Between the wolds and the fens

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
March 2011

Flanked by the rolling Lincolnshire Wolds and the county’s rich fenland, Spilsby is a delightful market town in which to enjoy a spot of niche shopping and check out historic landmarks.
And its great location means that this is an ideal base from which to explore a wide range of countryside attractions too.

But there are initiatives underway in the town as well, which are designed to make it a better place in which to live and work and also encourage visitors to linger longer.

Spilsby Mayor Councillor David Pleming revealed that the town council, which he currently chairs, is taking a proactive stance when it comes to helping create a more vibrant future for the area.

In addition, the town’s Business Partnership Group is doing its bit and there is a ‘Love Spilsby’ campaign, which rewards shoppers with discounts for supporting local traders.

Councillor Pleming said the town council, whose office is in the Franklin Hall, is keen to make the area safer and he is also pleased to report that regeneration projects are also underway.

The town is served by a variety of good schools and, ideally, he would like to see Spilsby’s young people encouraged to stay and work in the area.

“As a Council, we have a budget of about £45,000 and we are responsible for things such as floral baskets, the children’s play area in Ancaster Avenue, the Christmas lights and the cemetery.

“Spilsby is home to about 2,000 people and a lot of the time we are working to try and make life more pleasant for our residents and businesses. The Youth Club has closed, but there are facilities at the New Life Centre in the Old Grammar School and our local judo club is about to move into new premises on the Vale Industrial Estate,” added Councillor Pleming.

Although it is not immediately obvious, Spilsby is also the home of many well-known businesses and companies with customers around the country and outside of the UK.

And the town itself is proud that it is holding its own when it comes to the countrywide battle to preserve local shopping.

“We have some good businesses here, including Tong Peal and J & A on the Vale Industrial Estate. The town is also home to Dennett’s, the ice cream business and others,” said Councillor Pleming.

“Also, we have hardly lost any shops here, whereas most other market towns are suffering because their shops are closing down.

Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV systems) have been hitting the headlines in Lincolnshire over the past few months, but this is one area where the town council has grasped the nettle and made its own investment.

“There has been a demand for CCTV for many years, but we weren’t very keen on having it monitored from Skegness (East Lindsey District Council),” said Councillor Pleming.

“As a result, we have invested in four independent cameras, with recording facilities attached to them. It means that if there is an incident, the nominated keyholder and the police have access to recordings for fourteen days.

“Instead of paying for a system monitored by East Lindsey District Council, we have put in our own trial scheme. Former policeman Michael Lenton masterminded the work, by approaching tenants of various properties to see if they were okay about having a camera on their buildings,” said Councillor Pleming.

“Hopefully, if this works, we will be able to add another couple of cameras over the next three years, but we might look for help from the private sector, such as businesses on the Vale Industrial Estate,” he added.

Changes could also be made to the Monday Market, which is currently run by East Lindsey District Council.

“We are in negotiations with East Lindsey to work with them and eventually take over the market and give the town much more attractive, lightweight stalls.

“This would help to develop and improve the market. East Lindsey District Council has been very helpful in those talks, said Councillor Pleming.

Shoppers should also find themselves greeted by more colourful than ever lamp-post flower baskets this spring. These are being funded by the town council but planted and looked after by the locally-based Linkage Trust College.

Spilsby also has its own allotments, just off the A16 on the edge of the town, where the ‘Grow Your Own’ trend is certainly having an impact. There is now a waiting list for the plots, so the town council has taken a creative approach and is starting to let half-plots.

Back in the centre of Spilsby, a stone’s throw away from the landmark Captain John Franklin statue, The White Hart Coaching Inn is benefiting from a £170,000 revamp by pub retailer and brewer Greene King.

Tenants Angela Morgan-Knight and Shirley Smith are delighted with the changes, which should be completed by April.

Mrs Morgan-Knight said: “The hotel has been undergoing a complete revamp which has included new dining facilities and a ‘cinema’ where we can show films before they get released on DVD on a giant screen.

“We are going to do this twice a month and see how well it goes. We also have a new head chef, Mark Gilberthorpe, who is creating more of a grill house here,” she said.

“Our alterations also mean that we will have accommodation to offer, with restyling creating nine en-suite rooms.”

Spilsby has a good range of education facilities, including schools which have introduced innovative approaches.

King Edward VI Humanities College is the only secondary college in England to hold a Humanities specialism with a Rural Dimension, according to headteacher Margaret Reeve.

Students can study a diploma in Land Based and Environmental studies at the age of fourteen, and enjoy facilities on site and at the Riseholme Agricultural College in Lincoln.

One of the latest developments at the school is the building of an Eco Barn, which provides a purpose-built base for the diploma.

This ‘green’ complex features solar panels to generate power, sheep’s wool and recycled newspapers for insulation. Floor coverings have been created from old yoghurt pots and the worktops from recycled rubber boots.

The Eco friendly barn boasts a sedum roof and links to the thriving allotment and outdoor classroom already on site. This facility will be open for learning in April and is available for use by other school and community groups.

Mrs Reeve said: “The College is proud of its achievements in preparing students for various examinations, whether these are GCSEs, GNVQs or the BTEC National Diploma.

“The curriculum is tailored to maximise the potential of all students and the recent creation of Sixth Form provision on site for Business and Sports Studies enables students to move directly from the college to university or further vocational training, depending on their interest and aptitude.

“Students are set according to ability with a grammar stream in each year group. Their progress is closely monitored to ensure that all students make the most of the opportunities available to them,” added Mrs Reeve.

Jane Scott and Bruce Knight dub themselves “a couple of fools” who now manage Spilsby Theatre.

Both trained with the Nomadic Academy of Fools and perform with The Theatre of Now, directed by master of the art of fooling, Jonathan Kay!

Bruce said: “Moving into a theatre that has been closed for a year has involved an ongoing process of sorting, sifting, repairing and cleaning. With the help of volunteers the stage has received some much-needed love and maintenance.”

He said a new mixed programme of workshops and events for all ages, from local to international artists is now starting to be booked in and this is slowly being built up.

“There is no budget. We have begun with a lot of will and a few pounds donated for parking and we are growing from there!”

Performances return to the stage this April, beginning with the wonder-fool, Jonathan Kay, performing on the evening of April Fools Day!

“There will be an Open Day on Saturday, 9th April, with the Fanfare Big Band playing jazz classics in the evening. Shakespeare’s Richard II will be performed by fools of the Theatre of Now on Monday and Tuesday, 11th and 12th April.”

Mr Knight said the play has Lincolnshire connections, because it is about Henry Bolingbroke (who lived at nearby Bolingbroke Castle) who overthrew Richard II and became Henry IV.

Another character in the play is the Earl of Willoughby – who is buried opposite the theatre in St James’ Churchyard.

For more details about the Theatre click onto

The Franklin Hall in Halton Road is considered to be a very special asset to the local community. As well as being the base for the town council’s offices it is used by all sorts of groups and a wide range of functions.

The hall, which was officially opened in July 2001, by Miss T M Maddison MBE, a descendant of Sir John Franklin, plays host to the Bowls Club, aerobics classes and sequence dancing sessions, charity events and conferences – to name just a few.

Originally known as the Drill Hall, and completed in 1899 as Spilsby’s Territorial Force Drill Hall, the site once also consisted of housing and was the quarters for the resident professional army sergeant instructors, and used as a hospital during the First World War.

Among groups meeting regularly at The Franklin Hall is Spilsby U3A, which is now in its third year.

Chairman Geoff Wheatley said that the branch started out with a public meeting to ascertain interest and the group now has about 150 members, who meet on the second Wednesday of the month.

There’s a chance to hear interesting speakers and reports from various Special Interest Groups – of which there are now seventeen. The annual membership costs £10.

Mr Wheatley said that U3A is generally for people aged fifty and over, who are no longer in full-time jobs. Part-time workers are most welcome.

Walking, fishing, motorbiking, Lincolnshire’s wartime heritage… and even a spot of judo, you can enjoy them all in the Spilsby area.

If you love walking, why not check out the ruins of Bolingbroke Castle, at Old Bolingbroke just outside of the town. Built in about 1220-1230, it was the birthplace of Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt.

Alternatively you might fancy a visit to Snipe Dales – a 210 acre site, comprising a nature reserve and country park. Both areas are owned by Lincolnshire County Council and managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Both the Nature Reserve and Country Park feature a network of marked trails with information boards along the routes.

The Panton family and its team of aviation enthusiasts offers visitors to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre a restored Second World War airfield complex, six miles outside of Spilsby.

Here brothers Fred and Harold have created a living tribute to their late brother wartime pilot Christopher Panton, who was stationed at RAF Skipton on Swale in Yorkshire and killed during Bomber Command’s raid on Nuremburg in March 1944.

The hangar is home to the Lancaster Mk VII NX611, the star of the centre, and better known to many as ‘Just Jane’. She is one of only four remaining Lancasters in the UK, out of the 7,000 built.

For fishing enthusiasts, there is Woodlands Fishery on Ashby Road in Spilsby, which offers the angler five coarse fishing lakes stocked with carp, crucian carp, tench and bream.

The fishery has 100 pegs and two are especially adapted for wheelchair-bound anglers. The centre also has a fully-stocked tackle shop.

If you love motorbiking, you’ll be right at home in this area.

Peter McDowell and his wife Lisa run A E Wildman & Son Motorcycles in the town.

They are the third generation to run the family business, which has been going since 1926.

Mr McDowell said a room has been hired at The White Hart Hotel for monthly meetings of the Spilsby Bikers, who are now meeting on the fourth Thursday of every month at 7.30pm.

In addition, every year the town welcome riders for the Spilsby Bike Night, an evening when local shops, cafes and chip shop traditionally stay open to cater for the extra influx of people. This year the date is Tuesday, 24th May.

Anyone interested in trials biking, whether a beginner or expert, is invited to check out The East Coast Trials Club.

Events organiser Stuart Burgess said members range from the youngest, at just eight years old, to the eldest – who is eighty-seven. Everyone meets for fun and a practice when they like, but events are Auto Cycle Union licensed. More details are available from Stuart on (01507) 525554.

Finally, Spilsby’s Higashi Judo Club is poised to move to a new home, provided it gets the green light from district planners.

President and Third Dan, Stephen Gawthorpe, who started the venture in 2001, said the organisation is hoping to move to Unit 5B on the Vale Road Industrial Estate during the first week of April.

And head coach, and a Second Dan, David Hereward – who has worked closely with the Beijing Para Olympic team manager in the past – will be helping to take it to new heights.

In order to get a home, the club has received support from the English Institute of Sport, as well as Sport England, the Judo Association and the Gymnastics Association.

Mr Gawthorpe said the non-profit Club, aimed at anyone with an interest in judo and gymnastics, from the age of five upwards, has also been helped by Lincolnshire Co-operative, Spilsby’s Mayor, the town council and local police.

The Club, whose coaches are all UK CC Level two qualified, has The Club Mark Bronze status, a high accolade in judo circles.

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