Louth is an attractive Georgian market town full of character with lots of interesting passageways and individual shops. The Parish Church of St James’s is magnificent with its 16th century spire. Some web sites say it has the tallest spire in the country, other that it’s the third tallest. Whichever is the case, it’s a wonderful looking church both outside and in. The town is on the International Meridian Line which is marked by a brass plaque. You can stand with one foot in the western hemisphere and the other foot in the eastern hemisphere …should you wish.
I was born in Louth and lived there for thirteen years so I know the town and surrounding countryside well. I remember the markets, especially the mid-week one where items were auctioned including live poultry and rabbits. I loved standing to watch all the bidding which could sometimes become very lively. A friend of my aunts used to go there and although he was a very talkative chap, when the auction was going on you weren’t allowed to distract him. There are still markets held in the town with a variety of stalls including a Farmer’s Market every 2nd Friday and 4th Wednesday of the month.
As well as the outdoor markets there are also two Market Halls. The original one was built in 1866 and has a three-storey red brick clock tower, its design was apparetly based on the rather grander, Kings Cross Station. New Market Hall Shopping Centre has independent shops and unlike the older Market Hall there’s a cafe and stalls selling local fresh produce including fish and meat.
Sadly I’m not aware if I still have any relatives who live in Louth. My mother’s family was quite large. She had two sisters and three brothers. Their father died in the First World War. His name, William Willerton, is on Louth War Memorial. A year later in 1918, their mother died. The two eldest boys were taken into the care of Dr. Barnardos and subsequently were shipped to Canada along with many orphaned children at that time. The youngest brother, Frank ran a succesful plumbing business in Eastgate Street trading as Colbeck & Willerton. The eldest girl, my Aunty Doris was around 14 years old when she went ‘into service’ to work at a country house near Leeds. She subsequently married the chauffeur there and in time they returned to Louth. My mother Mabel was looked after by an aunt and uncle as was her older sister, Alice. All the children despite losing their parents at a young age did very well for themselves.
On my father’s side, dad’s mother Maggie ran a fruit and veg shop and an adjoining woolshop in Eastgate Street. She was a very efficient business woman. Her husband, John Winton ran the Lindsey Steam Laundry in Eve Street with his brother until it was sold in 1948. The Laundry was badly affected by a devastating flood.
On Saturday May 29th 1920 tragedy struck the town of Louth. In twenty minutes due to a flash flood, 23 people died when a monumental amount of rain fell on the town. By 5.15pm the surge of water had reached the laundry in Eve Street and quite literally people ran for their lives. The link tells of this fateful day and the aftermath. Many of those who died were buried in London Road Cemetery where a memorial was erected in their memory. Louth Museum has more on this event and much more on the history of the town.
There’s also a personal account of the drama which unfolded at the laundry. It’s written by my father who was eight at the time. Here’s an extract which tells of the sad fate of dad’s cousin, Maggie Winton age 15.
” ….At first, in the laundry office below, the floor must have been gradually covered in that first gentle rise of the flood, so according to Lizzie Casswell they had both climbed onto a long counter and sat there to keep their feet dry. Then the sudden fury of the flood engulfed the whole building. Three feet away from the counter was a large window, next to it a door, and next door was Bill’s house with it’s porch type door. The flash flood hurled the counter towards the window, which fortunately for one girl was shattered into a thousand pieces, and they were hurled after it. A downspout was on the side wall by the window; by a miracle Lizzie grabbed it and hung on. She felt Maggie clutch at her skirt and was gone into the 8-10 ft of flood water. Lizzie shouted and Bill came out of his top window, stood on top of the porch and pulled her up to safety. Maggie drowned in the flood and in a way it was fortunate she did not surface so her parents did not see her drowned. Her body was found next morning in a corner of the laundry yard, lying in a pile of coke, when the flood had quickly receded by way of the flat marsh to the sea …”
It had been planned to hold a memorial service in 2020 to commemorate the Centenary of the disaster but unfortunately the pandemic put paid to that. I had always thought there was a plaque in St James’s church with the names of those who had died so on our second day in the town, off my husband and I went to find it. Despite searching with a couple of the volunteers at the church we didn’t find a plaque but we were told about the memorial in the cemetery so we decided to drive up there. Before that however I took a few pictures in the church – as you can see it has a wonderful interior.
Thanks to very good directions from one of the helpers at the church we found the monument in the Cemetery. There at the foot of the monument is the name of Maggie Winton, the laundry girl and cousin of my father who perished in the Louth Flood.
I was pleased to pay my respects to Maggie before going over to Alford which is a short drive from Louth, nearer the coast. It’s a small market town on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds and has a 17th century Manor House, a 14th century church and is best known for its regular Craft Markets. My brother loved Alford. He lived and worked there for many years until his death in 2012. His ashes are scattered in a small copse of beech trees just outside the town and in sight of the famous five-sailed windmill. Mick helped to plant those trees which has become a very special place for us.
Alford’s five-sail windmill is very famous but we noticed that the fifth sail was lying by a hedge in the grounds. The windmill appears to be owned by a Trust but there is no ‘live’ website for it and is obviously in need of renovation. Left for too long, I doubt it can be restored to full working order without a lot of money spent on it. It’s sad to see it neglected.
On the way back to Louth we went via Little Cawthorpe. There’s a good pub the ‘Royal Oak Inn’ known locally as ‘The Splash’ tucked away down Watery Lane just by the ford. I have a picture of my Dad and I standing on the bridge by the ford. I am about seven or eight. The bridge looks the same as I remember so I just had to have a picture taken on it. We used to go there quite often as children. I’d walk along the side of the stream and Dad would kick a few of the posts at the side to see if a trout would pop out …they never did. We had an old Hillman car at the time with red leather seats, quite cracked I seem to remember but Dad was fond of that old car. My brother got into trouble because despite being warned not to get too close to the side of the stream he did of course and slipped in. He was in real trouble and had to stand in the back, bent over, all the way back to Louth, so he didn’t get the seat wet. He got a telling off from mum too when we got home.
We’ve always enjoyed our annual visit to Louth and stay in The Mason’s Arms which is in the Cornmarket. Last time our room was up in the gods, about three flights of stairs. It made us smile that the bathroom had been adapted for guests who needed a little extra help, quite how they would have made it up all those stairs we weren’t sure as there isn’t a lift. Anyway it was a nice room and outside on the landing you had a great view acroos the rooftops to St James’s church. The Lincolshire breakfast served there sets you up for the whole day and is included in the price of the room which all round is very reasonable.
The restaurant and coffee bar is a great meeting point at the hotel and is particularly busy on Market Days. For the last couple of years I’ve met some of my schoolfriends there. I think we all curse social media from time to time but tracking down ‘old’ friends is something that can work and often does. As well as keeping in touch through WhatsApp, I can now meet some of the girls who live locally and have a real good catch-up. The time just goes and the nicest thing is that we haven’t changed from those school days. Well maybe we’ve all grown a little older but we’re still the giggly school girls, full of chatter and stories as we always were.
I hope this Blog and the previous one has shown that Lincolnshire really is worth a visit. It’s a varied county offering lots of attractions and activities; good local food, a varied landscape, lots of history, the wonderful city of Lincoln and an interesting coastline.