Meet the Vicar of the Moon in Over Kellet

Revd. Ken Clapham 'Bishop of the Moon' at St. Cuthberts Parish Church

Revd. Ken Clapham 'Bishop of the Moon' at St. Cuthberts Parish Church - Credit: Archant

A vicar with a passion for outer space and children with a love of food are just two notable things about the village of Over Kellet, reports Sue Riley

School cook, Katrina Fraser, with Reception Class youngsters, Izzy Mason, Darci Shaw, Vinnie Langm

School cook, Katrina Fraser, with Reception Class youngsters, Izzy Mason, Darci Shaw, Vinnie Langman, Euan Hird and Katie Salt - Credit: Archant

At first glance Over Kellet in north Lancashire looks the sort of place which has been taken over by commuters, but dig deeper and you will find it’s still a working village. With a farm at its heart, food and its production is central to the lives of local people.

That’s particularly true at the primary school where a groundbreaking programme launched a few years ago is still paying dividends. The latest visitor at Wilson’s Endowed Church of England Primary School was Edwin Booth, chairman of the Booths grocery chain, who spoke to the youngsters about where their food comes from.

Mind you, the youngsters are used to high-profile speakers: astronauts who’ve walked on the moon (their vicar is known as the Bishop of the Moon, but more of that later), Hairy Biker Dave Myers is a friend and the children recently attended Westminster Abbey for the climax of British Food Fortnight where they met actors Damian Lewis and Martin Clunes, the stars of Newsround and Blue Peter and had a good chat with the Duchess of Cornwall.

Headteacher Jo Williams said: ‘We believe our children should know where their food comes from and we encourage them to celebrate food by using locally-sourced ingredients in their cookery classes.’

In recent years the parish council has also created six large allotments on former wasteland for locals to grow their own fruit and veg. ‘It’s one of the parish council’s best achievements,’ said its chairman John D. Crewdson. ‘People were anxious to have allotments again’. Incidentally, one of the village’s most active groups is the horticultural society which holds a popular annual show every September.

Over Kellet, which is near Carnforth, remains a rare beast among small villages in that it still has its own pub, post office and shop and a busy hall. That’s not all - there’s an antiques shop, ceramics studio and architect’s practice. Set around a crossroads and village green, it has the feeling of space and light.

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For years it was identifiable by a quirky property on the green which had a host of sculptures outside and paintings on the windows. But when the owner, artist Roy Clapp, died shortly after completing a book of sketches of his wife, the house was sold and is now indistinguishable from its neighbours.

Perhaps one of the area’s more colourful residents these days is the vicar Rev Ken Clapham who has the moniker of Bishop of the Moon, referring to his love of all things to do with space. He first became interested in 1987 when local school children were doing a space project and later that year invited Colonel James Irwin - who found his faith after becoming the eighth man to walk on the moon – to visit the village which he did a few months later.

That piqued Rev Clapham’s curiosity and since then he has visited NASA several times, the White House, invited General Charles Duke (the 10th man on the moon) to speak in Over Kellet which he did in 1995 and 2005 and has several priceless pieces of space memorabilia, including a tile from the space shuttle and a space suit used on Apollo 7. This year he plans to go back to Washington DC where he has previously worked in the education unit.

So what does his regular congregation of 50 at St Cuthbert’s make of their space vicar? ‘At the time they were quite surprised that a little village like Over Kellet could get an astronaut here. They are all very supportive though,’ he said. Some visitors pop to the village to see him and talk about his space experience; others are more interested in the church itself which Rev Clapham believes may have been built on the exact location where St Cuthbert’s body was laid out before the 7th Century monk was taken to Durham for burial.

Like all English villages, Over Kellet has many layers of history. The word ‘Kellet’ often refers to a spring and the village has its own well which was used for watering horses in the 18th Century. It also has a pond, known as the Greenways Pond, which is home to five species of British amphibians, including newts. Since 1992 it has been looked after by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire.

The real charm of the village is in its buildings though, from the tiny cottages to the imposing Hall Garth which is Grade II listed. ‘It’s an active village with a lot of history,’ said Mr Crewdson. Not all of the village’s history is visible. Since 1715 Over Kellet has been helping local children obtain a trade or occupation under the Thomas Withers charity. These days the charity helps pay for educational courses for those under the age of 25.

It’s not all about the distant past though, this is a place which also looks to the future and is proud of its Best Kept Village status in 1999 and then Champion Village in 2002. Although it doesn’t compete any more since the rules changed, every week during the summer months a task force of volunteers working with the lengthsman set about tidying up the place, from picking up litter to cutting hedges. ‘The village has a pride in its appearance and its general upkeep. It’s an active and pleasant village to live,’ said Mr Crewdson.

In the centre is a war memorial erected with a broken limestone column to represent the lives cut short in World War One, unlike its near neighbour Nether Kellet which remarkably had its men return from both World Wars without a single fatality. It’s one of the 52 places in the UK known as ‘thankful villages’, just as the residents of Over Kellet have much to be thankful for today.

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