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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Lincolnshire’

Flatlander

Or, a trip to the Crowle Peatlands Railway

There are so many preserved and heritage railways in the UK—there must be something around a hundred at the moment, depending on your definition—that it’s very difficult to know all of them intimately, or even to visit them all. It doesn’t help that still, around 55 years after the “great contraction” of the railway network in a quixotic attempt to make it return to profitability, new heritage railways occasionally appear, like mushrooms out of the ground after rain.

Which is why, a few weeks ago, I decided to pop over to Another Part Of The Forest and visit one of the very newest: the Crowle Peatland Railway. It’s still only about three and a half years since the CPR first started laying track; only about ten years since the railway’s founders first conceived of the idea, and less than a year since passengers have been able to ride on it.

The CPR was built to preserve the memory of a very specific, industrial type of narrow-gauge railway, one that is associated more with Ireland than with Britain. The Crowle Peatlands are part of one of the largest lowland bogs in England, the Thorne Moors, on the boundary between North Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. Drained from natural wetland by the engineer Cornelis Vermuyden in the late 1620s, from the mid-19th century the area started to be mined for peat, with a network of railways bringing the peat from the moors to factories at their edges for processing and transshipment. For many decades these railways used horse haulage, but from around 1950 the peat company switched to petrol and diesel locomotives.

Part of Thorne Moors in the early 1950s

This map shows the Moors at around the time the railways started using locomotive power: you can see the lines of railways across the moors, following the drainage canals, making sharp, almost-hairpin corners. Even in the 1980s there were still between 15 and 20 miles of narrow gauge railway across Thorne Moors, remaining in use until peat mining ended around 2000; the newest locomotive on the railway was bought new as late as 1991.

The preserved railway is in the area shown on that map as “Ribbon Row”, west of Crowle, reached along a narrow, dead-straight lane across the flat landscape of the Moors. As soon as you are outside the town, it feels disconnected, remote, outside the normal world entirely. As I drove, in my mirrors, I saw a young deer crossing the road behind me.

To date, the railway has a café with very nice home-made cake. a maintenance shed, and a straight line of track stretching out across the moor. The shed is full of the sort of small diesel locomotives that worked on the moors from the 1950s onwards—and also, a Portuguese tram.

Inside the maintenance shed

I think the loco on the left is Schöma 5130 of 1990; the diamond-shaped plate is the builder’s plate of Alan Keef of Ross-on-Wye, to mark the loco being rebuilt in the late 1990s with a more powerful engine, which you can see here.

Under the bonnet

The newest loco to run on the peat railways was named after a retired member of staff in the early 1990s, shortly after it was built.

The Thomas Buck

The railway’s other locomotive is a Motor-Rail Simplex built in 1967 and abandoned around 1996 due to worn bearings.

The Simplex loco Little Peat

It’s a nice little engine, much less powerful than the newer ones, but I’m not sure what I think of lime green as a locomotive colour.

On a map—if it had made it onto any maps yet—the railway would no doubt appear as a dead straight ine; but on the ground it follows gentle curves and undulations. At 3ft gauge the track feels wide for a narrow-gauge line, especially given the small size of the powered trolley that takes you out onto the moor. On my run I was the only passenger, with a driver and guard to look after me, as we pottered out along the track, surrounded by wildflowers pressing close up to the track, fat bumblebees buzzing close to the car as we went.

The driver looks out at the road ahead

No stations; no platforms; no sidings. No signals other than a fixed distant sign warning that the track will run out soon. Just a single line of track, which stops. Back we go; with me and the guard having the best view this time, although I tried to make myself thinner and not block the driver’s line of sight.

Heading back towards the shed

That photo shows practically the whole railway, with the shed visible in the distance. We trundled back in, feeling far faster than the handful of miles per hour we were actually doing. Retracing our steps, back to the yard.

Coming in to the shed

The Crowle Peatland Railway isn’t somewhere I’ll be going back to again that soon, because for now, I’ve seen all there is to see. But it is a nice little place to visit, a reminder that everyone starts somewhere, and that sometimes a railway is just a stretch of line running out into a field. It’s open and running trains about one weekend a month at the moment, and it’s worth visiting for the cakes. Or, indeed, if you just want to be out in a landscape where the horizon is straight as a ruler, and there are few noises beyond the wind blowing the grass.

Provincial civics

Or, the Guardians of Knowledge

Back in March, I wrote about the architecture of Grimsby Central Library and all its surviving 1960s detail touches—the building opened in 1968 and many original details and interior fittings still survive. I briefly mentioned in passing the five gaunt, slightly macabre figures sculpted in relief on the south side of the building. Well, the other day I happened to be passing, it was a bright and sunny day, so I pointed my camera lens at them.

The Guardians Of Knowledge

These are The Guardians Of Knowledge, sculpted in the 1960s by Peter Todd, head of Grimsby School of Art, and moulded from fibreglass but made to look like bronze.

I’m disappointed, slightly, that as far as I know there aren’t any local myths of the statues occasionally coming to life and roaming the town in a ghoulish way. Maybe, on the right day of the year, if you are in the library late into the evening, the staff will give you a haunted look, with fear in their eyes. “Why stranger,” they say, “it’s a bad night to be lost in this town after dark. You had better find yourself a sanctuary.” For who really wants to be given knowledge by these fearsome, cadavarous figures, knowing the knowledge they receive may be a blessing but is more likely a curse?

On the road

A summer ghost story

This post is subtitled A summer ghost story, but it’s not a story, in that it’s true, it’s something that happened to me a few days ago.

I was driving, late at night, from Cymru to Aberhwmbr. I was getting towards the end of the journey, on the winding, twisting stretch of road between Lincoln and Faldingworth, and it was about 10.45 at night. Being the start of July, it was still twilight. The fields and hedgerows were dark, but the sky was a deep blue shading to pale orange in the north-west, and occasional clouds were either dark or light against the sky. In the distance, the red-dotted spike of the Belmont television mast stood upright on the horizon. This is the old kingdom of Lindsey: I was not far from Lissingleys, the historic central meeting-place of Lindsey, where its three Ridings came together.

The road was, for that time of night, relatively busy. This was partly because someone a few cars in front of me was taking a fairly cautious pace, so a line of traffic had bunched up behind them. I was third in the row; there were at least two other vehicles I’d noticed behind me, possibly more. There was nothing, that I recall, coming the other way.

Around Snarford Bridge, I glanced at my mirror, and saw a single headlamp on the offside of the van behind me. A biker, I thought. I saw the light pulling forward, pulling alongside the van. It seemed very yellow in colour, more yellow like a modern headlamp, like a filament builb on a low voltage. Circular, it was, and quite large for a headlamp. A biker on a vintage bike, maybe: it had been good biking weather earlier in the day, so it wasn’t surprising a few would have been out enjoying the evening.

I flicked my eyes back to the tail-lights of the car in front of me. Not a place I’d have chosen to overtake, quite a twisty stretch of road, but I could understand a biker in the middle of a string of traffic starting to get frustrated and pulling out—and as I say, there had been nothing at all coming the other way. I waited to hear the roar of the engine as the bike pulled past me, too.

Nothing; nothing loud enough to be heard over my stereo at any rate.

Still nothing.

They should have reached me now. I glanced to the right expecting to see a quiet bike coming the window, and saw nothing. I looked in my mirror, expecting to see they had pulled in behind me approaching the upcoming bend.

Nothing there. Only the van that had been there all along. The single headlamp that had pulled forward to overtake it? No, no sign.

There are no turns off that road, other than a few driveways and one small crossroads. As we ran through the next curves, I tried to get a look at the other vehicles behind to see if any of them had similar headlamps, to see if anything at all matched what I’d seen.

All modern cars, all modern outlines, nothing at all that colour or shape. It had gone. With no turnings and nowhere to go, it had gone. I shivered, involuntarily, as I started to think there was no way, really, to explain it without saying what I didn’t really want to admit. Maybe it was genuinely a ghost?

It’s hard to say, now I’m home, now it’s a few days later, if I really did see what I thought I did. For the rest of my journey, though, I kept looking behind me, convinced I’d glanced something supernatural. It was, after all, at exactly the sort of spot where a biker may well have made a bad overtaking decision at some point in the past, had thought they could overtake before the bend and had found someone coming fast the other way. To be honest the whole road is notoriously dangerous, to the extent there have been documentaries about it, so you could be forgiven for expecting there might be ghosts on every sharp corner. I’ll keep a lookout, for any other records of ghosts near Snarford, just in case there have been similar sightings in the past. For now though, as far as I know, it’s just my own private ghost sighting.

In the countryside (part one)

Scenes from a rural idyll, or possibly not

It’s something of a cliché—it’s been something of a cliché for centuries, almost—that the English countryside is a haven of natural beauty, a green and pleasant land (to use Blake’s phrase) which is somehow a reservoir of timeless, genuine Englishness.

It’s not true, of course. It’s far from being a green desert, but it’s a strange, deserted place, peaceful due to absence, peaceful because strangers are forever unwelcome. Or am I just seeing it through the lens of folk horror? Nevertheless, whenever I go out for a long country walk, I try to avoid paths that will take me through farmyards and golf courses, because I’m always aware that I’m intruding, there, that I’m a stranger who just doesn’t fit in.

I do, though, still go out for long country walks when the weather is right. I can set out first thing on a Sunday morning and barely see another person other than relatively amiable middle-class hikers and dog-walkers who have driven out to their favourite rural circular walks to get their weekly exercise. All the people who can afford to live in the big houses are still in bed; all the farm workers are sleeping off their Saturday binge hangovers, and the countryside is mine and mine alone, has space for me to intrude in it. I watch swifts and swallows spiralling above catching insects; hares running away up the lane ahead of me; and dozens and hundreds of hedgerow butterflies. I haven’t seen deer yet; I suspect I would have to be up a lot earlier.*

A butterfly, apparently with another insect riding on it

I said the English countryside is a strange, deserted place. It’s a place for the wealthy and the very poor. The process of denudation, of removing the population, has been going on a long time; and Lincolnshire is full of the scars and landforms left behind by deserted villages, the inhabitants evicted centuries ago to turn the landscape into a series of sheep-ranches, the fleeces for export to Brugge.

The remains of Beesby

These lumps and bumps are the remains of the village of Beesby, a village which seems to have just gently faded away in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. At the edges of the village are its fields.

Old cultivation marks

The stripes are the result of six or seven hundred years of digging and planting the fields in the same pattern, each villager having rights to a few widely-scattered strips in the large open field, to give each villager land with a variety of soils and situations. After another four or five hundred years as pasture, the ridges they form are still clearly seen, as the sheep and cattle which have grazed here ever since never let anything grow to a height of more than a few inches. This is no hay-meadow full of flowers.

One reason sheep have been so popular on this land for such a long time, why mile after mile of it was turned over to sheep-ranching, is that the soil here is actually pretty poor, thin stuff. The chalk bedrock is only a foot or so below the surface in most places, and when you do find a ploughed field, its surface will be dappled white with lumps of chalk that have come up for air. If you take an archaeologist on your walk with you, be prepared for it to take a while, because each square foot will have a few flints that are probably natural but, you never know, might not be. Of course you might want to keep your eyes out for other things too; because we know there were Roman villages and villas in the area even if we don’t know exactly where all of them were. The land is dotted with pits, too, little quarries maybe a few hundred yards wide, maybe only tens of yards wide, most of them abandoned, some still worked. The larger ones feel as if you may have strayed onto a horror set.

Abandoned chalk pit

One thing that will grow, though, is Brassica napus, rapeseed, almost six feet tall and eye-wateringly yellow. For me, it’s been a sign of the early summer as far back as I can remember, so it’s strange to think that to people only a few years older than me it was a strange, alien plant when it first became popular with farmers here—British rapeseed production increased by a factor of 20 between 1975 and 1995. Where it almost swamps the path, it can be rough going.

Through a field of rapeseed

So much for the timeless nature of the countryside. And this, you see, this is the nice parts. I haven’t got on to the pristine, hygienic farmyards, deathly silent on a Sunday. Or the quiet churchyards hiding who knows whatever Jamesian horrors. Or the pile of wood twice my height, waiting for the sacrificial torch. This post is already getting long; think of this as the gentle, friendly, bucolic introduction, with the next act of the film containing all the scares.

* I have seen deer only just outside town, just after dawn, when I’ve been to the beach for a sunrise walk in autumn. In June, sunrise beach walks are just that bit too early for me.

On the map, again

Back to an Ordnance Survey anomaly

Back in 2020, I briefly mentioned a map anomaly that I was going to blog about at some point, but was going to wait until I’d done a bit more research on it. Some of that research I did do, but I still haven’t made it as far as the National Archives, which the OS themselves had pointed me towards. Nevertheless, recently some more useful information on it has been released online, so I thought it might be time to come back to it. The map in question is this one, of New Waltham in North East Lincolnshire, which when this map was published in 1947 didn’t even merit its own name on the map.

New Waltham, 1947

Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland, as were the extracts below.

What is the anomaly? It’s at the railway station. There’s a little curving siding shown, branching off from the Down side of the line (where the station goods yard was) into a field, with a few buildings either side of it. What’s so curious about this? Well, it doesn’t appear on any other maps. At all. Including maps done shortly before or shortly afterwards. So my question was: was it something real on the ground, or was it just a copyright trap?

There were a couple of potential suggestions of an explanation. One—which I think was originally sent in by one of my old Geography teachers—was that it was a temporary siding connected with RAF Waltham (or RAF Grimsby), a nearby Bomber Command base which, interestingly, also isn’t shown on the 1947 map—it should be just on the bottom edge of that map extract, between Waltham and Holton le Clay. RAF Waltham had opened as a civilian airfield with grass strips in 1933, was briefly called Grimsby Airport at one point, and was requisitioned and given concrete runways in 1940. It closed operationally in 1945 as the hurriedly-installed concrete runways weren’t really up to long-term use, although they’re still very visible on the ground today. So was a railway siding briefly put in to help deliver materials or fuel? Well, maybe, but it’s quite a long way between the railway station and the RAF station, and there’s nothing about it in the one book I’ve seen on the history of the RAF station.

The other suggestion was that it was some sort of agricultural railway, of which there were a lot in Lincolnshire. However, there were a couple of issues with this theory. First, it’s not listed in the standard work on the subject, Lincolnshire Potato Railways by Squires. Squires’ book might not be fully comprehensive, because many Lincolnshire agricultural railways were ephemeral, short-lived things that left little trace on the ground, but it is reasonably thorough. Secondly, on the map, it just doesn’t look like an agricultural railway. This is one, a couple of miles away between Humberston and Tetney Lock.

A Lincolnshire agricultural railway

Note the differences. It’s much longer than the tiny siding at Waltham, and it doesn’t follow nice, smooth curves either. It’s laid out for a horse to pull a small wagon or two, so it’s a series of straight lines and sharp bends, likely following field boundaries.

That was the point I got to back in 2020. However, as I said at the top, something new has come up: Historic England have put their Aerial Photo Explorer online. Its collections include a cartographic-quality aerial survey of England made by the RAF in 1955; and that includes this shot of New Waltham.

On this photo, South-West is at the top, with the railway station on the right-hand side midway up the picture. If I rotate the OS map to roughly match the photo’s orientation, it might be easier to line up.

Rotated map of New Waltham

That map covers a slightly wider area than the photo, but you get the idea. The station goods yard stands out very clearly on the photo with a bright white ground surface. It the siding had existed, it would curved through the goods yard and upwards, roughly following the line you can see between two different types of vegetation. Now, although this photo is from about ten years after the siding would have existed, you can see there’s absolutely no evidence of there having been anything following the line of the railway siding on the map. Nothing at all, really, that matches up with what the map says.

So, well, there you go. Without going to look at the detailed survey records in the National Archives, I have to say I’m pretty much convinced: this railway siding was never really there. It was only ever there as a copyright trap, for the Ordnance Survey to spot as a red flag if they saw it appearing on any other maps of the area, and has likely sat there on the map almost completely unnoticed for seventy years. If any evidence comes in that it was a real feature on the ground, I’ll be very very surprised.

In the library

A Lincolnshire landmark

Yesterday I mentioned that the stack of unfinished and unwritten posts is still ever-growing, only, a few hours later, to come across a mainstream newspaper article discussing one of the things I’d considered writing a post about. The Guardian review of the new book from architecture critic Owen Hatherley opens with a discussion of a modernist building I’ve loved for a long time: Grimsby Central Library. In fact, I was in there only a few weeks ago, taking photos of some of the architectural details and so that I could maybe post them here at some point.

The seal of Grimsby by the library door

I first knew the place when I was a small child, when it still had something approaching its original layout. Children’s books in the basement, books on the ground floor, music and some of the non-fiction on the mezzanine, the reference library upstairs and an exhibition room above that. Nowadays the basement is Local History, Reference is on the mezzanine where Music used to be, and the upper floors seem to be closed and quiet, a partition blocking off what was originally a broad staircase. Nevertheless, for a 1960s building, an awful lot of the original detailing has survived. The Staff Lift looks still essentially the same as when it was installed, fifty-something years ago

Staff Lift

Similarly, the doors to the staff stairwell still have their original signage beneath more modern additions, and 1960 chandeliers still hang from the ceiling even if broken parts can no longer be replaced.

Fire Exit

1960s chandeliers

One thing it doesn’t have is the original shelves, which I rememeber surviving into the current century just about. They were tall, wooden, with a graceful curving profile when viewed from the side. Because of this curve, although the books at the top stood upright just as you’d expect books on a shelf to be, the books at the bottom were tipped back, tilted, so their spines were angled a few degrees in the direction of a standing reader. That little bit easier to see without bending down. I’ve never seen library shelves like them anywhere else, but I’ve always thought how ingenious they are.

It was over a month ago I took these pictures, so the librarians had put together a small display for LGBT+ History Month. I excitedly messaged a friend who used to work in the library back when we were both teenagers, just because we couldn’t have imagined it happening back then. I realise now it’s not just that we couldn’t imagine it happening, but that before 2003 it would have been illegal for an English public library to have a display about LGBT issues. Twenty years sometimes feels a very long time ago.

Book display for LGBT+ History Month

Incidentally, all my photos here are terrible quick phone snapshots taken whilst I was wondering round browsing the shelves. However, via Twitter, I did discover a blog post written by an archictecture fan a few years ago, with a whole host of much better photos of the place, particularly of the gaunt and haunting figures decorating the south side of the building, called The Guardians Of Knowledge; but also not forgetting something I remember very clearly from childhood, the floor of the foyer! Go and look!

Update, 9th July 2022: Since writing this post I’ve taken a photo of The Guardians Of Knowledge myself.

The Huntsman's Pillar

FInding a landmark

In search of more historical things to write about on here, I remembered something I had once randomly happened across when I was a teenager. A memorial, in the next village, to a man who had randomly died there. So yesterday I went out, bent over against the January wind, to search for it, find it, photograph it and write about it. Having only a vague memory from years ago, I was fully prepared to have to spend hours searching for the thing. In the event, though, I couldn’t miss it.

The Huntsman's Obelisk

This is the Huntsman’s Obelisk, a mid-19th-century granite memorial at the side of a quiet country lane. It commemorates the death of William Smith, a huntsman thrown from his horse in the 1840s.

In memory of the late William Smith

In memory of

the late

William Smith

of Brocklesby

Lincolnshire

If you’re a cynic like me, you’re probably also looking at that plaque and thinking that typeface looks rather too modern for an 1860s plaque. Indeed, I think it is modern, definitely postdating the monument being listed in 1986. Around the other side, there’s another plaque, explaining the story of why the monument is here.

The wordy bit

THIS MONUMENT was erected by his many friends, as a token of their regard, and to mark the spot where WILLIAM SMITH, huntsman to the Earl of Yarborough, fell on the 11th of April 1845.

His gallant horsemanship, and his management of hounds, in the kennel and in the field, were unsurpassed.

His horse, falling over a small leap, whilst Smith was cheering on his favourite hounds, he was thrown on his head, and from the injuries, he then received he died on the 16th of April 1845 at the house of his friend, Richd Nainby of this village esquire, by whom the site for this memorial was given on the 6th day of April 1861.

Whatever your views on this font here, the wording, not to mention abbreviations like “Richd“, seems authentically Victorian. The reason I’m so sure that the first plaque is a modern one is that the listing entry of the monument doesn’t, at the time of writing, mention it at all. It does, though, say that one of the two plaques “contains an impressive 22-line ode to Smith by CHJA”. There’s no sign of anything like that on the monument today, and there are only two plaques mentioned in the listing. The first one above, therefore, must be later than 1986.

It’s a shame a 22-line Victorian ode in memory of a dead huntsman can disappear to be replaced with modern typography, not that I have any particular affection for hunters. Quite the reverse, in fact; I just don’t like to see history eroded. Without interpretation, most people who pass by and look at the obelisk will no doubt not even notice one of its plaques has been replaced. I wonder, too, what the ode originally was, and quite how awfully sentimental it was.

The other thing that occurs to me—and I think has always occurred to me about this memorial—is the length of time between the death and the erection. Sixteen years, and a lot had happened in those sixteen years. The Earl of Yarborough died the year after Smith, quietly on his yacht rather than out hunting. He had been chairman of the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway, which opened to traffic* in 1848 and began the process of changing Grimsby from a medieval village into a modern industrial-scale fishing port. Moreover, nationally, Britain was changing radically. I wonder, when the obelisk was erected by a small crowd of men, sadly remembering their friend from a few years before, how much they thought about the world around them changing; how much they no doubt hated it.

Opposite the obelisk is St Helen’s Church, a lovely little building in your stereotypical overgrown churchyard. Even when I was growing up St Helen’s no longer had its own priest; the Rector of Waltham would hold an early service in their own church each Sunday, dash over to Barnoldby to hold one there and then back to Waltham for the main Eucharist. I’ve never been in, but its churchyard certainly looks like it would be worth exploring.

Graves of William and Maria Marris, Barnoldby

The Marrises would have been in their 30s when Smith died. I wonder if they remembered the event, or if it had passed them by.

I turned away and walked up the snowdrop-fringed lane, and out into the open fields to be blasted by the wind again.

* No train nerd would forgive me if I didn’t footnote that, by the time the railway opened, the company had become part of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, its lines becoming part of the famous Manchester-Grimsby “Woodhead Route”

New year, new dawn

The sun still rises

“Are you going to go and watch the sunrise on New Years Day?” said more than one person over the past week or two. Initially, I agreed, it seemed like a rather nice idea. The sunrise is too late at the moment for me to really go and see it on a work day such as the Winter Solstice, so New Years Day seemed like a suitably symbolic alternative. However, I had second thoughts. A long-distance running race was scheduled for that morning. Not only would it bring crowds, but it also would block off my usual access to the beach from around sunrise until well after lunch. I thought better of trying, so had a lie in instead. On the 2nd I had other plans, which I’ll tell you about later in the week; so finally, today, I headed down to the beach for my first sunrise this year.

It was, still, unusually busy. But by that I mean the car park was half-full, and there were several other groups of people spread out across the beach, not that I was having to elbow my way through the crowds. One family had brought chairs to sit and watch the sunrise. A man with a long, long camera lens grumbled at his dog for running off.

Dawn on the beach

The tide was highish but falling, so I strolled along the tideline. The sea was calm, no swell at all, but a bitterly chill wind swept across the sands and raised ripples in the water. I watched the first signs of fire lighting the edges of the clouds

Dawn on the beach

This is an east-facing coast, so normally, as you would expect, the sun rises over the sea every day. At this time of year, though, the sunrise moves so far around to the south that it rises over the land instead. And naturally, on a day with a clear blue sky, the one and only patch of clouds on the horizon was exactly in line with the sunrise. I watched as, slowly, the sun edged around the clouds, crows wheeling in the air around me.

Dawn on the beach

In a few months time, when the sunrise is early enough that I can get home after it, shower and breakfast before work, hopefully I’ll start coming here every day again, or at least doing something else similar to give me fresh outdoor air each morning. For now, though, this was enough. The sunrise in winter, starting the year afresh. I shivered in the bitter wind, and turned for home.

Dawn on the beach

Just one dawn, but it means a whole new start.

The spooky season

So, a trip to a particularly impressive tomb

It being the end of October, tonight is Halloween, or nos calan Gaeaf for any Welsh-speakers reading. I’m not in costume and I haven’t decorated the house, but I did think it might be nice to have a suitably Halloween-themed post on here. Rather than go with ghosts, ghouls or goblins, I’ve gone with a tomb, a relatively interesting one, so much so that English Heritage have designated it a listed building. It’s a place I only found out about a few months back via an Instagram post by Kate of Burials and Beyond. As it’s only a couple of miles or so from where I grew up, my immediate reaction was “why have I not heard about this place before?” So yesterday, I went down there with my camera.

The Haagensen Memorial

This is the Haagensen Memorial, carved from a single block of marble and desposited on a plinth in one corner of a Lincolnshire cemetery. Underneath it is a vault, the tomb of the Haagensen family. That’s them—well, most of them—in the statue: Janna Haagensen being escorted into heaven by an angel, whilst her grieving children try to drag her back to earth. The marble treestumps below almost look like the fingers of a hand, twisting around and trying to grasp her too.

The Haagensen Memorial

Janna Hagerup was Norwegian, born in Vinger in 1845. At the time Norway was not, strictly speaking, an independent country. Although self-governing, it was part of the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, ruled by the King of Sweden and with its foreign policy controlled by the Swedish government. Janna married Peter Haagensen, a ship-broker, and in 1868 they moved to Grimsby to handle the English side of the family business. Three years after moving to Lincolnshire, the Swedish government appointed Haagensen as consul for Sweden-Norway in Grimsby.

The Haagensen Memorial

When Janna died in 1897 after a history of respiratory problems, Peter was—we can assume—heartbroken. Although the family lived in a large villa close to Grimsby town centre, by the junction of Bargate and Brighowgate, Peter purchased a cemetery plot out in the village of Laceby, a few miles away. The reason? He wanted to build a grand vault for the family, and (we can assume) the Grimsby cemetery authorities didn’t like the idea.

The memorial doesn’t just consist of the grand sculpture of Janna and her children. Below it, a marble-lined vault was excavated, with mosaic floor, and with spaces for both Janna and Peter’s coffins. The steps to the vault were closed with an ornate iron gate at ground level. You can see it today, firmly locked shut.

Entrance to the Haagensen Memorial Vault

The vault is still there in good condition below, though. On infrequent occasions, Laceby Parish Council open the vault to visitors, and you can go down and see the finely-carved marble, the mosaics, and the tombs of Peter and Janna themselves.

Entrance to the Haagensen Memorial Vault

Peter died 24 years after Janna, and was himself interred in the vault following a Norwegian-language funeral.* Norway had become fully independent in 1905, but I’m unclear whether Peter had remained consul of either or both countries—or, indeed, had retired from the roles completely.

What happened after Peter’s death, though, is a little unusual. The tomb was by far the largest memorial in Laceby cemetery; indeed, it was almost certainly the largest memorial to one family anywhere in the area. In the 1920s, therefore, it became something of a tourist attraction, with people from Grimsby, Cleethorpes and even further afield in Lincolnshire taking days out to Laceby to view the memorial. A tea room opened in the village to serve the tourist trade, and the Haagensen Memorial became a picture-postcard subject. China replicas were made, and Laceby tradesmen started up weekend jobs peddling them to the tourists, to take home and put on their mantelpieces. For a few years between the wars, the Haagensen Memorial was a local tourist hotspot. Earlier I doubt it could have happened, due to the difficulty of reaching railwayless Laceby, but in the 20s it was easy to take a charabanc tour out to the village to see the sculpture. I’m not sure how long the tourist boom lasted, but I would assume the outbreak of the Second World War put an end to the last dregs of the traffic.

Haagensen Memorial inscription. Not original, according to postcard evidence

Norway and Sweden both still maintain small consulates in Lincolnshire today. Norway’s is in Flour Square, Grimsby, near Lock Hill; Sweden have moved theirs out to Stallingborough.** The Haagensen Memorial is still maintained and preserved by Laceby parish council, but it’s not a tourist attraction any more. Indeed, when I was there yesterday to take these pictures, I was the only person in the entire cemetery. Hence, I suppose, why I’d never heard of it until this year: it’s almost forgotten. Still, let’s remember Peter and Janna Haagensen and their grand tomb. Maybe tonight, their souls will walk abroad.

The historical info in this post was largely gleaned from the official Historic England listing of the memorial.

* I’m going on the information I uncovered. What that means in practice, particularly at the time period we’re talking about, is a bit unclear, but you can assume it means some form of Danish-Norwegian.

** Ironically, the Swedish consulate in Lincolnshire is located on Trondheim Way. Presumably they couldn’t find a street named after a Swedish city.

On Cleethorpes Beach (part two)

A postapocalyptic folk-art wonder

A month or so ago, I wrote about going walking on Cleethorpes Beach in the early morning, and I said at the time that as the tide goes out and comes back in, I would come back here with more to say about it. Well, I’m not the only one. Yesterday The Guardian published a travel article about just how nice a place Cleethorpes is to visit, including the beach of course, and including the thing I was always planning to write about in Part Two. So, before you click on that link there, read this first.

If you walk along the cycle path that divides dry land (and miniature railway) from marshland, and look out to see, you might from some spots see a flag fluttering out in the dunes beyond the marshes. If you wander along the tideline, let the marsh fall between you and the dry land, and wade across the beck, then you will start to see a strange, organic growth on the horizon, between the dunes and the smooth tide-washed sand, with flags flying above it. The flags are usually tattered and torn, because they don’t last long in such a windy spot.

A growth on the horizon

As you get closer it becomes a strange agglomoration, as if something has grown out of a strange affair between the sea and the marshland. Every surface is covered with something, with writing, with ornament, with rope, with decoration.

The bench

This is the Buck Beck Beach Bench, named after the beck which we waded across on our way here. If you look closely, you can see there are places to sit, although they are hugely overshadowed by all the other decorative parts of the structure.

The bench

It all started, apparently, a few years ago. A couple of the local dog walkers, who visit the spot regularly, fancied having somewhere to sit and take a break midway through their walk. They pulled together a few big pieces of driftwood, and made a rough bench, which they could sit on when passing. And from there: it just grew. More people added new parts, and started to nail and screw it together to make it a bit more robust. People started to bring decoration, to specially make signs with their name on and add it to the bench. Slowly, without any single guiding hand, it turned into the structure that’s there today.

The bench

You might be able to see changes between one of the photos in this post and the rest, because one was taken several months before the others: the tattiness of the flags is a clue. Some people must bring things a long distance, must bring hammers and nails to make their mark on it. Every winter parts get blown down or washed away, and each time people come and try to mend things, try to bring the bench back the same but different. A community has built up around it now to take care of it, to try to ensure that it is built up from wood and that plastic parts are if possible removed, and to generally make sure it stays safe and well-maintained.

The bench

If you are at the bench, it looks as if there is a tempting direct path straight back in a line to dry land. It’s not. What looks like a path actually leads straight through a bed of thick, sticky, black mud, as my friend Ms T. found when she tried it. The safe route is much longer and contorted, with a large double-back to it, and still is rather dangerous at times due to the creeks winding through the marsh, several feet deep at high tide. As I said I prefer to wade across the beck at low tide, when it spreads out across the sands into a delta a mere few inches deep. The most dangerous route of all is to cut directly across to Cleethorpes seafront, through a maze of flooded channels and sticky mud. There is a firm bar of sand out near the bench itself, but walking from that bar across to the Prom is much more hazardous than any other option.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, everything grows and then fades once more. Maybe the bench will become a victim of its own success, now it’s appeared in the national press. Maybe it will keep growing and evolving and changing until it is unrecognisable; until it will become almost a castle of gnarls and tangles, or picks up its feet and begins to walk. Right now, though, it is a lovely spot to visit, a lovely spot to clear your mind, a spot to sit and watch the waves go by. May it stay so, at least for now.