A closer look at the Fosse Way twins

Words by:
Stephen Wade
Featured in:
January 2011

North and South Hykeham now have a distinct identity – they are not suburban Lincoln
Thirty years ago, David Kaye pointed out that the origin of the word ‘Hykeham’ goes back to the Anglo-Saxon for ‘blue tit.’ He imagined the lane to Auburn full of bird song, as it surely was centuries ago before major roads and new buildings began to transmute the landscape. If we leave aside thoughts of the two communities as they were in medieval times, and begin the description of with a glance at two influential opinions, we can see that both Hykehams have had to work hard for their independence.

First, Whites Directory of 1856 rather appeals for sympathy, explaining that North Hykeham was ‘a village and churchless parish, on the west side of the Witham, three miles south west of Lincoln.’ Also, that same book adds that ‘The church, All Saints, was dilapidated many years ago but the burial ground is sometimes used and the incumbent comes once after his induction to “read himself in”.’ That all sounds very grim, as if the cold hand of neglect had hold of the place. Whites finds little to say about South Hykeham either, noting that it was ‘a small village… and has in its parish 77 souls and 1131 acres of land…’

Over a century later, Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England series, adds further negative thinking, insisting that, ‘Continuous housing from here to Lincoln…the overwhelming impression is of a suburb with one long monotonous road.’ He even considered that the Forum shopping centre was an ‘uninspired attempt to create a town-like atmosphere.’ He avoided any comment on South Hykeham, other than a plain statement that it was ‘a tiny village just beyond Lincoln’s suburban sprawl.’

I have to respond with a defence. A little research shows that much has happened in the two places, and that the people and events in their history tell another story: a gradual emergence into a town and a nearby village with their own identity. Everyone now seems to want a difference, something to escape the blandness of place when development happens without planning, but it is hard to escape the view that almost everywhere has that special quality, but it is usually hard to find without a little digging into the past.

North Hykeham has a history of great interest; today, it is defined by parks and open space, by schools and a few significant buildings such as the Memorial Hall, the churches, notably All Saints and the 1838 Wesleyan chapel, and the Harrows pub, which dates back to the late seventeenth century. Anyone travelling in the area for the first time has to look beyond the domination of the A roads and notice the number and range of places of interest bordering Wisby reserve at one end, and the rural areas on the Newark side, with a mix of new housing developments and isolated places of interest.

As the town steadily grew in the nineteenth century, the modern world of travel and communications opened up the wider world, and by 1850 there were trains calling five times a day under the watchful eye of Mr Robert Hague the station master, and daily carriers to Lincoln and Newark; yet it was still a place dominated by farmers, wheelwrights and corn millers. Enclosure had taken place in 1812 and tithed allotments established. That was one of England’s darkest times, when there was a war with Napoleon and America, and the machine wreckers were busy creating mayhem. North Hykeham must have been unaffected by such trauma, but it carried on emerging into the new entrepreneurial world of the Victorian ethos.

Over the years North Hykeham has been a place attracting national interest. In terms of its industrial and agricultural history, it has endured the ups and downs, being hit after the war when Harrison and Company’s malleable iron works went on short time, and even more suffering was inflicted in the late 1960s when the horrendous foot and mouth disease struck. Between early December 1967 and January 1968 the disease affected wide areas across the country. A case was confirmed at a North Hykeham farm on 8th December 1967, and not until a nationwide total of almost 400,000 head of stock had been lost was a lifting of the ban announced, with the welcome words: ‘The Great North Road was freed from restrictions and open to the movement of cattle from midnight last night when the infected area around North Hykeham, Lincolnshire was reduced (6 January, 1968).

On the pleasant side of history, there have been notable achievements linked to the town. In 1951, the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors gave an award to Mr J R Holland for his work on self-sealing fuel tanks, and in 1961 Flight Lieutenant David Bromley was co-pilot to Squadron Leader Beavis on an RAF Vulcan bomber when it made the non-stop trip to Sydney in twenty hours. The plane made the 11,500 miles journey in a time thirteen hours quicker than the Boeing 707.

Arguably, a garage owner called Wilkinson from the town attracted the national interest in 1958 when he appeared in the High Court of Justice in relation to an offence under the Road Traffic Act of 1930. Mr Wilkinson was directed to travel from Lincoln to Dorset to collect a damaged car. He took with him a ‘mobile car jack’ which was at the time used by the police to shift road obstructions. He was stopped because there were no suitable springs between wheel and frame. Was the car jack a ‘trailer’ under the Act? Mr Wilkinson took this to appeal and lost, but the case made Scotland Yard stop using the jacks, mainly because Mr Wilkinson’s trial judge had said, ‘If the appellant (Mr Wilkinson) can lay any information against the Metropolitan Police that would put the cat among the pigeons!’

Returning to the subject of the ‘churchless’ North Hykeham of 1856, the community soon did have its church: All Saints was built by the hard-working local man Michael Drury, and completed in 1858. The poor churchless place had had to use a room in the Harrows before then. The church is in the late thirteenth century style and the south west tower has a short spire and what Pevsner noted as being ‘the oddest bell openings.’ The architectural expert also conceded that it was ‘a lively and competently handled job.’ Michael Drury was very busy across the county in the years just after that, designing the chancel for St Helen’s, Boultham, the chapels for the Canwick Road cemetery and the school chapel at Heighington, along with perhaps his most impressive work at St Peter and Paul, Branston.

North Hykeham is also well respected for its education provision. The two secondary schools of North Kesteven School and the Robert Pattinson School, are next to each other on Moor Lane and they share a sixth form – North Hykeham Joint Sixth Form. This is a long way from Catherine Shuttleworth’s little village school in the mid-Victorian years.

Close by, on Wisby Road, there is the Lincolnshire Road Transport Museum, a really impressive attraction, with over sixty-five vintage cars, buses and commercial vehicles, including Lincoln City and Lincolnshire Road Car vehicles, a small Chevrolet coach (from Morecambe); a rare Leyland Badger school bus (from Bradford) and from Colchester, a Daimler CVD6. The Old Glory Club has placed the museum on its register for successful restoration work, and in August, 2010 it was given the Best Special Project award by the Lincolnshire Heritage Forum for its all purpose new building which makes more space for volunteer workers on vehicle restoration. Displays include a mechanics’ workshop as well as the splendid old buses, and fine details stand out for the visitor, such as the wonderful chassis badge on the Leyland Panther, in red and silver.

The Museum is open from May to October on Mondays to Fridays 12-4, and from November to April on Sundays, 1-4. There are special events also on Easter Sundays.

South Hykeham can be proud of its very old church of St Michael and All Saints. Its history goes back to the thirteenth century, but in 1725 the nave and chancel were rebuilt, using old materials. Then in 1869, Michael Drury was at work again, doing major restoration work, adding an apse and renewing the top of the tower and the spire. The incumbent in 1856 was the Rev. George Oliver of Scopwick. We can see how small the parish was then if we look at the lists in Whites Directory: the parish clerk was a shoemaker; the other trades were a wheelwright, a blacksmith, a chief constable and four farmers.

However, the church at South Hykeham has an importance far beyond the material structure: it has a claim to fame in the criminal annals of the county. The infamous and murderous tale of Tom Otter, the man who killed his new wife at Drinsey Nook near Saxilby in 1805, is forever a part of the South Hykeham story, because Tom and Mary were married at the church by the curate, Thomas Brown. The event is marked in the parish register, where ‘Thomas Temple’ (his real name was Temporel) married Mary Kirkham, spinster of the parish of North Hykeham. The killer’s destiny was to be hanged and his body hung on a gibbet near the scene of his crime. Today, part of the gibbet lies in Doddington Hall.

The predominant history of the village is manorial. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it was known for its eels; it collected a thousand a year and Geoffrey the priest had to give the Prior of Belvoir thirty sticks of eels a year – a stick meaning a tally, so there must have been a certain number on each tally.

In the mid-nineteenth century the village had a population of around eighty people and was part of the township of Haddington. Clearly, being so small, it rarely had very much in its chronicles one might think, but in fact, the Second World War came right to its doorstep, when in September, 1941 a Manchester bomber left its base near Millom in Cumbria, and crashed into a field at the end of Meadow Lane, South Hykeham, close to St Michael’s church. All ten people on board were killed.

Returning to David Kaye, writing thirty years ago, he said that ‘as you depart from North Hykeham in a southerly direction, you are in the countryside and nothing could be more rural than the approach to South Hykeham.’ That could still be said, and North Hykeham, technically a town, must still be seen as the larger twin, but one thing is sure: both communities have their special appeal and their distinctive history that has made their modern identity.

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