Crafts and heritage draw visitors

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
March 2013

On the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds and within easy distance of the East Coast, you’ll find the small town of Alford.
This historic town has much to offer the discerning visitor, but there is a lot more to it than its good location.

Alford offers a unique glimpse into a traditional market town and its buildings represent most of the architectural periods from as early as the fourteenth century. It has also staked its claim to a place in the modern world with a craft market that is renowned all over the county.

Granted a market charter by King Edward I in 1283, Alford, which is named after the ‘alder trees growing by the ford’, became the market town for the rural community serving the surrounding villages and hamlets.

That hasn’t changed – but today its Tuesday and Friday markets also attract visitors from far and wide.

In 2005 and 2006, Alford Town Council became one of the first local town/parish councils to take over the management and running of its markets from the district council. 

Alford Craft Market was founded by Michel and Heather Ducos of Alford Pottery just over thirty-five years ago, with the aim of bringing arts, crafts and culture to a town that had a vibrant history as a market town in a farming community, but which – at that time – had lost its cattle market and so some of its relevance in the region.

Initially, it ran as a Friday market to coincide with the chartered weekly market.

To many people Alford has become identified over the years with the craft market, particularly the main event during the August bank holiday, when music and entertainment are traditionally mixed with crafts of all kinds.

Craft market membership secretary, Priscilla McGirr said: “There are holidaymakers who come to the coast every year and never miss visiting the town on that weekend as well as the local people, to whom it has been part of the yearly calendar for as long as they can remember.

“It is now more than just a craft market. There are all sorts going on, particularly in the summer, with street entertainment as well as working craft demonstrations.”

The market holds an indoor Easter event, a Working Crafts Weekend for three days at spring bank holiday in the grounds of the Manor House and a Tuesday market over the summer holiday period.

The big three-day August bank holiday event, which is also held at the Manor House, coincides with the Alford Town Festival and is a major event on the town calendar. There is also an indoor Christmas Market at the end of November.

“In the past two years the market has undergone something of a renaissance, prompted by a grant from the local authority which has enabled it to purchase wonderful medieval style marquees, and to provide much more in the way of entertainment and workshops than could otherwise have been possible in these tough financial times,” said Priscilla.

Dedicated to bringing the best of Lincolnshire talent and craftsmanship to the town, the organisers are constantly scouting for new talent and encouraging young crafts people, musicians and performers to take part.

Michel and Heather Ducos were potters in London and moved to Alford after they outgrew their home in the capital.

“We moved to Alford totally by chance, as in 1973 it was very hard to find a house we could afford,” said Michel.

“We just happened to have been extremely lucky because neither of us knew anything about Alford or Lincolnshire and we ended up in the best town in the best county.

“We have been working here for thirty-nine years, from our cottage in the beginning, and we purchased our present premises in 1978.”

Alford Pottery, in terms of the size of its workshop and scale of production, ranks among the largest potteries in the county and is larger than most other studio potteries in the UK.

Specialising in wheel thrown stoneware pottery, it makes pots for the table and the kitchen.

They also accept commissions and over the past forty years have made many unusual pots including, most recently, a giant cup and saucer, and have supplied a restaurant with 100 place settings.

The Ducos’ also design and make pots for people with disabilities or limited movement to help them eat and drink with ease and dignity.

The Manor House, which hosts the working weekends and August bank holiday event, is a Grade II* listed building, built back in 1611 and now owned and run by the Alford Civic Trust.

Alford has an array of historically important buildings. Its oldest is the town church, St Wilfrid’s, built around 1350 and where the grammar school began its life in a schoolroom above the porch.

Then there are the Almshouses, first erected in 1670 in accordance with the dying wishes of Manor House owner, Sir Robert Christopher. Originally of a timber framed ‘mud and stud’ style, they lasted until the 1870s when they were reconstructed into the present brick and slate building.

Another well-known emblem of the town is Alford’s five-sailed windmill, set on the approach from Mablethorpe.

Still milling flour, it dates back to 1837 and was built by Alford millwright, Sam Oxley, whose business is still trading today under the name of R Thompson & Sons – the only traditional millwrights in the country.

Alford also has a Corn Exchange which was built in 1856 at a cost of £1,400. It is a Grade II listed building used as the civic offices of the town council and for functions and events but it is facing an unsecure future.

It is presently run by the town council but a decision has been made to hand it back to East Lindsey District Council when the lease expires in 2016, unless someone comes forward to take it on.

Town clerk, Linda Croft said it is hoped a charitable trust can be found to run it. “It is a Catch 22 situation. It is used by the craft market and there are dance classes and bingo held here, but it needs a lot of work doing to it and it is not used enough to make it viable.”

History abounds in the small town of Alford with a fourteenth-century church, a seventeenth-century manor house and a market charter dating back to the 1200s.

No wonder then that it has its own coat of arms befitting its heritage. Alford’s coat of arms holds many symbols about the history of the town, from a white lion, a book and a windmill to two bulls’ heads and a black lion. It represents many eras of the town’s existence and honours a number of important people.

The white lion at the top of the crest commemorates William de Welle, Lord of the Manor, who obtained a market charter for the town in 1283. The book it is holding represents the grammar school and the seven lozenges are from the traditional arms of St Wilfrid, who was the patron saint of Alford’s church which is the town’s oldest building.

Agriculture is represented at the top of the shield through a five-sailed windmill for arable farming and the two bulls’ heads, which not only symbolises dairy farming but also the town’s bull fair and cattle market.

The coat of arms contains a broad black band taken from the arms of the Christopher family, to whom the town owes the Manor House, and a background of wavy blue lines which represents the Wold Grift, from which Alford derived its name.

The black lion has been taken from the arms of Lord Burghley, by whose influence a charter was given to the grammar school in 1576 while the motto ‘Foursquare to all Winds’ comes from the Lincolnshire poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington’.

Rights and ownership of the coat of arms was granted to Alford Urban District Council in 1965 but a decade later on 16th April 1975 they were officially transferred to the Alford Town Council by Order of Her Majesty, the Queen.

It has been part of Alford’s streetscene for hundreds of years, but the Half Moon Hotel and Restaurant still shines bright at the heart of the community.

A listed building – with a history going back to the 1700s – it has stood the test of time and played its part in keeping the traditional Lincolnshire market town on the tourist map.

And its success for the past forty years is down to the current landlord and landlady, David and Jill Dixon, who transformed the tiny run-down public house into the three-star, sixteen-bedroomed hotel it is today.

With son, Geoff and daughter-in-law, Karen working alongside, it is very much a family business and it has proved to be a popular venue not only for local residents, but also wedding parties, visiting tourists and diners alike.

David is the longest running licensee in the town, which is an achievement in itself in these days of quick-fix businesses and changing trends.

David said: “We have been here since 1971 and over that period we have done an awful lot. It was just a tiny pub when we came in. It didn’t do food, it didn’t do accommodation. It was a run-down pub which the brewery sold to local brewery Batemans, because they thought it was doomed to closure. But we have built it up to what it is today.”

The Half Moon has played host to many things over the years with its customers being the instigators of many of them, including the renowned Alford Craft Market, which now attracts hundreds of visitors to the town every year.

“We have hosted so many things over the years. Our customers have been the instigators of all sorts of things from the renowned Alford Craft Market, to the Film Society, the Folk Club and many others,” said David.

“It has been a gradual development. We have had builders in nearly every single year but we have never had to close. We started out with four bedrooms, then we added a new block of four rooms and altered the ground floor so now we have sixteen bedrooms.”

The Half Moon is licensed for marriage and civil ceremonies and, with its landscaped garden, provides the perfect venue for receptions and private functions.

Alford is an ideal location for holidaymakers to explore because of its close proximity to the East Coast.

“It is a central spot for everywhere on the coast and inland as well. Alford is a lovely town to visit. Sadly the shopping isn’t as good as a lot of other market towns, which is a shame, but the town itself has a lot to offer,” added David.

A local Alford business is waiting to help you chose furniture, sofas and beds that are not only carefully selected to ensure quality and value but their styles suit most interiors and tastes.

The knowledgeable staff of Askew’s of Alford are waiting to serve with a smile, giving advice on making the right choice for your home and for your mobility.

There are Rise & Recline chairs from Celebrity and Sherborne as well as adjustable beds by Sherborne and MiBed. For when you want to be out and about there is a range of mobility scooters from Pride UK.

Askew’s is a family run business established over twenty years who put their customers first. With free delivery throughout Lincolnshire and beyond be sure to visit their showrooms with two floors of furniture to help you relax in comfort in your home.

Reputedly the largest thatched manor house in the country, Alford Manor House is the historical focal point of the town, and is thought to have been built in 1611 by John Hopkinson.

William Cawley was known to have owned the manor house and sold it on as early as 1638 to Sir Robert Christopher, who fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War.

He was rewarded with a knighthood in 1660 by the newly restored King Charles II and with the knighthood came newfound wealth. He was wealthy enough to leave money in his will for the tomb and alabaster effigy of himself and his wife which surmounts it, in the town’s St Wilfrid’s Church, funds for the foundation of the almshouses and also for Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School.

The house was inherited by his granddaughter, Lucy, who married John Manners, Duke of Rutland and then in 1958, Dorothy Higgins, a doctor and member of Alford Town Council, bought the property and gifted it to the town in 1967. Alford Civic Trust was then established to manage and look after the property.

The house itself is unusual in its construction. Most properties of the period were built using a wooden frame with wattle and daub infill, or with a brick infill, so that the wooden beams would be visible from the outside, as well as the inside.

However, Alford Manor House was encased in brick, and the brick was not merely ornamental: it was tied into the structure of the building via wall plates and floor joists.

The ground floor and first floor rooms feature design interventions from Georgian through to Victorian times but the attic floor is virtually untouched since 1611.

Major – and timely – restoration was carried out between 2003-2006, which cost £1.7 million. It was revealed that many of the wall plates had rotted away and that many of the floor joists were no longer in contact with the walls, so both walls and floors could have collapsed at any time.

The most recent development at the Manor House occurred during 2010 when the gardens at the rear underwent a major restoration and enhancement scheme.

Made possible through grant aid by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Coastal Action Zone, Lincolnshire Gardens Trust and Lincolnshire County Council, the project included the restoration of the cobbled courtyard and garden wall, landscaping work and garden structures.

It now has the old orchard, which remains as it was with its ancient trees and underplanting of bulbs, and the apothecary’s garden containing many plants used in ancient medicine – some of which are still in use today by herbalists, homoeopathists and other therapists.

There is a new orchard underplanted with wild flowers and old varieties of Lincolnshire apples and gages along the walls and in the vegetable garden and a herb wall which contains many varieties of culinary herbs for use in the Manor House kitchen. There is also an herbaceous border and a vegetable plot.

Alford & District Civic Trust owns the Manor House. Vice-chairman, John Fulwood said: “The garden was finished in 2010 and after a couple of years of development, it is continuing to improve.”

Always available for room hire, private functions, weddings and funeral teas, the Manor House has a tearoom and a museum housing many of the town’s historic artefacts.

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to ... See MoreSee Less