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East Midlands Stamford, Lincolnshire

An unspoilt town regarded as one of the finest stone towns in England.

Seen from the A1, Stamford is an attractive stone town dominated by the towers and spires of its Medieval churches and surrounded by fertile Lincolnshire countryside. It rivals the stone towns and villages of the Cotswolds and, like them, its prosperity was based on wool.

Stamford has a long history as an important crossing point on the River Welland. It was an important Saxon burgh, and one of the 5 controlling boroughs of Danelaw. It was one of the first towns to produce glazed wheel thrown pottery after the Romans had left Britain. It even had its own mint and examples of the coins can be seen in the Town Hall.

It prospered under the Normans who built a castle here to protect the ford crossing and a wall around the town. It became a centre for the hearing of law cases by the King’s Justices and the town was frequently visited by monarchs on affairs of State, when Parliaments and other councils convened in the town.

The economy based on wool thrived. Stamford was particularly famous for a woven cloth called haberget, which had a rough diamond texture and finish. It was made in different qualities with the cheapest being used by the poor, and the very fine cloth by the wealthy.

It had good communications along the River Welland to the Wash and Europe as well as along the Great North Road to the rest of the country. By the C13th, it was one of the ten largest towns in England with six monasteries and priories and 14 churches. For a short time in the C14th it even had a University, formed by a group of breakaway students from Oxford University.

A few of the original half timber timber frame buildings can still be seen around the town.

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As the town became more wealthy, these were rebuilt in stone from local quarries with Collyweston slate roofs.

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Some buildings were just given a new frontage and the remains of the original timber frame can be seen behind.

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In the late C15th/early C16th the River Welland began to silt up and the centre of the wool trade moved to East Anglia, leading to a decline in the prosperity of the town, with wealth being concentrated in the hands of a few rich merchants. They paid for the rebuilding of many churches in the C15th, as well as hospitals and alms houses for the poor. Browne’s Hospital and the Lord Burghley Hospital are good examples.

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This was originally established in the late C12th by Peterborough Abbey to provide accommodation for travellers as well as the local poor and sick. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was bought by Lord Burghley as almshouses for both men and women who have lived and worked in Stamford, and it still does today.

In 1622 James I authorised the the building of a (now disused) canal between Stamford and Market Deeping to restore navigation to the Wash. Improvements to the Great North Road and in particular the arrival of the Turnpike Trusts in the early C18th led to a renaissance in trade. Midway between London and York, Stamford became an important staging post one day’s travel from each. Gateways in the town walls were pulled down and the road became lined with coaching inns. The George Hotel is a reminder of this time and still has its sign across the road to attract the attention of coach drivers and make them stop.

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Professional men and wealthy merchants were attracted to the town and built many of the splendid stone houses seen today date from the C18th.

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Rutland Terrace on the western outskirts of the town is a particularly fine example and worthy of anywhere in Bath. With its views across open countryside, it was It was targeted at those who wanted to escape living in the town centre.

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The arrival of the railways in the C19th dealt a death blow to the further development of Stamford as the Third Marquis of Exeter who lived in Burghley House on the outskirts of Stamford, refused to let the railway companies build a railway line across his land. From being an important staging point, Stamford became a rural backwater, and escaped the blight of C19th and early C20th development.

The town still retains its Saxon street plan with many small alleyways, and many of the population still live in the town centre.

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In 1967 Stamford became the first urban conservation area in England and is popular with film makers. It is a regular finalist in The Sunday Times the best place to live in Britain survey.

With its pedestrianised street and range of different architectural styles it is an attractive place to wander. All the large supermarkets are here on the edges of the town. The town centre retains a mix of chains stores as well as small specialist shops, which have been family owned for generation.

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The Friday market with its excellent range of food stalls on Ironmonger and Broad Street, over looked by the redundant St Michael’s Church attract visitors from all over the local area.

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Things to See and Do in Stamford

Stamford is an unspoilt town and with its Saxon street plan and Georgian buildings it feels as if the C20th has passed it by.

It was originally a walled town with a Norman castle but little remains. Traces of the C13th walls can be seen to the north of the town along North Street and one Bastion tower still stands.

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The remains of one of the postern gates through the wall can be seen on St Mary’s Hill.

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Shortly after the Norman Conquest, the Normans built a motte and bailey castle to control the crossing point on the River Welland. This was soon replaced by a stone building. By the C14th the castle no longer strategically important and was in a poor state. By 1600, all that was left was a small hall used as an occasional law court (Leet Court). The rest of the stone was robbed out and used as building stone.

Part of the keep survived until the 1930s when the area was flatted for the bus station and car park. Now all that remains is part of the hall wall and curtain wall at the junction of Castle Dyke and Bath Row. The three arched openings are thought to be part of the screen passage of the Great Hall and part of the curtain wall.

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At the end of the curtain wall is the site of former former public bath house built here in 1772 by local surgeons concerned about the sanitary conditions in the town. The present building was built in 1823 by the marquis of Exeter and is now a private house.

The gateways in the walls were pulled down in the C17th when the turnpikes arrived and they were creating bottlenecks for traffic wanting to enter or leave the town. St Peter’s Gate controlled entry to the town from the west. When it was demolished and a small row of almshouses were built to the south of the site, providing accommodation for poor married couples. These were named Hopkins Hospital after John Hopkins who was mayor of Stamford and provided the funding.

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Wealthy merchants funded the building of Almshouses in Stamford and many can still survive. Browne’s Hospital (#2 ) was founded in the late C15th by wealthy wool merchant, William Browne who was also responsible for enlarging and embellishing All Saints' Church. It is open to visitors some Saturdays during the summer months .

The Town Hall (#3) was originally built on the gatehouse over the River Welland on St Mary’s Hill. It was moved to a new building further up the street in 1779, which also housed the goal.

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This is open on Fridays for guided tours which take visitors into the Courtroom, Council Chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour where the Civic Regalia are kept.

Stamford Arts Centre on St Mary’s Street is in an equally impressive C18th building. As well as the Arts Centre, it also has a theatre cinema, ballroom, gallery and coffee-shop.The theatre opened in 1768 and is one of the few C18th playhouses still functioning as a theatre. Tourist Information is also here.

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The Corn Exchange on Broad Street been restored and now houses second theatre with wide range drama and music groups.

The funeral procession of Queen Eleanor stopped in Stamford for a night on the way to London. Little remains of the original cross and there is disagreement as to its exact site. A modern cross was erected in the old sheep market as the centrepiece of the town's £1.3 million Gateway project which pedestrianised Red Lion Square and the Sheep Market. Built of local stone, the cross is topped by a bronze spike. There was a lot of local controversy when the cross was first erected but it is now accepted as a popular meeting place in the town. The Golden Fleece pub dates from the late C18th or early C19th when the area was still used as the sheep market.

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In the C18th, St Martins was lined with staging inns. The George Hotel still has the sign across the road, designed to remind stagecoaches to start slowing down, and tourists to stop and enter.

The Meadows are an attractive area of open land and trees along the River Welland. These were originally water meadows and used to flood regularly. originally common land, they were divided by the 1871 enclosure act between Burghley Estates and the town council.

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Stamford is very much a town of medieval churches and these are described separately.

Tourist Information has a free leaflet about the town with details of a walk around the centre. They also sell a range of more detailed trails.

Stamford is very much a place to explore on foot. There are many information boards spread around the town and all sorts of hidden delights to find, like the cottage on Wharf Street where Sir Malcolm Sargent grew up.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Browne's Hospital

Browne’s Hospital is a Medieval almshouse. The word ‘Hospital’ had a very different meaning in the Middle Ages and was a place offering hospitality. Many provided care for the elderly or infirm, rather than medical treatment.

Browne’s Hospital dates from 1485 and was founded by William Browne, a wealthy Stamford wool merchant, who endowed it with property and agricultural land.

It provided a home for ten poor men and two poor women, who were too old to work. They were looked after by a Warden and Confrator, who were non-monastic priests. The inmates had to attend chapel twice daily where masses for the soul of William Browne. On Sundays’ they attended nearby All Saints’ Church.

Browne’s Hospital is an attractive pale stone building on Broad street with the chantry chapel at one end and a long common room, which was the original living quarters for the residents. Above this are the audit room where all business was conducted and confrator's rooms. Steps lead up to the entrance with a cupola bell tower above. The statue above the door is of William Browne.

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The heavy wooden doors had a massive lock as well as bolts.

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Inside the doorway, a stone staircase on the right leads up to the audit and confrator’s rooms

A long vaulted passageway leads down the side of the cloister gardens.

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Victorian cottages round two sides of the gardens replaced the communal common room living quarters. They now providing accommodation for thirteen residents although there is no longer a Warden or Confrator living on site.

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Browne’s Hospital is open Saturdays July-September when the common room, chapel, staircase, audit room and Confrator’s room can be visited. Alternatively it is possible to ring to arrange a pre-booked tour. One of the resident’s was coming out of the door and kindly said I could go inside to look at the cloister gardens and alms cottages.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Stamford Town Hall

St Mary’s Hill was originally the route for the Great North Road between London and York and crossed the River Welland at Town Bridge. The original Town Hall was in a room above the gateway guarding entry to the town from the south.

With the arrival of turnpike trusts and increased road traffic, the gateway caused increasing traffic congestion. The Turnpike Trustees wanted to demolish the gateway and widen the road. A new Town Hall was built a bit further along the road, partially funded by the Cecil family of Burghley House.

Completed in 1770, this is an elegant Georgian building constructed of local stone. The goal was directly below the Courtroom until the C19th when it was no longer used. Originally the Town Hall had a central flight of stairs but these caused traffic problems as well as being a danger to pedestrians and were later replaced by two side flights. At the top is the Coat of Arms of Stamford.The three lions on the left indicate that Stamford was a Royal Burgh. The gold and blue squares are the arms of the de Warre family, who were Lords of the Manor in the C13th.

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The entrance hall is impressive with stone flagged floor, double staircase and Doric pillars. A display case contains the bronze weights and measures dating from 1826. Another has artefacts from nearby RAF Witering who were conferred the Freedom of the Borough. There is also a model of Daniel Lambert who was famous as the fattest man in England weighing over 52 stones. He died in 1809 when visiting Stamford and is buried in St Martin’s Churchyard.

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Upstairs is the Courtroom which was used for the Quarterly Assizes as well as the Magistrates’ court. No longer used as a courthouse, the room is used for civic receptions, function and also for contentious meetings of the town council that are likely to attract a lot of public interest.

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Above the Magistrates’ bench are the Royal Coat of Arms of George III, with a portrait of Charles II below them. Round the walls are lists of all the Aldermen and later Mayors of Stamford from 1442 to the present day. Important events are interspersed in red. The cupboards contain the minute books from George II to the present.

The Council Chamber is on the ground floor at the back of the building and was added in the early C20th on the site of the Borough Gaol, which closed in 1878. Before then, council meetings were held in the entrance hall.

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At the head is the mayor’s chair and there are portraits of previous mayors on the walls. The C18th carved wood settles around the walls are used by the general public when they attend council meetings.

The Mayor’s Parlour is an opulent room at the front of the building. This is still the working office as well as being used to entertain visitors. The furniture is Georgian . The clock in C17th and was made by a Stamford clockmaker.

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On the wall is a picture of the Stamford Bull Run which was held every November for almost 700 years until it ended in 1739. This has recently been resurrected in the biennial Stamford Georgian Festival.

The Civic Regallia is kept behind a curtain screen and displayed behind armoured glass, It reflects the importance and wealth of Stamford.

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The silver Wand of Office is the highlight of the collection and was given to the town by Edward IV.

Behind it is the small mace made of solid silver and then gilded. This dates from 1660 and was purchased by the Borough to replace an older mace melted down by the troops of Oliver Cromwell.The large mace, again gilded solid silver was given to the town in 1678 by one of its two Members of Parliament . This is the mace carried in civic processions and is placed in front of the mayor at all council meetings.

The C17th solid silver punch bowl has a mulberry on the lid and end of the ladle, representing the silk trade that flourished in the town for a short time during the Middle Ages.

Stamford had a mint from Saxon times until the end of the C12th and there is a display of coins minted in Stamford.

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Next to them are examples of Wait’s badges with the town coat of arms. Waits were minstrels but also doubled up as law enforces.

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The Hall Book records minutes of council meetings and this is the oldest surviving book dating from 1465

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The drawers below contain the town charters. Fourteen survive dating from 1462 until 1714 and is one of the largest collections in the country. They were written on vellum and many still have their seal attached.

One of the committee rooms is now the Malcolm Sargent room who lived in Stamford until he was 18, was made an Hononary Freeman of Stamford and is buried in Stamford Cemetery.

The town hall is open for tours every Friday. These last about an hour, are free and have a knowledgeable guide. I was the only person that morning. There is on street parking by the Town Hall.

Website
 

Ian Sutton

1000+ Posts
For something a little different when visiting Stamford over the summer months, there is a long-established open-air theatre (IIRC) solely focused on Shakespeare plays. The open-air bit is a slight misnomer, as the audience are under the cover of a large marquee tent, but the players are open to the elements (and the elements most certainly did open up when we went, but they bravely carried on). Many people take picnics along to dine in the grounds before the play starts, which makes for a rather enjoyable afternoon / evening out. Tickets tend to go fast for the better known plays, but are usually around a bit longer for some of the lesser known plays.
 

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