Tag Archives: Spalding

The Story of an Aussie in the English Fens (Part Three)

Matthew Flinders 01 (2)

The really big thing about visiting the obscure village of Donington is that this is the birthplace of Matthew Flinders and Matthew Flinders is a really big thing for Australian visitors.

This is what I find fascinating about travel, every now and again I come across an amazing story.  Flinders is one of the most important explorers in history and his home town was the tiny village of Donington in the south of Lincolnshire.

Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales.  The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form.  The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland.  There is a Tasmania of course.

Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.

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In my Dad’s book that he gave to me before he died – “The Boys’ Book of Heroes”, there is Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and James Cook but no mention of Matthew Flinders. Neither did he get a nomination in the BBC poll of the Hundred Greatest Britons.  Cook made twelfth place, Drake came in at forty-ninth and Raleigh at ninety-third.

In English history he is a forgotten hero.  In web site lists of famous people he never gets a mention, he doesn’t even make it on to lists of famous explorers.

He couldn’t really be included in the poll of Greatest Australians of course because he came from Donington in Lincolnshire in England, but wait just a minute because he was included at number fifty as an honorary Australian along with James Cook from Yorkshire.

I could write a complete blog post about Matthew Flinders but John has promised to do that sometime soon and he knows a lot more about Flinders than I do so I will leave that to him.

We visited the village market square where he was born.  The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements.  Again, I will leave this to John to explain when he writes his post.

One thing that I will mention is about finding his coffin.  England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago.  The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.

Flinders Coffin

The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.

Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia and I said to John that how lucky he was to be among the first to come and he nodded in agreement.

He agreed again that he would write the story.

“People will come Ray, people will come…”

After coffee we left Donington for the final stop on the whistle-stop tour of The Fens.

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The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Two)

Crowland Abbey 05

Crowland is only a small market town (without a market as we had been recently informed) so, with nothing to detain us it was just a short walk from the Trinity Bridge to nearby Crowland Abbey, once a Benedictine Monastery and now, what’s left of it, the Parish Church.

Monks seeking solitude have always sought out remote places to live and the inhospitable marshlands of Eastern England were once perfect for this purpose.  The Fens have been referred to as the “Holy Land of the English” because of the former monasteries and Abbeys at Crowland, Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey, Spalding and Thorney.

The Fens have a special place in English history, here Hereward the Wake led resistance to the Norman invaders and here King John lost the Crown Jewels in the murky waters at Sutton Bridge.

There was a monastery at Crowland because of the hermit monk Guthlac who settled here sometime in the seventh century.  Now, Guthlac was clearly as mad as a box of frogs – this is an extract from his chronicler…

“Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water.”

This is Guthlac who seems to have been cleaned up a bit for his stained glass window portrait in Crowland Abbey…

St Guthlac Window

Guthlac became famous for dealing with demons, self flagellation, performing miracles and providing sagely advice and the Abbey was founded and built as a place of important pilgrimage for medieval pilgrims.  It was dissolved in 1539 along with another estimated eight hundred religious houses in England during the English Reformation. The monastic buildings including the chancel, transepts and crossing of the church were demolished and plundered fairly promptly but the nave and aisles were spared and to this day serve as the Parish Church.

Saint Guthlac remains important in the Fens and there are several churches in the area that are dedicated to his memory.

Crowland Abbey 01

We walked around the grounds and through the ruins of the Abbey and then finding the church door open ventured inside.  I was slightly surprised to find it open because these days church doors often remain firmly locked due to the increase in vandalism and theft.  There was no such bother sixty years ago or so when we went on family holiday and my Dad visited almost every church we passed by – he liked visiting churches – unlike other holiday attractions they were free to enter.

John declared the visit to Crowland to be a great success but there was much more to see and do so we left Crowland and drove north to the town of Spalding which was once famous for an annual Flower Parade.

John was surprised to discover that the road we were using was no more than three feet above sea level and the surrounding fields were even lower, well below sea level.  These low lying fenland areas extend over one thousand, five hundred square miles extending through Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.  Much of the Fenland originally consisted of fresh or salt-water wetlands. These have been drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. With the support of this drainage system, the Fenland has become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grain, vegetables and cash-crops.

Fens Farmland

The Fens are particularly fertile, containing around half of the grade one agricultural land in England.  Spalding in the area of South Holland is a thriving district at the very heart of the UK’s agri-food sector and it is estimated that a staggering 35% of the UK’s food, either grown, processed or delivered will pass through South Holland at some point in its production cycle.

We stopped briefly in Spalding to visit the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall a medieval manor house which is now a museum, walked for a stretch along the river and admired the elegant Georgian houses across the water and then continued our journey to our next destination – the village of Donington.

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Lincolnshire to Norfolk, The Journey

 

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Never mind, this is where we were heading…

Suffolk For Sunshine

According to the UK Met Office the driest and sunniest place in all of the United Kingdom.  The sun was certainly shining today for our journey.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Friendship

Town Twinning:

Speyer has been Spalding’s twin town since 1956 and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town.

Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, you know – number 36, Rugby, will be twinned with number 87, Russelheim, and so on.  Or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful.  Or  perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency.  Who knows?

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HMS TAKU – Community, Bravery and Achievement

A couple of year’s ago at work I was visited by two members of the Spalding Naval Veterans Association who offered the donation of a six foot model of the British Naval submarine H.M.S. ‘Taku’ which really meant nothing to me until I looked into it and discovered a story of community, bravery and achievement.

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Spalding Flower Parade

 

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the acreage and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the Lincolnshire market town of Spalding became an annual feast of colour.  The fame of the tulip fields spread and the trickle of visitors grew yearly until 1935 when the King George V and Queen Mary Jubilee coincided with the time the tulips were in flower.

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Twin Towns

“I’ve nearly approved of the idea of twinning, because places are inevitably matched with places like them.  So if you live, say, in a stunningly beautiful medieval town… then you’ll be twinned with your exquisite European equivalent.  If you live in Warrington or St Helens then you’ll be twinned with another industrial casualty.”                                                                                                  Pete McCarthy, ‘McCarthy’s Bar’

I was interested to visit Speyer because this is the twin town of Spalding in South Holland and I had heard people talk fondly of it but had no idea of what it was like.  And what a surprise as it turned out to be, a real gem of a place with a huge cathedral and a wide main street with gaily coloured buildings and a very pleasant vibrant atmosphere.  And a very big car park, clearly sign posted (even though I did miss it the first time around, which was entirely my own fault) and with plenty of available spaces.

Speyer has been Spalding’s twin town since 1956 and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town.  Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, you know, number 36, Rugby, will be twinned with number 87, Russelheim, and so on; or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency.  Who knows?

Anyway, the English city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin with another when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins (The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, beats this hands down however by registering forty-six twins).  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry and seems to me to be a bit greedy and unnecessary.  Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns, that is even more excessive.

Speyer has a compact centre which is dominated by the Cathedral, a number of churches that would be impressive in their own right if they were not overshadowed by the cathedral and a well restored and maintained old town gate.  In the cathedral, beneath the high altar, are the tombs of eight German emperors and kings.  This is a seriously important cathedral and the laying of the foundation stone was the decisive impetus for the development of the town in the early medieval age.  The cathedral was consecrated in 1061 but not completed until 1111.  It was the largest church of its time and, in its monumentality and significance symbolised Imperial power and Christianity and it is one of the most important Romanesque monuments from the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

What I didn’t know was that Speyer has been so important in the development of modern Christianity in Europe because in 1529 the Imperial Diet met in Speyer and agreed to reconfirm the Edict of Worms of 1521 imposing the Imperial ban on the trouble maker Martin Luther and his followers, who were causing the church all sorts of difficulties by challenging the traditions of the Catholicism.  This resolution caused great descension and the outraged imperial towns drew up a letter of protest which was delivered to the Emperor Charles V.  This Protestation at Speyer caused the separation of the Christian church and is considered to be the birth of Protestantism and from this time on the adherents of the reformation movement were called Protestants.

I thought Speyer was really very nice with big open spaces, cobbled streets and I have to say a bit like being in France which as it is only a few kilometres from the border was not really all that surprising and I had to keep reminding myself that I really was in Germany.

Works outing to Riga

I live, and work, in Lincolnshire where in recent years large numbers of migrant workers from Eastern Europe have moved into the area to work on the farms and in the food processing factories and I had been interested to understand what motivates them to do this.  I concluded that this could only be satisfactorily achieved by visiting their country to appreciate what drives them to move away and come to England to carry out backbreaking work picking cabbages in cold fenland fields.

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