A town with top marques

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
August 2015

The small historic market town of Bourne has plenty up its sleeve for the discerning visitor to this charming community on the A15.
Look beyond the busy crossroads in the middle of the town centre and you will find an abundance of green open spaces, woodland and waterways and a plethora of places to escape the hustle and bustle of modern living as well as a sense of an exciting prosperous past.

The town has a number of top named High Street brands and main chain supermarkets as well as a variety of your traditional independent retailers, which are at the heart of the local community.

It has two delightful shopping arcades. The Burghley Centre opened in 1989 near the site of the disused and derelict cattle market and created a mall with fourteen retail units, a supermarket and a car park for 170 vehicles.

The Angel precinct has a range of interesting businesses in the courtyard of the Angel Hotel, which is thought to be the oldest surviving hotel in the town dating from the 18th century, and was originally known as the Nag’s Head.

Bourne still hosts a twice-weekly market next to the popular Corn Exchange and a £2.14 million improvement project on Wherry’s Lane, which leads from North Street to Burghley Street, has seen life regenerated in that area with its new look Wherry’s Mill, adjoining apartments and retail units.

The name ‘Bourne’ is a common name for a settlement and derives from the Anglo-Saxon meaning ‘water’ or ‘stream’. But its name has been synonomous with the world of motor racing for eighty years and it is a favourite place for the famous Formula 1 racing family of Graham and Damon Hill.

The racing car marques English Racing Automobiles (ERA) and British Racing Motors (BRM) were both founded in Bourne by Raymond Mays, an international racing driver and designer. ERA started in 1934 and BRM’s first car was unveiled in 1949 at Folkingham Airfield.

In 1975 Mike Pilbeam, BRM’s former chief designer, set up Pilbeam Racing Designs on Graham Hill Way which is still going strong today.

A large stone plaque standing in the Memorial Gardens pays tribute to Bourne’s links with motor racing.

Installed to commemorate the motor racing heritage of Bourne, it also celebrates a number of significant milestone dates for the town.

Funded by the proceeds of the town’s motor racing heritage day on 29th August 1999, it marks the centenary of the birth of Raymond Mays who is described as ‘a veritable giant of motor racing who put the town on the world map of motor racing.’

It also marks sixty-five years of ERA saying ‘those voiturette racers became renowned worldwide for success in the classes for which they were designed and built, successes which continue into the 21st century with historic events.’

The stone also commemorates fifty years of BRM describing it as the natural successor to ERA: ‘The BRM arrived at the Formula 1 world champions in a determined effort to put British cars in the frontline of racing.’

In 1962 Graham Hill won the Formula 1 drivers’ world championship in the P57/8 model which brought the Formula 1 constructors’ world championship to Bourne. The inscription on the memorial stone says this was ‘testament to the dedication and professionalism of a workforce comprised mainly of local people.’

The Memorial Gardens are owned and maintained by the trustees of Bourne United Charities as a living memorial to the men from Bourne who gave their lives to their country during the two World Wars.

And to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war, ten memorial stones were installed along the pathway to the central war memorial with the regimental coats of arms or service etched on them of all the servicemen named on the war memorial.

In stark contrast to the busy town centre, Bourne has an ancient woodland providing residents a great escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

There has been a woodland on the site of Bourne Woods since at least 1086, when it was recorded in the Doomsday Book.

It is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission but it comes under the watchful eye of the Friends of Bourne Woods, which is a group of local people who are interested in, and involved with, helping to promote and look after the woods and prevent it from disappearing in place of development.

Secretary Sarah Roberts explained: “We formed in 1997 partly against privatisation of woodland. People try and build on the woodland but that is one of the things we are up against and keep an eye out for and we have been successful in the past, when they tried to put a bypass round the western part of Bourne, which would have run through the woods. We petitioned against it because it would have cut the community off from the wood and we don’t want that.”

The group has about 100 members now, although not all of them are proactive.

“It is free to join,” said Sarah. “We don’t have monthly meetings as such, what we tend to do is organise walks or indoor talks. We have a couple of children’s events, the Easter Trail and Build a Den, and we have themed walks through the summer.

“The purpose behind that is to encourage people to use the woods, possibly people who wouldn’t normally use them. The Forestry Commission doesn’t run events in Bourne Woods now, so that is what we do.”

The Friends have started a community orchard just outside the woods on paddocks that the Forestry Commission doesn’t need any more. “Local people can sponsor a tree in memory of a loved one or to celebrate something like the birth of a child,” said Sarah.

The orchard has apple, cherry, pear, plum, damson and greengage trees and a native hedge has been planted on two sides of the orchard which it is hoped will act as a barrier to deer and rabbits as well as providing food for the birds.

“We have a core of about twenty to thirty members who will come and take part in events, and others who belong to the group just to keep updated on what is happening with the woods,” said Sarah.

“We have about 100 bird boxes which we put up and need monitoring and our members carry out bird feeding in the winter.

“It is great to walk round the woods but there is very little in the way of facilities such as toilets or play areas. But it is well used by the wider community, for dog walking, cycling or running.”

One of the oldest surviving domestic properties in Bourne is the Red Hall, which also served the community as the ticket offices and station master’s house at Bourne railway station.

It dates back to the early seventeenth century and has been erroneously linked with the Gunpowder Plot with stories of tunnels leading from various buildings in the town to the building.  

A Grade II listed building, the Red Hall is thought to have been built by John Thorpe, a surveyor in the Office of Works and it was rescued from demolition in the 1960s after the station closed.

“It is run by Bourne United Charities from an office here and it is let like a village hall for weddings, private parties and exhibitions and to charities for their various functions,” said clerk to Bourne United Charities Mrs Gail Clingo.

The Red Hall is one of sixty-nine listed buildings in the parish of Bourne but is the most colourful, aptly named for its red brick finish, with ashlar quoins, many gables and featuring a fine Tuscan porch.

And such an old historic building as the Red Hall wouldn’t be complete without a resident ghost. It is reported to be haunted by a ‘grey lady’, who is thought to be former tenant Catherine Digby.

The story goes that Catherine died on 7th August 1811, aged seventy-six, and is reported to have been seen on a number of occasions roaming this impressive seventeenth-century building – reluctant to leave her former home.

The most important listed buildings in the town are the Abbey and Parish Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul built in 1138, which is the town’s only scheduled Grade I building.

Bourne United Charities also owns another of the town’s historic buildings, the ancient Baldock’s Mill, which was built on the banks of the Bourne Eau in 1800 and stopped working in the 1920s.

Bourne Civic Society took it over to preserve it for community use and the restored building is now used as Bourne’s Heritage Centre.

It is also classified as a Grade II listed building because of its architectural and historical interest. It is the only remaining mill in the town and is more than 200 years old. The Domesday Book gave Bourne three mills and there has been a mill on this site since 1086.

The centre has three floors of exhibitions and includes a permanent memorial room on the middle floor dedicated to the achievements of Raymond Mays where many of his trophies are displayed, having been donated by his PA Trissie Carlton and her daughter Anne Boggitt. The room contains photographs, memorabilia and silverware won by BRM cars and drivers.

A smaller room on this floor houses information about Charles Frederick Worth, the famous Paris designer of perfume and haute couture.

The ground floor is home to a small shop area and the machinery and agricultural implement displays. The new mill wheels can be seen through a large viewing window. Exhibitions on this floor do change.

The top floor of the centre is devoted to local history and features local industries once familiar in Bourne such as the water industry and the railway and details of Bourne in wartime including some old domestic items of interest.

A “hidden gem” is how visitors often describe Toft House Hotel and Golf Club near Bourne, thanks to the hard work and dedication of its current owners.

It has been lovingly restored from the original stone farmhouse to meet modern needs whilst retaining the original features such as its stone walls and beams.

With twenty ensuite bedrooms (there are twelve bedrooms leading onto a ground floor courtyard), a newly refurbished lounge and ample parking it is ideally located for touring south Lincolnshire and the East Midlands.

The bar area boasts original features dating back some 300 years including stone walls, oak beams and the original open fireplace.

The hotel has stunning views of the south Lincolnshire Wolds and overlooks the golf course which has seen some big changes recently.

Toft House Hotel and Golf Club was taken over by Robert and Julia Reid and daughter and son-in-law Isobel and Adam Dowsett six years ago. It is very much a family affair, with their son on the team as the chef.

“It needed some ‘tender loving care’ because it was still ‘in the 70s’ when we took it over,” said Julia. “But we are getting there and every one of the rooms has been refurbished and we have had new doors and new windows.

“The golf course has had money spent on it but we have doubled membership since in a declining golf membership society. It is a beautiful course with views all over the south Wolds.”

Robert is a fellow member of the Institute of Hospitality and his years of experience in the hotel trade means Toft House Hotel & Golf Club is already renowned for its quality and excellence of freshly, locally sourced cuisine.

“My husband has been in the hotel industry for more than forty years,” explained Julia. “We used to do all the private catering for Burghley House for seven years and Robert used to be at Barnsdale Lodge at Rutland Waters. He is very well known and a named hotelier of some repute having been in catering all his life.”

The hotel is now licensed for wedding ceremonies and offers the perfect backdrop for that special occasion. Being set in the south Lincolnshire countryside, the main hotel has a fantastic view of the rolling hills.

“We have a beautiful wedding suite all licensed and it is a wonderful place to put a marquee up as well because the gardens and the grounds of the golf centre are beautiful,” said Julia.

“We have been here six years and we are always updating to make it nicer and better. All the gardens are beautifully tended and we have successful flower displays while our menus are seasonal and changed regularly, all sourced locally where possible.”

The golf club is always looking to welcome new members and offers a range of breaks as well as special offers and is particularly keen to see more golf societies make use of its 6,368 yard course.

“We have lovely staff and a friendly golf club, which always has offers on for new members and welcomes golf societies and golf days,” added Julia.

The site also has a seven-pitch Caravan Club CL site set in seven acres of grounds and gardens.

There is also a hair and beauty salon on site offering a one-stop shop for brides to be.

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