Thursday 31 March 2016


The site, near the more famous Newgrange and the less well known Dowth which group together as similar sized mounds with 'passage graves', contains a quarter of known European Neolithic art.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Slane Hill

This is where St Patrick lit the first Easter Fire in 433.  The monastic buildings date from 1000 years later.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Sefton Beach

It is Snowdonia in the distance in the first picture, and it is, of course, Anthony Gormley's casts of his own body in all of them.

Monday 28 March 2016

Christ the First Fruit

Here is St Nicolas’ being prepared for Easter Day.  The new curtaining and what are actually three banners shield off the temporarily unused south aisle; visitors on Easter Day who were married in the church thirty years ago commented on how lovely the church looked and didn’t mention or seem to notice part was screened off, which I take it to mean the curtaining has done its job supremely well.

Meanwhile, the experience of Easter makes me even more uncomfortable with the idea that its date should become predictable, domesticated and unhitched from its Jewish Passover context.  It also seems strange that most commentary fails to distinguish between the issue of a fixed date (say, the second Sunday in April) and an agreed variable date (which is what the Synod of Whitby achieved for England in the Seventh Century when Celtic and Roman calculations of the variable date had diverged and which would benefit us today as Catholic and Orthodox calculations of the variable date diverges).

Yesterday I noticed not so much the obvious link with the Passover (‘Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed for us, so let us celebrate the feast’ from 1 Corinthians 5) as the associated first First Fruits celebration which Leviticus 23.10, 11 places precisely on the Sunday after Passover (and which appears to relate to the harvest of barley which requires less rain to grow rather than the later main First Fruit celebration which appears to relate to the wheat harvest) - the Epistle read at our services this year included ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’ from 1 Corinthians 15.

Who would seriously want to uncouple all that for a tame pinned down neatness which doesn’t disturb nor intrude on things like school terms and Garden Centre sales patterns?

Wednesday 23 March 2016

One Mayor to rule them

It was announced in the Budget (alongside the combination of additional tax reductions for the wealthiest and lower levels of benefits for the disabled, which finally made even Iain Duncan-Smith snap) that the whole of Lincolnshire is to have a single elected Mayor whose responsibilities will include transport, economic investment and flood defence.  The £450 million which is announced as the infrastructure investment bonus which goes with this appears to be spread over a thirty year period -  so may represent less than the £15 per head per year, which isn’t going to buy much infrastructure beyond repairing a pavement slab outside each house every few years. 

Given that the average political demographic of the whole of Lincolnshire is more conservative than of that of our local unitary authority of North East Lincolnshire, the person with executive power to decide between our transport needs and those of Stamford, our flood defence needs and those of the south Lincolnshire fens, our economic development needs and those of Boston, Lincoln, Skegness and the Wold’s market towns, is likely to be Conservative and is not likely to be local.

The ‘big idea’ in the late 1960s was that economic cohesion rather than culture and history should shape local government.  So in 1974, the northern strip of Lincolnshire and the southern strip of East Yorkshire either side of the Humber (the estuary which was actually the ancient divide between Mercia and Northumbria) were brought together to form a new county, one designed to promote the ports of the whole estuary as ‘an alternative gateway to Europe’ and bring in local prosperity.  But the Lincolnshire bit always feared that having the County Council based in Beverley and the largest chunk of population in the city of Hull meant that the ‘south bank’ would always be a poor relation, and hated the loss of the word ‘Lincolnshire’ quite as much as those on the ‘north bank’ hated the loss of the word ‘Yorkshire’.

For better or worse, Humberside only lasted twenty-two years, but during that time the ‘regionalisation’ of England became cemented in for EU, national Government and quasi-governmental activities; even after 1996, when I deal with things like what was called English Heritage or the Learning and Skills Council, it is to an office in Leeds I relate (for the Yorkshire and Humber Region) while my Lincolnshire colleagues even a short distance south outside what had been Humberside relate to offices in Nottingham (for the East Midlands Region).  This was one of the main reasons that none of South Humberside was ‘put back into Lincolnshire’ in 1996, but instead it was divided into the two ‘unitary authorities’ (mini-counties) of North Lincolnshire (centred on Scunthorpe) and North East Lincolnshire (just, Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Immingham and a few villages).

The new Mayor of Lincolnshire will have the whole of the historic county to which to relate, but the population he or she serves will be divided one third / two thirds between the two Regions.  Or, to put the same point another way, North East Lincolnshire will sometimes be looking north (when it is issues being dealt with on a regional basis) and south (when it is issues being dealt with by the Mayor) - and either way will be tucked away in one corner of the large area being dealt with.  And it is worth noting that the Cabinet the Mayor will chair will contain the Leaders of the ten local authorities from across Lincolnshire (only two from the South Humberside area with a third of the population) which would need a two-thirds majority to reject any of his or her decisions.

It is also worth noting in passing that potentially being ‘put back into Lincolnshire’ was always a cultural concept rather than an administrative one.  There wasn’t one Lincolnshire County Council in 1974.  Grimsby was a County Borough (the historic unitary authority structure of the time).  The rest of what became South Humberside (including Cleethorpes and the rural part of this parish) was part of the area served by Lindsey County Council.  Having any form of local government delivered for us on a whole Lincolnshire basis is actually quite novel.  We’ll have to see whether it is an arrangement which lasts twenty-two years.

Meanwhile, I’m really delighted to have the picture, sourced for me by Brian Ashwell, which is a wonderful link with the digging away of Toot Hill almost next door to me.  I notice that both the agent Jas. Martin & Co and the printer J.W. Ruddock and Sons are Lincoln firms (so the economic links with Lincoln are far from novel); Jas. Martin is at the same address and acts as agent for the Lincoln Diocesan Trust today (and the diocese is, of course, one historic body organised on a ‘whole Lincolnshire’ basis). 

Sunday 20 March 2016

Charterhouse explorations continued

Physical energy, fertility of mind and spiritual creativity all run low even before Holy Week begins, so the blogging rate has slowed.  To keep things going, here are a couple of pictures taken near Epworth on my Day Off on Friday which actually illustrate what I posted nearly five years ago about the important site of the Carthusian Priory from which St Augustine Webster went to his martyrdom.  The top picture looks across into the flat field in which the Priory's large cloister would have been located (part of its moat is also visible) and then, shifting just a fraction to the left, the bottom picture extends to what I take to be that rare thing a pebble-dashed and corrugated-iron roofed listed building.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Nursing Churchill

The recent television drama about the concealment of 78 year old Prime Minister Churchill’s debilitating stroke was to show him being nursed by a Nurse Appleyard.  I briefly wondered if there might be a connection with the Sister Appleyard whose First World War service in at least Alexandria and Constantinople is recorded on the Great Coates War Memorial – until it was clear that Churchill’s Nurse Appleyard was a much younger fictional character named after a cricketing hero of the writer.

But Peter Chapman’s column in the Grimsby Telegraph then identified a different Great Coates link with nursing Churchill in the Second World War.  I discover from him that the Betty Smethurst, whose large grave is near St Nicolas’ south door, is the Elizabeth Lavinia Clark whose story and blurred picture I was then able to find in the January 1944 issue of The British Journal of Nursing.  She was flown from Alexandria to nurse him at Marrakech when he became ill at the Casblanca Conference.

Having failed to connect my Appleyards, I’ve now also failed to connect my Smethursts.  It is a Lancashire surname, but a Henry Smethurst (a fell monger, that is a dealer in pelts) was born in Newark in 1820 and a William Smethurst (a roper, that is a maker of ropes) was born in Bottesford, Leicestershire the following year.  It is Henry who went on to be Mayor of Grimsby, whose prominent memorial stands in People’s Park, whose son Henry married a cousin of Docea Chapman (they were both Wintringhams) and whose great-grandson married Betty Clark.  But there isn’t a connection between this family and the east window in St Michael’s which was put there in memory of William’s son Joseph.

Addition on 14th May.  The two Smethurst families do connect and they do so in the most simple way possible.  Henry and William were brothers.  Their father Samuel was a Hawker - and one of the things I'd failed to spot is that Newark, Notts and Bottesford, Leics (where the brothers were born) are actually only six miles apart.  Samuel was born in Oldham, so the Lancastrian root is not far back at all.  So - the Henry Smethurst commemorated by a monument in People's Park and the Joseph Smethurst commemorated by a window in St Michael's are uncle and nephew.