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Bourne, Lincolnshire - a historic and personal insight into its decline as a market town.

When a market town declines and evolves into another era of development it changes the character and the nature of people that occupy it. That evolution can take many years. Change is change, good and bad. This gives a little insight into the changes that saw Bourne thrive and decline as a market town as it evolved into a dormitory town with little market, fewer shops and fewer services.


Head towards Bourne in Lincolnshire from The Wash and you will start to see the first hills for many miles that rise up just behind it. Bourne sits on the very edge of the Fens. Beyond Bourne the land rises into the villages of Edenham and Lound and various old estates of which the Grimesthorpe Estate is the closest.

Map of Bourne 1899 showing it as a crossroads of roads and rail north south and east west
Map of Bourne 1899


I have many memories of Bourne from a very early age (I was born in 1967) as my mother’s family originated from this town. In that time I have seen it alter greatly. It used to have a thriving street market packed with stalls that restricted traffic once a week. The town was a significant cross-roads with the A15 traffic running north to Sleaford and beyond that Lincoln and Newark and further south through Langtoft towards Market Deeping which was the junction between Spalding and Peterborough. Travelling west from Bourne was the road through Grimesthorpe to Colsterworth where it met the Great North Road, nowadays the A1 or beyond that travel west towards Melton Mowbray and access to the Midlands. It is an ancient town and its natural crossing point saw a significant Roman road built, now referred to as King Street that linked to the famous Ermine Street that ran from London to York. Also developed by the Romans was a canal called the Car Dyke – although its use as a canal is subject to discussion and dispute as navigation in parts would be problematic. It is possible that it was created to supply water to a route to enable navigation to The Wash. Laterly the rivers Glen and Westlode enabled such navigation to the Wash via Spalding.


Bourne was an area rich in resources with rich Fenland around it and what was Kesteven Forest up to the edge of the town, and stone readily available from nearby Barnack. It also benefitted from a natural spring.


Natural resources convert into economic and commercial resources which combined with location made Bourne a significant and important town that has enjoyed great prosperity and wealth.


As a child I would visit relations in Bourne along with my grandparents who lived at the bottom of Twenty Drove on the way to Bourne. My Auntie Lizzie and Uncle Bill (my great aunt and uncle) lived in Hereward Street Bourne, a street that backed on to the cattle and livestock market that remained in the town up until its closure in 1981. I remember going past Raymond Mays garage and seeing B.R.M. racing cars. Nearby were the distinctive Delaine buses, one of the oldest bus companies in the country with its origins going back to horse-drawn vehicles in the 1890’s. My grandfather eventually retired to almshouses adjacent to Warners printing works, a leading national printer that has printed many magazines and books since 1926. In the town is Wherry’s a pulse and seed merchant that goes back seven generations to 1806 and is still trading today. The historical wealth that in the past had seen a significant castle and abbey translated over time to form a town that, in my opinion, punched way above its weight in contributing to the local and national economy and development. As well as being a very busy town it was also clearly wealthier than other towns around the Fens with historically better quality streets, housing and schooling, and healthier inhabitants, than many towns and villages eastward towards the Wash experienced. This comparative wealth possibly meant it could slow down some of the changes that effected other towns, such as the loss of markets, the development of supermarkets, bypassing of the town, and increased housing. In Bourne all these happened a few years after the rest of Fenland Lincolnshire and beyond. Even today, in 2022, the town is not fully bypassed with the road north towards Lincoln requiring you to drive through the town.


The town’s links with agriculture have been strong as illustrated by the longevity of Wherry’s but also more recent businesses. Lincolnshire Herbs based on the edge of the town at the time of writing is one of the largest growers of herbs in the UK using hydroponics. Similarly you see Martin Lishman developing unique and innovative electronic products to support agriculture throughout the UK and abroad. However, whilst retaining some economic activity, the town has gone through a process of change that has seen the town centre suffer greatly, even before covid struck. It is by some viewed as an increasingly gentrified town. I am unsure whether this criticism is true. But, housing in Bourne has become more expensive than either the nearby city of Peterborough or the town of Spalding with it enjoying comparisons with Stamford as a desirable place for the better-off to live. This has overspilled into the surrounding villages. The 1867 Employment Commission identified that the availability of affordable housing is key to supplying labour. Thus for many, Bourne is a happy retirement town and for others it is a dormitory from which they commute for work, or enjoy a nice area as they work in their home offices.


In common with other market towns in England the nineteenth century saw massive increase in its growth; growth in population, growth in area and economic growth. In 1801 the population of Bourne was 1664. By 1871 the population of Bourne had doubled to 3850.[i] By the end of the century it was about 7500. These figures may seem low compared to the current population in 2021 reported to be nearly 18000, but there are two significant differences: The economic activity was much greater with employment of children, women and he elderly meaning the level of employment activity being around 80% of the population, compared to it being closer to 40% today; nearly all of that personal economic activity was within the immediate area of Bourne, compared to most of it being outside of the immediate area of Bourne today.


By the early 1870’s Bourne was at a peak of activity which was matched by high employment activity nationally at that time. It had much improved transportation routes with the Railway going east west as well as north south as the Sleaford branch line opened in 1872. This was both quicker and more versatile than the old canals. It was still well served by carriers carts. The sources of energy that in the past had been supplied by water power were massively increased by steam and coal gas (the gas works opening in the 1840’s). Drainage was much improved as was a clean water supply with the water works opening in 1856. Trade meant that the town warranted certain professionals such as a local excise office, auctioneers, Inland Revenue office, insurance agent, a date collector (a person who recovers overdue payments), an actuary, carriers and livery stables, as well as the solicitors and accountants we would be familiar with today. The needs of agriculture and farming saw a good number of trades and merchants flourish to fulfil the needs of local supply lines such as a brick and tile merchant, a flour dealer, a joiner, a furniture dealer, a game dealer, various merchants of coal, corn salt and oilcake, a hay merchant, hop dealer, cattle dealer, butchers, a fell-monger (to deal with and process dead animals), a tallow-chandler (selling rendered fat). There would also be local manufacturers necessary for the local needs such as a rope maker, a harness maker, a cooper (barrel maker), basket maker, sack manufacturer, carriage builder. Some trades and professions would be familiar today such as hairdresser, veterinary surgeon, painter, brick-layer. Others would be rare to find today such as a watch and clock maker, a boot and shoe maker, a basket maker, a tinner (making and repairing tin), brazier (making and repairing brass) and a blacksmith. One of the unusual businesses to be found was a “Berlin Wool Repository – this was a type of business that existed mostly between 1804 and 1875 and supplied durable, long-lasting and fine dyed embroidery that would be used to upholster furniture.


In the fen counties it is not unusual to find land -owned farms handed down over several generations. In the case of farming it is often possible for the inherited asset base of a farm to survive a generation of poor management or a period of bad fortune especially in periods where the underlying land is seen to appreciate in value. It is substantially harder for non-farming businesses to remain in the same hands, even if they are consistently successful and well run with fortune on their side. This is because if it is successful it will develop a customer base or a brand that will make it attractive to be bought out, usually by a larger company. In such a way we see Colman’s Mustard owned by the multinational Unilever corporation. Equally, if a non-farming business fails or goes through a period of misfortune it will need investment of cash to continue, without which it will either fail or be taken over, possibly at a bargain price to have its physical and intellectual property stripped. This makes the longevity of Wherry & Sons of Bourne specialising in pulses and seed for human consumption from its origins in 1806 a rather special achievement. That this has been achieved by good business and an ability to exploit a niche and then to adapt with the times and the markets is illustrated by the following account from 1970:


In 1970 Wherry’s took over the old disused GNEER railway station as a pea-picking factory and the speech given by Edward Wherry at the time illustrates the changing nature of employment and the processes. “Pea picking had started in the family business in the winter of 1878. He understood the winter had been a particularly hard one causing considerable hardship in the town. There were no unemployment benefits in those days, he said, and the grandfather of the present three senior directors conceived the idea of getting people to pick the dried peas in their homes.

Peas were taken to them in sacks Mr Wherry said, and picked on the kitchen table and then went out to the industrial areas and sold in grocers shops.

From that time pea picking had developed enormously in the firm and he was proud to say the name of Wherry was known throughout the grocery world and was synonymous with quality. Pea picking in the home was discontinued in 1902 when a factory was built in Church Lane, Bourne where women picked them around a table and were checked by a fore-woman.

But, Mr Wherry said, the next improvement did not come until the last war when a needle machine was introduced which removed the worm-eaten peas mechanically. This still left the discoloured peas to be taken out by hand, and although a colour sorter was procured in 1962 it was not a great success and they had to wait until 1964 for an electronic colour sorter to be developed for the job.”

The new factory, opened in 1970, contained the most up to date machinery of the time for cleaning, grading and selection of peas and could be operated by a staff of two![iii]


Mays Chemical Manure Company incorporated in 1920, but its origins were about 30 years previous when the family business disposed of and rendered carcasses and started to manufacture bone meal as a fertilizer. With the Agricultural depression and the following First World War the focus on promoting agriculture and better growing methods by the government saw a particular focus on agronomy and fertilisers. It was a good time to develop new fertilisers and market them with the Mays Chemical Manure supplying throughout eastern England and into the Midlands to a growing customer base of both small and large farmers. The Root Show at Bourne became an annual event from the 1920’s on with the following account being an example:



Advert for Mays Manures Root Show to be held in Bourne in 1930
Advert for Mays Manures Root Show


“ANNUAL ROOT SHOW AT BOURNE

The annual root show organised by Mays Chemical Manure Co, took place on Thursday, in Mr. Elwes’ yard, where there were splendid exhibits, although the number was somewhat disappointing. The judges were Mr. W. Amos of Wisbech and Mr. F. Richardson of Bourne Fen, for potatoes; Messrs E.D. Cooke and C.C. Andrews for mangolds and Mr. Hinde of Derby for barley.

This was followed by a dinner and prize giving where Mr Joyce submitted the toast of Messrs. Mays Chemical Manure Co, and in responding Mr. Wherry commented on the various schemes proposed by Governments for the benefit of Agriculture, but expressed the hope that the incoming Government would allow the farms to work out their own salvation which the Chairman of the National Farmers Union said was what was wanted. He advised young men to stabilise their position, improve their cultivation by use of the Firm’s manures, and make some provision for a rainy day.”


Mays Manures continued for many years, but the nature of agronomy is that to maintain products you need considerable research and development into new products and this increasingly requires more expertise and science than they could procure, although they had a strong customer base and were a god viable business they were at a cross roads of either reinvesting or cashing in the business. In 1964 Mays was taken over by ACC (Fertilisers) Ltd. Over time manufacturing ceased and further take overs saw Albright & Wilson have a fertiliser distribution hub in Bourne which was in turn part of a multi-national U.S. company. In this way we see the business take a much different route to that of Wherrys.


Of particular note in Bourne are Warners Printers started in 1926 by Lorenzo Warner, known as “Lorry” locally grew as a family business and became dominant in the printing of brochures, catalogues and magazines printing for many household names. The business both grew and evolved with the times becoming Warners Midlands PLC. It reinvested well in itself, its plant and machinery adopting digital and environmental methods to remain both competitive and successful to this day maintaining a significant presence at Manor Lane, Bourne.

Perhaps unusual for a single shop grocery business of it’s era Smith’s Grocery of North Street, Bourne lasted four generations having been established in 1857 by the original John Smith who originated from Claypole near Newark. I was rather pleased to see when I last visited Bourne that the shop front had been preserved and incorporated into the restaurant that now occupies the site. Smiths Grocers closed in 1998. I recall going into it in the 1980’s and it was like stepping back in time. Some customers were still offered a chair and invited to sit down whilst the shop-keeper went through their shopping list and gathered it together for the customer. The meaning of “service” in such a business was a much more personal concept than that perceived today.


At the heart of the market town of Bourne was both the livestock and trade stall-holder’s markets that were held on the streets of Bourne, primarily at the cross-roads in the centre of the town. The market rights were awarded to the Lord of the Manor of Bourne by King Edward I in 1279 and ratified by Royal Charter dated 1281 that is preserved in the British Museum. Originally markets were held on a Saturday, but by 1824 sales of livestock had become chaotic and at irregular intervals that suited neither farmers or buyers adequately. So on Saturday the 21st August 1824 a meeting was held at Bourne Town Hall, “to consider the expediency of re-establishing certain new fairs or markets to be held at Bourn for the sale and purchase of Beasts, Sheep and other Stock, articles and things,” and this was “by desire of several Land Owners, Farmers, Graziers, Merchants and others in the town and neighbourhood of Bourne.


The meeting was a success with clear resolutions to establish weekly markets and the re-establishment of three fairs with the first one selling fat and store cattle on 29th October 1824. The first of these resolutions sums up how improved land in the area had become with the drainage that was to see the decoys of the area disappear throughout that century.


“ That in consequence of the great number of cattle bred and fed in the neighbourhood, and from the great quantity of corn and other agricultural produce supplied from a large tract of fertile land surrounding the market town of Bourn, and from the extensive improvements and accommodations recently made and now making there, it is of the opinion of this meeting, that the town of Bourn affords a most convenient situation whereat to hold Fairs for the sale and purchase of cattle all which would come to agriculture as it had done in the past.”[iv]


Thus the future organisation of the market was established to the benefit of the changing town and surrounding area that it served. The next significant change occurred in 1860 and was possibly influenced by the newly arrived railway opening up a faster route of trade with the Midlands as the market day changed from a Saturday to a Thursday. Market stalls were stood on both days still but the sale of livestock, corn and agricultural produce and goods was transferred to the Thursday avoiding clashing with other market days in Spalding, Sleaford and Stamford. This day change was a success and Bourne market successfully fulfilled its role of providing a market place for farmers and smallholders of all sizes as well as other supporting businesses. It was a time of successful expansion in Agriculture with the ability for smaller farmers to make a good living and grow their holdings as the market served the whole range of goods, crops, livestock, poultry eggs and butter. It was also an excellent source of materials for the expanding farmer, whether sacks, machinery or timber produced both locally and imported from the Baltic.

“Bourn – The new market in this town was commenced on Thursday the 4th inst. , as stated last week. It appears by the returns received by the corn inspector that the value of the corn sold in the week ending October 6th amounted to 1875 £. 14s. 6d; and this, we are assured, does not fully represent the quantity disposed of. Notwithstanding merchants subject themselves to a penalty for not making returns to the inspector, it appears that here, as in other places, this requirement of the law is not complied with. If any further stimulant were necessary to encourage the Market Committee and their neighbours to continued exertions to maintain a good market at Bourn, it might be found in the fact that upon a moderate calculation the sum of between 2500 £. And 3000 £ may be said to be the fair representative of the corn, fat and lean stock, and other market produce sold at Bourn during the week ending October 6.Beasts 14, sheep 418 pigs 50.”[iv]

November 1860 saw reports of the butter, eggs and poultry market growing weekly as local producers realised that the savings in travelling more than outweighed any slight loss in price compared to Peterborough, Stamford, Sleaford or Spalding markets.


Agriculture was doing well and in line with other market towns of that time Bourne built its Corn Exchange in 1870. Bourne’s Corn Exchange was ahead of its time in terms of it being designed as a multi-use public space right at the outset. It contained a public library holding about 2000 volumes, a reading room well supplied with magazines, periodicals and London and County newspapers. It also contained billiard rooms. At this date, despite increasing advice from the government, the market and especially the livestock market remained in the street. Off Abbey Road, Bourne was the aptly named Pen Fold Lane that was a holding place for cattle – the street being renamed Hereward Road in 1899.


1909 saw the establishment of an off-street livestock market that backed on to Hereward Road, although the market stalls remained in the main streets.


I recall the back of the market in Hereward Road in my childhood in the 1970’s. Aunty Lizzie and Uncle Bill lived in one of the modest terraced houses pictured above. The cattle market was not as busy as Spalding in those days. Hereward Road faced the rear entrance of the market with a tall fence of corrugated metal. Hereward Road is a very narrow road and towards the Abbey Road end separate to the main market were additional metal cattle stalls. It was with great excitement I would occasionally see cattle in these stalls awaiting collection or even better seeing them driven down the street to and from these stalls. Occasionally Auntie Lizzie would tell us that bullocks had been brought the night before and would bellow during the night, but they were not as noisy as the pigs used to be if they were kept overnight squealing away! Being used to living and working on farms they were not bothered by the noise and smells of the market. But other’s were and complained to the Council.


I do recall one incident of a young bull getting loose and pushing its way into the shop. When asked what he did about it the shop-keeper told us, “I grabbed the bull by the horns and told it to back up and it did!” Nowadays such an incident would be all over the internet, this incident c.1973 didn’t even make the local paper.


The market was dated in design with cobbles and. By modern standards, poor drainage and hygiene. In 1979 the auctioneer Harry Lyall made and impassioned plea for more farmers to use the livestock market as it was, at that point, only attracting any numbers at the annual fat-stock show towards Christmas. But farming was changing. The farm that my grand-father lives at, Spinney Farm, down the bottom of Twenty Drove, was doing away with its livestock. The E.E.C. agricultural policy favoured intensive arable farming over livestock. Mixed farming on the Fens near Bourne was becoming a rarity and that on the hills behind Bourne increasingly favoured sheep over cattle, and pigs were being sold direct to abattoirs. Melton Mowbray was a preferred market for sheep.


1981 saw a shock at the Bourne Christmas prize stock show meeting committee when the auctioneer Harry Lyall announced that this show would be the last as the market was to close. EEC regulations that all cattle markets must be grounded by concrete by mid-1982 were blamed. It is perhaps a typically British trait that anything closing or changing would be blamed on European regulation. The real problem in this instance was that changes in farming and lack of use of the market reduced its viability to such an extent that the investment required to meet reasonable regulations was not warranted. However, an argument that Agricultural Policy preferred arable farming to such an extent that it had reduced livestock farming in the area could be made.


The livestock market was lost, but for the moment the market stalls continued to thrive on the streets of Bourne. 1988 saw the opening of the Burghley Centre shopping arcade on the site of the old cattle market in Bourne. At the rear of this site in Hereward Road was the car park and the largest shop of the arcade was occupied by a supermarket, initially Budgens.


There were many efforts over the years to get the market stalls off the streets of Bourne. But the market rights were held by the Lord of the Manor and protected by Royal Charter. To get control of the market the local authority would have to obtain these rights. Despite the Lord of the Manor being willing to sell there was some local opposition that was blurred by historical practise of how the market tolls were collected. This led to much dispute in a heated public meeting of November 1921:


THE PURCHASE OF BOURNE MARKET RIGHTS ANIMATED PUBLIC MEETING

The Town Hall, Bourne was crowded on Thursday evening on the occasion of a meeting called for the sanction of the owners and occupiers to the purchase of the market rights from the Lord of the Manor of the Marquis of Exeter by the Urban Council. The Council have held the market rights under lease from his Lordship since 1904 there being a reservation that the Council should not interfere with the late Mrs. James Moisey as the collector of tolls during her lifetime. Instead of now continuing the lease, the Council have decided to purchase the market rights for the sum of £50, and the deed of conveyance has already been sealed by the Council, but it is subject to ratification by the Ministry of Health. A resolution was required from a meeting of the owners and occupiers, in accordance with the Provisions of the Public Health Act of 1875.


The market has considerably increased over the last few months. A false impression had got abroad that as soon as the Council got possession of the rights, they would put such a prohibitive charge on the sites as would prevent a large number of stallholders from attending. There was a large attendance of those who were opposed to the purchase on those grounds, and another section present urged that the Moisey family, who had collected the tolls for over a hundred years, had a legal right to that which the Council proposed to purchase. The proceedings were marked by considerable disturbance, and practically every speaker who made the slightest reference in favour of the Council becoming the owners was interrupted by one or other of the Moisey family. Amongst the most frequent speakers was Mr. H. Clifton, who finally usurped the position of Chairman, and asked for a show of hands, “to keep as you are” as against the resolution before the meeting.


The resolution required by the Ministry of Health was that the owners and ratepayers of Bourne consent to the Council “To provide a Market-place and construct conveniences for the purpose of holding the markets. To provide all such matters and things as may be necessary for the convenient use of such market. To purchase or take on lease land or public rights in markets and tolls for any of the foregoing purposes. To rake stallages, rents and tolls in respect of the use by any person of such market.

But did market rights extend to the streets? If so what were the charges to be. Were tradesmen who occupied their own shop frontage to be charged the same as a stallholder?

The overall fear at the meeting was that the tradesmen dominated the Council and they wanted to get out the stall holders. Even if the electorate had put them there!

The Moisey family were claiming market rights for 300 years – Ald. J.D.Swift J.P. a well known local historian pointed out that he had examined the Church registry records from 300 years ago and there was no man named Moisey registered in Bourne!

The meeting requested a poll and once this was requested the chairman chose to comply.[v]


The Council did not buy the market rights and the Marquess of Exeter had to be prepared to take legal action to establish his rights that were being contested by the Moisey family resulting in the following conclusion in March 1922:

The Bourne market rights controversy has been settled, the Marquess of Exeter, the lord of the manor, having established his rights. His Lordship has given the Moisey family (who claimed certain rights) an agreed sum for the market stalls which they owned, and the Moisey family have abandoned all claims to the market rights. Yesterday there was a large attendance of stallholders at the market, but the tolls were collected by Mr. J.H. Pool, the collector appointed by the Marquess of Exeter.[vi]

The Marquess of Exeter did not renew his offer to sell.


In 1959 Bourne Council approached the Marquess of Exeter’s agent to buy the market rights. On 23rd September 1960 a firm offer of £2100 plus legal costs and surveyors fees was made by Bourne Urban District Council to pay for the market rights. Having learned from past experience, albeit nearly forty years previous, the Council made the following careful statement:


“The Council reiterates that it is not their intention to abolish the present weekly market. The reason for the acquisition is to enable the Council to have full control over the market and administer it in such a manner as to relieve the present traffic congestion which occurs on market days.”


Congestion was an issue and even made news footage on Yorkshire Television. Sadly a fatality of a pedestrian in Bourne Market Place on a market day brought renewed calls to take the market off the streets of Bourne. In 1988 Bourne Town Council voted to keep the market in the streets with Bourne Civic Society stating, “The market brought a vitality to the town which would be missed if it was relocated to some back-water.”


The market stalls were eventually removed from the street and accommodated on Thursdays and Saturdays at the rear of the Burghley Centre. Not surprisingly the market declined as did footfall in the town centre. Bourne lost its market from the main street to see it side-lined away from the main thoroughfare. The downfall of the market was to be added to by the other significant factor that sees the downfall of a market town – the construction of a by-pass.


Plans for a by-pass of Bourne were formed in 1962. But over the years both Bourne and the surrounding area, especially towards Peterborough, grew. The need for housing also grew, so you see a deal being formed that depended upon the building of homes by a developer who contributes to the funding of the by-pass. The development of Bourne by-pass was part of a joined up process that saw the A15 by-pass Market Deeping and the A16 bypass Spalding. In every case these bypasses saw development occurring on the land between the by-pass and the town. But, this was perhaps treated with the most caution by the people and politicians of Bourne. In the late 1980’s a by-pass for Bourne started to receive some forthright opposition.


Even in 1999 the mood of the local people is reflected in the words of the then Council candidate Ian Mitchell Croft, “ It is my opinion that Bourne is a town of character with a remarkable community spirit which is threatened by too rapid development which should be restrained while the infrastructure catches up. The local authorities should back this with a by-pass, extra classrooms and social opportunities for young and old alike. I would like to see more employment brought to the town so that people do not have to travel to work elsewhere.”[iii]

Whilst the sentiment may have been correct, this was a pipe dream in my opinion with several aspects set against it. The late twentieth century had seen massive growth in Peterborough. Whilst Bourne enjoyed some new niche businesses linked to Agriculture it had also throughout the same period seen a great many of links lost such as the loss of its abattoir, rendering plant, the tanners, wood mill, its foundry, fertiliser distribution and the livestock market itself. All these businesses had either employed or been used by members of my extended family at different times. Unlike Spalding or Peterborough, Bourne had not retained or acquired a critical mass of Industrial activity.


The by-pass was built partially by-passing Bourne by providing and East-West relief for traffic by linking the A15 to the Grimesthorpe road west towards the A1 at Colsterworth. In 2005 it opened the trade off was permission to build 2000 houses sealing Bourne’s fate as a dormitory town. It was not just Bourne, but the surrounding villages saw similar growth of housing. It has to be noted that to date much of the housing that has been developed in the region favours those with greater financial resources or income. This is in contrast to past development that saw cottages and terraced housing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and council houses in the post World War 2 period.


As already mentioned my mother’s family largely originated from the Bourne area. In addition to frequent family visits to Bourne I also met people socially, and worked in Bourne for intermittent short periods on the Bank counter, and in the later part of my career had farming clients in the area. As a result I had the insight of a well informed outsider looking into the history, economic and social life of the town going back many generations. If I was to make one observation when comparing Bourne to other towns it is that change happened at a slower pace. Change in Bourne appears to be actively and passively resisted. Active resistance of things like moving markets off the street, expanding the town, or having a by-pass, and passive resistance by parochialism and a dogged determination to make past practises work. Please note, I do not see this as a good or bad thing – it is just how it is and as a result the individual culture of the town was preserved for a far longer period than we have seen in other market towns. Indeed, in Lincolnshire I would argue that Louth is possibly the only market town which has preserved its character and culture very successfully without becoming too gentrified or nostalgic in the process. Louth, unlike Bourne, is more isolated and not a satellite to a modern expanding City like Bourne is to Peterborough. Bourne did hold onto some key family businesses, more so if you include the farming businesses of the surrounding area. If you look at the people in the area, certainly up to the late twentieth century, you see a pattern of surnames often in the same employment or owning businesses and farms from one generation to another. Bourne is not unique in this. Indeed, I have known many members and generations of a family work for Smedleys, Geest, George Adams, Tinsleys, or professional firms with two or more generations working within the firm throughout various areas of Lincolnshire and the Fens. That this gets broken up over time depends upon outside influences mainly the ability to migrate in or out of an area. This opportunity became far greater with the arrival of the railway’s to Bourne.


This does not mean that previous generations did not move around. Indeed, unless a person owned property or was living in a house tied to their employment they could have greater flexibility. When looking at one of my ancestors many years ago I was surprised that when I looked at the places of birth of a series of siblings there was a two year period when two children were born in Devon, when the rest were born in Cambridgeshire. This was due to the father being a bricklayer and migrating to an estate in Devon for two years work before returning with his family. Both my grandmother Alice Parrish and her sister Lizzie went into “service” far away from Bourne in Blackpool in the 1920’s. Although I have few memories I do recall my grandmother saying she saw Paul Robeson perform at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool it being one of the first venues American artists would perform at as they arrived in Britain. Going into “service” at that time was deemed a good education for a woman to learn household and wifely duties for married life when they returned home.


Accepting that parochialism and local identity can be a mixture of good and bad I would regard the Bourne that I mostly experienced as a place “generous of heart”. Indeed I have seen countless examples of people looking out for each other as if they were family more than neighbours. In the 1990’s I was visiting my grandfather in Bourne when he had a bad cold and asked me to run him into town to get some bits of shopping. I offered to get the shopping for him but he preferred to go out. I made the mistake of taking him to Budgens supermarket, and experience he found most confusing. He walked up to the deli-counter and gave the poor lady his small list of shopping. To her credit she nipped quickly around the shop and gathered it all in a basket for him before leading him to the check out. I should have taken him to Smiths Grocers.


From left to right George Parrish, Frank Parrish (the author’s grand-father), Florence Parrish, Eric Parrish and Annie Parrish. Annie was George’s second wife. He divorced his first wife Helen after she fell into “intemperance” in 1895 and committed adultery with the local butcher Mr William Mansfield.

My grandfather, Frank Parrish, was son of a railwayman and spent most of his working life working for Smith’s Farms initially at Monks House Spalding and mostly at Spinney Farm at the bottom of Twenty Drove where he lived in a tied house provided by his employer. When Smiths sold the farm to Stevensons it was a worrying time for him as he received an eviction notice (possibly in contrary to the legal protections relating to tied housing) from his old employer. Mr. Stevenson had been at school with my grandfather and called in assuring Frank that he had nothing to worry about. He was true to his word. My grandfather worked part-time for Stevensons past his retirement age feeding their cattle at the farm and the occasional bit of tractor driving until he retired fully and moved to Bourne. After a brief period living with my Uncle Robert Frank moved into the Almshouses provided by Bourne United Charities. As he moved in he was greeted by a nearby neighbour, “Welcome to millionaires row, where everything is bought and paid for!” It is not that those living there were millionaires, but they were very well looked after and benefitted with most of their bills paid and even received a small annual allowance on top of their state pensions.


Frank missed the farm and what he described as “watching the seasons change”. He missed his vegetable garden and fruit trees, but soon gained the gardens of some of the other residents in addition to his own. Most of his produce was consumed by others. As for Frank, he enjoyed eating raw peas straight out of the pod or carrots straight from the ground scraped with his pen knife. The same with black currants, and my lease favourite, gooseberries. Having been used to early mornings Frank would walk up to town before 6am to buy the newspaper as soon as the shop received it. Indeed, he sometimes had to wait for it to be delivered to the shop. Very few people were about at that time of day other than the milk man or police constables going on or off shift. If either of these missed him buying his paper they would call round and check he was ok such was the nature of the town. If I called in on him it would not be unusual to find him talking to a farmer that had called in to glean some useful bit of knowledge such as how to locate hollow drains on the dykeside of a certain field.

Older people would sometimes call him “Yankee”. I asked one of the family why they called him this. Apparently as a youngster he was mad keen on Cowboy films and books and this earned him the nick-name “Yankee”. He also liked to do trick shooting with an air rifle. He would shoor through the centre of playing cards held out at arms length. I was also told that he would get a friend to hold a smouldering cigarette between their lips as he shot the ash off the end with an airgun pellet.

It is with some amusement in 1988 that Lorenzo Warner (known locally as Lorry)arrived outside my grandfather’s almshouses in his chauffer driven car, the print works of his business being just around the corner, knocks on his door and says, “Hello, Frank, I’ve had this book written about me and I thought you’d like to buy one.” Frank bought one off him giving him the cash there and then and Mr. Warner was driven away happy. There is no wonder he was such a successful businessman!

It is very much harder for the modern Bourne to develop the bonds and links between people that my grandfather experienced.

Perhaps the funniest incident that I can relate that gives an element of how interconnected Bourne used to feel comes from when I worked in Barclays Bourne. One day the proud father of a new-born baby boy came into the Bank pushing a pram to pay in a cheque and get some cash. Whilst he was at the counter some of the staff went out to coo over the baby. Once the father did his business he left the Bank leaving his new-born son and the pram behind. After several minutes the staff realised what had happened and checked to see if he had nipped to a neighbouring shop. This was not the case. The baby was quite content so after nearly an hour we looked up the Dad’s number and tried to phone him to no avail. Fortunately, as was the way in those days, he was well known to the staff. However, the only alternative number they could think of was that of his mother-in-law. So his mother-in-law was phoned and it was explained that we had her new grandson and she called in and collected him. Now I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when she returned the baby to her daughter and son-in-law!

[i] The Grantham Journal 5th November 1921 [ii] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 31st March 1922 [iii] Election leaflet for the then Conservative candidate Ian Mitchell Croft 1999


[iv] The Grantham Journal Nov 1st 1824 [v] Stamford Mercury October 12 1860

[vi] Whites Directory of Lincolnshire 1872 [vii] Lincolnshire Free Press 8th September 1970

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