Where are you going?

Water 14

Arriving in Lincoln on the morning of Saturday 14th April 2018, with a couple of hours to spare before the crime writers’ workshop I was leading at the Central Library, I decided to explore a part of the city I hadn’t really looked at closely before – the waterfront at Brayford Pool. I particularly wanted to see the Lincoln end of the Roman-constructed Fossdyke (probably the UK’s oldest canal still in use), which links the city to the River Trent at Torksey. Thus, a navigable waterway stretched, via Lincoln, from the Trent to the Wash, for the Brayford Pool is a natural lake on the River Witham, which flows to Boston and the North Sea.  In the middle ages, the Pool was a thriving inland port, but it declined subsequently until Daniel Defoe in 1720 called Lincoln ‘an old, dying, decay’d dirty city… it is scarce tolerable to call a city…’ Twenty years later, one Richard Ellison was granted a long lease on the Fossdyke (he grew wealthy from the tolls he charged on it) and the Pool sprang into life again. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the land around it turned over to bustling wharves and mighty warehouses for grain and cloth, together with all the attendant trades of a waterway. Great sailing barges carried produce and imported goods to the growing industrial cities of the Midlands and the North; steam packet boats eventually appeared on the Witham. However, the railways and then motor transport superseded the boats and, by the 1960s, as I can just remember, the Pool was an ugly graveyard of abandoned shipping.

What I found this weekend, however, was a revitalised marina for leisure and pleasure craft and contemporary working vessels – narrowboats, sleek modern motor yachts, canoes and water-taxis – in a sympathetically-modernised harbour, with Lincoln University on one side of it and bars, restaurants and cafés on the other. Thankfully, plans for filling in the Pool and turning it into a carpark were not carried out and the Brayford Trust began clearing the site. There are unsurpassed views of the Cathedral and Lincoln Castle and the old city from the University side. It surprises me that places like this, which I’ve explored by land and water – the centres of Leeds and Birmingham, for example – have only recently been revitalised, their potential for public relaxation and enjoyment, for entertainment, heritage preservation and wildlife only slowly realised.

Walk with me and enjoy this lovely part of Lincoln. Let’s start with ‘The Glory Hole’, the size limit to shipping from the River Witham into the Brayford Pool. This is High Bridge (1160 AD), the oldest UK bridge with buildings on it.

Water 1

Water 12

The Brayford Pool, with Lincoln University buildings across the water

Water 11

Preen scene

Water 10

Old and new

Water 9

Rail and water, now in harmony

Water 8

Elderly resident

Water 7

View from the Pool

Water 6

The Fossdyke

Water 5

Brayford Pool from the Fossdyke

Water 4

A glance up the hill

Water 3


Water 13

“Just for a stroll around the Pool…”

Water 2

And now, back to the Glory Hole

Thank you for strolling with me!

When fear overpowers reason…

Pendle Hill, from the village of Barley

Pendle Hill, from the village of Barley

A week ago today I took the day off and went with my husband to meet friends in order to walk up Pendle Hill in Lancashire. I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since and have finally been spurred to do so by a book review I’ve just read – of which more shortly. I’d never been to this part of Lancashire before and had no idea of how beautiful it is.
Pendle Hill, which is perhaps best accessed via the picturesque village of Barley, is well worth the steep climb that it demands of those intent on reaching the top. It is a windswept plateau unprotected against the elements, even on a fine summer’s day (though a stone circle, grouse-butt style, has been erected as a kind of refuge); once you have arrived at the summit, it is possible to see much of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales (including the Three Peaks), Derbyshire’s High Peak, North Wales and, on a very clear day, so I’m told, the Isle of Man. The 360˚ view is truly spectacular.
Aside from the wonderful panorama of Pendle Hill, the area is famous as the home of the defendants in the Pendle Witch Trial, in 1612. Twenty people from the Pendle district, sixteen of them women, were tried at Lancaster Assizes for witchcraft. The crimes that they were accused of committing were diverse, varying from murder by witchcraft to ‘bewitching’ people or animals, usually by causing them to fall sick or die. Some of them were sentenced to death; others had to stand in the pillory in the markets of Clitheroe, Padiham, Colne and Lancaster.
Their stories make sobering reading. Those indicted of witchcraft were usually, but not always, old women. One of the most renowned of the Pendle witches was Ann Whittle, alias ‘Chattox’, who lived in the Forest of Pendle. She was indicted on several counts of sorcery and admitted (probably under duress) that some fourteen or fifteen years before her arrest she had sold her soul to the devil. Her daughter was also accused of witchcraft. The nineteenth-century chroniclers of the witches conclude their account of her story as follows: “… no longer anxious about her own life, she acknowledged her guilt, but humbly prayed the judges to be merciful to her daughter, Anne Redferne; but her prayer was in vain.”
The roots of the Lancashire Witch Trials were political: they formed part of the Protestant response to the Counter-Reformation that reached its peak in this country during James I’s reign. More locally, they played on much older superstitions that had survived in rural societies, possibly from pre-Christian times.
What I didn’t know when I visited Pendle Hill was that there was a Lincolnshire equivalent to the Pendle Witches. Two sisters, Margaret and Philippa Flower, were hanged for witchcraft in Lincoln in 1619. They were therefore the exact contemporaries of the Lancashire witches. Their story is told in Witches: a tale of sorcery, scandal and seduction, by Tracy Borman, a newly-published book which was reviewed in The Sunday Times on 11th August and which I shall certainly buy and read. Yet more interesting, from my perspective, is that the Flower sisters were employed as maidservants at Belvoir Castle by the Earl of Rutland and were accused of bewitching his children, one of whom died. Belvoir Castle and Burghley House were the two great houses of the area in which I grew up and I visited them several times during my childhood. I also knew Lincoln well. The present prison was built in the late nineteenth century, in gothic style, and before that prisoners were held in the eighteenth century gaol at Lincoln Castle; the Flower sisters were probably locked in the Castle dungeons. Public hangings took place above the upper town, from the north-east tower, until 1868. (My stepfather’s mother’s family kept a theatrical boarding house in Lincoln and she was a small child there, almost, though not quite, within living memory of the hangings: she died in the 1980s, when she was well into her nineties. She remembered tales of the scene, with cheers and jeers from the watching crowd below.) Taking them as a yardstick of how little progress civilisation had made in the intervening three centuries perhaps makes it less surprising, if no less shocking, that women were being put to death for witchcraft only four hundred years ago. Even more shamefully, old women have been persecuted simply for being old and misshapen during my own lifetime. When I was a primary school child, there was a row of tumbledown cottages that I had to walk past every day. Two of them were home to two ancient ladies with wispy white hair. One was almost bent double. She walked very slowly with a stick, her eyes usually fixed on the ground. She had warts on her face and the prognathous chin that very old ladies sometimes develop. It’s difficult now to say how old she might have been: as she’d spent most of her life without benefit of the National Health Service, she may not have been as aged as she looked. But I remember quite clearly that schoolboys used to shout ‘Witch!’ at her as they passed, if she happened to be standing outside. With hindsight, I shudder at the pain she must have felt, and that she had to suffer because she was old and ‘different’. It can be a pale reflection only, I know, but still it offers some insight into the anguish and terror that the Lancashire witches and Margaret and Philippa Flower had to endure before rough hands finally put them out of their misery.
Could such persecution happen today? In Western society, not in its literal form, perhaps, but Arthur Miller’s inspired choice of the Salem Witch Trials in The Crucible to illustrate Senator McCarthy’s irrational pursuit of communists and the Cleveland child abuse investigations both illustrate that modern parallels still exist. Old women may no longer be the prime targets, but we still harbour primitive fears of people who are different, and, motivated by fear, are still capable of turning upon them savagely.

The Pendle Inn sign, Barley

The Pendle Inn sign, Barley

Just look at this: a new café bookshop in Lincoln!

BookStop Cafe 4

I’ve used the word ‘serendipity’ several times just lately and, since style matters to me, I’m troubled by tedious repetition; yet Twitter is rather generous with serendipitous moments and another one (thanks to my writer friend Carol Hedges @carolJhedges for the information) popped up in the feed on Thursday last.  It was the start of something big and it was, is and will be in Lincoln.

Living in this city are siblings Joff and Becky, who are taking the brave step into the wonderful world of independent bookselling, with a special emphasis upon supporting local and independent authors.  On Saturday 4th May, BookStop Café will be opened to the discerning readers and the tea, coffee and cake addicts of Lincoln.

Where?  At 46-47 Steep Hill and 7 Christ’s Hospital Terrace, the new home of BookStop Café is also a very old home, an example of Norman domestic architecture and, according to many references, known as ‘Aaron the Jew’s House’ (where Aaron of Lincoln, who died in 1186, lived – he was then the greatest Jewish financier of England).  The building has been a shop for many years and is currently where, up above the new bookshop/café, tea importer Imperial Teas conducts its business: an atmospheric venue indeed, ready for a new development in its very long history.

Joff (self-published author Joff Gainey) and Becky have always dreamed of combining a café with books and now their vision is becoming reality: BookStop Café will, at weekends only to start with, be a place for readers to enjoy new and secondhand books in comfortable surroundings.  Before very long, it will be a place where children can listen to storytelling and where artists can display their works.  Keep up to date with its progress on Twitter at @BookStopCafe .

I am delighted to have come across this new venture and hope that you will join me in wishing it well.  The lucky people of Lincoln will be able to settle down to good reading on Saturdays and Sundays from 4th May, 10.00 a.m – 4.00 p.m.  My guess is that they will be settling down to some very fine cake, coffee and tea too.

I know where I’ll be heading, next time I’m in Lincoln.

BookStop Cafe 5

Whose jurisdiction? Cops and the county boundary…

Lincoln County Gaol

Lincoln County Gaol

My husband is an aficionado of Traffic Cops, a television programme that I abhor. It’s an extraordinary thing, but I’ve yet to meet a woman who likes it and, similarly, to meet a man who doesn’t. (No doubt I shall soon be hearing contradictions from both sexes!) For me, it illustrates far more reliably than football the adage that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; ours is a strictly non-football-supporting household, regardless of gender, and I know many others where both husband and wife are football enthusiasts (although not always rooting for the same team!). Yet Traffic Cops seems to appeal exclusively to males – apparently all of them. Why do they like it? When I’ve glanced at it, it has featured two burly no-nonsense coppers of limited vocabulary driving along the motorway until they manage to apprehend some idiot who is doing something particularly stupid while at the controls of a car. After they’ve stopped him (or her, but it is most often a he), they’re filmed saying, with music hall politeness,‘Would you mind sitting in the back of our car for a few minutes, sir?’ One of them then winks at the camera and says to viewers out of the corner of his mouth ‘We’ve got a right one ’ere.’ And so it goes on.
On the few occasions that I’ve been persuaded to watch these snippets, I’ve felt particular disdain when the cops have reached the county boundary without managing to catch their quarry and turned back. This has seemed to me to be nimby officialdom at its worst! My husband, however, assures me that it must be some time since I watched it, as they don’t do this any more – the different police forces now co-operate with each other across county divides and have even celebrated on the programme their newly-established collaboration.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I began reading about nineteenth-century Lincolnshire in preparation for my next novel. It will be set in the twentieth century, but I want to understand what the background and values of some of the older characters would have been; in other words, the kind of place it was when they were growing up. I was fascinated to read that felons who were arrested on the Great North Road (today’s A1) were often acquitted because the exact spot on which they were arrested was in dispute. If it could not be established whether it was in Holland, Kesteven or Lindsey (Lincolnshire’s equivalent to the Yorkshire Ridings), they were released. Police from Holland weren’t supposed to ‘trespass’ in Kesteven in the line of duty; police from Kesteven didn’t venture into Lindsey, etc. – a rule apparently observed by their modern-day counterparts until very recently. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century, when more than a score of offences carried the death penalty, my guess is that this meant that criminals were pretty hot on their Fenland geography.
None of the three districts of the county had adequate prison facilities until Lincoln Gaol was built. Lincoln is situated in Lindsey, the largest and most ancient of these districts (once a kingdom in its own right). It was agreed that all three districts could avail themselves of Lincoln’s new ‘house of correction’: Lindsey would pay half the costs, Kesteven two thirds of the remainder, and Holland the rest. I was amused to read that after some years it was suggested that the salary of the ‘chief gaoler’ (today he would be called the prison governor) should be raised by £16. The councils of Lindsey and Kesteven agreed to pay, but Holland – the region in which I grew up – demurred. It used to be said that the people of Holland were ‘tighter even than Yorkshire folk’ and, on this occasion, they did not disappoint. Their refusal to pay a little more than £3 extra annually to this no doubt very hard-working gentleman was exactly true to form. Reading it gave me not a feeling of pride, but certainly a warm glow of understanding. I can just imagine my great uncles arguing the toss over such an issue and prudently deciding to keep their wallets closed.
I’m glad that police forces are co-operating now and have ceased to observe artificial boundaries. I know that this is a loophole that has been exploited many times in the past, sometimes allowing people to get away with murder – literally.


The Dolphin, Robin Hood's Bay

My family and I visited Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby today – both favourite haunts of long standing – to celebrate my son’s birthday.  While we were having lunch in The Dolphin, an ancient fishermen’s pub in Robin Hood’s Bay, the array of real beer bottles decorating the bar triggered reminiscences of staff trips to the East Coast when I first started bookselling.  (There was also an association here with Beryl Bainbridge’s Booker-shortlisted, Guardian Fiction Prize-winning novel, The Bottle Factory Outing.)

I was bemused when I first learnt of the annual ritual of the staff trip.  It seemed to me to belong to the period of charabancs and bathing huts – and to be about as outdated.  Every year, our small library supply company would close for one day in June or early July, and the whole staff, of about thirty-five people, would climb on to a specially-hired coach.

My first staff trip was to Scarborough; later ones focused on walled cities – Chester, Lincoln, York, Durham – and the last of all, some fourteen years after the first, was to the Beamish Museum.  Scarborough was the most popular destination; we went there at least four times.  The company paid for the coach, a stop for coffee en route and a slap-up lunch in a hotel.  Everyone was then free to spend the afternoon as she or he chose before piling back on to the coach in the early evening.  The venues for coffee and lunch were chosen by the boss, a redoubtable connoisseur of hostelries across the country.  He didn’t travel on the coach with the rest of us, but followed close behind in his latest Jaguar (except for the year that he was persuaded to leave the car behind, when somehow we managed to abandon him at a motorway service station; he was not amused!).  Each trip brought its own adventure.  That first far-off time in Scarborough featured the stock clerk, lying prone, very much the worse for wear, on the floor of the lunch hotel, while the boss prodded him with his umbrella and shouted, Captain Mainwaring-style: ‘Get up, you stupid boy!’

To be honest, I thought that these staff trips were paternalistic and more than a little condescending.  When eventually I became managing director, I abolished them and gave everyone an extra day’s holiday instead.  I was surprised and somewhat humbled when the following year I received a small delegation of fellow employees imploring me to reinstate the annual expedition.  I did as they asked, but I didn’t claw back the additional day’s holiday, allowing them to keep it as well.  I shall never know whether the outing satisfied some primeval need for a bonding ritual or whether this outcome was just an instance of canny Yorkshire folk managing to have their cake and eat it.

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