The characters of the Cliff

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
August 2018

Drive along the A607 main road from Lincoln to Grantham and you could be forgiven for thinking that all there is to the villages along the Lincoln Edge are peaceful rural settings with panoramic views of Lincolnshire, but Melanie Burton delves deeper and finds a very different story.
There is a welcoming, friendly and caring atmosphere in the Cliff villages, as they are known, and an active, vibrant and thriving neighbourhood in most of them.

The Cliff villages include Waddington, Harmston, Coleby, Boothby Graffoe, Navenby, Wellingore and Welbourn and all have a very distinct character of their own.

Coupled with some unique and interesting heritage, historic landmarks and plenty of activities and events, it is easy to see why they are much sought after areas in which to set up home.

Take Harmston, for instance. It has a community made up of young and old alike with some families having lived in the village all their lives, going back generations. But it is also a united community which wholeheartedly supports events, projects and initiatives that happen in the village. That has never been more evident this year, following the closure of the village’s historic pub, the Thorold Arms, in January.

As soon as the pub was put up for sale, the villagers took a united stand and launched a fundraising campaign to try and save it from closure. The Friends of the Thorold Arms (FOTTA) formed and organised a shareholding scheme to raise enough money to buy the building, renovate it and refurbish it into a community pub to reflect the village. It is hoped it will be up and running by Christmas this year.

Harmston is one of the smaller villages along the Lincoln Edge, with a population of about 600 to 700 people.

“It is quite small and it is split between the old village and the Harmston Park development, which has been there twenty years,” said Keith Elms who has lived in the village for the past decade and has been one of the people behind the campaign to save the pub.

“But it is a very interesting village with a lot of community cohesion. It has nothing else but a church, a village hall and a pub, so we really have to make our own ways to socialise, get the village together and promote things so there is a lot going on in Harmston.”

The village hall provides residents with the opportunity to enjoy professional performing arts and music throughout the year and there are a lot of people putting a lot of time and effort into making the village entertaining.

“Harmston is a fabulous village to live in. I have lived here for ten years and as soon as I arrived I was made to feel welcome and made part of the village scene,” said Keith.

“It is a very friendly village. There are a lot of professional people here, people who have held a lot of jobs with professional responsibilities, so there is a nice pleasant mix of lots of different people.”

Waddington is one of the larger communities, with the older part of the village located on the Lincoln Edge and the more modern areas having developed down the steep hill towards Lincoln. It is best associated with the RAF, the Waddington base being one of the oldest airfields in the UK, founded in November 1916 for the Royal Flying Corps and once home to the Avro Vulcan bomber force.

Navenby is the next biggest village and is home to a number of well respected, family run shops and businesses such as Odling Butchers, which was established in 1920, and Welbourne’s Bakery which is one of the longest standing bakeries in the county, producing artisan breads and cakes.

It can also boast two pubs, The Lion & Royal and The King’s Head, as well as the popular Macy’s Brasserie.

The Lion & Royal was formerly known as The Lion but a visit in 1870 from the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, prompted the addition of Royal in the title. Guy Gibson, commanding officer of RAF 617 Dambusters Squadron, spent his wedding night in this brick and stone building. The bar, with its impressive fireplace and flagged floor, offers a warm welcome to everyone, particularly walkers on the Viking Way long-distance path who often call in for a drink and a good value meal.

The King’s Head is more of a quaint, traditional pub-restaurant offering a wide variety of home-cooked English dishes.

Navenby has also just been voted one of the top rural locations in Britain in which to live. According to a recent survey it came 30th in a list of top rural places to live in the UK.

It is a very charming village with a wonderful mix of traditional stone period properties as well as a good range of quality modern houses and bungalows, and a thriving, busy and engaging community.

The centre of Navenby is a designated conservation area with many of the stone and brick-built houses dating back hundreds of years.

More than twenty of the properties, as well as the 1935 red telephone kiosk in High Street, have listed building status.

The Grade I-listed Anglican parish church in Navenby is dedicated to St Peter and contains an Easter Sepulchre, the carving of which is recognised as one of the finest in Lincolnshire, if not in the country, and receives a mention in virtually every book written on churches and their architecture, while the churchyard is managed as a nature reserve.

A Bronze Age cemetery and the remains of an Iron Age settlement have been discovered there and historians also believe Navenby was a significant staging point on the Roman Ermine Street, as the Romans are reported to have maintained a garrison in the village.

Navenby’s close neighbour Wellingore is also an attractive village and was the first in the North Kesteven district to be designated as a conservation area, in February 1971. It is soon to be thrust onto the international stage following a project to introduce a special memorial and information centre dedicated to John Gillespie Magee, the Second World War Spitfire pilot billeted in Wellingore, who penned the internationally acclaimed sonnet High Flight.

He was stationed in Wellingore with the Canadian Air Force’s 412 Squadron when he died in an air crash in the skies of Lincolnshire.

Coleby is another of the Cliff villages with a mix of the old and the new. It has a thriving village community which hosts a wide variety of events, such as the popular soapbox challenge which attracts spectators from far and wide, as does its regular car boot sales.

It is an ancient village which knew Roman, Saxon and Danish settlers before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Now it has a small but thriving village school (Coleby Primary School) and is serviced by two local pubs, The Tempest Arms which has stunning views across the Trent Valley and The Bell Inn which is a pub-restaurant tucked away in a cul-de-sac and offering a tranquil place to sit and enjoy some great food.

Boothby Graffoe is the smallest of the Cliff villages, with not much else other than the population of around 220 people and the Anglican parish Church of St Andrew which is a Grade-II listed building rebuilt in the early-mid nineteenth century.

The original church was destroyed by a hurricane in the late seventeenth century and all that remains of the original building inside is an inscribed tablet beneath the west window, dated early seventeenth century.

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Residents in Harmston have good reason to celebrate after uniting together to save the village’s only pub.

The centuries old Thorold Arms was the community hub of the village but the writing was on the wall when the owners put it up for sale last year. However, villagers rallied round and formed the Friends of the Thorold Arms action group (FOTTA) with the aim of rescuing it from becoming a residential building and turning it into a community owned pub.

“The owners put it up for sale and the village immediately got themselves engaged in developing a company called TAPco (Thorold Arms Property Company Ltd),” explained Keith Elms, who is a member of the village hall committee and also a director with TAPco.

“We formed the company and asked the villagers if they would like to pledge some money to buy the property, renovate it and refurbish it into a community owned pub.”

The battle began in October last year with the aim of raising about £30,000. Villagers united to create a Friends of the Thorold Arms group to lead the fundraising campaign and momentum grew.

“Since then we have agreed a price and the contracts are going through. We have ninety investors whose contributions vary from £100, which is the price of one share, to people investing £20,000, so it is very much a village concern,” said Keith.

“We want it as a good village pub serving quality ales and wines and food without getting into the bistro style. We have enough money to do some of the renovations, but if anyone wants to become an investor or wants to give us some help then we would like them to get in touch.”

Although it is not a listed building, the pub is of historic interest as well as a vital part of village life.

“It was the only place that was open daily in the village for people to go and meet up and socialise so that is why it is so important to us,” said Keith.

The group hopes it can get the pub up and running in time for Christmas this year. In the meantime, there is a ‘temporary pub replacement service’ being run at the village’s Memorial Hall every Friday from 6pm to 9pm.

“It has proved to be very popular and we are hoping that the momentum that has been built up through the village hall pub service will go back into the pub again when it is back up and running,” said Keith.

Plans to erect a memorial to John Gillespie Magee, the Spitfire pilot who penned the internationally acclaimed sonnet High Flight, have taken a giant step forward. The final model of the sculpture has been produced and agreed by the parish council and the site has also been confirmed.

Now the John Magee Jnr Foundation has launched its fundraising campaign with a view to having the memorial sculpture in place by next year.

Wellingore Parish Council’s chairman Roger Cole, who has been instrumental in the memorial project and wrote a book also called High Flight, which tells Magee’s extraordinary story and includes previously unknown details of his short life, said it had been a long time coming but now people could see what it would look like.

“We are now in a position to publicise the sculpture and launch the John Magee Foundation appeal,” he said.

“After a considerable amount of time the sculptor has finally produced the design of the figure for the sculpture. There is now an 18in high model of the final statue and we are giving people the chance to purchase a maquette of the sculpture.

“The reason it has taken a long time to produce the sculpture is because of the minute detail of the flying kit. The sculptor researched it so it is exactly how John Magee’s flying kit would have been and it is absolutely authentic and has been checked out by experts.”

There will be nineteen maquettes available, cast in bronze and made to order. They will be numbered so will be a limited edition and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

“We had three enquiries about them within twenty-four hours of opening the appeal. By Christmas, we expect there will be very few left, but there will be the other casts available that are not a limited edition,” said Mr Cole.

The 9ft high bronze sculpture in full flying gear will stand on the Millfield site looking towards Cranwell.

“The sculpture will look towards Cranwell because that was where the other pilot involved in the crash came from. It is to show he was not to blame for the accident. He was a trainee cadet pilot from RAF Cranwell and John flew out of Wellingore,” said Roger.

The site itself has been brought up to a high standard by the parish council and is now landscaped with gardens, seating and trees.

“People come and sit in it, not just from Wellingore but from the surrounding villages as well, and it will be enhanced even further with the sculpture,” said Mr Cole.

“The expectation is that if funding is raised in time and we are anticipating that will be done in the next four months by subscriptions and the sale of the maquettes, the statue could be in place by next year.

“Then there will be a major unveiling event with all the Lincolnshire Armed Forces in attendance, as well as the Canadian and American Air forces who have committed to the project.”

It is hoped that John Magee’s brother will also come down from Scotland to make the speech at the unveiling ceremony.

John Magee was born in Shanghai to an English mother and American father who were missionaries. When the Sino Japanese war started, the Rev Magee sent his family back home and followed a few years later where they were reunited in America.

Rev Magee eventually ended up in Washington DC and became the equivalent of a padre helping in the upper circle of political life in America. John wanted to be involved in the war but the American government had confiscated passports to stop their young men from getting involved, so John persuaded his father to let him cross the border into Canada where he joined the 412 Squadron and trained as a Spitfire pilot.

When John was killed all his papers were given to his parents in America and his father gave the High Flight poem and a lot of other poems and writings to the Congress Library, which is where they are today.

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