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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the November 2013 issue

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Thousands of travellers cross the Humber Estuary every day via the masterpiece of engineering that is the Humber Bridge. But how many of them spare a thought for the settlements that line the south bank of this important expanse of water?

One such place is Barton upon Humber – a rural market town with a peaceful relaxing ambience and a wealth of heritage attractions.

It was the Humber’s principal port before the expansion of Hull across the water and it was also the biggest town in North Lincolnshire at the end of the eleventh century when William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book. In later years it became a centre for trade and industry, including ship-building, rope-making, brick and tile manufacturing, and later bicycle production.

Since the Humber Bridge opened in 1981 Barton has moved away from being an industrial town and moved closer to tourism making the most of its location on the south bank of the Humber to help improve its fortunes. Today the Humber estuary is a peaceful haven for wildlife with spectacular views and places to explore. It is of international importance for wintering birds and is protected by nature conservation designations. And Barton is a great place to investigate the natural world or delve into eras gone by.

Visitors can walk along the south bank of the Humber and discover the varied wildlife, industrial heritage and archaeology of this attractive landscape. Or they can picnic at the Humber Bridge viewing area while watching the world go by and enjoying the panoramic views across the water.

A visit to Barton’s Water’s Edge visitor centre located on the edge of the Humber estuary can reveal a lot about the area’s natural habitats. Set in an eighty-six-acre country park, which has two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Water’s Edge is home to rare birds, plants and animals as well as a network of footpaths through the meadow and woodland and across the reed beds and ponds. It is also home to the first wildlife surveillance network in the country, where high quality cameras have been installed across the site and live images give an insight into the animals and birds that live in the park.

Then there is the Far Ings Nature Reserve which developed naturally from abandoned clay pits that filled with water and were colonised by reed and willow, forming a haven for many wildflowers, insects and birds.
The varied habitats support more than 230 species of wildflower, fifty nesting bird species, and a wealth of invertebrates including more than 250 species of moths.

But Barton is not just a destination for nature enthusiasts. It is one of the most documented towns in the country and a trip into the town itself will reveal a wealth of interesting attractions with buildings of national significance and important examples of built heritage through the ages.

There are interesting shops which have been part of the street scene for decades, such as The Knitting Box in High Street which is a family-run business established thirty years ago, Elio’s restaurant in Market Place which opened in 1983 and local electrical goods retailer Euronics, otherwise known as Lindsey Relay, which has been trading in George Street for fifty years.

Barton Chamber of Trade and Industry does much to protect the character of the town’s commercial centre and the feeling around the town is optimistic. Chamber worker, Vicky Vickers said: “The Chamber has welcomed the news that Wren Kitchens is moving into Barton bringing 500 jobs. We are hoping it will have a spin-off effect and more shops will open up. Most businesses in the town are ticking over nicely and one or two new shops have opened up. There aren’t many empty units and we are hopeful for the future.”

One long-established business in the town which is close to Vicky’s heart is the family electronics business Lindsey Relay Co Ltd in George Street. It was set up fifty years ago by her husband Peter Vickers and is now run by their son Paul. Now known as Euronics, the business is about to enter a new phase in its history with a major refurbishment of the shop.

“It is closing down for a week to undergo a professional refit but it is good news for Barton. It’s a big commitment to the town from a long-established business and it is very pleasing not only from a Chamber point of view but a personal point of view too,” said Vicky.

The town’s rich heritage is evident everywhere you go in Barton and Barton Civic Society plaques adorn many of the important buildings around town.

The George Inn in George Street was the winner of the Civic Society’s annual award in 2012 for its restoration. One of the older coaching inns of Barton on the London to Hull route, it was originally called the George and Dragon. It was recorded as far back as 1695, and at one time belonged to the Nelthorpe family. It has been used as a commercial and excise office, and a posting house, as well as a venue for local government. 

Barton Corn Exchange is another of the town’s historic buildings. Located in the Market Place, it was built in 1853. There was a butter market on the ground floor which originally had cast iron grilles in its three arched openings. The building still retains some fine details, pilasters with elaborately carved Corinthian capitals and much decorative ‘rusticated’ yellow brickwork.

Local organisations now based at the club include Barton Lions, the Twinning Association, the Town Band, the Chamber of Trade, the Allotment Association, the chess club and the town’s junior football club.

Barton is also unique in the region in that it can boast two magnificent churches within a stone’s throw of each other in one parish. St Peter’s Church in Beck Hill is home to more than 2,800 burials dating from Anglo-Saxon to Victorian times and is one of the most thoroughly studied churches in England. It is both an archaeological and architectural treasure trove and its history can be traced back more than 1,000 years in the building and in the excavated finds displayed inside.

Dating from the twelfth century St Mary’s is one of North Lincolnshire’s most spectacular ecclesiastical buildings with its attractive bell tower, highly ornate west door and tracery pattern on the east window. Sadly, modern Barton could not sustain two large churches and St Peter’s became redundant in 1972.

Even the old vicarage next door to St Peter’s has its own place in Barton’s history. It is where Chad Varah, founder of the Samaritans, was born in 1911 and it was also the birth place of British archaeologist David George Hogarth in 1862.

He is perhaps best known for his association with T E Lawrence who went on to become Lawrence of Arabia but he was also keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford until his death in 1927.

Other famous people with ties to Barton include Sir Isaac Pitman, inventor of Pitman’s shorthand. He once lived in Laurel House in Whitecross Street and was the first master of the free Charity School in Queen Street.

Laurel House, which is now a private residence, was built in 1780 for local surgeon William Benton. The free charity school was built in 1831 and was once in the grounds of the mansion of the Long family. The site is now home to two private dwellings.

BARTON ATTRACTIONS
There are many other attractions in Barton which help to bring visitors to the area from far and wide.The Wilderspin National School in Queen Street is described by English Heritage as one of the most important schools in England.

It is the only place in the world where there is a surviving school building and playground designed by educational pioneer Samuel Wilderspin, making it a place of national and international importance. Here his gas-lit infant schoolroom is recreated together with classrooms and playgrounds of times gone by and you can learn how Wilderspin shaped the modern education system through play, or step back in time and visit the Victorian schoolroom. It was erected in 1844 and opened a year later. Wilderspin was the first superintendent of the Infant school.

The Old Tile Yard is a new visitor attraction which only opened this summer. William Blyth was established in 1840 and is the only handmade clay roofing tile company in the area that still manufactures using traditional methods. This new visitor centre gives visitors the chance to see artists demonstrating a range of traditional skills, including a blacksmith, master potters, textiles, glass and wood working in green oak. It is a restored, fully-operational tile works, one of the last tile factories of its kind in Europe. The site comprises of an Artisan village, potters’ workshop, visitor centre, reclamation and garden pottery shop.

Visit the Reclamation Yard where you can browse the many curiosities on sale, from clay plant pots to chimney pots, pan tiles, floor tiles, antique stone troughs and a variety of architectural and garden ornaments.

Situated in seventeen acres of stunning rural land on the banks of the River Humber, the location of the site with its fantastic views is the perfect setting for the traditional restaurant/tea room, which will provide breakfasts, snacks and hot meals throughout the day. Using locally sourced fresh produce and their home reared Hereford beef and Saddleback cross pork, the head chef will be able to tempt the most discerning palate.

There are also plenty of ways to indulge your creativity in the Barton area, whether you want to get hands-on or just take inspiration from fantastic artists and performers.

With the work of more than 200 artists and makers stretched across four galleries, The Ropewalk in Maltkiln Road – a Grade II listed building – is a quarter-of-a-mile long cultural haven. The centre hosts national and regional exhibitions that are sure to inspire and a visit to the sculpture garden is a must!

Also housed in the former rope factory is Ropery Hall – an intimate venue that is well loved by performers and audiences alike. Some of the country’s top comedians, singers and dramatists make Ropery Hall a regular stop-off on their tours, including Mercury award nominees, Edinburgh Fringe favourites and familiar faces from the television circuit.

WREN KITCHENS
For twenty years, Barton-upon-Humber was home to a 750,000 square foot site for international company Kimberly-Clark and the town was rocked by news that it was ceasing production earlier this year, with the loss of 200 jobs.

Now Bartonians can smile again following news that the site, off Falklands Way, is going to be brought back into use, having been taken over by the UK’s fastest growing kitchen and bedroom retailer, Wren Kitchens and Bedrooms.

As part of the largest single investment the company has made into the region, Wren will be transforming the 180-acre site into a new head office, complete with a new centralised customer service department plus warehousing, logistics and manufacturing facilities.The investment will provide a huge boost for the local economy and will create 500 new jobs over the next five years. The first 100 vacancies are expected to be filled within six months.

Wren Kitchens and Bedrooms currently employs 1,200 people in the UK, 650 of whom are in the Humber region. Along with the company’s existing plants in Scunthorpe and Howden, the Barton site will help meet the rapidly increasing customer demand Wren continues to enjoy.

Wren currently has thirty-eight stores across the country and has plans to introduce an additional sixty over the next three years.

CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL
Business owners and retailers in Barton are busy gearing up for the festive season with the town’s Christmas festival just weeks away.

Traditionally held on the last Saturday in November, Bartonians will be out in force to make sure their Season of Goodwill celebration goes with a bang.

Father Christmas, pulled by real reindeer, will be in charge of the town’s colourful procession as it marches through the streets which will be lined with delightful, traditional festive stalls, children’s entertainments and special Christmas catering.

Barton Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokeswoman Vicky Vickers said: “The town’s Christmas festival is on 30th November, with Father Christmas in his sleigh, a Christmas Market, carol singing and the lights switch-on. The Chamber is also running its traditional window competition during that week.”

On Burgate Corner, there will be a stage to provide entertainment for old and young alike, from 1pm to 8pm, including Rushby Dance and Fitness, Duck Egg Theatre, 59 Violets, Missing Time, Castledyke School Choir and female singer Chrissy.

A distinctive feature of the festival is the dramatic lantern parade through the town, ending with the singing of carols to the Salvation Army Band and the switching-on of the Christmas lights throughout the town and on the majestic Christmas tree.

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