A good read: Jonathan Barrett Adams and Laura Nancy Adams, of Harpswell, Maine, display a copy of the Harpswell Anchor’s September edition during a visit to Harpswell, Lincolnshire, England.
During a trip to England in September of this year, my wife and I took a daytrip to Harpswell, Lincolnshire, the original Harpswell after which our Maine town was named. We first learned that Harpswell had been named after the Lincolnshire village from a book of Harpswell history gifted to us when we moved here 10 years ago. The lifting of travel restrictions and a series of negative COVID tests enabled us to take a long-delayed trip to her native England, and Harpswell ranked first on our itinerary of destinations. Blessed with fine weather and prepared with Google Maps directions that proved mostly accurate, we set off.
Harpswell, Lincolnshire, lies some 5 miles east of Gainsborough, a town on the river Trent, where our Google Maps printout indicated a quick succession of rights and lefts that flummoxed my efforts as navigator and briefly led us astray. She asked directions, and in the end a simple right turn would have sufficed. Headed in the right direction, we drove eastward for several miles along a country road, and just as we wondered if perhaps we’d ventured too far, we spied the sign for Harpswell.
Harpswell consists of about half a mile of gently winding single-lane road lined with trees, along which lie some half-dozen houses and an ancient church with a working farm adjacent. At the last census, in 2001, the population was 65. The focal point of the village is St. Chad’s Church, which dates from about 1042 and boasts one of the few remaining complete Anglo-Saxon towers in England. The church was built near a spring that was the site of ancient pagan water worship, the origin of the “well” component of the name Harpswell, “harp” signifying “a road through.” Additions were made to the church in the 13th and 14th centuries, and it was restored in the 1890s.
Intrigued to hear of a St. Chad, I consulted the oracle of Wikipedia to learn that Chad was a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon monk, monastery abbot and later bishop, who was subsequently canonized. During his lifetime, a plague estimated to have lasted roughly 25 years swept through Britain and Ireland, claiming innumerable lives, including those of Chad’s elder brother and many other churchmen. Evidently, Chad interpreted this and other events as signs of the approach of the end times and Judgment Day.
At the entrance to the church grounds, a wrought iron gate incorporating the title “Saint Chads Harpswell” refused to budge, so my wife swiveled herself over the surrounding low stone wall and photographed the church, including part of a small cemetery. We did not attempt to enter the church itself, feeling vaguely like trespassers and having only limited time to explore, though apparently it is open to the public. Adjacent to St. Chad’s is a working farm called Church Farm, where the hum of machinery emanated from a large metal barn full of grain.
A copy of the Harpswell Anchor’s September edition hangs in the village notice board in Harpswell, Lincolnshire, England. (LAURA NANCY ADAMS PHOTO)
Resuming our drive through Harpswell, we stopped to talk with a lady walking her dog, who said she’d lived there for 14 years and loved the village. At the far end of the village, we stopped to take photos of us holding a copy of the Harpswell Anchor in front of the Harpswell sign. A couple heading into the village kindly took a photo of us together. Then we drove back, and my wife put the Harpswell Anchor inside the village notice board. We concluded our visit by driving out of Harpswell along a narrow, flat, mostly straight road through several miles of farm fields punctuated by the occasional farm. Across this landlocked Harpswell, a wind blew much as it does in our own coastal Harpswell.
The author and his wife have lived in West Harpswell (USA) for over a decade. They are locally known as Fish & Chips.