Vinney the Blue Border Collie.
When I lived in the South West of England, I shared my life with a blue merle Border Collie, Vinney (named after the delicious local Blue Vinney cheese). We were inseparable. In the village where I lived, everyone knew me and my Vinney and if one were spotted, the other wouldn’t be far away.
In 1998 I was contacted about a restoration job at Lambeth Palace (the London seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury). The Palace had been bombed during The Blitz and the Bishop’s private chapel (the oldest surviving part of the palace) had sustained a direct hit from an incendiary bomb causing fairly comprehensive damage.
The rood screen (the massive carved screen and doors toward the rear of the chapel) and some of the pews had been badly damaged and as a result, had been in storage for many years.
A pre-war sketch of the interior of the Archbishop’s private chapel.
The rood screen prior to The Blitz.
The destruction caused to the chapel during The Blitz.
The re-erection of the rood screen had been an on-going project subject to the availability of funds which proved somewhat erratic. My brief was to perform some of the finer restoration to the carvings on the rood screen and some similar restoration to the pews. I also made the massive parliament hinges for the screen doors and re-hung them.
I was nearing the completion of my work in the chapel and as ever, Vinney was near by. She would quite happily lie on the floor for hours on end either watching me intently, or just having a snooze. Her colouring matched the varigated black and white marble floor on which she lay, effectively camouflaging her presence to the unsuspecting.
I was on my hands and knees doing some final colouring to a few patches on the fronts of the pews when an entourage comprising the Archbishop, his aide and several architects and conservationists entered the chapel.
The then, Archbishop Runcie (who officiated at the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana), came over to where I was working and enquired how the restoration was coming along. I stood up to respond, which prompted Vinney (who had been lying motionless) to get to her feet too.
The Archbishop, suddenly noticing Vinney for the first time, exclaimed “Ah bless him. What a beautiful dog!” My inner self was leaping up and down, punching the air shouting the “Archbishop of Canterbury blessed my dog!”
I like to think Vinney was the only dog ever to have been blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury!
Some of the restored oak pews in Lambeth Palace chapel with the rood screen partially visible in the background.
The restored rood screen.