Evening of 17th October 2018:

For those of you who came along to the Isambard Kingdom Brunel talk, I think you will agree that we were treated to 'showmanship', amusing anecdotes and insider knowledge of the Brunel family presented to us by Peter Maggs with a Michael Caine effect of 'not any people know that'!  which kept us all very well entertained and informed.  

Most of us 'know' of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his achievements, an English mechanical and civil engineer who is considered "one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history".  The name Brunel is attached to many Industrial Revolution iconic achievements including the Great Western Railway, Paddington Station, the Thames Tunnel, the Box Tunnel on the Great Western Line, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Britain, the first iron-hulled ship and the SS Great Eastern, the largest ship of its time - a 22,5000 ton steamship.  Each of these iconic Victorian structures are large enough for individual talks and Peter gave us enormous amount of information pertaining to these but the highlights of the evening were the 'snippets' which don't always get into the heavy tomes of Victorian engineering information. 

In spite of his confident look on the photographs we have, Brunel did have personal concerns; at only just over 5 feet tall, he was worried he would not be taken seriously because of his height and often tried to appear taller by sitting up straight (especially when riding his horse) and by wearing a very tall hat! It is estimated that the hat was 8 inches in height!  With constant hard work, stress and possibly the effects of being a heavy smoker, Brunel died of a stroke aged 53 but what a legacy to leave behind. Definitely a man before his time and someone who was not afraid to stick to his guns and persuade investors that he was 'right' where design and ability was concerned, this  audacious Victorian entrepreneur had a cavalier approach to his business but his achievements are still very much with us today.  

Many thanks go to Peter for coming along and also to Dave Willford of Gainsborough Probus who suggested a joint meeting.  Hopefully this may turn into an annual event.

11th October 2018:

It is with sadness we hear that Wendy Hedderick passed away on the 10th October 2018.

In 2000 Wendy compiled our Millenium book "Sturton by Stow Memories", and in 2002, together with Chris Turner, Wendy compiled the book "Memories of Stow".

Wendy was an honorary member of our Sturton and Stow History Society.

Evening of 16th May 2018

Message from our Secretary:

Elizabethan historian, David Templeman, presented our audience with a totally new perspective on the most colourful and charismatic women in Elizabethan History - Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.  He opened a door on the interaction between these iconic women and the challenge they made to a male dominated world. 

Mary Tudor was born a princess, labelled a bastard by her father Henry VIII yet became England’s first queen in an age when it was considered to be contrary to the natural order for women to rule men. The role of the monarch was quintessentially male, and as a female, Mary’s sovereignty was both conditional and temporary until she took a husband. Her husband would then became king and take control, but Mary dismissed this as an impertinence. She haughtily informed her counsellors that the choice of a royal bridegroom was a matter for her to decide, and although she married to fulfil the requirements of her people, Mary was determined to be queen and rule in her own right.

Elizabeth Tudor was Henry VIII’s second daughter also declared a bastard through political machinations, yet she became one the greatest queens in history and reigned for forty four years.

Most of us feel that we know all about these historic females because much has been written about them, but perhaps the question which was in most people's minds on the evening of the talk was, how did two queens link with a countess? Bess of Hardwick, or to give her her actual title, the Countess of Shrewsbury, was not royal, not educated, not beautiful, and as a 16th century woman had virtually no legal rights but she proved to be an extremely strong and determined woman. She was born into relative obscurity, her early life was hard and she was widowed at sixteen after which she joined the Grey household where she became companion to The Ladies Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.  It was in the Grey household where she met and married George Cavendish who introduced Bess to the higher echelons of society, including the Princess’s Mary and Elizabeth. She became a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth who later entrusted Bess and her fourth husband George Shrewsbury, to guard the renegade Mary Queen of Scots and this was just the beginning of the intriguing story.   David painted a colourful picture of a woman who aspired to be the best and b y a series of well-made marriages, eventually  rose to the highest levels of English nobility and became enormously wealthy. In addition to this Bess was a shrewd business woman increasing her assets with business interests; definitely a woman before her time.

How the lives of these three women were interwoven made an interesting and magnetic talk, the facts were complex in part but David passed them on in such a way that we could see each individual woman as well as the triangle of these  three enigmatic females.

Evening of 21st March 2018

Message from our Secretary:

We gave a warm return welcome to Loretta Rivett, well known to us all for her talks on an eclectic mix of subjects.  On Wednesday the 21st March she introduced us to her 'Book of Hours', her own interpretation of rural life through the seasons and how, when comparing our life today to that of villagers in the early 14th century, we could see whether everyday life had altered that much.

Loretta understandably chose the Luttrell Psalter, it being a Lincolnshire manuscript, to work alongside and compare notes with.  Her
slides showed some of the plates from this medieval document as well as comparing them with slides of photographs she had taken in her own garden.  From these she gave her own view on the script and how we can relate to it today's life. She compared the flowers with those we still see growing in our gardens today; the use of vegetables and the tending of livestock and the few celebratory holidays 14th century villagers were given.

The Luttrell Psalter is one of the most famous medieval manuscripts in the world because of its rich illustrations of everyday life in the 14th century. It was made in the diocese of Lincoln for Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276 - 1345) of Irnham, probably sometime between 1325 and 1335. It has been confirmed that the text was the work of one scribe and illuminated by at least five different artists, none of whose names are known.  For so many people to collaborate on it, the book must have been produced somewhere of a substantial size (unlike the village of Irnham), and it is thought Lincoln may be a possibility.

So what is a Psalter?  It is a collection of religious texts, including psalms, prayers and a calendar of Church feast-days, written in Latin
on vellum or parchment.  The Psalms are 150 ancient songs grouped together to form one of the Old Testament books of the Bible. In the Middle Ages (and down to the present day) they formed a fundamental part of Christian and Jewish worship for ecclesiastics and lay-people alike; many people learnt to read by being taught the Psalms. The Psalms were often written out separately from the rest of the Bible, preceded by a calendar of the Church’s feast-days, and followed by various types of prayers. Such a volume is known as
a Psalter.

This particular manuscript is named by modern scholars after its original patron, whose picture appears in the book. Geoffrey Luttrell was Lord of the Manor at Irnham, between Grantham and Spalding, but he also owned estates across England thanks to his great-great-grandfather, also called Geoffrey. His ancestor's loyal support and service to King John had been rewarded with grants of various properties which were greatly added to by marriage to an heiress.

Loretta led us through the manuscript pointing out details of everyday life which we would recognise -  corn being harvested, a woman
feeding chickens, eggs being collected, food being cooked and eaten. The passage of time is all there for us to compare with.  No clocks or watches of course, with people living more in harmony with the natural conditions we are given; you go to bed when it is dark and you get up when it is light.

Loretta is a very keen gardener and slides showing the beautiful flowers and produce in her own garden were entertaining in themselves.  But she was simply showing us that seasonal vegetation is still required as it was in the 14th Century.  We need it and can still grow it if we have the time and space.  Also, winter cabbage is as attractive if you look closely at it, as a summer rose; edible vegetables can also look pretty as well; the runner bean was first thought to be a flower.  Have a look this summer when your beans come up, see how delicate the flowers are.  Fields of broad beans which surround the villages around here at times smell wonderful -
such a strong scent when you are driving or walking past - see if you notice this later in the year.

Global warming was brought into the evening with Loretta pointing out an illustration of workers in the fields growing and pruning vines.  This obviously means that back in the 14th century it was warmer - The vines at The Bishop's Palace in Lincoln were mentioned - and then something happened along the way with the weather and Britain could no longer support this type of horticulture.  However now, we appear to be returning to warmer climes for one reason or another and UK grape vines are becoming more sustainable.  Loretta mentioned the vine at Hackthorn Hall which is the second largest in England.  There are also vines at Somerby and Claxby so
we hope that these continue to grow and prosper for those people currently in this business and should the worse happen details will be recorded for the future in case we drop back into another Ice Age!

So over the hour and a half Loretta entertained us with her knowledge, obvious enthusiasm and usual humour, we walked through the twelve months of the year with one foot in the 14th century and one foot in the 21st century. Thank you again Loretta; we always learn such a lot from your visits.

Evening of 21st February 2018

Message from our Secretary:

83 people!  Our highest number of bums on seats yet!  Thank you to everyone who came along, and thank you also to those who came along to the AGM which preceded the talk - not often you see 50+ people at an AGM!    A superb night all round with a great atmosphere thanks to those present. 

Neil not only knows his meat but he knows how to work an audience as well.  Walking amongst us showing the makings of a pie and explaining the various stages, he brought home the essence of a Lincolnshire product.  Not only that, he told us that traditionally pork pie was eaten for Christmas Day breakfast in Lincolnshire.  I have to admit that, although a Lincolnshire lass, I didn't know this  so thank you Neil, or was it simply a good publicity stunt to ensure we all buy extra pork pies this coming Christmas??!! 

He extolled the virtue of one of the original fast foods - Curtis'  award winning, traditional pork pie is made in the classic way with local pork blended with salt and pepper for that traditional pork pie flavour.  The three ingredients - meat (pork shoulder bought locally), pastry and jelly.  We were introduced to the original wooden 'dollies' - which had been used in the factory in the past. Unfortunately wood is no longer allowed along health and safety lines but these dollies are part of Curtis' historical past.

Eight members of the audience decided to give pie making a go and proved to be very entertaining with their prowess.  All of these pies, plus the kits and wrapped pies were on sale during the evening. 

Curtis' history was described by Neil aided by his very good power point presentation and interspersed with personal and amusing anecdotes which made the talk feel so much more alive.  Walking round with samples of pork pie, which were readily despatched by all,  Neil was happy to answer questions from interested parties. 

As with most craftsmen, Neil knew about all the other types of pork pies on the market, even those he had tried whilst travelling abroad.  With the help of his presentation, we could see what could be on offer should we venture to South Africa, Vancouver, Thailand and
even Vietnam - the name pork pie not always coming up to the image in our mind! 

The family photographs which we were displayed were very interesting - the faces of a family name everyone in Lincoln and Lincolnshire recognise.  The interior of one of the shops shows a fully tiled shop - walls and floors . Also quite apparent was the sawdust on the floor and meat hanging on huge hooks ready to be cut up.  This   brought back memories to me of accompanying my mother to the butchers to choose the meat.  A difficult shop to enter I thought even then, with the blood in the sawdust and the huge carcasses hanging, dripping blood - a far cry from today's sterile butcher environment. 

A small stiff cardboard box which was used to send pies all over the country via rail during the 40's and 50's sat on the front table in the hall for us to see ; something so innocuous really but of great importance to the past growth of this company.

Another nod to the history of the company is in front of us all when we shop and visit the St. Marks area.  High above our heads on a rooftop sits a weather vane and this is topped by a pig!  This recognises the fact that Curtis' had their factory on this site for decades.  Quite a nice nod really but one which had passed most of us by.  Next time I go into that area I shall make a point of looking upwards for the pig.  Of course Neil had an another amusing story here too, about a pig which escaped when being delivered to the factory and it apparently sought sanctuary in St. Mark's church. 

With such a history to the company as well as its products, Curtis's are a flagship for the county, selling their wares in 21 shops throughout the area.  If you are more of a sausage fan you can catch up with Neil again at this year's Sausage Festival which celebrates   all things sausage, including the famous Lincolnshire sausage which is held in and around the Lincoln Castle grounds on Saturday October 13th -10.00/5.00. 

During the day there will be  cooking demonstrations, food stalls of the best Lincolnshire produce from award winning Select Lincolnshire members, children's entertainment and live music.  Lincoln Castle and Castle Hill itself will be full of stalls selling all types of produce, as well as the Lincolnshire Sausage which is always on offer for people to buy and eat on the day or to take away and enjoy at home. 

Failing that, I have managed to persuade Neil to return to give another Talk to the group in 2019 on our famous Lincolnshire Sausage - Save the Date - Wednesday November 20th 2019.  Thank you Neil.

22nd January - Message from Sharron our Secretary:

One of the most miserable evenings so far in this area, 15th January, saw 52 hardy souls turn out for our first Talk of 2018, reliably and descriptively given by Graeme Wade - Boston to Torksey - a 43 mile journey.

During the talk Graeme referred to the Water Rail Way which follows the route of the former Lincoln to Boston Railway Line, this route leaves Lincoln alongside the River Witham and passes Washingborough, Bardney and Southrey on the way to Kirkstead Bridge. Here, you can take roads into the village of Woodhall Spa or continue on the Water Rail Way to Langrick Bridge and Boston.  The Water Rail Way passes through vast fenland landscapes with long views and expansive skies. The route also features a sculpture trail commissioned by Sustrans which includes artworks inspired by the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and also by the local environment and animal breeds. 

To complement the walk there is an  Art Trail.   Sustrans has worked with a range of local artists and along this route, two viewing platforms by Belgian architects Robbrecht en Daem rise high over the banks of the River Witham. As landmarks and gateways to the Water Rail Way, each structure supports a flight of stairs leading up to expansive views over the fens or the historic City of Lincoln. Other works along the route include Sally Matthews 'Lincoln Reds' and 'Lincoln Longwool Sheep' and sculptures inspired by the poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and to commemorate the 200th anniversary of this former Poet Laureate who was born in Lincolnshire.

Armed with his sturdy Bradshaw, Graeme, minus the bright jacket and trousers, did a 'Portillo' describing each port of call with pockets of interest taken from the book - 'Boston in 1863 was a borough and port on the river Witham, near the Wash with the beautiful 13th century church of St Botolph (Boston was taken from Botolph's town) towering to 300 feet high offering a welcome return to all sailors and travellers.'  This tower/lantern we now know affectionately as 'The Stump'.

The Grand Sluice Lock seems to be in the news a lot these days and this is where boats can only pass through when the levels are made between the river and the tidal section. The lock is only 45 feet long, but is unusual in that there is a railway bridge in the immediate vicinity which carries the line from Boston to Skegness on a single track for most of its length.

Graeme always embellishes his talks with a bit of humour as well as his wonderful slides and all aided and abetted with tidbits of historical information.  As he moved further north, he found at Anton’s Gowt, a Lock which leads down into the Drains. These are actually below sea level and provide navigable waterways of about 40 miles out of a total of 90 miles. Anton’s Gowt provides an alternative water access to Boston via Cowbridge Lock and then down the Maud Foster Drain to the famous windmill.  According to Graeme going “down the drains” is a boating experience never to be forgotten!  

Further upstream we arrived at Chapel Hill - yes, a hill in the Fens, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it! This is where the River Slea, or Kyme Eau joins the Witham, via floodgates that are automatically controlled by the level of the Witham. Normally the flow from the Slea keeps the gates open, but when the level in the Witham rises then the Witham flows up the Slea and shuts the gates. There is an interesting bridge over the Slea at this point, which marks the boundary between the old counties of Lindsey, part of Kesteven and Holland. 44 years after local government reorganisation the sign is still there! The Slea is navigable up to Cobblers Lock and there are long-term plans to reconnect Sleaford to the national navigation system. 

Moving on in a stately fashion Graeme took us to  Southrey where the Riverside Inn at one time had signs painted on its roof - for the benefit of RAF pilots eg 'if you can read this you’re too damned close!' The platforms of the old station are still in place.

The next bridge  over the Witham is at Bardney, the site of the former sugar factory which closed when sugar production was rationalised a few years ago which caused a bit of an uproar about the distances sugar beet would now have to be hauled.

Bradshaws came in useful again for this village.  The expression “Do you come from Bardney?” derives from an alleged event in 675AD when the people carrying the remains of King Oswald of Northumberland were refused admittance to the Benedictine Monastery which was sited at Bardney, apparently a storm blew open  the doors and this was regarded as divine intervention and the Abbey’s doors
were never closed again!  Unfortunately , there are only a few piles of stone remaining of the abbey located in a farmyard, one which
you are not encouraged to visit.

Bradshaw also mentions Bardney as the place where a cross was erected to the memory of Ethelred of Mercia who founded the monastery in the 7th century. 

The Heritage Museum is located at the old Station, open at weekends. but was not open when Graeme visited.

At Five Mile Bridge (pedestrians and cycles only) there used to be a chain ferry, replaced in 1957. A Saxon sword and a complete dugout canoe which can now be viewed at The Collection. The site formed a Time Team dig and there is a nature reserve, accessible from the road from Fiskerton to Bardney.

We eventually reached Lincoln,  in which Bradshaw perpetuated the “uphill” and “downhill” myth! He says that Lincoln had so many churches that it gave rise to a proverb “He looks like the devil over Lincoln ” because it was supposed to be the object of his particular envy!

We passed the remains of the majestic and well known Titanic works. I t is said that the building may have been so called because it is the same size as the ship, or, because it was built in 1912, the fateful year of its sinking.

Several photos of Stamp End Lock were shown - the third lock on the trip from Boston, and the last before Torksey.  This lifts the Witham another few feet above sea level. It is an unusual structure because of its upper guillotine gate, which dates from 1950.  Possibly because of its proximity to Stamp End road, it has no arms. From his own experience, Graeme advises boat users to put up their umbrellas at this point if they want to avoid a soaking. The water is not the cleanest! At one side is a moveable sluice, which protects Lincoln in times of high water levels. 

And through into the city of Lincoln with a  gentle cruise taking us from Stamp End through the bridge under Broadgate, under High Bridge and into the Brayford Pool. This stretch of water is of particular historic interest in the political history of Lincoln. High Bridge did not allow substantial boats to progress beyond Stamp End. In the past goods had to be transshipped up to the Brayford Pool, providing much employment and revenue for the City Council, who provided the porterage service.  All kinds of solutions were proposed to solve the High Bridge problem. With a height of only 8’ and a width of 15’ 9 ” it prohibited anything other than short boats  proceeding directly to
the Brayford.

In 1792 the canal architect William Jessop proposed taking up the floor under the High Bridge and underpinning the walls, but nothing was done until 1795. Some work was undertaken at the expense of the Horncastle Canal Company along with the owners of the River Slea.

Another scheme from 1846 proposed by the GNR, who had acquired a lease for 999 years of the river and 900 years on the Fossdyke, involved building a bypass around the High Bridge, with the Council buying some land on the south side and contributing to the cost. Jealous of their monopoly for porterage, the Council refused to pay and thus nothing was done! The High Bridge continued to be an obstruction until commercial traffic ceased.    We are all familiar with this famous city site and it is the oldest bridge in the United Kingdom which still has buildings on it. The bridge was built about 1160 AD and a bridge chapel was built dedicated to Thomas Becket in 1235 on the east side of the bridge.  Perhaps we forget this as we rush across it in a panic to fulfil our shopping needs!  

Brayford Pool is reached - a contentious piece of water these days due to planning and building!  Originally a natural pond on the floodplain between Torksey and Lincoln the pool was dug out by the Romans and became the fourth largest port in England.  The Pool, and the Fossdyke has had a chequered history over the past 2000 years! Before the Romans the entire 43 miles between Boston and Torksey was tidal, and even now, downhill Lincoln is only some 15’ above sea level.   Unfortunately, the pool has always been prone to silting up due to lack of flow at normal times; the same problem affecting the Fossdyke, rendering it impassable by 1833.  The Pool has undergone a transformation in the last few years, the main trigger was  the coming of the University of Lincoln, based on the South Bank. The building of University Way, with a new bridge over the Fossdyke and the railway, meant the end of the swing bridge at the western end of the Pool.  There was also a swing bridge at the Eastern end of the Pool, operated from Holmes Signal Box, but in more recent years British Railways put lines across so that the “swing” element was removed. Not much traffic used the itham at this point except for traffic to the Great Northern Warehouse on Brayford Wharf East.

It is believed that the Fossyke is of Roman origin, having been dug in around AD120 to connect the River Witham with the River Trent and the Humber. It is approximately 11 miles in length and f ed from two main sources, the Witham at Brayford Pool and the River Till, approximately 1 mile from Saxilby.  The Danes used it when they invaded.  After the Romans departed the Fossdyke went into decline. T he Normans used it to ferry stone for the Cathedral.  However further deterioration took place until in 1121 it was deepened.

After 500 years, it became Crown Property but in about 1600 King James I gifted it to the Lincoln Council to avoid heavy costs and in 1671 the City took powers to make a navigation from the Trent to Boston but only exercised its powers as far as High Bridge. 

In 1741, to avoid obligations the City leased the Fossdyke for about 900 years to one Robert Ellison on condition he maintained the channel at 3’6” depth. The lease provided for a right of way through the Brayford Pool but did not include any of the banks, which remained with the Council. This caused a certain amount of friction which still exists! And is possibly why the Canal and River Trust, as
successors to British Waterways cannot provide visitor moorings on the Brayford.  The navigation reopened in 1744 and goods were carried to Gainsborough for onward shipment.

The Great Northern Railway acquired the lease in 1846 subject to payments to the Council of £8500. There was no provision for a rent review!  In 1923 the GNR became the LNER and in 1948 became British Railways and the waterways element of the national transport system came under the auspices of British Waterways.

Moving out of the Pool, the Fossdyke flows past University accommodation to the Pyewipe Inn, where there used to be a ferry to the engine sheds of the railway; these are now long gone.   Then we move on past Burton Waters, a new development including a marina for boats, most of which can’t go beyond the railway bridge at Saxilby or the High Bridge!  Arriving at  Saxilby, which rates a mention in Bradshaw as having a population of 1174. Bradshaw mentions that in the vicinity are villages of  Thorney, the seat of the Nevilles; Kettlethorpe, Sir W. Ingelby Baronet, Scampton and its Roman Way and Tillbridge Lane, the  old seat of the Bolles.   Saxilby had a swing bridge over the canal which carried the then main road.

Eventually we sailed into Torskey,  where the Fossdyke reaches the Trent. Even Torksey gets a mention in Bradshaw, even if it is only a passing reference to its station on the then direct route from Retford to Lincoln.  The Lock is an attractive hub for boaters and visitors with a tea shop and good for boat watching but if you are a serious boater you now venture through the Lock and out onto the Trent - a very different body of water to sail on.  Ask Graeme, he knows!

Many thanks again to Graeme for letting me have his notes to totally crib from this time.  

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