Homegrown in Horncastle

Dining Out

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
July 2013

This lively county town is renowned for its numerous antique shops and centres as well as its location on the edge of the picturesque Lincolnshire Wolds.
But it is also an unspoilt market town with a range of long-established, family-run shops and businesses that give it a unique character all of its own.

‘Local’ is very much a key word in Horncastle with the traditional shops selling locally-grown produce and a good number of the retailers themselves having been ‘homegrown’ for generations.

Well-known property consultant, Robert Bell & Co is located in the delightfully named Old Bank Chamber in the town. Managing director, Robert Bell said Horncastle is a traditional Georgian market town with a good mix of businesses.

“We are the oldest, having been around since 1872 in the same office.Not many businesses in the county can record that. But Horncastle has a good mix of old-established traders – butchers, bakers, solicitors, accountants. There is an even spread.”

Robert Bell & Co is one of the longest established and busiest practices of auctioneers in the county and its experience dates back to the great August Horse Fair which was an internationally famed trading event in the eighteenth century.

It also provides a full range of professional services including advice on selling or buying a home, commercial property or farm; development and planning matters; the letting and management of all types of property and auction sales of property and chattels.

“There are still several independent shops and businesses and they have all been hit hard by the supermarket trend so the town centre isn’t the thriving place it once was and our lettings aren’t as busy as they might have been but it is a good little thriving town despite the recession,” said Mr Bell.

One shop that has bucked the trend is Alan Read’s Antiques. After running a successful shop in Newark for sixteen years, Alan was able to fulfill his childhood wish and open his store in the town in May 1996. With a showroom stocked with quality antique furniture and decorative items, Alan is always on hand to offer advice to clients.

Another independent shop that has been part of the street scene for decades is Heather’s fruiterer, greengrocer and florist. Owner Mrs Heather Tate had been a familiar face in the shop even before she bought it twenty-five years ago this December.

Heather’s specialises in stocking a wide range of fruit and vegetables, from everyday essentials to the most unusual varieties.

Horncastle is a unique town because of its traditional type of shops which are run by local people. There are two greengrocers, two butchers, two bakers –the kind of shops that are disappearing in other towns and cities around the country.

Another independent trader is Mellors Farmers & Butchers Ltd whose shop has been located in the Bull Ring for more than thirty years, although the family has been renowned as farmers in the area since the 1960s.

It is a family-run business with Linda Mellor, her father Keith and brother Ian working in the shop and her other brother Kevin working on the farm, which is located less than five miles down the road.

“We have been here since 1982 though the family has been farming since 1965. All our produce is from Lincolnshire. We have home-fed beef and local pork and lamb and our speciality is stuffed chine.

“Trade hasn’t been too bad and we had a better start to the year than last year,” said Linda. “We get a lot of regular customers and because there are a lot of farming communities around Horncastle, they tend to support the local independent shops.”

People with a passion for old furniture, furnishings, books and other collectables will also love Horncastllle, which is known as Lincolnshire’s Antiques Town, and which is a great place to find something a bit different.

A Church and Sons Ironmongery Shop in the Market Place have been trading in the town for over 120 years and have been at their present site since 1986. Priding themselves on being an independent retailer, they are able to offer customers the best in cookware, ironmongery, gardening and plenty more.

It is not only established businesses that are flourishing. The Old Stables coffee shop is a new coffee house offering a locally produced menu including breakfasts, sandwiches and a delectable afternoon tea.

As well as a good mix of businesses in Horncastle itself, there is also an industrial estate which helps boost the local economy.Robert Bell of Robert Bell & Co added: “The industrial estate on the outskirts has a few big businesses on it employing large numbers of people, but it also has family businesses that play an important part in the area.”

He said car parking charges are a major issue for traders and businesses in Horncastle and it is an ongoing battle.

“It’s a major deterrent to people coming into Horncastle. We see evidence of that, because when Horncastle used to have a cattle market and the car park was free on The Wong it was always full. But when East Lindsey District Council brought in the charges, there were just three cars there.”

Horncastle is seen as an attractive place for people to live because of its variety of shops and businesses as well as leisure facilities.

“There are good sporting facilities though there is a major need to rebuild the AstroTurf pitch which is twenty years old,” said Mr Bell. “But there are good tennis courts, a swimming pool, a bowling club, rugby, football and hockey. The good variety of sports makes Horncastle an attractive place for people to live.”

Horncastle is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was listed as consisting of forty-one households, including twenty-nine villagers and twelve smallholders. It has 100 acres of meadow and two mills, all belonging to King William. It has been an historic chartered market town since 1231 and at its peak, in the 1800s, buyers and sellers were arriving from all over Europe to trade. It still holds two markets each week – on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Sitting at the crossroads of two of Lincolnshire’s major roads, it is well positioned for easy access to Lincoln and Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

Once a drill hall for the training of volunteers and the assembly of soldiers recalled from the reserves and the Territorial Army, the Stanhope Hall is once again serving its community and plays a major part in the life of Horncastle residents.

The building was constructed in 1901 and ownership passed to East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) during the 1974 local authority reorganisation. It became Horncastle Town Hall, providing a full range of local authority and community services.

However, it was facing closure in January 2009, but was saved from the axe by a campaigning volunteers group called The Stanhope Hall Committee, and Horncastle Town Council.

The hall, which has had many uses over the decades, shares its name with Edward Stanhope who became a respected benefactor to Horncastle and its people.

Edward Stanhope was educated at Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford where he studied law. In 1874 he was elected as the conservative Member of Parliament for Mid Lincolnshire. But this constituency was abolished in 1885 and Stanhope became MP for the new Horncastle constituency.

He inherited the Lordship of the Manor of Horncastle and the estates from his cousin James Banks Stanhope in 1885.

During his nineteen years in Parliament, Stanhope held many important offices including Under Secretary of State for India, President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and Secretary of State for War.

In an act of generosity, Stanhope offered the Market Place, The Wong, the Pig Market and their respective revenues in tolls to the Local Board of Health for the benefit of the people of Horncastle.

At a public meeting in 1892 the people passed a resolution accepting the valuable gift that had been in private hands for nearly seven centuries.

When Stanhope died of a heart attack in 1893 a memorial was erected in the Market Place leaving a permanent reminder of his generosity towards the town and its people.

Built of limestone, red sandstone and pink and grey streaked marble, it is Grade Two listed. Today, Stanhope Hall is home to a number of local community groups and is used for a range of services.

The Myers family name has been synonymous with Horncastle for more than a century and now it is spreading far and wide, helping to raise the town’s profile.

The long-established business has moved with the times and in the past six months has launched an e-commerce site, allowing people throughout the UK to buy its signature products – plum loaf, tea loaf and chutney.

Robert Myers said: “We are an established business in town but we are trying to go further afield through our big e-commerce site. We are now getting calls from all over the country and sending orders out every week. It all helps put Horncastle on the map.”

It was back in 1901 that Charles Myers baked his very first batch of Lincolnshire plum loaves. Now the business not only consists of the bakery but also a highly popular deli and a delightful award-winning café and tea room.

“All three businesses are doing well and we are seeing more and more people making trips to visit us in the town.They’ll have lunch in the café, go to the bakery for their bread and plum loaf and then pop next door for their speciality goods like cheese, pâté and olives,” said Rob.

Myers doesn’t rest on its laurels though. It is always striving for new ideas to attract visitors, not only to its premises but to the town as well. It has brought out three new breads this year and is promoting them in free sample packs for customers to try at home and its speciality hampers from the deli are proving to be even more popular than ever.

“We have increased stock and now have in the region of fifty to sixty cheeses available. It’s the best it has ever been and it is the best selection we have ever had.

“The locals are becoming more adventurous. People’s tastes are changing and different regional cheeses are now becoming popular. We are always trying to get new things in but now customers are coming in and asking us for specific cheeses.”

The deli has been open for four years now and it is hard to imagine Horncastle life without it.

“It’s settled down now and found its feet. People are warming to it in the town and it is becoming an important part of local life. Customers can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the deli.”

Myers Bakery celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and continues to go from strength to strength. The café and tea room has just been voted Lincolnshire’s best in the Taste of Excellence Awards, picking up Lincolnshire Life’s County Cuisine Heart of Gold title.

It has just undergone a refurbishment and is set out like a living room with comfy sofas and chairs, low coffee tables and soft lighting.

“It now has a living room feel with its comfy seating and magazines and newspapers. It is a place for people to relax in, instead of just sitting at tables. We have just done our first private function. It was an afternoon tea for seventy people with different sponge cakes, scones, jam and cream.

“In terms of how business has fared in Horncastle this year, things are picking up compared to what they were a couple of years ago but we are not seeing the amount of visitors to the town that we used to,” added Rob.

“The weather has been bad and that’s had a big impact but there is quite an optimistic view around town. People are keen to support Horncastle but we need the traffic sorted out and car parking improved to help make people want to come into town.

“Horncastle is unique and we are a place for people to visit. It’s a destination that they will come to.”

Flash floods caused chaos in Horncastle last summer, with a number of homes and businesses across the town affected.

Myers Bakery and The Thatch (King’s Head) were flooded, traffic ground to a halt at the crossroads linking Boston Road and Spilsby Road as the water rose up through drain covers and water entered Harpers Bar as well.

Flood defence measures were promised in the past but nothing was in place to prevent last year’s floods and that sparked a wave of protest.

Now the problem is being resolved thanks to the construction of two major storage reservoirs upstream of the town reducing the risk of flooding to businesses which can damage trade.

Witham Third District Internal Drainage Board is managing the project. Engineer Alan Gardner said it is a ‘package’ pumping station where two electric pumps are housed in a buried plastic chamber which is placed in the ground.

“It will pump water at a rate of up to 100 litres (22 gallons) per second into the River Bain from Ings Drain. Until now Board operatives have had to bring a heavy diesel pump to site and set it up in flood conditions, often during the hours of darkness,” said Alan.

“By 2018 the risk of flooding to the centre of Horncastle should have been greatly reduced with the construction of these two major storage reservoirs upstream of the town. Meanwhile, a smaller but complementary scheme, costing about £55,000, has been awarded government funding through the Environment Agency.”

The new facility will operate automatically, but it may be overridden manually on site, or remotely by telemetry. If attendance at site is required, new floodlighting included in the scheme will make tasks much easier and safer.

For nearly 450 years a grammar school has served the town of Horncastle and the surrounding area. The school is known to have been in existence in 1327 but records effectively began when Queen Elizabeth I granted, on the petition of Edward, Lord Clinton and Saye, Earl of Lincoln, a Charter to establish a grammar school in Horncastle in 1571. For much of its life, Queen Elizabeth’s was a boys’ day and boarding school. Girls were only admitted when the school moved to its present site in 1908.

In September 2012 the school opted to become a Selective Academy and still retains the Specialist School Status within Science and Modern Foreign Languages.

Queen Elizabeth’s prides itself on offering a broad and balanced curriculum which at GCSE and A level is tailor-made to the student’s individual option choices. In the classroom, lessons are taught at pace by subject specialists and excellent use is made of new technology. There is a strong emphasis on learning that is relevant, enjoyable and intellectually challenging. Effort and achievement is encouraged, valued and celebrated.

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