Many facets of Horncastle

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
March 2017

The quintessential thriving market town is doing its best to shake off the “antiques capital of Lincolnshire” label that it has earned over the years and show that there is more to it than collectibles.
Being set in the heart of the county on the edge of the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds and equal distance from its bigger neighbours – Lincoln, Louth, Skegness and Boston – it could be said that it has the best of both the rural and urban worlds.

And that is exactly the message it is trying to portray. Dubbed the gateway to the Lincolnshire Wolds, its efforts are supported by the Love Lincolnshire Wolds campaign, which was launched last November to give the Wolds instant brand recognition through a website that is a hub of information for visitors.

Horncastle Town Council Clerk Gillian Mauger said: “We are ‘badging’ Horncastle more as a town with great individual shops rather than just a market town or a town with antique shops. There are new shops that are worth checking out and a new art gallery on North Street.”

Horncastle is still brimming with a great selection of antique shops but it also has galleries, award-winning coffee houses and restaurants and cosy traditional pubs, as well as a growing number of artisan shops offering unique clothing and gifts.

Originating from Roman times, and claimed in the Domesday Book of 1086 to be owned by King William, Horncastle is steeped in heritage and history. With its cobbled streets, thatched houses and eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture the town is a gem to explore.

Town councillor and mayor Bill Aron, who is one of the town’s best known politicians, said Horncastle was a bustling town in the late 1800s with its canal and railway links plus its world-famous horse fairs: “It was a Roman settlement and some parts of the Roman walls can still be seen today. Sir Joseph Banks, the renowned botanist and explorer hailed from near Horncastle, as did the poet Lord Tennyson.

“Today Horncastle continues to be an important hub due to its strategic position in the county and has a thriving industrial estate. It is a popular place to live, work and visit.

“I was pleased to have been elected Mayor of Horncastle and am extremely proud to be able to promote this historic market town.”

A ‘must visit’ place in Horncastle is the Church of St Mary’s near the Market Place. Some of the original structure dates back to circa 1250 and all the evidence points to there being an earlier Saxon Minster on the site, and quite possibly a Roman church before that.

The Church also has strong connections with the Lincolnshire rebellion of 1532 against the policies of King Henry VIII, and the English Civil War.

A focal point of any community is its town hall and it is thanks to the efforts of a group of campaigning residents that Horncastle still has one.

The Stanhope Hall (TSH) was constructed in 1901, funded in the main by public subscription. It was designed as a Drill Hall for training volunteers and the assembly of soldiers, recalled from the reserves and the Territorial Army.

It also doubled as a place of public entertainment. During World War One it served as a Red Cross Hospital, where hundreds of injured soldiers were treated.

East Lindsey District Council acquired the hall during the 1974 Local Government reorganisation and it provided a full range of local authority and community services until the decision was taken to close it.

Though negotiations for community ownership had begun in February 2005, it was only in 2009 when ELDC decided to bulldoze the building that the town council stepped in to help to save it. ELDC gave the town council a 125-year lease and a fifty-year peppercorn lease was subsequently given to the Stanhope Hall community group, which is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee.

“The Stanhope Hall was built in 1901 on The Wong to replace a much smaller Drill Hall, which the volunteer soldiers had outgrown. Funded mainly by public subscription, it was a Red Cross Hospital during the First World War treating some 1,127 wounded soldiers,” said Bill.

“It was home to the Territorial Army up until the 1960s and then it became the council offices from 1974 until its closure by the council in 2009.

“When ELDC finally agreed to an Asset Transfer local people raised more than £200,000 to transform the building into what it has become today – a well-used community centre.”

Stanhope Hall is not the only building in the town with a claim to fame. The Horncastle War Memorial Centre started life as the county’s first ever public dispensary, moving to North Street from its original home on the edge of the church yard in 1866.

“Horncastle was leading the way in Public Health. Then in 1924 an extension was built and it became the War Memorial Hospital serving the town and outlying villages,” said Bill.

“Taken over by the NHS in 1948 the hospital grew and further rooms were added right up to the 1960s. Then in 1999 the NHS announced its closure and though the town fought hard to retain the cottage hospital, the doors closed as the new millennium dawned.”

However, a small group of locals were still determined that this Grade II Listed building was needed by the people of Horncastle and that it was the town’s living war memorial.

“£300,000 was raised to purchase, alter and refurbish the building and in 2002 the centre was reopened. Today it houses some five health/educational services and accommodates a community meeting room. It also plays an important and active part in the town’s annual Remembrance Day Parade.”

Horncastle has a long history as a market town and can boast a long tradition going back beyond when it was given a Charter by Richard II in 1389. It now welcomes visitors to its weekly markets on Thursdays and Saturdays and monthly Farmers’ Markets, held on the second Thursday of each month.

Because it is a Georgian town with a lot of traditional businesses, Horncastle attracts visitors from all over the country, not just for the visitor attractions and its fascinating heritage but for its niche independent retail outlets as well, all with delightful names.

Examples are Something Truly Vintage which specialises in items from the 1920s to the 1970s including furniture, homewares, record players, fully working telephones, lighting and much more, as well as its own specially designed amber and silver jewellery.

Great Expectations is organised as a centre with approximately fifty dealers showcasing pine, oak, mahogany and teak furniture as well as glass, books, china, silver plate, vinyl records, brass, copper and clothing.

Another quirky little fact about Horncastle is that it is home to a thriving small ‘cottage industry’.

Little Doves is a very small but thriving business specialising in creating bespoke christening wear as well as providing a repair service for antique christening gowns.

Its client list includes working on BBC’s production of The Paradise, as well as creating christening gowns for peers and a member of the British Cycling Team.

Following redundancy from the local authority in 2004 at the same time that her daughter was born, Linda Patrick decided to set up the business and has never looked back.

“Although juggling home life with work life and church life is sometimes a struggle, it is so lovely to be your own boss and create beautiful garments as well,” she said.

Linda specialises in converting wedding gowns into christening gowns and finds it an honour that families put their trust in her to do this.

For the past fifty years, the protection of Horncastle’s ancient history and rich heritage has been a key focus for the community.

Ever since the Civic Society was founded in the town back in 1966, work has been ongoing to safeguard and preserve Horncastle’s past while at the same time promoting its future through an expanding tourist trade.

The Civic Society is now called the History & Heritage Society but its aims and objectives remain the same.

With a membership of seventy people, it meets every two months and invariably has a speaker on various historically related themes.

Society chair Mary Silverton said: “Our main aims are to protect Horncastle’s past, present and future, which we do by various means such as responding to planning applications which effect the conservation area, and carrying out surveys of the historical buildings in the town.

“We work with Horncastle Town Council and other community groups to try and improve the appearance of the town and encourage visitors to come here.

“We maintain the flower planters around the town and the Society is also responsible for the installation of the horse statues which have come to be recognised as a major landmark for Horncastle.”

Located at the crossroads, the sculptures represent the historic horse fairs which have been held in the town throughout the centuries.

The Horncastle Horse Fair, which was established in the thirteenth century and expanded greatly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was the largest in Europe until its demise in the mid-twentieth century.

The Society also runs an archive centre where the town’s history is preserved and produces books and DVDs of various parts of Horncastle’s past.

It has been working behind the scenes to try and get some work done on the Roman Wall and has also been successful in the past in helping to get historic paving stones replaced after they were removed by utility contractors.

Horncastle means a lot to society members who feel it is unique in the heritage it has to offer.

It has The Wong, which is a Scandinavian term for pasture or common land and used to be owned by the Manor of Horncastle until it was given to the people by Edward Stanhope MP.

Located on the south side of town near Cagthorpe, it still has the sheep and cattle pens that were used in the beast fairs.

Horncastle can also boast that it was home to the first dispensary in Lincolnshire, which was opened in 1789 at 2 St Mary’s Churchyard.

It serviced the poor until 1866 when a second larger dispensary opened in North Street. This was renamed the War Memorial Hospital in 1924 in memory of the locals who were lost during the First World War.

Horncastle was first recognised as Roman by William Stukeley in the 1700s. It developed into a very large town with a military fort and in 1724 Stukeley described the fort wall as being three to four yards high and four yards thick with square towers in each corner and gates in the middle of three sides.

The best preserved sections of the Roman wall can be seen within Horncastle Library, where it is displayed as a major feature within the building.

For those perfect presents or simply a treat for yourself, then make The Country Stile your go-to destination. This gorgeous shop sits on the main High Street and features a wide selection of unique giftware and home accessories from brands such as East of India, Gisela Graham and Lincolnshire’s very own Sophie Allport.

No trip would be complete without visiting their stunning art gallery which is located towards the back of the shop. This one of a kind gallery features a wide selection of stylish yet affordable framed prints and canvases from a host of popular artists. Their range includes sea, land and cityscapes, together with floral, contemporary and animal art. Whilst you’re there, be sure to check out their ‘special embellished’ pictures; here a clear, coloured or liquid resin is applied direct to the glass to highlight various aspects of the image.

“These pictures always receive a lot of attention from our customers, due to the fact that they are so unusual and because of the dramatic effects they create when capturing the light,” says store owner, Marie Myers.

The full collection can also be viewed and purchased online at and all deliveries are usually made within seven days of ordering.

Horncastle is well known as being the home of the famous Lincolnshire plum loaf as made by the Myers family since 1901. Although still using the same traditional baking techniques passed on through generations, the company has recently undergone a fresh new rebranding, which has seen major refurbishment work carried out to the bakery shop together with new signage on the shopfronts, and more recently the introduction of brand new plum loaf packaging, soon to be followed by a ‘new look’ tea loaf and new shop packaging.

The family have also launched a new loyalty card scheme which allows customers to collect points when they make purchases in the bakery, café and deli. These points can then be redeemed at any time, in any of the three shops to save money on their award-winning products. To get yours simply sign up in store and start saving immediately.

Horncastle might be known as the antiques capital of Lincolnshire but it has many other attributes including one that attracts visitors and attention from all over the world.

The lovely Lincolnshire market town, which is the gateway to the Lincolnshire Wolds, houses the hidden gem that is the Sir Joseph Banks Centre.

Located in a restored period building in Bridge Street, it is the home of the Sir Joseph Banks Society which provides visitors with information about the life and achievements of the renowned botanist, who was raised at nearby Revesby Abbey and was a fellow traveller of Captain James Cook on his journey on the HMS Endeavour to the South Seas and Australasia.

Centre spokesman Paul Scott said: “The aim of the Society is to stimulate interest in his life and achievements through education, research, publications and events, and by strengthening Lincolnshire links with Australia and New Zealand.”

The centre also houses a growing reference library and the Society is working towards establishing a research centre.

Also contained within the Georgian heritage building is a thriving gift shop offering a whole range of quality products. It is owned and managed by Joseph Banks Ltd, a not for profit social enterprise.

“We actively encourage and support local crafters and small businesses and therefore can offer unique personalised gifts and cards to the community,” said Paul.

“We also have a beautiful Tribute Garden to Sir Joseph, who became President of the Royal Society and was also the Lord of the Manor of Horncastle and a great benefactor of Horncastle and the county itself.”

The Tribute Garden is now part of the National Gardens Scheme.

The centre also houses the Seaward Herbarium containing plants collected from around the world and Society members are currently developing its archive of books and materials relating to the man who was one of Lincolnshire’s most famous sons and one of the greatest figures in Georgian England.

For many, there comes a time when independent living becomes too difficult, and families look for alternative accommodation. The Grove in West Ashby is a Georgian Manor, built in the 1840s, and then converted into a care home twenty-five years ago. Offering residential, long-term, respite and day care for nineteen residents, The Grove has recently been rated as ‘Good’ by the CQC.

The Grove is run and managed by Edward Baxter.

He explains: “It is not a purpose-built care home and we offer our residents a sense of home from home. You will probably not find two matching pieces of furniture in The Grove. This is because we encourage our residents to bring furniture from home, to help them feel comfortable and relaxed surrounded by familiar items.

“During the day, we offer a wide range of activities and during the summer months, like to make the most of the wonderful gardens surrounding the house. There are also opportunities for residents to continue with individual interests such as cooking, gardening and handicrafts.”

Families can visit The Grove during the National Care Home Open Day on Friday 16th June when there will be plenty of activities and an opportunity to have a look at the many facilities available.

The Grove, Main Road, West Ashby LN9 5PT. Tel: 01507 522507

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