Sodden and unkind

Hilaire Belloc lauded The South Country. He meant, exclusively, Sussex. In his first four verses he slags off, successive:

Lincolnshire… the Midlands 
That are sodden and unkind …

The men that live in North England 
I saw them for a day: 
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells, 
Their skies are fast and grey …

The men that live in West England 
They see the Severn strong, 
A-rolling on rough water brown 
Light aspen leaves along.

Then, Friday, The Times [£] property porn section, bricks and mortar, did a piece on the ancient city of Lincoln, headlined:

A discreet Midlands gem

Lincoln has many commendable features: beautiful period properties, a castle, and impressive cathedral, thriving high street, great transport links, beautiful countryside, two universities, and good schools. Yet this corner of the East Midlands is surprisingly little known.

Pause for consideration: take Hungate out of town, through Wragby (decent enough, quiet, good pubs) and Louth (just as a small town should be, sober old brick, with the church spire to guide you) to Maplethorpe (actually, not the nicest destination, but still) … lo! the great North Sea, all of 42 miles, and a bit over an hour of driving. So: Midlands?

Well, arguably so, even on wikipedia:

The Midlands is an area comprising central England that broadly corresponds to the early medieval Kingdom of Mercia

The Midlands does not correspond to any current administrative area, and there is therefore no strict definition. However, it is generally considered to include the counties of DerbyshireGloucestershireHerefordshireLeicestershireNorthamptonshireNottinghamshireOxfordshireRutland,ShropshireStaffordshireWarwickshire, the West Midlands and WorcestershireLincolnshire is considered by some part of the Midlands but generally excluded, on account of its extensive coastline.

NLD LOGOThe main reason for having Lincolnshire in “the Midlands” is officialdom. It is administered through the East Midlands Government regional Office, which seems in large part to be because this is the European Parliament constituency. About the only other justification is that “Notts, Lincs and Derby ” is how rugby operates in the three counties. Of which the kindest thing to be said is the NLD logo (oak-tree, Lincoln imp and Derby ram) must have been conceived in a very Goth moment, but adequates describes their approach to the game.

Yeller bellies

An old Norfolk character taught Malcolm to know Lincolnshire folk as yeller-bellies, and as a thoroughly rackety and unpleasant lot. That last prejudice seemed to be a pained memory of scab labour imported from across the tribal barrier to break the agricultural strike of April 1923. In Norfolk old grievances fester.

Rod Collins (who does a fine local website) gives an exhaustive account of where the moniker may have originated:

Military Connection
The Royal North Lincolnshire Militia officer wore bright yellow waistcoats
The Lincolnshire Regiment: They had some yellow facings on their uniforms etc

Stage Coaches
Stage coaches that used to run in Lincolnshire had bodies painted yellow

Elloe: this and associated terms linked to the Saxons and Celts gives us Ye Elloe Bellie

Associated Others
The etymology has also been associated with frogs, Fen-Dwellers, folk tales and folk lore all of which sound somewhat less likely.

For me the first three above are the most likely, the many others really strike me as being ‘also rans’
The military origin is the one I’d wager my modest hoard on were I forced to do so although the stage coach seems reasonable as well.

He takes the usage back to:

A person born in the Fens of Lincolnshire (from the yellow sickly complexion of persons residing in marshy situations)
Date 1839, taken from William Holloway’s A Dictionary of Provincialisms.

It has ever older provenance. Francis Grose’s  A provincial glossary: with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions has the term in 1787:

Yellow bellies. This is an appellation given to persons born in the Fens, who, it is jocularly said, have yellow bellies, like their eels.

That’s sufficiently archae-etymological for Malcolm. And means a citizen of Lincoln is not a yeller-belly.

A Malcolmian aside

Though a Wexford man might well be. There’s John Keegan (apparently of the “Queen’s County”), from the first half of the 19th century (though his Legends and poems now first collected seemed unpublished before 1907). One chapter (page 361ff) is The Orangemans Tale, A Reminiscence of 1798, a story of misplaced love between the social orders. That includes the expression:

 I would rather dig my daughter’s grave … than see her tied to Lanty Wolfe, or any other yellow belly of the County Wexford.

Malcolm feels a “Not-so-great and not-so-good” posting, on the topic of Sir Caesar Colclough, impending here.

Colonia Domitiana Lindensium in partes tres divisa est

Like Gaul. They are Lindsey, Holland and Kesteven — which were separate county councils between 1888 and 1974.

Domesday Book ‘Lindsey’ was the whole county, but the latter division of Lincolnshire made it the area around Lincoln itself. Kesteven was the ten wapentakes (Malcolm has been panting to use that term again) lying towards the south and west, while Holland is the south-east part — much reclaimed from the sea. We shouldn’t jump to the conclusion (as Malcolm was taught at school) that there is any connection between Lincolnshire Holland and the work of the great engineer Cornelius Wasterdyk Vermuyden: hoil is a perfectly-good Early English word for ‘low-lying’ (though the connection with the Low Countries is self-evident).

Of the three, Kesteven is quite happily “East Midlands”, and Holland tends towards “East Anglia”. Lindsey is hybrid — the northern end is now Humberside, by official definition anyway.

DHL and Lincoln Cathedral

Chapter 7 of The Rainbow: Anna and Brangwyn visit Lincoln —

They passed up the steep hill, he eager as a pilgrim arriving at the shrine. As they came near the precincts, with castle on one side and cathedral on the other, his veins seemed to break into fiery blossom, he was transported.

They had passed through the gate, and the great west front was before them, with all its breadth and ornament.

“It is a false front,” he said, looking at the golden stone and the twin towers, and loving them just the same. In a little ecstasy he found himself in the porch, on the brink of the unrevealed. He looked up to the lovely unfolding of the stone. He was to pass within to the perfect womb.

Then he pushed open the door, and the great, pillared gloom was before him, in which his soul shuddered and rose from her nest. His soul leapt, soared up into the great church. His body stood still, absorbed by the height. His soul leapt up into the gloom, into possession, it reeled, it swooned with a great escape, it quivered in the womb, in the hush and the gloom of fecundity, like seed of procreation in ecstasy.

She too was overcome with wonder and awe. She followed him in his progress. Here, the twilight was the very essence of life, the coloured darkness was the embryo of all light, and the day. Here, the very first dawn was breaking, the very last sunset sinking, and the immemorial darkness, whereof life’s day would blossom and fall away again, re-echoed peace and profound immemorial silence.

That implied eroticism is why The Times‘s blathering about an impressive cathedral and other trivialities is sodden-and-unkind, cheap-and-nasty property porn. And does no justice to one of the finest locations in the land.


1 Comment

Filed under Britain, East Anglia, History, Literature, Times

One response to “Sodden and unkind

  1. Pingback: The worst of Times | Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service

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