Concert for a cause

Harpist Eira Lynn Jones
Hidden Stories at Old Bolingbroke Church, Saturday 8th June, 7pm for 7.30pm. Tickets £12.50 Email: or call 01790 763084/763629 to reserve or online via EventBrite. Bring a tipple of your choice, a glass and for added comfort, a cushion.

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
May 2024

How to restore and utilise Lincolnshire’s historic churches is one of the major heritage challenges for the 21st century. Caroline Bingham visited Old Bolingbroke to hear how ‘Friends’ are rising to the task.

Most readers will immediately think of the castle when Old Bolingbroke is mentioned and certainly the fate of St Peter and St Paul Church has been intricately linked with its history. I was met by Steve Lumb, co-ordinator of the Friends of St Peter and St Paul and a resident of the village.

Line of Fire
St Peter and St Paul lies directly opposite Bolingbroke Castle (the birthplace of Henry IV) and was first founded as early as 1086 but what remains as the present church is what was the original south aisle and tower of a much larger, high status church, believed to have been built by John of Gaunt in 1363. The larger portions of that building were destroyed in 1643 when the church was in the firing line between the Cavaliers, besieged in the castle, and Cromwell’s Roundheads on the opposite rise. A large nave and a north aisle originally existed, now the north part of the churchyard, and for visitors this will explain why the tower looks strangely offset today.

“The next significant alterations to the church were in 1886,” explained Steve, “when the Rector commissioned architect James Fowler of Louth to restore the building, which included the addition of the present north aisle. James Fowler’s typical Victorian style, very much expressed in his restorations of a good number of ancient churches, is not always appreciated. But without his intervention we might have lost a great many of our historic buildings. Unfortunately his north aisle at Old Bolingbroke is now beset with a range of structural problems.”

Steve gave me a tour of the building, highlighting the 14th-century font, complete with medieval graffiti, the impressive working bell tower (Steve is one of the bell-ringers) and one small piece of original medieval stained glass which displays a Duke of Lancaster Rose. Outside it was clear to see the effects of water erosion and frost damage on the soft Spilsby stone external wall of the north aisle, made worse by poor guttering design and a lack of maintenance. Rainfall and failed drainage has caused flooding to the foot of the wall, which has exacerbated the problem of damp inside the church.

Volunteer Effort
We walked outside to tour the churchyard which today is maintained by a group of local volunteers and includes mown areas as well as wilder patches where meadow flowers bloom in summer. Steve pointed out the gravestone of Matthew Flinders’ mother, Susannah. Both of Flinders’ parents were married in the church here. Steve also showed me to his daughter’s memorial stone and grave, explaining how circumstances motivated him, his wife Judy and a small group of local early enthusiasts to begin to tidy up and restore the churchyard and develop a management plan.

“It was all so very neglected and the vicar of our circuit of churches gave me permission to explore what might be possible in consultation with the diocese, PCC and churchwarden.

“We found people were willing to help and I now produce a newsletter which is circulated to approximately 100 supporters near and far. Once we had the churchyard on an improved and managed footing, with volunteer working parties every few months, our focus switched to the fabric of the building itself. There had not been a quinquennial review (structural survey) for many years, but we initiated one, completed in 2021 and from that an action plan and vision was formulated and this helped open the door for potential grant funding.”

This short description does not do justice to the work which I know is involved in achieving the progress Steve had outlined so far – but in fact even more is underway. Steve is a former planning and heritage manager with Boston Borough Council, so is well qualified to navigate the challenges of this type of project.

“The church is now open daily and for the Wolds & Coast Churches Festival, so we produced our own interpretation boards to explain the history as well as our ambitions. The local congregation is small, but there are services and prayer groups. However such a significant historic building needed to find other uses and reconnect with the wider community and visitors.

“We held our first summer music concert in 2021 and these have now become annual events. We attract wide community support for a Christmas Carol Service, Cream Teas, Easter Events, and our concerts, but we also now see an increasing stream of visitors including walkers, cyclists, bell ringers and organised groups. It is heartening to see the village come together in the building, much as they have done for over 600 years, and we think it important that the building remains available and fit for purpose for another 600 years – at least!”

There has also been a successful £223,000 Heritage Lottery Fund bid that supports the vision for the church and community and has been titled Church-Castle-Community, with main fabric works due to commence shortly along with a range of heritage activities in partnership with Heritage Lincolnshire, who manage the castle site. Further grants have been secured from Marshall’s Charity and the Headley Trust.

The aim is for the community and visitors to see the church and castle as part of the same story and for both to represent valuable useable assets.

“The next stage,” said Steve, “after structural repairs, will be to try to make the church multifunctional, with the installation of a servery and toilet facilities, improve the space, heating and lighting. The acoustics are already good but a proper sound system and updated electrics would be included.”

Meanwhile, fundraising continues with the invitation to organised groups and tours, and with the summer concert on Saturday 8th June featuring Welsh harpist Eira Lynn Jones.

Eira Lynn Jones
After my visit to Old Bolingbroke, Steve and I travelled to meet Eira Lynn Jones at the home she shares with her husband, also called Steve, in Bardney.

The couple relocated to Lincolnshire from Stockport in 2022 and although they had no previous connection to the county, quickly found the ideal property with a ready-made music room for Eira.

Eira started harp lessons in Aberystwyth, aged 12, after first achieving grade 8 piano – a requirement her parents placed on her to show her commitment to music. “I achieved a long-held ambition when I began to play the harp and have never looked back. The resonance of the harp string provokes an emotive reaction, not just for me as the player but also for the audience.

“I was playing with an orchestra when I was 16, and then went to the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester. Subsequently I completed two years in New York at the Manhattan School of Music. My career prior to the pandemic included teaching at the RNCM, working as a freelance orchestral player with the Hallé, together with such diverse projects as performing on Coronation Street and recording with the heavy metal band Venom.”

Steve too has always worked managing touring shows and was music librarian for the Hallé, but their perspective was changed during the lockdowns. “I used the lockdowns to focus much more on composing, and it also made us decide we wanted to be part of a closer community and return to a village centred way of life,” said Eira.

Eira now teaches online, still performs with the Hallé and spreads her love of harp music to groups such as Dance Syndrome, a group of Down’s Syndrome dancers based in Preston. Eira played in Bardney for the West Lindsey Churches Festival 2023, and will do so again this May. She explained how she met Steve Lumb, literally by accident, when she and her husband visited Old Bolingbroke and discovered the beautiful acoustic properties of the church.

“Our friend, composer Martin Ellerby, wrote five new pieces called the Lindsey Dances, in celebration of our move to Lincolnshire. Each piece portrays a different landmark – Steep Hill, Bolingbroke, Tattershall, Gibraltar Point and The Stump – and I wanted to premiere these pieces in the county. Steve and I had been scouting possible sites last summer, but I hadn’t made any headway in finding a suitable location.

Our last stop was Bolingbroke Castle and we stumbled into the church towards the end of the day. Steve Lumb happened to be there and we began to chat.

“We both had the same thought, as the conversation evolved from fundraising to staging concerts and a realisation that this church would be an ideal location for the premiere.”

Eira is delighted to have the opportunity to bring the harp to a wider audience, and especially she hopes to a younger generation.

All proceeds of the concert will go towards the restoration funds. It is hoped that other pieces from Lindsey Dances will be performed in their remaining named locations as the year progresses.

Eira added: “The concert will have something for everyone: classical favourites, folk tunes and jazz standards. Lindsey Dances celebrates Lincolnshire landmarks, and I am thrilled to unveil them in such an historic building that itself needs to be celebrated and saved.”

Tickets for the concert are now on sale in support of the repairs to St Peter and St Paul Church.

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