Bourne Diary - November 2011

by Rex Needle

Saturday 5th November 2011

History as we know it continues to be discredited as on-going research reveals that much of what we have believed in was, as the great American car maker, Henry Ford, so succinctly remarked, bunk.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that the oft told story of the Gunpowder Plot being hatched at the Red Hall in Bourne was apocryphal and explained that after several centuries the truth was eventually tracked down by a vigilant archivist in 1964. Painstaking research led to the discovery that the tale had originated through a mix-up in the names of past owners leading to the mistaken conclusion that Sir Everard Digby once lived there and as he was hanged for his part in the conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the early 17th century, that he and his fellow plotters had met there to finalise their plans.

But not so. The only connection with this account is that there was a John Digby living at the hall a century later but he came from a distant branch of the family and he was also a law abiding citizen as well as being a prominent land owner, magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Lincolnshire, hardly a man to break the law in such a violent fashion.

Now another tale has been discredited, this time the popular account of Lady Godiva riding through Coventry naked on a white horse and although this account of 11th century chivalry warms the heart, that too has now been found to be wanting.

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who, according to legend, made her famous ride in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants. The name Peeping Tom for a voyeur originates from later versions of this tale in which a man named Tom bored a hole in his shutters to watch her ride by and was reputedly struck blind.

The link with Bourne is that Lady Godiva (1040-1080) was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and by tradition the mother of Hereward the Wake who was born at the castle in Bourne and became a Saxon hero by opposing the Normans who eventually trapped and slayed him in Bourne Wood.

The story has had such a resonance in Bourne that in the summer of 1929, her famous ride was recreated during a rag day parade to raise money for the Butterfield Hospital. Crowds thronged the streets, attracted by the appearance of her ladyship astride a horse, her face and features obscured by a wig with long hair, and although there had been much speculation about her identity, it was never revealed.

But a new book* has laid this tale to rest along with many others that have become part of our history including the suggestion that King Harold was killed by an arrow through the eye at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, that the Black Death was caused by rats and that Columbus discovered America. Author Phil Mason tells us that although Lady Godiva was immortalised in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson there is no contemporary account of her famous ride and chronicles of the time are silent on the issue, the first record surfacing in 1236 in the writings of the chronicler Richard of Wendover.

It was the Tennyson poem in 1842 that popularised the story of Lady Godiva, published 800 years after the supposed event and which cemented all the elements into the version we know today.

Now that this historical iconoclasm has become so popular, perhaps we can expect more of our time honoured legends to be found wanting. Hereward the Wake, for instance, whose exploits and even existence owe more to the imagination of Victorian novelists than to documentary proof, might not stand the test while more work is certainly needed on the existence of Bourne Castle but until proved otherwise, they and many other tales will continue to delight the imagination.

The dispute over car parking in the Austerby by pupils from Bourne Grammar School is still simmering below the surface despite the possibility of a settlement some time next year. Three solutions have been put forward by Lincolnshire County Council including (1) the introduction of no waiting from 9 am until 4 pm Monday to Friday during term time (2) double yellow lines which will prohibit parking at any time and (3) a request that the school provides parking for pupils on site.

The first two options will only drive the aggravation into other streets in the vicinity and in this column two weeks ago (October 22nd) I suggested that the third choice would be the best way forward, especially as the school is likely to be given academy status next year and some people fear that this could lead to an increase in the number of pupils with cars. The proposed new status of the school will enable the governors implement their own admissions policy and it has been suggested that this might lead to the acceptance of pupils from a wider catchment area who would need their own transport.

However, the headteacher, Jonathan Maddox, disagrees with this prognosis and has written to say so. "I have no idea why you think it likely that academy status will cause the number of students with cars to increase", he writes. "I cannot see how this could possibly be the case. The number of students with cars depends on all manner of factors, none of which is related to or is dependent upon the status of this school."

We are pleased to put his assurance on record. This is a testing problem for the headteacher and the governors of Bourne Grammar School who walk the difficult path between doing what is practical without infringing individual rights, a task made all the more sensitive because of the rancour that has been generated by those who feel they have been wronged. It is also hoped that the county council will now come up with a solution acceptable to both sides because if home owners in the Austerby are faced with a continuance of this problem, then resentment will persist.

The register office is now likely to be crammed into the new Community Access Point planned for the Corn Exchange, one of the unnecessary projects put foward by our local authorities on the pretext of saving money during the current economic crisis and we wonder what else will be shunted into this space in the interests of economy.

This service is currently based at No 35 West Street, a perfectly suitable location which has been in use for many years but has attracted the attention of Lincolnshire County Council intent on cutting costs irrespective of the effect this has on the community. For some unexplained reason, it has been decided that the numbers that use it are insufficient to justify its future, a complete contravention of the local authority ethos of providing public services rather than making a profit.

A public consultation which has been underway since August ended on Monday and almost 40 responses have been received, including one of the town council, but it is doubtful if these will be heeded if it is decided to proceed with the scheme which will mean that in the future people from the Bourne area will face a 30-mile round trip to Stamford to register their births, marriages and deaths.

One of our county councillors, Sue Woolley (Bourne Abbey) has been particularly vocal over this issue although she has admitted that savings must be made and so the present premises would have to be forfeited although she admits that the town should not lose its registration service altogether.

"People recognise that the present way cannot continue but say that there should be some other provision", she told The Local newspaper (October 28th). "I do not think that the council officers were aware of the strength of feeling or some of the sensible alternatives that people living locally were able to put forward and I don't see why it can't go in the community access point. It would be a great idea and I hope it will be investigated. Anything that keeps the service local has to be a good thing and I will make sure that the idea is explored."

We are therefore back to the old argument over whether the original arrangements should be sacrificed for the sake of a few pounds and the obvious answer is that if we are to get a service at an unfavourable location then the answer is obviously no and we look to our county councillors to vote accordingly when the matter comes before them for deliberation.

The decision is not, as Councillor Woolley seems to be suggesting, a matter for council officers, who are there only to offer advice, but one that should be made by our councillors which is the very reason why they were elected and when it does come before the authority for a final decision it is to be hoped that both of our county representatives will support what is best for Bourne rather than merely nodding through the party line. This will mean voting to keep the register office where it is rather than leave the town with a sub-standard service in inconvenient accommodation or perhaps even none at all.

An old photograph of Morton village that has just surfaced after being hidden away for many years reveals a horsepool in the main street, directly outside the church.

It may seem odd that a mundane feature like this should be given such a prominent position but then the horse was the mainstay of power in the countryside, in farming and haulage. The wellbeing of these animals was therefore of paramount importance and the survival of horsepool as a place name and to identify streets and farms in many areas of England bears testament to this.

The horsepool, or horsepond as it was sometimes known, was used for watering and washing horses and was therefore situated in the most convenient place for all to use. The term itself dates from circa 1700 and there is evidence that it may also have been used for ducking people guilty of obnoxious or anti-social behaviour.

They were also situated within easy reach of the village blacksmith who was then one of the most important people in the community, an essential link with the surrounding farms and tradesmen who all depended on the horse and cart for their livelihoods.

Wooden cartwheels were made by local joiners who took them to the smithy where the iron hoops were banded, that is shaped and fitted, and then the finished wheels were soaked in the water, thus giving a tighter fit. But their main purpose was for the welfare of horses and the larger pools also enabled horses, carts and wagons to enter and be washed down after working in muddy conditions and then driven out at the other end.

The photograph of the horsepool at Morton was taken by the Bourne photographer, William Redshaw (1856-1943), who recognised the importance of the blacksmith in rural life because he himself made his early journeys in a pony and cart, and has come to me via the family who have kept it since his death in an album which contains many other pictorial treasures from the past. The village feature which he captured during his many trips out into the countryside dates from circa 1880 and survived well into the 20th century but disappeared with the arrival of the motor car and the mechanisation of farm power when the cart gave way to the tractor.

This facility is similar to the old Victorian horsepool which can still be seen on the north side of St Peter's Pool adjoining the Wellhead Gardens at Bourne, another large pond which sloped gently at one end to allow horse and cart together to be washed in the clear spring water. This pool is thought to have been built about 1870 but was partly filled in between 1965-70. An excavation in 1994 revealed that it had been used to dump rubbish which was cleared away and the remaining pool can still be seen.

Thought for the week: The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands; And the muscles of his brawny arms, are strong as iron bands. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), American poet and educator whose works included The Song of Hiawatha and this poem, The Village Blacksmith.

* One In The Eye For Harold: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About History
Is Wrong by Phil Mason is published by Robson Press, price �12.99.

Saturday 12th November 2011

Improvements are on the way for the War Memorial Gardens in South Street with a particular emphasis on the banks of the Bourne Eau which have been deteriorating badly in recent years.

The poor state of the protective boarding along the waterway has been exposed for all to see when it dried up completely during the recent dry spell and was illustrated by this web site in our Picture of the Week last month (October 15th). The entire section between the South Street car park entrance and Baldock's Mill is to be replaced and the surrounding area re-grassed when the work is carried over the next few weeks while water levels are still low and is expected to cost around �40,000.

The bill will be met by Bourne United Charities which is responsible for the War Memorial Gardens and the Wellhead Park which opened in 1956 through the generosity of local farmer and landowner Thomas Whyment Atkinson who left money and property for the benefit of the town. Kevin Day, environmental consultant to BUC, told The Local newspaper ((November 4th) that the work would be carried out as sympathetically as possible but some trees and bushes along the bank would have to be cut back to allow access for plant and machinery although this will grow back in time.

The War Memorial Gardens are of particular benefit to the town at this time when we are remembering those who fell during past wars. The centrepiece is the stone memorial, modelled on the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, and is the work of the architects W E Norman Webster and Son who once had offices in North Street. It is not recorded how many men left the town to join the armed forces during the Great War of 1914-18 but it is known that 97 men lost their lives and their names are inscribed on the stone edifice although there have been suggestions that the figure is nearer 140 and that 40 names are therefore missing.

The memorial also includes the names of 32 men who did not return from the conflict of 1939-45 and a further three who died on active service before the century ended. During the Second World War, many men also volunteered for service with the Home Guard which raised a total force of 1,600 from the town and district.

There are few people in Bourne who did not know of Don Fisher who has died at the age of 78. He devoted more than a quarter of a century to the affairs of this town and his was a familiar face in our streets, having been mayor twice and holding office with innumerable organisations devoted to the welfare of its citizens. Yet Bourne was his home only by chance although his roots in administration and what he called "a commitment to the cause" went back to his boyhood years in the north of England and a willingness to serve that never left him.

Donald Fisher was born on 11th September 1933 at Woodlands, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, the son of electrician Elijah Fisher and his wife Mabel. After leaving school he enrolled as a cadet with the West Riding Constabulary and a career with the police force beckoned but he found the army a more attractive option and in 1951 at the age of 17�, he enlisted as a regular soldier and served with the Coldstream Guards for 15 years including tours of duty in Germany, Kenya and Oman.

In 1967, he took the route that led him to Bourne when he met  and married Celia Rodgers, a former pupil of Bourne Grammar School, and left the army to work at a London store. But the marriage was not to last and they were divorced after four years. There were no children from the partnership but because of it, Don became acquainted with Celia's family, well known in Bourne for their butchery and farming interests, and it was during one visit that he had a chance meeting in the street with Eric Cross, the furniture dealer who was then building his warehouse store in Manning Road, now occupied by Anglia Furnishings. He asked Don if he would like the job of manager, the offer was accepted and in 1972, Bourne became his future home.

He never remarried but devoted his energies to the community which became his consuming interest and four years later he was elected to Bourne Town Council, representing the old Dyke and Twenty ward, since absorbed into the East Ward, and remained a town councillor for 35 years, serving two terms as mayor, from 1983-84 and again in 1998-99 when he opened the town's closed circuit television system during his year in office (pictured above). He also served as a member of South Kesteven District Council from 1979-2007 and Lincolnshire County Council from 1981-89. He was also responsible for organising many of the major events in Bourne in recent years including the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations in the summer of 1977, the Heritage Exhibition in 1981 and the R A Gardner Art Exhibition of 1996.

Don was involved in numerous other organisations including the Royal British Legion, serving as chairman of the Bourne branch from 1996-2001 when he received one of the legion's highest awards, the Gold Badge. He was a founder member of the Civic Society in 1978 and its chairman from 1994-96. One of his main interests was the village of Twenty where he served as secretary of the village hall management committee from 1977, a job he took for just six months but held office for 21 years and also served for a similar period on the village hall management committee at Dyke. He was also a tireless worker for charity and from 1989, was a member of Bourne United Charities, serving for a period as chairman of the organisation which he considered to be one of the most important in Bourne.

His other interests included education. He was a governor of Bourne Grammar School for ten years and became the longest serving governor of the Robert Manning Technology College (now Bourne Academy) as well as completing spells on the board of the Abbey Road Primary School, Morton Primary and the Willoughby Special Schools. He was also a committee member of the South Lincolnshire Branch of the Alzheimer Disease Society, chairman of the Kesteven Museums Panel (1985-89), former secretary of Age Concern in Bourne, an organiser of the Bourne Evergreen Club, during which time he arranged meals for the elderly, and vice chairman of the Bourne branch of Disability Links.

Said Don: "I always felt it extremely important to become involved with these organisations if you want to do something positive for the town." He was also an active supporter of the Bourne Outdoor swimming pool, sitting on the trust committee, and was a co-opted member of the old Bourne Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

Don Fisher retired in 1995 but suffered a stroke in 2001 and was later diagnosed with Parkinson�s disease although this failed to dampen either his spirit or his enthusiasm for public work and he continued to attend meetings and keep appointments. "I love Bourne", he once said. "It has so much character and I will always fight to preserve things like the church and the Red Hall. It is institutions such as this that are the very essence of our town and must be protected at all costs. I think that in finding this place to live, almost by accident, I made a very fortunate choice."

In March 2010, he moved to the Cedars Retirement Home and continued to maintain his interest in local affairs but his condition deteriorated in recent weeks and he died on Saturday.

An email has arrived from the United States asking for a photograph of the town cemetery. It comes from Gene Layton of Avondale in Arizona, whose ancestors are buried there and he wants it as an illustration for his family tree. He is the great great grandson of William Layton (1799-1872), landlord of the Bull Inn in the market place, now the Burghley Arms in the town centre, who later left the licensed trade to become a farmer. He married Mary Ann Pears (1800-1855) and they  had eight children and it is one of them who provided the American connection.

John Layton who was born on 16th May 1831and attended several schools in the area, then served an apprenticeship of four years at a hardware shop in Stamford before leaving for America in 1849 and never returned home, becoming one of the thousands of fortune hunters who joined the Californian gold rush of 1849. In July that year, when he was only eighteen, he signed on as a seaman aboard the barque Jane Dixon that sailed from Liverpool bound for California, voyaging around Cape Horn and arriving at San Francisco in January 1850.

He spent the next few months engaged in boating and fishing on the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay and after a successful spell of mining and trading, bought a farm and established a homestead and in the process became the head of a family that survives to this day. He was frequently attacked by Indians but he fought them off successfully and in order to help suppress the various uprisings, served in the army for a spell.

John was married three times and produced fifteen children and 25 years after leaving Bourne, he had become an astute businessman and property owner, wealthy and respected in his community. His local newspaper at Jacksonville reported in December 1875: �He is at present generally acknowledged to be on the high road to fortune although the result has not been attained without the exhibition of uncommon pluck, energy and perseverance, through a long and protracted career of mining in which he is monarch of all he surveys.�

In 1904, his standing in the community was summed up in an account published in the book Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon which eulogised his life as follows:

�The claims of John Thorpe Layton, upon the consideration of his fellow residents of Jackson and Josephine Counties, rest upon his more than ordinary ability as a miner and prospector. The mining camps of this part of the state have long been familiar to him and of whom it may be said he has operated with a comparatively sure hand, and while making rapid progress, has proceeded with extreme caution in his investments. Since becoming a citizen of this country, Mr Layton has thrown his political sympathies with the Democratic Party but has always been averse to office holding. John T Layton was the owner of both the Ferris Gulch and Williamsburg mines, in active operation for more than 40 years, thirty miles of mining ditches dug by hired Chinese labourers, builder of the Grants Pass Hotel in 1889, and owner of 800 acres of mineral and agricultural land. He has led an industrious and well-directed life and has been interested in mining for nearly fifty-three years. He has established many warm friendships in the course of his coming and going in the west and is known for his generosity, his liberal mindedness, and his enthusiastic advocacy of the climate and resources of the state of Oregon.�

John died on 14th December 1905, aged 74, and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at Jacksonville, Oregon, where his grave has recently been restored to its original condition by Gene Layton. He is remembered today in the United States where his descendants number several hundred but in Bourne where the name has practically disappeared, he is quite forgotten except for his father's headstone in the town cemetery.

Local authorities do not get a good press and so we are pleased to report that those which serve Bourne are taking notice of public disquiet when they fail to perform.

It will be remembered that the dangerous potholes outside the public library and fire station off South Street were highlighted by this column two months ago (September 3rd) when we pointed out the hazard being created not only to passing motorists but also because this road is used daily by the emergency services, mothers with children going to and from the library and old age pensioners collecting their weekly payments from Bourne United Charities at their offices in the Red Hall.

Lincolnshire County Council, the highways authority responsible, appeared to be ignoring the complaints despite promises to repair serious potholes as and when they occurred. But we are pleased to report that these massive cavities that had become much deeper in recent weeks and had started to fill with water during the rainy spells have now been filled in.

Thought for the week: Better late than never - old English proverb generally attributed to the poet and chronicler Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) who used it in The Canterbury Tales.

Saturday 19th November 2011

Plans to concentrate all council services under one roof at the Corn Exchange and phase out the town hall are going ahead. The Local newspaper reports that cabinet councillors at South Kesteven District Council have approved the scheme and work is likely to begin next year for completion by March 2013 (November 11th).

The new facility will be known as the Bourne Community Access Point and will be housed on the ground floor of the Corn Exchange together with interview rooms and the public library. The main function hall which is used for a variety of local events will remain unchanged but the scheme will make two of our public buildings redundant, the town hall and the present library in South Street.

Both are owned by Lincolnshire County Council and although no alternative use has yet been announced for either, it is unlikely that they will be left standing empty. Both are assets on the property portfolio and will be disposed of to produce an income or realise capital. Their future use is therefore a matter of some speculation.

The wisdom of this change is still being discussed around the town where feelings are mixed, the main criticism being that there is insufficient space in the Corn Exchange and that the library will most likely be reduced in scale as a result of the transfer. Indeed, it has not yet been explained by either the district or the county council how the town will benefit from this particular move when the present site in South Road is spacious with its own car parking spaces and to offer anything less will be a departure from the intended role of the local authority to provide public services.

Unfortunately, the thinking behind the transfer is not one of improving what we have but of providing the same for less money which in reality is an impossible dream. It is therefore disingenuous of Lincolnshire county councillor Eddy Poll, executive member for economic development, to say that "a decision will be made on what course of action is best for Bourne" (The Local, 30th September 2011) when all he is doing is to present a makeshift plan driven by financial expediency under the guise of re-organisational efficiency because if you come up with a cheaper alternative then you will end up with a sub-standard service. The local authorities involved can then blame the current round of public spending cuts but that it not really the answer because this scheme was on the cards long before the current economic crisis.

In fact, the formation of a one-step centre was first mooted in July 2008 with the town hall as the proposed location although this building in its present state has several drawbacks, notably the front entrance to the first floor which can be dangerous and the need for a lift to accommodate the disabled. In a perfect world, the local authorities would have built us a new specially designed set of offices and public library on a chosen site but three years ago this was not even considered to be an option for Bourne which is well down the pecking order of priorities at South Kesteven District Council.

The plan was therefore to upgrade the town hall and even now this would be a better alternative provided a lift could be installed together with a separate entrance at the rear although the question of space to accommodate the public library would still need to be addressed. Instead, it appears to be that the Corn Exchange has become the chosen venue, take it or leave it, and so it will be left to the two councils to cram in what they can and hope for a successful outcome.

The realisation of property assets also appears to be behind the sale of Wake House even though it is occupied and run by a voluntary group which enables 46 local organisations meet there regularly. The property is owned by South Kesteven District Council and leased since 1997 to the Bourne Arts and Community Trust for a peppercorn rent of �5 but this ran out six years ago and they have been trying to negotiate a new agreement which would enable them carry out urgent repairs and bring the building up to standard.

Their plans were thwarted last October when the council put the building up for sale by tender and The Local reports that an offer is now being considered (November 4th) although the trust has been promised security of tenure. Nevertheless, if the deal goes through, their future is by no means assured no matter what safeguards are put in place.

Trust secretary Greg Cejer told the newspaper that the trustees had worked for more than twelve years to ensure that Wake House remained available for community use. "However", he added, "we are not able to embark on any capital expenditure apart from keeping the building watertight. This is because to date the district council has not given us a lease or ownership that will enable us bid for the grants necessary to undertake the expensive work needed to restore the building."

Wake House dates from the early 19th century and is now Grade II listed, occupying a prime frontage in North Street with a plot of land covering 0.4 acres including 29 car parking spaces. It was built circa 1800 and was the birthplace of Charles Frederick Worth, son of a local solicitor, who founded the famous Paris fashion house and a blue plaque tells us that he was born here on 13th October 1825. The house was later used as council offices by various local authorities, the last being SKDC which moved out in 1993 and so it remained empty until the trust took over four years later and made the property suitable for its present use.

The most beneficial solution for Bourne would be for the trust to take over the building but the district council has insisted on the market rate. Councillor Linda Neal (Bourne West) has said that there is no possibility of it being gifted to the trust (press release 9th August 2005). She added: �This is not a council policy. Wake House is a considerable asset that cannot be given away. The council owns a lot of property worth millions of pounds and we have a duty to preserve and protect our assets.�

No one would doubt that but local authorities also have a duty to assist and encourage community endeavour because it is the people who pay their council tax to keep them in business and without this support, voluntary effort is likely to founder and with it the Big Society so loudly trumpeted by the Prime Minister, David Cameron. While the current impasse continues, the future remains uncertain both for the trust and the organisations that use Wake House as a meeting place but we would do well to remember that without them, the social and cultural life of this town will be the poorer.

An enthusiastic letter of support for the work of Bourne United Charities has appeared in The Local newspaper praising its recent commitment to improving the War Memorial Gardens and the banks of the Bourne Eau which runs down South Street (November 11th). A total of �40,000 is to be spent in the coming months to enhance this area including the reinstatement of the protective boarding along the waterway which has been slowly deteriorating in past years.

Jack Slater, chairman of Bourne Preservation Society, says that the gardens are a wonderful public attraction used daily by the public, including visitors to the town, and without the commitment of BUC this amenity would not exist. "Money is hard to secure in these troubled times and such actions deserve support", he writes.

There is little doubt that Bourne United Charities appears to have entered a new phase in its existence because it is not so long ago that the organisation was being criticised not only for its reluctance to spend money but also for its secrecy, taking decisions behind closed doors without telling the people what was going on.

In recent years, however, there have been many changes among the trustees who now operate a quite different policy of openness, issuing frequent statements about their work and even running their own web site which details their activities, all of which is to be welcomed in this age of transparency and instant communication.

Work on improving the Wellhead Gardens during the year has been particularly beneficial, especially the establishment of a new wildlife habitat at a previously neglected area, while the appointment of an environmental consultant to monitor flora and fauna is proving to be especially fruitful.

Jack Slater points out that Bourne Preservation Trust is currently working to secure two of the town's most valued buildings from being lost, the cemetery chapel and the Old Grammar School, while many other groups are active in areas relevant to their aims to support the town. "All wish to ensure that Bourne maintains the character that keeps us all here, or brought us to it", he writes, "and that the town embraces change without overlooking its past."

This seems to encapsulate the very reason why we all like living here, an awareness of our heritage, the sense of community and an admiration for the voluntary work that is so widespread in Bourne. Closer co-operation between all organisations and an understanding of each other's problems would enhance these principles and such united effort would make everyone's task that much simpler.

The town has been remembering one of our longest serving local councillors, Don Fisher, who died earlier this month and many stories are being recounted about his friendship and generosity. But few people know of his distinguished army career of which he was distinctly proud and as an old soldier from the same period, we spent many hours swapping stories about serving with the colours at home and abroad. I am therefore pleased to recount one of his favourite tales which involved a remarkable encounter with one of our greatest thespians, Laurence Olivier.

How the two should not only meet but also share the same stage can only be described as one of those highly unusual coincidences that make life so interesting. Don enlisted in the regular army at the age of 17 and was sent to the guards' depot at Caterham in Surrey for basic training before being posted to the 2nd Battalion, the Coldstream Guards. He served with the colours for 15 years and his military career took him to many parts of the world but in the mid-1950s he was a lance-sergeant at Chelsea Barracks in London.

Laurence Olivier was appearing in the title role of Shakespeare�s Julius Caesar at the Old Vic and the producer was in need of extras to play Roman soldiers in some scenes and what better place to find them than at Chelsea Barracks where the appeal went out for volunteers. Six willing guardsmen jumped at the chance of earning a little extra cash and so for the next few weeks, Don found himself on stage three nights a week playing a legionnaire and carrying a standard, ready to welcome Olivier when he made his entrance in a chariot to be greeted by his cohorts who chorused: �Hail, Caesar!� �They were the only words we spoke�, recalled Don. ���We were on stage for about ten minutes but we each got five shillings a night and it was great fun but as soon as the curtain went down we were off to the local for a pint. After all, we could afford it.�

On leaving the army, Don worked for a spell in London before moving to Bourne in 1972 where he remained and as well as his council duties he also did stalwart work for the Bourne branch of the Royal British Legion for which he was duly honoured. In 1985, he also had an invitation to attend one of the annual garden parties at Buckingham Palace, staying as a guest with his old regiment at Wellington Barracks, and until his death at the age of 78, he kept in touch with old army pals although they became fewer as the years passed.

Thought for the week: Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away - popular saying among British servicemen during the early 20th century and later popularised by the American military leader General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964).

Saturday 26th November 2011

The town is now down to eleven public houses following the closure of the Marquess of Granby in Abbey Road which has been sold and is to be turned into a beauty salon and fitness centre.

Opinion is probably divided whether this loss of licensed premises is good or bad but the fact remains that our pubs are not what they were. There was a time a century ago when there were fourteen hostelries and an equal number of beerhouses but then the population was far less than it is today, around 4,000 people whereas we now have almost four times that number.

Unfortunately, these have not been good times for our public houses and closures are being reported daily throughout the country, the victims of changing times and habits combined with soaring overheads. This is a pity because the local pub has been an English institution since the earliest times, as much a part of community life as the church and the town hall, once the social hub of its locality and a place to meet, swap gossip, have a drink and play darts and dominoes.

But in recent years, the role has dramatically changed and the convivial landlord of old, earning a comfortable living with restricted opening hours, has now been replaced by a manager precariously balancing the books while faced with increased overheads and a necessity to provide food and entertainment to keep customers happy almost round the clock.

The result is that fierce competition for trade has driven many to the wall and the old fashioned pub of yesteryear has practically disappeared, either changed out of all recognition or closed altogether while those that remain have become restaurants in all but name. Supermarket sales of alcohol at much lower prices have made it a more attractive proposition to drink at home and they now survive almost solely through their provision of food with lunchtime trade supplemented by business lunches and cut price meals for pensioners.

Bourne has been fortunate because in recent years most of its public houses have not only survived but new ones have opened, mainly through the entrepreneurial risk of the few, although there are now signs that this climate may be changing here too. There were fourteen public houses in Bourne in 1900 but more recent closures include the Crown in West Street which ceased trading in March 1991 and the Royal Oak in North Street, one of our oldest hostelries dating back to 1826, which was shut in 2009 and has since been converted into flats.

Now, with the end of the Marquess of Granby, we are down to eleven. Not all of the others are doing good business either, as recent changes in managership have shown with some vacancies unfilled for several months while at least one other is up for sale, and so more closures may soon become a possibility.

The Marquess of Granby has been one of our most imposing public houses with an attractive red brick corner frontage built to a similar design to many other buildings of the period in the town. The name comes from the distinguished soldier, John Manners, Marquis of Granby (1721-1770), who during the Seven Years' War, as Colonel of the Blues, headed a cavalry charge against the French at the Battle of Warburg but his wig blew off during the whirlwind gallop and his bald pate, glistening in the sun, became a guiding light for his men, an episode which has given the language the saying: "Going for it bald-headed". After his military campaigns, he set up his senior non-commissioned officers who had been disabled in action as innkeepers which accounts for the large number of inns throughout the country that bear his name.

It was erected during the late 19th century to replace an earlier building on the site and became one of the busiest public houses in Bourne. But in April 2011, the last landlord lost his licence when it was found that alcohol was being served after hours and  concerns were expressed by both Lincolnshire Police and South Kesteven District Council. The owners, Enterprise Inns of Solihull, decided not to reopen and the property was put up for sale for �185,000.

The freehold was sold at auction in September that year to Mrs Claire Sanders, owner of Renu which opened in West Street, Bourne, in 2006, who announced plans to turn the building into a beauty salon and fitness studio. She told The Local newspaper (October 7th) that this would mean a great deal of conversion work and relocating her present business. Plans have already been submitted to South Kesteven District Council and once permission has been granted, conversion work is expected to take six months.

The power of prayer has been the subject of debate for centuries and it has never been proven either way whether it is effective or not other than providing a spiritual placebo for those who believe. There is nothing wrong with this for which unbeliever has not, like many a biblical character in early times, promised eternal allegiance provided a pressing problem were solved or a burden relieved.

It was therefore heartening to read in The Local newspaper that gritting lorries and their drivers which are already on standby for the forthcoming winter have been blessed by various members of the clergy including the bishop during special ceremonies at county council highways depots around the county including our own at Thurlby, near Bourne (November 18th).

This annual ritual symbolises the spreading of the gospel as the mixture of salt and sand is scattered over the county�s roads in extreme weather conditions when motorists are advised not to travel unless absolutely necessary, a most worthy event because it not only raises the profile of the gritting fleet but also provides an assurance that our roads will be kept safe and driveable whatever the weather. It may, however, be tempting fate, because in the event of a gritting lorry being involved in an accident then God will get the blame.

There is also the factor of unforeseen circumstances that even the Almighty cannot seem to predict. When this event took place in December 2008, the morning the newspaper report appeared was freezing with unexpected black ice covering many roads and by 8.30 am a contributor to the Bourne Forum had complained that when he drove into town to fetch his daily newspapers, the surfaces were treacherous and untreated with not a gritting lorry in sight. This has been the case on many occasions in past years and so perhaps the order of service should be changed in the future to include prayers for a more efficient early warning system and all motorists, believers or not, would say amen to that.

The possibility of a skateboard park being established in Bourne is again being discussed although as before it is unlikely to get a great deal of support. There will be aficionados who still find enjoyment in this pursuit but those who were involved in the project some years ago will have grown up and moved on to pastimes new while the sport itself does not have the following it once did.

A skateboard park is one of those lost cause projects that has been rumbling on and off for many years, the latest initiative being mooted in February 2001 when a petition was raised in the hope of finding the necessary �190,000 with several town mayors pledging cash during their terms in office but little happened until the campaign won official recognition in 2007 when it became known as the Dimension Park Project.

The police gave wholehearted support saying that a skateboard park was necessary in an attempt to stem anti-social behaviour in the town and the recreation ground in Recreation Road was suggested as a suitable site despite being in the middle of a densely populated area with houses on all sides, in Harrington Street, Recreation Road, Alexandra Terraces and Ancaster Road. Councillor Alistair Prentice (Bourne West), then a member of the skatepark committee who lived some distance away in Willoughby Road, was equally enthusiastic. �It will make a real difference by helping deal with anti-social behaviour and should go some way towards eliminating problems in the town centre�, he told the Stamford Mercury (28th September 2007).

This proved to be an optimistic forecast because experience elsewhere showed quite the opposite. The skateboard park at Stamford was also built in the recreation ground but attracted an unruly element and was closed down that year because of serious damage by vandals which rendered it no longer fit for use and repair work proved to be quite costly while a similar situation arose at Sutton Bridge where facilities installed three years before at the park in Prince's Street were shut for repairs because of vandalism. In the event, South Kesteven District Council which administers the recreation ground refused to grant a lease on health and safety grounds but despite these setbacks, the search went on.

The old water cress beds between Baldock�s Mill and Manor Lane were also suggested as a possible site for skateboarding together with associated pastimes such as in-line roller blading and BMX and although 1,000 people signed a petition supporting the idea, this was later considered to be an unsuitable location.

The entire scheme was eventually abandoned in October 2010 after three years because the organisers had been unable to find a suitable site yet managed to attract almost �16,000 in grants and fund raising, the bulk of which was returned or distributed to good causes in the town and only �2,500 remains in the kitty. Now, there has been an attempt to revive it although there seems little possibility of it succeeding.

The new initiative reported by The Local newspaper (November 18th) says that there has been an offer of some land for the project but only if there is sufficient interest to proceed. Mrs Nelly Jacobs, clerk to the town council and one of the three remaining members of the Dimension Park committee, told the newspaper: "We need to find out if there is still an interest in having a skateboard park and helping establish one, otherwise there is no point. This could be a realistic opportunity to finally get one built."

A questionnaire is being distributed in an attempt to gauge support and recruit members to the committee who will be prepared to assist with the planning application and fund raising and copies are available from the newspaper offices in West Street.

Skateboard parks have not been an overall success and we should remember this before proceeding with a similar venture here in Bourne. Youngsters can still be seen occasionally practising their sport in the late evenings and at weekends wherever they find an area of concrete or hard standing, usually at unauthorised locations such as the bus station in North Street and the car parks at the Burghley Centre and the Hereward Health Centre in Exeter Street and they were once even spotted around the paved area around the War Memorial in South Street.

But these are isolated occurrences and participants are now distinctly in the minority, the activity having become largely pass� among the younger generation and is now almost a thing of the past along with skipping and hop scotch.

Thought for the Week: If this council has money to spare, it should be spent on encouraging industry in the town. It is lamentable that money should be wasted. Our children should be trained first to take jobs. There is plenty of time for leisure later on. I want this council to spend its money wisely and well. We should not waste it on these silly things. - Councillor Lorenzo Warner (1901-95), speaking at a meeting of Bourne Town Council on Tuesday 20th June 1978 when it was decided to call a public meeting to ascertain whether there was sufficient interest in skateboarding to warrant the provision of suitable facilities. No skateboard park was built as a result.