First and last thoughts for the time being
These were the rules for Benches of Louth that I had in mind at the outset:
- This has to be done on foot.
- Take a photo of each bench.
- Take a photo of what you can see from the bench.
- Make connections.
- Only benches that are accessible to the public from the road count. Parks and playing fields are in, but if they're off-road and on private property (such as in the town's hospital grounds) then they didn't count. Ditto bus stops, pub garden trestle tables and the like.
- Go everywhere.
- Stick within the town boundaries.
- The resultant map is your own; don't worry if it doesn't accord with someone else's, or with the actual geography.
I've been aided throughout by Caitlin Green's book The Streets of Louth. Like any small town, Louth's got a handful of local historians (in Louth, that's folk like David Cuppleditch, Stuart Sizer, and Richard Gurnham) who've written town histories and the like. The town's also blessed with at least one historian who's local: Cait.
Cait's other books and websites examine Arthuriana and Louth's ancient history. The Streets of Louth took an interesting slant in describing each of the town's roads, their naming and development, significant residents, plus snippets of scandal and crime from court reports from the past.
So the book was really useful; though, as anyone who dabbles like me in this kind of stuff comes to realise, the map is not the territory. You have to get out there for yourself.
Walking is key to this. Get out and pay some attention. Take a little time. Experience things rather then try to reconstruct them from the work / ideas / pictures of others. It's OK to overlap descriptions of environment, history of place, geography of place, personal connections and reminiscences, and abstract thoughts.
The majority of the work was done either at weekends or early mornings. Often these were quiet times of day; few people around. It'd be interesting (to me, anyway) to revisit some of these benches when it's more likely that there'll be people around.
Some general observations, though.
- The bench locations imply a map and a set of uses for and of the town that no longer quite apply. They're echoes of multiple overlapping pasts.
- Some of the benches are derelict, or have been allowed to become overtaken by foliage.
- Disrepair is evident. There are pockets of community engagement, and there's the occasional repair job, but there's no sense of cohesive and sustained activity in maintaining and expanding the town's street furniture.
- Ghost benches exist. The street remembers.
- Park spaces are generally well-maintained.
- Responsibility appears to lie with / been devolved down to town council level. To shift the responsibility from county or district to town council oversight for a piece of street furniture, you need what's referred to as an "immobile property agreement". Such matters seem to be discussed in Community Resource meetings of Louth Town Council. There's some evidence in the meeting minutes I've seen that a subcommittee used to exist whereby six-monthly surveys of the town's street furniture would be undertaken and a schedule of works then undertaken. That seems to be patchily implemented, if not dropped altogether.
- Council dealings appear opaque to the outsider. That's an observation, not necessarily a criticism.
- We don't walk enough.
- Journeys don't always need to be instrumental.
- But a sit down is always welcome.
- This was never about the benches.
And that's quite enough for the time being, thank you very much. I'm working out a couple of possibilities of expanding this into something book-ish. Will let you know if something comes to pass.
Heck, if you're interested in that yourself, say so in the comments or on social media (same goes if you reckon it's the worst idea since zero-calorie energy drinks).
January - August 2015