Rich in history and heritage

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
October 2016

The small rural town of Spilsby in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire has been a market town for more than 700 years.
It has changed little in size since the beginning of the nineteenth century but it has a range of businesses in the centre including small supermarkets, banks, traditional newsagents, a baker, butchers, jewellers and clothing stores, together with public houses, cafes and fast food takeaways.

It was once connected to the King’s Cross to Cleethorpes main railway line, thanks to a small local railway company which built a branch line from Firsby junction to Spilsby in 1868. The branch was just over four miles (6km) long.

But the mainstay of the town is the Franklin Hall named after the town’s most famous son, Sir John Franklin, a sea captain, who at one time was governor of Tasmania.

He died while attempting to find the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Artic and today is revered by the Canadians as being a great explorer, having fought in two of the greatest sea battles: Copenhagen in 1801 and Trafalgar in 1805.

And just like its namesake, Spilsby’s Franklin Hall has a history all of its own.

Originally known as the Drill Hall, it was built in 1899 for the 7th Spilsby Rifle Volunteer Corps, which had been formed in 1860.

The building had housing for sergeant instructors and had a long rifle range annexe down the west side of the building. The main hall was similar to that of today.

In the early 1900s the army nationally replaced the Rifle Volunteer Corps with the Territorial Army Battalions and in 1912 ‘C’ company of the 5th Territorial Battalion of Lincolnshire was based in the Drill Hall. It was mobilised from here when World War One was declared in 1914.

During the Great War, Spilsby Drill Hall was used as a Red Cross hospital, manned by volunteer nurses caring for wounded soldiers.

Following the Armistice of 1918 the Lincolnshire Regiment resumed its occupancy of the Drill Hall, which continued up to and throughout World War Two.

During the Second World War, the bulk of territorial personnel were on active service elsewhere and the Drill Hall was used for local dances and other events for the benefit of locals and members of the armed forces, in particular the 2,000-plus personnel serving at RAF Spilsby, which operated from 1943.

After the end of the war the territorial army continued its occupancy of the Drill Hall until the early 1960s.

On 20th February 1964 the Drill Hall was sold by the County of Lincoln Territorial and Auxilliary Forces Association, to a board of Trustees headed by Dr Charles Edward Friskney, a Spilsby GP, and Ronald Henry Beacock, a grammar school headmaster for the sum of £4,250.

Hall manager Sue Oliver explained: “This was purchased by them on behalf of the Spilsby and District community for the use of the inhabitants of Spilsby and neighbourhood without distinction of sex or of political, religious or other opinions.

“In particular it was for meetings, lectures, classes and other forms of recreation and leisure time occupancy with the object of improving the conditions of life for the town’s inhabitants. The hall has now become known as the New Town Hall and became a charitable trust.”

The New Town Hall became a very popular venue for many functions mainly due to its large size, However, by the mid-1990s it became obvious that major refurbishment was required to maintain the building and bring it up to modern standards to accommodate a range of different user groups.

The management committee’s preferred option was to demolish the building and construct a new purpose built hall with an estimated cost of approximately £1.2 million.

“This led the committee to explore other alternatives and upon the advice of structural engineers they opted for a comprehensive redevelopment,” said Sue.

“Planning permission was obtained in September 1999, after a plan was agreed for a well-equipped hall with forty per cent more floor area than before. Completion of the refurbishment was on 9th March 2001 and the hall was back in use within three days.”

The hall became known as Spilsby Franklin Hall and was declared officially open by a descendant of Sir John Franklin, Miss T M Maddison of Partney.

East Lindsey District Council moved its area office into the building, all previous user groups returned and new user groups moved in.

The hall is currently used regularly by many groups, organisations, clubs, individuals and businesses attracting all ages and abilities and ranging from sports, educational, leisure and groups, to business training, dances and parties, weddings, blood donor sessions and local and district elections to name but a few.

“In the last town plan for Spilsby the Franklin Hall was rated by more than seventy-seven per cent of responders as being very important to the area,” said Sue.

“In recent years we have tried to maintain the building and contents within the constraints of funding. Local groups and organisations have also responded very supportively towards funding, which has been very gratefully received and put to valuable use.”

According to the 2011 Census, the population of Spilsby was 3,045 and it continues to steadily rise with the building of new houses.

Spilsby has a rich history with its large prison, courthouse and many Georgian buildings.

It was visited by the Romans during the first century AD and they occupied the area until the fourth century AD. It was also mentioned in the Domesday Book as ‘Spilsbei’ but it was not much bigger than a large farmstead with a few crofts surrounding it.

The Manor of Eresby was the main village and in 1313 Robert de Willoughby was appointed 1st Baron Robert Willoughby de Eresby, a family line that continues to the 28th Baroness.
Much of the land of Spilsby was owned by the Earls of Ancaster.

Spilsby has many diverse associations with varying activities. It is twinned with Fresnay sur Sarthe in France and Bassum in Germany and the Twinning Association is very active, with visits every year from and to Europe.

Eresby Hall is one of the fifteen care homes run by not for profit charity The Orders of St John Care Trust (OSJCT) in Lincolnshire. Its forty-two residents enjoy a homely living environment, where they are encouraged to lead as independent a lifestyle as possible, supported and cared for by a dedicated, trained staff team.

The home is very proud to have received an “Outstanding” rating in the Responsive area of its recent Care Quality Commission inspection, reflecting an ethos of carefully planned care, taking account of individual needs whilst enabling people to maintain hobbies and interests both within and outside the home. Residents welcome visitors to enjoy lunch in their very own pub or relax in small, cosy lounges, themed to promote reminiscence. A recent Family Fun Day in the home’s gardens provided a wonderfully entertaining outdoor afternoon for family and friends of the home.

Eresby Hall provides residential and dementia care for older people. To find out more please visit the website: or call 0800 988 8133 for more information and to arrange a visit.

“If one person goes away with a better knowledge of Bomber Command, their losses and what they gave for our country, we are one step closer to repaying our debt to them.” – Lincs Aviation Heritage Centre.

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a family run museum and was set up over twenty years ago. It is now widely seen as a living memorial to the 55,500 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during WW2. It holds one of the rarest aircraft, an Avro Lancaster Bomber, in its collection along with many wartime vehicles including a Ford WOT1 Crew Bus, the only one of its kind known in existence.

Judging that Bomber Command has never been given the recognition that it deserves, the museum sees its job as being to educate both old and young about the acts of heroism and dedication shown by Bomber Command throughout the Second World War.

The average age of air crew, each man a volunteer, was twenty-two and not even one in four completed their first tour of thirty operations – most definitely a debt that we cannot repay but also a debt that should not be forgotten.

The museum is based on the old wartime airfield of RAF East Kirkby. It retains the original 1940s Control Tower and the Hangar is built on the original wartime hangar base.

The museum is built up entirely around RAF Bomber Command but the exhibits and displays span many areas such at The Home Front and Escape and Evasion giving you a wide perspective on wartime Britain and the trials and tribulations of the Second World War.

The museum is expanding every year with the ambition to fully rebuild it to a complete original wartime airfield preserving the memory of Bomber Command for many years to come.

Ambitious plans are underway in the quiet Lincolnshire village of Spilsby to return its historic Grade II listed theatre to its former glory.

A group of volunteers has come together to form ‘The Sessions House’, with the ambition of taking over the operation of the building, and developing a vibrant and viable programme. But it is facing considerable challenges given the state of the building.

Originally built as a Sessions House and gaol in 1824, it has an impressive façade with a Greek Doric tetrastyle portico. The whole site comprises the main former courthouse, police station, sergeant’s house, court offices, coach house and small outbuildings.

It was bought and transformed by local entrepreneur Phil Stokes in 1984 to become Spilsby Theatre and then became part of the charity the Dandelion Trust in 1988.

However, the Trust decided to begin winding down the charity in 2014 following the death of one trustee and the ill health of another.

Volunteer theatre manager Bruce Knight said: “Like many small charities, it struggled to cope with the costs of maintaining and renovating a historic building. As a result, in 2015 the auditorium roof became unsafe and the ceiling was in danger of collapse, so the auditorium was closed. Structural support has now been installed.

“A lot of work and support is needed before the building can once again be a fully functioning theatre.”

The Sessions House organisation has had significant help and support from The Lincolnshire Community Foundation and from The Theatres’ Trust to help it on the path to a full regeneration project.

It attended the Theatres’ Trust workshop in May entitled ‘A New Life for Historic Theatres’ and it has just featured along with other theatres around the UK in the Theatre Buildings at Risk 2016 campaign.

“As part of the campaign The Sessions House made a five-minute documentary film to draw attention to the cause,” said Bruce.

“Our priorities right now are growing The Sessions House as an organisation and keeping the building in use. We are identifying what skills, people, time and structure are needed and we have begun attracting experienced people in Lincolnshire to assist in taking the whole project forwards.

“As a social enterprise, The Sessions House intends to secure the use of the building and work with the owners to attract the funding needed for regeneration – a task not to be underestimated and one that will take several years to achieve.”

Interim solutions for the building are being developed to help sustain the project.

“We intend to source funding for several temporary arts projects that could make use of the main auditorium space. We also intend to advertise as a film location,” said Bruce.

“Activities continue in other parts of the building including a bar in the former judges’ chambers that hosts music events and a studio that has become home to Grubby Knees kids and youth theatre. A viability study for regeneration will be the next step.”

Alice Tong, daughter of chairman Charles Tong, and sister to managing director Edward, has joined the long-established family-run vegetable handling equipment manufacturer Tong Engineering. In her new role within the company’s sales department, Alice will be based at Tong’s main offices in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, and will be working alongside the Tong sales team, liaising directly with the company’s growing client base.

“As the business sees continued growth as we build relationships with leading growers and packers throughout the UK and overseas, our dedication to providing outstanding sales support and customer service meant we had an opportunity within our sales department to help maintain our momentum,” explained Edward Tong.

Alice, who gained her degree at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, has grown up with the family business on the doorstep. With an innate passion and even a partner also in the potato industry, her new role has brought the natural next step in her career.

“Whilst I’m still getting to know everyone here at Tong Engineering, I know a lot of faces from the times I visited the offices and factory as I grew up! It’s really nice to see so many of those faces still here after so many years and I’m really excited to be an official part of the team here now,” said Alice.

Christmas is coming and The Rotary Club of Spilsby is getting busy organising the village’s annual festive event.

The popular ‘Cracker Day’, which is a Dickensian style market, takes place in Spilsby’s Franklin Hall on 3rd December with up to forty individual stalls promoting everything from arts and crafts to the WI.

The Rotary Club’s press officer and attendance officer Michael Lenton said: “Basically it is a collection of all the different groups representing Spilsby and the surrounding area.

“There will also be a choir which will be singing for a couple of hours and Santa’s grotto in the back conference room.”

There is also a Christmas card competition involving all the five primary schools and open to all the age groups from 5 to 11.

“All the students take part and all make a Christmas card. There will be prizes for the best card of the year at each school, best card at each school and best overall card.”

All money raised goes to Rotary charities. The event runs from 10am to 4pm.

“It has been an annual event previously run by the Lions but they are missing a few of the group so Rotary has taken on the organising of it this year. It attracts about 400 to 500 people and is sponsored by Sills & Betteridge.”

There will be a town crier from Burgh le Marsh and it will be opened by the Rotary Club president Peter Butler.

Formed in the early ’80s, the Rotary Club also organises the annual village bonfire night which is very well attended, and it has a carol concert at St James’ Church in Spilsby on the second Sunday of December.

“The church is always full and there is mulled wine,” said Mr Lenton.

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