Review of the reads – August 2022
Edge of England: Landfall in Lincolnshire by Derek Turner
Both a personal account of the author’s move from London to Lincolnshire, and an ambitious overview of the county’s history, Edge of England is an engaging and comprehensive new book.
Weighing common perceptions of Lincolnshire against his own insights, based on extensive travel and conversations, Derek Turner avoids tourist-guide gloss. Both his appreciation and criticisms are grounded in a deep knowledge not only of the county’s social, political and natural history but of literature too; his reflections giving him cause to recall famous lines – many from authors with a local connection.
The sheer amount of brief biographies and tangential connections, from the Anglo-Saxons to post-Brexit, make Edge of England an impressive compendium. There are neat segues and shoehorned tidbits in the telling, some seemingly endless lineages – and do we really need an inventory of what’s on display at local museums? Nevertheless, taking on the task of putting all this history into some thematic order, taking the reader right across county, Turner weaves together timelines, events and personalities with humour, and always with another intriguing story over the page. It all adds up to an excellent single volume.
The writing is still more captivating when the waves of Who’s Who trivia recede, leaving Turner’s vivid descriptions of his local area, or of visiting the ruins, landmarks and furthest outreaches to see what they have to tell us. He doesn’t pass over dispiriting changes – this sometimes makes the details all the more unique, as with the ‘Grim and Havelok copper relief on what is now Wilkos’ in Grimsby.
There is plenty to uncover in the edges. And, as Turner reminds us, ‘those towers, that west front, that supreme example of Anglican-Gothic ordering’ that sits above the city on the Cliff still has the edge on most locations in the world.
Published by C Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd, Price £20
Secret Fens by Karen Merrison
The flat, marshy remoteness associated with the Fens might not seem like an obvious backdrop for royalty, poets and industry – but as local enthusiast Karen Merrison shows, for centuries these areas of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk have played their part in historical change and innovation.
Thanks to the peat, clay and silt that characterises much of the land, many artefacts have been preserved that have shaped the way archaeologists now understand the past. The methods and traditions of long ago might also help us navigate an uncertain future – for example, the eco-friendly Fenman’s Cottage at Wicken Fen that Merrison highlights.
This introductory guide with accompanying photographs focuses on ‘secrets’ ranging across nature, work and war. While many of the names and places will hardly be a secret to some readers – from Hereward the Wake to Oliver Cromwell – there are plenty of curiosities hiding in plain sight.
There are secrets in the air and underground – such as the ‘Floating Church’ giving us a sense of a bygone time, and the remnant of a planned ‘Floating Train’ that never was. There are other curious mirrorings too, as with the Water Buffalo at Kingfishers Bridge Nature Reserve and the Buffalo LVT, unearthed in Crowland in 2021 after it had been lost while preventing flooding in 1947.
The richness of the wildlife is championed, important at a time when many species are in decline.
Climate change is also reflected in the role of Wicken Fen – the last remaining wind pump there, which once drained water, is now tasked with pumping water back into the surrounding fields.
This short guide book also has a personal dimension, Merrison herself being raised in the Fens and sharing memories of past scenes and encounters along the way. A passionate advocate for the value of the areas, her book recommends the local initiatives that are helping to boost tourism and local knowledge – including her own Fascinating Fens website.
Published by Amberley Publishing, Price £15.99