The treasure under the bridge

Words by:
Glynis Fox
Featured in:
August 2012

If your idea of a great day out features a unique blend of shopping, history, nature and art, then Barton upon Humber can tick all of those boxes.
And Barton upon Humber’s message to people who normally bypass the town en route to the Humber Bridge and destinations further afield is ‘take a break and discover how much we offer.’

For a start, there’s the friendly welcome for shoppers extended by a cornucopia of businesses scattered about the town. Some are based on the main thoroughfares, but there are surprising treasures tucked away in the town’s winding streets too.

Independent stores include W A Clarke Shoes in the High Street, which has been trading since 1926 and which aims to offer an excellent selection of quality footwear.

Browsers and buyers travel for miles to visit the shop, which is famous for its customer service – a trend noticed throughout the town, whether shoppers are locals or visitors.

The family-run Barton Shopping Centre is an Aladdin’s cave of delights and staff clearly know the secret of enticing shoppers and encouraging them to browse, without pressure.

When most of us have to fight our way through shopping malls and busy main street thoroughfares searching for our chosen product, Barton’s shopping atmosphere is much more relaxed.

With experience in the lingerie business since the 1990s, family-run Events Lingerie situated on George Street, can help every customer with their individual requirements, thanks to offering personal service in the choice of beautiful quality lingerie, nightwear, hosiery and swimwear within ranges such as Freya, Panache and Triumph.

The Knitting Box on High Street, established over thirty years ago, is another family business. Always offering a friendly welcome, with advice on knitting, this is the shop to visit when considering your knitting and haberdashery requirements.

Rosy and Tilly, also situated on High Street, offers the discerning shopper a selection of soft furnishings, furniture and gifts.

It is the constancy of traditional businesses and the vibrancy of newer establishments, along with the town’s wealth of history and culture, that combine to create an eclectic mix of attractions that makes Barton well worth closer inspection.

Of course, the Humber Bridge, which is 2,220 metres long and the fifth-largest, single-span suspension bridge in the world, has dominated the skyline since it opened in 1981. Frequently in the news, the fact that it has now reduced its toll charges could prove to be as much as a bonus for Barton itself, as for travellers using it to depart North Lincolnshire.

Barton’s Mayor, Paul Vickers is certainly not surprised when people say they have really enjoyed their visit to the town and its surroundings.

“Barton is a fantastic town and now is a brilliant time to visit,” he said. “We have noticed an increase in visitors due to the reduction in the Humber Bridge tolls and the bikers certainly took advantage of the free crossing to attend our recent annual Bike Night, which attracted thousands of people.

“I am feeling positive for the future of Barton. I think it will continue to attract people and that it will become a hub for tourism in the county.”

Barton has a rich and colourful past, which can be traced back to before the tenth century. Early developments, combined with its history of brick and tile works (by 1842 it had five brickmakers and by 1892, thirteen brick and tilemakers) and Barton’s two centuries of rope-making expertise have left a fascinating legacy.

Tile manufacturer William Blyth’s Ings Yard site has been in operation since 1840 and is now the only tile factory to survive on the banks of the Humber, producing hand-made roof tiles using traditional methods.

The process can be seen in its complete form from the mill house, from processing the clay through to the drying sheds and storing the formed tiles before kiln-firing them. Such an extensive survival of an essentially late-nineteenth-century clay tile works is now extremely rare.

Evidence of the past can be spotted around the town and its fringes, but if you are strapped for time, you can enjoy a taste of history, culture and art in one serving, by visiting The Ropewalk.

This amazing, multi-purpose venue, has been created out of a revamp of the former world-famous Halls Ropery. Visit the centre’s galleries, go along when there is a live music or a theatrical performance, visit the on-site museum or relax in it coffee shop.

For those not already in the know, Barton can also boast that it has been home to some rather famous residents!

Ken H Harrison, the artist who drew the famous Beano comic character Desperate Dan lived in the town from 1983 to 2007. Other well-known names include the inventor of the Pitman shorthand method, Isaac Pitman and Chad Varah, who founded the Samaritans.

He was named after St Chad’s Church in the town’s Waterside Road, where his father William Edward Varah was once the vicar.

Then, of course there’s the famous pioneer of infant education, Samuel Wilderspin and you can visit the National Wilderspin School in the town.

If you prefer the natural world to the built environment, you can round off your visit to Barton by taking a walk around the Far Ings Nature Reserve or checking out The Water’s Edge Visitor Centre, which is set in an eighty-six-acre country park on the eastern edge of the south bank of the Humber.

When the large supplies of clay used by Barton’s brickmakers began to run out in the early twentieth century, many working yards were abandoned.

But one of the good things to come out of that lost industry, is the complex of lakes and reed beds left along the southern bank of the Humber,which now comprises the Far Ings Nature Reserve.

Old clay working yards were left bare and able to fill naturally with freshwater and these now form ideal conditions for wildlife.

Far Ings, which has been managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust since the 1980s now boasts over 230 species of wildflowers, fifty nesting bird species and a huge collection of invertebrates including more than 250 species of moth.

It has its own visitor and education centre which celebrates the wildlife and unique environment of the Humber Estuary.

It showcases interactive displays and activities about the Humber Estuary and caring for the environment which have been designed to appeal to all ages. This award-winning visitor centre is one of the greenest buildings in the country.

The Country Park has two sites of special scientific interest and is home to rare birds, plants and animals as well as two well-equipped children’s play areas and a network of footpaths, through the meadow and woodland and across the reed beds and ponds.

Housed in a Grade Two-listed, 400-metre long building, the southern end of The Ropewalk opened in 2000 and quickly established itself as a highly-acclaimed arts centre. The rest of this Barton Haven building was converted five years later.

Mainly a centre for the arts, it incorporates galleries with ever-changing exhibitions, a craft gallery and a sculpture garden.

Ropery Hall is a live music and theatre venue, with a programme of films which runs from September through to the spring. Acts appearing this autumn include The Ian McMillan Orchestra and Martin Simpson in October, Kiki Dee with Carmelo Luggeri and Gwyneth Herbert in November and North Country Theatre and Martin Joseph in December.

Ropery team member, Jane Tuplin said: “In April, for the first time, the length of the building was open for one day. Hundreds of visitors were able to look around the artists’ and creative industries studios and units.

“The artists’ studios will be open again on the last two weekends in September as part of Insight, the Northern Lincolnshire Open Studios event.”

The Ropewalk Museum, which has received accreditation from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, pays tribute to the history and workers of Hall’s Barton Ropery and offers visitors fascinating facts about this lost industry.

Heritage Lottery funding, allowed the project Unravelling Barton Ropery to be set up to research the 200-year history of the company. From this, two publications have been produced.

‘Ropeworks’ traces the historical development of the Ropery and ‘Family Ties’ lifts the lid on its recent history, through the personal recollections of people who worked onsite.

Education materials have also been developed to allow children to interpret the site’s industrial heritage. The museum corridor, containing displays, artefacts and other memorabilia, is heavy with the aroma of tar, rope and oil; a reminder of the bygone industry archived for the future with interpretation boards, books and photographs. It clearly shows how this industry played a crucial role in the development of the town and that it involved many Barton families.

The beginning of the Hall-Mark company dates back to 1767 when the Halls, a wealthy ship-owning family from Hull, first became involved in rope-making in Barton – a town which already boasted a workforce of skilled dressers, spinners and rope-makers.

It was the huge whaling and fishing fleets of Hull, as well as the shipbuilding yards, which provided a rich market for Hall’s products including ropes, sailcloth, twine and tarpaulins. Imported hemps, flax and other fibres from around the world rapidly began to replace local materials.

Both World Wars created more work and the site was extended to meet demand. This period saw a greater involvement of women workers in the factory.

Hall-Mark ropes were sent all over the world in the 1920s and 1930s, then new technology began to move in. In the 1950s the company began making ropes from synthetic fibres, but even these were made alongside natural fibre ropes during the 1960s and 70s.

The company was faced with growing competition from larger firms. In 1986, Hall’s Barton Ropery was bought by Bridport Gundry, which continued to make rope for a further three years. The site was then sold to Bridon Plc, which announced its immediate closure in 1989.

This independent, family run plant nursery supplies an extensive range of hardy perennials, shrubs and seasonal bedding plants. If you are looking for good quality and plants with a difference they offer personal service and advice where needed. New and reliable plants are regularly added to the collections throughout the season building to an extensive range of over 1,300 varieties. Call in to browse yourself at Laburnum House, Burnham, Barton upon Humber or look online at to see a full plant listing online.

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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