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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘Lincolnshire’

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!

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.

On Cleethorpes Beach (part one)

Or, some walks in the early morning

Since changing jobs, I’ve been going for early morning walks most workdays. For about an hour or so, I’ve been walking up to the woods overlooking the village, or following the riverbank and canalbank, or walking across the fields to the next village and back. It’s a really good way to start the day. When I go to visit The Mother, though: well, there aren’t really any interesting places to walk and back in an hour. There aren’t actually very many public footpaths outside the village itself; there’s no river, and the woods are too far away. I was at a bit of a loss.

“Why don’t you drive down to the beach and go for a walk there?” suggested The Cute Accountant.* It made complete sense. The beach is only 15 minutes drive away from The Mother’s house; I could easily stretch my morning walk to be 90 minutes without really having to rush. So, since starting the new job, when I’ve been at The Mother’s every morning I have gone down to the beach for a walk on the sand.

The beach just after dawn

Cleethorpes Prom is your fairly standard seaside prom: pier, arcades, amusement rides and chip shops. All the signs of seaside civilisation, with the sand raked daily and the high concrete wall of the prom separating town and sea. If you head a couple of miles south, though, down past the leisure centre and the miniature railway to where the holiday parks start, then things feel much more remote. A broad band of salt marsh separates the dry land from the open water, and you can wander along the tideline or through the marshes feeling completely apart from the world, feeling as if it is some ancient unpopulated coastline. Look the other way, though, and behind the freewheeling seabirds, you can see the lighthouse on the far side of the river mouth, and always ship after ship standing at anchor and waiting for their upstream pilot.

Rippled sand

At low tide, there is a vast expanse of rippled sand and mud, cut across by channels and with endless slight variations in height. When I was a kid, the dangers of the beach were always drummed into me heavily. Never go out too far. Never cross one of the channels. You’ll get cut off. The Mother would tell me lurid stories from her days as a 999 operator, of people finding bodies washed up on the shore after going out at low tide and getting confused by fast-descending fog. “The most dangerous beach in the country,” she’d said, which I’m not sure is the truth. Nevertheless, you have to be careful going down to the low tide line, always sure all the water you see is flowing out, not back behind you. If you do go all the way, you find the remains of shipwrecks, the gaunt ribcages of old wooden ships sticking stumpily out of the sand.

Two shipwrecks

Navigating all the way along the tideline, without heading back to the nearest concrete path, can be tricky. The outflow of one of the local becks cuts across the sand, in a surprisingly deep channel. At low tide it can be crossed with care, if you can find a shallow spot, if you don’t mind getting your feet a little wet and having to jump over the deeper parts. At higher tides, you have no chance, and have to find a way to cut back through the marshes, themselves riddled with deep, steep-sided channels of water with thick mud at the bottom. It’s far too easy to slip over at their edge and end up with a very wet and muddy arse. I hate to think what the marshes are like to navigate at the very highest tides: I suspect I’d have to sit on the thin line of dunes at the seaward edge of the marsh and wait the tide out a few hours. It wouldn’t be much of a hardship.

The beck at low tide

I could keep on here posting photos of the wilder parts of the beach, much as I could sit for hours on the dunes listening to the waves breaking. I’m going to pause this post here, though, before coming back again soon with more pictures and more to say. Think of it as the tide going out and returning again.

Paddleboarders

* For the really long-term readers: it’s career progression.

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.

The bureaucracy of death

Or, negotiating the process

This is another post in a vaguely-connected series about my dad’s death, just over a year ago now, and the various events and processes that followed as a result. If you haven’t had to deal with a death in the family yourself: you might be vaguely aware of some things, less aware of others, but some parts of it will no doubt be a complete mystery, as they were to me. Moreover, if you do have to deal with a death in the family, then most likely everything you do is through a fog of stress and uncertainty. It has taken me a year to write down some of the things here, partly because of how much work all the things listed here were to do.

The first post on this—which was written shortly after the events—ended with me and The Mother leaving the hospital, Dad being wheeled down to the mortuary carefully out of sight of all of the patients and visitors, the hospital staff not entirely sure where we should be collecting the death certificate from. Probably, though, the Bereavement Office. “Phone ahead first,” they said, “they can take a while to do it.”

What’s the process after that? Well, that’s fairly straightforward to find out, as indeed it should be. You collect the Medical Death Certificate. You take the Medical Death Certificate to the local Register Office,* local to where the death happened rather than to where the dead person lived, incidentally. The Registrar fills out the Death Certificate itself, hopefully with a nice pen, and you sign it. It then gets filed away to be bound into the register proper, and they print out as many printed copies as you’re willing to pay for. These are the things people think of as death certificates, and they are the things you need to send off in the post to the dead person’s bank, building society, and so on and so forth, to kick off all their death-related processes in turn.

May as well get the ball rolling early, we thought. As I mentioned previously, we popped into the undertakers, who were lovely and friendly and helpful in many ways, but explained that they couldn’t officially act on our instructions until we gave them a green form that the Registrar would write out for us, giving us permission to carry out a burial. We phoned the Register Office to make an appointment. “Have you got the Medical Death Certificate yet?” said the receptionist.

“Um, no. The hospital said they would have that for us later. Or tomorrow.”

“You can’t make an appointment until you actually have a Medical Death Certificate.”

I was tempted to phone back and lie, but it wasn’t really worth the effort. I tried phoning the hospital; they’d gone home already.

The next day, we called and called and eventually the hospital Bereavement Office did pick up and say that yes, they’d written out the Medical Death Certificate, we could come and pick it up at any time that they were open, or weren’t having a meal break, or a tea break. “Oh, and we close at 2 most days.” We hotfooted it back down to the hospital straight away, to have a reasonable chance of catching someone in the office, and wandered around the hospital corridors trying to find the place. I half-expected it would be next to the hospital chapel for efficiency. It wasn’t, but inside there was a churchlike air of slow-moving peace and eternal silence.

We explained why we were there, and the woman behind the counter started shuffling through large boxes of uncollected death certificates (medical). And then shuffling through them again. This wasn’t a good sign.

“What did you say the name was?” A third shuffle. “It’s not here. Have you tried the ward he died on? We might have sent it up there.”

So, upstairs again to the ward we had spent so much time in the day before. Onto the ward by tailgating behind somebody else, as usual: so much for physical security. And to the nurses’ station, where some of them did indeed recognise us. “Oh, I don’t think they’ve sent it up here.”

They had, however, and after much rooting around under more paperwork and through various files lying about at the nurses’ station, we finally had a Medical Death Certificate. What did it say? I can’t tell you. We couldn’t see it. It consisted of a sealed envelope. “Don’t open it,” said the nurses. “You have to take it to the Registrar.” And, indeed, it said the same on the envelope. Deliver to Registrar. Do not open, unless you are said Registrar. Do not pass Go or collect £200, either.

To recap a moment: we didn’t have a choice of Registrar. All deaths at this particular hospital, had to be registered at the same place. Big cities might have more than one—Bristol has an outstation Register Office at Southmead Hospital that only does births and deaths, so if someone is born or dies there it can be registered on-site—but Dad didn’t die in a big city, so we didn’t have a choice. We also couldn’t look at it. Why, then, do the dead person’s family have to courier the Medical Death Certificate around themselves, sealed, with all the associated goings-on with finding out exactly where in the hospital it is?

The registration itself was relatively uneventful. It was in the Cleethorpes Old Town Hall building, by the seafront, not needed as a town hall since Grimsby and Cleethorpes merged into a single borough back in the 1990s. No doubt the big formal rooms are now used for weddings; births and deaths are tucked away downstairs. Naturally, I took the opportunity to take a quick snap of the architecture.

Inside Cleethorpes Town Hall

The Registrar left us to wait for a while whilst she looked at the secret contents of the envelope, I suppose in case it said “They did it!” inside. When happy that everything was normal and above-board she invited us in, explained how death certificates are written, took us through what it all meant and asked who wanted to sign it as the Informant. “I don’t think I could write straight,” said The Mother, “my hands are too shaky,” so I signed the register with, as expected, a very nice fountain pen. We collected our copies, warm from the printer, and paid up. We were given the “very important” green form, the one the undertakers were waiting for, the one that said the Registrar definitely wasn’t going to get the Coroner involved in anything, so we were allowed to bury one body. Cremations, apparently, have a lot more paperwork: that nice Dr Shipman’s fault. And then, we were done.

We had a look through all the various RAF memorial boards in the entrance, collected from some of the many closed RAF stations in the surrounding area, just in case Dad’s uncle, who died whilst trying to drop bombs on Frankfurt, was listed; he wasn’t. We went back outside, into the cold wind coming off the sea. Death registered. Achievement unlocked.

* Yes, most people call them Registry Offices. They’re actually called Register Offices. I don’t know why most people call them Registry Offices.

Independent

In which we fill the weekend with music

A bit of a musical weekend, this weekend. A bit of a busy one too: there’s always too much in this town to choose between.

It started off with Big Pink Cake. Or, at least, the Big Pink Cake Indiepop All-Weekender, starting off on Saturday at the Cube. It offered free cake, so really there was no choice. Plus, Dimitra is always saying that we should go and see Pete Green, largely because he’s one of the best stars of indiepop to emerge from Grimsby in recent years. He does things like: release songs to benefit the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway,* too.

So, we ambled down to The Cube on Saturday afternoon for the free c… I mean, for the first stage of the Big Pink Cake weekend. The first few bands, including Mr Green, were to appear in the bar, which is really rather cramped. We saw a stream of bands play to the small crowd: The Short Stories, Countryside, Secret Shine, and at least one other band that weren’t on the roster. The singer of said band held up their CD and said that anybody there could have a free copy; the audience carefully avoided eye contact. No Pete Green though. He’d been moved to today’s setlist. Ah well.

After nipping out for food at Café Kino, we returned for the evening bands, over in the cinema. Being a cinema, each band had picked a film to be screened behind them, their choices all rather interesting. There was: something black-and-white from late-50s Britain,** chosen by French band Electrophönvintage; La Dolce Vita, chosen by The Westfield Mining Disaster; Convoy, picked by Amida, March Of The Penguins accompanying Santa Dog, and classic British film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize showing behind The Pocketbooks. That does, really, tell you more about each band than I could explain myself.*** We weren’t really impressed by the sound quality, though, or the way that the first song of each set turned into a sound check.

The Big Pink Cake weekender did – being, you know, a weekender – extend through to today, with an afternoon of bands at the Mothers Ruin. The bill included Pete Green (moved from Saturday, apparently) and Tender Trap, a band beloved of all C86/Sarah tweecore fans and/or economics experts everywhere. However, we didn’t go along, because we’d left on the Saturday feeling relatively uninspired. As luck would have it, in our meal-break down at Café Kino, we spotted a poster for a rather better-sounding gig that was on at the same time. So, instead, we spent our Sunday afternoon at the Scout Hut down on Phoenix Wharf.

At the Scout Hut we saw Jam On Bread and Mat Riviere, in the middle of a joint tour, supported by local band Boxcar Aldous Huxley. I’ve seen Boxcar Aldous Huxley before, and they were very good then; they were very good again today, with tales of Francis Dashwood, the responsibilities of the free press, and messianic movements in 19th century Canada. They were followed by Mat Riviere, who performed kneeling on the floor with a variety of keyboards and samples; and Jam On Bread, who had both a ukelele and a beard, and played both brilliantly.

I was sitting listening to Jam On Bread’s**** set, and I couldn’t help thinking: you know, his accent sounds a bit, well, Grimsbyish. Not really northern but not really southern, a bit flat and dull but with the full complement of vowels.***** But, of course, he couldn’t be: it might be a small world, but there’s no way that two stars of pop music, both from Grimsby, would both be playing gigs in Bristol on the same afternoon. And then: his lyrics mentioned that he wasn’t Swedish, because he was born in Grimsby. Gosh.

We didn’t get time to speak to Jam On Bread after the gig, so I didn’t have time to confirm his Grimsbyness face-to-face; but the internet seems to think it’s true. So: we did get to see a top Grimsby-born indiepop star this weekend, after all. It just wasn’t the one we’d been expecting to see when the weekend started. I think we might well have seen the best one, though.

* one of the country’s shortest steam railways, and hence in need of the donations. It will, if ever finished, be notable for being the country’s straightest steam railway, a good ten miles long and with utterly no curves. At present it runs for about a quarter of a mile, but it does have a somersault signal, which is obviously a plus point. I should point out that Pete Green’s song does largely blame Richard Beeching for the line’s original closure: in reality it didn’t shut down until 1970, whereas Beeching was sacked from the British Railways Board in ’65.

** easily dated from the railway carriages featured, if we’d got a better look at it

*** No, really, it does; although it would take rather more space to explain why. Maybe that will be a blog post for next week some time.

**** His real name is Steve Carlton, or at least, that’s what it says on the Internet

***** To be contrasted with the nearby Hull accent, which only uses one vowel. “E hed e slerce ef terst, smerked e feg, end went dern the rerd”