The Elizabethan TV Age

My early childhood in the postwar years was in audio. We listened to the radio or read the newspapers for entertainment and news. The visual age began in 1953. I can date it precisely because that’s when, like many others in Britain, we got our first television set, to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. To my childhood eyes, the coronation only came second for excitement to the preceding Stanley Matthews Cup Final, on 2nd May when Blackpool thrillingly came from behind to beat Bolton 4-3 thanks to Stanley’s magical dribbling and Stan Mortensen’s hattrick.

The coronation on June 2nd was the only occasion I can remember my grandma coming over to our house from the nearby village where she lived – her induction into the television age. I remember the stunning opulence of the occasion on that small black-and-white screen, and the sonorous tones of Richard Dimbleby’s commentary, which set the benchmark for the BBC forever more. After the main event we walked into the centre of Lincoln along by the River Witham. At the Brayford pool I remember all the boats bedecked with celebratory flags.

After that, the TV became the focus for national events but otherwise life continued much as before, but with the added promise of new technologies. The second Elizabethan age had begun.

Most of my experience of Queen Elizabeth II was via the TV, but I did physically see her twice, once at a Royal Tournament on a school trip, and more memorably in 1957 when she was driven round Lincoln City’s football ground at Sincil Bank, packed with all the city’s schoolchildren. I was 12. It was quite exciting seeing the queen. Perhaps it’s significant that I remember her dressed as a princess, when the reality is revealed by the website of Lincolnshire Live (featured image) – she circled the playing area in a Landrover with Prince Philip on a rainy day. Funny thing, memory. 

Now, I am naturally inclined to be republican, as opposed to royalist. Elizabeth was around for most of my life and was clearly dedicated to doing her duty, but also to retaining the privileged position of ‘the firm’. She was probably the best monarch one could have wished for, and only put a few feet wrong, many of which were related to Princess Diana. But was all that killing of dumb animals for sport really necessary, setting the aspiration for generations of well-off wannabees. And did she really need all those palaces, riches and hangers-on – setting the example for the rich and powerful all over the world.

So it’s a mixed legacy, as it is for all of us. She’s part of our mental furniture, so it is taking a while getting used to “God Save the King”.

It really is a new age, dominated by the internet, smartphones, streaming, podcasts… rather than the TV. My grandma, a life lived in a rural village, would be a fish out of water.

We just have to make the best of it, and hope that King Charles III and the current alarming Conservative government do not damage the country too much along the way.

The great escape

Our dad used to take us to Sincil Bank to see Lincoln City play in the then Second Division of the English football league – every other Saturday afternoon at 3pm. We also sometimes went to see the Reserves on the alternate Saturdays. The biggest event that happened in that time of growing up with ‘The Imps’ was the great Escape of 1958.

It all began on a snowy day in March. Lincoln were playing Cardiff City. Already relegation was looming, and Cardiff were leading 3-0 at half-time. What a relief it was for us when the referee abandoned the game at that stage; we had another chance.

With 6 games to go, City were at the bottom of the table and relegation seemed certain. In theory they had to win all their remaining games to have a chance of staying up.

Records show that they then beat both Barnsley and Doncaster 3-1, Rotherham 2-0, and then Bristol City 4-0. We started to believe it could happen. Then a 1-0 win against Huddersfield.

On the last day it was between Lincoln and Notts County to go down with Doncaster. And it was the replayed game with Cardiff. What a game it was. We were euphoric as Cardiff were convincingly defeated 3-1 – the Imps now seemed invincible. Forwards Roy Chapman and Ron Harbertson, recently signed by magical manager Bill Anderson, were our heroes. Then the news came through that Notts County had failed to win. Lincoln had escaped!

It might have been a cup final, the crowd jumped over the low wall and rushed onto the pitch to congratulate the players. Us too.

Anything seemed possible after that.

Lincoln City FC Official Archive


1966 World Cup Final 

Can it really be 50 years since that special day when England won the world cup? For me, it was the natural culmination of a childhood where football was a dominant influence, even in provincial Lincoln. 

Those were our heroes, especially Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. And it all came good after heart stopping drama, watched by the nation on the recently widespread television – in my case the future in-laws’ front room in Peckham.

In 1970 the dream ended, through misfortune and that magical Brazilian Pele. Another world cup and I just had to give up that strong emotional attachment to the fortunes of an increasingly frail team – it was too much.

Things were never the same again. The English league joined the charge to obscene rewards for players, and paradoxically the national team’s performances never again approached those heady heights. 

Well, did it matter? At the end of the day, it’s only a game! 

The most precious

‘I have always held and am prepared against all evidence to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have’.

John Ruskin 1819-1900

Lincoln cathedral is a part of me. Its image and presence are always there within.

I am the boy cycling around the countryside, always on the lookout for that sudden view across the flat Lincolnshire plain of the unmistakeable cathedral standing proud on the hill – from the south on my regular bike rides through Hykeham and Auburn – from the west near Saxilby by the Roman-built Fosse Dyke, along which pleasure boats ventured from Brayford Pool towards the River Trent – and from the east near Southrey, where we loved crossing the River Witham on the chain ferry.

I am the teenager on the bus going to secondary school in the centre of Lincoln, two miles from home – we always sat at the front upstairs and watched the cathedral getting closer and closer, often forced to wait as steam trains traversed the two level crossings on the High Street.

I am the student at that City School, the old technical college. Every Wednesday at lunchtime we would independently climb up the steep Greestone Steps, along by the girls’ High School. A friend and I often kicked a tennis ball along the way, defying it to get past us and roll down Lindum Hill into the lower city. There were a few scares, but it never did.

At the top the steps open out into the cathedral precinct and we walked in the shadow of its mighty walls, often pausing to inspect the statue of Lincolnshire poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson on the green, before walking on another mile to the school sports ground – to endure or enjoy as the case might be.

The annual school service was held in the nave of the cathedral, so we spent slightly bored minutes there as the service slowly progressed, but at the same time absorbed the experience of those magnificent gothic arches.

Lincoln Imp

I am the football fan, regularly watching Lincoln City play at their Sincil Bank ground. City then frequented the lower reaches of the old Second Division. We shouted ‘come on the imps’ or ‘up the imps’, long before I knew they got that nickname from the stone imp in the cathedral.

I am the adult who made pilgrimages to that cathedral when I could fit them in – the view of the west front from the castle, the walk around the outside, the internal tour of nave, choir, the imp itself high up on a pillar, cloisters, library and the chapter house where parliament once sat. And sometimes a look at the cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta [now on display in Lincoln Castle], and possibly a climb up the 338 steps of the cathedral tower. This was always something special, picking out all those familiar places from this unfamiliar angle. On windy days the tower sways. On clear days you can see Boston Stump, nearly 30 miles away. You used to just turn up and climb on your own, but you now have to go with a tour.

West front from castle

Sometimes the tower was closed. I remember fairly regular reports in the Lincolnshire Echo that someone had jumped to his or her death from the great tower, but I believe this is now much more difficult.

In more recent years, an evening walk has seen the cathedral floodlit into an achingly clear etching in the night sky.

No trip to Lincoln was complete without also visiting the Usher Art Gallery [now simply the Usher Gallery]. What always attracted me the most was a number of excellent paintings of the cathedral by the English landscape painter Peter de Wint, whose wife was from Lincoln.

Model of Lincoln Cathedral with original spires

According to Wikipedia, for 238 years, from 1311-1549, Lincoln Cathedral was the highest building in the world at 524 feet. That is a far longer period of dominance than any other building since 1300. It only lost its preeminence in 1549 because the spire on the central tower collapsed and was never rebuilt – Lincoln was never again as rich as in that early medieval period. It seems that, had this spire remained, Lincoln Cathedral would have retained top spot until Ulm Minster was completed in 1890, at 530ft – that’s 579 years! [Add to that the fact Lincoln Cathedral sits on top of a steep hill!]

The spires on the western towers were removed in 1807; even without spires the building remains beautiful and dominates the city.

Lincoln Cathedral also has the third largest by floor space in England, after St Paul’s in London and York Minster.

It was probably the childhood inspiration that came from frequent contact with this great building that led to my lifelong interest in cathedrals and great religious buildings. Having visited many of the great European gothic cathedrals, I can report that, for me, none surpasses Lincoln for its overall effect – probably because of its magnificent hilltop location. I recall only Laon in France as being similarly dominant over its surroundings. Certainly Chartres is more mystical and has superior stained glass windows, as does the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, Amiens and Cologne are more massive, St Denis and Reims are perhaps more historic, and so on. They each have their own special features. But overall Lincoln is, for me as for John Ruskin, simply the best.

Some images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons:
view from castle by Jungpionier
the imp by Dave Hitchborne
spire model by Aidan McRae Thomson