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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Lincolnshire’

Sons and daughters of the soil

On local history (in general)

A train of thought has been slowly easing into the station over the past few days, after I read a very interesting blog post by historian Caitlin Green about the Ridings of Lindsey and the route between Lincoln and Grimsby—at any rate, the route between Lincoln and Grimsby mapped in 1675 by the Scottish cartographer John Ogilby. Ogilby was the creator of Britannia, Britain’s first road atlas, in the form of 100 cross-country routes drawn as strip-maps at a scale of 1 inch to the mile. Nottingham to Grimsby via Lincoln is map 78.

I recall watching a documentary when I was a child about the history of mapping, which discussed Ogilby, and for some unknown-to-me-reason it was illustrated with rostrum shots of Ogilby’s Grimsby-to-Lincoln route. I was baffled and amazed. Firstly, that of all places, they had decided to show a map of the very village I was living in at the time; and secondly, that our village was on Ogilby’s map. Our village was on a route from Grimsby to Lincoln, but it certainly wasn’t on the main one.

Nowadays there are basically two reasonable routes between Grimsby and Lincoln. You have the main road, the A46, with various straightened-out parts and bypasses and suchlike. Parallel to half of it, though, is the B1203: in general it still goes through villages rather than around them, and it goes up and down a lot more. The A46 cuts across the Wolds from Grimsby to Caistor, then runs south along their foot to Market Rasen, minimising the time it spends on the hilly ground. The B-road’s route is closer to a crow-flies route from Market Rasen to Grimsby, but as a result much more of its route is in the hills. This is the route that appears on Ogilby’s map, following much the same route as the B1203 today. However, it wasn’t until I read Dr Green’s post the other day, that it really occurred to me that, of course, Ogilby’s route didn’t quite follow the same route as the modern roads. The question of exactly which routes were meant by Ogilby when compared to modern topography is a very interesting one.

My thoughts on this led to a bit of a Twitter discussion with Dr Green,as to how Waltham has developed over the years and how the pre-enclosure road from Waltham to Scartho might have survived as a footpath down to the 1950s. That’s not really what I wanted to talk about today, though, although I might possibly write something about it in the future. The train of thought that’s been wandering around in my head this week is more about the importance of fine-grained local history, and how easily it is lost.

The Mother spent a lot of time over the last twenty years researching our family tree—or, rather, her family tree, as she gave up on my dad’s when she discovered a number of things in the early 20th Century which didn’t quite tally with her views on how People Used To Behave.* From her grandmother, she inherited a Victorian Bible with lists of various marriages and dates of birth inscribed on the flyleaf, and various stories about how her family were descended from Spanish pirates who had settled in Cornwall in the 16th century. These had presumably all come from her grandmother’s parents, who had been the first generation to move out of their tiny Cornish fishing village and had moved to London to marry and have children. I don’t remember meeting my great-grandmother, but apparently she was always also very proud of her “genuine Cockney” roots, having been born in Soho. My mother got right onto all of this, feeding the information into Ancestry, linking it up with other people who could trace their roots back to the same Cornish fishing village, and so on. However, all she ever seemed to be interested in were names on a chart. She entered different ancestors’ names into the data like a birdwatcher who is only interested in ticking each species off in a book, or a trainspotter who does nothing more than gather numbers. That’s…not really what history means to me. To me, history is more about what these people actually did. How they lived their lives, and what the world was like around them.

When we moved to Waltham, before I started school, we moved to a new-build house on a clean new estate with barely any sense of history. My parents, too, seemed to have no sense of history or of the landscape around us. I remember asking The Mother one day what we might find if we did an archaeological dig in the garden, and she replied with: “nothing at all, it was just a field.” It took a few years before I realised that one farmhouse left behind on the estate was much older than all the other buildings; or before I realised that one cul-de-sac was in the middle of a mature avenue of trees. As far as my family were concerned, or anyone I knew, the village was tabula rasa, a clean slate with no history save for the old windmill and the part-Saxon church. All of the roads might for all I knew have been there for eternity, whether built two or two hundred years before. History, to me, was the sharp-angled village library, built in 1981.

At secondary school we learned about enclosure and were shown before and after maps of each of the local villages. Most of the roads, we were told, were built at enclosure, which is why they have sharp bends or zig-zags where they cross the parish boundary. So how did people travel before that? There were few if any roads marked on the pre-enclosure maps. What route was John Ogilby marking on his map, if all the roads were built later? If I thought at all to ask any of these questions, nobody quite knew how to answer them.

I recall someone from my parents’ generation who had grown up in the village telling us that a slight rise in the Grimsby road, close to the old village school, was called Pepper’s Hill. As a name, it didn’t appear on any maps, and I have no idea where it came from, or where she had got it from. Moreover, why did nobody else know about this, and why had nobody told me?

Traditionally, history was always seen as a grand progression of Great Men, of names and dates and battles and similar Important Events. That’s still believed in some regressive, reactionary circles, but it’s not true. There are many histories, and everyone’s story is a history in itself. I love the history of place, the fine-grained history and archaeology of a small piece of topography, the sort of history that asks where the roads really did run in a particular village a few hundred years ago. It’s one of the reasons I waffle on here so much about local cemeteries and suchlike, and why I think it’s worthwhile to look at just how individual places and neighbourhoods have changed. It’s even more important to look at a regular neighbourhood than it is to study the history of a castle or a palace; but so much is lost, or overlooked, or just forgotten. My great-great-grandparents left Cornwall, and left behind them so much knowledge of their tiny village and of their local towns that is all gone completely now, so much dust in the wind. I can go back to where they came from and walk the same streets; I can go to the village museum and see walls of photos of Victorian fisherman who are probably all distant relations of myself; but I have no connection with that landscape or with any of the people. My family has jumped too many times, and broken its connections at each one.

If you go all the way back, back to when the English first arrived here, just think: there is so much that has been forgotten and lost. There are so many rivers in England called Avon, and we do not know the pre-English name for any of them, because Avon is just the Welsh word for “river”. There are so many kings of Britain, from the period after the Romans left and before the English arrived, whose names and numbers and forts are forgotten and missing from the record completely, because they had the misfortune to lose a war. The history we do have now is the history of survivors, but sometimes we should remember there is a history of the forgotten too.

This post is a bit of a mish-mash, a bit of a strange ramble around my mind, but I suppose what I’m really trying to do is set out some sort of a manifesto, for why I like to study history, for why I went and got myself a degree in archaeology, and for what I think is important in those fields. Above all, this is a plea to know the land around you, know its shape and how it came about, know what was here before you and what you have inherited. I hope that wherever I live in the future I will always try to learn about the landscape around me; and hopefully now I’m an adult I will have the resources to be able to do that. This land is our land, but we merely hold it in trust for our descendents; and the same goes for our history too.

* My great-grandparents got together circa 1910 or so but never actually married—because my great-grandfather was already married to someone else. Allegedly, a few decades later someone used this fact to taunt my grandmother, and she immediately punched them to the floor. There were also other bits which would be hard to even draw on a standard family tree, such as the distant relative of my dad who got married to his stepmother’s sister.

Humility

In which Yorkshire and the Humber turns nasty

This is just a quick note; I didn’t intend to write another political post so soon again. But I felt it needed saying, as someone who was born in the now-deceased Humberside and was a registered voter in the Humber region until last year. I’m ashamed, to come from a region in which a six-figure number of people are willing to vote for a party with no real policies other than removing citizenship from non-white people. The elected candidate claimed in his acceptance speech that he “heard a rumour” that the Prime Minister has considered annulling his election result. No doubt his party would love for that to happen. What is more important: this election result happened because of a drop in turnout. It shows how vital it is that we have an open democracy where voters are able to make an educated choice, and exercise their right to make it.

Snowed In

In which we consider historical weather and historical labour disputes

Incidentally – while the weather is still cold and the snow is deep again – I should point out that, on this day in 1978, the weather was pretty much the same as it is today. “Country in grip of freeze” all over the papers, and that sort of thing.

The reason I know this is: my mother kept all the press cuttings about it, so she could stick them in her New Baby Book.

The other big thing in the news which she saved clippings of, oddly enough, was: Grimsby workers getting rather upset about foreigners taking their livelihoods away. Back then it was fishermen, who hadn’t quite given up their hopes of fishing in Icelandic territorial waters, even though the main Cod Wars had been over for a few years. Today, of course, it’s oil workers who are going back to work, presumably satisfied that their rather vague demands* have been catered for; the fish industry now sticks to breadcrumbing and battering other people’s fish. This is only a rough guess, based on anecdotal evidence, but I’d say that most of the people working in fish-related jobs in Grimsby are migrant workers – largely, as I said before, because they’re the people who apply for factory-line jobs nowadays.

* An awful lot of the strikers interviewed on TV didn’t seem awfully sure what their demands even were, or what it would take to get them back to work. “We’re sending a message to Gordon Brown, that someone will have to do something?” “What will they have to do?” “Um … well, I dunno, but someone is going to have to do something

Regionalism

In which we discuss employment in Grimsby, as it’s in the news

Nice to see the Grimsby area in the news for once, even if it isn’t very good news. I bet the Grimsby Telegraph‘s news staff have been so excited over the last week, to get some national-quality news to report on, they’ve probably been wetting themselves.*

I was rather wistful myself, what with formerly being local – so much so that in my teens I did work experience in the very refinery that’s been on the news. It’s bad luck, really, for the contractors who sparked the protests off: they would have to bring foreign workers in to one of the most reactionary and xenophobic parts of England. Grimsby’s the only place where I’ve heard someone (a retired nurse) say the immortal line: “I’m not a racist, but I do think all those coloureds should go back to their own country”. Without irony. And mean it.

I’m also well aware that the area’s an employment blackspot; on the other hand, though, I also know that it’s not as bad as you might think. There are great estates full of people who have been on benefits ever since they were old enough.** There aren’t many jobs other than in a few limited sectors. But, when I lived there, I had contacts at a local employment agency. Within a few sectors – mostly factory line work – there were once plenty of jobs. They go to immigrants; Poles and Lithuanians. That’s because Poles and Lithuanians were the ones who turned up to apply for these jobs, and were the most employable when they turned up. It’s easier, I guess, to sit in the pub and rant about how all these foreigners are taking the jobs of honest British workers, than it is to go out and get one yourself.

I said “there were once jobs” because I’ve not been around there for a while, and all I’ve heard since I left has been about factories closing. I don’t know what things are like there at the moment, but from what I’ve heard things aren’t going well. I’m not saying, either, that the work in question at the refinery shouldn’t have gone to a local company. The refinery and its suppliers, though, already in total make up a big chunk of the local workforce, and the small number of foreign contractors that have caused the protests make up a tiny proportion of the number of workers on the site, which after all it itself the size of a small town. They haven’t put that big crowd outside the refinery gates out of work, either. Grimsby has bigger problems than foreign workers, much bigger problems. The issue shouldn’t be whether the Prime Minster should live up to some sound-bite his speech writers came up with a while back; it should be one of getting more investment into the area. More foreigners, in fact – both Lindsey refinery and the neighbouring Humber refinery are foreign-owned plants. It’s also a problem of education; and a problem of ending the area’s isolationism. You can’t exactly pick Grimsby up and move it closer to civilisation, but maybe things would be better if that could be done with some of the locals’ minds.

* Although their managers won’t like it – it might be a bit of a budget-stretcher for the Grimsby Telegraph, sending reporters all the way from Grimsby to Immingham. God knows what might happen – one of them might even try to put a burger-van lunch on expenses! There aren’t many other refreshment options in the area, unless you can get into the refinery canteen.

** I would have said “ever since they left school”, but a lot of them didn’t go to school.

Earthquake (a fuller account)

In which I record what an earthquake felt like

This gets written down today, and not left any longer, so I don’t forget it.

I was jolted out of a dream about school. Why are so many dreams about school? I was jolted out, and it felt like a sharp jolt, into a shaking bed.

It was all over very quickly. Reading this post will take you much longer than the time it took in reality, so try to imagine this compressed tightly. I had time to think: something big is crashing, a truck, a plane. An army is marching down the street outside, their tanks rumbling and shaking everything. The room was shaking, and the shaking was building up, and a very deep and loud rumbling sound was getting stronger too. Something in the plumbing went splang! I was picturing a burning something outside, still, but the shaking faded away, gently and slowly. Still waking up, I realised everything was still, and the thought popped into my head: we’ve just had an earthquake. A strong earthquake. It didn’t occur to me just how unusual that was, until the next morning.*

By the time the shaking stopped, it was about 6 or 7 seconds since I’d woken up. Groggily, I stumbled downstairs. Everything was intact, and nothing had fallen over; but the cat was racing about like a mad thing. So I did what anyone would have done: logged on to the computer and wrote a blog post about it.

* A thousand years ago it might not have been that unusual, interestingly enough. There’s a small chance that bigger earthquakes are going to be much more common from now on.

Pride

In which we note the Grimsby Telegraph’s latest marketing campaign

The rather news-thin Grimsby Telegraph newspaper has decided to jump on a fish-marketing bandwagon and declare today to be Great Grimsby Day. A day to be proud of the Grimsby area! Its scenic mudflats! Its thriving heroin-injecting scene! The active support for boxing and extreme wrestling seen in the town centre every Saturday night! The wide range of chain-based shopping opportunities, and the picturesquely decaying industrial areas. Be proud, people!

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that they didn’t get it confused with National Fetish Day, which – equally arbitrarily – was yesterday. I hate to think what would have happened. There’s not much of a fetish scene in Grimsby, after all; a couple of the regulars in the Lloyds Arms and that’s about it. I can quite easily imagine the Grimsby Telegraph’s staffers not understanding what the word means.

Spot The Non-Difference

In which we spot France being invaded amid seaside amusements

Today’s blog is like one of those spot-the-difference puzzles where you have to spot hard-to-find differences between two apparently identical pictures. To make it a little bit different, though: here’s a carefully-prepared Spot The Non-Difference puzzle, where (for a change) you have to spot the hard-to-find connection between two apparently little-related pictures.

Firstly, we have a photo I first spotted in today’s Guardian. It’s a publicity still from the award-winning film Atonement, and shows James McAvoy hard at work apparently invading war-torn France:

James McAvoy in Atonement

Secondly, this photo, taken by Dimitra, some years ago now:

Cleethorpes beach, December 2001

Yes, I’m pretty sure they were taken at almost the same location, although, to be quite honest, if I didn’t already know that Atonement was filmed in the Symbolic Forest area, I’m not sure I would have spotted the link between them.

Equinoctial

In which winter is on the way

This week, it’s started to turn to autumn. I’ve closed my bedroom window, the mornings are getting cold, and the morning air is damp and ashy-smelling.

Today, summer ends and autumn begins; but the weather was already turning. Now we’re moving towards Yuletide, the skies darkening day by day. In a few weeks, the clocks will change, and I’ll hardly see the sun.

Tonight I drove past the steelworks, and they were doing a burn. Great gouts of flame poured out of their chimneys, high into the night sky, lighting up the town and countryside. Our own little industrial bonfire night. We light fires, and we know the sun will come back again.

Road safety

In which the area is notorious for something

You often see stuff about road safety on the telly. Less often, things about specific roads. And it’s very rare for this area – the Forest, if you like to think of the Symbolic Forest as a physical place – to get on the telly at all. So when I heard that there was an hour of Channel Four last night solely devoted to road safety in this area, I had to watch it. Even more specific than that: it was purely about one road, the one from here down to Somerset.

We didn’t manage to watch the whole thing; the catalogue of deaths was just too depressing. It wasn’t helped by my habit of saying “That’s the bend coming out of Fir Park” or “That’s just by Cottagers’ Plot” when random stretches of road were shown on-screen; I spend so much time trying to get out of this area, I know all the main roads out of here in great detail. As we didn’t see it through to the end, I don’t know if the documentary tried to offer up any reason why that particular road is so dangerous. All we got was: people round here are crap at driving.

This may be true. Certainly, in my experience, it is true. People in London, say, may have a reputation for bad, aggressive driving, but people in this area are good at sloppy, careless driving; or drunk, too-fast driving; and that’s what leads to so many people dying on a fairly short, fairly ordinary road. It’s because, paradoxically, this area is quiet and isolated, compared to the rest of the country. The question is: is there anything we can do about that?