The Drunken Church Band

Thomas_Webster_-_A_Village_Choir

The organ is such a staple of church music that it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always so. The churches of the Fens have echoed to many different styles of music over the centuries: plain chant in Latin, choral singing, organ recitals and the ever changing music of the people. There’s a lovely story by Thomas Hardy about a church band – fiddles, bass-viol, serpent; clarionet and oboe – who have a bit too much brandy and beer one Christmas to keep warm in the unheated west gallery, while the sermon rolls on. The shocking consequence spells the end of their playing in church as the squire invests in:

‘a barrel-organ that would play two-and-twenty new psalm-tunes, so exact and particular that, however sinful inclined you was, you could play nothing but psalm-tunes.’

Click here to read the story

Nowadays, squires and parsons are more relaxed about what music should be heard in church. When I was at Long Sutton recently, the Rocking Rector of Market Deeping was doing a sound check for that evening’s concert. Five miles away, at Holbeach Church, the South Holland Singers and the Lincolnshire Chamber Orchestra were performing Haydn’s Creation. Who could feel deprived of opportunities to enjoy music in the Lincolnshire Fens that Spring Saturday evening?

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Long Sutton Church band

Seeing what you’re looking for

Cowbit Church in 1820 (from South Holland Life)
Cowbit Church in 1820 (from South Holland Life)

Cowbit seen in 1870

Almost 150 years ago, when the Rev. John Marius Wilson published his Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales, this is how he saw the parish of Cowbit:

COWBIT, a village and a parish in Spalding district, Lincoln.

The village stands near the Welland navigation and the March and Spalding railway, 3 ½  miles SSE of Spalding, and 5 NNE of Crowland; and has a post office under Spalding, and a r. station. The parish includes also Peakhill hamlet, and allotments in Pinchbeck North Fen. Acres, 4,590. Real property, £4,591. Pop., 649. Houses, 141.

The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Lincoln. Value, £625.* Patrons, Feoffees. The church was built in 1486; and has a tower with a groined roof, and an octagonal panelled font. There is a Wesleyan chapel. A school has £55 from endowment: and other charities £30.

John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72)

The focus on the church and its value is perhaps not surprising in a record edited by a clergyman, but it is a useful reminder that we tend to see what we look for.

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Drawing Algarkirk

Algarkirk Church, charcoal drawing by Rosie Redzia
Algarkirk Church, charcoal drawing by Rosie Redzia

Rosie Redzia

Rosie lives and works in the Lincolnshire Fens, where she grew up. Her year as artist in residence at Woodlands Farm produced a wonderful series of drawings that capture life on the land today. These images of Algarkirk Church, near Woodlands, stand in a very long line of drawings of churches by artists. Rosie will be doing drawing workshops with a local school shortly, taking the church as a subject: some of the results will be shared here in due course.

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Algakirk Church (Rosie Redzia)