You never know who you might see if you go down to the church today. This summer, Quadring parish church held a teddy bear jump from the tower to raise funds. Bears of all shapes and sizes sailed down on parachutes, to an inspired commentary from Ian, the vicar, and with prizes for the longest and most accurate jump. Inside the church, were homemade cakes, tea and juice – and a concert by The Grizzly Bears, all of whom attend the local primary school, with their tutor, Neave. Here’s a snapshot of their performance:
Quadring is unusual because the church and school stand at some distance from the village itself, though there is a field path connecting them. Like many village schools in the area, Quadring has a strong relationship with the church, so when The Grizzly Bears needed rehearsal space, the church proved ideal. They’ve been able to practice there and have even played at services, including Mothering Sunday.
The style of music has changed, but The Grizzly Bears are just the latest of a very long line of Quadring people who have made music in the church over the centuries. Three of them moved on to secondary school in September, so the band is now renewing itself with new members and a different name, but Neave says there are lots of talented children to step up. The music goes on…
From Samuel Pepys to Alan Bennett, Britain has produced many celebrated diarists. Although John Byng is less well-known than some of these, his writing is not less enjoyable. Between 1781 and 1794, he spent his summers riding through Britain, recording his experiences. What I like about him, apart from his gift with words and companionable interest in what goes on around him, is that he knows that there are wonders everywhere. When other aristocrats wandered round Italy on the Grand Tour, Byng preferred to explore the byways of his native country, celebrating the landscapes, buildings and treasures we have stopped seeing because they are familiar.
And so, in July 1790, John Byng’s horse took him to the Lincolnshire fenlands, whose flatness he greatly appreciated:
‘Nothing can form an happier contrast with my late, hilly, stony Derbyshire ride than this flat of fine roads; for there is not a stone to counteract fancy or overturn a castle in the air.I had to observe the richness of the soil and its happy produce, till I view’d the grand remains of Crowland Abbey […] Nothing can be more noble, more Gothic or more elegantly carved than the front (now tottering) of Crowland Abbey, a beauty of the richest workmanship. My eyes gloried in beholding, whilst my heart sickened at the destruction. This, my guide said, was owing to Oliver Cromwell. There are five bells in the steeple, which is built for long endurance; but the present church, an aisle of the old one, has been pillaged, like Thorney, to the very bone; not the smallest remains of stained glass, monuments, or anything ancient except a grand holy water recess. […] Of the great eight southern windows, four have been lately taken down, for fear that they should fall down; […] The front is so seamed by rents that down it must soon come; the finest monument in the kingdom: and would I were near it then (not too near) to save and carry off some of the carved figures.’
Byng went on his way but was not so impressed by the next church he encountered:
‘My road soon brought me to the village of Cowbit, whose miserable little thatched church I walked around. Soon after, being overtaken by a storm of rain, I hurried into a shed which I occupied for half an hour, unnoticed.’
He liked Spalding much better – ‘a large, clean, well-built, Dutch-like, canall’d town’ – where he visited Col. Johnson, ‘a very old, worn-out man’, at Ayscoughfee Hall, finding ‘many good pictures of esteem’d masters; but all in disorder and decay, like the owner’. The next day he rode on early towards Pinchbeck:
‘I had not ridden a mile ere an horrid storm approach’d, which urged me to gallop Pony furiously to the village of Pinchbeck […] and to the Bell alehouse, which I had scarcely enter’d when the clouds broke there fell one of the heaviest storms of rain, with repeated thunder and lightning, that I ever remember. Thomas Bush remained with the horses whilst I sat with the landlady in the parlour; though she pressed me to go into the kitchen to keep company with their clergyman, who she said was ‘a fine learned man’ but so addicted to drink as to have wasted all his money, and now could not live out of an alehouse, where he would accept a glass of gin from anyone, to keep himself drunk. I did go in and saw him sitting before the fire, smoking his pipe.’
With this sad account of the Rev. Charles Townsend Jr., who died the same year, Byng went on to Boston, where he ‘supp’d on boil’d soles’. The next day was
‘A fresh, fair morning, wherein I took a pleasant hour’s walk before breakfast; admiring with all my eyes, and a strain’d neck, the beauty, grandeur and loftiness of the tower of Boston church, a building of most wonderful workmanship. Within, tho’ large, I recollected nothing (peeping thro’ the windows) that met my love of antiquity.’
It was Saturday, so he enjoyed the market and talking to fishermen on the river before wandering as far as Hussey Tower, setting off again after lunch towards Holbeach where he found his supper after admiring the musical tone of the church bells. Indeed, music seems to have a point of local pride, for his waiter told him
‘That the church music and singing were good, but did not advise me to stay the services tomorrow, as their poor curate who has so many children had but a bad delivery (his wife beats him in that). As for the rector of this rich living, he never was here but when presented to it.’
And so, on Sunday, 4 July 1790, John Byng took to his horse once more without attending the curate’s morning service, riding through Gedney and Long Sutton (‘a large, straggling, well-built village’) before passing out of Lincolnshire and out of this story, leaving us only his curious, distinctive opinion of the sights he had seen.
R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) was one of the finest poets of the last century. He was also an Anglican priest, serving communities in mid and north Wales between 1936 and his retirement in 1978. In combining the vocations of poetry and ministry, Thomas is part of ancient tradition, old as the church in England as the legacy of Anglo-Saxon poetry shows. Rowan Williams, Welshman, retired archbishop and poet is part of its living continuity. Thomas’s poetry is a rich body of work, approachable yet tough, and well worth getting to know. The opening lines of ‘In Church’ give a glimpse of how a church might feel to the priest left alone after the congregation has gone home.
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.
The Rev. Reginald Thompson was 59 years old when he was filmed by British Pathé for this newsreel, in 1963. Apparently, Mr. Thompson learned his wrestling while working as a farmhand in Canada, before returning to the open prairies of southern Lincolnshire. It’s a lovely period piece, with everybody hamming it up for the camera – not least the narrator. Perhaps wrestling was always as much performance art as sport.
Does anyone in Moulton Chapel – or elsewhere – remember Mr. Thompson? Please share any memories below.