Conisholme: Canon Thomas Longley

Perched on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Louth is the closest town of any size to Conisholme. As you drive in from the south, after a long haul across flat, open country, the road drops down a slight hill into a treed area, with a few houses set back from the road, then almost immediately you find yourself in the centre of a traditional market town with a very impressive perpendicular style church that seems too big and grand for the town. I had booked a room at The Miller’s Daughter in Northgate, which sounded as though it would be central – and it was. After settling in, I wandered into the bar and ordered a glass of red wine. The barmaid produced two opened bottles of rosé wine, and said that was the nearest they had. This told me all I wanted to know about the pub, and I left and found a pleasant meal in a café around the corner – with a glass of proper red wine.

The next morning wasn’t as sunny as the previous days had been. I found my way out of Louth and set off for Conisholme. I struck the coast road opposite a track signposted “Seaview Farm” which begged for exploration. There was no sea (although I could hear it), and little view, as the cloudy sky had turned into mist, or even fog. What could be seen was the famous sea marshes. Notices described the area as a wildlife sanctuary and a weapons testing site, and warned against getting caught by a rapidly rising tide.

St Peter's Conisholme – 2009

St Peter's Conisholme – 2009

A few miles up the road I reached Conisholme: a small village indeed, whose main claims to fame now seem to be a wind farm with about 20  towers, and Appleby’s Ice Cream parlour. I spotted a sign for Church Lane, and found St Peter’s Church. At first I thought it could only have been a chapel for the cemetery – it is so small by comparison with the other village churches I had visited, and almost completely hidden from the road by trees. However, that was it. It’s Early English in style. The church was locked, but I found what I was looking for near the edge of the graveyard: gravestones for my mother’s grandfather Canon Thomas Longley, his wife Alice Ann Longley (née Lambert), her sister Katherine Jane Burke, and his daughter Olga Mary Longley (my great aunt).

Gravestone at Conisholme

Olga never married, but Thomas and Alice’s younger daughter did marry: she married her second cousin, Reginald Walter Longley, my grandfather. I had already visited their life together in Norwich, and I was going to search for her cousin later when I got to Leeds.

Incidentally, I recognised the name Burke: among the papers that have survived and ended up at Rickmansworth are letters from H.E.U. (Ulick) Burke, to his mother Katherine, then living at Conisholme, around the turn of the century. Ulick’s father was an Irish doctor, William Burke, who died when Ulick was a child. Ulick was living in Sydney in Australia, somehow connected with the army. In 1915 he signed up with the Australian forces, and was sent to Egypt, from where he went to Gallipoli, landing on the second day of the attack. Gallipoli is the most significant battle in Australian history – a baptism of fire for the new country – and the stuff of much legend. Ulick was injured, and spent some time as an invalid in England before being repatriated to Australia and discharged.

Excerpt from Ulick Burke's war record (from Aust. War Memorial)

After a year he signed up again, and was again sent to Egypt –but the war seems to have ended before he faced action again, and the trail goes cold after that. An interesting character though. The Australian War Memorial file on him is about 50 pages thick, and reveals a lot: for example he went to school in Louth, served in the Boer War (as a teenager presumably).

Thomas Longley

Thomas Longley

Canon Thomas Longley spent most of his life in the Lincolnshire marshes. He was born in Leeds, the son of a builder, and went to Magdalen College Cambridge in 1861. After he was ordained he had a couple of jobs in schools, and was Headmaster of Kings Grammar School in Pontefract between 1869 and 1874. This must be where he met Alice Ann Lambert: she was the daughter of a local vicar, Alfred Lambert of Monk Bretton (of whom more later) and appears in the 1861 census as a language teacher. They married in 1870. In 1874 they left Pontefract, and Thomas became vicar of Grainthorpe, Lincolnshire. Fourteen years later they moved a mile down the road to Conisholme where he stayed until his death in 1926.

Thomas’s career – from Headmaster of a provincial grammar school, to a village with a large church to a smaller village with a tiny church – is intriguing. He had an MA from Cambridge, and was a Canon of Lincoln Cathedral –so well-regarded by his bishop. His gravestone actually describes him as Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral (Biggleswade). Biggleswade is a small town in Bedfordshire with an archaic connection to the diocese of Lincoln (it is described as a ‘peculiar’ not a parish), so I presume that Canon Longley’s role was an honorary and traditional one. But what can have kept this intelligent man occupied in the nearly deserted marshes of Lincolnshire for so much of his life? The answer lies in a book and a collection of papers held by the National Archive: Foster, C. W., and Longley, T., 1924. The Lincolnshire Domesday and the Lindsey Survey, Lincoln Record Society. Over the course of his 40-odd years in the area, Thomas Longley becaome an extraordinary expert on the history of nearly every field, paddock, dyke and meadow in the ancient parishes around him, with his research going back as far as the Domesday Book.  His work can best be described in the Archive’s annual report for 1955, just after the papers were donated by Eric Longley (Thomas’s grandson, my uncle).

Among the few is Thomas Longley who was for fifty-two years incumbent of marshland parishes (1874-88, vicar of Grainthorpe, 1888-1926, rector of Conisholme) and who in the course of that time acquired an unrivalled knowledge of the history, topography and historical geography of the coastal strip between Skidbrook and Tetney.

His geographical and topographical inquiries seem first to have begun for the practical purposes of tithe collection but he soon went beyond this. From tithe maps, enclosure awards, dikereeves’ acre-books, title-deeds, sale catalogues and above all from his own observation he began to plot the history of individual pieces of land, of successive sea banks and of the drainage of the area. The identification of fields and settlements led him into the collection of place and field names and even more into an investigation of the successive owners of the land. For this purpose he found it necessary to construct a framework of “manorial descents, ” to pursue various genealogical inquiries and to collect all available information about the holdings of local religious houses.

The peculiarities of manorial history in the Danelaw can be explained only by an intensive study of the Domesday Survey, of the Lindsey Survey which followed it and of the two’ feudal returns of 1212 and 1243 now printed in The Book of Fees (H.M.S.O., 1921-31) and this Longley set himself to before 1900. He soon began to attack the problem of the assessments and the Lincolnshire hundreds and elaborated a method of tabulating his results which seems to have been of considerable interest and value. To facilitate the work he constructed a formidable apparatus of indexes to such printed editions of the public records as were available to him and to his own notebooks which were scrupulously numbered, paginated and indexed.  

Conisholme (Old) Rectory in 2009

Conisholme (Old) Rectory in 2009

I photographed the church and the gravestones, as well as the Old Rectory next door to the church: as the parish is now merged with Grainthorpe, it’s now an ordinary private house and the gate was locked. But this was where Canon Longley and his family lived for 34 years, and where my mother remembered her holidays as a small child.

Then I stopped by at the much larger (and still active) church at Grainthorpe. There is a very handsome Elizabethan house – Tithe Barn House – next door to the church and I chatted to the owners for a while. They were keen to show me their house and detail its history and archaeology, but – despite being the keyholder for the church next door, couldn’t tell me much more about it or the Conisholme church. It occurred to me that what I had learnt in my hour or two of rushing through the area was in stark contrast to the extraordinary detailed knowledge of the area over 800 years that Thomas Longley had acquired – but then he had a lifetime to do it in. He seems to have been the very model of a bookish nineteenth century country vicar.

And so on, north and west, to Yorkshire. Although I actually went to Leeds first, I will describe my visit to Monk Bretton next as it fits more directly with the Conisholme story.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Rob M on May 21, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    A friend has been researching my family tree and has discovered that Thomas is my 3rd cousin 5 times removed. Thanks for the info. very interesting!


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