Tuesday 31 May 2016

Salt and Somme

Our second dip into the Wolds Walking Festival this morning was blustery and a little wet, but we enjoyed being introduced to the succession of sea banks at Marshchapel and to the salt making which went on between them.  These gentle hillocks are not what one would expect on coastal marsh and not what one finds on flatter landscape immediately inland of the village.  They are actually a form of ‘post-industrial’ landscape, albeit the industry was mediaeval.  Once the shore had been scrapped and the takings filtered to produce the concentrated brine needed for salt making, the remaining sand and soil accumulated in piles which became hillocks like this.  The village hall has a full scale reproduction of a detailed map from the 1590s, and this indicated that Christopher Hildyard was involved in the process in its last days.

Meanwhile, the other ‘local history’ activity was a visit last week to the Research Room at the Imperial War Museum to read some of the the letters sent home by Lt Col Kyme Cordeaux, the Great Coates man who made his home at Brackenborough and who was commanding the ‘Grimsby Chums’ Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment on the first day of the Somme.  My most striking personal discovery (military historians may well already be aware of this) was that the failure of the bombardment to damage the German defences ahead of the assault far from being a surprise on 1st July was something he’d actually forseen when writing to his wife the previous week.  I’m lined up to do a talk at St Nicolas’ on the evening of 28th June which will be partly based on this material.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Claxby Ironstone Mine

We greatly appreciated the heritage walk yesterday which brought us to this point and helped us understand it.  The metal posts in the hollow are all that remain of the wheels from which wire ropes ran out on a straight line ahead on which trucks full of ore would have run up and down on lost lines of rail down the slope to the the equally lost railway sidings at the bottom.

Here is the ironstone itself - still outcropping close by in a disused quarry which predates the mine itself.  The ironstone used to build St Michael's (and many similar churches) must have come out of similar quarries centuries earlier.  Thanks to both the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology and to the landowner.

And here is the view from Claxby Top at the end of the day.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Fortunate disillusionment

This is what a real Football League ground looks like this week.  Grimsby Town is going back up after six years - but nobody locally has ever thought of Blundell Park as being a ‘Conference’ standard ground during that time anyway (however much supporters would like to develop a new venue).

So instead, rather begin with - this is what Blundell Park looks like when it allows a bereaved family to hold a charity match to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust yesterday.  It looks empty but there were lots of people there in the one open stand behind me.  A wonderful tribute to a lovely young man.

Meanwhile, to go somewhere quite different, a single quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer came up as the non-scriptural reading at Matins one day in the week and is feeding me still.  I find that I ought to have paid as much attention to Living Together as to the more famous The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison.

The serious Christian
set down for the first time in a Christian community,
is likely to bring with him or her
a very definite idea of what Christian life should be
and try to realise it.

But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.

Just as surely as God desires to lead us
to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship,
so surely must we be overwhelmed
by a great general disillusionment
with others,
with Christianity in general,
and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace God will not permit us to live
even for a brief period
in a dream world.

He does not abandon us
to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods
that come over us like a dream.

God is not a God of the emotions
but the God of truth.

To be clear, perfectionism is actually a heresy and judgementalism is specifically condemned by the Lord - and, since I'm as prone to both as any other Christian, it is only this fortunate disillusionment with myself which stands a chance of setting me free to pray for those who can't cope with the compromised nature of our churches and of our ways of being Christian community.

Mind you, this is almost where this Blog started and where it has continued to be quite recently.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Smethurst Window

To the greater glory of God and in loving memory of Joseph Smethurst JP who entered into rest March 21st 1908 this window is dedicated by his affectionate wife and daughter.  At rest.

Last week, I noticed for the first time the burial entry in St Michael’s registers for Maria Isabella Smethurst of Radwinter (a village in north Essex).  It is dated 23rd October 1917.  Probate information shows she died at Radwinter Rectory (which turns out to be her daughter’s home) although her own home was 20 Cornwall Terrace, Regents Park (a terrace which I find has been remodelled recently into eight of the most expensive houses in London). 

It prompted me to look for her grave, which, as one would expect, she turns out to share with her husband Joseph.  I can’t think why I hadn’t sought it out before.  It is immediately outside the window which she and her daughter had given in his memory following his death eleven years earlier.

There is a simple outline story of the development of Grimsby’s fishing industry which begins with fishermen in and near the Medway who took their boats on seasonal trips along the south coast to places like Brixham and some of whom then moved in numbers in the middle of the nineteenth century to places like Grimsby. 

Her story appears to be a textbook example.  Her father was born in Margate (his parents were a Waghorn and a Twyman, both Kent regional surnames) but married a girl who was born in Broadhempston (a village seven miles inland from Paignton); they had their daughter Maria in 1845 in Ramsgate, but by 1851 they were living in Hull, where by 1861 he is a smack owner employing twenty-five people, all of which placed Maria in position to marry a Grimsby rope manufacturer in 1869.

The rope manufacturer was Joseph Smethurst.  He was born in Market Rasen although his parents had been married in Grimsby and this is where he was brought up. 

His Smethurst grandfather was actually born in Oldham (Smethurst is a Lancashire regional name) and was a hawker who worked his way across the country to Bottesford in Leicestershire (where Joseph’s father William was born) and then to Grimsby (where William's older brother Henry was to become a leading figure in the growing businesses on the docks and eventually Mayor, ending up being commemorated by a memorial in People’s Park).

Joseph’s other grandfather (Joseph Tomlinson, after whom he may have been named) appears in the first surviving census returns (1841) as Grimsby’s gaoler. 

By 1861 Joseph’s father (previously recorded as a ‘roper’) was a ‘twine spinner’ employing six men and eight boys, a business Joseph himself was carrying on ten years later with thirteen men and twenty boys, by then living with his wife Maria of three years in Kesgrave Street very close to a large Ropery on the docks. 

He prospered and was living at Norman Villa, Bargate by 1881, which is where they had their only child May in 1884 (or perhaps they had already had others who died young?) and then, by the time of his death, at The Acres, Welholme Avenue.  Probate information shows that he was then worth £51 000, which would be several million in today’s values.

Since I pray in front of their window so often, it is nice for me now to know something about them and to know that they are just the other side of the window, albeit in a rapidly deteriorating grave.

But none of this easily explains how Joseph came to be buried at St Michael’s in the first place and then to have what was the main East Window of the church erected in his memory. 

The date of his death (1908) is the year before that of the Joseph Chapman who left the huge legacy by which the church was extended.  It is a further year before the first housing began to be developed in the extreme north-eastern corner of the parish where Little Coates School was soon to be built to cope with the growing population.  In other words, St Michael’s was still a small unremarkable church in a rural parish whose sparse population lived in only a handful of cottages.

The clue turns out to be the reference to Maria Smethurst dying at Radwinter Rectory.  The Rector of Radwinter in 1917 was the Revd Edward Bullock - who had been the Vicar of Little Coates in 1908.  I hadn’t realised that Joseph and Maria’s daughter May had married the Vicar, thus ‘the affectionate daughter’ of the memorial tablet was also the Vicar’s wife. 

The marriage actually took place in London less than six weeks before her father died.  Perhaps (this can only be a guess) Bullock had previously had an aspiration to have something more fitting than a plain East Window at St Michael’s and his new mother-in-law may have welcomed the opportunity for his new father-in-law to be buried in a country churchyard and to have a memorial window erected?

Edward Bullock was the priest appointed by Bishop Edward King in 1898 to succeed Canon Peter Young as Vicar of Grimsby.  This was at the remarkably young age of 31; his five year first incumbency in the challenging inner city parish of St Jude’s, Liverpool must have indicated promise for such a major appointment. 

He had taken on the small additional responsibility of being Vicar of Little Coates only in 1906 following the death of Bartholomew Blenkiron, who had been the non-resident Vicar for over sixty years.  Bullock’s responsibility for Little Coates might not have extended much beyond sending one of his Curates to take the occasional service here.

I'm told he informed St James' of his engagement in 1907 and offered to resign - much more likely to do with his change in status after ten years than the fact that his marriage at the age of 41 was to a women eighteen years younger than himself.  I'm told they congratulated him and asked him to stay, although I'm not clear where the record of this would be as there were not yet Parochial Church Councils.  Either way, they did move to a parish in Camden Town soon after their marriage, and then to what looks like the family living at Radwinter eight years after that. 

He then died in 1925 aged 58, leaving Joseph Smethurst’s affectionate daughter a widow at 41; she was to survive her husband by nearly fifty years.  The altar rails in what is now called Grimsby Minster are given in his memory, an interesting tribute to someone who had actually ceased to be its Vicar sixteen years before he died (unless, of course, they were simply the gift of his family).

They had two sons, the elder of whom would have been 13 when his father died and who was to be killed in a Japanese atrocity in the Solomon Islands in 1943.  He went to Christ Church, Oxford as I did and at one time I must have walked past the name Edward Bullock on the College War Memorial as often as I now walk past his grandfather’s memorial tablet.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Dual narratives

One of the books we brought back from our Sabbatical at the end of 2013 was a remarkable then newly published American volume ‘Side by Side; parallel histories of Israel-Palestine’.  I’ve thought of it often in the last few weeks as apparently sloganised discussions (of re-emergent English anti-Semitism and the continued colonisation of the West Bank) have seemed totally destructive of better understanding, so I’ve taken it off the shelf again.  It speaks of two nations built at each other’s expense, each buttressed by the construction of separate collective identities.

The premise is simple.  Each of the two narratives (accusations, histories, identities, political justifications) we are given include objective truths and are internally self-consistent and irrefutable.  So a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers have spent several years producing a Hebrew and Arabic text-book which sets these out in parallel – literally on opposite pages.  They have been mentored by a Professor of History from Tel Aviv University and a Professor of Education form Bethlehem University.

What is almost the most powerful thing is how difficult they found handling it.  On teacher is quoted as saying how it took her four years using the material in her classroom before she could overcome her emotional reaction to presenting the parallel page.  If someone so committed to this work found this, she says, then what chance do those have who have no willingness to try.

From quite other contexts I am conscious that equally treated accounts (‘symmetries of narratives’ they call them in this context) are notorious for perpetuating the abuse of the more vulnerable party (‘asymmetries of power’ is their language), but one of their discoveries is how both narratives are presented as being of the more vulnerable narrators in besieged or in occupied territories, in minorities in a region or in a country.

Meanwhile Christian Zionists drop literature even into one of my churches here to say God’s purpose is that the whole of the West Bank should be part of a Jewish state with no Arab citizens while Iranian Government spokesmen speak of the ‘Zionist entity’ because they cannot bring themselves even to voice the possibility that the State of Israel should exist at all.

And, at a distance from those chilling extremes, many Jewish people in England are being subject to racial abuse and discrimination and many of those who speak up with what Palestinian Christians want said are told that their motivation is self-evidently anti-Semitic.

This week the buds have burst on the walnut tree at the entrance to St Nicolas’ churchyard.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Leave us not pictureless

We are briefly carrying on from the diocesan Lent Course based on pictures from the Methodist Modern Art Collection – simply because it seemed a shame not to include something from its range of Easter and Pentecost pictures which, quite naturally, were not appropriate for use in Lent and Holy Week.  Yesterday I was preparing a session for tomorrow evening (a session which is also a response to the Archbishops’ call for prayer in the week before Pentecost) and was struck by the way the artists have had to move into abstract art to do the job for this season.  And then I arrived for Matins this morning and saw this.  I’ve posted before pictures of the light in St Nicolas’, including light from this south aisle window, but this is what it was doing with the temporary south aisle curtaining just now. 

The Collect for today is ‘leave us not comfortless’ which echoes older translations of John 14 now more often rendered more literally as ‘leave us not orphans’, and I recall students of Greek philosophers being described as ‘orphaned’ when their teacher died so it may almost be ‘leave us not guru-less’.  Leave us not adrift.  There have been moments in the week when I’ve not been keen to go on plugging away at things – one of them was receiving an e-mail summarising the twenty-six further points the Diocesan Advisory Committee would like addressed before it will support the proposal for work on the roof behind this curtain – and moments when it has seemed worthwhile being here for the long haul – two separate ones were pieces of pastoral work which stem back eight and twelve years.  Leave us not without a sense that you are in the patterns and absence of patterns in front of us.  That would be enough.

Tuesday 3 May 2016


Here is another view taken at Matins-time in St Nicolas’, Great Coates, to me almost as evocative of that time as Matinlight.

Meanwhile, I spent a wet Bank Holiday afternoon chasing down a hitherto missing 1911 census record for one of my father’s grandmothers.  I knew that she had mental health problems at the end of her life and that she was not at the family home in Southend on census night.  No amount of searching for her by name had showed up where she was visiting or being cared for that night. 

In the end, the answer was as simple as searching out the address at which she is recorded as having died a few months later.  The neutral sounding 33 Peckham Road, Camberwell turns out to be part one of the then largest Asylums in the country (Camberwell House) for which page after page of patients are listed by their initials rather than their names.

There is enough circumstantial detail (aged 61, married, born in Oxford) to be sure that ‘ASG’ is Annie Sarah Gregson (born Mallam), and there is the stark but not unexpected word ‘Lunatic’ in the extreme right hand column reserved for record of ‘Infirmities’.

I was also able to identify the large family home near the seafront in Southend (used as the Cumberland  Hotel and Banqueting Suite for most of the years since the family left in the 1930s) on Google Street View, and may have caught sight of it shortly before demolition as it is surrounded there by builder’s hoardings.

The Bank Holiday weekend was exactly twenty years on from my father’s death.  I remember him in 1985 attending the first Eucharist at which I presided and saying afterwards that he had thought of his mother after the service – Annie Gregson’s daughter, brought up in that house, my grandmother who died ten years before I was born. 

I was sure that he was echoing 2 Timothy 1.5 “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” and thinking that my vocation was at least in part shaped by the faith in which his mother Barbara had nurtured him and her mother Annie had nurtured her long before her mental health fractured.

So a lot of me goes back to Frederic and Annie Gregson.  I have my grandmother’s sketches of them, her parents, above my desk as I type.  He was one of those instrumental in building St Alban’s, Westcliff and he served as an early lay member of what was to develop into the General Synod.  Three of her sisters married clergymen, as did one of her children, one of her sisters became a religious sister, one of her other daughters was an SPG missionary in Japan at about the time of her death, and William Temple’s book on John’s Gospel is dedicated in memory of one of her nephews.

A lot of well used prayer books over the years.

I’d seen for the first time the grave of her parents (Thomas and Martha Mallam) in Oxford in 2014  and of the one of her sisters who became a religious sister (Mother Charlotte CHC) in Oxford in 2015.