LINCOLNSHIRE, JUNE 2020

FOLKINGHAM, WEST KEAL, EAST KEAL, ALFORD, SALTFLEETBY.

The three month UK lockdown had ended, and churches were allowed to open again, either for private prayer, or for the brave few, public worship.  Things had improved and there was a real desire to try and regain some semblance of normality again. Infection and death rates were still high though, and there was regular talk of a potential second wave, and what the effects would be. This is being typed during the second English lockdown, in November 2020, so those fears were justified.

Personally, I had been very fortunate. I work for myself as a gardener and my profession was allowed to work under strict guidelines. Therefore, I had pretty much avoided being locked down but was still keen to get on the road again, just for a change of scenery and to do what I love to do, but to do it legally and safely as possible,

The original plan was to head in to Rutland, and to spend the afternoon re-visiting a few churches in that glorious county. However, a fairly drastic last second change of plan saw Gary and myself head out towards the Lincolnshire coast.

On the journey there, the discussion was, what we should expect to find. Personally, I was expecting to find most of the churches closed but my heart was hoping to find most of them open. My thought process was that many people would be struggling through very challenging times. Church doors should be open for anyone who needed some peace and calm in their lives. Whether that be congregation members, non believers or visitors just looking to enjoy the beauty of the place and find some calm in the storm. Just to sit and be at peace.

Whilst appreciating that it would be difficult for some people, people at risk due to age or illness, to want to come out and open up, I really hoped that someone would as, in my opinion, it was more important for the churches to be open now than at any point in this country’s recent history. As a practicing Christian it didn’t sit well with me that church doors would be closed when many would wish them to be open!

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Above and below the church of St Andrew, Folkingham, Lincolnshire.

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First church visited was a re-visit. I have a great love for the church of St Andrew, Folkingham. My first visit here was back in 2008, on a week long cycling churchcrawl of the area.  Fond memories of standing on high ground, looking at this church a mile or so distant, thinking something doesn’t look right! Something definitely wasn’t right. Two pinnacles were missing, taken down in gale force winds. Well, they weren’t missing as such, with one having fallen through the roof and ending up in the nave. The church was still open that day, the hole in roof covered with blue tarpaulin and rubble from the pinnacle still covering the floor.

The beautiful perpendicular church of St Andrew has origins back to the 12th century, with the building that we see today mainly from the 15th century.  The church is set back a little from the market square, with the main road running close by, connecting Bourne and Sleaford. The lane that leads to the church contains some delightful old cottages. A delightful scene!

St Andrew has a reputation of being open and welcoming. Pinnacle crashing through roof doesn’t close it and neither does pandemic! The door of the two storey south porch was open and the sign greeting visitors stated “you are welcome in this church please take care”. First church visited in three months, thank you for being open. There were restrictions inside, with just the south aisle being open for personal prayer.

For me, this church has some of the finest Victorian glass that I have seen in this county, with the stunning east window, which was out of bounds to me on this occasion, beautifully illustrating the Nativity, Crucifixion, Jesus rising from the dead and the Ascension.

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The church of St Helen, West Keal

Next on the list were the churches at West Keal and East Keal, neighbouring villages a few miles past Boston, heading out towards the coast. I had never visited either of these before, despite regularly going past on my way to Mablethorpe, in pre covid days.

 The approach to the church of St Helen, West Keal is particularly impressive, built on high ground, and commanding the view as the traveler approaches.  The setting is such that it featured in a book many years ago, which collected together some of the best church views in the country.

It is said that, if you got to the highest point of the church grounds and turned around and looked towards Boston, on a clear day you could see Boston Stump off in the distance. Well, this certainly wasn’t a clear day at this point, the sun having gone in and a few spots of rain coming down, and I certainly couldn’t see the stump.

The church here was closed. It would have been good to have seen inside here, and will do one day hopefully, as there is some real history here. The church dates back to the 13th century, with alterations during the 14th and 15th centuries.  The tower was rebuilt in the 1880’s.

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Church of St Helen, East Keal

About a mile away is East Keal, and the church of St Helen.The church here is set back from the main road a little, not too far from the village shop. The intention was to grab some lunch from the shop, then head on to the church. A sign of the times though, a one in one out policy in the shop, lead to a decent queue outside and lunch was put on hold until we reached Alford.

It was great to find the church here open, with a sign on the south door stating that the church was open daily from 10 until 4. Hand sanitiser on entry and no restriction on movement within the church.

Having been past this church many times over the years, I always paid note to the tower and thought that is was very ancient. The church dates back to the 13th century, but the tower itself is mid 19th century, but built in an earlier style. The east window has stained glass depicting the crucifixion, the crucified Christ clothed in a billowing crimson robe and with nimbus of the same colour.

A wall plague to one Susanna Kirkman, and dating from the early 17th century, at the east end of the south aisle, caught the eye. An effigy of the deceased faces the onlooker, holding a torch and leaning on a skull. Two pieces of symbolism on show here; the torch is being held so that the flame faces the ground. This is symbolic of mourning, if the torch was held the other way up, it would be a symbol of everlasting life. However, the symbolism to the right of the deceased as we look at it is more upbeat.  Death is represented in the form of a skull. The deceased is depicted with elbow resting on the skull. There are many instances where the skull is trodden down on, pressed down on with hand, leaned against or sat upon.  These are all symbolic of death being beaten.  The message here is that Susanna has died, that is sad and there is mourning. However, she has lived a good Christian life, death is beaten, and she will move in to eternal life in heaven.

The font here has grotesque faces under the eight main panels.  I am assuming that the font dates from pre reformation times as one of the human faces has had the nose chiseled away, a sign of the reformers hands at work.

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Above: more from the church of St Helen, East Keal.

The main reason for this trip was to see the church at Alford, a delightful market town on the edge of the Lincolnshire wolds, and seven miles from the east coast.  The church of St Wilfrid sits on slightly high ground in the middle of the town, the bust main road ruining past the church on its way to Mablethorpe.  It was lovely to find this church open. According to the notice board, the church was open for private prayer two days a week.  According to the church website, the church was open every day for private prayer during the November lockdown.

Hand sanitiser on entry but unrestricted access throughout the church.  It was lovely to wander around the interior, spending a little while looking at the fine east window, which told the Easter story in ten panels. For me though, the main point of interest was a fine mid 17th century monument to one Robert Christopher. He and his wife lay recumbent, he wearing armour and with hand on heart. Both are depicted with long flowing hair. Unusually, he is depicted with what is either a walking stick or swagger stick at the side of him. I am not sure if swagger sticks, used as a symbol of authority, were around in the 17th century. If it is a walking stick then it is very unusual for the deceased to be depicted with any infirmity. Thoughts turned to Ingoldmells a few miles away, where a figure on a monument is portrayed with crutch!

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Above and below : The church of St Wilfrid, Alford.

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    After leaving Alford, in bright sunshine, we headed towards Mablethorpe, taking in the church of All Saints, Saltfleetby on the way. We had been on a severe weather warning for storms that afternoon but we had been fortunate. A text from home during the day told of torrential hail in the Peterborough area. The weather caught up with us as we arrived at Saltfleetby,. The west tower  here is leaning at a precarious angle.

The church here was closed to visitors due to structural problems. The tower appeared to be trying to pull itself away from the nave! This church was made redundant in 1973, and is looked after now by the Churches Conversation Trust. A quick look at the CCT page for this church, just prior to typing this, states that this church is now open daily, so it would be good to pay a revisit at some point.  A quick shoot of the exterior , from the cover of a tree in the church grounds, and it was back in to the dry as quickly as possible.

The rain soon cleared and we headed along the coast road, through a succession of seaside towns and villages. It was June, peak season on the Lincolnshire coast, and there was hardly a soul about. It was mid afternoon on a Saturday and I can remember saying to Gary that it was more like 6am on a Sunday!  

There were a few people about in Ingoldmells and Skegness, but for the most part it was almost deserted streets and closed shops. Our mood was quite solemn here at that time. We had seen the news and heard the mounting death rates. The UK had been hit hard. This though, really brought it home how bad things were, both in terms of the numbers who had died and the thousands who were unable to make a living.

We went past another leaning tower, this one at Sutton on Sea. I have seen very few leaning towers on my travels and every one of them has been in Lincolnshire! Not sure exactly why this should be

The church of All Saints, Saltfleetby. 

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