Benches 77 and 78: Eastfield Road
These two nearly didn't make the list. There are arguments either way. Nevertheless, here they are. I'll explain my thinking as I go.
We're on Eastfield Road, beyond the Riverhead Road / St Bernard's Avenue crossroads where the ghost benches once stood. Headed out of town; next stops are the villages of Keddington and Alvingham once you've gone past the site of the Cistercian Louth Park Abbey. The name "Eastfield" is another echo of medieval common land surrounding Louth; we've come across others on these travels.
As has been noted before, that tendency to architectural entropy as we near the municipal boundary. Houses get more individualistic. A laissez-faire attitude towards your neighbours and their doings. A slumped-over cycle padlocked to a street-light outside a bungalow. There's a hopeful For Sale sign attached to the bike. Twenty quid. It looks like it's been there a while.
This bit of town's become an unlikely, and somewhat less-than-central admin and emergency services HQ for Louth. There's various council buildings (child and adult social services, trading standards officers), the newish police station (don't get nicked at night because the cells here are reserved for terrorism suspects only; drunks and joyriders get whisked off to Skegness, 25 miles away). A new fire station's being built here too, to replace the former building on the same site.
In front of all this activity, Bench 77. It's inside a bus shelter. Hmm. Question: is this a bench with housing, or is a bus shelter only? These are the definitional quandaries we wrestle with. In the end, I came down on the side of inclusivity. I've no reason to exclude this entrant. It is, after all, a bench. The vast majority of bus shelter have subtly-different kinds of seating, if any at all. Think of thin plastic trestles and awkward slanted perches. Yes there may be a pull-in spot for public transport, but it's not as though there's much in the way of bus infrastructure round here. I'm sure there's no reason to disavow the passerby who just fancies a sit down.
I like the view. It's clear and direct. Eastfield Road's wide here; it's a ways over to the run of terraces on the other side of the street. The blocked-off bit of kerbside's interesting, as is the dip in the kerb itself. Someone's got special rights or privileges here. Good for them, especially if they had to work to get them.
That house in the centre is a double, too. An adjoining pair of houses spliced together. Did they have to wait a while for the house next door to become available? Was a campaign waged? Offers of the "couldn't refuse" kind made? Did previously-warring clans settle their differences and knock through into each others' hallways?
Stuff to ponder while having your rest and while gesturing to the driver of the oncoming bus that no, you're not waiting for a ride into town, thank you very much.
I cross the road. A handful of yards down - heading east - and we get to the odd grey bulk of Douglas Electronics. Once a seed mill-owner's house - the first owner was a Robert Norfolk - but with the look of a former large hotel or coaching house to it, this is now a factory and offices making electrical transformers.
Suitably, this unlikely-looking site for the transformation of electricity doesn't look unlike Bray Studios, the home (and principal location of) Hammer Studios. It's got a Frankenstein vibe. Not in the sense that it's a bad place or that fell experiments are conducted here to the rising ire of the villagers, but that it's been added to over the years, given a lick of paint, become a mongrel building. The effect's completed by a huge iron wheel - some mechanical leftover, mayhap a cog for an improbable clock - propped up to one side of the building.
Out front there's Bench 78. Maybe it could do with a touch of varnish to keep off the worst of the elements, but it's a sturdy example nevertheless. It's on a patch of hard standing between the building and the pavement. But as there's no division between the two (no fence, nothing roped off, no signs or other instruction that this is private property), then it's on the list. It looks as though the asphalted area is a staff car park (there's a single vehicle here today), but nothing to indicate the formality of such an arrangement that I can see.
There's likewise nothing to show that this is merely a smoking spot; no plastic drum half-filled with rainwater and cigarette ends, for example. There is, though, like on other public benches, a dedication plaque:
And with that there's a hint of where the company got its name from. The use of a first name's an interesting touch.
The view from the bench on the day.
So, I'm up and carrying on eastwards. After a few yards there's a cut-through on the left - King's Place - that leads through to a secret row of cottages back from the main road. These, according to Cait Green, were built to house Robert Norfolk's workers. This is Norfolk Place. There was a windmill nearby that was owned by a family of Griffins, though they're no relation of mine that I'm aware of.
Carry on past here and the cut-through brings you out onto the canal-side path. Turn left and it's the Gas Lamp Lounge pub and Thames Street. Cross over the adjacent footbridge at the Town Lock and you can walk easily back to Bench 15, and then to Benches 63 and 64 at Riverhead. Carry on right past the bridge and it's pastures new and a couple of benches yet to be visited.
As for a clarification of the criteria for selection: 1) are they benches and 2) are they publicly accessible without crossing a boundary? So, for example, there's a few in the grounds of Louth hospital, but for these purposes, they're off limits, the reasoning being that you'd have to be visiting the hospital (or making an incursion) to use them, rather than be stopping off on the way. And that's what this has all been about when it all comes down to it. What it's like to stop off on the way.
I'll be stopping off again soon enough.
The Google Street View image is from July 2011. If you pan around and head back towards the town centre a click or two, you'll see Bench 77 on the left.
Here's the Benches of Louth Google map to date.