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Wells of Welton

If there’s one thing that most of us know about Welton it’s that the name derives in some way from water.  So, just to recap; the name Welletone or Welletuna is of Saxon origin, meaning the ‘ton’ or settlement at the wells.  This did not necessarily refer to wells in the modern sense but simply a water source.  While I’m no expert on the geology of Welton, the coming together of porous limestone and impervious clay meant the water had to go somewhere and the Old Man’s Head spring to the south of Cliff Road is the result.  The adjacent remains of medieval fish ponds and a Saxon burial ground indicate the importance of the spring and good water remained Welton’s main asset.  As late as February 1905, Welton water was transported to Lincoln to provide a clean supply during the typhoid epidemic.

A good water supply would have influenced patterns of habitation in the village for centuries and it’s no surprise to see settlement clustered around the beck or known water sources.  It’s likely that every house in Welton built before 1900 would have had its own well or would have been dependent on the number of public pumps, of which the one on the corner of Sudbeck Lane is a survivor (though now capped off and not working).

The ancient custom of well dressing on Ascension Day survived in Welton until 1924, though this seems to have focused on the church, rather than the water source itself.  Perhaps this was due to an access issue or perhaps it was the church’s wish to put its own stamp on what would originally have been a pre-Christian ceremony.  The note written on the back of a photographic postcard of the event from 1922 says; “Started at the beck at the bottom of the churchyard then through to the spring at the bottom of Sudbeck Lane, back to the village pump, on to the West Carrs and over the beck to the vicarage lawn.” Why the annual ceremony seems to have ended abruptly in 1924 isn’t clear but with the current resurgence of interest in watercourse sustainability and health, perhaps this would be a good time to revive this old custom?

Wells became less significant when piped water became available.  1934 was an important year for Welton; electric lighting of the village arrived and drilling began on Hackthorn Road for the new water pumping station.  Water diviner Mr Robinson was brought in to choose the spot.  Welton Rural District Council approved a scheme to provide water to 20 parishes, at a cost of £47,454.  Welton resident Harry Oakden became Water Works Superintendent.  Storage capacity was increased by 50,000 gallons in 1955 and in 1957 it was increased further on completion of a new water main at RAF Scampton.  The following year the water undertaking was amalgamated with the Lincoln Water Board, though not without some dissenting voices; local MP Marcus Kimball visited the works and declared; “Every valve was polished.  It was like a battleship engine room. To amalgamate all this into one big water board, against geological reasons, would be an unwarranted interference with really efficient local independence.”

By then, wells had fallen into disuse.  Some were filled in and others were merely covered over.  In my case it was only when I noticed that snow melted over a circular area of slabbing outside my door that I discovered a beautiful, stone-lined well beneath.  In recent years a number of wells in the village have been uncovered and restored, mainly for ornamental purposes, and it would be interesting to plot these on a map.  While just now there seems no shortage of the wet stuff, as our climate changes, who knows what the future may hold.

Graham Nicholls

This article draws heavily on the local knowledge and records of Mike Cosford and Phil Owen, as well as the excellent pictorial histories of Welton produced in the 1990s by Aderyn Walker, Pamela Maddison, Marlene Chapman and Maria Parker and published by the parish council.

Welton’s Wonderful Neighbour

That was the title awarded to Don Pyle recently when he won one of the ACIS Group Our Heroes awards. (Don can be seen on the left of the photograph receiving his award.)
Social housing provider ACIS provides more than 7,000 affordable homes to people across Lincolnshire (including Welton), South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.  Nominations for the awards came from all the areas they serve.

Long-time Welton resident Don was nominated by St Mary’s C of E Academy for his voluntary work in the school.  He described himself as ‘a bit lost’ when, very sadly, his wife died two years ago.  After a career in the RAF, Don had done a number of jobs, including helping with literacy and numeracy and instructing on health and safety.  Looking for a fresh start after his wife died, he responded to a piece in the Welton NEWS asking for volunteers at the school.  Initially, this was half a day each week reading with older pupils but, he says, he liked it so much that ‘it just blossomed’.  Now, he’s in school every day doing whatever he can to help out, mainly with the Year 1 children.  When I caught up with him he was laminating worksheets, but he also works outdoors and helps with school projects like the Christmas and summer productions, painting scenery and building props.  “I just pitch up and do what needs doing”, he told me.  He has created a growing area for the youngest children and enjoys bringing in seeds and plants from his own garden.  His favourite activity, though, is still reading with the children one-to-one.

It was Head Teacher Nicola Gough who nominated Don for the award; “He has given so much time, energy and love to our school community; he is a wonderful neighbour fully worthy of a nomination.  He exemplifies our values of love and friendship and has enhanced the lives of us all.  He has the kindest of hearts and always goes the extra mile (and beyond!) for all the children and staff.  We cannot thank him enough for the support and love he gives to our school.”

Don was surprised to be nominated for the award and even more surprised to win.  “I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t do this.  It’s the kids that get me coming every day.  It’s very rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone who has time on their hands.”

Graham Nicholls

The Bells of St Mary’s: Part 1

Church bells are one of the quintessential sounds of Christmas and yet it is unlikely that they will be ringing out in Welton this year.

Talking in the church’s bell tower, surrounded by plaques commemorating marathon bell-ringing sessions of the past, current bell captain Philip Dawson told me that the number of bell ringers has declined to the extent that, even operating a ‘flying squad’ of ringers across a number of local parishes, due to the concurrent timing of services, probably only one or two local churches are able to ring their bells on the same day.
This is a far cry from even 25 years ago when a tremendous community effort was successful in replacing the whole of the bell frame, helped by a group of volunteers at Scunthorpe steelworks, who created the bell housing.  The six Welton bells themselves are much older, probably original to the tower and from the Harrison foundry, and Philip told me that they are unique in that they have never been retuned .
After more than 25 years’ involvement with the bells of Welton, Philip remains passionate about them and is keen to talk to anyone who might be interested in learning the ropes.  When I met him he was with a new recruit, Jason, whose nine-year-old daughter is also getting involved.  Philip holds a session each Wednesday evening in the bell tower and is also running an after-school session on Monday afternoons for children, accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Learning to ring isn’t easy or quick but is a great opportunity to work in a group and to produce a sound like no other. And don’t worry about getting it wrong at first; the bells are muted during training sessions.
If you would be interested in making sure that Welton’s bells continue to ring out well into their third century, contact Philip on 861890 or 07983 986682 (mobile not always monitored but texts, etc., are good).

The Bells of St Mary’s: Part 2

Previously, I wrote about the search for new bell ringers, but it’s only due to the efforts of a dedicated group of local residents and a remarkable contribution by some who had no connection with the village at all that we still have any bells. Mike Cosford takes up the story.

‘By 1980 the oak frame which housed the bells, and which probably dated from the creation of the tower itself more than 200 years previously, had deteriorated badly and was unsafe.  A fundraising programme began but 13 years later this had only secured half the £27,500 target.  Then, parish councillor Aderyn Walker told me that her husband Gary, an engineer at British Steel in Scunthorpe, wanted to help.  Pete Bailey, the other churchwarden, and I took up the offer and Gary got three colleagues at the steelworks to help.  Peter Hayward, a very experienced renovator of bell frames became involved on a voluntary basis as works manager and designed a new steel frame with pits for eight bells, not just the existing six, in case more bells were acquired in future.

‘The engineers at Scunthorpe constructed it after work on the shop floor and when the works manager saw what they had done, he donated it free of charge.  The bells themselves were lowered down the church tower and sent off for renovation at Pembletons in Warsop.  The old oak bell frame was dismantled and a new wooden floor and beams installed before the new steel frame was hauled up to the third floor of the tower and the renovated bells reinstalled, with new bell wheels and ropes.

‘In all, the project, which took many months in 1993, cost only £12,000, thanks to the voluntary efforts of those involved. The engineers at British steel, with their families, were treated to a Sunday lunch in thanks for their work and a celebratory peal of 5,040 changes was rung, commemorated by a plaque in the church tower.‘A reminder of the project can be seen at several houses in the village; the old bell wheels were sold off and now serve as garden ornaments.

‘St Mary’s church council will always be grateful for the contributions of Judith and Neil Kennedy, who raised the £12,000, Aderyn and Gary Walker, Joe Close, Tony Prendergast and Steve Lampowski, Gary’s colleagues at British Steel, Norman Taylor, who provided free haulage for the bells, Joe Vaughan for forklift and pallets, Simon Payne, James Bailey and Peter Everett, who worked as volunteers on the project.’

Graham Nicholls

Welton Litter Pickers

Recently, Welton Litter Pickers took on a new initiative.  Working with the parish council, the group has moved into community gardening.  Around Welton there are a number of public spaces that either look unloved and/or have the potential to be much more attractive and possibly useful than they are at present.  

Spurred on by the efforts that went into the East Midlands in Bloom project this summer, our members spent two mornings (glorious late autumn sunshine on both days, by the way) planting 1,000 spring bulbs and clearing Occupation Lane.  This is a well-used footpath as well as an entrance to St Mary’s Primary Academy, but it had become seriously overgrown with brambles, nettles and overhanging trees and shrubs.  After a few hours of very satisfying work, we think we have made quite a difference.  We should also thank the guys from Arborez tree specialists, who happened to be around on another job and who helped us by removing a precarious dead tree.

At the same time, we’ve continued with litter picking and our total ‘catch’ now amounts to something over 300 bags.
We’re more of a network than a formal group and people join in with our activities when they can.  If you would like to receive information about what we do and dates of future sessions just give me a ring and, if you’re happy to receive e-mails, I’ll add you to the group.

Graham Nicholls

Time on Your Hands?

It’s 1814.  The conflict raging across Europe is coming to a (temporary) end with the defeat of Napoleon and the occupation of Paris but the British remain embroiled in war with the United States.  In London, a brewery beer vat bursts, killing nine.  The Times is published on a steam press for the first time and famous son of Lincolnshire, Matthew Flinders, whose health has been destroyed during his imprisonment by the French, dies the day after publication of his account and atlas of his circumnavigation of what comes to be known as Australia.  Meanwhile in Welton, villagers are, for the first time, able to tell the time as they go about their business.  A brand new clock is installed in the church tower. 

The clock bears the name Bunyan of Lincoln who may, according to Mike Cosford, indeed be a descendant of the more famous John; ‘Robert Bunyan was born in 1755 and was a man of many talents.  Apart from being the coroner of Lincoln and Lincolnshire, he was a grain merchant, a silversmith and a clock maker.  He had a number of businesses and was a very wealthy man.’  His birth and death dates are also consistent with him being a fourth generation descendant of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress although there is no conclusive evidence. 

Although supplied by Bunyan, the clock was probably made by Thwaites and Reed of Clerkenwell in London, already by 1814 clockmakers with a 200-year history.  Their clocks can be found in churches and public buildings all over the world and the most telling piece of evidence for the Welton clock is that a virtually identical Thwaites and Reed clock, installed in 1812, can be seen at Anwick church, near Sleaford.  Astonishingly, the firm exists to this day; if you have seen the Rowland Emmett water clock in the Victoria Centre in Nottingham that too was made by them in the 1970s.

So far, so good….but there is a discrepancy and a bit of a mystery.  Welton’s bell tower was constructed in the eighteenth century and bears a plaque with the names of William Steeper, churchwarden and Thomas Bell, builder, and the date 1768. 

 No doubt you’re already ahead of me, but if the clock was installed in 1814 and the tower was built in 1768, what was there for the forty-odd years in between?  If anyone has an answer I would love to hear from you.  Although the most likely explanation is that the clock face was inserted in the tower when the clock was installed I have this mental picture of two generations of willing volunteers taking it in turns to hold wooden hands and to move them round in real time. 

And of course, that brings me to one of the reasons for writing this.  The clock is presently wound on a weekly basis by a group of volunteers.  We are always on the lookout for additional clock winders to join the rota so if you are interested please contact Mike Cosford, one of the two current churchwardens, on 860926.  The tower is steep and narrow and the winding requires a certain amount of physical strength but if you would like to have a go we would love to hear from you.

Graham Nicholls

Carol Jones: Serving the Community

Recently, I was able, at last, to catch up with this year’s individual parish council community award winner, the Revd Carol Jones.  By the time you read this, you may have met her when she switched on the Christmas lights on the green on 1st December.
In her work as a non-stipendiary (i.e., unpaid) curate, Carol works across the three parishes of Welton, Dunholme and Scothern.  But, away from the formalities of church services and her role in schools, she carries out a much less visible role, home visiting when people need a listening ear or taking home communion.  She told me; “With ministry you’ve got the whole range from the newborn to those at the other end of the spectrum…it’s meeting them where they are, and everyone’s got a different story to tell and to live and to invite you into.”
While it may seem that the church congregation is shrinking and ageing, Carol is optimistic about new ways of making contact with younger people and families, like the weekday family hour at St Mary’s school and the Sunday afternoon session at St Chad’s school.  Church buildings can be restrictive and uncomfortable and churches need to move with the times.  She likes the moves at churches like Reepham to make the building more of a community space, the heartbeat of the village.  Although Welton’s is a beautiful church, its interior layout is Victorian, adapted to meet the needs of that particular age, and its current form should not be seen as definitive.
Although not born in Welton, Carol has lived here, on and off, for much of her life and she and her husband are settled here.  At one time she was a dinner lady at St Mary’s school before being ordained in 2013 and she reflects that she is now baptising and marrying children she knew from her role in school.  Carol explained the core of what she does: “You are very privileged to meet people, not only at times of joy but at their points of deepest need and it is a great privilege to be let in to those places and to offer love and support and hope.”

Graham Nicholls

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