Bourne Diary - January 2011

by Rex Needle

Saturday 1st January 2011

This is the time of year when we look back and consider what has been achieved for our communities over the past twelve months and although no momentous events have affected Bourne, there have been small milestones which mark our progress, the most memorable being the continuing failure of our local authorities to meet our expectations yet persist in collecting an ever increasing amount in council tax.

After nine years of protracted and costly negotiations, South Kesteven District Council finally shelved the proposed £27 million redevelopment of the town centre, a decision which was not unexpected because many believed it to be flawed from the outset and it finally flickered out in June like a damp squib with the economic recession a convenient scapegoat.

The scheme was an ambitious one, to regenerate that triangle of land between West Street, North Street and Burghley Street, first mooted in August 2001 but too many properties and parcels of land were involved and therefore a whole series of negotiations with the owners to surmount, well over 40 and each one a potential time-consuming obstacle. Then there was the choice of a developer, a drama in its own right, but the council appeared unable to find common ground with the first who was sacked in 2006 while the second withdrew last year when the council manned panic stations by declaring that the tender process would open to companies across Europe.

There followed a series of statements trying to paper over the cracks of a failed project but the end was inevitable with a public that had become totally disinterested in what was or was not happening and traders who had been holding their breath for major change now long since resigned to the status quo. The result is that the council has tried to save face by announcing a revised and smaller scheme concentrated on developing a series of shops, restaurants and flats in the Wherry’s Lane area at an affordable cost of £5 million. The council has expressed the hope that “the community will be excited by this” but there is little sign of rejoicing where there are currently 20 shop premises in and around the town centre with an uncertain future.

In the meantime, more houses are dumped upon Bourne as the years pass with little or no thought for the infrastructure required to maintain an increased population while Lincolnshire County Council continues to act as if the town does not exist. Yet as the highways authority, it holds the key to our prosperity by deciding the future of our roads system. The best solutions are usually the most obvious and so it is with the ongoing problem of our town centre, one that could be solved to everyone’s satisfaction with the building of bypasses for the two main roads which pass through.

This would create a pedestrianised precinct, landscaped to make it attractive to shoppers, a place where premises would be eagerly sought and vacancies a rare occurrence. Organic growth, as this is known, is far preferable to schemes dreamed up on the drawing board in the council offices only to end up in the basement along with other failed and costly endeavours. The bypass solution, particularly for the A15 road which runs south to north through the town centre, is not new having been suggested more than a hundred years ago. The need was first highlighted in 1909 when horse drawn vehicles began creating problems on this road and as traffic flows increased in the following years, the project was mooted and scrapped on half a dozen occasions.

The town does benefit from half of a bypass for the east-west route, opened in October 2005 at a cost of £4 million and financed by developers of the Elsea Park housing estate as part of the planning gain. The benefits of the 1½ mile south west relief road are not in doubt because a traffic count carried out by Lincolnshire County Council the following year showed that 3,000 vehicles were diverted during a 12-hour period and, as the survey reported, that is 3,000 fewer through the town centre (Stamford Mercury, 21st July 2006). Yet the A 6141 is the least busy of the two main roads through Bourne and the amount of traffic using the South Street-North Street route is immeasurably greater, often causing long delays, dangers to pedestrians, unhealthy petrol and diesel fumes and vibrations to buildings along the route.

The case for a north-south bypass for Bourne is overwhelming but an unlikely eventuality. The last time it became a possibility was in 1991 when Lincolnshire County Council announced that work was due to start on a Bourne by-pass in April 1994 with a completion date of October 1995 but those plans were shelved and now there is little possibility that it will be built in the foreseeable future even though traffic conditions continue to worsen with the years.

There were two other controversial issues during the year that remain to be settled during 2011 but the conclusion of both should not be a matter of such lengthy delay. The first is the future of the Victorian chapel in the town cemetery which the town council planned to demolish. Now saved by a Grade II listing, volunteers in the shape of Bourne Preservation Trust are waiting to take over the building and bring it back to life with a programme of sympathetic restoration but despite almost four years of negotiations they have still not been given the key, their efforts thwarted by bureaucratic hindrance and procrastination.

The other is Wake House, currently owned by South Kesteven District Council but occupied by the Bourne Arts and Community Trust which has a vital role in the life of our community by providing a home for more than 30 organisations which meet there regularly. The trust has been trying to obtain a long lease on the building in order that much needed repairs and maintenance may be carried out but here too they have been kept waiting for several years while lawyers argue the legalities and then in October last year the council dropped a bombshell by putting the building up for sale. There is a proviso in that any purchaser must keep the trust as a tenant but that is a most unsatisfactory solution for a voluntary organisation which now faces an uncertain future and probably with an unknown landlord.

In both of these cases, the cemetery chapel and Wake House, the councils concerned appear to have forgotten that their duty is to the people they represent and not any other imagined motivation and it is up to our elected representatives to encourage the voluntary effort involved, a tenet currently embraced by the present coalition government with its flagship policy the Big Society, thus giving more power to the people through enterprises such as this.

Another outlet has been bestowed on coffee lovers in Bourne although it will not find favour with town councillors, the majority of them condemning the enterprise as a bad thing although in the long run the market place will decide. We are also tempted to ask whether they are expending quite so much effort over the other 20 shop premises that face an uncertain future in the next few months.

Planning permission over the Costa Coffee chain application to open up at No 10 North Street was never in doubt because the final decision rested with South Kesteven District Council which was unlikely to pass up another opportunity to collect the business rate on otherwise empty premises and therefore gave the go-ahead on Tuesday 7th December. It is also a mystery why our town councillors were prepared to court such public disfavour by opposing it when the outcome was assured. Their powers are limited and they should have known that an adverse decision would have been overruled, as they have been over housing developments so many times in the past and despite their unpopular decision, another coffee shop is on its way.

One of the delights of the festive season was a television screening of The Railway Children, an adaptation of the famous book by Edith Nesbit, written in 1905. This film will be remembered particularly by children who were resident at the Bourne House hostel in West Street because when it was shown at the town’s Tudor Cinema soon after release in 1970, they all believed that the paper chase scene involving boys from the local grammar school had been shot at Toft tunnel.

The disused railway line on the Stamford Road was then an attraction for adventurous children, especially the long, dark and empty tunnel where they would often play, hiding in the dead men alcoves used by railwaymen when the line had been open whenever a train passed through. But this has since been dismissed as a piece of local folklore for although there is a close resemblance between the two, director Lionel Jeffries actually used the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire and its station at Oakworth as the backdrop, referring to it as the Great Northern and Southern Railway.

At the time of shooting, there were very few heritage railways in Britain and only the five-mile long KWVR could offer a tunnel which is important to a number of scenes although in reality it is a lot shorter than it appears in the film. Toft tunnel, however, is 330 yards long and was built during the late 19th century when it became one of the great civil engineering feats on the rail link between the Midlands and East Anglia.

The line closed in 1959 and the land on both sides of the tunnel was subsequently bought by Bourne Urban District Council. A section on the eastern side was used for rubbish dumping for a while and when the authority was superseded by South Kesteven District Council in 1974 it was planned to extend refuse disposal throughout the site but the proposal was shelved. Later, during the Cold War period of 1979-85 when there was a presumed threat of a nuclear attack, Lincolnshire County Council investigated the possibility of using the tunnel as a public shelter equipped with beds, food stores and other survival equipment but it was deemed not to be feasible and the idea was dropped.

Then in 1993, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust stepped in to preserve the tunnel and surrounding area as a nature reserve open to the public. It consists of the two deep eastern and western cuttings that include a large portion of gorse, buckthorn and cowslips, a pond and wet areas of limestone grasses and also acts as a linear wildlife park. In the summer of 2003, a pyramidal orchid and a common spotted orchid were found on the site and as conditions are perfect for both species, there are hopes that the numbers will increase in future years.

The area can become very wet in winter but an all-weather raised path in the east cutting has been built for access. The mixture of scrub and open areas with rich grassland provides a diverse range of habitats. Whitethroat and willow warbler are regular nesting species, while in winter there are often large numbers of fieldfare and redwing. Twenty-one types of butterfly have also been recorded. The trust continues a programme of annual management, mainly maintaining areas of dense hawthorn and blackthorn trees and also restoring some areas of permanent grassland.

This relic from the heyday of Victorian travel now provides a new delight for those in the 21st century who seek out nature that has colonised the abandoned track which is well worth a visit at any time of the year although the tunnel itself has now been closed. In the autumn of 2006, engineers ruled that it was unsafe and that visitors would be in danger from falling masonry. Decades of soot have taken their toll on the interior brickwork which has started to crumble and fall in some places. Metal palisade fencing has been erected across each end, thus isolating the surrounding nature reserve and the future of the tunnel is now uncertain although there are fears that the new restrictions may be the start of proceedings to demolish the structure altogether.

Nevertheless, many people now living around the world who passed through the Bourne House hostel will still have fond memories of Toft tunnel and The Railway Children because experiences from our early years make such an indelible impression that they are difficult, even impossible, to erase even if we wanted to.

Thought for the week: Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows. - Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), English poet, writer and broadcaster, founding member of the Victorian Society and Poet Laureate.

Saturday 8th January 2011

The local authority is always a convenient Aunt Sally whenever things go wrong in the community and so it has been in Bourne over the inadequacy of the Christmas lights and the accompanying switch-on ceremony. The town council has been getting much of the flak but a closer look at the situation reveals that the shopkeepers and their official body are not entirely blameless.

Shortly before the holiday rush began, traders issued an appeal through The Local newspaper (November 26th) asking everyone to shop in Bourne in the run up to the festive season, the message being that we should support them if they are to survive. Everyone will agree with this sentiment but the least we expect is for them to assist with any such initiative themselves.

Unfortunately, this has not proved to be the case because once again shopkeepers expect our local authorities to bear the brunt of providing the necessary seasonal cheer in the streets without contributing themselves and as our councils exist on the exorbitant council tax we pay, this means that we must finance the marketing and advertising necessary for the shops to attract us to buy their goods over the Christmas season. The town council has been so concerned with criticism over the past few weeks that it has issued an official statement about the inadequacy of the 2010 seasonal illuminations and the reasons why, all of which reveals that it was not really their fault at all and that the traders themselves must take a great deal of the responsibility.

In past years, the town centre and North Street have been closed to traffic on the night the illuminations were switched on and all of the shops were open for business with a variety of stalls outside as an added attraction. The cost of staging this event was around £1,000 which was borne by the old Chamber of Trade and Commerce but this organisation is now defunct, having merged early in 2009 with the Bourne Business Club to form the Bourne Business Chamber and when approached, we are told, support was “very limited”.

In the event, the town council did its best to keep the tradition going by organising a Santa’s grotto and increasing the lighting around the car park behind the Corn Exchange where the switch-on took place but there was little support from the shopkeepers. As a result, the future for this event appears to be in doubt because the town council statement says: “With only very few traders being members of the new Bourne Business Chamber, the council believes that the future of any Christmas shopping event may be uncertain.”

The town council is not equipped to organise events such as this without the co-operation of the very people it is supposed to benefit, namely the shopkeepers. Those who keep in touch with local affairs will remember that when the authority was planning to spend £40,000 on the present street illuminations ten years ago, they refused to contribute (Bourne Diary 10th February 2001) even though they would be the main beneficiaries through increased trade and so the bill fell entirely on the council tax payer. Now, the newly formed Bourne Business Chamber appears to be equally reticent in participating in the festive celebrations yet those members who do belong are quite prepared to reap the rewards of any additional trade the season might bring through street illuminations and a visit by Santa, provided someone else does the work and foots the bill.

The council’s statement is signed by the clerk, Mrs Nelly Jacobs, who points out that in most towns, these events are organised by a joint committee of voluntary organisations including the chamber of trade or business club, the town centre manager and the council. "This kind of partnership brings in more ideas and connections and spreads the workload and cost", she writes.

So it should be in Bourne rather than leave the council to carry the burden alone as happened this year. However, the poor turnout of shoppers over Christmas, no doubt exacerbated by the wintry weather, appears to have focussed minds because Kevin Hicks, the chamber chairman, told The Local (December 31st) that he was hoping for a meeting with the town council to improve the situation by next Christmas. “We are going to work together”, he said. “I think we have got to remain positive.”

Perhaps then, things will be different from now on. The switch-on of the Christmas lights in Bourne dates from 1967 and over the years the event has become an integral and successful part of the festive season, mainly through the joint effort of everyone who benefits but if it fails again, then it means that someone is not pulling their weight.

Despite the atrocious weather over the holiday period, our wheelie bins were emptied on time. There was much criticism when they were introduced in the autumn of 2006, perhaps because of the mistaken policy of South Kesteven District Council in secretly installing micro-chips without revealing their real purpose, but their continual and regular use since then have proved that the system works although this does not mean that it cannot be improved.

It has been a long haul since rubbish collections were first introduced in Bourne with a horse and cart in 1911 and there have been many failed methods along the way such as galvanised containers, coloured boxes and more recently black plastic bags, but wheelie bins appear to be the best and most efficient system so far and they are now obviously here to stay for the time being.

We should count ourselves lucky because not everyone in the country has had such a good service over the holiday and in some places council staff are working extra shifts to clear the backlog of rubbish which has begun to create a health hazard, particularly in Birmingham, Exeter, North London and parts of Merseyside. The situation has been so bad that the government has promised to bring back weekly collections although this is an unlikely eventuality in the current climate of public spending cuts.

Here in Bourne, we appear to have weekly collections already but that is not actually the case because the silver wheelie bin for recycled waste and the black wheelie bin for household waste destined for landfill disposal are emptied on alternate weeks which means that we actually have a fortnightly collection.

SKDC is often criticised for this because the refuse collection is a basic yet high profile public service, one that is evident by the regular clatter of the refuse lorry outside in the street and one that householders equate with the benefit of paying their ever increasing council tax. Once a week for emptying both would be a more satisfactory system as can be seen by the overflowing containers outside many homes on silver bin day but in the current economic climate and without government intervention, it is unlikely that this will ever be on the council’s agenda in the immediate future.

The Bourne web site has now been running continuously for over twelve years and still attracts many thousands of visitors from around the world. The latest figures show that 85,443 people logged on during 2010 and although this is not the highest annual number on record, it does indicate a healthy interest in a community web site of this size and one of the oldest on the Internet.

When we began in August 1998 there were only a few pages and it took us many months, in some cases years, to be acknowledged by the big search engines, a necessary factor if you wished to be read, but we are now represented on all of them, particularly Google which is by far the fastest and the best on the Internet today and we consistently top the list whenever and from wherever information is sought about Bourne, Lincolnshire.

The web site is now read around the world and has not only reunited families, but has also enabled many people who left these shores for foreign parts to keep in touch with their home town. A record is available on site of those places where our visitors live and it is an enlightening geographical lesson to read them. We did not begin keeping records with the highly efficient StatCounter service until halfway through 2003 when we started at zero. As a result, although the total figure currently logged is now nearing 800,000, it should actually be much higher to account for those early years and is therefore most probably in excess of one million which is quite an achievement for such a small undertaking and we are gratified to know that it keeps this small market town on the cyber map.

The secret of success is to update regularly which we do, daily for our Notice Board and Family History sections, and weekly for major changes such as new articles, photographs and the regular Diary entry, and in this way readers are encouraged to return. There are many web sites around which appear with great enthusiasm and then stagnate whereas constant activity is the way forward. If someone visits and finds no change in what was seen last time then they will stay away.

The highest number of visitors to the Bourne web site annually was recorded in 2008 when 95,593 people logged on. Other recent totals are as under:

2003  -  23,205

2004  -  49,772

2005  -  81,131

2006  -  94,516

2007  -  94,970

2008  -  95,593

2009  -  86,949

2010  -  84,443

There was also a phenomenal interest on Friday 7th November 2008 when 1,274 visitors were logged in a single day and this may have been because the web site was mentioned elsewhere and many people came to have a look out of interest. If you wish to see the impressive listing of countries and organisations from where our visitors have logged on over the years, then go to the front page and click on to Visitor Countries which you may find quite surprising reading.

We went walking in the woods on Monday and found the forest trails strangely deserted for a Bank Holiday but decided that most people were resting after two weeks of festive celebrations. On reaching the first seat on the main path from Beech Avenue however, we suddenly found ourselves watching a stream of people of all ages racing past and realised that we had encountered the Christmas handicap outing of Bourne Town Harriers, an annual event which enables members of this running club to get in trim for the coming year.

The exertions needed for such an outing were apparent but all were determined to keep going, men and women, boys and girls, and we marvelled at the age range, from youngsters of ten and eleven to those of more mature years, all puffing and panting as they passed yet obviously possessed of that willpower needed to finish a most arduous course, no matter in what position. The junior handicap was over 1.9 miles and the senior race 3.8 miles with the slowest runner, based on their recent race results, going off first and the fastest last, a system designed to ensure that everyone, if on form, finished around the same time and as we were witnessing the final stages, most of the competitors appeared to be on the last straight at the end.

The event should have been held on Tuesday 28th December but was postponed because of the weather, the paths being covered with ice so thick and dangerous that it would have been foolhardy to ask anyone compete but the re-arranged date attracted a large field, some of them in the customary fancy dress including one chap with an outrageous head of blue hair that caused some merriment among those who watched him race past.

Bourne Town Harriers was founded in 1987 and three of the original members are still with the club while new recruits are always welcome for training sessions each week and a series of track and field events throughout the year, notably the ten kilometre run through Grimsthorpe Park on August Bank Holiday. The club does have its own web site which may be accessed through Bourne Links and if you have the inclination and the stamina to join them, then you would be welcome. Who knows, perhaps you too will be among them running your heart out along these woodland ways during the next Christmas handicap.

Thought for the week: I always loved running. It was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs. - Jesse Owens (1913-80), American athlete who achieved international fame by winning four gold medals at the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, in 1936.

Saturday 15th January 2011

Relics of the railway age in Bourne have practically disappeared, dismantled and demolished to make way for new developments, but there are still some structures left to remind us that steam trains for both passengers and freight served the town for almost a century.

The railway came to Bourne in 1860 with the building of a 6½-mile stretch of track to connect with the main Great Northern Railway line at Essendine and during the next 100 years the system was regularly extended and improved. The Spalding and Bourne Railway was opened in 1866 followed by a 17-mile branch line north to Sleaford and the final link came in 1894 with another extension west to Little Bytham where it connected with the branch line from Saxby, east of Melton Mowbray, thus creating a through route between the East Midlands and East Anglia of which Bourne could take full advantage.

During this period, the railway had become one of the most useful travel facilities in the history of the town and continued until the last passenger train left Bourne for Spalding on 28th February 1959 while the termination of freight facilities for the movement of sugar beet disappeared in 1965, virtually ending the steam age for Bourne.

Complete closure heralded to start of a massive demolition programme and over the next few months practically every remnant of the railway system was removed including the station platforms, workshops, water tower, engine sheds and signal boxes. Among the larger structures to disappear was the iron bridge which carried the Bourne to Spalding line over Abbey Road which was dismantled and a heavy duty crane was brought in to help lift the cumbersome metal sections on to lorries to be hauled away.

There are still a few reminders of the steam age scattered around the district such as small bridges on country roads, gatekeepers’ cottages, a few platform lamps from Bourne railway station which can be seen adorning front gardens. The station itself was demolished in 2005 to make way for new houses although the old parcels office across the road remains intact.

This week, photographs of a triple arched bridge tucked out of the way in a remote location to the west of the town that few people will even know were sent in by Chris Roe. It was built with locally made bricks around 1860 and was known as Overbridge 234, part of the Midland and Great Northern line to Saxby. It was the first, and only one remaining, of three overbridges which took farm traffic over the line between Bourne West signal box and Toft tunnel. Today it stands isolated and in very poor condition although the Elsea Park housing development is getting closer by the month but despite its dilapidated state, the structure still retains that Victorian splendour which reminds us of the period’s outstanding engineering achievements.

Chris, aged 45, moved to Bourne from Essex four years ago and now lives in Westwood Drive from where he is busy exploring the town whenever he gets out and about, always taking a camera because photography is a hobby and he also has an abiding interest in railways. “The history that surrounds us never ceases to amaze me”, he writes. “I am sure most people have no idea what is under their noses. Bourne is without doubt the most fascinating place I have ever lived in and I hope to spend the rest of my days here.”

For all those interested in our old railway system, this bridge is worth close inspection and despite its lonely location in that segment of green space between West Road and Elsea Park it can easily be reached by field walking along the route of the old track from Manor Lane or from one of the network of footpaths that branch out from the south-west relief road. The photographs of the bridge have been added to our history archive and if anyone has others from the railway age that are equally interesting, then please send them in and they too will be preserved for posterity. In the meantime, a photographic exhibition mounted by Jonathan Smith, our local expert on Bourne’s railway era, is on view at the Heritage Centre in South Street and is well worth a visit.

New legislation will require local authorities publish details of all items of expenditure over £500 online from the end of January and South Kesteven District Council has already begun doing this. Transactions for three months from September to November can be inspected on their web site and the lists do make interesting reading about the minutiae of public spending but we can still only wonder whether it is all really necessary and how much of it actually relates directly to services.

Nevertheless, this is a welcome move forward towards total transparency and should satisfy anyone who is concerned about where the money goes although whether it is all being spent wisely is another matter. For instance, £1,168 was paid for the services of a chauffeur on October 7th, £614.85 for conference expenses (October 12th ), £64,856 for concessionary travel (October 21st), £510.95 to a local coffee shop for hospitality (November 11th) and £720 for new carpets (November 18th) and although these all sound extravagant at a time of public spending economies, there are sure to be plausible reasons for all of them if anyone asks.

There are also many payments for legal advice and accounting, even though the council employs its own lawyers and accountants, and a large number of fees for casual work despite the authority having a workforce of around 740. One particular item will also catch the eye and that is £537.40 to a confectionery firm (November 4th) and although this does seem to be rather a lot of sweets and chocolates for a local authority, we are told that the goods were bought by the cultural services department for re-sale although why our district council should be in the tuck shop business is not explained.

The relevant page on the council web site is difficult to locate and I had to seek guidance from Grantham before finding it but it is now made easier through Bourne Links where it is just a mouse click away in the section listing Government and Public Utilities and is well worth a look for anyone with an inquiring mind about our public affairs.

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev John Saxbee, is retiring at the end of this month and in a most revealing interview with Radio Lincolnshire on Sunday morning he told listeners that the one thing he would miss was the widespread voluntary work he found underway in his diocese. The area is full, he said, of people doing their own thing for the benefit of the community and this has impressed him far more than the county’s location or topographical importance.

Many share the bishop’s views because Lincolnshire does appear to be a hotbed of unpaid and charitable effort on behalf of others and no matter what the cause, whether religious or secular, there always seem to be dedicated helpers ready to carry out the work in hand. This commitment is amply reflected in Bourne where many organisations that have become a vital part of our life depend entirely on goodwill and if those who keep the wheels turning at such places as Wake House, the Butterfield Centre, the Outdoor Swimming Pool, the Heritage Centre and the Abbey Church, suddenly withdrew their support, then all would close within weeks and become so many empty places.

Voluntary work is the mainstay of any community and without it, society itself would be the poorer. The government provides only the basic structures for living and the rest is up to us and so the person of altruistic motives who offers his services for purely humanitarian and charitable causes enhances not only his own self-esteem but also the organisation with which he becomes associated. The work of the volunteer therefore is the difference between a basic and a sophisticated society, making life more pleasant and amenable for those around them.

Many of the country’s community projects are run by volunteers, men and women who give their time and money selflessly, often running clubs and organisations, helping the sick, the elderly and disabled, or merely popping in next door in time of need, all tasks motivated by a love of our fellow man and carried out without thought of reward. Their work is particularly valuable in those activities involving our young people, the scouts and the guides, the youth clubs and junior soccer teams, the parent-teacher committees and a host of others that have become interwoven into the fabric of our lives yet we tend to take them for granted.

Unfortunately, those who keep them going have become the unsung heroes of society and although occasionally honoured with a gong when their work has been so significant that it cannot be ignored, the majority labour in the vineyards of voluntary effort without reward but that is the very essence of their motivation without which our town would be the poorer. There is a derogatory term often used when they are referred to as do-gooders but why else are we on this earth unless we are prepared to help each other without thought of reward and in any case it is surely better to be doing good for those around us rather than doing nothing and sneering at those who do.

There was a reminder this week that many names of local lads who died in the Great War have been omitted from the roll of honour on the War Memorial in South Street. Jack Clark emailed from Helston, Cornwall, seeking information about Arthur Smith who was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and although relatives have visited the battlefields and war cemeteries in France, he has no known grave.

At the time of his death, the family was living in Bourne and Jack emailed the town council seeking information but unfortunately his inquiries have drawn a blank because Arthur Smith is not mentioned either on the War Memorial or on the Roll of Honour in the parish church.

The War Memorial, which is the more comprehensive of the two lists, contains the names of 97 men who lost their lives during the Great War but research has proved that it is by no means complete and investigation suggests that at least 40 names from this conflict are unrecorded. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that relatives were no longer living in the town when the cenotaph was erected in 1956 when an appeal was made for names to be included.

The last known omission from the War Memorial has since been rectified. Private George Coverley was also overlooked when the memorial was built and approaches from his relatives to have him included were at first refused but the case was taken up by Councillor Don Fisher and the Royal British Legion and his name was added in 1985. The addition was dedicated at a special service on VE Day, May 8th, conducted by the Vicar of Bourne, Canon John Warwick, and attended by the Mayor of Bourne, Councillor Mrs Lesley Patrick, and Lady Jane Willoughby.

Private Coverley, who was serving with the Labour Corps, died at a military hospital in Scotland on 16th December 1918 as a result of war wounds. He was aged 35 years and his body was brought back to Bourne for burial in the cemetery. His brother kept the New Inn on the Spalding Road which is now a private residence and no relations of the dead soldier are now left in Bourne.

Unfortunately, the family of Arthur Smith are no nearer to solving the mystery of their ancestor and so he, as with many others, will have no remembrance in the town of his birth.

Thought for the week: The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est, Pro patria mori [It is a wonderful and great honour to die for your country] - Wilfred Owen, poet and infantry officer of the Great War (1893-1918), who was killed at the Battle of the Sambre Canal, France, on 4th November 1918 in the closing days of the conflict.

Saturday 22nd January 2011

Many local councils are pulling out of this year’s Britain in Bloom competition because of the public spending economies. The Sunday Times reports that funding cuts mean they can no longer afford hanging baskets and municipal gardening and that some are even grassing over flower beds, shutting greenhouses and allowing lawns to grow longer to save money (January 16th).

As a result, the annual competition run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) will see entries dip because previous winners say they can no longer afford to take part with Darlington, Derby, Aberdeen and Leicester among the councils who are pulling out. The good news is that Bourne will be competing in our regional section, the East Midlands in Bloom competition, and that the town council has earmarked its usual sum in the budget for 2011/12 with further funds likely from the Town Centre Management Partnership.

This is encouraging because Bourne has been particularly successful in the past, winning a silver gilt award last year, the third in a row and the fifth consecutive success since 2006, making it the best result ever. The 162 points awarded also made Bourne a category winner for the first time, narrowly missing the coveted gold.

The annual event is community based and designed to encourage cleaner, smarter and more attractive town centres in the region. There are several sections and Bourne falls into Category B Towns, those with a population of between 6,000 and 12,000, based on the last electoral register. The judges usually give a month’s notice of the exact date of their arrival when they tour the town looking out for floral displays, attractive and colourful gardens and parks and so it is important for everyone to give special attention to those places under their control whether it is merely the lawn and herbaceous borders or a public open space. Pupils from local schools, the scouts and police cadets all help in keeping the streets and public places clear of litter.

The judging week this year will be July 4th-15th and arrangements are already in hand to ensure that Bourne looks its best. Mrs Nelly Jacobs, clerk to the town council and one of the main organisers of the event, is appealing to the public to provide photographs and information about connected events such as tree or bulb planting at specific sites in order that all aspects of community effort may be co-ordinated in readiness for inspection.

Last year, their tour took the judges from the Heritage Centre in South Street through the War Memorial and Wellhead Gardens before taking a look at the main streets and other areas of the town decorated with planters, towers, troughs and tubs, all ablaze with colourful blooms. The owners of several trade premises such as the Nag’s Head, the Angel Hotel and Smiths of Bourne, decorated the front of their buildings with hanging baskets but disappointingly many did not. It is therefore hoped that this year, more town centre businesses will participate because their contribution could help achieve the coveted gold award.

The competition carries with it an involvement of the people and the chance to make our streets attractive throughout the summer months, not just for the judges but also for the many visitors who arrive here with Bourne either as a destination or merely passing through. The work carried out in successive years is the perfect example of how a small market town should look at this time of the year and we should remember that if people like what they see then they will come again.

The disused railway overbridge on the edge of the Elsea Park housing state which was featured in this column last week dates from the mid-19th century and is crumbling and derelict yet has already attracted the interest of local conservationists. Guy Cudmore, former town councillor, writes to say that some years ago he tried to have the Victorian brick structure protected as a listed building but without success and that it still deserves attention.

English Heritage is initially responsible for the listing process to protect our ancient properties and this may be a lost cause with them because the bridge is in an advanced state of decay but it should not be a wasted opportunity and there is still a case for its preservation. In his posting to the Bourne Forum, Guy points out that this is one of the last surviving structures on the old Bourne railway system and he calls for an approach to the developers of Elsea Park by the town council for it to be retained. “It would disable a couple of building plots at the most”, he writes, “and the advantage would be that the bridge could be preserved in situ.”

This is an excellent opportunity for the developers, the Kier Group, to demonstrate a little community spirit by restoring and preserving the bridge by turning it into a feature of the housing estate, perhaps even giving some of the surrounding names related to the railway line to the new roads as they are completed. It would be fruitless seeking financial help for such a project from our local authorities at this time of public spending economies but moral support for such an enterprise could well mean the difference between success and failure if the developers could be persuaded to take the initiative. Otherwise, it seems that this relic of our railway past may well be demolished once the estate reaches this point, an eventuality that may not be too far off.

The Saturday market appears to be declining, the number of stalls in recent weeks having dwindled to one or two and the vacant space being taken up by car parking. This is an unwelcome development for those who regard the market as the hub of weekend shopping and even want the stalls back on the streets but instead, we may be seeing the beginning of its demise.

One of the reasons seems to be the occasional absence of the fruit and vegetable stall, once the busiest and therefore the mainstay of the market and occupying several spaces against the north wall. As a result, there were just two stalls last Saturday, the regular eggs and pastry business and another familiar outlet dealing in bird seed, causing speculation among shoppers over whether the market will come to an end on that day even though this part of town is now at its busiest following the opening of the Co-operative Food supermarket last year.

There has been much talk among our councillors about how to boost overall trade at the market and in October 2009, South Kesteven District Council invested in new blue and white awnings to make the stalls more colourful and increase turnover, a most attractive prospect especially on sunny days, but without the active support of all stallholders, these improvements will count for nought.

The market has been running successfully for more than 700 years under a royal charter granted by King Edward I in 1279, originally on the streets until 1990 when increased traffic flows threatened the safety of shoppers and it was moved to its present location at the purpose built paved area behind the town hall. Attendance since then has been largely good with up to 30 stallholders on some days, but a fluctuating attendance in recent years has now posed a serious threat to its future and although there is no imminent likelihood of the Thursday market closing, there must now be serious doubts about it being held on Saturdays if the reduction in traders continues.

For some strange reason the town council has agreed to name new streets in Bourne after various racecourses around the country although this town has absolutely nothing to do with the sport of kings. The suggestion came from David Wilson Homes who are building new houses at the Elsea Park estate to the south of the town and they came up with a series of horse racing venues to be used including Newton Abbot Way, Haydock Park Drive, Cheltenham and Windsor Court, Great Leighs, Huntingdon Place and Warwick Close, all of which were approved by the council’s highways and planning committee last week (Tuesday 11th January).

Their endorsement suggests a paucity of ideas among those responsible although a close look at our history, which is the usual inspiration for new street names, suggests otherwise. There are still many worthy persons, places and events through the ages waiting to be honoured in this way without resorting to the race track which will have no significance for those who come after. If this trend continues, we can probably expect the next clutch of new streets to be named after football clubs.

Pupils at the Westfield Primary School were given a project last autumn on Bourne past and present, a perennial topic for teachers, and once again I was swamped with emails from mothers anxious to help their children by seeking information about life as it was. I am always ready to help anyone with their queries and deal with many from around the world each week but this sudden flood during term time has occurred several times before and it has been a time consuming task to answer them all.

This occasion, however, was slightly different, because one of the mothers came to see me and explained that although they had a copy of A Portrait of Bourne on CD-ROM, she needed to sit with her daughter when using the disc because it contained so much information that it was daunting for a child to take in all at once. We had a most lively discussion about what could be done and eventually both agreed that the obvious solution would be an easier version in book form and so A Children’s History was born.

The book, which is published this week, is intended specifically for younger readers as a means of stimulating interest in this town and its heritage. It is a condensed version of our history from the earliest times telling how Bourne began together with accounts of all the main events that have followed, descriptions of the buildings and short biographies of prominent people who lived here together with many photographs from the past.

Although this book has been written primarily for children, there is much in its pages that will also be of interest to the more mature reader who is approaching the subject for the first time, especially newcomers to the town. Once this has been read and enjoyed, then perhaps it would be time to move on to the CD-ROM which over the past twelve years has become a massive work now containing over 1½ million words and 4,000 photographs of the town past and present.

A Children’s History of Bourne costs £9.99 and can be obtained from Walkers Books at 19 North Street, Bourne, or by mail order.

One of the advantages of living in South Lincolnshire is that you can buy daffodils in January, a welcome sign that spring is not too far off. These beautiful golden yellow trumpeted flowers are grown under glass and have become a valuable export for this part of the country. Their increasing popularity in recent years has replaced tulips as the most popular flower from the Spalding area where they are grown, not only for home sales but also for markets overseas, in Europe and even further afield, and are exported by air overnight to destinations around the world.

The bunch my wife bought for £2 this week will be exactly the same as that gracing a penthouse flat in Manhattan although the prices will be considerably more in New York. The flowers look beautiful and the fragrance a delight when they appear and bring pleasure to all who see them, despite their short time span when compared with the hardy outdoor varieties that will soon follow and last much longer. But the daffodil is welcome at any time and although the dozen in my study will soon fade, they are a constant reminder of the annual renewal of nature and the wonderful season ahead.

Thought for the week: Fair daffodils we weep to see you haste away so soon. - Robert Herrick (1591-1674), English clergyman and celebrated 17th century poet whose ode To Daffodils urges us to make the best use of the short time we have.

Saturday 29th January 2011

Parking bays appear to be shrinking in an attempt to squeeze more vehicles into less space with the result that drivers face greater hazards, especially those who are less experienced.
Concerns have already been expressed in many parts of the country where new car parks are being built and others re-laid with the result that it now requires greater precision when entering and leaving and so it takes longer to park carefully and without mishap.

There has already been a national discussion on whether parking spaces across the land are wide enough to prevent damage from opening doors, especially as cars today are generally about six inches wider than their counterparts twenty years ago. There is also the additional hazard of those drivers who never park prettily while people carriers frequently hog two spaces by parking too close to or even over the white lines.

There is no compulsory regulation for the size of the average car parking bay although some local authorities issue guidelines which say that spaces should be 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres in size but many of those now being built have been reduced to 2.1 metres by 4.6 metres. Unfortunately, new car parks are appearing almost weekly while the old ones are being upgraded and probably being redesigned to take more vehicles. The only way to find out is to go along with a tape measure and check but such activity would most certainly attract the attention of officials and even the police and so we must accept what is on offer.

The car parks at Sainsburys in Exeter Street and at Co-operative Food in Hereward Street have both been redesigned recently and an even bigger one with space for 300 cars is due to open at the new Tesco store in South Road later this year. It would therefore be interesting to know if motorists are satisfied that the parking bays are the same size that we have been used to in the past or whether the spaces are noticeably shrinking.

Garages attached to modern houses have certainly been getting smaller over the years with the result that most are filled with household detritus rather than the family saloon and it has become a contortion to get in and out. Space therefore seems to be at a premium both in public and private places and although King Car rules life today, there appears to be little desire to contain it when not actually being used. Perhaps there is a psychological reason for this in that we are ashamed at allowing the car to take over our lives, our household budgets and our economy and so we try to banish it from our consciousness when not in use by consigning it to the smallest possible space.

Something has certainly gone seriously wrong with our overall planning if we exile such a valuable artefact to the driveway or even the street with the result that many thoroughfares are constantly obstructed by vehicles, some double parked and many with their wheels on the pavement which is illegal. The paradox is that car parks are now strictly controlled either by ticket machines which allocate space by the hour or, in the case of supermarkets, by restricting parking to shoppers only and then for no more than two hours with heavy penalties for those who breach the regulations.

Yet the serious problems of cars littering our streets at all hours, causing a danger to pedestrians and passing traffic, is rarely addressed by the police and so we have the situation which can be witnessed most days in Meadowgate and Harrington Street, Austerby, Queen’s Road and many other roads around Bourne, which at times are only passable with extreme care and then only with difficulty.

Parking overall is generally indiscriminate and even those designated spaces around town can be a hazard as was proved on Sunday morning. Temporary traffic lights were operating at road works in North Street in that section opposite Wherry’s Lane but whoever organised the vehicle control had not taken into account the parked vehicles which extended for some distance on the north side. They were a hindrance to passing traffic turning to an obstruction shortly before midday when an ambulance on an emergency call with red lights flashing and warning siren sounding tried to get through.

Vehicle in the queues on both sides of the lights mounted the pavements to allow it to pass but the parked cars had taken up much of the road space and there were several minutes of delicate manoeuvring by all until the ambulance was eventually able to pass, but it had been delayed by the poor arrangement of the road works control. This was just a small everyday incident out there on the roads but one which demonstrates that forward planning at national and local level is not keeping pace with continued car production and as ownership and the population increases, things can only get worse.

One of the great myths in our history is the suggestion that the apertures in the south wall of the Shippon barn are arrow slits preserved from Bourne Castle but close inspection even by the inexperienced eye reveals this to be a fallacy.

This spurious identification appears to date from 1861 when a cursory exploration of the castle site was made to coincide with a meeting of the Lincoln Diocesan Architectural Society, a moveable feast which was held in Bourne that year and attracted a great deal of public attention. In fact, the dig was not so much an expert archaeological examination as part of the entertainment laid on for visitors who flocked to the town for three days of excursions, exhibitions and talks and consisted of little more than removing the top soil and then replacing it when everyone had gone. A marquee was erected on site to protect everyone in case of rain and a brass band played throughout.

An artist was engaged to draw an impression of the castle site and he was also responsible for a drawing of the two apertures in the Shippon barn which was claimed to have been built with stone salvaged from the castle walls and were crossbow slits. For anyone who has inspected them closely, this will need a lively imagination to accept because it is quite obvious that they have been concocted on site rather than moved intact from the fortifications which was the assertion at that time.

Unfortunately, this description appeared in a newspaper report of the event published by the Stamford Mercury (Friday 7th June 1861) and has never been challenged, perhaps because no one has even thought to investigate in any detail with the result that the theory has been repeated ad infinitum through the years, a proven recipe for turning folklore into fact.

The barn stands within the Conservation Area designated in July 1977 and is Grade II listed, although the official description is cautious over the perceived provenance because it says: "Part of former farm buildings, built of dressed stone in courses with ashlar bands. Stone slate roof, red ridge tile. Wood lintel to doorway. The barn may incorporate part of the original castle buildings since there are what appear to be stone arrow slits on the south wall."

The majority of the early accounts which refer to Bourne Castle are wildly inaccurate, most suggesting that it was built in Saxon times as the home of the Saxon kings, Morcar, Oslac and Leofric, a theory perpetuated by historians over the years. Then in 1866 came an even more exaggerated claim with Hereward the Wake, popularised when Charles Kinglsey wrote his famous novel suggesting that he was the son of the Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife Lady Godiva who owned the manor of Bourne and the castle in the Wellhead field which became popularly known as Hereward's birthplace as a result.

In fact, no castle or manor house in mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086 which was so comprehensive that one Englishman wrote: "So very thoroughly did William have the enquiry carried out that there was not a single piece of land, not even an ox, cow or pig, which escaped its notice." We may therefore assume that any building of note that did exist here was built after the Norman invasion.

A more likely explanation is the construction of a manor house by the Lord of the Manor for his family which became known as Bourne Castle, the word castle deriving from the Latin castellum which means fortified place, often merely a residential hall enclosed by a defensive wall which functioned as the home of an important person in the locality and we can most certainly dispense with the idea of a massive battlemented stone fortress such as those we have come to associate with Hollywood films.

Once the castle disappeared, whatever stone was salvaged was undoubtedly filched by townspeople to build cottages and barns, and it is likely that some may have found its way into the Shippon barn which probably dates from the 18th century. But the apertures were clearly designed to be functional for the care of livestock, the word shippon being derived from the old English word shippen meaning a cattle shed or cowhouse, and so a permanent means of circulating the air and allowing gases to escape would be necessary. Their design also compares favourably with those which can be found in other old stone barns in the area.

The historian David Roffe, research fellow at the University of Sheffield, with a special interest in Bourne, also has reservations. “From what I can see of the loops from the photographs is most unconvincing”, he said. “We do not know anything about when Bourne Castle was dismantled but I suppose that stone may have been re-used because nothing was wasted and I am sure that this interpretation is right.”

The explanation is therefore a simple one for those prepared to accept a rational solution but traditional tales are a long time dying and no doubt the story of the arrow slits in the Shippon barn, as with many other erroneous aspects of our history, will be with us for many years to come.

In towns such as Bourne where the future of the public library is in doubt, book borrowers should be cheered by the tale of Emily Malleson who attracted global attention through her efforts to save hers at Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, and in doing so demonstrated that people power can still be an effective weapon.

She and like minded readers mounted a concerted campaign to borrow the library bare by each taking out the maximum allowance and so clearing the shelves of all 16,000 volumes. The protest was organised by the Friends of Stony Stratford Library when they heard that Milton Keynes Council was planning to close it as part of its plans to cut public spending by £26 million.

“A friend gave me the idea and I posted it on Facebook suggesting that everyone take out the maximum number of 15 books and keep them for a week”, said Emily who took a week off work to organise the protest. “The aim was to empty the library and the support was amazing. I calculated that they were being checked out at the rate of around 378 per hour and for a few days the shelves were bare but at least the staff could give them a good dusting. We wanted to prove to the council that the library is an important part of the community and is well used by everyone and I believe that it has worked. The amount of support was just staggering.”

The story was reported worldwide and has raised the profile of the public campaign against closure but protestors will have to wait to find out whether it has been effective until February 22nd when the council meets to decide its final budget.

Thought for the week: Books are like imprisoned souls till someone takes them down from a shelf and frees them. - Samuel Butler (1835-1902), English author who published a variety of works including the Utopian satire Erewhon and the posthumous novel The Way of All Flesh.