Best kept gems of the south

Words by:
Melaine Burton
Featured in:
September 2013

If you think the towns and villages that run parallel with the busy A17 trunk road are sleepy backwaters, then you should visit the little gems known as Long Sutton, and Sutton Bridge.
Located on the southeastern fringes of the county, this pretty Georgian market town is vibrant and active and has a small community with a big spirit.

Although close to the larger market towns of King’s Lynn, Wisbech and Peterborough, it has such a diverse range of independent retailers that you can buy everything you need for everyday life, plus a lot more.

Attractive in its appearance, it is renowned for its prize-winning floral displays and is regularly named among the best-kept villages in Lincolnshire. But it is also a genuine working place, with a Friday Market dating back to the thirteenth century, a produce auction and antiques centre and a number of retailers that have been established in the town for decades.

With ample free parking right in the town centre, Long Sutton offers all the amenities one needs from banks, to shops, hairdressing salons, cafés, restaurants and convenience stores.

Pledgers electrical shop in the Market Place is one of the town’s oldest businesses, having served the community for sixty-seven years.

It was established in 1945 by Dick Pledger but in 1967 it was bought by Maurice Smith who had worked there since the beginning, when he was taken on full-time at the age of fourteen.Today the store is run by his daughter Gill and sons David and Graham.

Sheila Tiller is another familiar sight in the Market Place, having opened in October 1978, and is celebrating its thirty-five-year anniversary milestone.

With two branches of the business just yards away from each other, it is quick and easy to acquire a complete outfit from head to toe for that special occasion, or just for day-to-day wear.

Owned by mother and daughter team Sheila Tiller and Elaine Tunnard, the business sells exclusive continental fashions, footwear and accessories to suit every occasion, from formal to casual.

“We actually opened in the shop next door, which is now a fancy dress shop, and over the thirty-five years we have been in business it has been a steady growth,” said Elaine who runs the fashion shop.

“At one stage we had five different shops in Long Sutton, Downham Market and Holbeach but when I had my family, it made sense to move them into one.

“We are an independent shop that offers quality and a service second to none and through the recession we have found people are very discerning about where they spend their money and for us we are a niche market and our customers want that. We still have to keep up with the times but we still very much offer that personal service.”

The shoe shop, run by Sheila Tiller herself, is situated further up the road in Market Place.

“We have an extremely wide choice of shoes, boots and slippers. We have a huge selection across both shops which helps make Long Sutton a destination worth coming to and worth travelling for.

“People come from quite a long way away and we have very loyal customers. We have even had someone come from Milan to buy shoes. It is all down to the service we offer and we also offer an alteration service.”

The fashion shop stocks outfits for different age groups, in sizes eight to twenty, and also offers special occasion and mother-of-the-bride outfits.

“You get top to toe dressing here, everything from the bottom up and outward. We are a one-stop destination shop,” said Elaine.

Elaine is local to Long Sutton, having grown up in the town along with her brother Martin who now lives in Vancouver in Canada.

“Long Sutton is a lovely shopping town. It has mostly independent shops and there are a lot of specialist shops, so it is a little jewel of a town. It is very pretty and there is something for everyone here.”

All the shopkeepers are focused on the service they offer.

“It’s about going that extra mile for customers. We have very long established businesses such as Pledgers and Parkway and we have a full range of shops,” said Elaine. “There are not many things you can’t buy in Long Sutton. It’s always busy and bustling and is a hive of activity.”

Time Out is another delightful shop which helps add a special character to Long Sutton. Housed in a late seventeenth century building in the High Street, it is not only pretty on the outside, but inside it is an Aladdin’s cave of gifts and beautiful, attractive looking furniture on the ground floor and a beauty and hairdressing salon on the upper floor. Shaun Cross and his wife Jenny opened the business eight years ago.

“A lot of people come from the surrounding areas because we have a few niche shops and a busy market on a Friday,” said Shaun, who runs the gift shop, while his wife is in charge of the beauty salon. “We can’t grumble. It has been an encouraging year.”

Time Out is a family business, with Shaun’s dad also helping out in the shop now and again.

“I started this up and never looked back. There are a lot of family-run businesses in Long Sutton. It’s a large village in size but because it has a market it is also a town. Everyone knows everyone and there is a good atmosphere.

“There is a great community spirit which has helped us through the recession and free parking means you can wander round the town for as long as you want. There are not as many places around here like that now.”

Shaun is now looking ahead to the autumn and on 1st September he will be attending the autumn show to buy in new stock ready for Christmas.

“We do a picture framing service which is a new venture for us this past year and that is taking off too,” he added.

Parkway is another long established business which attracts regular visitors from far and wide.

A traditional hardware store, it is full to the rafters with your every need, from decorating materials to kitchenware, gardening and leisure items. The shop boasts more than 6,000 square feet of display areas, spread over two floors.

It was formed in the mid-1980s by Ted Weightman, who was at the helm until he passed away in 2006 – aged seventy-nine years. David Pateman joined the company in 2004 and is the current owner.

At this traditional style hardware shop, nails are still weighed and bagged and although screws can be purchased by the box, they can also be counted out and bought individually. The shop is also the area’s agent for dry cleaning and has a key-cutting service too.

Long Sutton’s name is derived from old English, with Sutton meaning village to the south and Long being a description of a long straggling village.

The church of St Mary was built in 1170 by Cluniac monks and has the highest, oldest and best preserved lead spire in the country which, in years gone by, served as a landmark for fishermen. The spire is of a similar design to Chesterfield’s St Mary’s Church, of crooked spire fame, but in Long Sutton the church spire is straight and true.

The town has a thriving Friday Market dating back to the early thirteenth century when the town was a prosperous trading centre. By the mid fourteenth century the town had become one of the richest communities in Lincolnshire. Prosperity in the area was never very far away over the centuries.

The first bridge to be built to span the River Nene in 1831 linked the town to Norfolk and ensured more passing trade. Then thirty years later the railway line was extended to the town, linking it to other parts of the country; it being part of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

A passenger service ran for almost one hundred years but in 1959 this was withdrawn leaving only a goods service between Sutton Bridge and Spalding, which operated until 1965.

The main industry for the area is farming, easily brought about by the rich arable land that surrounds the town. This has contributed towards the prosperity of the past and it is reported that, back in the 1950s, eleven trains would daily transport passengers and local produce to and from the town.

Nowadays, as with other towns around the country, smallholders and farmers rely on road transport to take their produce to market, although the busy Friday Market still has a small produce auction which is used by local producers.

One of the town’s iconic buildings is undergoing a new lease of life after being turned into a volunteer-run community centre.

The Market House and Corn Exchange in Market Street in the centre of Long Sutton was built in the mid nineteenth century to serve the increasing demands of commerce and agriculture in the town and surrounding area. It is now a multi-use centre, having been refurbished in the late 1990s.

Mrs Jeanne Sibley, development officer and centre manager said: “The building was built in 1851 and was a thriving centre of activity for Long Sutton. But at the turn of the twentieth century it fell into disrepair as corn exchanges moved elsewhere.

“A group of local volunteers brought it back to life and now it serves the local community with a number of activities.”

Long Sutton Town Arts uses the venue to put on Arts Council-supported live music and theatre events – the next one being Bowjangles in September. And Market House Movies show the latest films there – in September there will be ‘Song for Marion’.

Volunteers run a branch of the Agape Care Food bank for those in crisis from the centre and they also run a branch of the Lincolnshire Credit Union, while South Holland District Council is available in reception to anyone who wants to drop in on a Tuesday or Thursday.

The centre is also home to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Rape Crisis has an outreach branch there and Market House Photographic Group holds regular exhibitions. There is one on 14th and 15th September with local skilled photographers presenting photographs of historic Lincolnshire.

The Lincolnshire Film Archive is showing a film of local interest to Long Sutton and Sutton Bridge on 13th September in the Corn Exchange, which is also the venue for local musicians, with the popular Meena Lee Quartet playing there on 27th September.

Local community groups such as the WEA, t’ai chi, card and craft making, the Civic Society and many more use the building. The local church St Mary’s holds some of its meetings there and the district council, county council and Children’s Links run courses in both the Market House and Corn Exchange.

Free internet access is available in reception and volunteers act as computer buddies. Most importantly, the team of thirty volunteers provides a reception service Monday to Friday, signposting people to local information and services, as well as welcoming people to the building and providing teas and coffees to groups using the building.

Just a few miles up the road from Long Sutton is Sutton Bridge which is known as the ‘Gateway to Lincolnshire’, and is both a village and civil parish with a population of approximately 4,000 inhabitants.

Situated in southeastern Lincolnshire and located on the west bank of the River Nene, close to the county borders with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, it does not appear to be as vibrant as its picturesque neighbour but nevertheless still has lots to offer.

There are a number of small independent businesses within a stone’s throw of each other such as Cindy’s Ladies Fashions on Bridge Road which has been a familiar landmark in the town for nearly thirty-three years.

Cindy’s is an individual shopping experience offering that ‘something special’. It was established in 1980 and has built up a reputation for itself as one of the premier fashion houses in East Anglia.

Specialising in casual wear right through to occasion wear for weddings, the races or cruising, its shop even has a specially designed lounge for gentlemen and friends to relax while you shop. It also stocks accessories and fashion jewellery, as well as casual bags to complement any outfit.

Owner, Mrs Cindy Marritt said: “There are a number of well-established businesses in the village and business has been good for us.

“The people are going more toward independent retailers and because they can park outside it is easy to come and shop here. Independent retailers can offer exclusive items whereas in the High Street shops it is all very much the same.”

On 19th September, Cindy’s will host its Autumn Fashion Show and afternoon tea event at the Curlew Centre just across the road from the shop.

Sutton Bridge also features numerous listed buildings as well as buildings of interest throughout the town. They include the Park House, formerly Metalair and now offices, which is an early nineteenth century Grade II listed building built in yellow brick.

The house was built by the Guy’s Hospital Estate for their resident steward because, until 1919, Guy’s Hospital owned most of Sutton Bridge and the village had grown around part of their land, with the estate having built the church and the schools.

The East and West Bank Lighthouses are also both Grade II listed buildings. Both are described as early nineteenth century structures with twentieth century alterations; they are brick built, and have been rendered and colour washed.

They each consist of a single central redbrick stack of three storeys under a rounded lead roof, plus an octagonal lantern.

The East Lighthouse has always been well known for its connection with Sir Peter Scott, the renowned conservationist, and it was where Sir Peter lived from 1933 until the beginning of the Second World War.

Last year the new owners, Doug and Sue Hilton secured planning permission to add a visitor centre and museum to the lighthouse with the intention of making more of the surrounding area accessible to the public. This would be part of The Snowgoose Project.

Doug and Sue have spent a lot of money, time and effort on getting this project up and running but unfortunately setbacks have been encountered owing to bad weather and this has meant that the planned August 2013 opening has had to be cancelled, as scaffolding will still be in place.

However, they remain optimistic that the East Lighthouse will be accessible to visitors at some time in the not too distant future.

For a long time Sutton Bridge was part of the parish of Long Sutton. Today Sutton Bridge is officially a town even though the locals still think of it as ‘the Village’. It stands on land reclaimed from the estuary of the River Nene which flows into the Wash.

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