Town of markets, mill and manor
Whether you are looking for a day trip out, a base to explore the Lincolnshire Wolds and the East Coast, or a new life in a community that has a heart of gold, then the traditional market town of Alford should be just up your street. By Melanie Burton
With a wealth of local landmarks, a fascinating heritage and clubs, societies and activities to suit all ages and interests, Alford is not the sleepy rural backstop it might appear to be at first sight.
It benefits from being a small town with most things on the doorstep but it has a picturesque village feel and a ‘good neighbour’ community attitude to match.
Though not originally from Alford, current town Mayor, Grant Allan has been part of the fabric of the town for decades having been head of the John Spendluffe School until 1999, a member of the town council for 41 years and now chairman of the Alford Civic Trust.
“I am not a native of the town but they do allow me to be here,” he said. “It is a lovely place.
“A lot of time and effort is spent making the town what it is today and it is mainly done by retired members of the community who help keep Alford running and alive and a nice place to live and visit.
“It is all volunteer run. We decided long ago that the government wasn’t going to do this and that to get it done we were going to have to do it ourselves.
“We do get some help from the district council, the county council and from the government from time to time but in the main we have to take the lead.
“The community has to do the work and mainly it is done by people who have retired, to put back into the town the things that we have started to miss.
“You can still swim in Alford, we have a thriving football team, a thriving cricket team. Alford is quite an active village and there is always something to do.”
Located on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds within easy distance of the coastal resorts of Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea,
Alford offers a unique visitor experience not to be missed.
It has a variety of shops which are complemented by its regular outdoor markets on Tuesdays and Fridays, offering a good selection of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, flowers, local meats and Grimsby fish and it hosts a weekly country market where you can find a range of homemade goods and preserves as well as home-grown fruit and vegetables.
In 2005 Alford Town Council became one of the first local town/parish councils in the East Lindsey district to take over the running of its Friday market from the district council.
From small beginnings the market grew and the following year it inherited the management of the Tuesday market.
In addition its craft market founded 45 years ago, has been putting the town on the map for years through its two major annual events – a working crafts weekend in May and a festival of arts, crafts and music over the August Bank Holiday.
“The markets are held traditionally at spring bank holiday and August bank holiday in the lovely grounds of Alford Manor House, and at Easter and Christmas in Alford Corn Exchange,” explained chair of Alford Craft Market, Priscilla McGirr.
“This year we are helping to sponsor the Alford Christmas Lights display which will be turned on during the evening of 30th November.
“Our shop in Alford Market Place, and the Craft Centre behind it are going from strength to strength, and increasingly bringing visitors into the town all year round.
“Classes and short courses in many different and diverse crafts from pottery to printmaking, painting to quilting, can be booked in the shop or online at alfordcraftmarket.co.uk and we have regular friendly get togethers on Tuesday mornings for people to bring their knitting, crochet or sewing.
“We will be having a second exhibition of members’ work at the North Sea Observatory in early May 2020, and at our Working Crafts Weekend at the Manor House in Spring 2020. The theme will be ceramics, with opportunities for people to ‘Have a go’ at making their own pieces of art in clay.”
Alford Craft Market started back in 1974 and stemming from its popularity the town’s Craft Market Centre and Shop opened its doors in 2015 with the aim of promoting the best of Lincolnshire crafts and providing a focal point in the town where people interested in handcrafts could visit and exchange ideas.
The centre is a not-for-profit organisation and is completely run by volunteers.
“Alford has lost an awful lot in the past like its railway, its hospital and a lot of business out of farming but the vestiges of them are all still there and there are things to see here which are extremely interesting,” Mr Allan said.
Take Alford’s five-sailed windmill for instance which is recognised as an important asset to the town and to local tourism.
Set on the approach to Alford from Mablethorpe and still milling flour, the windmill is a well-known emblem of the town.
Built in 1837 by Samuel Oxley this Grade I listed windmill is considered to be one of the finest in the country and is the sole survivor of four mills in Alford.
Though closed for repairs at the minute and not likely to reopen until next year, the mill had been restored to full working order and normally would be grinding grain to produce organic flour, which is available from the mill’s own shop.
Then there is the Manor House which is a Grade II listed building now owned and run by the Alford Civic Trust.
Built in 1611 the Manor House is believed to be the largest thatched Manor House in the country. The attached Museum of Rural Life, previously known as Hackett’s Barn Museum, gives a picture of past times in the Alford area, whilst a visit would not be complete without a tour of the recently restored gardens and refreshments in the tea room.
The Manor House was extensively refurbished over many years and now serves as a museum and venue for a variety of functions from weddings to birth ceremonies as well as the May and August Craft Market.
Alford Corn Exchange is another historic building that is very much part of Alford’s modern day life.
A Grade II listed building, it is now used as the Civic Offices of the Town Council but it was built as a trading place for grain merchants and farmers in 1856 at a cost of £1,400.
The building was given to the Alford Corn Exchange Company Ltd in 1857 by Robert Adam Christopher Nisbet Hamilton under the condition that no religious or political discussion was ever to be allowed in the building.
But that restriction was lifted in 1902 by Lady Mary Georgina Constance Christopher Nisbet Hamilton Ogilby so the community owned building can now be used as the town hall as well as a venue for events such as balls, dances and clubs for all ages.
Alford Town Council does much to help the community improve the area and keep it lively and an attractive place to live.
Recently it has developed an Alford Neighbourhood Plan which it is hoped will benefit the town by limiting further development on the western and southern edges of the town, ensure developments are in keeping with their surroundings and protect and enhance the town centre’s vitality and viability.
The Plan also aims to support additional land designated for business purposes to provide employment, protect Alford’s heritage buildings, environment, visual amenity and sporting facilities and protect some green spaces from development to maintain the rural ‘feel’ of the town.
The council has also agreed to permit an area of the closed cemetery to be used as a wildflower area.
Alford in Bloom has taken over the piece of land as part of their efforts to make the town a more attractive place to live and intends to plant wildflower seeds which it is hoped will attract bees and insects when they bloom in the summer.
The In Bloom Group will work with local schools to create the wildflower area and hopes to be able to introduce log piles and bee hotels onto the land.
“Alford is an interesting place to visit,” Mr Allan explained. “The Manor House has a unique collection of Lincolnshire chairs, one of the largest collections of Lincolnshire chairs on view anywhere which have been gathered together for the exhibition by William Sergeant who is a world expert on the subject.
“The Museum of Rural Life at the back of the Manor House has all sorts of interesting things from farming from the past 150 years all of which are in the process of being restored or have been restored.
“Our thirteenth-century church, St Wilfrid’s, has been very much restored to the Victorian times. The architect was Sir Giles Scott who did the [House of Commons] so he is a really important restorer.”
Alford also has strong connections with the early days of the USA. Thomas Paine, the author of Rights of Man, and Anne Hutchinson, an early female preacher in Massachusetts, both lived in Alford.
“Anne Hutchinson was one of the leaders of the Free Grace controversy/revolution in Massachusetts and is much revered in the New England state, though not as much here,” Mr Allan explained.
Helping you move and serving the agricultural community
AS ONE of the longest-established independent property specialists in east Lincolnshire, established in 1842, Willsons is a familiar and well-respected name from the Wolds to the sea. From offices in Alford and Skegness, the firm provides a first class service for town and country customers across the entire region.
The running of Willsons today is in the expert hands of James Boulton, who is a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Central Association of Agricultural Valuers, as is consultant Paul Robinson.
Full estate agency services including the sales of residential and commercial properties and land, along with rental services including full property management, are now offered at both offices with competitive fees, local and national coverage via the local press and well-known website rightmove.co.uk along with onthemarket.com and willsons-property.co.uk.
The Alford office is the main centre for the auctioning department undertaking sales of furniture, farm machinery and equipment and property.
Other services undertaken by the firm include valuations of a wide variety of residential and agricultural properties for various purposes as well as RICS Red Book valuations.
Willsons continues to follow the original ethos of keeping customers fully satisfied by delivering a personal service of the highest standard.
124 West Street, Alford 01507 621111, 16 Algitha Road, Skegness 01754 896100, www.willsons-property.co.uk
Alford Horticultural Society
2019 is a milestone year for one of Alford’s many dedicated and hardworking voluntary groups. The Alford and District Horticultural Society formed back in 1919 as the Alford & District Allotments and Gardens Association and the town has been enjoying the fruits of its labour ever since.
Not only does it organise an annual show every August, it holds regular social get togethers, day trips and fundraising events.
President Brian Belcher said there were only two years in the society’s history when a show didn’t take place in the town.
This year, for the first time, the society organised a Scarecrow Competition which proved so popular plans are already being made for another next year.
“It went brilliantly,” said Brian. “We announced the winners of the scarecrow competition at the show and everyone was pleased. Everyone is now talking about putting on a bigger one next year.”
The show itself, held at the beginning of August, was also well supported.
“The weather wasn’t particularly good but it went well with attendance up on previous years,” Brian said. “It was our 98th show because we didn’t have one in the war year of 1929 and there was one year where we couldn’t get a show secretary.”
The Society marked its centenary with a celebration in the town’s iconic Corn Exchange.
“We had a bit of a party for our 100th birthday,” Brian explained. “There were ninety members there but because the town supports us for the show and other events we invited some of the businesses along too. We get a lot of support from the business sector through the year, with either donations of raffle prizes or discount offers.
“We are a self-supporting organisation with about 300 members but we are well backed by the town. Alford is a very community-spirited town.”
As well as the show and its monthly social events consisting of an evening meeting with a speaker followed by supper, the society also arranges a coffee morning and plant sale every May to raise funds in support of the show.
The origins of today’s Alford and District Horticultural Society lie with a group of men who started the Alford and District Allotments and Gardens Association in 1919, principally to supply members with seed potatoes.
It was known by that name for sixty-one years and only became the Alford and District Horticultural Society in 1981.
Unfortunately the minutes of the first AGMs have been lost, so the earliest records are from the period 1936 to 1955.
“The Society is still going strong today and is hoping to get to celebrate its 100th annual show in two years time,” Brian said.
Alford Manor House is owned and run by Alford Civic Trust which was formed more than 50 years ago with the specific purpose of taking on the ownership of the historic thatched 1611 building.
At the moment it is raising funds for a new building to be located at the rear of the site to house its Thompson Millwright Collection which forms part of its ‘From Field to Fork’ exhibition.
R Thompson & Sons was a firm of working millwrights that built and worked on most of the mills in Lincolnshire.
The entire contents of the Thompson workshop, which goes back to the 1800s, was gifted to the Civic Trust when the owner retired.
“They are all being analysed and digitised so we will have a full record of what they did,” explained chairman of the Civic Trust, Mr Grant Allan.
“We are busy raising funds so we can build a replica of that workshop on the site to house the collection of original artefacts, drilling machines, saws and tools.
“If any part gets broken at the mills in Lincolnshire we will have a pattern to repair it.”
The collection is of high significance locally, being an example of a small scale local business with 19th century origins. However, its contribution to the mill preservation movement in Britain throughout the 20th century elevates the collection to that of ‘exceptional significance nationally’.
Thompson’s were one of the last operational millwrighting firms descended from a long line of master millwrights. The Davies family continued Thompson’s work of repairing and restoring our traditional wind- and water-powered mills until Tom Davies’ retirement in late 2012.
“We have a threshing day in September where our threshing machine makes wheat from the corn we cut,” said Mr Grant.