The life of Lincolnshire Life – so far
By David Robinson OBE, Editor 1976-1989 and Poachings writer 1961-2011
The concept of a new county magazine was that of Roy Faiers of Grimsby. He and fellow freelance journalist, Charles Ekberg, had set up a company and had been publishing the quarterly magazine ‘Humber Industry and Fishing Review’ since 1957.
There had been other county magazines of which Roy and Charles knew nothing, but they did know of the more recent quarterly ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ (1952-55), ‘Magazine of County Life and History’. Founded by Robert Withers of Lincoln, it was forty-eight pages, pocket size format and priced at 1s 3d (6p). My first article in it appeared in Autumn 1953, when I came down from the University of Nottingham to teach in Immingham, and became assistant editor. With the change of publisher to Mortons of Horncastle in 1954, I became part-time editor – with a budget of £30 to meet all expenses and pay contributors! Next year saw the start of the ‘Poachings’ column, but Mortons ceased letterpress printing and I could not find another publisher. I was left with enough reader contributions to publish for a couple of years. It was the richness of content of ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ which, Roy Faiers said, inspired the launch of ‘Lincolnshire Life’.
I well remember the sequence of events. I had moved from Immingham in 1955 to become Head of Geography at the Havelock School in Grimsby. On Tuesday 17th January 1961 there was a telephone message inviting me to meet Roy and Charles at Humber House, 11 Town Hall Street. I can even remember the time – 4.30pm. They told me of their plans to launch ‘Lincolnshire Life’ and their wish for it to carry the subtitle ‘The Town and Country Magazine: Incorporating The Lincolnshire Poacher’. Moreover I was invited to become County Adviser, and I conceived the idea of restarting the ‘Poachings’ page. That’s where it all began.
It was a modest but successful beginning, with slender resources to produce the first edition. Setting was by monotype with hot lead, and printing by letterpress, operated single-handedly by Arthur Marshall in a cramped shop, Linxprint, at 44 Wellowgate, Grimsby. The contents formula of the magazine set the pattern to be followed for many years: town features, personalities, the open road (to take in villages), legends and curiosities, country crafts, a county commentary and dairy of events, car test, fashion, dining out (with Jeremy Bates – a pseudonym), farming, wildlife, poetry, new books, letters to the editor, and my ‘Poachings’ pages.
The economics of publishing require advertisements. Starting from the first issues, looking through the adverts reveals its own social history of the county.
‘Lincolnshire Life’ was launched as a quarterly in spring 1961, price 2s (20p) and the first issue is reproduced this month as part of our Golden Anniversary celebrations. When the magazine moved to bimonthly in 1963 the sceptics queried whether there would be enough material to fill the magazine. I never had any doubts and events proved it. Indeed, such was the confidence of the founder that other county magazines were soon to be launched – ‘Norfolk Fair’ and ‘Suffolk Fair’ and ‘Life’ magazines in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.
Grimsby artist Colin Carr joined the team in 1965: he became highly acclaimed for his characteristic paintings of Lincolnshire people and places (which fetch more today than when he was alive). With his help two lavish County Annuals were produced in 1965 and 1966, in March 1966 the magazine became a monthly and developed a new style cover.
A core element of the ‘Lincolnshire Life’ formula was always the reader contributions – a magazine by the people for the people.
By 1967 Roy Faiers had established offices above Barclays Bank at 1 Brewery Street, Grimsby, and Peter Chapman became deputy editor, and then joint editor with Colin Carr in March 1968 when Roy handed over the editorial reins but not the ownership after fifty issues to relocate to Cheltenham to pursue new publishing opportunities, but not before ‘Lincolnshire Life’ had become the second highest selling county magazine in Britain.
In 1969 Geoff Hyde joined Colin for a couple of years, while Peter moved to the then ‘Grimsby Evening Telegraph’ and wrote books, including his interest in local military history. Printing of ‘Lincolnshire Life’ had moved to Warners of Bourne in 1968, the same year that Geoff Lenthall joined as advertising manager, becoming general manager for the group of magazines in early 1970, as Colin became sole editor of ‘Lincolnshire Life’.
In 1976 ‘Lincolnshire Life’ had a new style cover – a full colour picture with a cartouche title ‘Lincolnshire Life’, soon dropped as you will see.
That year, 1976, was a pivotal one for the magazine. Roy wanted ‘Lincolnshire Life’ to be managed and edited in Cheltenham, but neither Colin Carr nor Geoff Lenthall wanted to leave Grimsby. The outcome was that Geoff and his wife Joan bought the title and I was invited to become editor of ‘Lincolnshire Life’ on a part-time basis.
When I took over in November 1976, I inherited a considerable quantity of unpublished features, and the first thing was to prepare the issue for January 1977. Word edit chosen articles, write (or commission) others such as ‘Personality of the Month’ and ‘Dining Out’, count every word and translate into column inches, choose and size each illustration and then, using a grid, design all the pages allocated by Geoff (advert pages always front and back), to be posted to the printers in Exeter. Then check returned proofs and if necessary make corrections by phone; it was still lead letterpress printing. I visited the print works only once. Most of the work was done at home.
How did I manage it every month (no computer then or now), administer university adult courses, teach three evenings a week in the winter, plus residential weekends and a field course week in the summer, write books, and be Honorary Secretary of the fast growing Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, covering a thousand square miles, including editing the thrice-yearly members magazine ‘Lapwings’, and other voluntary work? The answer was a tolerant family and a supply of ‘midnight oil’.
The ‘Lincolnshire Life’ staff were Geoff and Joan Lenthall, with Anne Dixon as secretary, a small efficient and cost-effective team, a pleasure to work with, all friends together. And key contributors were friends or became friends. Anne Topliss’s ‘Musical Box’ had already opened in April 1969, Mary Borrows started ‘Countrywise’ at my invitation in 1978, Bill Hallgarth continued, Wally Day illustrated and designed a new cover, I started David Kaye, a Louth teacher and one of my part-time tutors, on the ‘Open Road’, carefully planned to cover parts of the county for the first time, and Paddy Lill (the ‘AJ Crossword’). Ruby Hunt wrote about fenland people and places, Winston Kime and others about ‘Lincolnshire Worthies’ (a long running and popular series), Tom Herbert about early Lincolnshire memories, Leslie Hunt about RAF history, Nigel and Mary Kerr had a series on ‘Buildings of Lincolnshire’, Nigel Colbourn had a regular page ‘In My Lincolnshire Garden’, Linda Fairhead wrote ‘Lincolnshire Lady’, Geoff Trinder on ‘Lincolnshire Wildlife’, and Eileen Elder about ‘Lincolnshire Country Food’.
In the aftermath of local government reorganisation (1974) we made it clear that the magazine still covered the ancient county of Lincolnshire by using the subtitle ‘The Magazine of County Life Past and Present from the Humber to the Wash.’ I never ceased to be amazed by the connections made with yellowbellies scattered across the UK and lands beyond the sea. Not least perhaps by my instigation of a column of Yellowbelly Humour which brought to light a wealth of anecdotes and stories. Indeed I have often called ‘Lincolnshire Life’ a living archive.
The contributions from readers fell between the academic journal and the newspaper, and so ‘Lincolnshire Life’ became a valuable source of knowledge which undoubtedly otherwise would have been lost.
Interesting and exciting contributions about life in Lincolnshire continued to flow in. The only problem each month was not so much what went in but what had to be left out, a position both enviable and embarrassing.
A concern in the 1970s and 1980s was the appearance of potential rival magazines: ‘The Squire’ (1979-80) published in Grantham, ‘The Best of Lincolnshire’ (Grimsby 1988), a kind of freebie with appalling typography, and ‘The Humberside and Lincolnshire Journal’ and ‘The County of Lincolnshire Journal’ (both Scunthorpe 1989), but none could compete with the appeal of ‘Lincolnshire Life’ and quickly disappeared.
Meanwhile ‘Lincolnshire Life’ celebrated twenty-one years in April 1982 with the then Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher as ‘Personality of the Month’ (a real coup, achieved because my friend Margaret Wickstead went to school with her), and birthday messages from leading figures in the county. And it was not long before the magazine’s Silver Jubilee with a bumper issue in April 1986 and a celebration lunch.
But change was afoot. The next year, 1987, Geoff Lenthall decided to retire, and the magazine was sold to the Lincolnshire Standard Group, owned by Anthony (Tony) Robinson, the change effective from the February issue 1988. I continued as editor, and the office moved to 319 High Street, Lincoln and then eventually to 86, Newland, Lincoln. Cover designs had changed with the times, including introduction of cover lines in the issue of November 1984 and in October 1988 the format became standard A4 paper size.
The magazine had a new subtitle: ‘The County’s Favourite Magazine’ and the changes brought it into line with Tony Robinson’s other magazine ‘This Lincolnshire’, edited by Arnold Hadwin and launched in December 1987. With the sale of the Lincolnshire Standard Group to Adscene, Tony acquired that title and ‘Lincolnshire Life’ to form County Life Ltd in September 1988. ‘Lincolnshire Life’ had a new cover design in April 1989 with the title up the left side, to be more recognisable on newsagents’ shelves.
In September 1989, I relinquished editorship, after thirteen years, and worked with Arnold Hadwin as ‘Lincolnshire Life’ absorbed ‘This Lincolnshire’.
I was responsible for freelance contributors until the appointment of Hilary Hammond as editor under general manager David Gerrard for the February 1990 issue, when I became Editorial Advisor/Consultant, the title I have only now relinquished. Jenny Walton had taken over as editor for the April 1993 issue, followed by Jez Ashberry for February 1995.
The content style of the magazine was changing, but there was still many unpublished articles and poems from reader contributions, some longstanding. The answer was to recreate the small format ‘Lincolnshire Poacher’, but it took six years to appear in print. So appeared under my editorship, ‘The Poacher: an annual companion to Lincolnshire Life’, in 1996 and 1997, then a gap to Autumn 2000 with ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’, a quarterly companion. History repeating itself after nearly half a century. And it worked. The trick was to use the backlog of material to make way for new contributions which continued to arrive. I finally handed over that editorship to Judy Theobald with the winter issue 2003. The fact that ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ is still published is clear evidence of the continued source of reader contributions, not now suitable for the present style of ‘Lincolnshire Life’, for which ‘The Lincolnshire Poacher’ is the ideal medium.
In 1997, the year I was honoured by the OBE ‘for services to journalism and the community in Lincolnshire’, County Life Ltd had grown as a publishing house with a dedicated contract publishing business running alongside ‘Lincolnshire Life’. Managing editor and chief executive, Jacqui Freeman, left in April 1997 to be followed by Caroline Bingham who joined as chief executive and a shareholder of the company. Pam Mallender was editor for a few months in 1999, then Judy Theobald for eight years and Josie Thurston for three years. During that period County Life Ltd had been bought from Tony Robinson and is now owned by Geoffrey Manners as managing editor and Caroline Bingham as publisher. The turn of the new millennium saw County Life Ltd invest heavily in new hardware and software systems to deliver more sophisticated and streamlined services for our clients. We looked for a partner who had an excellent understanding of the magazine publishing industry and chose to work with the Publishing Software Company (PSC) who are now recognised as one of the market leaders in producing user-friendly and cost-effective software packages for publishers.
PSC produce a range of software packages including Reply Manager, Subscription Manager and Flatplan Manager but we chose to work with Advertising Sales Manager and Contact Manager to support our sales, sales ledger and planning requirements. We receive regular upgrades and excellent support and still use these systems to the present day. Geoff and Caroline still work to the original ethos of ‘Lincolnshire Life’ celebrating the history, character and culture of our great county and it is these values which have kept the magazine ahead of its competition and so loved by its readership.
My last ‘Poachings’ page appeared last month – the 567th. A count shows that over the fifty years I also contributed 120 feature articles to the magazine. Including the thirteen years as editor, ‘Lincolnshire Life’ became part of me. On the windscreen of my car, behind the rear-view mirror, is a small sticker: I LOVE LINCOLNSHIRE LIFE. It’s the only one of its kind – as is the magazine.