Skip to content

A Lincolnshire Tale

October 1, 2009

Kirkby with Muckby-cum-Sparrowby-cum-Spinx

Is down a long lane in the county of Lincs.

And often on Wednesdays, well-harnessed and spruce,

I would drive into Wiss over Winderby Sluice.


A whacking great sunset bathed level and drain

From Kirkby with Muckby to Beckby-on-Bain,

And I saw, as I journeyed, my marketing done,

Old Caisterby tower take the last of the sun.


The night air grew nippy.  An autumn mist roll’d

(In a scent of dead cabbages) down from the wold,

In the ocean of silence that flooded me round

The crunch of the wheels was a comforting sound.


The lane lengthened narrowly into the night

With the Bain on its left bank, the drain on its right,

And feebly the carriage-lamps glimmered ahead

When all of a sudden the pony fell dead.


The remoteness was awful, the stillness intense,

Of invisible fenland, around and immense;

And out on the dark, with a roar and a swell,

Swung, hollowly thundering, Speckleby bell.


Though myself the Archdeacon for many a year,

I had not summoned courage for visiting here;

Our incumbents were mostly eccentric or sad

But – the Speckleby Rector was said to be mad.


Oh cold was the ev’ning and tall was the tower

And strangely compelling the tenor bell’s power!

As loud on the reed-beds and strong through the dark

It toll’ from the church in the tenantless park.


The mansion was ruined, the empty demesne

Was slowly reverting to marshland again –

Marsh where the village was, grass in the Hall,

And the church and the rectory waiting to fall.


And even in springtime with kingcups about

And stumps of old oak-trees attempting to sprout,

‘Twas a sinister place, neither fenland nor wold,

And doubly forbidding in darkness and cold.


As down swung the tenor, a beacon of sound,

Over listening acres of waterlogged ground

I stood by the tombs to see pass and repass

The gleam of a taper, through clear leaded glass.


And such lighting of lights in the thunderous roar

The heart summoning courage to hand at the door;

I grated it open on scents I knew well,

The dry smell of damp rot, the hassocky smell.


What a forest of woodwork in ochres and grains

Unevenly doubled in diamonded panes,

And over the plaster, so textured with time,

Sweet discolouration of umber and lime!


The candles ensconced on each high panelled pew

Brought the caverns of brass-studded baize into view,

But the roof and its rafters were lost to the sight

As they soared to the dark of the Lincolnshire night:


And high from the chancel arch paused to look down

A sign-painter’s beasts in their fight for the Crown,

While massive, impressive, and still as the grave

A three-decker pulpit frowned over the nave.


Shall I ever forget what a stillness was there

When the bell ceased its tolling and thinned on the air?

Then an opening door showed a long pair of hands

And the Rector himself in his gown and his bands.

. . . . . . . . . .

Such a fell Visitation I shall not forget,

Such a rush through the dark, that I rush through it yet,

And I pray, as the bells ring o’er fenland and hill,

That the Speckleby acres be tenantless still.


John Betjeman 

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Natalia permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:17 pm

    I think I will have to save my analysis for another day Sandi. I\’ve got to be up early tomorrow and the first lesson is English Lit. We have been studying D.H Lawrence this week. Night and see thee the morrow. :o) xx

  2. Maria permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:22 pm

    That\’s just brilliant..have never heard of this before, Cheers for sharing Sandi x

  3. Natalia permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:25 pm

    Yes Maria, he certainly knew how to paint pictures with words didn\’t he?? Night. xx

    • May 16, 2019 5:02 pm

      Read this firstly on a coach trip from the midlands up to north wales in Feb 1975. Got me hooked into his words and poems. Very descriptive. Superb.

  4. Sandi permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:53 pm

    I told a lie when I said I could recite the whole thing…I meant a fair chunk of it. If we are doing anything for Hallowe\’en this year, this will be perfect for reading out…I love it!

  5. Maria permalink
    October 1, 2009 11:09 pm

    A lie…never…there\’s a lot to remember..Did you say he wrote others about Lincolnshire?…may have to do a bit of googling see what else I can find…

  6. Sandi permalink
    October 2, 2009 1:03 am

    A Lincolnshire Church is one of them, describing a visit to St Margaret\’s Church, Huttoft.As 1st October was Lincolnshire Day, I thought it would be a good idea to link to Natalia\’s Betjeman blog with A Lincolnshire Tale and this Lincolnshire Life link:

  7. Cornish permalink
    October 2, 2009 8:47 am

    There\’s hope for me yet! If he can write like that then my rhyming couplet hell isn\’t so bad after all (just wish I could do something nice that doesn\’t rhyme).I was half expecting a ghost to appear in there somewhere towards the end.

  8. Sandi permalink
    October 2, 2009 10:12 am

    Who\’s to say that the Speckleby Rector wasn\’t a ghost…but then again, ghosts don\’t need candles! And he has already said that \’the Speckleby Rector was said to be mad.\’ The poor Archdeacon has already had a shock, when the \’pony fell dead.\’ The fens are an eerie place at night, so, realising where he is, he is scaring himself (just like the Most Haunted people do!!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: