The History of Horncastle



The history of Horncastle stretches back to the earliest times in our history. The valley in which the town now sits was formed during the last great ice age with a massive glazier cutting out what is now the Bain valley, in the process of doing this it deposited mainly clay and gravel along the length of the valley, this in more recent times as led to much excavation (open cast) with sand and gravel pits and brickworks coming and going. Within the gravels has been discovered many flint axe and arrowheads. Also flint tools have been discovered during excavations in the town market place, which goes to prove Stone Age man was around here during the earliest times. Also many skeletons of mammoths and other early mammals have been discovered in the sand and gravel pits.

The town is predominantly at the bottom of the valley where two rivers the Bain and the Waring meet. This it is believed was the attraction the Romans found when they arrived; building their fort in between the two converging rivers in A D 280 giving rise to a strong and easily defendable position.


The walls of the fort were 3.5 metres wide (12 feet), the height of them is unknown because of the stone been subsequently robbed in later years for building purposes, and the area it covered was 5 acres. The building of the walls was in typical Roman fashion with a cavity construction filled with a rubble core in the middle, and then tiled over with two rows of tiles before starting the process again. These stages/ lifts were about every two metres in height. The stone for constructing the fort was quarried from Holbeck near Tetford and was green sandstone. There as been no trace of any buildings found from the Roman period within the area of the fort

itself, which gives rise to the thought that the fort was just occupied during times of crisis. The main civilian centre was to the south of the fort covering what is now Boston Road and Mareham Road and

surrounding areas. A wealth of artefacts has been unearthed over the years in these areas ranging from pottery, coins, and broaches to lead coffins, but surprisingly a lack of military finds.

The artists impression opposite gives an idea of what the fort would have looked like in Roman times if you had been approaching the south eastern corner. (Where the present day library is)



It was the Romans whom we has a country in later years obtained our monetary names from during the period prior to decimalization in 1971 £ S D, (Libra, Solidaria, denarii’s) Pounds, shillings and pence, 240 pennies to the pound, 12 pennies to a shilling twenty shillings to a pound.

The Roman name for Horncastle was it is thought Banovallum, although there is an argument against this view from some quarters. The modern day name comes from the point where the two rivers meet it gives the impression of a pairs of horns and the castle comes from the fort in between them. The castle in the horn, Horncastle.

Anyhow nowadays there are considerable remains of the

Roman fort wall to be found on a visit around Horncastle, one notable section is to be found within the town library, another is around the edge of St Mary’s church just off the market place and also in several other locations. There is only one section where the original facing stone can be viewed and that is in the grounds of the old manor house, where excavated is the north West corner of the fort, but unfortunately it is in private hands, so prior permission must be seeked to view it.

The Saxons occupied the fort after the Romans vacated these shores and it is from this period that the first signs of the modern name of the town began to appear although spelt differently it was recognisable Hyrnecastre. By the 6th century there were well-established buildings of wood, daub and thatch around the market place, and the dead were buried outside the town walls. Once again many finds have been unearthed locally dating back to this period in the towns history, broaches, coins, coffins etc. Below is an impression of what Saxon Hyrnecastre looked like.


The Danes (Vikings) next came along and they in turn occupied the town and during their stay they made Hyrnecastre the administrative centre for local government and taxation of the Wapentake within the South Riding of the county of Lindsey. It also became the head of a Soke - an estate over which a lord exercised jurisdiction. The developing township acquired, a Danish out-settlement or shack suburb-Cagthorpe on the edge of the open field south of the River Waring on what was the former Romano-British village by this time though abandoned.

Around the time of the Norman Conquest William seized the manor of Horncastle, which had been held by Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, and the manor and Soke remained with the Crown until the reign of Henry 11. The town began to spread beyond the town walls around this time to the North, West and East.

There must have been a Saxon church in the town with Horncastle been a Royal manor, and with the dedication to St Mary as the mother church for the surrounding village churches. In 1229 the Bishop of Carlisle, Walter Mauclerc, bought the manor and became patron of the benifice. The priest was a rector. (The Bishops were lords of the manor until 1856)

It was in about 1260 that the old wooden Saxon church was built around with the more familiar sandstone we see today.

The rector of the church during the 1340s, Simon de Islip, rose to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

The town was granted its market status through King Johns Magna Carta, and still today as regular markets on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The Horncastle Great August Horse Fair originated during these early times in the 13th century. The fair from its humble 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 and New Zealand. Most of the dealing was done in the local inn yards, particularly the Bull, Greyhound, Ship, Red Lion and Rodney. There were also many buyers from the army whom attended: Horncastle provided remounts for the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War, and also supplied both sides in the Franco-Prussian war. With the advent of Twentieth century mechanisation the fair year by year started to decline until it shrank to a one-day auction held at the New Inn yard. It was last held after WW2 in 1948. Below is a view of the fair looking towards the Bullring around the 1860s.


Trouble brewed up in Horncastle during the autumn of 1536. The rebellion or Lincolnshire Rising as it became known started in Louth on Sunday 1 October and quickly spread to Horncastle, the reason for this was because Henry V111 had started to dissolve the Abbeys and local abbots feared for themselves and local people feared for the treasures in the local church. Several brutal murders took place including Thomas Wolsey one of Thomas Cromwells servants whom was involved in the disillusionment, he was hung in a mob lynching. The men marched from Horncastle to Lincoln been joined by others from Louth, Caistor and Market Rasen making up to 30,000 rebels in all. The King rejected all the demands of the rebels. Within a fortnight it was all over and six of the Horncastle ringleaders along with the abbot and three monks from Kirkstead Abbey were executed. Ancient Scythes, which are on one of the walls of St Mary’s church, are believed to originate from the Rising.

During the English Civil War a famous battle occurred just outside Horncastle in a hollow just North of Winceby. 1,850 Roundheads routed a Royalist force of 8,700 infantry and cavalry. During the battle Oliver Cromwell had his horse slayed from beneath him, dismounted temporarily by this, Sir Ingram Hopkins tried to sieze the opportunity and attempted to take him prisoner but was himself killed instead. The day after the battle Oliver Cromwell arranged with Horncastles churchwarden John Hammerton for Sir Ingram Hopkin to be buried with honours, and his hatchment is in the church. Hopton Street and Ingram Row were later named after him. Cromwell himself stopped in Horncastle at this time and there is an house in West Street called Cromwell house although the house he actually stopped at was next door to this one but as since been demolished.

A canal system linking Horncastle with the River Witham was began in 1786 and completed in 1802 after many problems had been over come, mainly lack of finances. The main labour for the digging of the canals were Irish Navvies, it must have been back breaking work during those days. At night the navvies used to sleep of Foundry Street in two rows of houses built for them, they were named Paradise Place and Paradise way, to them it certainly must have seemed like paradise after a hard days digging.

The demise of the canal system happened pretty quickly with the building of the railway to the town in 1854-55. The first train arrived in Horncastle on Tuesday 7 August 1855, all the shops and schools closed and the streets were decorated to welcome the new arrival. The track ran from Horncastle through Woodhall Spa to its joining with the main Boston-Lincoln line at Kirkstead. Passenger trains continued to run until the service was removed in 1954, but freight trains continued for a few more years until the line completely closed in 1971. The picture shown here is the railway station as it appeared in 1855. Nowadays the course that the track followed to Woodhall Spa as become part of the Viking Way footpath.

Sadly in recent years the station as been demolished so the younger generation will never have an opportunity to witness the splendid building that it once was.

The town is nowadays getting well known locally and nationally for its many antique shops recently picking up a national award beating off many larger well known places. There is upwards of fifty different dealers in the town and so it offers a vast range of differing antiques. This business seems to be expanding all the time and dealers from all over the world arrive here. The American market is certainly very lucrative.

Some other famous names associated with Horncastle are Lord Alfred Tennyson the poet laureate, whom wrote many famous poems including the brook. He married a young lady from Horncastle whom was the daughter of a local vicar, living in the local vicarage that once stood where the present day Woolworth store now stands. Lord Tennyson himself was born just up the road at a little place called Somersby.

Sir Joseph Banks had a town house in Horncastle, which still stands to this day and is now a shoe shop, Lloyds Bank and a butchers shop. Sir Joseph was born on the 13th of February 1743 and became famous for his journeys of exploration with Captain Cook to Australia and New Zealand. He died on the 19th of June 1820.

William Marwood was born at Goulceby in 1818, the fifth of ten children, he followed his father’s trade of boot and shoemaker, setting up in Horncastle about 1855. Following the death of his first wife, he married Ellen and they lived in Foundry Street. William Marwood had a shop in Church Lane where he exhibited the tools of his trade at fair times. His first engagement as executioner was at Lincoln in 1871 and he became public executioner for eleven years from 1872, during which time he despatched over three hundred and fifty men and women.

Marwood devised the ‘long drop’, through a split trap door, where the body weight and length of rope would dislocate the vertebrae and cause instant death, rather than choking. One of the alleyways off Wharf Road was the place he practised for his grisly trade. A deeply religious man, a Methodist, he believed in his humane method. His fee was £20 a day, travelling to prisons all over the country. William Marwood’s last hanging was two weeks before his death, in London. He died on 4th September 1883 and is buried in Holy Trinity churchyard.

During the latter part of the 19th century Horncastle had in the region of 52 Public Houses, Hotels, Inns and Alehouses, which roughly equated to one establishment per every 100 of the population. The alehouses just tended to open for the annual Horse Fair. Nowadays there are just 10 of these buildings left, but with the population been still at about the same level of 5000 there is still plenty of choice for the locals and visitors alike.

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The drawing were the work of a well known local artist Mr David Vale.