Confined inside a roomy house with a small garden and splendid view of Beverley Minster to the east and one of trees and rooftops to the west beyond the small back garden, we are immensely fortunate. Before the coronavirus lockdown, we had been mourning the felling of magnificent deciduous trees leaving only a few evergreen ones, mainly laurel and yew. When we arrived in Beverley, the roads along each side of the Minster, linked by our street, were lined with houses that backed on to gardens opening on to a large orchard. In springtime the trees boughed down in blossom, like the ones painted by Samuel Palmer. There were neat vegetable plots beneath the trees. Then they were cut down to make way for new houses leaving only a strip of the old orchard inside weathered brick walls. People have the right to live where they wish, if affordable, and so the trees have been cleared away and the last bit of orchard will be built over. Further off, machines have been thumping away to drive foundations deep into low ground with a high water level.
The masons of old knew how and where to build. We are fortunate to live in a house standing on the same solid outcrop as the Minster. Behind our row of houses at the end of the gardens is a narrow path over a culvert that encloses one of the many underground streams. The abundance of streams at the Minster end of the town together with the herds to supply the skins for leather feeding in the nearby meadows were ideal for a tanning industry which continued into living memory. Consequently, the Minster end of Beverley was considered the poor one. The fashionable eighteenth and nineteenth-century promenade, New Walk, lies at the far end of the town near Saint Mary’s, a church built by wealthy guilds in medieval times. On the south side of the Minster is an open field with buildings around it. It was the site of the bishop’s palace, I was told, so it cannot be built over. It lies there waiting for archaeologists to dig and find out what buildings originally lay on the site.
The house where I live replaced a barn serving stables. An unaccounted-for beam protrudes at the top of the stairwell, left over or incorporated from the pre-existing barn, no longer of use. Then the railway arrived in Beverley in the 1860s; the stables and barn were demolished to provide space for a terrace of dwellings. Now the fields beyond the protected site of the presumed bishop’s palace are being covered in brick houses without chimneys, an easy way to date them for future generations: ADF or ‘after domestic fires’, and WDF ‘with domestic fires’, or with chimneys – the verticals on a horizontal building. They will soon be obsolete or historical, like petrol or diesel cars in three years’ time.
Although there have been moves to fell the magnificent copper beech which some say is too close to the Minster’s north transept and could undermine the foundations, those voices have been silent in recent years. That is, I hope, the only mooted change to my east outlook, like the one of Rouen cathedral painted by Claude Monet.
These are the only certain outlooks in a constrained existence, uncertain as we all are of what lies beyond. By a strange coincidence, I have just finished writing a novel about the near future. The right time to publish it is now.