A creative community

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
September 2018

The small market town of Alford, at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds, is en-route to the East Coast and for those people who take the time to stop and explore, it is almost an Aladdin’s Cave of things to see and do, writes Melanie Burton.
Though it has a range of small shops and accommodation, it is not really a shopping destination. However, it is well-known for its Craft Market which was established back in 1974 to promote the manufacture of high quality, handcrafted goods in and around Lincolnshire and was the first of its kind in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

It began in the June as a Friday market to coincide with the chartered market that took place weekly in the Market Place.

The August Market began the following year and established itself as not only a place to find new talent in arts and crafts, but also as a venue for excellent and new talent in theatre and music. It also became associated with the Morris Dancing Festival organised by the Alford Morris Team, and this is still carried on with displays of dancing, and a grand ceilidh.

The winter of 1976 saw the start of the Christmas Market in the Corn Exchange.

The market was established by two craftspeople, Heather and Michel Ducos of Alford Pottery, which is still active today.

They both had a long-term vision and a love for their town and, proud of their craft, they wished to create a venue where Lincolnshire craftsmen, makers and artists could gather and sell their work – offering the public something different, handmade with love and dedication in a variety of disciplines from ceramic, wood and iron to glass and textiles.

In 2015 the Craft Market took a new step with the opening of a craft shop in the centre of the town which is run by volunteers and supplied by Lincolnshire crafts people. It opened with the aim of providing a centre where people interested in hand crafts could visit and exchange ideas as well promoting the best of crafts in the county.

In March 2016, the Big Lottery Fund chose Alford Craft Market Centre to be one of only five community groups to be filmed for ITV’s The People’s Projects competition meaning it was eligible for a grant of up to £50,000. It was successful in winning the grant and was able to renovate the Old Bakehouse, a large building next door to the Craft Centre, and equip it as a pottery and glass studio enabling it to offer classes in ceramics, glass fusing and glass bead making in addition to the many craft classes that were already being run.

The Craft Market is run by a committee of craftsmen, and is entirely non-profit making. It is run to promote craft work in the area of Lincolnshire and to provide an outlet for traditional and contemporary crafts.

Before anyone can sell their goods on the Market they are selected by a committee of established craftspeople, who are looking for high quality work. Preference is given to those who live in Lincolnshire, although some of the craftworkers come from surrounding counties.

Heather and Michel are both presidents of the organisation and though they are thinking about retirement, it doesn’t seem like it is going to happen soon.

“We are open Monday to Friday and other times by appointment. We have been here making pots for forty-six years and we still do! We make a range of stoneware tableware and undertake private commissions and we also make ceramic sculptures and have regular exhibitions,” said Michel.

Heather and Michel Ducos have been making pots for a living since 1972.

Heather started playing with clay as a child whilst on holiday in Devon and Cornwall. She later trained as an occupational therapist and learned the rudiments of pottery, later setting up ceramic workshops in hospitals where she worked to use it as part of therapy.

Michel’s earliest creative efforts were during the war in Algeria (then part of France) when he used the lumps of plaster from the walls of bombed out houses to carve into all sorts of shapes.

The couple came to Alford in 1973 and set up their pottery while still working part-time, Heather as an OT and Michel as a thatcher’s assistant. But, as the pottery became busier, they were able to leave their jobs and become full-time potters. The business grew and in 1978 they moved to their present premises on Commercial Road.

The regular craft markets take place in two of Alford’s other visitor attractions, the historic Corn Exchange and the Manor House.

Built in 1856 at a cost of £1,400 (Kellys Directory 1896), the Corn Exchange is a Grade II listed building and bears the Hamilton family motto ‘Ride Through’.

Since April 2014 it has been owned by the Alford Corn Exchange Community Group with the aim of providing a beautiful space for the people of Alford and its surrounding areas. It was very run-down when the group took the building over but the community group set to, managed to raise a lot of money locally and gave the Corn Exchange a major renovation refurbishing the main hall, the floors and the kitchen to turn it into a focal point for the town and a useful community asset. It can now be used for weddings, parties, dance lessons, sport groups, meetings, theatre and other events.

Alford’s seventeenth-century Manor House is also a popular place to visit with plenty of things to do and see which all help to attract footfall to the town.

Also a Grade II listed building, it 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 about 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.

The Manor House is continuing with its World War One Exhibition showing ‘Votes for Women’ including the Suffragette and Suffragist Movement.

A small area of the exhibition is commemorating 100 years of the Royal Air Force. There are drawings by Len Farrer depicting the events of World War One and also on display, and available to purchase, photographs taken locally by the Camera Club from the Alford U3A group.

The Manor House has been gifted a significant industrial heritage collection from Alford’s local millwright, Tom Davies, who has now retired.

“We are planning to erect in the grounds of the Manor House a replica of the workshop where the collection was originally housed in Parsons Lane, Alford,” explained the Civic Trust’s Sandie Spenceley.

“This building will form part of the enhanced Museum of Rural Life and there will be display areas for our larger items of machinery and equipment.

“The necessary archaeology and tree surveys have been carried out and the architect has now submitted the planning application to East Lindsey District Council for this exciting new project, all supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.”

The collection consists of the entire workshop and contents belonging to R Thompson and Son, now retired. It is of high significance locally, being an example of a small scale local business with nineteenth-century origins. However, its contribution to the mill preservation movement in Britain throughout the twentieth century elevates the collection to that of ‘exceptional significance nationally’.

Thompson’s was one of the last operational millwrighting firms descended from a long line of master millwrights. The Davies family continued Thompson’s work of repairing and restoring traditional wind- and water-powered mills until Tom Davies’ retirement in late 2012.

There are a number of special events planned at the Manor House over the coming weeks starting with the Vintage Tractor Run taking place on Saturday 8th September with a coffee stop at Farmer Browns, returning before lunch. At the Manor House, steam engines will be arriving in the afternoon, and there will be static engines working, as well as a display of vintage cars, tractors and agricultural harvesting machinery.

Sunday 9th September is the Steam Threshing and Baling working day using wheat sheaves harvested by the Manor House’s own reaper binder.

Vintage tractors, steam engines and static engines will again be on display and Pre-War Austin Seven club members will be visiting with their cars.

In addition, the Manor House, Tearoom and Museum of Rural Life will be open every day over the weekend and during the Lincolnshire Heritage weekend which takes place on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September as well as Monday 1st October for Lincolnshire Day, when the tearoom will be introducing a special Lincolnshire menu.

Another famous and historic landmark in Alford is its five-sailed windmill which was built in 1837 by the local Alford millwright, Sam Oxley, whose business then became R Thompson and Sons; the only traditional millwrights in the country.

At one time there were four, five and six-sailed windmills in Alford, but today only the five-sailed mill remains. This mill is often considered to be the finest windmill in England and the novel use of five sails was based on efficiency experiments by the celebrated engineer John Smeaton. He is also credited with advocating the use of the rounded onion-shaped (ogee) cap to reduce wind resistance.

The site consists of a working windmill and a shop in the old engine house which sells a wide range of locally milled, stoneground flour as well as a range of jams, cereals and gifts.

In addition, the Old Sail Shed houses the award-winning Millstones tea room which serves hot and cold meals and soups plus more than a dozen locally made cakes, scones and desserts.

The mill has been wind powered for most of its working life. However, the addition of a town gas-driven engine in the adjacent shed, permitted flour production when there was no wind.

Local knowledge is paramount for the property market and if you are looking to sell or purchase in eastern Lincolnshire, be sure to speak to Willsons, the independent property professionals with offices in Alford and Skegness.

Willsons have been established in the area for more than 175 years, giving them a proven track record in the sales of all types of properties from the Wolds to the sea. While the business retains traditional values of service and quality, clients also receive access to 21st century digital platforms and expertise.

As an independent business, Willsons pride themselves on delivering a professional service with a personal touch for both town and country clients. As well as their estate agency service they also provide valuations for residential and agricultural properties, lettings and property management and auctions.

The Skegness branch is home to a busy lettings department offering a complete management service for landlords. Willsons’ local knowledge is also invaluable when it comes to achieving the best results at auction whether for property, livestock (the company are partners in Lincolnshire’s only livestock market in Louth), farm equipment or at one of their regular furniture, antique and collectables auctions held at Well, near Alford.

The running of Willsons today is in the expert hands of Paul Robinson and James Boulton, both of whom are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. They will ensure that Willsons continues to thrive serving their local community.

124 West Street, Alford, Lincs LN13 9DR
Tel: 01507 621111, www.willsons-property.co.uk

It is refreshing to hear that since moving into new premises on West Street, Alford in December 2017, Safelincs have continued to grow. The new site of approximately five acres, comprising warehouses and office buildings, is giving Safelincs a platform to venture into new areas. MD Harry Dewick-Eisele said: “The new site has provided us with lots of opportunity for growth and development. We are currently renovating the last of our warehouses with over 1,000 sqm. Once completed this will allow us to venture into assembly and manufacturing.”

With their continued success Safelincs are currently recruiting and hope to be able to offer apprenticeships in the near future. The ethos of the company is to give back to the community and they currently sponsor Alford’s Under 10 football team as well as the library project and the Alford Corn Exchange.

Safelincs’ job opportunities can be found at www.safelincs.co.uk/jobs

Keeping up with the times is what one of Alford’s popular community meeting places has strived to do and, without question, its efforts have paid off.

The town’s Craft Market Centre and Shop opened its doors just three years ago though its roots are firmly entrenched in the 1970s.

Opened as a shop in West Street back in April 2015, the centre has been thriving ever since and is busier than ever. Its aim was to promote the best of Lincolnshire crafts and provide a focal point in the town where people interested in handicrafts could visit and exchange ideas.

“There are three aspects to Alford Craft Market,” explained Craft Centre secretary and volunteer Lynne Le-Voi. “There are our Christmas, Easter and Bank Holiday events and our regular Tuesday markets through the summer.

“Then we have the shop which is open six days a week for most of the year and that has become quite a big thing and is doing well with products from thirty different Lincolnshire makers in there.

“And then we have the classes which have turned out to be massive for the centre.”

Located on the corner of the Market Place, it is ideally situated to catch those ‘spur of the moment’ visitors, so the craft centre volunteers work hard to promote its existence.

“We put signs out to try and attract people into the town. Alford is on the coast road and normally people just drive through so what we are trying to do is attract people into the town to help boost the town’s economy,” said Lynne.

“We also promote Lincolnshire crafts and through our classes that has turned out to be massive.”

The centre has three classrooms for glass and pottery sessions and two other rooms where clean crafts take place, such as sewing and textiles.

“We also do a lot of classes for children so it is turning out to be quite a lot of work for us,” said Lynne.

“But it is all good for the town because it helps bring people in. They can then stop for lunch and visit the other attractions such as the Manor House.”

The centre’s origins stem from the popular Alford Craft Market which was started back in 1974 and still takes place today.

The shop was opened following the success of the event’s 40th anniversary programme, which was supported by Lincolnshire County Council and attended by more than 10,000 visitors over the season.

“The craft market has been has been going a long time so we can’t afford to stand still. We have to keep improving and changing things and moving with the fashion and the times,” said Lynne.

That is why new forms of crafts are always being introduced down at the centre. One of the latest things which has taken the staff by surprise is its Crotchet for Beginners activity.

“It is a four-week course which has proved massively popular and has completely sold out,” said Lynne.

“All the craft classes are still going strong and pottery is always very popular, but it was a bit of a surprise with the crotchet class.

“We have also just introduced a new activity called Raku Pottery, which is an outdoor class and quite specific.

“The Raku kiln is red hot and when you take the piece of pottery out, because of the immediate change of temperature and exclusion of air, it creates a metallic crackle glaze to it.

“We have introduced it into our six-week pottery class and we also do a three-hour taster session.”

The centre is a not-for-profit organisation and is completely run by volunteers.

Tucked away in a small village just outside Alford is a lesser known attraction but a fascinating and ‘must-visit’ one nonetheless.

‘On Your Marques’ is a model car museum, housing a collection of model vehicles and motor racing art and memorabilia covering the many aspects of motoring history including the world of Formula 1, GT Racing, Rallying, Le Mans cars and Supercars.

Opened sixteen years ago by Chris Dring and his wife, ‘On Your Marques’ is a purpose-built museum converted from a range of old farm buildings for the sole purpose of displaying the vast collection to the public.

“Around 6,500 model cars are on display but I have more than 18,000 of them,” said Chris, who has run the business on his own since his wife died six years ago.

“I change the displays each season and have guest collections arranged over the winter. The museum has been open sixteen years but there are still some models that have not been on display.”

The cabinets are themed and over the years there have been displays of items related to TV and film, American cars, Batman, James Bond, Ferrari, The Best of British, Fire Engines, Dinky Military Vehicles, Lincolnshire buses and many more.

The site also houses the Pit Stop café which stocks a wide range of cakes, snacks and soft drinks and there is also a fifty-metre, four-lane Scalextric circuit which is highly popular with visitors of all ages.

“People can pop in when they want,” said Chris. “A lot of visitors put comments on TripAdvisor and I always reply to them. People come from far and wide not just from the county but [also] Holland, Germany and even the States. They are regular visitors and come back quite often.”

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