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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox
Featured in the March 2020 issue

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If you have ever wondered what a quintessentially English market town looks like, then a trip to Horncastle at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds is exactly what you need, says Melanie Burton.

Long recognised as the antiques centre of Lincolnshire, the town is still brimming with a vast selection of shops, both antique and artisan, and is also steeped in history with a heritage dating back to the Romans.

Roman Horncastle has become known as Banovallum (i.e. Wall on the River Bain) – a name which has been adopted by several local businesses and by the town’s secondary modern school.

And one section of its Roman wall still exists and is on display in the town’s library, which was built over the top of the wall.

Horncastle was granted its market charter by the Crown in the 13th century and was long known for its great August horse fair, an internationally famous annual trading event which continued to be held until the mid-20th century. It ended after the Second World War, when horses were generally no longer used for agriculture.

Like many small market towns and high streets across the country though, Horncastle has suffered from online retail competition which has impacted on commercial property values, and enquiries on property on the market.

However, reports from the town’s estate agents, Robert Bell & Co, a business that has been part of the fabric of Horncastle since 1872, is that all is not doom and gloom.

“Towards the end of last year and into 2020, we have sold town centre property to investor buyers and enquiries on the available retail space within them are numerous and lettings are being secured,” said Alistair Boulton, residential sales manager with Robert Bell & Co.

“There is a general feeling of more positivity and people and businesses wanting to pursue ideas. There is also a strong group of businesses in the town that have met recently, with a consensus to try and revitalise the town centre and capitalise on the attractive Georgian town centre we have and very much show that Horncastle is open for business.”

Horncastle remains a delightful spot to visit with its independent, long-established family businesses and attractions such as the Sir Joseph Banks Centre, but it is also still a popular place to live.

Alistair reports that residential property values have been steadily rising over the past few years though they dipped slightly in 2019 as home movers sat tight whilst the outcome of Brexit was so uncertain.

“But following the election result at the end of last year we have seen a significant increase in buyer activity and we experienced our busiest start to the year for a number of years, with increased buyer enquiries, viewing applications, offers and sales agreed,” he said.

Average residential rental prices have also increased over the course of the last 12 months, seemingly as a result of increased Government legislation within the sector in areas such as minimum energy performance standards and the recent tenant fee ban.

East Lindsey District Council is also playing its part in maximising the potential of the district’s market towns including Horncastle.

It recently held a ‘Vital and Viable’ meeting in Horncastle in partnership with the Institute of Place Management (IPM), which saw businesses, residents and community groups come together and discuss what needs to be done to protect and promote what makes the town special. By working with the IPM the District Council is working to ensure that the town remains a thriving centre which is an attractive place to live, work and visit.

The community of Horncastle was keen to take immediate action on the recommendations within the Vital and Viable report. Spearheaded by three passionate business owners – Rob Myers from Myers Bakery, Cafe and Deli; Kate Donald from Magpie Boutique and Kay Burge from Horncastle Recruitment – a Trade Association was formed.

Kay Burge said: “The Vital and Viable workshop has been a great call to action. I was overwhelmed by the number of businesses who wanted to be part of our Trade Association.”

Plans are already progressing on the creation of a new education facility and wider public sector hub on the former Mareham Road college site in Horncastle. Alongside the proposed new education facility, the site will be home to wider office facilities to accommodate a number of public sector partners, including East Lindsey District Council. The district council has agreed to allocate £6.23m to the project and is also seeking funding of £1.52m from the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership towards the total project costs of £8.25m.

Councillor Craig Leyland, Leader of East Lindsey District Council, said: “The new education facility will provide substantial benefits to the district; helping to equip our residents with valuable skills and ultimately providing a boost to the economy of the area.”

Family company at the heart of the high street
Myers is a family name that has been connected with Horncastle for decades and is very much part of the fabric of the town. Since 1981 it has extended its premises a number of times to meet demand for its products and now boasts a café tea room, a bakery and a deli and cheese shop.

Its Café Tearoom, which opened in 2001, has seen quite a few changes recently – the biggest being a change in its coffee supplier.

“We have now moved to using a local business from Lincoln called Seven Districts,” explained Marie Myers.

“We first met them at the Lincolnshire Show last year and were very interested in what they did as they are a Lincolnshire based family run business like ourselves. Their coffee is ethically sourced, speciality coffee that is all roasted in Lincoln.”

It has also recently introduced some delicious homemade specials in the café which have been proving very popular.

“Examples include winter warmers such as cottage pie and hot pot, to lasagne, with our freshly baked garlic bread, and our sausage pie.”

In January it launched its very first ‘Afternoon Tea’. Marie said: “We introduced this new addition to our menu as an introductory offer to encourage people to come in and try it and the response was fantastic. This year we will also look at doing some variations on this afternoon tea for special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Easter etc.”

The Café Tearoom is located next door to Myers Bakery which was established in 1969 when an opportunity arose to purchase a shop and bakery at 20 The Bull Ring.

“We are currently looking at increasing our range of wholesale products and are just about to launch a new and exciting range of handmade loaf cakes which will be available to buy from our all our plum loaf stockists,” Marie said.

The deli and cheese shop, situated the other side of the bakery, followed in 2009.

“In the deli we are seeing an increase in demand for local products so our range of Lincolnshire food and drink is gradually expanding to reflect this,” Marie explained.

“Another area we are keen to promote are the hampers. We sell a lot of these at Christmas time but we are keen to stress that they also make a great gift for all occasions throughout the year, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or simply as a thank you or dinner party gift.”

It was back in 1901 when Charles Myers left his native county of Derbyshire and moved to the small market town of Alford where he purchased a distinctive, local six-sailed windmill and store. During this same year he made his very first batch of Lincolnshire plum loaves which proved very popular with the local people.

Together with his two sons, Reg and Lewis, they milled flour and baked bread in what became known as ‘Myers Mill’. 

In 1932 Lewis Myers and his family left Alford and went on to open a general store and bakery in Southrey, Lincolnshire. A few years later Lewis and his wife Kathleen moved to the village of Mareham le Fen where they bought the local village shop and later the mill.

Lewis continued to run the business until he was joined by his son Derek.

Derek studied the craft at Grimsby College, where he excelled. In 1969 when the Bull Ring property came available he, along with his wife June, realised it was an opportunity not to be missed if the business was to grow.

Both bakeries ran side by side for nearly ten years until it was decided to focus on the Horncastle shop.

Artisan craftsmanship with contemporary design
There has never been a better time to commission a specialist piece of metalwork for your home or garden. The expert team of fabricators and blacksmiths at J D Wilderspin Engineering based at West Ashby have more than 30 years’ experience of discussing, sketching and fabricating bespoke pieces which will be unique to you.  Choice of finishes available.

Owner, James Wilderspin explains: “We provide a range of services as steel fabricators including on-site welding, steel supplies and fulfilment to the construction industry as well as general and agricultural engineering. We are also designers and manufacturers of ‘Rustic Ironworks’, contemporary sculptures and garden features.

“This is metalwork at its most creative and we love to work with clients to make their vision become a reality. We can bring alternative ideas to these pieces which make wonderful gifts and can be designed to mark a special occasion or redesign of a home or garden.”

James and his team pride themselves on using their artisan skills to produce designs which reflect contemporary styles, tastes and lifestyles. Their range of products include gates, ornamental railings, fire baskets, grates, signs, balconies and balustrades.

Phillips Animal Health Ltd – Local Specialists in Animal Health and Equipment
Phillips Animal Health is a family business established in 1973 to supply animal health products to the region’s pig producers and evolving to offer a wide range of products to agriculture and industry.  Today it has three main areas: Animal Health, Equipment and Pressure Washers.

Founder, Geoff Phillips looks back at those early days saying: “When we started the business with just my van and a garage back in the 70s, I had always hoped it would grow into a business providing a wider range of products and great service to local farmers.”

Today, quality and service remain key. Thankfully, the business has progressed from one van and you can now visit the Horncastle site on the Boston Road Industrial Estate. Here you’ll find a wide range of products including: veterinary medicines, nutritional products, animal feeds, livestock handling equipment, fencing, workwear, vermin control and much more.

You can call in to the country store to talk to the team or visit www.pahltd.co.uk to find out more.

Joseph Banks 200th anniversary year
Sir Joseph Banks is one of Lincolnshire’s most famous sons and he was one of the most influential men in Georgian England. Born in 1743, he was raised at Revesby Abbey, not far from Horncastle. His interest in nature and exploration would lead to his voyage on the infamous ship, the Endeavour, to assist Captain Cook on his travels to the South Seas and Australia.

He was also responsible for the establishment of Kew Gardens and during his 43 years as President of the Royal Society his influence was felt in every discipline of Natural Philosophy. In Lincolnshire he took a great interest in agriculture and took an active role in the Lincolnshire Medical Benevolent Society, and the Horncastle Dispensary. Sir Joseph held high offices in the county, including High Sheriff in 1794.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his death. The Sir Jospeh Banks Society, which aims to stimulate interest in his life and achievements, has been in contact with a number of organisations to organise a series of special events.

Local events will include a one-day seminar in Lincoln Cathedral on 20th June and a concert by Boston Sinfonia in St Mary’s Church, Horncastle in July featuring the work of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The flagship event takes place on 12th November 2020 and is a reception in the House of Lords hosted by the society’s patron Lord William Waldegrave.

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