A sense of history: in Boston

Boston Stump

Boston, Lincolnshire is not often in the news but was last week because of a terrible storm and flooding. Boston was a very important medieval port but the silting up of the River Witham, which empties into The Wash brought decline. It is still a watery town, with the river and big man-made drains carrying water from the Fens, running through it.

I was in Boston the day before the storm. It’s a half hour walk from the station to Pilgrim Hospital, grey and overcast on my way there and brilliant sunshine on the return journey (the latter sadly painful, after laser treatment on my eyes). My route took in St Botolph’s Church (otherwise known as Boston Stump and visible for miles across the fenland fields), Maud Foster Drain, Maud Foster Windmill and a lovely footpath through winter allotments. All the photos are on the Facebook page.

Medieval England feels very alive to me here in this part of the country, as it did when I was growing up near Cambridge. I don’t know why it holds such a spell for me; and I know that perhaps it makes little sense of speak of half a millennium (from the 11th century, say, to the 16th) as one period. But when, as on Saturday night, I sit in my village church, built in the 1300s and listen to a carol from the 1500s, when I lay my hands on the massive stone pillars, I feel I touch, across the centuries, the hands of those who built the church or who came, generation after generation to worship there.

On that day in Boston, crossing bridges, river, drains, I had a powerful, vivid sense of another Boston, in its twelfth century heyday, waterways full of boats and men and ropes and shouting; it seemed very near me, almost seen, as though through a veil.

I could have been sad, for what has passed, but I felt instead an exciting sense of timelessness, of today’s Boston containing still that other town, as we each hold all our past and all our future.

Maud Foster Drain

Grantchester: bringing it all back home

Footpath to Barton

I’ve had a brief visit to Grantchester, where I grew up, to see my mum and to go to the Advent Carol Service in Kings College Chapel, a great treat.

As a teenager I used to queue with friends for the more famous Christmas service, but the service for Advent is my favourite. There is always some very early music which I love. So in this flying visit I spent time in a beautiful, old building, listening to beautiful and ancient music; and took pictures of winter farmland.

The medieval world and the outdoor world are both part of the fabric of my childhood and adolescence. Much of what I have written in this blog deals with a sense of connection to the past and to a particular landscape (see Childhood landscape and Landmarks in a flat country). On Thursday it will be the first anniversary of beginning the blog and soon after that, the anniversary of us moving to Heckington.

So my next few posts will be a kind of retrospective; a chance to think about what I have learned about connection to place and people through this adventure of moving to somewhere new and finding myself at home. I will put up my first few posts from this time last year on the Facebook page.

I have also put up an album of photos taken in Grantchester, some, but not all, of which have appeared in earlier posts. The Facebook page is public, like a business page or website, so you don’t have to have a Facebook account in order to visit it and look at photos. You would have to be on FB yourself in order to ‘like’ the page or post comments on it.

I have loved writing this blog; it has been a focus for my thinking about history, place, belonging and so on. It has also been a reason to take more photos than I had done for a long time before.

So thank you to everyone who has come along for the ride, especially those of you who have been reading and following since very early on. You know who you are!

Bridle Way

Wool country

Wandering sheep
The fens are full of beautiful churches, spires visible for miles across the sea-like landscape, towering over the remote villages to which they belong. These were prestige building projects back in the early fourteenth century or before, paid for by landowners made wealthy by sheep and the wool trade with Flanders.

The pretty lamb in the picture above is a Gotland, a rare breed originating in Sweden and not the kind of sheep that would have grazed Lincolnshire fields back then. I met her and the rest of the flock at Burton Pedwardine, a village just two miles from Heckington: see Pedwardine Gotlands for more information.

It was a great morning, a novel experience. I have never met such friendly sheep! They behaved like dogs, wanting to be petted and pawing at me with their hooves if I seemed to be ignoring them. The reason I was there was to see about getting some of their wool when they are next sheared, to use it for felt-making. It’s lovely wool, with curls, in pretty colours and makes good felt. There may also be meat from the lambs later in the year; but will I be able to eat it when I’ve met them all by name? The jury’s out on that one…

Meanwhile in our own church of St Andrews, Heckington, I find an unlikely art exhibition. Woolly Spires showcases the results of a community knitting project and yes, it is just what it sounds like: knitted churches.

They are quite something: St Botolph’s, Boston (the famous Boston Stump), St Denys’, Sleaford and St Mary & St Nicholas, Spalding rendered in faithful detail, all in wool.

The wool for the woolly spires is all from the local breed, the Lincoln Longwool, which became important in the 18th century and of which I saw many at the wonderful Heckington Show recently. They are impressive, dreadlocked animals, but I have to say that I prefer the cheery, cheeky Gotlands pictured below.

Gotland sheep in field

Outside inside

Screen 1

This was the last weekend of the ALTered art events at St Andrews Church; and this picture is of Emily Tracy’s ‘Screen’ (see Modern art in a medieval world) on Saturday evening. As we arrived there were children running in and out of the doorway, looking up at the trees and searching for a mouse lurking somewhere in the picture.

This modern screen stood where there would once have been a wooden rood screen in the past, between the nave and the chancel, separating priest and laity. But this screen invites the visitor into the chancel to play and discover the animals and plants that decorate the medieval church.

I loved the trees ‘growing’ in the centre of the church. In the same way as those who made the exuberant carvings of human, animal and plant life hundreds of years ago, an artist has once more brought the outdoor, living world into this space of stone and light and quietness.

St Andrews Church, Heckington

A large town church in a village, in fact one of the dozen or so grandest churches in Lincolnshire.*

I’ve mentioned our village church in passing: the bell-ringing on a Tuesday night, a landmark to guide me home from a walk, the presence of the medieval world in our modern one, and so on. So yesterday, in the sunshine, I took a few photos of it to put up here.

St Andrews was built in the fourteenth century and I’d heard before arriving here that it is an important church (in this region of many fine churches). In particular people write about, and take pictures of the stone carvings both on the outside and inside the building.

If you like church architecture and decoration, there are many more images, by better photographers than I, to be found on the web. Have a look on the Geograph website, a fun place to visit if you don’t know it (search for Heckington or grid square TF1444).

I love living so close to this ancient building. I love it being open so much of the time and I love the second-hand bookstall inside.

And I’m glad I took the photos yesterday. Today there is no sun again, only the punishing, bitter cold.

* from Lincolnshire by Nikolaus Pevsner, John Harris, Nicholas Antram (2002)