The wonders of Woodhall

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
December 2016

Regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in Lincolnshire, this delightful location still retains a feeling of Edwardian gentility through its streetscene, its tourist attractions and its heritage filled buildings.
You can step back in time at the Woodhall Spa Cottage Museum, which was created to preserve the rich history of the village.

The Cottage Museum is a joy to explore and 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.

The museum building itself is an important museum exhibit. It is a rare surviving example of a bungalow constructed of corrugated iron on a wooden frame that was erected in the late nineteenth century.

John Wield (1877-1965) was a keen photographer and his photographic collection is the basis of the museum.

The collection of images is a unique and valuable record of life in Woodhall Spa and includes images of both people and the local area.

You can visit the Petwood Hotel, which was originally the home of the famous 617 Dambusters Squadron and where memorabilia from the squadron is on display in the aptly named Dambusters Bar.

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

From aristocrats and MPs to music hall stars and sporting greats, all were entertained in style at Petwood helping to put Woodhall Spa firmly in the spotlight and accustomed to welcoming guests. Grace had the house reopened as a hotel in 1933.

Woodhall Spa Airfield was formerly the home of four RAF squadrons, including 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron, but more recently was used as a sand and gravel quarry. As a nature reserve it is a haven for wildlife as well as a place where visitors can share in the unique and peaceful atmosphere of this former airfield.

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust bought the site as part of work to create a ‘living landscape’ of larger connected wildlife sites with improved access to people.

The Woodhall Spa Airfield Nature Reserve is next to existing nature reserves at Kirkby Moor and Bain Valley. Part of the site is already providing habitat for kestrels, ospreys and skylarks as well as bats, otters and voles.

Other outdoor amenities in the village include Jubilee Park which has a heated outdoor pool, open from Easter to October next year, meaning it is open six weeks longer than usual.

There is also a spa trail to enjoy which is a bridleway and multi-user route that follows the track of the old Horncastle to Woodhall Junction railway. Part of the route is next to the water of the disused Horncastle canal, which attracts a variety of wildlife throughout the seasons.

And Woodhall Country Park is a unique five-star camping and touring experience set in tranquil woodlands in the heart of a conservation area in Lincolnshire. The village even has its own cinema, which has a colourful history all its own.

Set deep in the pine forest is the ‘Kinema in the Woods’, the UK’s only full-time cinema still using rear projection.

It started life as a sports and entertainment pavilion dated from the late nineteenth century. The pavilion sat in the grounds of The Victoria Hotel, looking over tennis courts, croquet lawns and gardens, until The Victoria Hotel burnt down on Easter Sunday 1920; this led to the relationship between the hotel and the pavilion being severed.

In 1922, Sir Archibald and Lady Weigall purchased the Victoria Hotel ruins including the sports pavilion and, with the assistance of Captain Carleton Cole Allport, the pavilion was transformed into a cinema which opened its doors on 11th September 1922 at 7pm. The first film to be shown was intended to be The Lion Eaters, but the film failed to arrive and a Charlie Chaplin film was shown in its place.

Woodhall Spa is often hailed as the home of English Golf following the establishment of the National Golf Centre in 1995.

The Hotchkin Course at the National Golf Centre is consistently rated among the world’s finest heathland golf experiences and is ranked 25th in Golf World magazine’s World Top 100 Golf Courses.

Golf World has announced the Top 100 Golf Courses in England – the Hotchkin has gained 4th position.

The English Golf Union merged with the English Women’s Golf Association on 1st January 2012 to form England Golf, the governing body for all amateur golf in England.

It might be classed as a village but Woodhall Spa has numerous events which unite the community and attract the visitors in their hordes.

A Victorian Christmas will take place at Woodhall Spa Cottage Museum on 3rd and 4th December when it will be decorated with a Victorian style tree, garlands and traditional decorations. Displays of Christmas past, including toys, games, festive food, tableware, cards and more will be on offer as well as costumed characters, crafts and storytelling.

Then the whole of the village will get into the festive spirit at the Christmas Fayre on 9th December.

Main events in the summer which attract visitors by the thousands include the Woodhall Spa 10k and the much talked about ’40s Festival.

The 10k run is a race that has established itself as one of the premier runs in the region with athletes coming from across the Midlands and indeed the entire country to compete on this flat course through the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside. It is open to both runner and wheelchair competitors, and has capacity to offer 1,200 places.

The Woodhall Spa ’40s Festival takes place across the village with numerous events and entertainment throughout the weekend. Entrance is free to the Festival apart from a few specific ticket only concerts.

The village’s shops, restaurants and hotels all get involved, with staff dressed in period costume throughout the festival.

Events and entertainment include living history groups, singers and dancers, vintage vehicle displays, re-enactors, fly past displays by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and ’40s trade stalls.

Woodhall Spa came about by accident in 1811 after John Parkinson, of Old Bolingbroke, made several attempts to find coal. After spending several thousand pounds, and sinking a shaft more than 1,000 feet deep, the enterprise was abandoned because of the rising spring.

About 1834, the then Lord of the Manor, Thomas Hotchkin, ascertained by analysis that the water was in fact valuable, being an iodine and bromine containing mineral spring. He spent nearly £30,000 sinking a well and erecting the Spa Baths and the Victoria Hotel.

Sadly, the Victoria Hotel burned down in 1920 when an electrical fault in the boiler room spread to the linen room above and the Spa Baths finally closed when the well collapsed in 1983.

A Woodhall Spa parish councillor is already drumming up support for a special commemoration due to be held next autumn.

Graham Keegan wants to highlight the fact that Woodhall Spa was not only linked to the RAF and the 617 Dambusters Squadron but was also home to the troops who took part in the Arnhem operation.
September 2017 will see the 73rd anniversary of the battle.

Mr Keegan explained: “Visitors to the large, leafy village of Woodhall Spa may be understandably forgiven for thinking that its wartime history was purely that of the RAF and especially the ‘Dambusters’ Squadron who flew from RAF Woodhall from late 1943.

“The truth however is quite the opposite, with Woodhall in fact being a sea of khaki uniform from 1940 to 1947. The start of the war saw numerous units assigned to coastal defence duties operating in the area, along with temporary tented camps for survivors from the Dunkirk evacuation.

“Between 1945 and 1947, a strange language was often heard in local pubs with the arrival of two battalions of Polish paratroops and a further two battalions of Polish infantry who had fought alongside the British in Italy.”

Woodhall’s military presence from 1943 to 1945 was clear from the famous Airborne forces’ maroon beret and comprised the infantry element of the 1st Airlanding Brigade; 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, 2nd Battalion the South Staffordshire Regiment, and 7th Battalion The King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

“These three infantry units had been converted to an Airlanding – i.e. gliderborne – role. They were based in a series of camps between Woodhall Spa and Kirkby-On-Bain, with other elements such as light artillery at Boston, RAMC at Stenigot, Royal Engineers in Tattershall and Brigade HQ at Revesby Abbey,” said Mr Keegan.

“Few traces remain of the two large Nissen-hut camps which housed almost 2,000 troops, save for a few brick footings, the remains of some large ovens, and a carved Polish eagle on a tree trunk, all deep in the woods nearby.”

The Brigade arrived in Woodhall Spa in 1943, with 7 KOSB making a dramatic entrance early one sleepy morning by marching from Kirkstead Station by the River Witham all the way through Woodhall being led by its Pipe Band. Tough airborne training ensued with the three units being frequently away on exercises on Salisbury Plain and the Yorkshire Moors.

VIP visitors to the Brigade included Field Marshal Montgomery and even King George VI.

Princess Alice, the Colonel-in-Chief of 7 KOSB, also visited but the finest Scottish salmon for her lunch in the Officers’ mess was delayed by rail and arrived many hours after she had left. It was promptly collected by the Duty Driver, cooks were woken up and the Sergeant’s Mess had a rather splendid midnight feast!

“In September 1944, the Arnhem Operation became a reality and the Brigade flew by glider from airfields in the Cotswolds, its mission being to secure the Drop Zones for the paratroops and join the advance to seize the Arnhem bridge,” Mr Keegan continued.

“Tragically, this proved to be a ‘bridge too far’ and the Brigade, along with the remains of the 1st Airborne Division, suffered terrible losses in the gallant face of a determined and numerically superior German force.”

The Brigade’s survivors were flown directly back to RAF Woodhall Spa by Dakota aircraft before being driven back to their camps.

“Elderly local residents can recall a line of trucks parked in the village, full of troops, some still bandaged and in torn uniforms, with local residents cheering them and handing over wartime luxuries such as cigarettes and chocolate,” said Mr Keegan.

“The Brigade remained in Woodhall, rebuilding and retraining, until May 1945 when it took part in the liberation of Norway.”

Woodhall Spa has an interesting and varied heritage itself but even its buildings have their own tales to tell.

The Mall village pub in Station Road reopened a couple of months ago after a £300,000 refurbishment by national pub operator Punch. But the building itself is more than 220 years old and has a somewhat colourful history.

It is mentioned in 1890 as the venue for a meeting to discuss the desirability of forming a Gentlemen’s Social Club in the village. In the same year was the comment that ‘without wishing to be derogatory, the Mall was not the sort of place which a gentleman and lady would visit for the refreshment they required’. (This was stated by a representative of the Eagle Hotel, which was applying for a licence to sell alcohol!)

By 1900, the building was called ‘The Mall Wine Office’ under Mr Roberts, who shortly afterwards retired as manager of the Victoria Hotel.

At the beginning of the First World War there was unease about Germans working in this area, of whom there were several, mostly in the hotel trade. They were rounded up and sent packing. In the newspaper of September 1914, we read of ‘the sensational arrest of Mr Hots of the Mall Tavern, Woodhall Spa’. He was sent from here to authorities of the government in York.

With its central position in the village, its bar and billiard room, the Mall has been a popular hostelry for more than a century and has had many alterations and extensions.

In 1923, Mr Fellows installed a wireless for the benefit of his customers. In the late twentieth century, when outdoor eating became popular, a patio was added next to the car park.

RJ Hirst Family Butchers of Woodhall Spa have had another successful and memorable year. They have recently received two accolades from Select Lincolnshire, for the fourth consecutive year: 2016–2017 Highly Commended Finalists Best Retailer and 2016-2017 Highly Commended Finalists Best Producer, putting them in the top four in the county again.

Russell and Sadie had the honour of welcoming MP Victoria Atkins and the then Home Secretary Theresa May to their shop last year. Mrs May bought 2lb of their multi-award winning Lincolnshire sausages and they received a message several days later saying she had enjoyed them immensely!

Victoria mentioned to Peter Levy on Look North that the now Prime Minister was a big fan of their sausages. Russell contacted Victoria to see how they could send a hamper of their produce to Theresa May, by way of congratulations on her new appointment. Russell and Sadie were amazed to receive an invitation from Victoria to visit the Houses of Parliament for the day and take along a hamper for the PM.

In September they travelled down to London taking their hamper, which included Russell’s handmade multi-award winning Lincolnshire Sausages, Dry Cure Bacon, Lincolnshire Haslet, Heritage Stuffed Chine, Sadie’s Hand Raised Lincolnshire Pork Pie and her special hand raised Pork and Red Onion Marmalade Pie. A wonderful opportunity to showcase Lincolnshire’s traditional speciality produce and wave the county’s food flag.

The day started with arrival at Portcullis House. They were then treated to a tour of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Another highlight of this extraordinary day was Victoria Atkins presenting them with a framed photograph of her and Theresa May’s visit to their shop last year.

Sadie said: “She was so kind and generous with her time and we simply cannot thank her enough for arranging this once in a lifetime trip for us.”

Victoria then took them to see The Speakers Procession and the day concluded with special tickets for Theresa May’s second PMQT.

Russell and Sadie have since received a letter of thanks from the Prime Minister saying how much she appreciated their gift and she has fond memories of her trip to Woodhall Spa and that she particularly enjoys their sausages!

The Dower House hotel is beautifully decorated in traditional Christmas style,with a large open fire to toast your toes whilst you enjoy a glass of wine. A choice of festive dining is offered at the Dower House, where fresh ingredients and locally sourced seasonal produce are key to the hotel’s cooking style.

General manager Anne Dobbs and her dedicated team are passionate about this elegant and intimate country house hotel, and it shows. Every little detail is considered to create the most welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. Surrounded by two acres of tranquil gardens set in beautiful woodland, the Dower House hotel is located in the most idyllic location.

This invitingly comfortable Edwardian house is a haven of indulgence and relaxation, luxury accommodation, impeccable service and fine food. The hotel have limited availability for lunch on Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve evening. From Monday to Thursday, Afternoon Tea will be served by the cosy fire from 2pm till 4pm, and light lunches will be served on Mondays and Wednedays from 12noon till 2pm.

For more information please contact Reception on 01526 352588 or visit The Dower House Hotel,Manor Estate, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, LN10 6PY

This autumn term has seen the official opening of our brand new all-weather pitch. This excellent facility complements the already impressive list of sporting facilities at St Hugh’s including extensive playing fields, a sports hall and swimming pool. The all-weather pitch will provide a great surface for hockey and for use by all pupils at the school. An incredible fundraising effort has ensured that the surface is ready for the start of the new term and was officially opened by Crista Cullen (GB Hockey International). Most recently, St Hugh’s has achieved great success on county and national stages in a variety of sports: our swimmers in Years 3-6 were crowned county champions; our U11 swim relay squad reached the IAPS national finals; the U13 7s rugby team came runners-up in the IAPS national small schools’ tournament and the pop lacrosse team reached the quarter finals at the national finals held at the Sheffield Institute of Sport. Beyond all these achievements, the time dedicated within the curriculum to providing all the pupils at St Hugh’s with opportunities to participate in sports really does set the school apart.

Woodhall Spa is home to Peter Scott – Britain’s smallest shoe shop. In the days when Woodhall Spa had a train service the shop was the last building on the railway platform before the line diagonally crossed The Broadway. This led to its distinctive Brie-like shape, and its local name, ‘The Woodhall Wedge’. Peter Scott stocks a range of famous brands including Rieker, Hotter, Lotus, Cotswold and Softline and many regular customers travel to them from across the county. Their ‘Buy One, Get One Half Price’ slipper offer is always popular at this time of the year and runs until 18th December.

Bursting with character and history, Petwood is truly unique among hotels in Lincoln and the surrounding area. The elegant hand-carved staircase and extensive oak panelling typify the old world charm of the place, while guests can enjoy discovering features such as the Squadron Bar and immaculately kept gardens. The original features and historic ambience of the house are sympathetically maintained in harmony with comfortable rooms. A taste of nostalgia with the best of the present, one might say.

Take a well earned break and spend some quality time with family and friends eating, drinking and being merry this Christmas and New Year.

There is something for everyone at the Petwood Hotel this festive season.

From Yuletide breaks to Christmas parties and seasonal afternoon teas, join us for just a few hours or stay for a few days and discover the magic that is the Petwood at Christmas.

Petwood Hotel, Stixwould Rd, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire LN10 6QG, Tel: 01526 352411.

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