Freiston Shore – The Forgotten Resort of The Wash.
It is perhaps hard to imagine as you wind down the narrow roads approaching Freiston village and then a little further, two miles, to Freiston Shore that this was a great playground and resort for about 200 years. Nowadays if you ask someone what are the holiday resorts of The Wash they will most likely mention Skegness and Hunstanton at the entrances to this great estuary, with perhaps a nod to Heacham in Norfolk. Both Skegness and Hunstanton grew in popularity due to the railway lines that were able to carry tourists there with ease. Indeed Skegness still benefits from a railway. Sadly Hunstanton lost their line from Kings Lynn, but the charm of this branch line on the Norfolk side of the Wash was captured by Sir John Betjeman in a 1962 documentary for the BBC titled “ John Betjeman Goes by Train King's Lynn to Hunstanton” in which he waxes lyrical about the charm of the route, the unique half-timbered Royal station at Wolferton, through the landscape “red farms and flint churches” past Snettisham to the resort town of Hunstanton. Sadly Freiston shore was denied the benefit that a railway would bring, despite such a plan being proposed. This saw it fall into disrepair and dereliction from the 1940’s only to be revived by interests in conservation that now see it as one of the greatest birdwatching sites in the country managed by the RSPB for the enjoyment of the public and thousands of migrating birds, plus flora and fauna.
If we go back in time we see Freiston develop as a wealthy area. The parish had about 4000 acres of productive farmland and 1000 acres of productive fen, heath and warrens, plus the benefit of easy access to the fertile fisheries of the Wash from Freiston shore. The development of these resources was most likely kick-started by the Frisians who invaded/migrated to the area in the 7th century. They were a well developed agricultural society, but, despite them being successful fighters, war and farming are no friends so they welcomed the Isle of Britain and the Friesland area of the Netherlands where their ethnic language and identity still survives alongside their success at farming. This made the area an attractive area to establish St James Priory in 1148, a priory that in turn was dissolved in 1539. The subsequent manors saw land being retained, owned and worked in quite big units for the era, of say 500 acres or more. This too would help to preserve the value of this highly productive area, albeit with periodic declines, that remains highly valued farmland to this day.
Freiston Shore’s primary activity up to the early nineteenth century was fishing. The coast at Freiston at that time was one of “sand and samphire” enabling fishing boats to land on the beach. Alongside such activities would be piloting and servicing of goods to shipping in the Boston Deeps, but these were greater served from Fishtoft and Skirbeck up the Haven closer to Boston. Like all fishermen of The Wash they would fish with the seasons, herring, shrimp, mussels, cockles. The sands of Freiston had the added advantage that with care a horse could be taken onto the foreshore and fishing done with drag nets and scoop nets, or cockles raked by hand.
1820 saw reports of good catches of herring in December of that year with one fishing sloop landing 40,000 herring at Freiston Shore. This success continued into January 1821 with “catches so immense every team of horses was conscripted to convey herring to Boston fish market and took two days to transport the catch.”[i]
December 1823 saw similar success with herring catches: “Herring fishery commenced well with no less than 100,000 herrings sent to Boston on two successive days.”[ii] It has to be noted that not all subsequent years showed the same success, such is the nature of herring as they have different successes and failures in different waters around the coast of Britain.
One of the fish carriers of the area was Mr Joseph Simpson. As well as fish carrying he ran a boarding house for bathers at Freiston Shore. Thus we see the adaptation of people to opportunity and circumstance that results in them having many roles to earn a living.
It appears that Freiston Shore’s attraction as a resort developed in the 1780’s with various activities such as horse racing, sea bathing, sand fairs, boating regattas, yacht racing, coursing, sightseeing by boat to nearby shipping, cricket matches. It is somewhat amazing that this should happen when you consider that people were prepared to travel from the Midlands by coach on roads of poor quality, journeys that could take between two and four days. The peak of activity was possibly the late 1840’s as the railway arrived in Boston making the investment in new omnibuses to transport people from Boston to Freiston Shore more viable.
Horse racing at Freiston Shore appears to have started with one off races and a fair on the sands of Freiston shore for local farmers and gentry to race their horses in what was initially an annual competition. By the 1840’s four horse racing events a year on the sand of Freiston shore were common place in the sporting calender. It has to be understood that race-grounds were common in many market towns of the era, if only for local sport and recreation. For example, Spalding’s race-ground was on the outskirts of the town just past Little London at Spalding Common.
That anyone should travel the journey to Freiston Shore from the middle of the country shows the high regard and attraction of the resort. This is excellently illustrated in the writings and observations of Richard Fowke, a Leicestershire farmer that travelled from Elmsthorpe in Leicestershire to Freiston Shore along a route of about 90 miles that could be traversed in a car today in about two and a half hours:
“Thursday, June 20th 1805, walked from Elmsthorpe to Leicester, eleven miles. Refreshment at the Saracen’s Head. A place in the Leicester coach to Stamford. Booked, paid 13s. , 32 miles. My coach company were a Mr. Rainey, a very polite draper of Boston, and two young Cantabs[iii] , and a young lady of Boston. Roads very bad. Nothing worth notice till we come to Market Billsdon, the old stone cross yet standing. The pinfold[ii] now joins it where once Billsdon saving dames cheapening butter at 4d. per pound in days of yore, but now is become pinner’s counting house and the jail of quadrupeds.[iv] We cross part of Rutlandshire; landscapes rather pleasing, with hills and dales and hanging woods. The sheep of the fallow fields look as if they were ruddled[v] all over. We pass through Uppingham, it be the day of breaking up the Free School for the midsummer holidays. We were beset with a gang of young schoolboys. I was obliged to watch the coach while we stopped to bait. Some had boxes, some birds in cages, others bats, etc. They were brassy to put their bats in the coach in spite of my teeth! At Stamford I parted with all the passengers except Mr. Rainey, who agreed with me to take chaise to Market Deeping. Dines at the Salutation Inn, Broad Street, Stamford, being a farmers inn. The company a set of very polite farmers. We had a very good ordinary, peas for the first time this year being 21st June. The provincial dialect of the Lincolnshire farmers is much the same as Leicestershire. We took a walk after dinner to see the town, containing five churches near one another, beautiful Gothic workmanship, built of stone, strong and noble.
‘But give me a neat red house built of fine red bricks.
Building of stone may suit a monastic life,
Or the solitary hermit’s cell;
But give me a place fit for a sober wife,
Where peace and plenty of liberty ever dwell.’
The road to Market Deeping is chequered with all the common novelties of nature and art, villages, rivers, canals, woods, fields gardens and houses. Sleep at the Bull Inn, got a sore throat, took Mr. Raineys remedy, a large goblet of hot brandy and water, and a large lump of butter in it at going to bed. Well by morning. I supposed I catched it by the coach windows being open on the road to Stamford, just to please two harem scarem Cantabs and a young Miss, for they thought it quite non-natural to have a coach window shut at Midsummer. They had rather freeze for the sake of the season. Such charming puppies! The town was all bustle with the Suffolk militia stopping all night on their march to Hull. With difficulty we got a two bedded room at our inn, as Mr. Rainey chooses a second rate inn before great ones, as you generally meet with a better reception and good manners than at large posting inns. Next morning we walked to Little Deeping, breakfasted at the Blue Bell, Deeping Common, where I saw a great many flocks of geese, which I was informed were pulled three times a year for the feathers. We had a very pleasant ride in the chaise to Spalding, roads very level and good.[vi] Mr. Rainey, with true politeness, pointed out to me remarkable places all the way to Boston, such as Croyland Abbey, windmills to throw up the water out of the dykes, flocks of sheep feeding as far as the eye can reach, crops of oats, luxuriant teeming crops of thistles, aquatic plants native of the fens, a great many neat new houses by the roadside and spires. We did not stay to dine at Spalding, but got a beef steak and a start, etc. and a bottle of wine. Chaise again to Boston, where Saturday June 22nd, I parted with my convivial chaise companion. Boston is a beautiful little seaport town, well supplied with all kinds of provisions, a number of people employed in the finishing and naval business, is making rapid strides to improvement, many smart shops, good inns, etc,. and Boston church, dedicated to St. Botolph, is a model of perfection. For grandeur and splendid ornament may well impress every stranger with awful reverence and veneration. Repast at Peacock Inn, a chaise set off for Freiston Shore five miles, paid 7s.6d. postage. We go through Freiston town to the shore about one mile. I saw some curious houses on the road, viz. , mud houses, with sash windows, others curiously thatched, etc. and I also saw stacks of cow dung drying for firing. When you see such wonderful things it brings to mind the comical humours of Mr. Doubledee:[vii]
‘ I was prentice in a town of Lincolnshire,
Where pig dung soap and cow dung was fire.’
I arrived at the Coach and Horses [viii] Freiston Shore, about six o’clock, and had some little trouble about my lodging room on the first floor, which Mr. Plummer was not willing I should have for he wanted me to have a room in the attic storey. Mr. and Mrs. Plummer kept the Coach and Horses. Mrs. Plummer is a very nice clever woman, every way calculated to manage so much business at these watering seasons. Mr. Plummer can be pleasant when he chooses to be so. After refreshment walk that evening with Mr. Smith, of New Hall Parks, Leicestershire, about two miles on the sands to the edge of seen the sea, the roaring noise of the wind driving the waves, are awful and very striking at first sight.
‘O the wonders of the majestic deep,
And more wonderous tide the sands daily sweep.’
There were only two men at the Coach and Horses the first night I got there. The other lodging houses had very few people, owing to the cold and backward season. A great number of people attended this watering place in June, July, August and September, to drink and bath. They are mostly of the middle class of people, such as farmers, tradesmen, etc., sometimes one upstart country squire, who has just transformed himself by a little gold from a village peasant, and now and then a lordly innkeeper, who has sprung up from a post boy. Ostler, waiter, or even a boots who carries his high self above other people, learns to talk Dutch etc. just such one I saw at Freiston Shore, portrayed all over with tarnished conceit. Two or three small fishermen’s houses lodge some poor people that cannot afford to paymuch a week for lodgings etc. Board at the Coach and Horses 4s. per day. Our drinking besides the 4s. made it 6s. 6d. per day, at a moderate rate. Many of the bathers spent at least 10s. 6d. but what is that to a wine bibber. Sea bathing on these shores is very good for all scorbutic complaints, sore legs, sore eyes, surfeits, hard drinking, nervous habits, hydrophobia, etc. and a poor appetite. All these complaints are much benefited by its saline virtues. Yet I thought a great many of the company came to see and be seen more than sea bathing. Young ladies to see for husbands, and young fortune hunters for wives. These are the humours of Freiston Shore. We had tea and coffee, breakfast half past eight o’clock, and a very nice dinner of all varieties in season at two, and tea at half past five, and a hot supper of dainties and nicnacs at half past eight. We also had a luncheon at ten if we had mind to eat, for you must understand after dinking so much of Neptune’s ale we are as hungry as hawks, and eat like plowboys and thackers.[ix], for we had no mercy on cold beef and pies, and drink like fishes. ‘Hail! Sole, the finest fish in the world, for we had plenty of thee. We eat twice a day of sole and shrimps by the thousand.’
I had a very neat lodging room on the first floor. It looked into the sea. It had a sash window. The bed white with a brown fringe, and a small chest of drawers mahogany to put my linen in. At my room window the phenomenon of the moonshine on the tide was beautiful. It represented a brilliant column of gold crowned with fan shaped rays of light, which shot out an immense way on the wide expanse. Rules hang up in the dining-room to point out the hours of eating and drinking and the honours of the table and presidency. The first comer to the Coach and Horses is always president at the table, and the last comer is deputy president at the bottom; so on in rotation as they come to the house. These rules contain forfeits for swearing etc., and hours of dancing. A bell rings at meal times to call the whole tribe to eat and drink. Then we take our places, the diner is set on the table. All the dishes covered till grace is said by the president (except there happens to be a poor parson at the bottom), then the covers are taken off and the diner is piping hot; and would make your mouth water to see fish top and bottom, and all the rarities Boston Market will afford. And after dinner the president asks the ladies if they will take a glass of wine. You may be sure they will not say no, for most of them are not very mincing. Then if you don’t choose to join the league you may walk down stairs and smoke your pipe, and the same game is acted again after supper, when some of the company sing a song or two, and the women and widows will laugh at it, like so many wives of Windsor. I would match two or three of them against any woman in England to laugh. Some of the gentlemen were glad when they were gone, they could not hear themselves speak. The company at the Coach and Horses and Anchor in a full season may, perhaps be upward of 120. When I left Freiston Shore, July 23rd there were about thirty two while I was kept continually coming and going like the tide they came to make use of. One may well compare them to one heterogeneous mass of young and old, handsome and ugly, sound and lame, rich and poor, dull and witty, polite and vulgar, proud and social. A word or two of the characters. First a Mr. Curtis, of Ilson-by-Tilton, a great grazier of Leicestershire, a very social old gentleman; and my Hinkley friend, Mr. Ward of sagacious memory. The heroin amongst the ladies was a very gay widow by the name of Henson, from Ragdale, with her daughter, Miss Henson, very fond of a change of sweethearts; and a Mr. Flour of Rutlandshire, a very nice social young man; and a young greenhorn from the same place a Mr. Toon; and Mr. Wheelrite of Grantham a very pleasant gentleman, of great good manners and affabilities; a Mr. Ilson, out of Leicestershire, a very good natured man; and harem scarem chap and goosecap from Southwell, Notts: and the consequential W.W.______ Esq.; and old friend with a new face; and the very babbling boozy Sawbridge, a rare lad for a bit of tobacco; and a rum old woman out of Lincolnshire, who had lately had a large sum of money left her; and we had a good sensible sort of widow, Mrs. Jones from Creato, Northants, a grace to her sex; and her niece Miss Dunn, of decent manners as girls should be; and Mr. Weatherhog, a Lincolnshire gentleman of facetious turn, and a great acquaintance of Joseph Banks. The above characters are some I knew, but of all of the characters in our company was the philanthropist Mr. Crossland of Nottingham, a gentleman worthy of praise, who came to take care of his brother, who had poor health, for when I was taken very ill the Sunday before I came home this gentleman showed me all the kindness of a relation. I have recorded him in gratitude as one of Nottinghamshire’s worthies.”
Mr Fowke returned home on July 23rd by Boston, Sleaford and Ancaster to Grantham where he stayed overnight before returning home to Elmsthorpe Cottage Farm via Melton Mowbray.
What made Freiston Shore so popular? If we look at the various activities there are a few factors that may have influenced this, but they are not infinite and the reader may consider others:
The wealth of Boston – the Napoleonic Wars pushed trade away from the ports facing France and made more northern ports on the East coast attractive to merchants. Even during periods of blockades old trading allegiances survived. Boston had also had a history of being immigrant friendly and as a sanctuary that quickly allowed those that made it a home to make good livings and add to their own and the region’s wealth. Hence we see this description of Freiston shore in 1836:
“……Freiston Shore, where there are two good inns and lodging-houses for the reception of visitors, who resort to this place during the summer months for the purpose of sea-bathing. Freiston Shore is also much visited by the inhabitants of Boston, being a convenient distance from that town, and affording a pleasant relaxation from the fatigues of business.”
Business was strong in Boston.
Good roads – or I should say relatively good roads. The legacy of priories is that established interconnecting trade routes had been established which were then built upon and maintained with varying degrees over time. This established accessibility to what would otherwise have been a remote corner of The Wash.
Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions – by the 18th century agriculture was fast becoming an industry that was exploiting new techniques, science and technology. This brought great wealth to an area that had historically benefitted from the production and trade of agricultural wares. This wealth was well distributed amongst the middle classes and enabled social mobility. The Plummer family are a fine example where wealth from farming not only paid for church windows, but enabled the investment and development of what was to become Plummers Hotel, and similarly the surrounding facilities.
Growth of Horse Racing – horse racing grew as increased wealth, increased availability of newspapers, increased literacy all helped it grow as a commercialised leisure. Horse racing changed from being a local sport where local farmers would pit their horses and employees against each other for fun and status to one where the newly rich and well-to-do developed it into a national sport enlarged by wealth and social status. This meant that we saw a new snobbery, even at this Lincolnshire resort hence we see this comment on a visitor in Lincolnshire Notes and Queries of 1842: “……..the respectable visitors at Freiston Shore shunned him because of his shabby appearance, which I must confess I did not think very prepossessing – boots without stockings.”
The commercialisation of leisure stretched to other activities: game shooting, hare coursing, cricket, boat racing, and local bands – all of which featured at different times at Freiston Shore.
Health – the growth of belief, led by publications from doctors and surgeons, that sea water and sea air had therapeutic qualities saw a growth in sea bathing, initially in the warmer waters of the south coast of Britain in the early 18th century with the sea bathing houses reaching Freiston in the later part of the century. The same reasoning saw an expansion of health spas at certain Springs, the Baths at Bath grew in popularity in Georgian times and in Lincolnshire we saw the development and growth of Woodhall Spa.
This piece from the 1840’s extolled its curative powers:
“Freiston Shore has not much to boast of in the way of scenery, yet according to the late Dr. Snaith, than who no one was better qualified to give a reliable opinion, it ranks higin the sanitary point of view. The Doctor had the idea that it was the mud that had this curative power, and if half is true that is said about ozone, it appears very feasible that the debris washed down from the uplands by the Witham will naturally retain some of this ozone, and yield up some of its treasures to the atmosphere when the tides ebb.”
Kelly’s Directory of 1868 describes Freiston Shore as, “a bathing place, much frequented by invalids.”
Lack of competition – until the railways came in the nineteenth century Skegness and Hunstanton were not competitive as resorts.
So we see an unlikely a place as Freiston Shore develop as a resort.
We first see the Plummer family entering the Coach House/Coach and Horses in 1798. Certainly by the 1820’s it was known as Plummers Hotel. But its name and occupancy changed over the years with it passing in and out of the Plummer’s hands before reverting back to them. They were farmers at Crane End near Freiston Shore. Two significant hotels sprang up Plummers Hotel was the larger of the two at its peak having 71 bedsplus stables. It enjoyed sea views and a bridge that crossed straight from the hotel to the sea wall. The smaller hotel was The Mariners View/ Marine Hotel that had 48 beds at its peak and enjoyed sea views and originally had two bridges that went straight from the hotel onto the sea wall. It had expanded over the years. When I first saw these in the 1970’s both premises were in sad state of repair and the Marine Hotel has not survived, whereby Plummers has been developed and looks rather fine nowadays. Names of the various buildings changed over the years.
Living and working close to the sea wall can be tough as East coast storms can be brutal and unforgiving. This was the Plummer’s experience in 1810 when a storm crashed over the sea wall smashing in the bay window of their hotel in October 1810 and flooded the area. But further misfortune hit them the following month and highlights an unusual hazard from gathering sea coal. Coal on the foreshore all along the East coast was commonplace due to the large number of wrecks and the overloading of coal ships:
“ In our paper of the 16th we noticed the damage which the Hotel at Freiston Shore had sustained during the late storm. For two days the situation of Mr. Plummer and his family was truly deplorable, from the damp and cold produced by the surrounding inundation. Soon after the water had subsided enough to permit a fire being made in one of the rooms, a melancholy accident occurred to Mr Plummer. Among the fuel which had been placed on the fire, was a tin cartridge for a cannon, supposed to have belonged to a vessel cast on the shore, and to have lodged in the coal heap; the shock produced by the explosion did considerable injury to the house, but upon Mr. Plummer its effects were most lamentable; for while sitting by the fire, he was instantly blinded, and had his face dreadfully lacerated by the coals from the grate. By surgical skill the unfortunate man has recovered the sight of one eye; but there is no hope of his ever being able to see with the other.” [x]
The resort of Freiston and especially the horse racing attracted a wide section of society including crooks and con men. In 1815 Mr Plummer was swindled with non-payment by a conman “….Captain Verity travelled in style with a livery servant.” He was not the only hotelier swindled by the fake Captain Verity with other accounts found across the country.
Horse racing meetings grew in popularity at Freiston shore from 1798 through to 1846 by which time the number of races per annum had fallen from their peak in the 1830’s when there was four meetings a year, some of them lasting two days over the summer with at least one of them having a large “Sand Fair”.
Silting up of the foreshore and the natural formation of saltmarsh saw a deterioration of the quality of the sand for racing and into the 1840’s the meetings became prone to cancellation or reduction in the number of races. Hence the wording of this article in 1841:
“Freiston Shore Races. These races came off on Friday last. There was a great number of spectators; the day was fine and the sport excellent, the sands being perfectly dry and firm. The Boston Victoria Band was engaged, which added to the amusement.”[xi]
The following note signifies the deterioration of the site that was not helped by the weather before this meeting in June 1844:
“Races Freiston Shore near Boston. These races came off upon the beach on Tuesday afternoon last, and, in consequence of the heavy rain which continued to fall during the day, the sands were in bad condition.”[xii]
August 1846 saw a tragic occurrence at the race meeting which was delayed following the drowning of two jockeys:
“Two gentleman, part of a company of four who went into the sea to bathe at Freiston Shore, Lincolnshire, incautiously ventured so far out that they got into a deep creek, where they perished.”[xiii]
“MELANCHOLY AND FATAL OCCURRENCE
It has seldom fallen to our lot to record a more melancholy event than that which we are now called upon to narrate – and event which has cast the mantle of mourning over several respectable families, and thrown a degree of gloom over the whole neighbourhood. Freiston Shore races having been appointed to take place on Monday, several gentlemen attached to the sports, or purporting to take part in them, had arrived some days since in Boston or at the Shore for training or practice. Among these were Mr. John Spriggs, of Cottesmore Lodge, Mr. John Jones, son of Mr. Jones M.D., St George’s Square, Stamford, Mr. Thos. Hy. Smith, of Stamford, son of Mr. Smith, timber merchant, Spalding and Mr. John Chambers, landlord of The Seven Stars Inn, Stamford. Mr. Spriggs had a horse or two entered for the sport, and Mr. Chambers had engaged to ride Mr. Smith’s mare Cassandra, which ran at the late Holbeach races. On Sunday morning, about 10 o’clock, these four gentlemen, having breakfasted at Mr. Plummer’s Victoria Hotel, agreed to partake the luxury of sea bathing; they procured a bathing-machine and a boy to drive them, and proceeded over the sands towards ‘The Lows’, a distance (as the tide was then down) of about a mile-and-a-half. The machine here stopped, the boy declined to cross a creek over which he said the rising tide would render his return very difficult, and he also cautioned the gentlemen not to venture too far. For about an hour they remained in the shallow water, gradually wandering towards the channel, to a distance of upwards of half a mile from where they had left their conveyance. Being unacquainted with the danger of their path, they came from a depth of two or three feet, to the west bank of ‘The Lows’, suddenly into upwards of twenty feet of water, the side being nearly precipitous. Mr. Jones was swimming some yards in advance of the others with a view of reaching the mouth of ‘The Lows’, when, feeling fatigued, he endeavoured to place his feet on the ground, and to his exceeding horror discovered that the water was considerably beyond his depth; upon rising to the surface, it immediately occurred to him that Mr. Smith could not swim, and as soon as he could find breath Mr. Jones called to him, ‘For God’s sake come no farther, or you will be drowned.’ But whether that exclamation ever reached Mr. Smith is a matter of doubt, for in all probability he was then beyond the reach of all human assistance – his feet only could be seen, and he sunk to rise no more. On hearing Mr. Chambers call out for help, Mr. Spriggs hastened towards him, and endeavoured to save him, but in vain; having been twice nearly involved in destruction, in consequence of the desperate hold of the drowning man, Mr. Spriggs was obliged reluctantly to abandon him to his fate, and after a few struggles Chambers also sunk. Faint with terror and exhaustion, Messrs. Jones and Spriggs now made towards the bathing-machine, but the tide had so much deepened the creek that they were compelled to signal to a boat belonging to one of the fishing smacks, in which they were at length conveyed to a place of safety. The boat then returned to the deplorable accident, and in less than an hour succeeded in recovering the body of Mr. Chambers: it is needless to say that life was quite extinct. The body was conveyed to the Victoria, and Mr. Plummer, with the utmost alacrity, dispatched several men to endeavour to recover the other victim. Their search was for some hours in vain, until at last, about half past four o’clock, on the receding tide, the body of Mr. Smith was discovered, sadly mutilated, on the sands, by some lads who were bathing near the spot, and being conveyed to the inn, was deposited in melancholy repose by the side of the companion with whom, so few hours before, he had quitted the house, full of health and spirits, strong in hope, and with every prospect of a long and happy life before them. Terrible was the warning here given of the uncertainty of human life, and heart-rending the commentary on the text that ‘in the midst of life we are in death.’ It seems Mr. Smith could not swim at all; his companions could swim tolerably – Mr. Chambers exceedingly well; so that his sudden death can only be attributed to that fatal visiter, the cramp. Or to a prostration of the nervous system consequent upon witnessing the death of his friend – no unusual effect of sudden fright in any situation. Mr. Jones immediately he had recovered from his exhaustion, set off for Boston, and thence to Spalding, to convey the melancholy intelligence to the father, Mr. Smith, that his only and beloved son was lost to him for ever; and thence on to Stamford to break the fatal news to Mrs. Chambers, a new-made widow, and her five desolate orphans. It is painful to dwell on the picture of grief, which no pen can portray, and no consolation assuage. It is, however, only an act of justice to state that no blame whatever can attach to the boy who drove the bathing-machine, - that he conveyed the party to the spot customarily frequented by bathers, - and that every attention that humanity could suggest was paid by Mr. Plummer both to the unconscious victims and to the afflicted survivors.
An inquest was held on the bodies on Monday, at the Victoria Hotel, Freiston Shore, before Mr. C. Mastin, gent., coroner, when the following evidence was taken:
Mr. John Spriggs stated that yesterday (Sunday the 2nd August) he went, in company with the two deceased, from the Victoria Hotel, Freiston Shore, to nathe; it was about ten o’clock in the morning; they went along the sands until the man who drove the bathing-machine refused to go any farther; they therefore all got out, and went into the water; they walked down the sands as far as the beacons at the entrance of the Low; the two deceased were dashing about in the water for some time, and then kept going forward till they got to some distance; the tide was running in; witness did not go forward with the deceased; Chambers could swim, but Smith could not. After they had been in the water some time, witness saw Chambers swimming towards him, and he called out, “I think Tom Smith’s drowning.” About two minutes afterwards poor Chambers called out for assistance; and witness, thinking he was exhausted, immediately swam towards him and took hold of his hand; the wind was blowing very strong, and the waves dashed in their faces; witness became exhausted, and drifted a little from him, but after resting a short period he saw Chambers buffeting with the waves and a second time went to his assistance, but the wind blew the water so strong in his face that he could not swim, and was again obliged to leave Chambers, which he had a great difficulty in effecting, as the poor man frequently grasped at witness, and if he had succeeded in getting hold in all probability would have drowned him also. Mr. Jones, another of the party, did not go so far out as the rest, but stood on an elevation near the beacons. Witness got to a steep, Chambers was a few yards off; as the tide came up there was a great eddy or whirlpool where they were bathing, and in which Chambers went down. Witness had known both the deceased for several years.
John Lawson, ostler to the hotel, took the party in the bathing-machine, as far as the Low; the two deceased wished him to go across, but he refused, and told them that they had much better not go forward, as there was great danger in getting back; they went forward about half-a-mile, and first went over the ‘high hill’ toward the channel, but instead of returning the same way, the unfortunately got to the Low End, a very dangerous place, and lost their lives.
Wm. Atchinson, one of the boatmen who picked up the bodies, and to whom greatest credit is due for his humanity and bravery in his attempt to save the unfortunate deceased, stated that he and David Dickinson were sitting on the seat at the front of Mr. Baker’s house (the Marine Hotel) , on the sea bank, and saw the party go to bathe; they continued to watch them and thought two of them were in danger of being drowned and went down to their assistance; the two gentlemen who were saved would have been drowned also, but for the assistance of the witness and his companion, s they put them across the Low and then went in search of the two who were missing. Witness considered it to be a very dangerous spot, and he had himself a few years ago saved three persons from drowning at that place, but who in return, when informed of their danger, had only laughed at him. Witness picked up the bodyof Chambers about an hour after he went down; he was in about three feet of water, and had come in nearer by 200 or 300 yards. The body of Mr. Smith was found about four o’clock, when the tide had receded, and was brought to the hotel, and laid by the side of his unfortunate companion.
This being all the evidence necessary, the Jury, without the least hesitation, returned the following verdict: ‘That the said John Chambers and Thomas Henry Smith, on the 2nd day of August 1846, in the parish of Freiston in the county of Lincoln, having gone into a certain navigable arm of the sea, called or known by the name Clay-hole, to bathe or wash themselves, it so happened that they got out of or beyond their depth, and were then suffocated and drowned.”
Immediately after the inquest, the bodies of the sufferers were removed by their friends for interment in their own neighbourhood.
Mr Chambers was interred on Wednesday, and we believe the funeral of Mr. Smith will take place at Spalding this day.
Throughout the greater part of Monday, an immense number of persons, some from a considerable distance, arrived at Freiston to attend the races, being of course unaware of the melancholy necessity of their postponement.”[xiv]
The above article from The Lincolnshire Chronicle gives a great insight into the nature of the bathing machines. It also has to be noted the speed at which the coroner acted. The coroners inquest with a Jury used to be more common place certainly up to the 1970’s. In Spalding, coroner’s inquests were typically held on a Thursday afternoon and the local police would go around recruiting shop keepers for this duty knowing that it was their half day closing. As a result my father attended several coroner’s inquests as a juror for a variety of deaths by misadventure including road accidents, crashed light aircraft, and sudden death of a witness being questioned by local police. They were given a small fee in cash for attending to this duty which duly got placed in the Police Benevolent Fund collecting tin conveniently placed and sometimes shaken adjacent to the clerk paying them.
After 1847 their appears to have been a decline in interest in horse racing, although meetings were still held. Certainly the sands were reducing in size as they transformed into Marsh. Freiston Shore did retain its attraction as a resort and was still very popular. There were still annual Sand Fairs each summer. 1848 saw the arrival of the Railway to Boston and this gave the resort a boost as we see investment in a horse drawn omnibus to take people from the Railway Station and the White Hart Hotel near Bridge End in Boston to Freiston Shore.[vi] Other activities grew in interest with a cricket match held at Freiston Shore in 1857. There was also a growth in organised hare coursing in this period with several meets held at Freiston Shore providing a useful income outside the summer season.
There was also a series of boating regattas and boat races:
1874 saw Hunstanton Yacht Club race starting off Freiston Shore, out to The Deeps and a navigation buoy and back again.[xv]
July 1879 saw the Fishermen’s Regatta which included racing and the pleasure cruising past the increasing number of larger Steam Ships that visited Boston Deeps and anchored their unable to advanve up The Haven to be serviced by barges due to their increasing size. Hence we see the comment, “Not the least pleasing part of the day’s pleasure was the stay alongside the foreign barques.”[xvi]
If an unusual ship entered the Deeps it was common for enterprising fishermen to run sightseeing trips out to the vessel whilst it was moored.
July 1891 saw The Spalding Regatta that consisted of six racing events of yachts, smacks, and decked boat races.
In 1887 we see the beginnings of competition from the far side of the Wash at Hunstanton with the steamer Mayflower running summer excursions from Boston to Hunstanton. Similarly 1873 saw Skegness gain its railway line which opened it up to tourists from the Midlands. Skegness had once been a resort of equal size to Freiston Shore, but no longer was Skegness regarded as an inferior resort, “a vile and shabby bathing place”.[xvii]
Horse racing had declined at Freiston Shore in part due to the decline in the quality of the sand, but also the 1880’s saw an agricultural recession and farmers, especially in southern Lincolnshire, were hit hard financially as cheap corn flooded into the country from America and Canada as they opened up huge areas of farmland and quickly adopted modern methods at scale. However, in 1887, Mr Plummer sought to recapture and rejuvenate interest in horse racing and Sand Fair at Freiston Shore by using land to the South of the old site as he had the only surviving Hotel. This was promoted in local press albeit with some artistic licence by the journalist concerned:
“ Fifty years ago when Freiston Shore was the most fashionable resort on the Lincolnshire coast horse racing on the sands was one of the popular diversions of the season. The meeting was well supported, a good class of horses was always entered, and the sport generally speaking, very good.the meeting was abandoned over forty years ago, mainly because two jockeys had the misfortune to be drowned whilst bathing on the Sunday preceding the day fixed for the races. Since then the sea has gradually receded, the distance now between the bank and the water when the tide is down being fully two miles. As the process of recession has gone on, the sandy beach on which the races used to take place has gradually disappeared under a coating of mud towards the water, and of a broad expanse of salt marsh, which will be ready for enclosure in a few years, towards the bank. It will strike some therefore a little odd that steps are being taken to revive the races. Yet such is actually the case. Money is being subscribed for prizes, and Thursday in next week is fixed for the races. The course will be on a grass covered part of the foreshore, immediately by the side of the bank. The event is exciting some interest in Boston and its vicinity, and if the weather prove fine there will no doubt be a large gathering to witness the sport.
Sea bathing at Freiston Shore lasted for something over a century. The two main hotels were built just after the middle of the 18th century. In 1845 the proprietor of the Marine Hotel, John Baker, advertised Hot and Cold Baths and Bathing Machines always in readiness. Liquors of the best quality, and wines of superior vintage. Stabling for upwards of 100 horses. From the 1840’s to 1870’s there was an annual Sand Fair in June or July, with horses and pony races, amusements and a quadrille band. Today the Marine is a forlorn shell and the saltmarsh where the sand fair was held has been reclaimed.”[xviii]
The event was a local success with an estimated 2000 persons present from Boston and the surrounding area. The weather was good, but sadly the first of the four races saw Mr. Oliver’s horse, Lively Lady, fall and break its foreleg which resulted in it being shot. A collection totalling £5 was made for the unfortunate Mr. Oliver. National press was less complimentary about this event:
“Some hundreds of spectators visited Freiston Shore fair and races. The sport was confined to a few local nags, and the amount of the various stakes was not heavy.”[xix]
This local fair and racing was continued for a few years after and at least until 1890 in the same format.
As horse racing and bathing declined on Freiston Shore the declining fortunes of the area had a boost from the growth in the recreational sport of wildfowling popularised by the writings of Sir Ralph Payne Galwey and others in the late nineteenth century. This sees adverts for shotgun cartridges targeted at wildfowlers visiting The Marine Hotel at Freiston Shore.
Sadly wildfowling saw the notorious creek known as “the Low” claim another victim between Christmas and New Year in 1891:
“Drowned at Freiston Shore: On Sunday night a death from drowning occurred under very painful circumstances. An inquest was held on Tuesday, by Dr. Clegg on the body of Mr. David Noel Ricardo, aged 20, and the following evidence was taken: Mr. Harved Campbell Nelson deposed: I have recently been staying at Plummers Hotel with two friends, Mr. Algernon Stracey and the deceased Mr. Ricardo. We were on a pleasure excursion, shooting wildfowl at sea. On Saturday morning about 8 o’clock I left the hotel with Mr. Ricardo to go down in our gunning punts. Mr. Stracey did not accompany us. We reached the shore on our return about 5.30. It was nearly dark. We got on a bank and anchored the punts, intending to walk up. The water was fast rising, and flowing very strong, and we were soon surrounded. We tried to find our punts, but could not. We walked on in the direction of the hotel, and the water was above our waists. We fired off all our cartridges as signals of alarm, hoping that assistance would reach us. Then we came to a broad, deep creek, and I said, ‘We must swim’. Ricardo said, ‘Let us go back’. I said, ‘No, that is impossible: we must go on or lose our lives.’ We threw our guns away, and I got my heavy coat off. He did not take his coat off, and it would very much impede his swimming. I swam about 50 yards, and I was nearly exhausted when I felt the ground. It was then intensely dark. I could neither see nor hear anything of my friend. The last words I heard him say were,’Come back.’ I waited for some time and shouted, and then made for the hotel to get assistance. I returned to look for him with Mr. Stracey and others. – Mr. Algernon Stracey deposed: at about 6.30 I heard from the last witness what happened. I sent for men and lanterns, and we made what search we could. I went down the next morning with Mr. Nelson, the coastguard men, and others, and we found the body lying in the creek. Wm. H. Thomas, coastguardsman deposed: The body was lying face downwards. His gun was about 40 yards off, near the sea. The creek is called ‘The Low’, and there would be a depth of 12 feet of water where they crossed. The tide would be running very strong; it was high water at 8 o’clock. They could not escape having to cross ‘The Low’. There is a way round at low water, but it would be two miles round. After not being able to find the punts there was no means of avoiding the creek. The coroner said that Freiston was not considered a dangerous shore, and there was no record of any similar fatality having occurred in recent years. In future it would be advisable if strangers to the shore engaged a fisherman or some man of experience to accompany them in their boat, or to look out for them on their return at night. The jury (Mr. Thomas Bringeman, foreman) returned a verdict of ‘drowning through misadventure’ and expressed deep sympathy for Mr. Ricardo’s family.”[xx]
It is worthy of note the local presence on the Coast Guard at Freiston Shore to assist in finding the unfortunate Mr. Ricardo. The Coastguard had been formed in 1822, meaning as I write this in 2022 they are celebrating their bi-centenary, and the earliest I have identified Coastguard being based at Freiston Shore is 1824, but it is highly likely, in my opinion, that they were present in one form or another many decades or even centuries before that. Boston had relied upon income from goods travelling through its local coastal ports as well as its own port as a source of income to aid its growth for centuries. Certainly in the 18th century there was a revenue cutter that patrolled The Deeps and Freiston would be a good location to have based this.
The motto of the Coastguard today is “To search, to rescue, to save”. This motto hides its original purpose to act as a preventative force for smugglers. There secondary purpose at this time was to assist ships in danger, but also to ensure security of a shipwreck for the Crown or Receiver of Wrecks. During the various blockades of the British Isles from France and its varying allies smuggling was not pursued with vigour as it suited the powers in authority to have a means of procuring certain goods, including fine wines and brandy. However, as these conflicts subsided the need to ensure appropriate revenues were not avoided came to the fore. This resulted in various services amalgamating and the Coastguard service formed initially dominating the southern ports of England, this simply meant smugglers moved further up the East coast and the Coastguard service enlarged often by continuing its amalgamation with existing resources. Sometimes the Coastguard ensured local knowledge was procured “in case of need” by appointing honorary coastguards. I have met several people holding such a position, usually fishermen and retired pilots and lifeboatmen, but the most local example was the wildfowler, punt-gunner and farmer Laurence Thompson of Sutton Bridge. The lifesaving role of the Coastguard in the treacherous Wash would have been a primary concern in my opinion and there are numerous accounts of their assistance given from Freiston Shore.
In January 1824 the Freiston coastguard experienced no small success:
“Last week in Lincoln Deeps, as a detached party belonging to the Redbreast revenue cutter, stationed at Freiston Shore, were returning from patrol about 9 o’clock they saw a strange vessel on Wrangle Main, to which they proceeded without a moment’s delay. The vessel was found to be a smuggling lugger, of considerable burden, with a crew of nine men, who, on perceiving the courageous advance of the armed and determined preventative men, betook themselves with great haste to their boat. They continued to lay by for some time, until they observed the revenue cruiser sailing down the Deeps, to reinforce their brave comrades with her gallant crew, when they instantly made off to Gibraltar Point. The cargo was on Saturday conveyed in four wagons to Boston, and deposited in the Custom-house. It consists of 318 half ankers of Geneva, besides 50 bales of dry goods, some of which contain tobacco or snuff, others plate glass,others highly finished Dutch paintings.”[xxi]
The 19th Century saw the growth of shipping and especially steam ships. With this became the difficulty of accessing Boston Docks. The solution was a railway and pier to be built from Boston to Freiston Shore:
In 1863 Sir Stafford Northcote M.P. holding a public meeting for inhabitants of Boston to attend and look at adopting measures for the projected railway to Freiston Shore. The proposed railway would have run through the centre of Boston with railway tracks both sides of the river before taking a wide route around to Freiston Shore. There was opposition to this in Boston but this grew somewhat after the Freiston Shore Railway Bill passed its second reading in 1875. The Mayor of Boston created a fighting fund fund arguing that the proposed Freiston Shore dock would take away working men from Boston dock to the detriment of Boston business. An alternative plan and subsequent Bill was proposed to widen the river, improve the docks and link the docks to the railway.
Instead of a Pier we see the Freiston Shore Reclamation Act of 1879 enabling the reclamation of saltmarsh because …”the reclamation of such tracts of land and the bringing of them into cultivation would be of local and public advantage.” It is my opinion that it was possibly fortunate for the environment of The Wash that the railway and pier at Freiston never came to fruition as it would have opened the door to greater development of the estuary. The current reversal of reclamation on land managed by the RSPB is a great asset at this migratory crossroads for the wildfowl and waders of Europe.
1893 possibly saw the passing of an era for Freiston Shore with the death of Thomas Plummer on 22nd February 1893:
“Mr. Thomas Plummer, formerly a member of the Boston Town Council, died at Freiston on Wednesday evening aged 89 years. His name will be longer remembered because of his connection with Plummers Hotel at Freiston Shore, of which he was the owner. His income was largely decreased by agricultural depression, and for some years past he has led a retired life at Freiston. In the Boston Town Council he sat on the Liberal side, and in the earlier years of his membership was a very strong supporter of the policy of the late Ald. Maltby. He was a great stickler for courtesy in debate, and very frequently interposed to secure what he considered courteous treatment for himself and other members of the Town Council.”[xxii]
The driving force behind the local revival of the Sand Fairs and racing at Freiston Shore had passed. But Freiston Shore did remain an attraction for excursions. It is amusing to see the same words being uttered by policemen to Boston magistrates in 1873 and 1907, that is, “a good many people come from Freiston Shore drunk on Sundays.”
In 1927 the fact that 30 cars had been seen parked at Freiston Shore on a Sunday was of enough note to reach the local press.
1935 saw the creation of North Sea Camp as a Borstal to reform young criminals. They were used as labour to build sea walls and aid reclamation. The 1940’s saw Freiston Shore fortified under emergency measures to prevent invasion with concrete bunkers and two sixteen inch artillery guns put into place to defend Boston Deeps and the entrance to the Haven. The remains of these and the tramways to service the fortifications can still be seen as pictured below.
[i] Boston Guardian February 1893
[ii] The Sun 19th November 1862
[iii] British Mercury 7th January 1824
[iv] Boston Guardian 10th November 1810 [v] Lincolnshire Chronicle 17th September 1841 [vi] Lincolnshire Chronicle 28th June 1844 [vii] Liverpool Albion 10th August 1846 [viii] Lincolnshire Chronicle August 7th 1846 [ix] Boston Guardian 1848 [x] Boston Guardian July 1874 [xii] Boston Guardian July 1879 [xiii] John Byng 1791 [xiv] Stamford Mercury 2nd September 1887 [xv] The Field September 1887 [xvi] Stamford Mercury January 2nd 1892
[xvii] Unlike the state of the roads in 2022! [xviii] Daniel Defoe writer and author b.1660 d.1771 [xix] Later to be called the Coach House and then Plummers Hotel [xx] Thacker is a roofer. Can also apply to the thatcher of a hay stack.
[xxi] A Cantab is a term for a Cambridge graduate. [xxii] A pinfold is a pound for stray animals and livestock [xxiii] “pinner’s counting house” it is the author’s opinion that the writer is being derogatory or sarcastic towards the women that take the fee for release of strays from this pinfold with “pinner” being the name given to the cap worn by working women in the 17th and 18th century. [xxiv] “ruddled” is a means of colouring sheep often with clay for show purposes.