Dr Andrew Jackson

Dr Andrew Jackson

DrAndrewJackson

Dr Andrew Jackson is the Head of the School of Humanities. Andrew is a historian with current research interests that include twentieth-century urban and rural change, and local and regional history. He also engages in consultancy and project work relating to community history and heritage, digitisation and e-learning. Andrew joined the staff of Bishop Grosseteste University in 2007, following ten years at the University of Exeter.


It is the first month of summer, and we are being let out – at least a little more than we have been. Over recent months, appreciation of our local allotments, gardens and other green spaces has increased considerably while we have been under lockdown. We are not equally blessed with easy access to such places. However, where they have been available to us and enjoyed, we have been grateful for being able to engage in some combination of finding safety, seeking escape, taking exercise, growing food, creating art, or being among plants and animals. At times, we have been able to just sit and observe, recognising what has changed around us, and being struck by what we so often miss or let pass by.

We may have made far more detailed notes of the wildlife living next to us perhaps, or have taken to reflecting on our wider place within the natural world? At the same time, we might have noticed new sights and sounds? These, like the many rainbow pictures put up in windows, are starting to fade a little now, as the lockdown is steadily released and ‘the old normal’ starts to return. Birds seemed to have been more numerous and diverse in their presence. Bird calls have felt louder, sharper or more melodic. Wildflowers have been cropping up in unexpected places, at the edges of concrete and tarmac. Cats have been roaming boldly and more freely, across quieter and safer roads. While at night, the moon has shone far more brightly, through a darker, deeper and cleaner sky.

The current crisis that we have been living through has displayed many similarities with times one hundred years or so ago, when the country was contending with the closing months of the First World War and the onslaught of the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic. Worries about food shortages then, together with restrictions on familiar social activities and disruptions to patterns of work, gave fresh incentives to make more allotments available, and to take up a plot to till.

The city of Lincoln is relatively well-provided for in terms of allotment plots, many dating back to what was something of a ‘golden age’ lasting from the 1914-18 war years through to the aftermath of the Second World War. The benefits of having an allotment had been long recognised, but these two periods of wartime and national emergency added to the appreciation of what they could offer: physical exercise, the growing of food, mental well-being, and perhaps the selling of surplus produce.

Some years ago, a group of local historians began a series of neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood booklets on the history of the city, ‘The Survey of Lincoln’ project. One booklet, by Geoff Tann, tells the story of Lincoln’s allotments. Around the city are to be found allotment sites dating back to the years before 1914, and even more so to the times during and between the two world wars. They are to be spotted from many of the major through roads of the city, for example: Yarborough Crescent, the Lower Long Leys, Boultham Park Road, and Canwick Hill. 

Allotments faced various uncertainties from the end of the Second World War onwards. Urban redevelopment pressures intensified. Greater car ownership, holidaying overseas, and other leisure distractions contributed to a falling away of what had been high levels of interest and demand. In addition, there took place a breaking of the local customs and practices that had traditionally passed knowledge and plots down through members of a family or friendship networks. Gardening in general has remained popular, however, aided by television and the media, and in more recent times concerns surrounding the environment and food production have mounted once again. The evidence of waiting lists for a local plot signals a healthier level of enthusiasm and commitment today. Many allotments have indeed been built over or reduced in size over the last half century or so, but enough have survived to help some of us certainly through Coronavirus lockdown. 

For myself, I am finishing this piece in a shed overlooking an allotment plot. In fact, my writings for The Lincolnite during the pandemic have generally begun while turning the earth in gentle Spring and early Summer sunshine. Most days when digging, I am joined by a blackbird and a robin. Never before, until the present times, have they hopped so close up to the heel of my boots, to share in a fresh earthworm or two. Unless, that is, I had never noticed.

Previous columns from Dr Andrew Jackson:

Dr Andrew Jackson is the Head of the School of Humanities. Andrew is a historian with current research interests that include twentieth-century urban and rural change, and local and regional history. He also engages in consultancy and project work relating to community history and heritage, digitisation and e-learning. Andrew joined the staff of Bishop Grosseteste University in 2007, following ten years at the University of Exeter.

Many rainbows have cast their magic spells over the last couple of months. They are to be found all across the city still, in windows, on bricks and across pavements. Most are fading now, as the late Spring sun gets hotter and brighter, and stands longer in the sky. But they continue to hold themselves up, as a bold reminder to us to stay at home, and as a colourful appeal to us to protect our NHS.

Tragedy and suffering have been brought into most homes, through listening to the news at least, or for some in person. However, local and national hospitals have not been overwhelmed and far fewer have been hospitalised, as once so feared.

Our Lincolnshire hospitals have a long history, and have found themselves facing flu pandemics, outbreaks of acute diseases, and other public health crises in the past. For some of us, this will be in living memory still. Very few now will recall directly the ‘Spanish’ influenza epidemic that struck down so many people in 1918, locally, nationally and around the world. More, though, will recall a time when serious respiratory and contagious diseases were a greater cause for scare and worry than they are today, and being placed into isolation was a more common and essential course of action.

My fellow local historian, Maureen Sutton, remembers the Polio epidemic in Lincoln in the early 1950s, and her brother being sent to St George’s Hospital on Lower Long Leys Road for a number of weeks. Maureen, meanwhile, was put under ‘lockdown’ orders at home, as she finds herself again today. For that long summer of her childhood, some seven decades ago, she was not allowed to mix with other children throughout the school holidays, and so spent long frustrating periods in the back garden.

St George’s in those days was always referred to as ‘Over the common’, rather than by its formal title, for the building served as an isolation hospital. It was a place from which many patients did not come home, and being sent there became something of a taboo. People dreaded it during the Polio epidemic, because of the fear of being put onto a form of ventilator machine to help you to breathe. It was called ‘the iron lung’ then, and looked rather like an incubation unit. Parents could only look at their children through a closed window. ‘It is strange how history repeats itself’, Maureen remarks.

In more recent decades, Maureen became a local historian, capturing other people’s memories in her book ‘We Didn’t Know Owt’. One of these was of a young girl who contracted diptheria in the early years of the twentieth century. Like Maureen’s brother, she was sent ‘over the common’. The girl recalls ‘the window’ as well, which was as far as parents were allowed to come, and through which they could only stare. The girl’s recollection also includes her mother wearing a green coat on one occasion. However, a nurse told her that her daughter would not get better if she wore that colour.  For some, it remained a superstition that the wearing of green brought bad luck. ‘Me mam got rid on it’, the girl remembered, and she recovered and went onto enjoy a long life.

As for the colours of the rainbow, including green, it will be a little sad to see them taken down and scrubbed out. They have come to represent something special in terms of community unity and effort. When they do disappear finally, that event should be a reassuring sign of safer, more familiar and cheerier days ahead. Some of the rainbows will remain treasured by those who made them, and find their way into memory boxes and family albums. We can only hope that the slow easing of the lockdown, when the time comes, will be managed in such a way that those rainbows will not have to be brought out again.

Dr Andrew Jackson is the Head of the School of Humanities. Andrew is a historian with current research interests that include twentieth-century urban and rural change, and local and regional history. He also engages in consultancy and project work relating to community history and heritage, digitisation and e-learning. Andrew joined the staff of Bishop Grosseteste University in 2007, following ten years at the University of Exeter.

Today, the sun will rise and set on streets that stand eerily quiet and disturbingly still. Bringing additional light, warmth and cheer, however, is the new art that is all around us. The pandemic has unlocked a great outpouring of creativity, in union with a mass expression of gratitude for the work of the NHS. Rainbows are everywhere, and in all sizes, shapes and forms: tied to school gates (currently shut and locked), knitted in yarn, crayoned on paper, chalked on pavements, dangling in windows, and painted on brick.

In preparing for week six of my pandemic column for The Lincolnite, I was delighted to be sent some new verses by a good friend and poet, Maureen Sutton. I would like to share three with you.

During these locked-down days, we are perhaps making more phone calls to friends and family, having conversations that we have been putting off for weeks, months, years even. Alongside, some are rediscovering the art of letter writing. Through such phone conversations and letters, dim and distant memories are being recalled and shared. Poetry is a great way of conveying thoughts and feelings, and capturing personal stories. In an extract from one poem, ‘Yesterday’s Lincoln’, Maureen gives a glimpse into a moment in her past:

Play time at St. Hugh’s R.C. Lincoln 1940s, lads with shaved
Purple heads, knees and elbows yelled like the warriors of
Great Britain we’d just read about in history lesson.
Confused by gentian-violet and blue woad we believed they
Hailed from Brothertoft so avoided them, feared a kick from
‘Hand-me down boots’ weighted by segs [metal reinforcements] or patched with pieces
Of bike tyres too worn to reuse.

The lockdown, one day, will end. In the meantime, we probably take moments to pause more often than we would usually, observing what is different and strange, or noticing what is ordinarily missed in the rush of the everyday. A piece of Maureen’s second poem, offers ‘A record of a Spring Day’:

I’m under ‘House Arrest’ due to Coronavirus virus,
I’m aware of a welcome lull in the constant roar of traffic.
Pollution’s decreased, the sky is clear, blue as a blackbird’s egg.
Birds have gathered for their daily feed of sunflower seeds:
A robin, showing off his russet chest, sparrows, blackbirds,
too many pigeons. The body of a thrush, killed by next door’s Bengal cat.

Living through lockdown times is quite a challenge. Many are returning to tasks long neglected, or taking up activities that are entirely new. Writing a first poem might be one of these? For those who may be after a greater test still, is it time to brush up your dialect? The sound of our Lincolnshire accents remains with us and around us, but our local vocabulary is rarely heard now. For a final poem, Maureen writes in regional dialect about being under ‘House Arrest’. Its sentiment will be shared by many:

Well maate, I’ve gotten a craw to pick wi Boris, he’s putten me under
‘ouse arrest, an’ I dossent like it, I ain’t gone an’ done owt wrong
An’ now I’ve got to stay at ‘ome for weeks on end.
It ain’t no good werriting so I’ll just have to find summats
To keep me sen busy or I’ll go crazed. Already I’m mazzeled
About what I’m going to do?

Dr Andrew Jackson is the Head of the School of Humanities. Andrew is a historian with current research interests that include twentieth-century urban and rural change, and local and regional history. He also engages in consultancy and project work relating to community history and heritage, digitisation and e-learning. Andrew joined the staff of Bishop Grosseteste University in 2007, following ten years at the University of Exeter.

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