Market town readies for busy months ahead
With just a few weeks to go until the reopening of Lincolnshire’s seaside resorts and its many tourist attractions, places like the historic town of Horncastle are preparing for an influx of visitors and an upturn in trade. By Melanie Burton.
Known as the ‘gateway to the Lincolnshire Wolds’, Horncastle is surrounded by countryside which is recognised for its outstanding natural beauty.
Full of character with something for everyone, the town is popular with visitors staying on the East Coast wanting to explore what else Lincolnshire has to offer and also with day-trippers who want to while away an afternoon without the long journey to go with it.
Though Horncastle has its roots clearly in Roman times, shown by the fact that sections of the ancient Roman walls still remain, it is a town packed full of history with medieval, Victorian and Georgian gems around every corner.
Horncastle was once dubbed “The Antiques Capital of Lincolnshire” because of the amount of antiques premises there are in the town, such as Horncastle Antiques Centre, Great Expectations and Something Truly Vintage.
Horncastle Antiques Centre is probably the town’s largest centre, with three floors across a shop and converted former factory.
It is home to a range of dealers all under one roof selling a selection of antiques, vintage clothing, furniture, artwork and collectibles.
Great Expectations was established in the early 1990s and offers a very extensive and varied stock with prices ranging from antiques and collectibles to retro, modern and vintage.
The family run business is also organised as a centre with approximately 50 dealers showcasing pine, oak, mahogany and teak furniture, as well as glass, books, china, silver plate, vinyl records, brass, copper, clothing and more.
Drill Hall Antiques Centre opened in May 2004 with a varied stock of quality antiques and interior design pieces dating from before 1949. There are two floors occupied at present by 20 dealers.
Then there is the Trinity Centre which is an antique, collectable and contemporary centre set in its own grounds and based in the former Holy Trinity Church on East Street, Horncastle. It carries a wide range of stock including furniture, china, linen, glassware, cutlery, jewellery and manufacturers include Doulton, Beswick, Crown Derby, Coalport, Worcester, Swarovski, G Plan, Ercol, and Walker & Hall.
Horncastle is home to a range of long-established, family-run shops and businesses that give it a unique character all of its own and visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and drink with a raft of independent cafés and tea rooms to try plus historic pubs and modern restaurants catering to all tastes.
Myers Café Tea Room is one such business which is popular with locals and tourists alike. Established in 2001, it offers breakfast, lunches, afternoon teas, freshly ground coffee and the family’s award-winning Lincolnshire plum loaf which is renowned and much sought after.
The family also runs a bakery and deli and cheese shop established in 2009. The deli offers a large selection of produce sourced both locally and nationally, together with a selection of accompaniments, while the cheese counter is brimming with more than 50 fine quality cheeses – a large selection of
English varieties along with the best the continent has to offer.
Another business is the one-stop hobby shop, Horncastle Hobby House, which has supplied yarns for crochet, knitting and needle felting for more than 10 years.
It stocks a large range of knitting and crochet patterns for all ages along with soft toy patterns and knitting needles as well as cotton yarns especially for crochet, alongside supplies for needlecraft, everyday sewing and embroidery.
But do not be fooled into thinking this is just a wool shop – it also specialises in sugar art and wedding and celebratory cakes. It has a large display area in the back of the shop and stocks a large range of sugarcraft equipment along with icing, boards, boxes and cake decorations. When possible, it offers cake decoration classes as well.
Country Kitchen is another reputable family-run business which was established nearly 38 years ago back in 1984 with the public’s health and nutrition needs in mind.
It has a comprehensive range of herbal remedies, homoeopathic products, special dietary foods, whole foods and herbal teas, vitamins and minerals, food supplements, alternative medicines and sports nutrition as well as an extensive range of body care and aromatherapy products – and for the homebrew enthusiast a broad range of wine kits, beer kits and essential brewing equipment.
The Big Chair Company is also a family-run business specialising in furniture and home interiors with a choice of vintage and contemporary living, dining and occasional furniture, as well as a large range of sofas, chairs and garden furniture. It also stocks an extensive collection of home interiors items, including clocks, mirrors, lighting and more.
The Big Chair Company started out more than 25 years ago selling antique and reproduction antique furniture and it became very well known for stocking weird and wonderful things. It was a popular spot for people to call by and have their photo taken on the big chair outside the shop.
In recent times, under new ownership, the shop has had a facelift and has a new direction and aim: to become the ultimate destination for furniture and interiors in Lincolnshire. They are continually updating their ranges and actively searching for new lines and models to keep your Big Chair Experience unique every time you visit.
Horncastle has been a historic chartered market town since 1231 and was once the venue for the world’s largest horse fair. At its peak in the 1800s, buyers and sellers were arriving from all over Europe to trade. Unfortunately the horse fair slowly declined over the years until ceasing in the mid-1900s.
Despite this, trade still continued in the streets of the town, and today the regular markets take place on
Thursdays and Saturdays with a Farmers’ market every 2nd Thursday of the month.
With the Covid restrictions that have been in place it has been a challenging time for our markets but they have continued throughout as best they can.
East Lindsey Markets took part in the campaign to become Britain’s Favourite Market 2022, organised by the ‘voice of markets’, the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) and though unsuccessful it aimed to get people talking about and using local markets.
Chief executive of NABMA, David Preston, said: “The award for Britain’s Favourite Market always attracts thousands of votes, so it’s a great way to keep your customers talking about their favourite markets.”
It followed a successful Love Your Local Market campaign, which saw East Lindsey District Council hold the very popular District’s Favourite Market Trader of the
Year competition with participating markets in East Lindsey – Louth, Horncastle, Spilsby, Wainfleet All Saints, Mablethorpe and Alford.
The winner was a stall holder on Horncastle’s Thursday market, Amanda Brown, with her popular glass design stall receiving the most votes.
Amanda has been a market trader since 2015 and has built a good reputation for producing high quality, unique items and excellent customer care.
She said: “It’s amazing to have such positive feedback and appreciation and that makes it all worthwhile. There is a lot of hard work which goes into what I do but I love it and enjoy standing on the markets.”
Councillor Adam Grist, Portfolio Holder for Market Towns and Rural Economy, said: “We are proud that our markets are so popular, and are delighted to be able to celebrate all of the wonderful businesses we have with competitions such as this.
“This competition gives the public a chance to nominate the trader who they feel goes the extra mile, sells the best bargains, or has the highest quality.”
Robert Bell & Co has been a name known in Horncastle for decades and with good reason. With more than 200 years of success as a single partnership of land agents, estate agents, auctioneers, chartered surveyors and valuers, it now employs five fully qualified chartered surveyors, and has a team of over 30 well trained staff.
However there have been many changes in the housing market since the pandemic hit in March 2020, and ways of working changed in all sectors of business.
Posting on its company website, residential sales director Tony Wing said the market now faced significant social and economic challenges during this post-Brexit, post-pandemic period and, down the line, post-fossil fuel era when gas-fired heating will go the same way as gas-fired lighting.
“The property market has also seen enormous changes in the past few years, and it will continue to do so as it steadily moves from white-hot, Covid-affected panic buying to what will, according to many forecasts, be a more considered mood this year.”
Horncastle is the firm’s head office, and its oldest office, the firm having taken occupation in 1872 (previously trading in the High Street). It is a Georgian building in brick and slate with a 1960s two-storey extension.
THE LION THEATRE
It isn’t just businesses and shops that have served the people of Horncastle for decades – it has its very own theatre company, which has been part of the fabric of the town for more than 45 years.
Horncastle Theatre Company provides amateur theatre for the communities of Horncastle and its surrounding area and is based at the Lion Theatre, which is nestled at the head of the Red Lion Hotel yard in the town’s Bullring.
A registered charity, the company relies on the time and effort of its members and the theatre seats nearly 100 people in its comfortably furnished auditorium.
Horncastle Theatre Company finally got its own theatre in 1988, after months of fundraising activities and hard work by the members. Theatre and television actress Patricia Hodge was approached to be
Honorary President, to which she agreed, attending a major fundraising event and officially opening the theatre.
The theatre was built from scratch by the then-landlords of the Red Lion Hotel, the Bensons, and members of the company.
The areas that are now the stage, lobby, bar, green room, and dressing rooms were historically the inn’s coach- and out-houses; the auditorium was built between two of the outbuildings.
Various local arts groups had used the buildings for some time before the theatre was built, but the company has used them exclusively ever since, and owns everything but the bricks and mortar of the theatre, right down to the kitchen sinks. The purchase of all this was funded by many local businesses and philanthropists.
The theatre was refurbished in 2016 thanks to the generosity of members and the community, with a complete overhaul of seats and curtains.
For many years, Horncastle Theatre Company participated in a prestigious annual play festival hosted by Skegness Playgoers at the Embassy Theatre on Skegness seafront.
Part of a network of national festivals, the Horncastle actors picked up numerous awards, and twice won the festival outright, once with Brassed Off (in collaboration with Banovallum Brass band) and The
Accrington Pals. Both plays went on tour to the National All Winners’ Festival in Woking.
In 2018, the Company celebrated 45 years, and 30 years in the Lion Theatre, with a big party on the stage, and opened its archives to the public for the afternoon.
Even during the closure of the theatre in 2015, plays continued to be organised. However, in March 2020, for the first time since the opening of the Lion Theatre in 1988, all productions ground to a halt with the onset of the Covid pandemic. The theatre was closed, and all activity moved online.
In 2021, Horncastle faced its first year without a pantomime since 1984 and although the future remains uncertain, plans are in place to resume live theatre productions at some point this year.
FIND A TRANQUIL HAVEN AT ASHBY PARK
Owned and run by Margaret and Robin Francis and established more than 40 years ago, Ashby Park offers a peaceful taste of rural life located on 70 acres in the south west corner of the Lincolnshire Wolds near Horncastle, with a variety of restaurants, cafés and pubs within easy reach.
This well run park, with an abundance of wildlife, was awarded the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award 20 years ago and features seven attractive fishing lakes and a series of clearings occupied by privately owned caravan holiday homes, seasonal caravans and 127 touring pitches with access to electricity, hardstanding, water and drainage.
Popular with fishing enthusiasts, this tranquil holiday retreat offers guests a chance to enjoy relaxing days away from the crowds, with a variety of fishing lakes well stocked with healthy carp, pike, perch, tench, bream and roach.
“We are focussed on providing a relaxed environment for our residents and touring guests,” explains Robin Francis.
For more information visit www.ashbypark.co.uk
HOME OF THE FAMOUS PLUM LOAF
For one of the largest selections of freshly baked breads in the county, look no further than Myers Bakery in the Bull Ring. The Myers family have been baking since 1901. Using scratch recipes, traditional techniques and only the finest ingredients, their selection includes classics such as wholemeal, white and granary, alongside deliciously different lines like spelt & honey, low GI, sourdough and Irish soda bread.
Accompanying their breads and rolls, you’ll also find a full range of morning goods, confectionery and fresh cream cakes. If it’s something savoury you’re after, the small team of craft bakers also produce pork pies, haslets, sausage rolls, various pasties and quiches, all made using locally produced meat and their own handmade pastry. Myers is also the home of the famous Lincolnshire Plum Loaf, a unique light and moist fruit loaf with a flavour all of its own.
The popular bakery also supplies Myers’ café tearoom situated next door and serves breakfast, brunch, lunches and afternoon teas. Children are also well catered for with the recent launch of a special menu, allowing the adults to relax and enjoy their food and drink whilst little ones are kept entertained with puzzles and colouring. They can even enter their work into the Myers colouring competition to be in with a chance of winning a special surprise!
ALL WELCOME AT RURAL WOLDS RETREAT
Tucked away in the Lincolnshire Wolds, at the end of a leafy no-through country lane in the pretty hamlet of Low Toynton, Willowbrook Farm is a rare unspoilt gem offering exclusive short-stay holiday getaways for those in search of total peace and comfort.
Hosts and owners Karoline and Kim Shepherd moved into this magnificent Georgian Grade II listed eight bedroom farmhouse seven years ago, where they have created a welcoming home and sanctuary for discerning visitors – ideal for walkers, cyclists and explorers, or simply those who relish the opportunity to just “switch off”.
Visitors can choose to stay in one of the two stylish B&B rooms in the main house, or in the adjacent newly refurbished Green House, a snug dog-friendly cottage with its own eclectic style which sleeps two and features a well equipped modern kitchen area, comfortable living space, spacious shower room and relaxing sun lounge. Both scored highly on the popular website bookings.com in 2021, with Willowbrook Farm gaining a score of 9 and the Green House 9.8.
The Green House, which has been lovingly restored over the past 18 months, offers a welcoming mix of comfort and charm with many of its furnishings featuring authentic Indian textiles – influenced by the many years that the couple travelled extensively around south Asia – as well as a collection of well chosen furniture and accessories, many of which have been cleverly recycled and upcycled.
Karoline, who has a passion for art and interior design, which is evident from the moment you step inside the bijou one bedroom cottage, is justifiably proud of what they have achieved together so far.
Ideal for those in search of a secluded weekend getaway, or as a base to explore the stunning surroundings of the nearby market towns and historic villages, Karoline and Kim offer a warm welcome to all, while also recognising that many visitors enjoy the opportunity to have uninterrupted time out in their own “space”.
The Green House renovations were originally inspired during the first Covid lockdown and the project has been a labour of love for the couple, who are delighted that their vision has finally come together.
Everywhere there are splashes of colour to add to the canvas of soft lighting, with the living area’s quarry tile floor and warm brickwork bringing it all together to offer a rare rural retreat.
Visitors to the Green House enjoy their own private parking and entrance and everyone is treated to a welcome hamper containing a bottle of prosecco, Lincolnshire plum bread and a slice of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese.
“The Green House, which has its own private garden and patio area, has a magical aura all of its own – it’s peaceful, surrounded by nature and has wonderful views. There’s no light or noise pollution here so everyone can’t help but relax and switch off and the bird song in the evenings is incredible,” says Karoline, who returned to her roots seven years ago as her family are originally from Lincolnshire. “Being just a stone’s throw from the Viking Way, it’s a great place for safe country walks, while we’re also just a few minutes from Horncastle with its antiques, restaurants and independent shops, as well as a short drive to Cadwell Park.”
The original farmhouse, which dates back in parts to the late 17th century is set in four acres with fields and farmland visible for miles around.
With a choice of two rooms (a double and a triple), bed and breakfast guests enjoy total exclusivity and a good night’s sleep, with the added attraction of waking up to a delicious breakfast with a choice of a continental light selection or farmhouse favourites, including free range eggs from Karoline’s own flock and local produce, including fresh bread from a local bakery and Lincolnshire honey.
“We’re very proud of what we have achieved here and love the fact that we are able to share it with our visitors,” says Karoline. “When you’re here, you don’t want to ever leave, there really is something very magical about the place and we look forward to welcoming new faces and old friends alike.”
For more information tel: 07931 307 810 or visit www.willowbrookfarmbedandbreakfast.co.uk
Photographs: Mick Fox