A community with heart and soul

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
August 2015

The picturesque Lincolnshire market town of Alford lies at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds, which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in its own right.
The town has a wealth of fascinating history, a fine array of historic buildings and events to suit all ages and interests.

Named after the ‘alder trees growing by the ford’, Alford was granted a market charter by King Edward I in 1283 and became the market town serving the rural community with markets on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The buildings in town represent most of the architectural periods since the fourteenth century and the centre of town is a conservation area.

Town Mayor and Town Council Chair, Sarah Devereux explained that Alford is not just an historic market town, it has something for everyone.

“I am very passionate about Alford. I moved from down south fifteen years ago and completely fell in love with it. All market towns have their problems but it is the community that holds it together.

“It is a lovely town to live in. There are three great schools. It is a busy rural market town and there are so many pro-active community groups and such a band of volunteers that keep it all together from young to old – there is always something going on. What we have in abundance, which makes us unique, is our sense of community.”

The town won the Calor Gas Village of the Year competition back in 2007 and Sarah said that although it was a long time ago, it is an example of what makes Alford special.

“It was about community life and it was from the community. It was a proud moment because it was recognising that we are different. It is the heart and soul of the town that makes it unique.

“We are seen as a sleepy market town but if you scratch the surface there is so much to see and so much going on you could easily spend a full and happy day in Alford.”

Alford Manor House is a Grade II listed building and is believed to be the largest thatched manor house in England, built in 1611 to a traditional H plan. It is a rare example of a composite structure featuring a wooden frame with reed and plaster encased in brick.

The house was gifted to the town in 1967 by owner Dorothy Higgins, a descendant of John Higgins, one of the tenants of the house who arrived in Alford around 1820 and was a friend of Charles Darwin’s father, Robert.

It is now managed and looked after by Alford and District Civic Trust Ltd.

Project co-ordinator Janet Thornalley said: “We are licensed for weddings and private parties and have plenty of events going on throughout the year.

“There were sixteen events staged at the house in July alone and there is always something going on.”

The Manor House is also home to the Hackett Barn Museum, which is situated at the rear of the manor and houses the town’s historic artefacts. These include a rare man-driven wheelwright’s lathe complete with tools and samples, and a bootmaker’s shop with leather patterns, old studded boots, clogs and a hobbing iron.

There is also a delightful tea room and beautiful gardens, which underwent a major restoration and enhancement scheme five years ago.

Another historic building at the heart of the community is Alford Corn Exchange, which now offers a beautiful hall for dance, sport, meetings, theatre, weddings, parties and other events.

East Lindsey District Council had responsibility for the Corn Exchange but decided it could no longer afford to keep it going, so the Alford Corn Exchange Community Group was formed and took over the building in April last year.

Andrew Taylor, a trustee of the Corn Exchange, said: “It was rather run-down so we took the bull by the horns, raised quite a lot of money locally and had a major renovation project.

“The main hall was redecorated, we had local photos of the town framed and put up, the wooden floor was re-sanded and the kitchen completely renovated, paid for by the local community church. It has been totally refurbished. It is now very much a focal point for the town and a useful community asset.”

One of the driving forces behind the restoration project was town businessman Harry Dewick-Eisele, who now chairs the Alford Corn Exchange Community Group. He is not only a driving force behind the Corn Exchange, but in the business world of Alford as well.

His company, Safelincs, on the Farlesthorpe Road Industrial Estate, is the UK’s most progressive and customer-focused fire safety provider, offering more than 3,500 products and services in the UK, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy.

It is at the forefront of new fire safety product developments and has been awarded the national fire safety contract for both the Church of England and the Catholic Church in the UK.

Safelincs all began back in 2001 – bizarrely thanks to a present Harry bought for his family when he was working for an engineering company in the town and travelling regularly to and from Chicago.

“I had young children at the time and was looking for a present to take back and you can only have so many teddies. I was looking for something different. I came across a fire escape ladder and thought what a great present that would make,” said Harry.

So many people commented on it as he hand carried it from plane to plane on his journey home that, as he was also studying for an MBA to put business theories into practice, he decided to market it.

“It was a disaster until my brother built us a website and suddenly we started to sell because it was a niche product. That was the start of the business,” said Harry.

As well as supplying the Church of England and the Catholic Church, Safelincs also supplies the public sector including schools, the NHS, the police force, and businesses.

Having lived in Alford for nearly twenty years, the town means a lot to him, his family and his company.

“We are very much community-focused and Safelincs supports local charities and projects. What is amazing about Alford is how many people volunteer. Look at the number of clubs and organisations in the town, it is incredible for a small place like Alford. It creates a community.”

Tuesday is now the main market day in Alford, and every Tuesday from July through to the beginning of September a summer craft market takes place in the newly refurbished Corn Exchange. The craft stalls complement the fruit and vegetable stalls, fish stall and weekly auction.

But the biggest event of the craft market calendar is the major festival which takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend in the grounds of the Manor House.

With live music, craft stalls, circus acts and children’s craft workshops, the event will include street theatre from the Earthbound Misfits, live music out on the lawn and in the marquee, the fun of a family circus workshop, Morris dancing on the Sunday, clay tile workshops, magic wand workshops, Punch and Judy and pony rides.

Four decades ago, Alford Craft Market helped put the town on the map and it is set to continue doing that, as it takes a giant step into the future.

Following on from the great success of last year’s 40th anniversary programme, which was supported by Lincolnshire County Council and attended by more than 10,000 visitors over the season, Alford Craft Market has taken a new step by opening a craft shop in the centre of the town. It is supplied by Lincolnshire craftspeople and run by volunteers.

Alford Craft Market Chair Pris McGirr, said: “Currently, there seems to be a resurgence in ‘handmade’ and ‘Buy Local’ as well as a lot of interest from people wanting to try their hand at various crafts, from simple ones like knitting to more complicated disciplines, such as felt making and stained glass.

“The purpose of Alford Craft Market is to make all these things accessible to local people, as well as visitors, and to support the town’s economy and its traditions.”

Each month a different artist is featured in the shop. This month the space will be allocated to Alford Pottery, which has been established in Alford for forty-two years and whose proprietors Heather and Michel Ducos founded Alford Craft Market in 1974.

Their pottery includes tableware, cookware and decorative items, and there will be a big display of their work in the shop.

Michel Ducos said: “We are always exploring new ideas and methods of pottery and at the moment I am trying to learn the skill of ‘Poterie à la corde’.

“As the name indicates, it is an old-fashioned French way to make very large pots where the only limitation is the size of the kilns. It can be called ‘Rope Pottery’ and involves large frameworks and up to 100 metres of rope. Some potters in the southwest of France still make pots in excess of two metres high! Our kilns being about one metre high means this is the limit I am exploring. Production is occasionally demonstrated at the workshop and details and explanatory panels show the process. It is definitively unique.”

As well as being a tourist attraction in its own right, Alford Manor House hosts a number of interesting exhibitions which have turned out to be award winners.

Its latest, ‘Alford Remembers 1914–1918’ which started in 2014, has scooped four top awards. It reflects the way in which the community of Alford was affected by the local, national and international events of the Great War and commemorates those who went to serve their country, as well as demonstrating the way in which families lived at that time.

The centenary exhibition, which continues until June 2019, was voted Best Volunteer project in the 2014 Lincolnshire Heritage Awards and was also highly commended in the Best Exhibition category of the competition. In addition the project has also achieved national recognition after being highly commended in the Best WW1 Event section of the 2015 Hudson’s Heritage Awards, which are run by a national media organisation.

Project co-ordinator Janet Thornalley said: “I received this award from Dan Snow at Goldsmith’s Hall in London. Other prestigious properties included in the range of categories at the ceremony were the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Blenheim Palace, Woburn Abbey and Belvoir Castle, to name just a few, so we were in very good company.

“Hudsons is now including a section in its seminars, comparing the Manor House with the Tower of London to show that, however large or small, every museum has a place in the heritage of the UK.”

The exhibition also scooped the 2015 Heart of the Community award in the Lincolnshire Heritage Forum’s regional heritage awards.

“We are now working on the next round of competition entries with our Christmas Tree Festival which is in its tenth year,” said Janet.

“We have thirty-nine trees lit in every window of the house, all decorated by community groups, schools etc. It is a massive project and runs from the end of November until 6th January. The first Friday in December is our extravaganza when we have stalls, charities, music, food, the town band and lots more, attracting about 1,500 people through the doors in just four hours.

Alford’s former Wesleyan Church was a familiar landmark in the town for nearly 100 years, but it was given a new lease of life by a local business family twenty years ago and is still very much part of the fabric of the town.

Built in 1866 by Woods Builders, a local firm still in operation today, the building was used by the Methodist Church for almost 120 years before they downsized to smaller premises at the rear of the property. Its last service was in 1985 and was then sold to a previous owner who converted the interior into individual shop units.

John and Elsie Askew bought the building in 1994 and transformed it into the unique shopping environment it is today. Mr Askew’s intention was to carry on his already successful secondhand business (Alford Bargain Centre) in the new premises but over the years the demand for new furniture grew.

His vision became to supply the people of Lincolnshire with quality new furniture and value for money, together with his mantra to provide a good old fashioned customer service, a pleasant shopping experience and always service with a smile.

Now the business is in the hands of his daughter Helen and son-in-law Mark Lawrence and the building has once again been rejuvenated. Each individual room has been remodelled to add a little enchantment to the shopping experience and customers can browse and try the latest furniture and beds on offer, with excellent knowledge and experience on hand without the pushy sales techniques.

Helen said: “The building’s new interior and intimate room layouts are the perfect setting to showcase furniture and beds. In addition to the unique surroundings, we have also thoughtfully named each range of furniture on offer after a local place or landmark to further infuse our affection for this church, the places that surround it and our beloved Lincolnshire itself.”

Helen has been involved with the business since her teens, having worked with her dad at the shop on and off since leaving school.

“I can honestly say they were some of the happiest times of my life. From making snow chairs in winter to hiding in boxes and scaring customers, we had some great times.

“Although taking on the business is an exciting new chapter for me, the fact that I won’t be doing it alongside dad is a great shame. But he has confidence that I’m ready to carry on his legacy.

“After all the years of watching my parents do business, one thing has stuck with me more than anything else – customer satisfaction, no pressure sales, no sales spiel.

“Dad would say, ‘It will sell itself, all you have to do is make sure people get what they want and that they are happy.’ So that is, and always will be, our aim.”

Husband Mark has recently joined the business but his involvement has been hugely beneficial.

“Being ex-RAF he has high standards and is, by his own admission, a perfectionist. Also a keen numbers man, he plans to help take the business into the twenty-first century by streamlining some of our ‘out-of-date’ practices and creating a new and improved online presence and business brand,” said Helen.

“As a team we work really well together. Both of our parents had their own businesses and so our upbringing gave us the best possible experience to carry on and make Askew’s even more successful.”

Dying without having made a will can cause a headache for your family, but worse headaches have resulted from DIY Wills, such as those recently promoted in the tabloid press.

A DIY Will pack, wherever you get it from, can be a disaster waiting to happen, even in the most innocuous of circumstances.

At Wilkin Chapman LLP solicitors we have dealt with numerous cases over the years, where DIY Wills have gone wrong, including:
• Wills which have been incorrectly witnessed, or not witnessed at all;
• Both wills were invalid and the intestacy rules applied, resulting in an equal division between the children in the first case, and no cash gifts in the second.
• On another occasion, the sole beneficiary of the invalid DIY Will instead obtained letters of administration in the intestate estate, thinking he could keep everything anyway. He was sorely disappointed when his estranged brother turned up later asking for his share.
• Wills which have been invalid for uncertainty, where beneficiaries were not properly identified.

DIY Wills are also a recipe for amnesia. People forget to appoint executors, or forget assets (like their house), their children, and even their spouses.

The costs of unravelling the problems caused by a poorly drafted or invalid homemade will, especially where litigation ensues, are invariably far greater than the cost of doing the job properly in the first place.

If you need to make (or update) your will, please contact Ann Chandler on 01507 466767, email achandler@wilkinchapman.co.uk or visit wilkinchapman.co.uk

Never miss a copy!

Big savings when you take out a subscription.