|The Layer Breton Missal Stand
Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History
Published in Parish News - February 2011
In 2008 I had an email from Australia. Someone had found this missal stand (a bookrest that usually holds the service book on a church altar), in a church in the middle of nowhere; St Paul's Church, Arthur River, Western Australia. St Paul's, built in 1884, is of similar size to St Mary's, Layer Breton. The enquirer was historian Mrs Lee Lane, commissioned to write St Paul's Church history.
The stand has two plaques on it. The top central one is in memory of Philip Clifton, who died on 25th October, 1980. The lower right-hand plaque reads "Originated from St Mary's Church, Layer Breton, U.K."
St Paul's register records the death of a Jane Edkins in 2000, aged 65, and here the link between the two churches begins to emerge. For Jane was the daughter of Jim and Mary Eve, who lived at Layer Breton for many years, and Jim Eve, together with two farming partners, had bought a sheep farm at Arthur River. Charles Edkins, an Australian originally from Port Hedland in Western Australia, was the farm manager, and he married Jane Eve at Layer Marney in 1963.
Searches at Layer Breton drew a blank; there is no record of any missal stand in the Layer Breton inventories or minutes. So it must be doubtful whether it was ever used in St Mary's churches, old or new; perhaps it was commissioned by the Eve family as a memento linking Layer Breton, where churchwarden Jim and Mary worshipped for many years, to their daughter's home on the other side of the world. Philip Clifton was a neighbouring farmer at Arthur River, a great friend of Charles and Jane Edkins, and a bachelor, so they dedicated it to his memory. However, it is not clear how the stand came to Arthur River; perhaps Jim and Mary took it over there, but was it kept at home for several years by Charles and Jane, or was it given to them at the time of Philip's death?
Lee Lane could not trace any of the Edkins family. I searched the internet and saw that Jane's burial record at St Paul's showed that she had three sons, Robert, Harry and Philip. Edkins is a fairly unusual name and I found two possible leads; a Rob working for the Australian Government as a conservation specialist and listed as 'from his days working the family farm at Arthur River', and another specialising in agricultural finance 'rural manager Philip Edkins grew up on a family farm in Arthur River'. So I suggested Lee might get in touch with them, and indeed they were sons of Charles and Jane. Even better, they told her that Charles was living 100 miles away in Fremantle. So Lee Lane visited him to confirm the whole story, although we still do not know how the missal stand got to Australia, or whether it was ever part of the furnishings at Layer Breton. The Australians think it dates back to the old church that preceded the present St Mary's, and dates from the early 19th century (i.e. about 1800), but there is no firm evidence yet for that.
Geoff Russell Grant