A community which works together

Reyna Drover has visited Billinghay to discover the secret of the village’s enduring sense of identity.
Billinghay was, in its earliest days, a close-knit farming community but like so many others has gone through many changes since those times, particularly during recent decades.

The loss of much of the self-sufficiency seems to have the result in many other villages of the loss of their individuality – but this is not so at Billinghay. This is a village with a thriving community spirit, one whose people are constantly coming up with new ideas that ensure that it retains its vibrancy – keeping it looking well cared-for, improving the facilities for all ages and providing a wide range of activities.

The current major initiative is the Billinghay Skirth Regeneration Society. The River Skirth runs between the main part of the village and the A153 and work has been taking place to make the river and its surroundings a more attractive area for recreation. The aim is to make it somewhere that can be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike for walking, boating, canoeing or just sitting on the newly-installed benches to enjoy the views.

Walking routes along the path beside the waterway have been drawn up and these join up with the North Kyme Path. On stretches where there are steep banks, to make the water more accessible for canoeists, work is also being carried out.

Billinghay Parish Council chairman Juanita Wilson describes the scheme as an excellent one. “It was started three years ago,” she explains, “by a group with an interest in boats, the river and the environment. They have worked really hard and have tidied up the banks and their surroundings. These are now mown regularly.

“Alongside the river there are some ponds which had just become overgrown. They have been cleaned out and the more invasive plants removed, and really tidied up.

“We hope that the scheme will encourage people using the main river, the River Witham, which meets the River Skirth at Tattershall Bridge, to continue their journey by coming along the Skirth.

“There is a boating weekend held at South Kyme and we would like to do something similar here. We hope to bring people into the village.”

This scheme follows another that demonstrated the spirit of community involvement and working together – the Billinghay Mosaic.

This stands in the centre of the village and is some eight feet high and fifty feet long. Its design is divided into three sections: its early history, illustrated by its oldest building, St Michael’s Church; its farming heritage, depicted by a windmill; and a feature of the present day, its water tower.

Mrs Wilson explains the reason for this third choice. “When you have been away on holiday, as you come out of Anwick you can see the water tower and say that you are nearly home,” she says.

The mosaic, which stands in Fitzwilliam Place, was completed in 2000. It represents more than seven years work. The project began with a visit from a professional mosaic artist who spent time in the village making sketches and talking to local people. He put the ideas he formulated to a meeting of people interested in being involved in creating the mosaic. They were impressed by his emphasis on precision – every tree depicted had to be shown just as it was in real life.

The tiles used in the mosaic are cut to size with tile cutters, a process referred to as ‘nibbling’. The people who volunteered to create the design formed a group which became known as ‘The Nibblers’. “They worked together for those seven years,” says Mrs Wilson.

“The same people stayed together and became cemented as a team. Not only is it nice to have the mosaic, it is nice to know that those involved became such good friends together.”

A wall was built for the mosaic to be displayed. “It really is a beautiful corner of the village – we have also put trees and benches where people can enjoy looking at it,” Mrs Wilson added.

Another attractive area is the market place. This has been another area of improvement, with block-paving laid around the War Memorial and protective railings.

North Kesteven District Council is very supportive of Billinghay in its various schemes. It has an access office alongside the parish council office in the Old Vicarage Cottage – a building which is one of the gems of Billinghay. Its age is put as being in the mid-1600s and it is built of the traditional mud and stud with a clay floor and a thatched roof.

The house has also been known as Slaters Cottage. It gives a fascinating insight into how the people of the seventeenth century used the natural resources of the land in their building methods.

The basic structure consists of upright oak posts secured with tie-beams and cross-beams; in these can still be seen their origins as the twisted branches of the trees felled four centuries ago – even the bark is still in place.

Thinner branches were nailed onto this structure and daubed with a mixture of the local mud – a thick blue clay – cow dung and straw. This was built up in a series of thin layers.

These mud and stud walls needed a substantial roof covering as protection from damp and the two-feet thick thatch provides this. The material used would have been the rushes and sedge of the surrounding fenland.

Local materials would also have provided the material for the brickwork of the walls which despite partial rebuilding is mostly original.

The third room in the cottage has been made into a Heritage room where visitors to Billinghay – maybe former residents or those interested in the lives of members of their family who lived there – can see displays of photographs and will find some of the earlier parish records.

The cottage was the Vicarage in earlier times. A new one was built in the mid-nineteenth century but has since also been superseded by the present house in Walcott Road. The Victorian building is now in private occupation and named St Michael’s House.

The vicar, the Reverend Malcolm Nicholas who will be retiring this May, described the present location as an appropriate one as, with the village having expanded more to the north in recent years, it is once more at the centre of the community.

St Michael’s Church dates from the fourteenth century but was extensively restored in the nineteenth century. Interesting features from earlier times are a board listing churchwardens, inscribed with the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, and decorated with the royal coat of arms.

Timbers in the roof of the fourteenth century nave still contain many of the fifteenth century timbers with their carved bosses; some of the original red, blue and gold paint can be seen.

The church today is an active one. As well as its Sunday and weekday services it runs an occasional weekday coffee morning on a Thursday.

The church has close links with the Church of England primary school where a new library has recently been completed. The school has a Foundation Stage for three-to-five-year-olds named Treehouse. Next door to the school is Billinghay Children’s Centre which provides a range of services for families with young children.

A pre-school, the Daisy Chain, meets in the hall of the Methodist Church in Victoria Street.

The Methodist Church, as one of the ten within the Sleaford Circuit, is in the charge of the Reverend John Corrie who lives at Ruskington. There is now a single Methodist church, a building that was refurbished when, some while ago, the two Methodist churches – this for the Wesleyans and another for the Primitive Methodists in the High Street – amalgamated. The High Street church is now a private house.

As well as their Sunday services, the congregation can join in weekday meetings of the Travelling Guild at various points around the circuit.

In a shared activity with the parish church, ‘Vision’ is a new venture now being held on Saturday afternoons once a month with a more informal style of worship as part of the ‘Fresh Impression’ approach. This, says Mr Corrie, is proving successful in Lincolnshire.

Community spirit is also well-evidenced here, for when the Methodist Church was the base for collecting parcels for needy families overseas in ‘Operation Christmas Child’ the response from the village was tremendous.

The Bethel Baptist Church is in Church Street. It was built in 1847 but there had been Baptists in Billinghay for many years before that date. Pastor James Mansfield, who lives in the village, is only the sixth pastor to have served the church during that long period.

The Baptist Church, like its neighbours, combines worship with community activities. It holds a coffee morning monthly on Mondays and has clubs for children and young people.

People from further afield, from Boston and from Lincoln, often come to join its regular congregation at its services.

Another central meeting place is in the village hall, which has just had its kitchen upgraded with help towards funding from a National Lottery grant. Here and at other community venues a number of organisations catering for a variety of interests meet: there is Past Times for those interested in local history; the Royal British Legion, which also has a Women’s Section; Billinghay Young Farmers; and the various age groups of Scouting and Guiding among others. The Twinning Association is linked with Ballon in France.

Adjoining the village hall are the playing fields. Billinghay Athletic FC play in the Boston and District League and Sunday and youth teams play in other leagues. There is the bowling club, tennis club and the swimming pool.

Billinghay has taken up with the same enthusiasm as have many other local villages the sport of curling. The Billinghay Kurlers have now acquired their own two sets of ‘stones’, the discs with which the sport is played. It is one that can be played by people of all ages and can be adapted for people with disabilities. The Billinghay group of enthusiasts is the largest in the area.

So there is plenty going on in Billinghay for everybody to want to know about. And they can do so, through the pages of the very informative ‘Billinghay Times and Advertiser’ which is published every other month from the offices of the parish council. It should rarely be short of news.

Billinghay Sawmill certainly know wood and their elegant flooring has set a benchmark within the industry for durability and stability. This family run business, started in 1975, kiln drying hardwoods but twenty years ago they began machining flooring and they have not looked back since. By constantly investing in their business the Lonsdale family now produce a pre-sealed, first class product which is not only well known locally but nationally for the quality of the product and installation.

Billinghay Sawmill is run by Peter Lonsdale and his skilled workforce take air dried wood and then stabilise its moisture content in their own drying kilns, giving them the ability to accurately allow for the expansion and contraction of this natural product when installed in modern, heated homes. The result is flooring which not only enhances a home but also adds value.

Their most recent investment was in Oct 2010 when a line to produce engineered floorboards for use with under floor heating systems was installed. This £200,000 plus system includes an automatic glue liner and saw, to cut birch ply which can then be topped with a client’s choice of hardwood.

Their showrooms have examples of the many types of wood and finish they are able to supply from oak to the most exotic woods. None of these are at the expense of the environment as all raw materials are obtained from sustainable sources and the use especially of readily available birch ply reduces the quantity of hardwood required for the engineered floorboarding.

As well as hardwood flooring, Billinghay Sawmill also stock and supply internal oak doors, skirting, architrave, worktops and mouldings to cover most joinery work. The increase in sustainable building projects has led Billinghay Sawmill to supply oak beams and trusses for houses and garages.

Sales staff are happy to discuss requirements with clients and supply samples of woods and finishes to make sure they have all the information required to find the right floor for their home. Finally the in-house installation team ensure the correct laying of flooring and a lasting, durable finish.

As well as retail sales, Billinghay Sawmill offer a wholesale service and are able to arrange delivery from their large stock of floors nationwide.

If you would like to see more visit their showroom at Hurn Drove, Billinghay or visit their website www.billinghaysawmill.co.uk or telephone 01526 860902.

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