Saturday 29 June 2013

Cutting back complaints

The annual big cut back of Great Coates churchyard took place this week (and we remain grateful to Community Pay Back for its support year after year), not soon enough to prevent the annual complaints about our brief deliberate over growing, and a little too soon to save the last of the meadow flowering from which these pictures come a few days earlier (19th June).  Here is a version of an e-mail I sent about the same time as I took the photographs.

I'm sorry you are so upset with the way we manage the churchyard, and I am particularly sorry that you have such unhappy memories of the way we handled the setting for a wedding you attended a while ago. I can only reassure you that we are trying to do something important and creative with our management of the churchyard, and that we now have volunteers who make sure the areas either side of the main path and around the north door are kept neat all the time including when there is a wedding.

We happened to have the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts' "Living Churchyard" Project Officer visit us last month to assess what we are doing. She was able to highlight the way those who manage churchyards as we do preserves an invaluable habitat for plants and animals. She pointed out to us in particular the way the catapillars of the Red Admiral butterfly are making 'tents' in a nettle patch and the way less common plants such as pink violets flourish, things which are increasingly rare in sprayed hedgerows and intensively farmed fields across the countryside.

The truth is that the churchyard looks fabulous and much admired from the moment the first snowdrops peep through until about the middle of May It is true that we do then deliberately let the churchyard over-grow until this time of year (every year it looks at its worst about now as inevitably tall weed takes over) to allow these plants to set seed properly; if we did not do this we would simply lose the spectacular spring display which is one of the real features and pride of Great Coates.

Over a couple of weekends Community Pay Back then come in and cut it all back for us (although we have no control over exactly when they are available to do this). It is then kept neat by our own volunteers for the rest of the year. I well remember the year that a fire destroyed Community Pay Back's sheds and equipment shortly before it was due to come to us, and the way we were suddenly faced with the almost unmanagable task of doing the annual big cut with no suitable equipment of our own and only a few volunteers - which inevitably then took place much later than it should have done. If you were one of those caught by this, then I can only apologise again for something which was totally outside our control at the time.

We are just developing a small National Lottery bid to help us do things like work on trees (in addition to thousands of pounds worth of essential tree work which we have had to do over the last couple of years) which will include opening up the view of the east end of the church (something the Village Council asked us to consider some time ago) and putting up bird boxes. In this process, we also want to develop small discreet wooden signs and also print a guide to the churchyard so that visitors can really appreciate what is being achieved here and get the most out of visiting.

We are working really hard at things like this. The church itself is one of very few which is normally left open during the day, and we are also just developing material about those commemorated on Great Coates' War Memorials, and about the War Graves in the churchyard in particular. At 7.30 p.m. on 3rd July, we will have Sixth Form students running an evening in church about First World War Poetry which will include a tour of those War Graves.  We hope to do more things like this.

I'm sorry you are so upset by the seven weeks (on average) in the year when the churchyard overgrows, and I understand that you would personally prefer a totally different approach to its management, but I hope I have typed enough for it to be clear that the churchyard is neither unloved nor uncared for. 

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Never cease to chant them

Common Worship begins daily prayers with Psalm 51.15 and Psalm 70.1 because Cranmer’s did in 1549.  Cranmer did because mediaeval monks did.  Mediaeval monks did because the Rule of St Benedict  told them to in about 530.  Benedict told them to read John Cassian to find out why.  Cassian wrote in about 400 about the earliest monks in the Egyptian desert from about 270 ceaselessly turning such verses over in their hearts .  Begin ‘Open our lips and fill them with your praise’ in case you are tempted to think that it is you who begin.   Continue ‘Come swiftly to my help’ because, as Cassian says, this verse has been picked from all scripture for this purpose, that the downcast do not despair of saving remedies and the spiritually successful are reminded that they cannot last without God; ‘do not cease to chant them’. 

The pictures of meadow flowers are from Mayflower Wood, Immingham on Saturday.  One of two full-time nature conservation officers who work for industry on the Humber bank showed us round, and it was particularly interesting to find out that such people exist; the wood is provided by the Oil Refinery next door to it.

The text is another of my attempts to provide answers for the Questions column in the Church Times and was published there last week, and draws on material included in this Blog before.

Thursday 13 June 2013

The screw tightens

The number of people seeking support from our local Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) and our local food bank (‘Community Larder’) has soared, several multiples of the figures from a couple of years ago. This was the uncomfortable news at the Annual General Meeting of Churches Together in North East Lincolnshire (CTNEL) last week.

CTNEL has been in the habit of having a ‘justice and peace’ agenda at its AGM rather than one dominated by discussion of, say, how well united worship on Good Friday had gone the previous year, and most usually this is achieved by having a visiting speaker.

CAB was invited this year in the hope that it might brief us about what concerns are most pressing in our particular community, partly in case we were missing something. It turns out that debt stands at the top of the list, which isn’t something we had missed – CTNEL had in fact been behind the creation of the local Credit Union a number of years ago.

One dramatic very recent factor is the benefit changes which came into play at the beginning of April. The cut in benefits paid to those deemed to have a spare bedroom has affected over 500 households (about 6% of the households) in this parish alone.

Given that there simply isn’t a supply of one and two bedroomed flats and houses available for let in North East Lincolnshire on anything like this scale, few of those living in these homes has a realistic prospect of reducing rent by moving to a smaller property, so there is no wonder that the numbers seeking support has soared.

There was one piece of encouraging news. CAB’s national social action approach means it tries to fed back to Government where policy is making a significant impact. The discovery in Grimsby (reflected elsewhere) of how high a proportion of limited income some people were spending on phone calls relating to benefits issues did result in a freephone number being made available.

Meanwhile, a further piece of encouraging news is how grateful the local Islamic Centre has been for the way churches, neighbours and the police have reacted to the recent attacks on it. Apparently there is a display board inside covered in the greetings it has been sent and members say what a welcome part of the community this makes them feel.

The picture comes from our sitting room window sill last week.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

First day of the Somme

1st July 1916 through field glasses

When he swept the rise given the nickname
Heligoland, did his mind move rather
to Herr Gätke’s letters to his father
plotting bird migration, building their fame?

Did those boyhood memories focus his sight
on the Humber marsh - where he took cover
once and saw ten thousand golden plover
rise as one so he could not see the light?

Did his mind dwell on the skylarks which sang
full throat as the barrage came to a stop
with the quake of the sap’s cratering bang?

Did he jolt back from home in some surprise
as men began to move in lines, to drop
as they were trained to do… but did not rise?

John Cordeaux (1831-1899), a clergyman’s son, came to Great Coates in his 20s, soon inherited the tenancy of the largest farm from his mother’s uncle (Richard Taylor), and became Agent for Sutton Estates, Churchwarden of St Nicolas’, and the national expert on bird migration. His notebooks include an account of the golden plover flock disturbed in the marsh in December 1879 (‘I could not see daylight through them’). His papers at the Brynmor Jones Library in Hull include over a hundred letters from Heinrich Gätke (1814-1897), pioneer in North Sea migration studies, who was Secretary to the Governor of Heligoland.

Colonel Edward Kyme Cordeaux CBE (1866-1946), John’s son, was born in Great Coates, and baptised by his grandfather in St Nicolas’. He served through the Boer War and was recalled to the army in 1914 to help form the locally raised ‘Grimsby Chums’ battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment; he was in command when it saw action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He married a daughter of Sir Henry Bennett; a sixth generation of Bennetts runs the family timber business from Great Coates Industrial Estate today.

The account of that day in Peter Chapman’s Grimsby’s Own - The Story of the Chums includes nicknames of local features, Cordeaux’s observation through field glasses, the unprecedented but fruitless bombardment of the German trenches until a few minutes before the action, the earth trembling at the force of the mine intended to wipe out those trenches, the skylarks singing, and an officer admiring the precision of the men falling in line before he realised they were in fact being mown down.

The first first-hand accounts in the Grimsby Daily Telegraph, published on 6th July, include the following from three of the wounded in hospital in Southampton.    “Never in my life have I seen anything finer than the way successive waves of men marched singing and cheering into the bath of lead.  The more casualties they saw in front of them, the louder they cheered and sang, the harder they pressed forward into it.”     “What I don’t understand is how the devil they could bring all the machine guns into action after the pounding our heavies gave them.”    “I tumbled right on his machine-gun dodge.  The trench was knocked flat, but that made no odds.  Leading forward from his front line lie lines of tunnel going down into a big dug out over 20 ft deep and splendidly shored up and protected.”

This is all part of the material I've written in preparation for an evening on First World War Poetry in St Nicolas' on 3rd July which will mainly led by pupils from Caistor Grammar School.  The picture is of the Gruby family graves in the churchyard, on one of which is commemorated one of the Chums (Reginald Gruby) who never saw the first day of the Somme because he was killed by a sniper four months earlier and who is buried in France.