Imagining Georgian Folkingham

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
September 2022

Steffie Shields highlights the Aveland History Group’s Georgian Festival.

‘Nobody should hurry through Folkingham – it is all a delight’ wrote historian, the Reverend Henry Thorold, a lover of the picturesque in landscape and eccentric architecture. The village would make a perfect film set for Sense and Sensibility. On the weekend of 17th and 18th September, take advantage of a special Lincolnshire Heritage Open Days free event, to visit and linger during the Georgian Festival.

The Aveland History Group was founded in 2020, inspired by the ancient Aveland Wapentake, an early governing division by the Danes of the South Lincolnshire fen edge, between Bourne in the South and Osbournby in the North. It covers 32 communities including villages either side of the A15 east and west. The ‘Aveland Festival’, this year sponsored by South Kesteven Council, will be held with diverse Georgian entertainments in a variety of locations in Folkingham including the market place. You might even dance with Mr Darcy!

There is so much more to Folkingham than meets the eye. This romantic, rural village halfway between Bourne and Sleaford once expanded into an estate-owned small town with a Jane Austen ‘sense of place’. From the end of the 19th century, its businesses declined while the surrounding agricultural community soldiered on. It is perhaps closer to being a quiet residential village today, still interrupted by what was the old coach road to Lincoln, the A15, cutting through its theatrical, memorable middle.

Surely, every passerby driving north on the A15 is momentarily distracted by the undulating, Arcadian view of this unspoilt village nestling against the side of a hill, at the foot of the towering St Andrew’s Church. This magnificent 15th-century edifice, thanks to the patronage of the rich Beaumont family, would bear comparison with any of several historic churches in urban Stamford.

When I drive through this Conservation Village, I find myself transported across two centuries to my favourite era, when handsome houses were built or altered either side of the wide street. Their symmetry and proportion were based on classical Greek and Roman architecture – when elegance, scale and proportion were the norm. I am curious about what lies behind these smart limestone elevations. Are there walled courtyards? Might there be one or two surviving garden features of the period? Old walls, stone steps and walks, sundials, terracotta urns, ironwork rose arbours, besides one or two veteran trees?

The powerful Clinton family built the original Manor House as a minor house at the foot of the hill to the east. Staying locally at Sempringham, their main home was at the magnificent, early medieval brick Tattershall Castle. Fascinating research here has recently uncovered evidence that besides the moat, a considerable two-acre ornamental garden impressed high-ranking visitors.

Richard Wynn, a successful London based lawyer, bought the Folkingham manorial estate and rebuilt the 17th-century Restoration Manor House. Improvement and enhancement were the bywords of the entire Georgian period. Whether entering at the top or bottom of the village, the impressive façade of the Greyhound, an old coaching inn, dominates the scene, a Grade II* building saved a decade or so ago by conversion into flats.

Over the years 1765 to 1780, it is not beyond the realms to think that celebrated Royal Gardener ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) may have stayed at the Greyhound, on his many journeys to and from clients at Hainton and Brocklesby and Burton Constable across the Humber. In his will, Brown left lands in this county to his second son John, who like his father married a Lincolnshire lass.

They included a three-acre messuage in nearby Osbournby!

In 1788, the trustees of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, 4th Baronet (1773-1851) purchased the Folkingham manorial estate after another Richard Wynne ran up debts. Thought to be the wealthiest man in the country, Heathcote had not long inherited Normanton Park in Rutland, amongst other lands. After marrying a renowned beauty in 1795, Lady Katherine Manners, daughter of the Duke of Rutland, he was appointed High Sheriff of Rutland, and became Whig MP for Lincolnshire (1796-1807).

Heathcote invested in Folkingham, spending £4,000 on successfully refurbishing the Greyhound, without putting up the rent, and revitalising the local population. He gave the developing town its refined character, still appreciated to this day. In 1797 Heathcote commissioned Humphry Repton for a ‘Red Book’ of estate improvement proposals for Normanton. The leading landscape gardener’s extensive, innovative proposals and planting ideas likely influenced Heathcote, and filtered down through his agents over ensuing decades to the benefit of the Folkingham community. Repton focused on ‘dressing the ground’, ornamenting immediate settings of houses with flowering shrubs in pots or ironwork rose arbours.

Around this time, The Manor House was tastefully updated by Heathcote, including its current late 18th-century gate piers with imposing stone ball finials. According to a 1760s survey, it overlooked a quartered parterre garden south, later enclosed by trees, and laid to lawn. The grounds are adjacent to a site of historic significance where, in the 11th century, Gilbert de Gant, a Flemish soldier in William the Conqueror’s retinue, chose to build Folkingham Castle (long since disappeared). This was later castellated and then passed to the Crown. How times, and the Rule of Law changed. The castle and moat came to serve as the local prison, replaced in 1806, with Heathcote investment, by a purpose-built ‘House of Correction’ (demolished in the 1950s).

Determined to add dignity and authority in fashionable style to Folkingham’s buildings, Heathcote must have also contracted Lincolnshire architect Bryan Browning, who built the Sessions House at Bourne, to design the surviving Vanbrugh-inspired monumental prison gateway and gatehouse (1825). This was acquired in 1987 and restored by the Landmark Trust. When any intrigued garden enthusiast or architectural historian suddenly comes across this imposing structure, they get the impression of an entrance to a magnificent designed parkland landscape beyond. In truth, this ‘noble piece of architecture in a beautiful and interesting place gives entrance only to a moated expanse of grass –’.

An early map of Folkingham, probably produced c.1700 for Richard Wynn, details an orchard north of the Manor House, which disappeared under bricks and mortar as the town developed. The 1885 Ordnance Survey map shows on West Street, Folkingham Hall surrounded by a considerable number of trees, and a couple of orchards south of the village. A Millennium Orchard was created in part of Rectory Farm at the bottom of the hill, shaded by veteran trees including Scots pines and a great horse chestnut, now known as a Millennium Green and children’s play area. South-west, besides the main water source, Pearson’s Spring serving the village, two gentrified farms, Spring Farm and Low Farm.

Last summer, I was invited to visit Low Farm with charming old offices around an L-shaped courtyard. The wooden gazebo in the orchard, south of the garden, is likely 1960s or ’70s, a shady spot to enjoy moments of quiet reflection; the perfect location to contemplate the countryside. I wonder, could this orchard have replaced a Georgian seat or arbour? At a distance sweet chestnut, native white willow, Salix alba, and weeping willow, Salix Babylonica, still frame the picturesque vista up to St Andrew’s Church. See you at the Festival!

For festival details visit www.theavelandhistorygroup.com

For information on Repton plants, shrubs and trees suitable to set off houses of the Georgian period, see Historic England PDF online at historicengland.org.uk/research/results/reports/20-2018: Hardy Plants and Plantings for Repton and Late Georgian Gardens (1780-1820) by Sarah Rutherford.



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