Walk 73: Horncastle Town Walk: Present & the Past in our home town

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Roughly 2 miles (3.22km)

Time to walk: We only touch on the centre of the town so it’ll take roughly 1 hour, but could be extended, if you feel the desire

Difficulty: Flat & mainly on hard surface paths

Parking: Either the Bain or Tesco car parks near the start of the walk or on street in the town

Public toilets: St Lawrence Street

Map of the route: None, but there is a town map in the pagoda at the start of the walk. We’ve taken the publication by ‘Lincolnshire Walks’ as the route of our walk, but have substantially added to the content & historical information

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Horncastle is our home town, so we thought that on a quick visit it might be fun to take a closer look at how the place has changed over the years & revisit a few of the sites we remember from years gone by. We’ve included quite a few old comparison photos. We left the town in 1979 & eventually ended up in ‘The Shire’

What can we tell you about Horncastle?

Horncastle is a small market town in Lincolnshire lying at the south west foot of The Wolds & the edge of The Fens, some 19 miles east of Lincoln. Situated between the rivers Bain & Waring, it was recognised as a strategic place by the Romans who named it Banovallum (“Wall on the River Bain”), a name adopted by the town’s secondary modern school. The Roman walls remain in places & we’ll see a couple of pieces on this walk. The Saxons called the town Hyrnecastre which means ‘fortress or camp in the corner’ from whence its modern name was derived

In the autumn of 1643 Horncastle became involved in the Civil War when the Roundheads & Cavaliers met at Winceby between Horncastle & Spilsby

Horncastle was granted its market charter by the Crown in the 13th century. It 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 in 1948, when horses were generally no longer used for agriculture.

In recent years the town has become known as a centre for the antiques trade

So come with us &…Let’s Walk!

1. Park in either the Bain or Tesco car parks besides the river. Our walk starts at one of the town’s most popular places for small kids, where there are always plenty of ducks waiting to take your bags of food (no bread please!)

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This was a popular fishing area as a youngster & it’s sad today to see much of the two rivers & the canal are overgrown. Horncastle, because of its position is susceptible to flooding & overgrown rivers don’t help!

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There’s an information pagoda nearby…

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2. Walk up stream. The River Bain is a tributary of the River Witham & rises in the Lincolnshire Wolds at Ledford, a village on The Viking Way long-distance footpath. It flows through or past the villages of Burgh on Bain, Biscathorpe, Donington on Bain, Goulceby with Asterby & Hemingby before reaching Horncastle where it’s joined by the River Waring.  After leaving Horncastle, the Bain flows through the villages of Kirkby on Bain, Coningsby & Tattershall, & joins the Witham at Dogdyke

Ahead’s what remains of Stevenson’s Watermill…

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When the canal & rivers were navigable, this was the North Basin. Look how different the width of the river was in those days – many a large roach was caught there too!

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The basin was also used by the Horncastle Baptists for baptisms in the early 19th century

3. Before reaching the Mill turn right up Dovecote Alley…

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…to arrive in North Street. There’s three interesting buildings here. Firstly The Angel Inn which is the only pub in the town to have false timber work. It was established around 1860 & only had three landlords over the next 80 years – James Fletcher, Edward Belum & George Parker

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After closing, it’s pleased to see that this property is once again in use as the Montebello Restaurant

4. Close by the large solid building is the old Court House, which was built in 1865

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This iconic Grade II listed building has been sold as we write up this walk in 2016 with the thinking being that it may be converted into apartments

5. Over the road’s the War Memorial Hospital, which was the town’s second dispensary…

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It was originally erected as a hospital, opening in 1924. Medical services ceased in 1998. After local consultation it was decided to retain the building as Horncastle War Memorial Centre, a community resource. In 2000, the Small Grants Scheme gave £250 towards a project to convert & refurbish the building as it changed from a hospital to a community centre

Our memory is of the windows of the bottom right room above where, in the 1960’s we ended up with a foot in plaster!

6. Turn right & walk down North Street back towards the centre of the town. On the left’s probably Horncastle’s best known hotel…The Admiral Rodney

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This is a former 17th century coaching inn & also scene of many a raucous Young Farmers dance. Next door’s Old Nick’s Tavern, formerly the New Inn

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Built in 1752 as a coaching house it’s now morphed into a new generation brew pub, the only one in town & one of only a very few in Lincolnshire. Old Nick’s Tavern has always prided itself on the quality of its live music

7. The area we’re now entering at the bottom of North Street’s known as the Bull Ring which was the terminus for passenger & Royal Mail coaches. Before the town’s relief road was built this junction was a real bottleneck with north to south traffic meeting east to west

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Little appears to have changed from the photograph below

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8. We’re going to walk up the High Street shortly, but there’s two well-known pubs on the left here. Firstly, our old haunt, The Bull Hotel

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Built in the 1560’s this is one of the oldest buildings in the town. The pub was always known for its excellent Bass beer & from reviews today it appears that the tradition of good beer continues

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9. Secondly, over the road’s the quaint King’s Head, also for obvious reasons, known as ‘The Thatch’

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This is another area of the town that’s susceptible to flooding as the picture below shows…

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10. Cross the road & walk up the High Street…

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The High Street’s changed much over the years, although Horncastle’s first Chinese Takeaway which arrived in the late 1970s still exists – imagine the reaction of a small market town in the wilds of rural Lincolnshire when “Keith” brought the Far East to town

The supermarket on the left is on the site of where the Victory Cinema once stood, occupying the Corn Exchange which was built in 1856

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Prior to that it was the site of the Three Maids Heads Inn which dated back prior to 1722. The cinema opened in 1922 & showed its first ‘talkie’ “General Crack” starring John Barrymore

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Much fun was had in the 1960’s watching the PG Tips Saturday Morning features & early Westerns. Unfortunately the Victory Cinema was closed on 28th March 1970 with Virginia McKenna in “Ring of Bright Water” being the last film shown. It was sadly demolished & a supermarket built on the site

11. Across the road, on the house of Sir Joseph Banks is the Town Clock which dates back to 1889

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Sir Joseph Banks was a British naturalist, botanist & patron of the natural sciences. He made his name on the 1766 natural history expedition to Newfoundland & Labrador. He took part in Captain James Cook‘s first great voyage (1768–1771), visiting Brazil, Tahiti &, after 6 months in New Zealand & Australia, returned to immediate fame. He held the position of President of the Royal Society for over 41 years & advised King George III on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. By sending botanists around the world to collect plants, he made Kew one of the world’s leading botanical gardens

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Banks advocated British settlement in New South Wales & colonisation of Australia, as well as the establishment of Botany Bay as a place for the reception of convicts. He is credited with introducing the eucalyptus, acacia, & the genus named after him, Banksia, to the Western world. Approximately 80 species of plants bear his name. He was the leading founder of the African Association & a member of the Society of Dilettanti which helped to establish the Royal Academy. The Joseph Banks Society has a small shop in the town which we’ll see shortly

The Town Clock always figured largely in the annual Skegness to Horncastle Walking Race. The race finished just by the clock so competitors could see their times

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12. The High Street opens up into the Market Place…

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The centre of the town, which in the past was the site of a busy twice weekly market. Sadly, whilst this still happens, it’s not a patch on past glories – maybe another victim of the supermarket

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13. In the middle is the Stanhope Memorial. Edward Stanhope MP was born in London in 1840, but became a respected benefactor to Horncastle & its people. So much so that, when he died in 1893, a memorial was erected in the Market Place, leaving residents with a permanent reminder of his generosity

Educated at Harrow School & Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied law, he was elected as the conservative Member of Parliament for Mid Lincolnshire during the late 19th century. This constituency was abolished in 1885 & Stanhope became MP for the new constituency of Horncastle

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In an act of generosity, Stanhope offered the Market Place, The Wong & the Pig Market their respective revenue in tolls to the Local Board of Health for the benefit of the people of Horncastle. At a public meeting in 1892 the people passed a resolution accepting the valuable gift that had been in private hands for nearly seven centuries

Today, the Stanhope Memorial, by E. H. Lingen Barker, still dominates the town market place, distinct with its three octagonal steps & moulded plinth. The memorial itself is fashioned from limestone ashlar, red sandstone, pink & grey streaked marble

14. Let’s have a look at some of the other buildings. To the left’s a building occupied by Nat West Bank

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The shops here are newer than the rest as they were rebuilt following the collapse of the buildings that occupied the site

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15. The large slightly round building is another of the town’s iconic ones – the Punch House with its Italian-style curved facade

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Dominating the market place, this 1860s pub replaced the previous Punch House on the same site. Recently refurbished it’s now known as the Oval

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This building has a lot to answer for in our life. As well as the pub, it also contained offices & the dreaded “Mr Leake the Dentist”. It was here that, as a youngster, we entered & woke up covered in blood with 6 less teeth – needless to say it had a profound effect on subsequent dental visits!!

16. We’ll look at the nearby church later, but for now turn round & look at the archway across the Market Place…

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This used to be the Queen’s Head Hotel which, early in the 19th century served as barracks for volunteer soldiers

17. We’re going to exit the Market Place up Bridge Street…

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Many of the buildings along here remain unchanged, but part of one on the right was demolished to make way for the wider road. The previous exit really was very narrow as can be seen in the picture below

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Looking at the above pictures also brings back memories of Archers Fish & Chip shop on the corner. Horncastle in our day had two competing ‘chippies’, Archers & The Mermaid in East Street. For us though Archers was the best as it did the best ‘scrumps’, our local term for batter bits (which were free!!). Unfortunately we don’t get those down South… We also have memories as a youngster of Bunt or Shirley giving a you a couple of chips on a wooden fork to eat whilst you waited

Archers sadly closed, but the family still run their Woodhall Spa chippy

Next door is another family business which has been going years, Perkins Newsagents

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18. Walk up Bridge Street passing the Joseph Banks Society shop & garden on the left. The garden contains plants that are associated with Banks

The large antiques shop on the right just before the bridge used to be one of the town’s noted bakeries run by the Townley family who were part of the Quaker movement. Before the shop look through the iron gates to see the old bakehouse where the bread was made on a daily basis

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19. Just past here the road crosses the River Bain again…

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Walk to the wall on the left & have a look under the eave of the bridge. This has always been a gathering place for many large chub & it was good to see they’re still there today. We used to stand in the water near the house on the right & “trot” bait down. Looking back it was a bit like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’, but there were also some decent sized trout here too – good for the table

Cross over the road – this is a lovely stretch of river & a past favourite with the school canoe club. The house in the picture is now ‘Tea at the Bridge’

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20. Keep on this side of the road – you can see nothing much has changed over the years, especially the large property on the left…

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This is A Hare & Sons a business that’s been running in the town for coming up 50 years. The Bridge Street premises were originally a wool & corn warehouse. The concrete post in front of the building was for tying up moored boats

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The shop is an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ & a must for any visitor to the town to easily browse away an hour. As well as an extensive selection of second hand furniture, it also has antiques & other collectables

21. Bridge Street ends & turns left to become West Street. The pub on the bend is the Fighting Cocks…

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The pub dates back to the mid 18th century & brewed its own beer. It also had a cock fighting pit in the back yard. Cock fighting became illegal in 1849 & was replaced by dog fighting. Many clubs used this pub &, in the horse fairs (which we’ll look at shortly), was favoured by the Irish traders

The photograph below shows the pub during the 1981 flood. The power of the water can be clearly seen

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22. We’ve always regarded West Street as a “classy” area of town with some really grand properties. It was originally known as Far Street

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The pub on the right’s the Crown Inn which in the 1970’s was often the scene of “lunchtime” frequency by the nearby Grammar School pupils

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23. The large house just past the Crown was once the home & asylum of physician Edward Harrison

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Harrison studied in London under John & William Hunter, & in Edinburgh where he received his doctorate in 1784. He practised in Horncastle for 30 years, founding the Horncastle Dispensary & the Lincolnshire Medical Benevolent Society. He was an advocate of medical reform, reporting on the lack of regulation of physicians, surgeons & apothecaries, & suggesting that regulation of education & licensing was needed. This plan was thwarted by opposition from the Royal College of Physicians. He also founded the first infirmary for spinal diseases in London in 1837 & was a member of the Royal Society

24. Almost next door on the same side is a building that was once Watsons Infant School…

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The school was founded under the will of Richard Watson & was also known as Watson’s Free Infant School or The English School. It was administered by the same Governors as Horncastle Grammar School. The school was enlarged in 1894 & closed on 6 August 1918. Walk down the passage to see the school house

Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School‘s a bit further on…

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A school is known to have existed in Horncastle as far back as 1327, but records of the present one effectively begin when Queen Elizabeth I granted the charter to establish a grammar school in Horncastle, on the petition of Edward Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln. The School received its seal on 25 June 1571 & the charter document remains in the possession of the present school governors

Originally, the school was built on a site adjoining the River Bain close to St Mary’s Parish Church, which we’ll see later

25. Over the road’s another well-known town property Clarence House, which has had many uses over the years & is now a care home

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Before crossing the road have a look at the monument on the island in the road…

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The stone structure is a tribute to Joseph Banks & appears to have divided opinion amongst the townsfolk, with one of the quotes being “it looks like a giant cabbage”

26. Cross straight over the road. This is the start of Horncastle’s bypass (Jubilee Way) which was built in the 1970s. Before the bypass was built, Horncastle was a real bottleneck

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The large house on the left was the Great Northern Hotel…

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27. This is the area of Horncastle’s once busy railway station…

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The Horncastle Railway was a seven mile long single track branch railway line that ran from Woodhall Junction (opened as Kirkstead) on the Lincolnshire Loop Line to Horncastle via one intermediate station, Woodhall Spa

Originally named the Horncastle & Kirkstead Railway, the company was renamed the Horncastle Railway on 10 July 1854. The line was the brainchild of three local businessmen who were concerned that the lack of a railway would inhibit the town’s development, & who negotiated with the Great Northern Railway that they would construct the line & the GNR would run it. After delays, the line opened on 17 August

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Despite local opposition the line closed to passengers on 13 September 1954, but remained open for freight until 6 April 1971

The line is now part of the Viking Way & Spa Trail footpaths

28. Follow the narrow footpath down past the houses to the river…

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This was one of the most disappointing moments of today’s walk. We remember the river being wide, weed-free & flowing

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The area’s known as the Stanch (or Staunch) & is the meeting point of the rivers Bain & Waring, which then both empty themselves into the Horncastle Canal

29. In its heyday this was a busy area & is still an important one in the flood control of the town – why then is it so weeded? Walk out onto the bridge…

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Look towards the waterfall. This is where the water levels in the rivers & canal were controlled from & boats coming up the canal had the choice of heading up one river or the other depending which basin they were heading to. The two photos below show how things have changed, but the waterfall’s still the same…

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30. Now turn & look down the sorry sight that’s now Horncastle Canal…

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The Horncastle Canal was a broad canal which ran 11 miles to the River Witham through twelve locks largely following the course of River Bain. The canal opened in 1802 & was abandoned for navigation in 1889. As a youngster this is how we remember it, weed-free & full of fish…

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31. Walk past Horncastle Swimming Pool & the other sluice gate – this too used to be clear & a great place for catching big perch

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32. Continue up Coronation Walk. The river we’re now following is the Waring. The Waring rises in the parish of Belchford & runs through Belchford village, passing between the villages of Fulletby, West Ashby & Low Toynton before arriving at Horncastle. After the Horncastle floods of the 1960s, the river channel was straightened & its banks built up through the town

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This is the main sports area of the town. The Swimming Pool, Indoor Bowls, Cricket Pitch, Tennis Club & Rugby Club can all be found here. The football club plays close by on The Wong

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33. Follow the river past the lime trees & cross the bridge & main road…

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St Mary’s Square is one of the most photographed areas of the town

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Before walking up to the church, stop & look to the right at the gate above the first cottage. On the top is a stone with the initials ‘WM 1877’. Although there’s no evidence that he actually lived in this cottage, it refers to William Marwood who was the Crown Executioner. We’ll have a bit more in-depth look at Marwood shortly

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34. Walk through the bollards into the churchyard. Ahead’s St Mary’s church…

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Before we look in more detail at the church, turn right along the narrow path with the buildings on the right…

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There are two cottages along here that both have blue plaques. Firstly No.2 Church Walk was the first Lincolnshire Dispensary & was operational between 1789 & 1866

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Next door is the site of Horncastle’s first Workhouse

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35. Retrace your steps back & alongside the church…

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St. Mary’s Church dates from the early 13th century. It’s thought that a Roman church once stood on the site which appears to have been succeeded by a Saxon Minister, although construction of the present building started c.1250. The building seems to have experienced two major works of restoration

It’s played several roles in our family over the years, as has the building we’re going to look at next

36. Exit the churchyard through the narrow entrance against the building on the left. Turn left down Manor House Street…

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There’s a blue plaque outside the Manor & it can’t be seen from the road. The Manor House, a Grade II listed Georgian town residence, was built during the 18th century. It was formerly the residence of the Bishop of Carlisle

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37. Across the road’s another building that played a part in our lives…

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This is the old Manor House School started by Joseph Banks & built with wood from his estate at Revesby Abbey. It was where we began school as a 5 year old!

Continue to the end of the street which is now barricaded off. The building used to be the old Health Centre, but we’ve come to see the section of Roman Wall against the old school building

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All of the remaining pieces of the wall are from the actual fort. In 1724 William Stukeley described the fort wall as being 3 to 4 yards high & 4 yards thick with square towers in each corner & gates in the middle of 3 sides. The picture below shows the area it covered…

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38. Walk back along Manor House Street, round the old Punch House & down Church Lane…

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Remember we mentioned William Marwood earlier? On the left’s a small building marked with a blue plaque

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William Marwood (1818-1883) was a hangman for the British government. He developed the technique of hanging known as the “long drop”. He was originally a cobbler & this was his shop. At the age of 54 he persuaded the governor of Lincoln Castle Gaol to allow him to conduct an execution. The efficient way in which he conducted the hanging of William Frederick Horry without a hitch on 1 April 1872 helped him in being appointed hangman by the Sheriffs of London & Middlesex in 1874 at a retainer of £20 a year plus £10 per execution

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Marwood developed the “long drop” technique of hanging, which ensured that the prisoners’ neck was broken instantly at the end of the drop, resulting in the prisoner dying of asphyxia while unconscious. This was considered more humane than the slow death by strangulation caused by the “short drop” method, which was particularly distressing to prison governors & staff who were required to witness executions at close quarters following the abolition of public executions by the Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868

In Marwood’s time there was a popular rhyme which went:

“If Pa killed Ma
Who’d kill Pa?
Marwood”

Marwood died in 1883 from pneumonia & jaundice & was buried at Trinity Church, Horncastle

39. As the road bends left at the river (we once had a crash on a butcher’s bike here & a leg of lamb ended up in the river), the building in the courtyard has had several uses over the years including being the original old Free Grammar School

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The building to the left of the entrance was the town’s first fire station

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40. This street was where the other basin from the canal was situated…

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As you can see from the photo below, in those days the river had no railings & the level was considerably closer to the banks which made it considerably more prone to flooding

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41. On the left’s Horncastle’s library which also contains a superb piece of the Roman wall…

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Keep walking until reaching the last building on the left, Bell’s Estate Agents. We’re not looking for a property though, we’re looking for the plaque on the wall showing the height the river rose during the flood of 7th October 1960 – unfortunately we can’t remember that as we were only aged 1 at the time!

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42. Horncastle, given its location, has always been prone to flooding notably in 1920 & 1960. On 7 October 1960 Horncastle entered the UK Weather Records with a ‘Highest 180 min total’ rainfall of 178 mm. There were also three floods between 1981 & 1984

Folklore belief associates the occurrence of floods with the installation of new vicars in Horncastle’s Anglican Church. The vicar changed in 1919 & 1959, both less than a year before a flood. The flooding of the early 1980s was attributed to the change of vicar in 1980, however, there was no flooding in Horncastle following the change of vicar in 1999. Both the Bain & Waring overflowed their banks during the 2007  floods. Flooding also occurred in 2012

This is the street we’re currently walking up…

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43. We’ve also mentioned Horncastle Horse Fair. Here’s a picture of it in the road we are now – again note the water level of the river…

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The Horncastle Great August Horse Fair originated during the 13th century. The fair from small beginnings rose to become the largest in the world by the 19th century, lasting up to three weeks each year. People came from all corners of the globe, America, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand. Most of the dealing was done in the local inn yards, particularly the Bull, Greyhound, Ship, Red Lion & Rodney

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There were also many buyers from the army as Horncastle provided remounts for the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, & also supplied both sides in the Franco-Prussian war. With the advent of 20th century mechanisation the fair started to decline until it shrank to a one-day auction held at the New Inn yard. It was last held after World War II in 1948

44. Before moving on, have a look at the roof of the building with the flood plaque. Can you see Tom Thumb’s House?

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Tom Thumb is a character of English folklore. The History of Tom Thumb was published in 1621 & was the first fairy tale printed in English. Tom is no bigger than his father’s thumb & his adventures include being swallowed by a cow, tangling with giants, & becoming a favourite of King Arthur. The earliest references to Tom occur in various 16th century works such as Reginald Scot’s Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), where Tom is cited as one of the supernatural folk employed by servant maids to frighten children

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Nearby Tattershall boasts to have the home & grave of Tom Thumb

45. Walk along the side of the Library up ‘Tinker’s Alley / Entry’…

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…to emerge once again opposite the Town Clock. Cross over the crossing into the Market Place once more

46. Keep to the right hand side now towards the exit that’s St Lawrence Street. On the corner’s the Post Office…

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It hasn’t always been here…

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Walk down St Lawrence Street to arrive back where we started &….yes the ducks are still hungry

So that’s a short stroll round the town where we grew up & much has changed since we left in 1979. There’s other areas of the town we didn’t get to visit today, such as the Town Hall, but we will try & pick these up on our next visit

So…if you’re in the area & have an hour or so to spare…

Go Walk!