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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the March 2016 issue

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Horncastle is well known far and wide as the ‘antiques capital of Lincolnshire’ but, as a traditional market town nestled between the River Bain and the River Waring, it is also a gateway to the Wolds, an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It has cobbled streets and thatched houses, Roman ruins and a thirteenth-century church, and like the Wolds themselves it is a hidden gem to explore.

Along with its antique shops, the town has a thriving agricultural community and many long-established family businesses that have served the town for many years and generations. One such firm is estate agent Robert Bell and Company in Old Bank Chambers which has been established in the town since 1799.

Estate agency is only a small part of the firm. It is also a local land agent and auctioneer which has worked very closely with the local agricultural community.

Owner Robert Bell is the third generation of his family to run the firm and is a fount of local knowledge.

“Horncastle has a long history as a market town and can boast a long tradition going back beyond when it was given a Charter by Richard II in 1389. It had cattle and sheep markets weekly on a Thursday with several special fairs – such as Spring Store Cattle or Gimmer and Breeding Sheep Fairs in September,” said Mr Bell.

“It was quite a focal point for the sale of horses from the Wolds, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Horncastle at one time had the largest horse fair in Europe and the number of alehouses and pubs to go with it – fifty-six in 1851.

“Horses were shown and sold in pub yards as well as the Bull Ring, so the town would be brought to a standstill.

“I think one of the first grand national winners was sold through the Horncastle horse fairs. My grandfather helped sell at the August Horse Fairs but numbers dwindled as horses were superseded by cars and tractors and the last annual fair was held in 1948.”

Mr Bell is a surviving auctioneer of Horncastle Cattle Market.

“The weekly livestock markets continued. There were thirty livestock markets across the county 100 years ago and now there is only one in Louth. In 1939 my father sold the first cattle over the new weighbridge at the cattle market. He was dressed in his army uniform looking very smart. It was fitting therefore that he should also sell the last beast to go through the market in the year 2000.”

Though there are no longer livestock markets, there is still a strong market influence in the town. Horncastle has its weekly markets on a Thursday and Saturday, monthly farmers’ markets on the second Thursday of each month and regular craft markets on the second Saturday of the month.

When the railway arrived in 1851 it meant Horncastle had to compete with other towns further afield.

“It couldn’t, so it declined from then,” said Mr Bell. “Horncastle was left with a lot of large buildings around its centre which have often been turned into antique shops so, in the 1980s, it became known as the antiques capital of Lincolnshire.”

The firm, which has more than 200 years of successful business behind it as a single partnership of Land Agents, Estate Agents, Auctioneers, Chartered Surveyors and Valuers, has seen world wars, recessions and booms.

“Through all that the firm of Robert Bell has been fairly central to mirror the life and times of Horncastle,” said Mr Bell.

Robert Bell previously traded in the High Street but its Old Bank Chambers office is the firm’s oldest, having been there since 1872.

Being brought up in an auctioneering family, Mr Bell was expected to help in the business, so his father took him to annual valuations where he was meant to check the additions and to auction sales.

Because it is a Georgian town with a lot of traditional businesses, Horncastle attracts visitors from all over the country.

“Horncastle is in the heart of the Wolds, which is an area of outstanding natural beauty and is recognised as a unique hidden gem. We are proud of Horncastle as a gateway to the Wolds,” said Mr Bell.

Horncastle was also home to Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist explorer who journeyed to Australia. He was raised at Revesby Abbey, near Horncastle and had many links to the town itself. He is most famous for his journey with Captain Cook on the Endeavour to the South Seas and Australasia. The influence of Sir Joseph Banks, one of Lincolnshire’s most famous sons and one of the greatest figures in Georgian England, is to be found worldwide.

Revesby was a large estate of 8,000 acres and Mr Bell’s great great-grandfather George Bell oversaw the building of the new ‘Revesby Abbey’ and lots of other investment in the Revesby Estate after he was persuaded by Sir Edward Stanhope to move there in 1842 as land agent.

The Revesby Estate at that time owned much of Horncastle including the market square, the cattle market and Robert Bell’s offices at Old Bank Chambers.

The Roman occupation of Horncastle is still evident, with part of the old Roman wall still visible in the library on Wharf Road.

The Viking Way, the long distance footpath between the Humber Bridge in North Lincolnshire and Oakham in Rutland, runs through Horncastle and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The milestone will be marked with more than thirty walks being held during the Wolds Walking Festival.

Part of the Viking Way is a spa trail which is three miles of flat, surfaced path and bridleway along the mid-section of the old Horncastle to Woodhall Junction railway line and part of the Horncastle Canal.

This easy, traffic-free route is ideal for wheelchair users and families with young children and pushchairs. The trail passes through woods and rolling countryside and has sculptures made from wood, stone and metal scattered along the way, reflecting wildlife and links from the past.

Walking is a big part of the attraction of the Wolds and it is this year hosting the 2016 National Walkers Are Welcome Conference. Horncastle Walkers Are Welcome group with Caistor and Market Rasen are working together to create a great conference programme with walks, activities, networking and discussions galore.

The Horncastle Walkers are Welcome group is made up of keen walkers from the town and surrounding area who want to encourage walking in and around Horncastle and the southern Lincolnshire Wolds.

There are also a number of events planned in the town for this year for both residents and visitors to enjoy, the main one being the town’s proposals for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations.

“We are preparing to put on a programme of events for the Queen’s 90th birthday so everyone can share in these exciting celebrations and already we have some pledges of funding,” said Town Council Clerk Gillian Mauger. “We are also looking for support. We are hoping to provide a commemorative lapel badge for all those who attend events, as well as a ‘90th’ trophy for those groups entering the parade.”

A ‘Clean for the Queen’ event is taking place on Saturday 5th March.

“The town council is leading the event with support from local organisations, local youth groups, schools, Rivercare and Horncastle Walkers are Welcome,” said Gillian. “Events involve tidying up a stretch of the river, litter picks in the town centre and on footpaths, cleaning of signs and painting of some street furniture. Further work is taking place in the week after to enhance the town with some new planters and flags on the town shops.”

The official Beacon will be lit in St Benedict’s Church Field, Scrivelsby on 21st April and a weekend of celebrations will begin on 10th June with a Banovallum Band Concert at Stanhope Hall.

This will be followed on 11th June by a grand parade of floats, a fancy dress parade with a red, white, blue and gold theme and an array of stalls along the route.

A dinner dance is planned at the Admiral Rodney Hotel and the celebrations will be rounded off with a Big British Breakfast event at Stanhope Hall and a children’s ‘Street Party’ on 12th June.

STANHOPE HALL
A focal point of any community is its town hall and it is thanks to the efforts of a group of campaigning residents that Horncastle still has one.

The Stanhope Hall (TSH) was constructed in 1901, funded in the main by public subscription. It was designed as a Drill Hall for training volunteers and the assembly of soldiers, recalled from the reserves and the Territorial Army.

It also doubled as a place of public entertainment. During the First World War it served as a Red Cross Hospital where 1,127 injured soldiers were treated.

East Lindsey District Council acquired the hall during the 1974 Local Government reorganisation and it provided a full range of local authority and community services there until the decision was taken to close it.

Though negotiations for community ownership had begun in February 2005, it was only in 2009 when ELDC decided to bulldoze the building that the town council stepped in to help it.

ELDC gave the town council a 125-year lease and a fifty-year peppercorn lease was subsequently given to the Stanhope Hall community group, which is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee.

“£250,000 was raised to refurbish the building which was completed in July 2011,” explained the hall’s Rose Williams.

“A successful marketing campaign helped the project prove viable in its first year of community ownership with income derived from the lettings of six office units to local organisations and businesses plus the hire of the main hall for events and meeting room hire.

“This is the largest hall space to hire in the area and it is a popular choice for weddings and birthday parties as well as a variety of sports, dance and games.”

The Stanhope Hall is built on the south-east corner of The Wong, which Edward Stanhope MP had given express permission to use as a training ground. The Wong at Horncastle is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary as a rare example of an open space in the middle of a town.

THE LION THEATRE
This was to be a year of uncertainty for members of Horncastle’s theatre group but the shows will now definitely continue to go on in the building that has been its home for nearly thirty years.

The group was given notice to quit the Lion Theatre, which was based in the Red Lion pub, when owners, South Yorkshire based brewery RBNB, announced a year ago that it planned to sell the entire site. But last summer it was bought by another Yorkshire-based brewery, Sam Smith’s, and reopened as a pub, meaning Horncastle Theatre Company could resume business as usual.

Theatre company chairman Shirley Moffat said: “The new managers are very friendly and have been very helpful and welcoming. It reopened as a pub in August/September last year, so we basically got back to business straight away.”

Once the future of the site was secured, the theatre group put on a special production to celebrate.

“As soon as we heard the pub had been sold and would be reopened, we took the decision to go for an out-and-out crowd-pleaser and did a production of ‘Allo ‘Allo!,” said Shirley. “We were very fortunate and sold out all the tickets before we opened.”

Since then there has been a junior production and a pantomime, both of which were sell-outs.

The theatre was set up by Horncastle Theatre Company in 1988 after months of fundraising activities, hard work by the members and a lot of community spirit.

“Up until about thirty years ago, the company was used to putting on its productions in village halls and local schools. One of our members was Betty Benson and her husband Eric was licensee of the Red Lion pub which the theatre members used for rehearsals and meetings,” said Shirley.

“He came up with the idea of us having our own theatre. There was a building to the left of the pub and a building to the right and he suggested, if he could get permission from the owners, the company build its own theatre inbetween. That is what happened.”

The theatre has faced an uncertain future for the past two years after the theatre company was first told the pub was going to be sold. But as a ‘For Sale’ sign never materialised and advertising never happened, it was business as usual for the production crew. The theatre group even put in an offer to purchase the theatre itself but was told it wasn’t for sale.

“We were back to square one. We are still only occupying the building through the goodwill of the owners and that hasn’t changed. But it is going to be used as a pub so it isn’t a problem.”

The group has launched a new initiative to upgrade the auditorium seats and has taken the decision not to put on its usual March production so it can push on with the project.

“Not putting on a March production is a calculated risk because we have to hope that people don’t forget us,” said Shirley.

“But we are taking a couple of months off to do the little repair jobs at the theatre that we couldn’t do when there was no heating and it became a little run-down.

“We are running an initiative to replace all the seats. They were secondhand cinema seats and we have found a company that will revamp them for us. We want to get the seats done. It is going to cost £80 a seat but we are encouraging people to sponsor a seat and we have about half the seats promised already.”

HORNCASTLE CAKE ART & HOBBY HOUSE
If you are planning a wedding this year, then visit Horncastle Cake Art . The company has over twenty years’ experience of making cakes and advising people who wish to make their own.

Everything is stocked including readymade sugar flowers, icing, ribbons, cutters and boards. There is still a vintage theme to wedding cakes and plain classic designs are also popular. At Horncastle Cake Art, advice is free.

Cake decorating classes are offered at the workshop at Belchford in the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds. Dinah also teaches classes at Robert Pattinson Academy in North Hykeham. She will be teaching with her team at Butlins in Skegness at an event organised by the national magazine Yours (for the over 50s). Over two days she aims to teach 360 ladies how to make spring flowers and make sugar models of sheep and chicks.

On the Hobby House side, the business now stocks Decopatch papers and papier mâché models. You can decopatch anything, from a small model of a sheep to a wooden chair. Knitting for babies is always popular and a large range of yarns are stocked. Crochet is very popular with all age groups and it grows faster than knitting. There are lots of yarns in stock to crochet up. Work boxes and knitting bags would make ideal Mother’s Day presents.

To contact Horncastle Cake Art and Hobby House, telephone Dinah Ward, 07734007765.

SPECIALISTS IN INVESTMENT AND PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT
F H Manning Financial Services Ltd was established in 1975 and has been based in Horncastle for the past thirty years. The company is completely independent and our philosophy is, and has always been, to give independent and impartial advice tailored to clients’ needs and circumstances.

The strength of the company has been the creation of long-term relationships with clients. The process begins with a Free Consultation, establishing a client’s details, needs and attitude to risk so that expectations and requirements can be understood.

The company specialises in advising on investments and portfolio monitoring.

Whatever the scale of funds, each client has access to the same quality advice and ongoing review services. Clients may opt for a Comprehensive Service, which includes bespoke portfolio construction, ongoing monitoring and taxation advice throughout the year. A formal Bi-annual Meeting and Investment Report is included, plus unlimited access to email and telephone support.

Alternatively, clients may opt for a Bi-annual or Annual Review of their investment portfolios.

Other services that the company specialises in are Estate Planning, Retirement Planning, Equity Release, Permanent Health Insurance, Life and Critical Illness Protection.

For a free initial consultation contact David Platt or Malcolm Wright: 01507 527383
www.fhmanning.co.uk

NAME CHANGE FOR FAMILY GARDEN CENTRE
2016 marks the start of a new era for one of Horncastle’s most prestigious and long-established family businesses. Crowders Garden Centre, set up by the Crowder family and which has been part of the fabric of the town for more than 200 years and seven generations, has been taken over and is about to undergo a name change for the first time since it opened in 1983.

The company has been acquired by the nation’s largest group of garden centres, Wyevale Garden Centres, and the local community has been asked to help choose the new name.

Specially-designed voting boxes have been located in the centre for the past three weeks, and visitors were invited to place a bulb in the voting box representing their choice of name from three put forward by colleagues at the centre. It will be revealed on 16th March.

WGC will be donating £500 to local voluntary emergency services charity LIVES, in recognition of the community’s support for the initiative. It is the charity that Crowders Garden Centre has supported for many years.

Garden centre manager Ken Dawson said: “We were thrilled to invite visitors at Crowders to play an important role in shaping the future name of the centre, to ensure the new name is in keeping with its rich history and heritage, and chimes with local community values.”

Long-serving staff member, Trevor Blake who, with colleague Simon Nagle, came up with one of the names, said: “Crowders has so much heritage and we are delighted to be part of the renaming process. I have been a colleague at the centre for fifteen years and it is thrilling to have an input in this significant change.”

Crowders Garden Centre has developed a long-standing reputation for excellence in garden retailing and has served its customers since 1983. It also has a unique and much-loved Redwood Café and Restaurant which is a community favourite offering a range of local and seasonal fresh produce as well as afternoon tea and freshly brewed coffee. 

Wyevale Garden Centres, formerly The Garden Centre Group, has 153 centres across the country.

Ninety per cent of Wyevale Garden Centres’ plant stock is British-grown, and much is grown in its own nurseries. Wyevale Garden Centres employs more than 6,000 staff and runs its own gardening membership club, The Gardening Club, with well over 2.5 million members.

Wyevale Garden Centres’ roots date back to 1932 when Wyevale Nursery was founded and it eventually became one of the earliest garden centres. The company has grown organically and through acquisitions of well-known brands such as Blooms and Country Gardens, and in 2009 was renamed The Garden Centre Group.

The Garden Centre Group was acquired by Terra Firma Capital Partners in 2012 and since then the company has continued to grow, acquiring ten centres in 2013, including the Garden & Leisure Group.

In July 2014, The Garden Centre Group announced it would rebrand as Wyevale Garden Centres.

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