Benches 81 - 83: the Old Cemetery


We call this the Old Cem. Short for the Old Cemetery, or if you're of an even greater vintage, St Mary's Burying Grounds. It occupies land between Bridge Street and St Mary's Lane; the path through it is a handy cut-through from St Mary's Lane and St Mary's Park beyond towards the town centre.

There was a chapel here in medieval times. The link-road up from Bridge Street where there's a bit of a car park nowadays was known as Chapel Hill. St Mary's fell into disuse in the 16th century; St James' church took over as the town's principal place of worship.

Cait Green tells us that the chapel was closed by Edward VI's Chantries Acts in the 1540s. The building was boarded up, then demolished and the stone eventually used across town, though not before serving as the grammar school for a while and as charity lodgings for itinerants. For a while, the building was earmarked for use as a plague-house.

St Mary's became the town's main burial ground in the early 18th century, and up until the 1770s you could choose whether to be laid to rest here or in St James' churchyard. The last interment here was as recently as 1890, though the London Road cemetery was opened up on the southern outskirts of town in the mid-1850s.

Something to mull over as you sit. The dead sleep on underfoot, their grave markers stacked against the wall opposite, flaking under weathering and the slow creep of ivy.

There are paths that describe the Old Cem's perimeter, but most take the diagonal straight across. A raised bit of land indicates where the chapel might have been, but no-one seems altogether sure if that's where it was or not.

The Old Cem is a teenage haunt. This is where you neck your first plastic bottles of Strongbow. I'm here early in the morning, though. No fizzy apples for me. I'm up before the dog-walkers today. I've got the place to myself.

There are supposed to be other ghosts; a gravedigger, a skeleton purportedly carting his skull in a barrow. These are distant legends, though. Yarns from books, not tall tales still in the public consciousness.

There are three benches; uniform in design and each of them betraying signs of age and time. The lichen looks good on them though. Broad and sturdy like the mature trees dotted through the park, each bench can seat four at a push.

It's not a bad spot to take your lunch. You're far enough out of town to give yourself some distance from the office, the views aren't bad, especially if you're into spire-spotting, and it's only five minutes back into town afterwards.

There's a crumpled-up receipt by my foot. You can see it in the picture above, to the right. I pick it up and have a shufty. Someone's spent £4.60 in a filling station. The receipt doesn't itemise the purchases. Sandwich, crisps, bottle of pop; perhaps. So how did the rubbish get taken away but the receipt get dropped? Maybe there was a pocket audit conducted here at a later date. Someone coppering up; a rueful reconsidering of the domestic finances. If only they hadn't bought those snacks; they wouldn't have broken that twenty.

The notion that the scrunched-up receipt represents something bigger is inescapable. Someone sat here. They thought long and hard. All they could do to express whatever the dominant emotion became while they were here was to chuck away the bit of incriminating evidence.

Lose the trigger, lose the memory. Perhaps. It's not always that easy. We carry our own ghosts with us.

It seems right to let the litter fall back from my hand to where I found it. Enough. Time to make for the exits. I'm heading south, so it's down the hill towards the Bridge Street car park.

You're greeted at each entrance by these looming signs. Instead of, say, some local information, something about the history of the place or about the wildlife or trees and plants that might be seen here, we get a shameless bit of puffery. There's others like this in other green spaces too.

Thanks, the council. The use of capital letters in the first sentence is an especially needy touch. A clumsy bit of corporate self-congratulation.

Ah, maybe I'm just being tetchy. It's just a sign. Of what, though?

I leave and enter into Bridge Street. A guy in workwear walking up Grimsby Road. Another comes out of a house and gets into his car. He's got a carrier bag with a plastic box inside.

St James' bells toll the quarter hour. 5.45am. These folk are off to work; their shifts will be starting at six. I head on back through town. I've got a couple of hours' grace yet before my own day job calls.

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This May 2011 Google Street View image peers over from St Mary's Lane. This image, captured in September 2009, shows the Bridge Street entrance.

Here's the updated map to date.

Eamonn Griffin

Field notes for a personal geography of a Lincolnshire market town. You can find me here on Twitter: @eamonngriffin and also here: www.eamonngriffinwriting.com
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