Wednesday 26 February 2014

Fisher lads bound

I’ve come across the same story three times now.

The most recent encounter came because we have just caught up with the new phenomenon of live streaming opera into local cinema.  We watched Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House at the John Whitgift Film Theatre in this parish last week and then Peter Grimes from the English National Opera at the Parkway Cinema in Cleethorpes at the weekend. 

The music and plot of Don Giovanni I knew well, but that of Peter Grimes I was only vaguely aware.  I discover that Britten was inspired by a poem by Crabbe (who turns out to have been born in Aldeburgh), which I now find includes lines like these

Peter had heard there were in London then –
Still have their being! – workhouse-clearing men,
Who, undisturbed by feelings just or kind,
Would parish boys to needy tradesmen bind;
They in their want a trifling sum would take,
And toiling slaves of piteous orphans make.
Such Peter sought, and when a lad was found,
The sum was dealt with, and the slave was bound.

In the poem, three of Grimes' apprentices then die in quick succession from a variety of maltreatment and neglect.  The opera turns on just such a progress.

Reading the poem for the first time this week took me back to my first encounter with the story in Distant Water, CPO Media’s 2011 account of Grimsby’s fishing fleet, which includes this (referring to a period fifty years or so after Crabbe’s poem):

Smack owners began to take advantage of a plentiful source of labour, apprenticing young, poor and underprivileged boys from workhouses, reformatories and charitable institutions across the country, focusing particularly on poverty stricken urban areas...  By the 1860s the system begun to attract criticism.  Complaints of malnouishment and physical abuse or young fisher-lads was becoming widespread.  In 1865... the skipper and first mate of... a Hull fishing smack were prosecuted for the mainslaughter of their 13 year-old apprentice... One of the most controversial aspects of the apprentice system was the number of young boys imprisoned... for refusing to go to sea.

Between first reading Distant Water and reading Crabbe’s poem, I came across one specific example of what appears to be the same story when I was putting together material about those commemorated on our First World War memorials.

The James Rowley of a Reserve Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment buried in St Michael’s churchyard in 1918 was drowned in a bathing accident off Chapel St Leonards, but his father, also called James Rowley, also caught my attention.  He appears to have come to Grimsby in just such an apprentice scheme, and then to have worked on the edge of this parish where the things Grimsby wanted to marginalise were situated: Fever Hospital, Night Soil Ground, Pyewipe Chemical Works (sewage) and Oil and Manure works (fish products).

We could track him at ten year intervals in the census returns.  In 1871 he is a 7 year old in the Biggleswade Workhouse with his unmarried mother and two younger brothers.  In 1881 he is a 17 year old fisherman (aboard the Emma on census day).  In 1891 he is 27 and living a short distance from the docks with a young family including four month old son James.  In 1901 he is 37 and ‘a general labourer at manure works’.  In 1911 he is 47 and had moved a short distance into the terraced housing developing for the first time in Little Coates parish; father and son were both listed as ‘labourer at chemical manufacturer’.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Moving forward

Things move gently forward with many of the tasks set for the next six months.  We've had a small number of positive responses to our leaflet round Bradley village, with a couple of new financial pledges and some offers of practical help which we are following up, so will be able to explore a way forward at St George's District Church Council next month.  For St Michael's area, I'm off in a minute to be initiated into how to help develop the Yarborough Ward website and we've been awarded the funding to put a proper bit of publicity about all the activities and possibilities in the Ward through every door.  We had an encouraging visit from two advisers from the diocese about how to tackle the development issues at St Nicolas' building so will be able to explore a way forward at the District Church Council later this month too. For the whole parish, we've just set up a date with an outside consultant for a Working Party for our mission and ministry review leading to our Parish Weekend in June.

Monday 17 February 2014

More snowdrops

Can you have too many pictures of the snowdrops coming through in St Nicolas’ churchyard?  Probably.  But seeing the sun on them yesterday morning meant I couldn’t resist.

The names of Mary and Richard Garness stands out particularly clearly on the gravestone right of centre.  He died in 1824. 

Noticing this has sent me back to two notes I made a short while ago from the eighteenth century Sutton Estates papers about Great Coates flood protection:

31st October 1788 (when Richard Garness would have been 26)  – “Paid Matthew Garness for white cliff stone 540 tons & repairing at the Humber Bank - £88 10/4”.

 7th May 1793 – an inspection revealed the bank “… appeared to be in tolerable repair… there was one place (where the bottom of an old boat was crammed in to repel the tide) that seemed to me to require… reparation”.

Sunday 16 February 2014


The maintenance of the churchyard at St Michael's, Little Coates is the responsibility of North East Lincolnshire Council (local authorities are responsible for all churchyards which have been legally 'closed') so the members oft he congregation here have one less thing about which to worry.  A short while ago it did a lot of clearance work particularly on the southern boundary where trees were beginning to interfere with the neighbour's roof.

Meanwhile, I was thinking again with someone yesterday about the names given to the new housing areas developed within the parish since The Willows was begun in the 1960s.  Working clockwise round the map, there are half a dozen 'new' double barrelled names: Aylesby Park, Wybers Wood, Church Meadows, Freshney Green, Cambridge Park and Laceby Acres.  In each and every case the first part indicates the immediate or more distant neighbour: Aylesby village, Wybers Wood itself, St Michael's Church, the River Freshney, Cambridge Road and Laceby village.  But in each and every case the second part probably gives away where the urban developer thought the new residents would actually have preferred to live: in open acres, green, meadows, park (twice!) and wood.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Development possibilities

And here is another corner of potential building development in the parish.  There have been repeated planning applications over the years relating to the farmyard site opposite St George's, Bradley, turned down each time.  Meanwhile, the farm buildings there have simply been allowed to deteriorate.  Recent high winds have just brought down the roof of one of the barns pictured here.

Speaking at the General Synod earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:

We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don’t often apply it.  We mostly know that perfect fear casts out love. In any institution or organisation, the moment that suspicion reigns and the assumption that everything is zero sum becomes dominant (that is to say that some else’s gain must be my loss, we can’t both flourish) that institution will be increasingly dominated by fear...

I recently commented that where a growing church is there is usually a good incumbent. A number of people took that to mean as well that where a church is not growing it must be because there’s a bad vicar. But I didn’t say that, and neither did I mean it. I have to confess that the moment I said it I knew I had expressed myself badly, and do apologise to those hurt by the comment. But, the underlying point remains, fear leads to the assumption of denigration.  

I'm glad he clarified this, and am interested that he sees the instinctive negative reaction to his original comment, which I shared, as being symptomatic of an underlying fear.

As it happens, the congregation at St Michael's, Little Coates appears to be just a little bigger than it was when I went away.  I don't know what the Archbishop would make of that!  Perhaps the real recipe for growth is for me to get out of the way.  

Friday 14 February 2014

Thistle Field

From time to time, I've been tracking the development of the Little Coates fields into modern urban Grimsby (including this post) so the sale of the large site on which the buildings of the long closed Western School sits is worthy of note - an estate of 400 or more houses will appear on what was in part the Thistle Field

Thursday 13 February 2014

More than snowdrops

This iris is in our front garden today.

A recent death announcement in our local paper recorded what at first sight read '.. after a long fight with her husband...', but reading on it became clear that it was simply the case that a comma had been left out (it was put in the following day) to separate out the thought '... with her husband at her side'.

Wednesday 12 February 2014


Both the churchyard at St Nicolas', Great Coates and this Blog are beginning to wake up after a winter sleep.

St Nicolas' struggles to balance its budget with routine expenditure demands (within an annual turnover of about £15000 and with balances reduced to £12000), but nevertheless dug deep to spend £5000 on emergency tree work not that long ago.  Meanwhile, external funding bodies are under increasing pressure and, quite correctly, focus only on significant demands.  So who finances work in a churchyard like this, other than the most basic maintenance the church and a few volunteers continue to do?

We developed plans to enhance people's enjoyment of the mini nature reserve which is the churchyard - to take out one unimportant tree so as to open up the view from the road (originally a suggestion from the Village Council), to print a simple guide, to re-erect two notable gravestones (not our legal responsibility at all, but they would both be referred to in the guide), to place some discreet wooden information signs, to resurface paths which are breaking up (without which disabled access is not possible) and to do further tree work (recommended by those who did the emergency work).

This would all cost some £8000.  The rub is that this is way outside the church's own budget, but the first two sets of funders we have approached quite understandably say the bid 'contains too much routine maintenance work'.  It feels a bit like a cleft stick.  A local community fund (able to make grants of up to £2500) does offer to look at the more immediately developmental parts of the project, and we are gratefully about to follow this up, but it seems a bit tough on the regular attenders to think they are the ones then left to dig deeper to fund work on the paths and trees in the churchyard in which their church happens to be set.