Trevor Belshaw Author

Author of Out of Control

The Winter of 63

By Richard Johnson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6589924

Another of the articles I wrote for Best of British magazine.

Winter is almost upon us once again. I wonder what the next few months have in store for us weather-wise?

Looking back, I can’t remember many bad winters over the last forty odd years, none that match the winter of 1963 at least. It stands out in memory as the worst (and best) winter I have ever experienced; I was nine at the time.

We kids welcomed the snow and all the extra time off school. We made snowmen, toboggans from bits of old wood or old pram parts and the most lethal pavement slides you ever saw. We had one on our road that would carry you a good twenty five yards. Adults hated us for making them; as I said, they were lethal. Once a fresh covering of snow had landed there was no telling it was there until an unsuspecting adult tried to negotiate the pavement. I can remember my father getting a letter from the milkman saying we would have to pay for any more breakages ourselves. The slide was there for almost three months so you would think he’d have remembered where it was after his second or third fall.

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After The Flood

In the early 1960’s we moved from our old Victorian slum to a brand-new house on a brand-new estate in Kirk Hallam, Ilkeston. I was about seven at the time

The old house, which was tied to my father’s job at the iron works, had been flooded. We lost just about everything; the waters had come half way up the stairs.

The flood struck at 8.am on Sunday 4th December 1960. The normally placid Nutbrook stream, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks and flooded the Ironworks and the bottom half of Crompton Street. The water carried a hidden danger in the form of highly flammable, Benzoline oil that sat on the surface of the water. I didn’t know until years later that the oil had been a problem. I remember my father sitting on the sill of the upstairs window of our house as he smoked and chatted to the people next door. Cigarette stubs were flicked into the water at regular intervals.

We were rescued by the fire brigade who took us all to a community centre where we slept in sleeping bags on the floor for a few nights.

It was a major adventure for us kids but not so much fun for the parents or the older members of the community. I could have slept on a clothes line in those days but I doubt some people there got a wink of sleep.

We were fed soup and sandwiches by the Salvation Army. Before the evening meal we all had to stand and sing ‘I’ll be a sunbeam.’ My father, a reluctant Christian at best, would move his lips like a poor ventriloquist then burst into song on the final line of the chorus.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
A bloody fine sunbeam am I.

During the day we played Beetle, Draughts, Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly. The older residents must have been sick to death of Ludo, but they gritted their teeth and played on. I think they’d have done anything to keep the more energetic kids on their backsides, sat at chairs and tables instead of hurtling around on the parquet floor.

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Peggy Larkin’s War; Back To The Blitz.

Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, waiting outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940. New Times Paris Bureau Collection. (USIA) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 306-NT-3163V WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1009

Chapter One

‘See who’s at the door, please, Peggy.’

Mrs Henderson pulled open the heavy blackout curtains with a grunt. The late August sun lit up the cosy sitting room, highlighting the floral pattern on the square of carpet that sat neatly between the brown, horsehair sofa and the high-backed chair that nestled next to the open fireplace.

‘It’s the postman.’

Peggy Larkin walked into the lounge carrying a handful of brown envelopes. She handed them to the tall, grey haired woman, who had been Peggy’s guardian since she had been evacuated from London to the big house in the small country village, almost a year before. Their relationship had begun poorly, but over time it had flourished and they had become very close.

Mrs Henderson flicked through the letters and selected one with a London postmark. She recognised the fine, neatly-spaced handwriting, immediately.

‘Ah, a letter from your mother, Peggy. Let’s see what news she brings us.’

Mrs Henderson picked up a small silver knife and slid it across the top of the envelope. She took out the two-page letter and scanned the first page quickly before handing the second page to Peggy.

‘Here’s your share.’

She smiled broadly as she re-read the first page, then sat down on the sofa as she waited for Peggy to read her portion of the letter.

‘Aunt Margie is getting married!’

Peggy looked up from the letter, a huge grin on her face.

‘And Mum wants us to go home for the wedding!’

Peggy danced around the room, clutching the letter to her chest.

‘It’s only for a few days,’ Mrs Henderson advised. ‘Your mother thinks you’ll be safe enough in London for a short time at least. The bombing everyone thought would come, hasn’t materialised.’

‘I know,’ Peggy replied. ‘Some of the evacuees in the village went home at the start of the school holidays and they haven’t come back. People think it’s safe now. My teacher, Mrs Johnson, says the Germans might not bomb us at all. Mr Hitler seems to be busy fighting in France.’

‘We’ll have to see about that,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched, Peggy. It’s not safe to go back for good.’ She folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. ‘Anyway, on a selfish note, I’d miss you too much, and your mother has a very important job at the armaments factory. With the long shifts she has to work, I doubt she can find the time to look after you as well.’

Peggy nodded.

‘I know,’ she said sadly. ‘Mum works twelve hour shifts at different factories around London, she has to train women how to make the bombs and mines as well as doing her own job. It’s very dangerous work.’

Peggy was quiet for a few moments, then she stepped across the room to give Mrs Henderson a hug.

‘I’m very happy here. It will be nice when I can go home, but until then, I know you’ll look after me.’

Mrs Henderson hugged Peggy tight.

‘It’s been a pleasure my dear.’ A tear ran down her cheek. She hurriedly turned her head and dabbed her face with a white, handkerchief as Peggy pulled away.

‘Something in my eye,’ she sniffed.

Mrs Henderson walked through to the kitchen, shook the kettle, decided there was enough water in it to make tea, and placed it on the hob.

‘We have to make plans,’ she said. ‘We’ll need to check train timetables, buy tickets…’ She placed both hands on Peggy’s shoulders, her eye wide in excitement. ‘… and you’ll need a new dress to wear. We only have a couple of weeks to get ready. Your auntie’s fiancé has only got limited leave. He’ll have to go back to his regiment the day after the service. It’s all a bit rushed, but that’s what young people have to do today, what with the war and all.’

‘Are you coming too?’ asked Peggy.

‘Oh, I’m not invited,’ laughed Mrs Henderson. ‘It’s only a small, family occasion. So, we’ll need to find you a chaperon.’

‘A chapel what?’ Peggy looked confused.

‘It means a companion,’ explained Mrs Henderson. Someone to travel with, to make sure you get there safely.’

‘Harry can be my chappie, thingy,’ replied Peggy.

‘Your brother’s younger than you, dear,’ said Mrs Henderson with a little laugh. ‘I bet he’s had a letter too; we’ll have to drop in at the Watsons’ to organise things.’

Peggy and her younger brother had been split up the day they arrived. Harry was staying with a middle-aged couple on the other side of the village.

‘I think Harry’s forgotten all about Mum,’ said Peggy softly. ‘He never mentions home when I see him.’

Mrs Henderson patted Peggy on the shoulder.

‘I’m sure he remembers her; he’ll be just as happy as you are to go back to London for a while.’

‘I’m not so sure,’ said Peggy with a shake of her head. ‘He’s changed so much over the past year.’

‘Don’t worry about him, Peggy,’ said Mrs Henderson, softly. ‘He’s just settled in very well, that’s all. It’s a good thing really, you wouldn’t want him to be unhappy now, would you?’

‘He calls them Mum and Dad,’ said Peggy, ‘but they’re not.’

‘No, they’re not,’ replied Peggy’s guardian, ‘and I’m sure he knows that. It’ll just be a habit he’s gotten into that’s all.’

Their conversation was interrupted when they heard a frenzied, hammering on the front door.

‘Goodness me,’ said Mrs Henderson. ‘Something sounds urgent.’

She hurried to the front door and flung it open, Peggy rushed along behind.

On the doorstep stood a young boy. His hair was close-cropped, he wore a dirty, white shirt, trousers that were torn at the knee, and mud-caked boots, which he scraped on the edge of the step as he waited.

‘ALFIE!’ cried Mrs Henderson. ‘What on earth is the matter?’

Alfie was a few months older than Peggy; he had been evacuated to a nearby farm at more or less the same time that she had arrived in the village. He and Peggy were best friends and had shared a scary adventure.

‘Nothing much,’ said the boy, looking puzzled. ‘Can Peggy come out to play?’

Mrs Henderson blew out her cheeks.

‘Thank goodness for that. I thought someone had come to tell us the Germans were invading the village.’

‘They’re tied up in France,’ said Alfie seriously. ‘I heard it on the news this morning.’

Mrs Henderson turned away and returned to the kitchen. Peggy walked out onto the front step. She waved her letter at Alfie.

‘I’ve got exciting news,’ she said. ‘I’m going back to London in a couple of weeks.’

‘London!’ he exclaimed. ‘Brilliant news.’ He stared at her; excitement written all over his face.

Peggy grinned.

‘Mrs Henderson is going to find me a… a, chappie something… Someone to look after me on the journey.’

‘There’s no need for that,’ said Alfie. ‘I’m the only chappie you need. I’m going to come with you.’

The Westwich Writer’s Club

This is a serial I began writing in 2010. Sixteen chapters were written and published on a blog. It proved to be quite popular and I’ve been asked many times if I’ll finish it and turn it into a book. I think the time has now come to do that, so, I’m going for publish the first four or five chapter’s on here to see if there really is an audience for it. Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated.

Chapter One

Manuscript Night

‘Will stared down at the lifeless body of Sir Charles Montague and smiled thinly. It was over, his tormentor was dead. He pulled his sword from the neck of his victim, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it. He looked at the brightening sky, the sun said noon, time to make for Durberry Vale, Elizabeth, and the rest of his life.’

Stephen King looked up from his manuscript and surveyed the hall. The audience of mainly elderly members stared back at him. The silence was deafening. Then from the table behind him came a solitary clap.

Margot Sugden, the writers group secretary, rose to her feet.

‘Thank you for that, Stephen, I’m sure we all found it very interesting. Not many members read the last chapter of their novel on their first manuscript reading but there’s no rule that says you can’t.’

She held up her list and squinted at it.

‘Now, whose turn is it? Ah yes, Deirdre, do you have more from ‘The Quilt? You do? Excellent!’

Stephen made his way to the row of empty chairs at the back of the room and sat down with a sigh.

A white-haired woman turned to face him from the row in front.

‘Awfully good.’ she whispered. ‘For a first timer.’

‘Thank you,’ said Stephen, ‘I don’t think it went down too well.’

‘I think it needs work,’ she replied, ‘quite a bit actually and people tend to read novels from the first chapter here. But you’re writing and getting an audience, that’s what counts.’

She paused, popped a mint into her mouth, thought for a moment, then offered the packet to Stephen.

‘You will find it will take a while to become accepted here. We’re an ancient bunch with a very old-fashioned mentality. We probably see you as a bit of a threat at the moment, but we’ll get used to you…eventually.’

Stephen took a sweet from the end of the roll and smiled.

‘I’ve only written the last five pages of this particular novel so far, ‘I thought if I got the end done, I’d know where I was heading with the story, if you see what I mean.’

A warm round of applause greeted Deirdre as she took to the stage. Mary’s voice dropped to a whisper as she was shushed by the members in front.

‘You ought to be writing horror stories with a name like yours. I’m Mary Clark by the way.’

‘My English teacher said the same thing at school. Nice to meet you, Mary.’

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

Chapter Two

New Ideas.

In the meeting room, Stephen returned to his seat on the back row. Mary was chaperoned to a chair nearer the front by the elderly man who had confronted him in the bar. He gave Stephen a warning look before he sat down.

Margot got to her feet and squinted at her list.

‘Ted?’ she queried.

‘You really ought to go back to glasses, Margot,’ said Ted, as he picked up his clipboard from the floor.

Margot blushed and sat down.

Ted marched to the podium, nodded to Harriet and addressed the membership.

‘Ted Hughes, not the famous one,’ he announced.

A gentle titter ran around the room.

‘I was going to read a new poem, but as I don’t have to share reading time with my grandson tonight, I’ve decided to read the latest chapter of my novel instead.’

Ted patted his pockets, looked back to his seat, then patted his pockets again before eventually finding his spectacles on a thin chain around his neck. He cleared his throat and read from the clipboard.

‘The Jonah. Chapter 14. Unlucky for Some.’

The membership stopped fidgeting and concentrated on Ted.

‘Captain Farthing strolled into the coffee bar from the dusty street and took a table by the window, he ordered tea from a native waitress. It was stinking hot. The waitress sniffed, gave him a queer look and turned the propeller fan above their heads up to full speed.

Captain Farthing added two large spoonfuls of sugar and milk from a jug on the tray and stirred his tea slowly. He sipped the tea idly and thought about Fiona. Would she turn up after their last meeting? He doubted it. He remembered how he had trapped her ball gown in the door of his car and her horrified face when she realised it had dragged through the mud.

He hoped she had forgiven him.

There was a tinkle and Fiona stood before him. ‘Hello Farthy,’ she said. Fiona sniffed from her delightful nose. She lifted first one foot then the other and checked her shoes.

Farthing groaned as he realised in horror that the smell must be emanating from his shoes. He checked them under the table. Sure enough it was him, somewhere out on the dirty, dusty street he had trodden in dog shit.

Fiona was sympathetic. ‘You get all the bad luck, Farthy,’ she said, ‘you must be the unluckiest man in India…’

As the story progressed Stephen developed an almost uncontrollable urge to laugh. He bit his lip, then his cheek, but still the laughter welled up inside him. He decided he had to get out before he collapsed in a heap on the floor.

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

Chapter Three.

Grudging Thanks

Stephen walked out of the rear entrance and made his way across the tiny, puddle-strewn car park to the street. The car park only had a dozen spaces and they had all been taken by writer’s club members. Stephen wondered what time he would have to get there to claim one of the spaces. He suspected he would need to be there a good half hour before the meeting started.

The club was situated at the bottom of a narrow street on a steep hill. Close to town, the street was popular with drivers as it was one of the few places left without yellow lines and parking meters. Pedestrians splashed their way along the pavement eager to get to their destination and out of the gathering storm.

Stephen held his plastic document folder above his head and jogged up the hill to his car. By the time he reached it the rain had begun in earnest. A clap of thunder rattled the windows of the taller buildings, a few seconds later a crazy zig-zag of lightning lit up the night sky.

Stephen fired up the engine and switched on the headlights. The music of Snow Patrol roared out from the speakers. He began to sing along as he flicked the indicator and eased his way through narrow gap between the lines of parked cars.

Half way up the street he noticed two figures struggling with an umbrella. Stephen hit a button and the window was lowered.

‘Can I give you a lift?’ he called.

Mick glared from under the peak of his cap.

‘No thanks, we’re fine.’

‘You may be fine, Mick, but I’m getting soaked,’ said Mary. ‘Thank you, young man.’

Mick opened the back door and waited for Mary to get into the car. To his annoyance she opened the front door and climbed in next to Stephen. She snapped on her seat belt as Mick grudgingly threw himself into the rear seat.

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

Chapter Four

Work Issues

After dinner Charlotte bought her laptop over and went through her collection of digital photographs that she had taken on safari. Stephen was impressed with her detailed knowledge of the animals and places.

‘You should write it all down, Charlie, I’m sure it would find an audience.’

‘Me, write? as in writing something other than an email or a report? I can’t see it somehow.’

‘I read your emails, they were very descriptive, I think you’ve got a real talent there. It just needs polishing up a bit. While you were away, I joined the local writers group. They’re a strange lot, mainly elderly, but they do have some younger members stashed away in a cupboard somewhere. Why don’t you join too? maybe together we could blow away some of the cobwebs and get it functioning again. What do you say?’

‘Writing, hmm, I have to admit I’ve always fancied the idea. My old English teacher said I should be a journalist. It’s certainly worth thinking about. What do they do at this group?’

‘Not a lot as things stand, but they do have writing competitions every month and they have reading nights, so you can get an idea of what strangers think of your work. Family members and friends are always going to be polite about your writing, and while that’s encouraging, it’s not really going to help.’

Stephen put the last few pages of his novel on the table. Charlotte picked it up and read.

‘This is great,’ she said eventually, ‘where’s the rest of it?’

Stephen tapped his head.

‘In here, I’ve more or less got it all worked out.’

‘So, you wrote the ending first?’

‘Yes, I know, the writers group thought I was mad too. Or at least I think they did; I didn’t get any reaction from them at all when I read it.’

Charlotte pursed her lips and thought for a moment.

‘Thinking about it, it’s quite logical. You should know where you’re going to end up.’

‘That’s how I see it. Of course, when I write the preceding chapters the story might take a major diversion and it may end up in a totally different place, but I just thought I’d give it a go.’

‘If the writers club is so old and crumbly, is there any real point in me joining. They sound a mean old bunch.’

‘I was told they are just scared of change; they know things will have to be done differently if the group is going to survive, but they just can’t face up to that reality.’

‘So, what are you going to do, start a revolution?’

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

Chapter Five

The Wrong Side of the Tracks

Chapter Five

It took Stephen the rest of the afternoon to remove the various worms and Trojans that had infiltrated Mick’s computer defences. He ran five spyware scans a full virus sweep and rebooted the machine several times before he was confident that the machine was infection free.

At five thirty Carole popped her head round the door of the workshop.

‘I’m off now boss, I need to call in at the supermarket on the way home. See you tomorrow.’

‘Give me a minute, Carole,’ called Paul, ‘I’ll drop you off, I’m going that way.’

‘Night boss,’ they called together as they left the shop.

Stephen began the final tests on Mick’s PC.

‘No home to go to Mel?’

‘I’ve nothing on tonight, so I’m not in a hurry.’

Stephen heard her slide from her seat, a few seconds later he felt her breast press against his elbow. She slid a hand around his waist and stretched to look over his shoulder.

‘Anything I can do?’ she whispered.

Stephen straightened and edged away to the side.

‘No thanks, Mel, I’m almost done now. I just have to deliver the bloody thing.’

‘Need any company? I’ll come with you if you like.’

‘Thanks for the offer Mel, but I don’t’ want to put you to any trouble.’

Mel pushed her body against him, placed a hand on his hip and looked up into his face.

‘It’s no trouble.’

Stephen tried to back off again but found himself pressed tight up against the wall. He lifted his hands in a defensive posture, then thinking that she might get the wrong idea, stuck them in his pockets instead.

‘Mel… I’

‘Okay, boss, wrong time, wrong place, eh?’

‘Mel, there isn’t a r…’

Mel shushed him, stretched, and placed a soft kiss on his lips.’

‘Another time then. Goodnight.’

She turned away, picked up her bag and performed a catwalk wiggle across the workshop, Stephen’s eyes followed her every movement. When she reached the workshop door, she looked over her shoulder and blew a kiss.

‘See you tomorrow boss.’

Stephen wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

‘That was a close one,’ he said aloud.

At six-thirty he loaded the repaired computer into the boot of his BMW, locked up the shop and joined the tail end of the rush hour traffic. He pushed a Deep Purple CD into the player and turned up the volume. As he drove along the ring road, he began to think about a new plot twist for his novel. He decided it would take the story off at a tangent but it might make it stronger in the end.

As he drove through the council estate, he spotted a small convenience store and pulled up at the side of the road. Stephen followed a well-used path that had been worn into the grass bank and climbed the slight incline. The Mini Mart was the first in a small line of shops.

On the pavement outside, a group of hooded teenagers leaned against a wall talking in their own coded language. Stephen hurried into the store trying not to make eye contact.

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The Westwich Writer’s Club

Chapter Six

The ‘Orgy’

Chapter Six

At the end of Redvale Lane, Stephen pulled onto the grass verge, picked up Mick’s job sheet and entered the address details into his sat-nav.

‘After three hundred yards, turn left,’ he was advised.

A few minutes later he pulled up in front of a short row of terraced houses. Mick’s was right in the centre at number four. Stephen flipped the latch on the wrought iron gate and stepped up to the red painted front door. There was a choice of a bell push or a brass knocker. He chose the bell push, there was no reply, so he beat a rat-a-tat-tat with the door knocker.

A woman’s head popped out of the upstairs window at number three.

‘What are you after?’

‘I’m looking for Mr Morrison,’ said Stephen. ‘I’ve got a delivery for him.’

‘He’s not in.’

Stephen looked at his watch.

‘I suppose I am a bit late.’

‘It wouldn’t matter what time you turned up, he’s never in these days,’ advised the woman.

‘Any idea when he’ll be back?’

‘Could be any time, I’ve seen him sneak back in after midnight. Is it a parcel? I can take it in if you like. I’ll make sure he gets it.’

‘No, it’s not a parcel, I’m returning his computer. I need to set it up for him and show him a couple of new programs.’

‘Computers?’ she spat. ‘At his age?’

‘There’s no age limit on using them,’ said Stephen. ‘Most people have one these days.’

‘And we all know what people get up to on them too, that Intynet is full of sex.’

The woman looked up and down the street then came to a decision.

‘Hang on a minute, I’ll come down.’

Stephen moved to her front gate.

There was the sound of bolts being drawn and keys being turned. A few seconds later she stepped out of her doorway patting her steel grey hair into place. She bustled down the path towards him before coming to an abrupt halt just short of the gate.

‘Who did you say you were?’

‘I didn’t, but I’m Stephen King. I run a computer repair shop in town.’

‘You ought to be writing books with a name like that,’ she observed.

‘It has been mentioned,’ said Stephen.

‘Got any ID? You could be anyone.’

Stephen handed her a business card. She held it close to her face, then squinted at it from a distance.

‘Left my glasses on the coffee table,’ she confided. She put the card in the pocket of her cardigan. ‘I’ll read it later.’

‘Any idea where Mick will be?’

‘It’s Mick now is it? It was Mr Morrison a minute ago.’

‘I know him from the Westwich Writers Club, as well as being a customer, Mrs?’

‘Wilde, Mavis.’

‘Do you have a son called Oscar?’ Stephen joked.

‘Oscar’s my cat.’

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The Village

A Thousand Years of Division.

The village of Kirkby Sutton is a conglomerate and an enigma. Formed by the merging of two villages that had outgrown their ability to remain separate as an entity, it nevertheless retains two extremely different and specific identities. One half, as its name suggests, is built around the church and is a, (mainly), well-to-do, haven of respectability, with its Georgian Manor, leafy, wide-verged streets, lined with large, detached houses, driveways, off road parking and a library. There is also a small 1960s estate, a mix of private, three bedroomed, privately-owned houses, with an enclave of housing association tenants bolted on for political expediency.

Down the hill, the other half of the village contains a higgledy-piggledy, hotchpotch of stone cottages, modern, town houses and rows of Victorian terraces, originally built for the employees at the local lace factory, brewery and estate workers, who made the short trip up the road, to toil on the farms of Lord Beresford on the other side of the village. Nowadays, the descendants of those workers still live in the red brick terraces, but are employed by industries in the nearby cities of Nottingham and Derby.

The rivalry of its residents compares to any found in much larger towns and cities. You would be hard pressed to find as much animosity at a local Derby football match in Liverpool or Manchester. The annual village fair, which includes a fiercely fought, tug-of-war competition, held on a boozy bank holiday weekend, regularly turns violent. For years, a police sergeant from the small town of Higton, was paid to referee the event, but when the ageing sergeant retired and the police station was closed down to save money in the 1950s, the residents were left to sort out their own mess, so a committee, made up of the vicar’s wife and a group of teetotal residents from both sides, sat in sober judgment over the proceedings. To this day, the committee still rules on complaints and accusations made by one side against the other. Most of the grievances are easily dismissed, but on a few occasions, a vote has to be taken with the chairperson, a lady with no connection to either side of the village, holding the casting vote.

Sutton is the older part of the village and dates back to Saxon times. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for South town, (village, or enclosure.) It was built on the plain at the bottom of a long slope, on the bend of a fast-flowing stream. They built a timber church, which, in bad winters, became a flood plain. Sick of paddling to church for their religious instruction, they erected another one, higher up the slope, using the soggy timbers from their original construction.

A hundred or so years later the Danes arrived, but instead of rape and pillage, the Vikings merely appropriated the land around the church and began to farm it. This community became known as Kirkby, or, the settlement by the church. Over time, the Danish intruders, became Christianised, improved the church building, and appointed one of their own number, a man from the nearby town of Derby, as priest. They reluctantly allowed their near neighbours to attend religious ceremonies, in an effort to re-Christianise the local population, who had, by now, become almost universally, heathen.

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