The wonders of Woodhall Spa

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
December 2015

First impressions of the picturesque Lincolnshire village are that it is a quiet rural retreat with a sleepy air of a bygone era.
However, a visit to the village will show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

This destination has much to offer in terms of heritage, visitor attractions, leisure and entertainment and has a range of independent niche shops that give it a character all of its own.

And, there are numerous exciting plans afoot to keep it moving with the times and enhance its charm even more.

East Lindsey District Council Leader Craig Leyland, who also owns a business in the village, said: “We are lucky to be a developing community with a good visitor base and exciting shops.

“It has got a lot going for it. We have a few hotels, a caravan site, a wide range of shops. Jubilee Park is now operated by a charitable trust company and it is planning some development there, the Spa Baths redevelopment is fantastic news for Woodhall and the Petwood Hotel is going to renovate the Peto Gardens which is very good.”

Woodhall Spa is a village even though its population and facilities match that of a small town.

“The population is just over 3,000 but we are still classed as a village.We have a very vibrant community life and a forward-thinking community,” said Mr Leyland.

“The parish council does a great job. It is reviewing the conservation area of the village to enhance it, so the key attractions will be retained and it has produced a neighbourhood plan that will protect the assets of Woodhall Spa.”

Mr Leyland has been based in Woodhall Spa for nearly three decades, having established Voc Antiques Ltd in Witham Road back in 1986. It is a family-run business specialising in eighteenth and nineteenth-century furniture, porcelain and pottery, metalwork and paintings, as well as maps and prints. It also offers a restoration and valuation service for clients.

“I have been based here for twenty-nine years, so I have been here a long time and I have seen the village change for the better over the years in terms of resident numbers, attractions and shops,” he said.

“Part of its charm is that it has an historical side to it as well. It was set up as a spa town, which gives it its unique character, and its RAF heritage also plays a huge part and attracts a lot of visitors to the village.

“The 617 squadron, the Dambusters, officers’ mess was at the Petwood Hotel and the soldiers mustered here before going off to Arnhem.”

The village’s Parish Council clerk Amanda Bushell said the Parish Council is working closely with East Lindsey District Council over Woodhall Spa’s conservation area and residents and businesses in the village have been invited to have their say on the proposals which aim to preserve its unique heritage.

“We are working to get an Article 4 Direction put on the conservation area which will aid the retention, reinstatement and repair of the original external features of the property and its surrounds,” said Amanda.

“It also ensures that all work carried out is in keeping with the age and appearance of the building and the area as a whole.”

The aim of the Article 4 direction is to preserve original features of buildings and ensure that any changes are in keeping with the style of the premises and character of the conservation area.

Changes that might be covered include the replacement of natural slates or plain red clay tiles on a roof with other materials, the removal of chimneys and other external features, and changes to windows or doors.

The village has also been formally consulted on the Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Development Plan which is a planning document that, when approved, will guide the future development of the area.

That means it is about the use and development of land and associated social, economic and environmental issues.

“It is very important for the future development of the village. Without a Neighourhood Plan that is endorsed by the community, future development will happen with no community input,” said Amanda.

“Conversely, with a Plan influencing the ELDC planning application decision-making process we can be reasonably assured that development will be both sympathetic and complementary to the heritage and best interests of the village and its residents.

“The plan aims to influence the development of our village to 2030. It is about managing growth and development so that when and where it happens, that growth and development meets local requirements.”

The village has much to offer, not only to residents but also to visitors and holidaymakers.

Jubilee Park has everything from caravan and camping accommodation to an outdoor heated swimming pool, a play park, café, sporting activities and events.

The park and pool were built and given to Woodhall Spa by Lady Weigall in 1935, a facility as far from the municipal baths of the time as it was possible to be.

Now Jubilee Park is going to have a new gym and fitness studio onsite. The idea is to upgrade the existing female changing facilities at the pool to family changing and convert the existing male changing rooms to a thirty-station gym.

Outside it is hoped to create lido style changing cabins and to put a health and fitness and exercise studio alongside the existing building.

Other exciting developments in the pipeline are a new football clubhouse for Woodhall Spa FC and the multi-million plans already announced by GN Construction to bring the derelict spa baths on Coronation Road back into use.

The historic baths, which gave the village its name, first opened in 1843. They closed in 1983 and became an eyesore with broken windows and numerous holes in the roof and walls.

Now the site is being redeveloped as part of a £4 million makeover by developer GN Construction and it is hoped the project will be completed next year.

The news has been welcomed by the Woodhall Spa Heritage Group which works tirelessly to protect what the village has to offer and raises awareness of its important heritage. One of its aims was to save the Spa Baths and have them preserved as a heritage site.

Group spokeswoman Sue Stennett said: “To us it is a very exciting project and it will give Woodhall Spa its identity back. It is a tragedy that we are a spa town but we haven’t got a spa.

“What we try and do is look after what Woodhall Spa has to offer. We have done a number of projects aimed at making people aware of, and promoting, its heritage to the community to ensure we protect the ambience of the village. It is the lifeblood of our economy.”

Work the group has undertaken includes producing information leaflets and arranging visits to places which cannot normally be accessed by the public.

“We have done three history leaflets – one about the village, one on the walking trails and one about the railway. We also give people the chance to explore places they don’t always have access to,” said Sue.

Close to the site of the Spa Baths is the Kinema in the Woods, one of the oldest cinemas in the country and the only one to employ back projection.

It started life as a sports and entertainment pavilion dating from the late nineteenth century and sat in the grounds of The Victoria Hotel, overlooking tennis courts, croquet lawns and gardens, until The Victoria Hotel burnt down in 1920.

Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall bought the hotel ruins including the sports pavilion in 1922 and, with the assistance of Captain Carleton Cole Allport, transformed the site into a cinema.

The Pavilion Cinema (as it was then known) was only the sixty-eighth cinema to be opened in Britain – and the unique rear projection system is still used today in the original screen. This year the Kinema has organised a number of big events and launched a new venture.

The Kinema’s Philip Jones said: “We hosted a special gala night screening of The Battle Of Britain in association with Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Battle Of Britain. It was also to raise money for the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and it was attended by several veterans.

“We also screened the UK premiere of the film made about the Canadian Lancaster coming over and flying with the remaining UK Lancaster and we started putting on outdoor film screenings at both The Petwood Hotel and Jubilee Park over the summer. They were all great occasions attracting big crowds.

“We also teamed up with Jubilee Park to do a joint Jaws Night, where we showed the film at The Kinema, before guests went to Jubilee Park for a midnight swim.”

In October the Kinema was one of eight finalists shortlisted for a UK Cinema Of The Year award at the annual Screen Awards.

“Although we didn’t come away with the prize we were delighted to make it that far and had a great time at the black tie awards ceremony in Central London, hosted by Edith Bowman.”

Woodhall Spa has many varied attractions. One is The Cottage Museum which is packed with intriguing stories and displays about Woodhall Spa, the local area and the Wield family, who lived in the building from 1887 until the 1960s.

So far, the small community museum – which is managed by volunteers – has welcomed more than 30,000 visitors.

It exists as a result of the great dedication and effort of volunteers from the community over the past twenty years. But it began with the vision of one man, John Wield, more than 100 years ago. He foresaw that one day people would ask about the origins of the then young Victorian spa community and so set about recording what he could for the future.

It is his photographic collection which forms the basis for today’s Cottage Museum, and even the museum building itself is an important exhibit, as a rare surviving example of a bungalow constructed of corrugated iron on a wooden frame, that was erected in the late nineteenth century.

A new attraction sure to bring the tourists flocking to the area is the Wartime Woodhall Trail.

It features information panels at specific historical locations and takes in eight different locations, including the Petwood Hotel which served as the Officers’ Mess for the famous 617 Dambusters Squadron.

Woodhall Spa offers people a choice of everything from supermarkets to coffee shops, butchers, newsagents, hardware stores, antique shops, restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation, hairdressers, clothing retailers and possibly the smallest shoe shop in the world.

It even has its own bridal boutique. Victoria Evans runs The Ivory Room bridal boutique at Goodyear House on Tattershall Road and aims to make every bride feel relaxed and ensure they receive excellent service when searching for their perfect dress.

“We do this by closing the boutique just for the bridal party during appointments, offering refreshments, not rushing the bride and taking a genuine interest in what she envisages,” said Victoria.

“The boutique has been open for just over six months now and business is steadily growing. We are getting many customers from their friends’ recommendations as our service is so highly appreciated.”

It is not only the village’s attractions that are steeped in history. Woodhall Spa’s hotels have a heritage all of their own.

The Petwood Hotel has a story few can match, serving as a military hospital for injured soldiers during the Great War and being home to the legendary RAF 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron in World War Two.

Occupied from 1942, it was originally home to officers of the 97 and 619 squadrons, but with nearby Woodhall Airfield chosen as the operational base, 619 squadron moved away and the officers of 617 moved in.

Today, the Squadron Bar hosts a range of memorabilia and tributes to Guy Gibson VC, Leonard Cheshire VC and their officers.

The building was initially built as a house for wealthy heiress and divorcee Baroness Grace van Eckhardstein and when she remarried in 1910, it provided an ideal place for her new husband, politician Sir Archibald Weigall, to flaunt his wealth.

Director Emma Brealey is continuing the efforts to keep the national focus on Woodhall Spa and The Petwood Hotel with an exciting project which is sure to benefit the community as a whole.

She is planning to restore the hotel gardens, which were designed by Harold Peto back in Lady Weigall’s day, to their Edwardian splendour.

“The project with the garden is ongoing. We hope to be starting that next year in the spring if possible,” said Emma.

“When the house was built it was intended that the garden would be a legacy of Harold Peto. But over many decades, the gardens have fallen into disrepair so in the last four years I have been trying to put together a scheme that will restore them to their Edwardian splendour.

“There is a lot of interest attached to the Harold Peto name and the other Peto gardens in the country receive upwards of 4,000 visitors a year and some even in excess of 4,000 a year. It all helps to put Woodhall Spa on the map.”

Internal refurbishment has been continuing at the Petwood and staffing-wise it continues to develop young talent, so they can move onto bigger things.

“Chefs trained here have used it as a springboard to further their careers.One pastry chef left us to go to Le Cordon Bleu, which is considered by many to be the world’s premier culinary arts institute, and her first job was at Claridges.”

Another of Woodhall Spa’s renowned hotels is The Dower House which was built in 1905.

Located in a picturesque woodland setting overlooking the famous Bracken Golf Course, which is home to the English Golf Union, this Edwardian country lodge holds fifteen luxury rooms with a further six in the main hotel.

The Dower House is an exquisite Edwardian house retaining all its original features and is a real favourite place to visit, for private functions large and small. Intimate dinner parties can be held in the private dining room, where you can even hire your own butler to attend to your every wish.

General manager Anne Dobbs said she constantly receives letters and reviews about the friendliness and efficiency of the staff and quality of the food and accommodation.

“Surrounded by two acres of tranquil gardens set in beautiful woodland, and approached by a tree-lined private road, the hotel’s idyllic setting is the perfect backdrop for a romantic wedding, relaxing break, business visit or a round of golf,” she said.

Walker & Walker are situated on the busy Broadway in the centre of this popular and famous spa town, nestled in the very heart of Lincolnshire, and serving a resident population of nearly 5,000 potential clients.

When husband and wife team Kevin and Verity Walker initially came across this very tired small business for sale they immediately fell for it – neither of them had a butchery background. Kevin is a sales and marketing manager for an Automotive Company and Verity’s background was firmly based in estate agency. However neither of them let this “minor” detail deter them.

Not being butchers, Kevin and Verity quickly set about gathering the right team to support them in their venture and retained the services of Gary Butler, an experienced butcher with over fourteen years’ experience who had worked for the previous owner since leaving school.

As part of their commitment to Lincolnshire farmers and producers it is their policy to source all of the meat from farms complying with the very highest standards of animal welfare. This is something they are very passionate about and all their meat is fully traceable back to the farm.

When Kevin and Verity took the shop on they knew they would have to hit the ground running and quickly make a mark with customers, to keep them coming back. One of the key products for any butcher is to have a unique sausage, and being from Lincolnshire they had to develop an excellent Lincolnshire Sausage. For this they worked closely with Dalesman. This proved to be a runaway success and within a couple of months of opening Walker & Walker achieved a Silver Award in the National Sausage Awards for its Lincolnshire Sausage, as well as a Bronze Award for its very own and unique Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese and Marmite Sausage. These awards were followed by further awards in the Lincolnshire Poacher County Awards.

Along with their success within competitions, Walker & Walker are constantly developing new and interesting recipe ideas, as well as continually presenting an interesting and eye-catching counter display.

The Cottage Museum is usually closed to visitors in the winter months but will be open each afternoon of the 4th, 5th, 12th and 13th December for a magical seasonal event. The Museum will be specially decorated for a Victorian Christmas and you are warmly invited to visit our popular and welcoming museum, which for many years was home to the Wield family. John Wield (1877–1964) was a keen photographer and his photographic collection is the basis of the Museum. This collection of images is a unique and valuable record of life in Woodhall Spa and the local area and includes images of both people and the local area.

The Museum will be decorated with a Victorian style Christmas tree, garlands of seasonal greenery, and a rich variety of traditional decorations. Displays of Christmas Past will include toys and games, festive food, tableware, cards, presents and more. Visitors will be greeted by costumed characters and can explore the displays to discover intriguing facts about the origins of Christmas and the influence that the Victorians had on the seasonal celebrations and customs that we enjoy today. Refreshments are available and normal admission charges apply.

On Saturday 5th December at 7.30pm, a special evening event called ‘Seasonal Stories and Folklore’ will be presented by well-known storyteller and writer Maureen James. Please book in advance by visiting or calling the Museum Chairman 01526 353455. Tickets cost £5 each.

We look forward to welcoming you.

The Cottage Museum is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Kathy Holland, Activity Manager, Woodhall Spa Cottage Museum

The Tea House in the Woods is Woodhall Spa’s oldest tea house, dating back to 1906, and set in the woods next to the famous Kinema in the Woods.

After nearly 100 years of serving lunches and traditional afternoon teas, the Tea House in the Woods was sold and turned into a restaurant in 2002. In June 2014 the Tea House in the Woods went back to its original name, when new owners Natalie Leech and Stephen Sleight took over.

Natalie and Steve have worked in the village for over twelve years. Natalie as the conference and banqueting manager at the Petwood hotel for twelve years and Steve as a sous chef and then as the head chef at the Petwood for four years before helping open the Inn. Over the years, both Natalie and Steve got to know many of the residents in Woodhall and the local area who have all been a big support to the Tea House in the Woods.

Steve and Natalie work very hard to use local, fresh produce. Steve has a fantastic team with him to help create a menu with a specials board available during the day and evening. All items on the menu are homemade and locally sourced.

The Tea House has a warm, welcoming lounge area with log fire during the colder months and comfortable restaurant area for seventy guests, both with views onto the first hole of the Bracken Golf Course. During the warmer months, the Tea House has a beautiful covered veranda and garden area for guests to enjoy the outdoors within the woods.

The Tea House in the Woods is open six days a week from Tuesday through to Sunday from 10am, serving meals and traditional afternoon tea throughout the day until 5pm. The Tea House then turns into an evening restaurant Tuesday until Saturday from 5pm through until last orders at 8pm.

For more information about menus and events taking place please visit the website

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