Benches 85 - 97: St James' Church


Thirteen benches; you get the impression that someone didn't count 'em up and think again. Last Supper attendee references aside, this can be a very pleasant place to sit yourself down. Popular with shoppers, lunchers, and with folk catching a bit of sun on a summer's afternoon, we're back at St James' church.

This run of benches extends along the length of the south side of the church and nips round the west side for a final hurrah. Most of the benches bear dedication inscriptions to local worthies, often as not with some church connection. It's not a bad way to be commemorated.

The view's somewhat plain; offices, Church House, where various clubs and societies meet. A wall separating the church precincts from the vicarage.

St James' church has been here since the fifteenth century; it's the third church to stand on this site. It's mostly notable for having the tallest medieval parish church spire in the country. The spire's 90 metres tall. That's 290 feet in old money. Local legend reckons that a noted drinker, Six-Pint Smith (who could down a half-pint between each and every toll of the noontime bells) once climbed the spire unaided and hung his hat on the weather vane.

The spire was completed in 1515; a final splurge of money on a building project that started in the 1430s. The church is a testament to local civic pride and to the power of the Catholic church. Medieval Louth was awash with cash from the wool trade, and this was one way to make your mark on the landscape, as well as to buy your way into pre-Reformation heaven.

The second connection the church has is at the birthplace of the precursor to the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Lincolnshire Rising. Two weeks before Yorkshire Catholic rebels rose, first Louth, then other Lincolnshire towns (Caistor, Horncastle) planned to march on London in protest at the dissolution of monasteries by Thomas Cromwell.

Upwards of 50,000 gathered initially, but the revolt in Lincolnshire was short-lived. A plaque on the wall opposite the south entrance to the church summarises what happened next, though it doesn't mention the excellently-nicknamed ringleader Captain Cobbler, shoemaker Nicholas Melton, who was among those executed.

These days the church is more sedate in its doings. It's popular with tourists. You can get a decent cop of tea in the cafe inside and there's the chance to climb the spire to the viewing platform where William Brown sketched his Panorama. A year or so ago I got locked in the stairwell with my brother and two of his boys; the attendant had wandered off for a natter beyond the reach of the summoning bell. They lock you in, you see, or lock out the non-payers. Last time I checked, spire visits had been suspended because of nesting peregrine falcons who've just borne chicks.

I spent a lot of time here. For my sins (figuratively, if not literally) I was in the church choir for a handful of years as a youth; there are incriminating family photos to this cherubic effect. There's at least one record (an actual LP) with me singing on it, though I was never good enough to be featured as a soloist. My years in the cassock and surplice are behind me now though. Perhaps the high point of that time was a choir trip to Germany, including an excursion into what was then Soviet-controlled East Berlin. Coach all the way. Not to be recommended.

One thing the choir experience did instill (two services on Sundays, plus religious holidays and the occasional weekend wedding) was an interest in the music and in the form of the church. Now, the Church of England is as much a 17th century political fudge than a faith organisation, but to some extent there's meaning in the services and in the odd rituals in and of themselves, not withstanding any supernatural usefulness they might have (something I'm more than doubtful of).

A few years in a church as an interested observer shows you a thing or two, and one of those is a respect for the beliefs of others, no matter how peculiar they might look from the outside, not least because you can see the links (and the differences) between the acts and beliefs and the people.

The thirteenth (or, coming at it from the other direction, the first) bench in this run is perhaps the best-sited. Dedicated to Rosemary Lindop, a mover and a shaker in church and wider civic circles, the bench faces down Westgate, and is positioned at the west end of the building.

Not a bad view at all, is it? The kind of prospect that would get Nikolaus Pevsner all of a tizzy. Plus there's the amenity of the Wheatsheaf pub just ahead (it's on the right with the hanging baskets outside). Low ceilings, coal fires, small rooms. A slightly-awkward beer garden-cum-car park behind. A mixed clientele; well-to-do alcoholics, lunching mummies, A level students from nearby King Edward VI School, tourists. St James' tennis club lies at the bottom of the parking area; you have to cross the river via a footbridge to get to it.

I used to live down here. '94 to '98. A quick stroll down to see the old homestead; it's not far. The flat's up for sale. Not much has changed from the outside. The number plaque my father made is still there. I'm tempted to Google to see how much it's going for, but I leave it. Best not.

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This Google Street Map image is from June 2009. Not much has changed in the interim by the looks of things. This image, from Westgate and dated July 2011, predates the installation of the Lindop bench.

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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It's the SOUTH side.
2016-03-04, kendall


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