Notes on...

The grim magnificence of Gisborough Priory

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

3 August 2019

9:00 AM

Gisborough Priory was founded in 1119, although the gothic chunks which remain of it today — including the grimly magnificent east end — date largely from the 13th century. A fire had destroyed much of the original building. It has great antiquity, then, nestled on the northern edge of the North York Moors in the market town of Guisborough, within spitting distance of (still, just about) industrial Teesside. The place has always had a certain resonance for me, not least because it adjoins the graveyard of St Nicholas Church, which was an important venue for somewhat brusque and pragmatic courtships when I was an early teen. Late at night, in the darkness, as I fumbled with zip or catch, I feared waves of Augustinian opprobrium from the ruins might sweep over me and then a booming voice: ‘Stop that immediately, you horrible child.’ That’s why everything was a little hurried back then. At least that’s my excuse.

Now, in late July every year, we turn up to Proms in the Priory. Just one night of proms — the last night. This year it was the London Gala Orchestra and the Scottish-Polish soprano Natasha Day. We gather in our hundreds, with our picnic hampers and fold-away chairs from Morrisons and copious quantities of alcohol and — most importantly — our Union Jack flags. There are never any European Union flags on display, nor is there anyone to rebuke us, or look down on us, for indulging in untrammelled patriotism. There is no BBC to shoehorn in its fatuous liberal agenda, nor lesbian conductors who think the last night of the Proms is all about them and hector the audience about refugees. Just the music. A first half of light classical stuff — ‘Peer Gynt’, ‘March of the Toreadors’, ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ — which we sit through in comfortable compliance. And then the second half, bathed in a clinging sea fret, and the damp flags come out and are waved jubilantly in the sodden air. ‘Hornpipe’, ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and always, of course, the finale of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Many of us are a little tearful. We all sing along — even if it is only to repeat ‘wider still and, er, wider’ or ‘mightier, dum dum dum and mighty’ every few seconds. It is repeated to more tears and louder singing and even more frantic flag-waving.

Then Natasha comes back and suggests that we’ll meet again some sunny day, and we go home. We go home full of a strange and yet persistent love for our country, happy that we were allowed to show it without being called thick racists. We chatter among ourselves and bump into friends we haven’t seen for a while. We all know each other, pretty much. For we are the ‘somewheres’, in David Goodhart’s terminology, the majority of people who voted Leave, who know where they are from and wouldn’t change it for the world. And this was our little night. And we’ll be back next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, regardless of the hoots of derision emanating from our betters, down the bottom of the A1.

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