Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Bus Trip to Gainsborough

Today we had a 'day off' from cruising and instead used our bus passes to make a day trip into Gainsborough. However, when completing the car shuffle last week, Mike spotted an unusual looking church at Stow, partway between Gainsborough and Saxilby. He later looked it up and discovered that it was Stow Minster.

Mid morning we caught the bus just a short distance from our mooring and made the short hop to Stow. The service is approximately hourly (it was at this time) which would give us time to look at the church before catching the next bus into Gainsborough itself.

On the way to the church we spotted a famous whipping post, once the scene of punishment meted out to local minor miscreants!

We entered through a magnificent porch - one of two, the other is on the west end. The site was the base for pre-Norman bishops and a Minster system developed. The present church has parts that date back to 1040 when the older church was re-built in stone.

The roof has seen several different arrangements outside but inside it is magnificent. The main crossing has both rounded and pointed arches, A reminder that the first tower was replaced in the 15C with the more substantial one seen now.

The Minster was originally endowed by Lady Godiva (Godgifu) - the stories about her piety and generosity are much more reliable than her legendary naked ride.

The font is very early and its decoration has no Christian symbols. Perhaps a little generously, people now think that the pagan detail was meant to indicate that baptism freed the believer from superstition and folk religion!

There are arched seats all around three sides of the chancel - a probable indication how just how many priests were based here when it was in full swung as a Minster. (Minsters preceded the parish system and based a team of clergy in a central location who then went out to serve smaller communities around)

One of the transept chapels has remains of a wall painting believed to be of Thomas a Becket. Henry VIII took against the veneration of this particular saint and ordered all traces of him to be eradicated. It seems that just little survived here.

Alongside this painting is at present the village Post Office! It opens just three times in a week but no doubt is an important service for those who need it regularly. Appropriate that it is the church that is able to offer this opportunity.

By early Victorian times, the Minster was in a bad state of disrepair - like many large churches at that time (think of St Germans in Cornwall) In 1848 a new vicar set about organising a major restoration. He engaged JL Pearson as architect, known to us as the designer of Truro Cathedral. This was a massive and expensive undertaking, especially in such a small rural community and it was not received well by many of the parishioners!

A class of men calling themselves Archaeologists have resolved to fasten upon the Church of Stow and the parish funds, that they may use both for the display of their skill in the Science of Antiquities . . . To spend the money of hard working men in pursuit of the luxurious and refined pleasures of the wealthy would be a crime" so records an information board. Who thought that the term 'hard working families' was merely a 21C political concept?

Although much of the scheme devised by Pearson changed the building considerably - re-Normanising it - without this work there would be little left today.

With most of hour fast disappearing we returned to the bus stop to catch the next bus into Gainsborough. (If any politician thinks that removing bus passes will be a popular policy - THINK AGAIN!)

We began with a short orientation wander but quickly settled on the cafe in the department store for a toasted panini for lunch.

Our main objective here was to visit Gainsborough Old Hall, a medieval manor house that was rescued from dereliction by a volunteer trust set up in 1949, but now run by English Heritage. It is a fascinating building as it has been modified, extended and sometimes abused. Most of its life it was the home successively of two wealthy families, the Burgh and the Hickman/Bacon family.

The tour is made especially interesting through the provision of personal audio visual guides - very much the best that we have ever encountered. For each room there are several short clips, some audio an some video, including fictionalised stories from some of the characters who lived and worked here. As a result we probably stayed almost twice as long as we might otherwise have done.

The tour begins with the Great Hall, where both the lord and lady of the manor, with their principal staff would eat, down through many of the lesser people who made up the household.

The hall has a large bay window, a symbol of the prosperity of the owner, and to let light onto the top table, has a amusing lion sculpture high on the wall.

The rooms at one end of the hall were particularly interesting, providing the many activities that were involved in putting on the meals each day. We learnt that the Buttery has nothing to do with milk products - its name, like that of Butler, whose domain this was, comes from the huge wine butts that were stored here and in a cellar below.

The kitchen had two very large cooking fireplaces with spits for roasting, huge chimneys above, with another set of ovens dedicated to baking bread, cakes and pies.

There are two main wings of rooms, originally on two levels but in part later converted to three, known as Ranges. Many of the rooms have substantial windows that not only provide good views of the outside but also attested to the wealth and importance of the owner!

We climbed a narrow circular staircase to reach the top of a tower at one end of the building - this was added when the owner was ennobled and thus entitled to add battlements to his house! They would not have been much use for defence, however! We had a good view all around, including the double power station at West Burton.

As we came down the stairs, we could see the crested decoration inside the roof. Apparently this was to testify to the master's loyalty to the the current king!

At the end of the tour we adjourned to the tea room for a pleasant cup of tea and slice of cake.

Finally, we walked around the outside of the building and could see the very different building styles of each part.

The building ceased to be a family home in the late 19C after which it had a succession of disparate uses, including being a public meeting room, a storage unit, apartments and even a theatre, all of which have left their marks which those with discerning eyes (or the audio visual guide!) can notice.

One of the tenants of the West Range was a William Rose who developed an extensive business packaging all sorts of goods and established a substantial factory in the town. One of his customers was Cadbury's and the Roses brand is named after him. He also manufactured some of the first cars.

We then had about 40 minutes before we needed to go to the bus station - we wandered through the streets up to Marshall's Yard, a complex of shops based on a former industrial site.

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