The charms of Spilsby

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
October 2017

Much has been happening in the historical market town over the past year to try and re-establish its popularity as a friendly and hospitable place to visit in the east of Lincolnshire, as well as a successful centre for businesses.
Although one of the smaller market towns in the area, it is not only full of history and charm but there is plenty to do and see in and around the town.

Businesses and traders are getting together again to bring a spirit of optimism back into the town.

The Spilsby Business Partnership (SBP), which was last active in 2011, has reformed and is looking at lots of different ways to improve the look of the town to encourage more visitors and make the visitor experience one to remember.

Chairman Sue Clarke said: “Spilsby is full of great and unique shops, businesses, food suppliers and outlets, from businesses established for decades to exciting new ventures – the cafe culture, pub grub, fish and chips, Indian, Italian and Chinese food – the culinary choice is yours.

“The SBP is exploring ways of improving the look of the town, introducing more hanging baskets and encouraging traders to take on the responsibility of looking after the space outside their own business premises.

“It is a tough time in the current economic climate for businesses to survive and thrive but the SBP is determined that Spilsby will not suffer. If the businesses are successful Spilsby will be too and people will continue to visit our historical town.”

Partnership members were asked to submit ideas for improving the town for shoppers and visitors alike, at a recent meeting, and came up with a number of suggestions.

They included having a pop-up market or intermittent shops, a continental food market, either French or German to tie in with Spilsby’s twinning towns, better signs and promotions to show the best way to visit the historic market town and more events such as the recent and very successful Bike Night and the Spilsby Show, held annually in July.

Set out in a typical market town style, with four streets coming off a central market square, Spilsby is a mix of the traditional and the modern with a number of well-established independent shops as well as a supermarket.

Standing tall and proud in the market square, and a major focal point for the town, is a statue of Sir John Franklin, sea captain and governor of Tasmania, who was born in Spilsby in 1786 and was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School.

He died at the age of 61 in 1847 leading an expedition to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.

The town hall is also named after its famous son and has been a major asset to the town since the late 1800s. Originally known as the Drill Hall, it was built in 1899 for the 7th Spilsby Rifle Volunteer Corps which had formed in 1860.

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.

During the First World War the hall was used as a Red Cross hospital, manned by volunteer nurses caring for wounded soldiers, and throughout the Second World War it 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.

When the war ended, the Territorial Army continued its occupancy of the Drill Hall until the early 1960s when it was sold by the County of Lincoln Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association to a board of Trustees headed by Spilsby GP Dr Charles Edward Friskney and school headmaster Ronald Henry Beacock, for the sum of £4,250.

They purchased it with the aim of improving the conditions of life for the Spilsby and District communities.

The hall became known as the New Town Hall and became a charitable trust used for meetings, lectures, classes and other forms of recreation and leisure activities.

Hall manager Sue Oliver said: “It 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.”

The refurbishment was complete by March 2001 and the hall then became known as Spilsby Franklin Hall.

“Currently it is used regularly by many groups, organisations, clubs, individuals and businesses attracting all ages and abilities,” said Sue.

“In recent years we have tried to maintain the building and contents within the constraints of funding by replenishing the main hall flooring, replacing windows as necessary, putting in new heating and new lighting in the main hall and replacing kitchen cupboards as well as the furniture.”

Spilsby also has its own theatre which is a Grade II-listed Heritage site, originally built in 1827 as a Sessions House and Prison.

It has an impressive neoclassical doric columned frontage and is one of Spilsby’s, and Lincolnshire’s, most significant buildings.

The prison was demolished in 1876, but the building remained in use as a courthouse and police station until the 1980s.

It was converted into Spilsby Theatre in 1984 and more recently has been placed on Heritage Lincolnshire’s list of buildings ‘at risk’ list. It is also on the Theatres’ Trust ‘Theatres at Risk Register’.

But now the future of the building is looking more secure as it is at the beginning of a full regeneration project.

Members of the local community came together and formed The Sessions House CIC, a registered not-for-profit Community Interest Company.

On behalf of the Sessions House CIC, Bruce Knight explained: “The organisation now has the backing of both the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Architectural Heritage Fund to take the project forward and grants have been awarded for initial viability work, surveys and project planning.

“The Sessions House CIC creates a regular programme of events at Spilsby Theatre to help support the project and also operates a membership scheme.”

Spilsby may be a small town, but it is home not only to some forward-looking leisure venues but also to some big and well-established companies that are known far and wide.

Tong Engineering, for instance, has been established for more than eighty-five years and exports vegetable handling equipment to more than fifty countries worldwide.

Based in the town since 1930, the company now employs more than 150 local people and operates from its main site in Spilsby, as well as a secondary manufacturing facility in Wainfleet.

Marketing manager Carole Metcalfe said: “As a family-run business in its fourth generation, Tong Engineering has grown significantly over the years, from its roots as an ironmonger’s shop on Spilsby high street, to a well-established and highly respected worldwide handling equipment manufacturer, now exporting the highest quality equipment to over fifty countries throughout the world.

“It has been exporting for more than forty years, with initial expansion into export markets being sparked by a demand from overseas vegetable growers and packers to achieve a high quality vegetable handling process that is typical of UK manufacture.

“The rise of the big brand supermarkets saw a distinct drive towards produce uniformity and high quality product finish, and export companies looking to supply these supermarkets needed to ensure crop made the grade for supply.

“We have seen a great deal of demand and business growth from export markets in the past twelve to twenty-four months in particular.”

Tong Engineering has invested significant time and resources in expanding its export business, particularly over the past five years.

“These efforts in increasing company awareness and communication across the globe have resulted in a noticeable increase in orders from export markets, with Tong Engineering almost doubling its export turnover in the past three years,” said Carole.

“Some of our most recent export projects include a custom built potato grading and washing system for Sweden’s largest potato producer, totalling £1.4 million.

“Amongst a number of export orders, we are currently manufacturing a large £500,000 project for a USA potato grower, whilst working on export sales worth more than £7 million in the more advanced stages, including costing and concept design.”

One topic on many people’s lips is how Brexit will affect UK manufacturers’ trade and relations with the world. Carole said for Tong, at present, Brexit has had a particularly noticeable effect on export sales.

“With fluctuations in currency and exchange rates, Tong equipment has become even more cost competitive in export markets, and the company has exploited this opportunity to secure a number of large contracts for export projects,” she said.

“Other factors affecting sourcing and supply are yet to unfold, but Tong remains positive that demand from export markets will continue to grow, and the company is well placed to adapt to emerging market trends and industry requirements worldwide.”

Another renowned award-winning company putting Spilsby on the map is Dennett’s Ice Cream, which has been established in the town for more than 90 years.

Robin Dennett is now at the helm, together with his wife Claire and daughter Kate, but it was initially set up in 1926 as a creamery by his grandparents Arthur and Mary Dennett who were dairy farmers and it was run by his father Eric from 1946.

“We are a family-run independent business and have been a big part of Spilsby life for a long time. My father was a town councillor for many years and a former Mayor,” said Robin.

“My grandfather started the business in 1926 and we have been at our current location since 1948.

“I am third generation and my daughter is fourth generation. And in the last three months we have just opened a shop in the middle of Spilsby selling ice cream and sweets.”

Arthur Dennett was the first to introduce British Friesian cattle into the Spilsby area which brought a lot of opposition from the owners of Lincoln Reds.

His stock produced more than five gallons of milk a day and he crossed a Friesian bull with red cattle, rearing one cow that produced more than ten gallons of milk per day.

He opened a Creamery on Spilsby High Street and for a long time ran an egg packing and dairy business in Queen Street. When he handed his Hundleby farm to his eldest son, George, Arthur started to develop the ice cream making business with his other son, Eric.

In 1946, Eric ran the business with his father. He developed the new flavours of ice cream himself and the business had 29 varieties including brandy and orange.

Robin came home to work with his father in 1980 and took over running the business when his father died in 2003.

Dennett’s Ice Cream is available in a large number of shops, hotels and restaurants far and wide.

Walking enthusiasts from far and wide have started to head for Spilsby this year, following its accreditation as one of only four Walkers are Welcome destinations in Lincolnshire.

Campaigners submitted an application in February to join the nationwide initiative, which has more than 100 locations across the UK. Within two months its status was confirmed.

It now joins Caistor, Horncastle and Market Rasen, which have already benefitted from having their surrounding countryside promoted and the boost to the local economy that it brings.

Spilsby & Hundleby Walkers are Welcome Steering Group has been organising monthly walks of various lengths which have proved highly popular with people of all ages.

Steering Group chair Stephanie Round said: “We have also organised ‘litter picks’ – the most impressive of which was on the footpath alongside the village primary school where we picked fourteen bin bags of assorted rubbish.

“We have distributed Walkers are Welcome stickers to local businesses like the cafes and pubs and we have also held a social evening at Spilsby Theatre, which is now known as The Sessions House.”

The Walkers are Welcome scheme encourages towns to offer a warm welcome to walkers and to maintain their local footpaths to ensure they are kept in good condition.

“We are collaborating with East Lindsey District Council on a new leaflet about Sir John Franklin, which will have a brand new ‘Franklin Trail’ around the town, highlighting places with a connection to him, such as his birthplace and monuments in St James Church, together with streets and places named after him, like Erebus Close and Franklin Hall,” said Stephanie.

“We are delighted to have achieved Walkers Are Welcome status. Our group already enjoys walking in the area and we can now look forward to promoting it to others.”

The steering group of keen local walkers, led by Stephanie, put together the application with support from Spilsby Town Council, Spilsby Methodist Meeting Point and The Elm Tree B&B in Hundleby.

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