Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Pachyderm In The Park

Just north of Osbournby on the Bourne to Sleaford road, the A15 makes a sudden swerve to the left in order to circumnavigate Aswarby Park. But if you take the lane into the tiny hamlet you will be confronted by the church of St.Denis, and if you see it in bright autumn sunlight as I did last week then it will appear like the ghost of a Lincolnshire church. Which in turn has its own ghost story attached. M.R.James stayed at the now demolished hall and used it as the backdrop to one of his most chilling tales Lost Hearts. All that remains in the park opposite to mark the building's passing are two columns out amongst the sheep and fallen trees, both surmounted by boar's heads, the Whichcote family crest.

But I was here for a purpose, to try and solve a puzzle that has exercised me for some time. Dwellers in Unmitigated England may remember my oblique reference to a mound in a Lincolnshire park. This came about because of a revised note to Aswarby in The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, made by John Harris to Pevsner's comment about a possible barrow in the park: "It has been reported...that it was raised in the c19 to cover an elephant which died in a travelling circus!" A number of times I have scanned the park for even the slightest eminence but to no avail. After chasing a woman I saw unlocking the church I discovered that there was "talk of an elephant" in the distant past, but nothing more. So the girls were put to work up and down the library ladders until finally I was presented with a map reference for a supposed barrow in the park. Right next to the A15 as it straightens up to continue northwards. Just past the equally ghostly and sadly defunct Tally Ho Inn that stands forlorn on the left hand side. Why hadn't I seen it?

Further burning of candles at the midnight hour then brought a startling discovery. Tayleur's Great American Circus toured the country during 1880 and the early years of the 1890s. The circus (once witnessed by Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll in Eastbourne), visited Grantham, some thirteen miles to the west, on a stormy night on the 24th September 1892. A further piece of the pachydermal jigsaw appeared when I discovered that Lord Whichcote granted permission for the interment of an elephant from a travelling circus in Aswarby Park in....1892. All of these snippets came with the get-out words "legend" or "myth" but I'm now convinced that there's too much detail for there not to be some truth in this curiosity.

So yesterday, an appropriately stormy day, I set out for Aswarby again, but this time accompanied by the eagle-eyed Mother-of-My-Youngest-Children. Who of course immediately spotted the pear-shaped mound exactly as the map reference had indicated. My excuses for not seeing it sooner, viz: "there's a tree at one end of it and it's behind a hedge", drew not one ounce of sympathy. "You just get impatient if there's not a sign saying 'Elephant Buried Here".  

The A15 got closed further on because a straw stack the size of a town hall was on fire, so we took advantage of a quieter road and with the wind blowing with apocalyptic force I negotiated a steep-sided ditch to wait for the imminent break of sunlight in the dark rolling clouds. I staggered back to the car. "Any luck?" "You won't believe it. There's two tusks sticking up out of it!". "NO! You're joking!". "Yes." So, there we are. There's much more to do, and short of a proper excavation that could get very complicated it looks like there's a few hours to be put in trawling the archives of the contemporary press. Which, knowing this county of old, will throw up even more curiosities to chase after on stormy days.


Tom B said...

Great post Peter! Interesting with just the right dose of quintessential eccentricity
Did you find any cheap umbrella stands locally?

Peter Ashley said...

I'm always sans an umbrella Tom. Not because of some vain show of machismo, but because I always forget that I've got one in the boot. But to answer your question I think there were some cheapos in the Sleaford Spar where I bought an HP Sauce sausage roll. Just as an experiment you understand.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Our American cousins, of course, would say that your umbrella was in the trunk...

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Philip. I'll never forget that.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the whalebone gate in High Barnet. Similarly mysterious, and probably from the same era

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