and no wind. By this morning, the flag had wrapped itself around the pole, and had slipped halfway down.

The flag has been flying all week since Easter Day last Sunday (17 April), and today is Saint George’s Day (23 April). Although Saint George’s Day is celebrated with noticeably less vigour and enthusiasm than the celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day, all my fears that this day would be hijacked by far-right nationalists and ‘Brexit’ fanatics have been assuaged.

Indeed, apart from the flag fluttering from the church tower, the only noticeable celebrations in Stony Stratford today have been the long queues of mothers and toddlers outside Gelato, the new ice-cream parlour on High Street, and the preparations in the Greek Orthodox Church on London Road, which is preparing to celebrate Orthodox Easter later this evening.

I have been in Stony Stratford now from Saint Patrick’s Day to Saint George’s Day – interrupted by my stay in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford following my stroke on 18 March, and an emergency overnight stay in Dublin to deal with some personal matters last week. Earlier today, I had another consultation with a consultant in the neurosurgery clinic in the John Radcliffe Hospital.

But, despite less-than-enthusiastic celebrations of Saint George’s Day, there are reminders everywhere here that Saint George is still the patron saint of England.

The Old George is a former posting house dating from 1609 … a reminder in Stony Stratford that today is Saint George’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

A few steps away from me on High Street, Stony Stratford, the Old George Hotel is a fine example of surviving old inns in this time. With its timber-framed, black and white façade, its old wooden beams and ingle-nook corners inside, and its welcoming beer garden in the laneway leading from High Street into Market Square, it is a reminder of many aspects of traditional life in this town.

The Old George is a former posting house dating from 1609. The building retains much of its early 17th century character, and the ground floor seems to be sunken, below the level of the footpath – a reminder of the original level of Watling Street, the ancient Roman road that passes Stony Stratford.

In the neighbouring town of Wolverton, the Church of Saint George the Martyr is a reminder that Saint George remained a firm favourite in Victorian England when this church was built in 1843 to provide a place of worship for the workers in the new rail enterprises developing in the town.

I notice, with some sense of curiosity, that Saint George’s was designed by an Irish-born church architect, Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) … an interesting way of bringing together thoughts about Saint Patrick and Saint George on this day.

The Church of Saint George the Martyr in Wolverton … a reminder of Saint George’s popularity in Victorian England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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