A Review of Long Bennington and Foston Parish News from 1898 to 1916

I am John Jeffries, the chairman of the Long Bennington Local History Society and last summer I was given the opportunity to borrow a collection of Long Bennington and Foston Parish Magazines.  These old documents are a wonderful record of what was happening in these two villages over 100 years ago. Produced every month and selling for one penny they date from the launch in January 1898 through to the suspension of publication to help the war effort in December 1916. I found them fascinating and I wanted to share some of the items with the current inhabitants of our villages so I wrote some articles for our present Parish Magazine summarising what I had learned.

Later in 2014 the old Parish Magazines were taken to the Lincolnshire Archives to be preserved for posterity.

The first thing I noticed was that the magazines were printed far away in Beverley in Yorkshire. They averaged about 20 pages filled with stories mainly of a religious nature,  pencil drawings , natural history articles, poems and recipes. The magazines were personalised by showing on the front cover the title-“Long Bennington and Foston Parish Magazine” with lists of all the times of Sunday, Holy Day and week day services in three churches-  the Parish Church and St James’ Church at Long Bennington and St Peter’s church at Foston.  The covers of later issues showed photographs  of  the two parish churches. And inside each cover were pasted one or two sheets describing the activities of the previous month in the two villages.

From my reading it became clear to me that by far the most influential figure in Long Bennington at this time was Mrs Grote-Joyce who was quite literally the Lady of the Manor, a strong leader and generous benefactor. She and her husband had come from London to live in the Manor. She soon realised that the Parish church was not in the most convenient place on the edge of the village so she donated the land which is now the location of the village hall and provided the funds for the building of an Iron Church on the site. It was dedicated on St James’s Day 1890 and for many decades formed the hub of most village activities.

In 1900 for the populations of 700 and 300 respectively at Long Bennington and Foston there were many diverse well-attended activities. These are all described  in the magazines and  include bazaars, cricket club matches and dinners, Mothers’ Union meetings, choir outings to Cleethorpes, Sunday school feasts, sandwich teas, garden fetes ,etc. 

Numerous church services were held in Long Bennington. They took place in the ancient Parish Church of St Swithun and in the Iron Church of St James constructed in 1890 on the site now occupied by our Village Hall. As well as Holy Communion at 8am, Morning Prayer at 11am and Evensong at 6.30pm every Sunday, there were afternoon services for children to attend after Sunday School.  And during the week Matins and Evensong were held every day. There were similar, equally frequent, services held on Sundays and every weekday at Foston.

Having two churches in Long Bennington was a real problem for the vicar, Rev D W Rees who wrote a letter to parishioners in 1898 to say that the Parish Church “was not the centre of Church life, and being where it was it was impossible to make more use of it”. He also said that the Iron Church, kindly provided by Lady of the Manor, Mrs Grote-Joyce, located in the centre, “had proved to be a great blessing”. But he went on to ask parishioners if they should continue to divide their energies between the two churches .Should  they try to dismantle the nave and tower of the Parish Church and rebuild it in the centre of the village? Naturally this sparked off a huge debate in the village. The Bishop of Lincoln supported the vicar throughout the campaign. A target of 5000 was set and 2000, a huge sum at that time, had been raised towards this endeavour before the reconstruction project was finally abandoned  in 1902 in favour of a major refurbishment  of the old church instead.

Over the next few years many repairs and replacements were carried out in St Swithun’s. For instance work was done on the porch, windows and buttresses. And a new clock was installed and dedicated on 5th November 1905.  A report on the state of the church bells was received in 1908 from Taylors, bellfounders of Loughborough. It revealed that “the framework is very old, rickety and decayed and is in our opinion, quite unfit to stand the strain of the peal ringing in full swing. It has probably served for several centuries and the greater part of the lower sills of wood are quite rotten to the heart and a serious accident might happen if they were to give way”.  A new bell frame was completed and the church bells were rededicated on 30th September 1909 - in plenty of time for the traditional peal to be rung at 6am on the next Christmas morning.

During the period from the late 1890’s to the outbreak of the first World War there were church schools in Long Bennington and in Foston. By law all children were obliged to attend until they reached 12 years old. The schools were inspected regularly by a Government  Inspector and by the Diocesan Inspector. Reports from the former tended to be very brief. For instance “ Theinfants are very fairly taught”. On the other hand the Diocesan Inspector, following his visit to Long Bennington school reported in June 1898 “ Upper Middle Division again answered most creditably, both in scripture and explanation of the catechism, and shewed a satisfactory knowledge of their prayer book. The written work was very fair, but the catechism, with the exception of some half dozen excellent papers, was inaccurately written out”. 

There were many childhood illnesses around at the time which would prevent even the most robust child from attending school.  And  it was quite acceptable for able-bodied children to be taken away from school to help bring in the harvest . Nevertheless a good school attendance record was highly regarded. In the year ended 31st March 1899 the school at Long Bennington was open 363 times and 14 children named in the magazine were never absent. The school managers gave each of these children 5 shillings to be placed in the Post Office Savings Bank, and their names were painted on the board fixed to the school wall. The managers said “We trust that the number of the “Never Absent” will increase year by year. Will the parents help us?”

There were many weekly activities for men, women and children- all reported in the Parish Magazine. Mothers’ Union, Boys’ Club, Cricket Club, Choral Society, etc all met throughout the year and most of them helped with the organisation of parties, dinners and garden fetes .Fetes and games  often  took place in the grounds of the Manor. Cricket team dinners were held at the Wheatsheaf pub. To raise money for the Church Restoration Fund, on Easter Monday 1903 a sandwich tea was prepared by the men of the village and “from start to finish everything went well....The schoolroom had been prettily decorated with flowers, flags and Chinese lanterns, and as the time for tea approached it was soon apparent that a very large number of people would be present, indeed it would be probably not far wrong to say about 250 in all sat down.”  After the tea, there was dancing and singing and “in the classroom many availed themselves of the opportunity of a quiet smoke and a game of cards”.

Similar events were organised regularly to raise money for the church or just to have fun. Special celebrations of national events like the coronations of Edward the Seventh in 1902 and George the Fifth in 1911 occurred in both villages. Invariably, the climax of these joyous proceedings was the eagerly-awaited magic lantern show.

Due to the kindness of the Lady of the Manor, Mrs Grote-Joyce, a free Cottage Hospital was opened  on 21 April 1903. Miss Brown was the nurse in charge until her resignation in 1911. In the first year there were 15 patients and 52 out-patients. Nurse Brown carried out 444 professional visits in a typical year. Patients were treated free but were invited to make a donation. By the end of the first year 1. 3s. 2d had been given and the following items were requested " old linen, slippers, eggs, cocoa, milk, apples, poultry and rabbits."

From November 1907 the Hospital was "institutionalised" and managed by a committee of Subscribers. At their first AGM, held in the schoolroom , it was reported that the Hospital was "still doing a useful and much appreciated work." It was suggested that “ much help might be given to the Hospital if we had, what is so popular in many places ,"A Pound Day". This meant that on a certain day everybody would send to the Hospital at least one pound of something. According to the report for the year to October 1910 this idea was a great success. "On Pound Day 72lbs of grocery and provisions, one bottle of champagne,1 bottle of calves' foot jelly, 1 rabbit, some linen and 10s. 6d in money were received from Long Bennington while Foston contributed 157lbs of vegetables, fruit, grocery and provisions and 4 packets of jelly."

Residents of the two villages commemorated major national events such as the funerals of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Special memorial services were held in their churches and a few weeks later local lantern slide shows included photographs of the ceremonies which had taken place far away in London.

On the other hand the Coronations of Kings Edward and George were celebrated with great parties. In 1902 for instance "poles were erected, flags, devices , fairy lamps, Chinese lanterns and various other specimens of the decorative arts" were installed to create a festive appearance. All the children were given a commemorative medal and then marched in procession to church for a special hour-long service. Afterwards, at the school, the vicar provided tea for 130 children under 14 years of age. And after tea they set off for the vicarage field for sports and competitions. Meanwhile 350 adults "had proceeded to Mr Bingham's barn to partake of a meat tea, the caterer of the same being Mrs Dring of the Wheat Sheaf Inn". Then followed bicycle , needle-threading, skipping, flat-race and tug-of-war competitions. Finally the vicar called for three hearty cheers for the King and Queen and the National Anthem was sung.

 [These notes were written by John Jeffries and were published as four separate articles in long Bennington Parish News in 2015].