Gainsborough is a town 15 miles north-west of Lincoln on the River Trent within the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. At one time it served as an important port with trade downstream to Hull, and was the most inland in England, being more than 55 miles from the North Sea.
Gainsborough was one of the capital cities of Mercia during the Anglo-Saxon period, which had preceded Danish rule. It is understandable that the Viking kings would have been drawn to it as an administrative centre, being close to the Danish stronghold at Torksey.
In 868 King Alfred married Ealswitha, daughter of Aethelred Mucill, chief of the Gaini, whence the town gets its name.
Historically, Gainsborough is the “capital that never was”. Towards the end of July 1013, the Dane Sweyn Forkbeard, together with his son Canute, arrived in Gainsborough with an army of conquest. Sweyn defeated the Anglo-Saxon opposition and King Ethelred fled the country. Sweyn was declared King of England, and he returned to Gainsborough. Sweyn and Canute took up high office at the Gainsborough Castle (on the site of the present day Old Hall), while his army occupied the camp at Thonock (today known as Castle Hills). But King Sweyn was killed five weeks later when he was thrown from his horse in Gainsborough. His son Canute established a base elsewhere.
King Canute allegedly performed his unsuccessful attempt to turn the tide back in the River Trent at Gainsborough. Historians believe he may have been demonstrating on the aegir. He and his supporters may have known Gainsborough was the furthest reach of the aegir, and ideal for his demonstration.
The Domesday Book (1087) records that Gainsborough was exclusively a community of farmers, villeins and sokemen, tenants of Geoffrey de Guerche. The population was only about 80 people, of which about 70% were of Scandinavian descent.
The Lindsey Survey of 1115-18 records that Gainsborough was then held by Nele d’Aubigny (known as Nigel the Black). He was the forebear of the Mowbray family, and the Mowbray interest in Gainsborough continued until at least the end of the 14th Century.
A weekly market was granted by King John in 1204.
Thomas Burgh acquired the manor of Gainsborough in 1455. He built Gainsborough Old Hall between 1460 and 1480, a large, 15th-century, timber-framed medieval strong house, and one of the best-preserved manor houses in Britain. It boasts a magnificent Great Hall and strong brick tower. King Richard III in 1483 and King Henry VIII in 1541 both stayed at the Old Hall. The manor was sold to the Hickman family in 1596.
The town was garrisoned for the King in January 1643 and began co-operating with the garrison at Newark in raiding the surrounding countryside and harassing the Parliamentarians there. With the Great North Road blocked to Parliamentarian traffic, Gainsborough became significant as part of a route around Newark by way of Lincoln and the line of the modern A15 road. It was in the Royalists’ interests to obstruct this, which gave rise to the battles of Gainsborough and Winceby. Parliament captured Gainsborough in the battle on 20 July but was immediately besieged by a large Royalist army and forced to surrender after three days.
Parliament captured Gainsborough again on 18 December 1643, but was forced to withdraw in March 1644, razing the town’s defences to prevent their use by the enemy. The Earl of Manchester’s army passed through Gainsborough in May 1644 on its way to York and the Battle of Marston Moor.
After the Civil War ended in 1645, several people in Gainsborough were fined for their Royalist sympathies, including Sir Willoughby Hickman at the Old Hall, who had been created the first Baron Gainsborough by Charles I in 1643.
The first recorded evidence of a church at Gainsborough is in 1180, when the rectory there was granted by Roger de Talebu to the great Preceptory of the Knights Templar in Lindsey, at Willoughton. In 1547, following the Protestant Reformation, the parish of Gainsborough came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln for the first time.
The medieval Church of All Saints fell into disrepair after the Civil War, and in 1736 it was demolished to make way for a new church. The new Parish Church was completed in 1748 with a mix of perpendicular Gothic and Classical Revival styles. All that remains of the Medieval church is the west tower, 90 feet high, and housing eight bells. A monument to Richard Rollett, master sailmaker on Captain James Cook’s second voyage in 1824, is located in the porch.
The town’s increasing population in the 19th Century required the building of a second church in the south of the town, and Holy Trinity Church opened in 1843. This was followed by St John the Divine Church on Ashcroft Road in 1882, and St George’s Church on Heapham Road in the 1950s. Holy Trinity closed in 1971 (and is now the Trinity Arts Centre), and St John the Divine closed in 2002.
Non-conformism has flourished in Gainsborough. Some of the Mayflower Pilgrims worshipped in secret at the Old Hall before sailing for Holland to find religious freedom in 1609. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached in Gainsborough several times between 1759 and 1790. The town’s first Methodist chapel opened in Church Lane in 1788, moving to a new site in North Street in 1804 (and rebuilt there as St Stephen’s in 1966). The Primitive Methodists became established in the town in 1819, with chapels in Spring Gardens (1838), Trinity Street (1877) and Ropery Road (1910). The United Reformed Church opened in Church Street in 1896. St Thomas’ Church in Cross Street caters for the town’s Roman Catholics.
Gainsborough suffered its only large-scale air raid of the war on the night of 10 May 1941. High explosive bombs and incendiaries were dropped but many of them fell harmlessly on the surrounding countryside. There was only minor damage in the town, and no casualties.
On the night of 28-29 April 1942 a single Dornier 217 dropped a stick of bombs on the town centre, causing extensive damage and the loss of seven lives.
On 31 December 1942, a RCAF Bristol Beaufighter aircraft on a training exercise crashed on Noel Street, killing both airmen and a three year old girl.
On 22 May 1944 a RAF Spitfire fighter, in a training exercise, accidentally collided with a Wellington bomber and crashed into a Sheffield-bound goods train as it was passing over the railway bridge on Lea Road. The pilot was the only casualty.
In the early hours of 5 March 1945 a single Junkers 88 fighter/bomber made a low level attack over the town, dropping anti-personnel bombs on Church Street and the surrounding residential area. Three people lost their lives and 50 houses were damaged.
There was a proposal to develop Gainsborough as a new town linked to Sheffield, but the plan was not pursued. New housing was instead built to the south east of Sheffield.
The town was formerly, before 1974, in the county of Lindsey in the Gainsborough Urban District Council. West Lindsey District Council was formed from five former councils.
Gainsborough Town Council was established in 1992, and in the same year Gainsborough’s first Mayor was appointed.
In July 1958, BP discovered oil at Corringham, then at Gainsborough in January 1959.
The town is at the meeting point of the east-west A631 (which crosses the Trent on Trent Bridge at the only point between the M180 and the A57), the A156 (from the south to Torksey) and A159 (from Scunthorpe). Thorndike Way, Gainsborough’s dual carriageway, intended to connect with the A15 at Caenby Corner, only extends eastward to the town boundary, and is named after the actress Dame Sybil Thorndike (born in the town in 1885). The former A631 through the town is now the B1433.
The civil parish extends southwards across much rural land to Lea. The boundary passes to the south of Warren Wood, north of Lea Wood Farm, and passes along the northern edge of Lea Wood. Passing northwards through Bass Wood, it meets Corringham, the main settlement to the east of Gainsborough. The boundary crosses Thorndike Way (A631) and briefly follows the B1433. At Belt Farm it meets Thonock, then follows The Belt Road, to the south of Gainsborough Golf Club (also nearby are Thonock Park and Karston Lakes golf courses), then down Thonock Hill – the edge of the Trent Valley.
Many scholars believe Gainsborough to be the basis for the fictional town of St Ogg’s in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860). The novelist visited Gainsborough in 1859, staying in the house of a shipbuilder on Bridge Street (which survives today as the United Services Club). The stone bridge and the nearby willow tree are mentioned, and the Old Hall is described in detail. Thomas Miller’s Our Old Town published two years before, included the true story of a miller who loses a lawsuit after assaulting his adversary, and George Eliot used a similar story plot in The Mill on the Floss as the basis of the Tuliver/Wakem feud. It’s also possible that she witnessed the aegir on the Trent, which inspired the flood in her story’s climax.
Gainsborough has a long-standing history of industry. The town was the manufacturing base of Marshall, Sons & Co., a major boiler manufacturer founded by William Marshall in 1848. William Marshall died in 1861 (and was buried in the cemetery on Ropery Road). His business became one of the new joint stock companies run by his sons James and Henry. The company occupied Britannia Ironworks, a 16 acre site and the biggest in Europe when built. From Marshall’s Works steam engines went all over the world until it closed in the 1980s. The site has now been split among many different companies, Tesco on Beaumont Street and Dransfield’s remodelling about nine acres. The remainder of the site is occupied by local companies.
Tesco, on the corner of Trinity Street and Colville Terrace, demolished a large section of the works to create its large store around five years ago. Tesco now intends to replace their current store with a 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) Tesco Extra store, on stilts with parking underneath. Dransfield is remodelling about nine acres (36,000 m²) of the site to include a shopping area and a new heritage museum. The site Marshall’s Yard opened during Easter 2007, with additional shops opening after that.
A Morrisons is located on Heapham Road South. A Co-op is located in the Lindsey Centre and at Morton by Gainsborough.
Another area of Gainsborough’s industry is Rose Brothers, after William German Rose and Walter Rose, the co-founders. In 1893 William Rose invented the world’s first packaging machine, and two years later bought the Trentside Works site and started to rapidly expand his packaging machine business. Rose’s diversified into many other areas, and for many years they were associated with many household brands which produced the demand items of the day, including starch, razor blades and sweets. They produced seaside rock-making machines, cigarette-making machines and bread-slicing and wrapping machines. When the company closed, Cadbury bought the packaging side of the business and moved it to Birmingham, but the name lives on in ‘Roses’ chocolates.
By the side of the east bank of the Trent near the railway bridge is a large mill owned by Kerry Ingredients (headquartered in Tralee).
Gainsborough is the home of two of the largest jokes and novelties importers in the UK: Smiffy’s (formerly known as RH Smith & Sons, founded in 1894), and Pam’s of Gainsborough, a smaller company founded in 1986. Smiffy’s were the only wigmaker left in the UK until December 2008, when bulk production was outsourced to the Far East and over 35 staff were made redundant. The company has set its future goals on a more mature fancy dress and party market.
Another local business is the firm of Eminox, founded in 1978. They started by building replacement exhausts for the local bus company. They have expanded into a manufacturing company that specialises in the large stainless steel exhaust systems fitted to buses and commercial vehicles. They are also building low-emission catalytic systems for the London low emission zone.
Beside Riverside Walk are the Whitton’s Mill flats, which won the Royal Town Planning Institute award for the East Midlands. Marshall’s Yard also received an award for regeneration.
West Lindsey District Council used to have their main offices at the Guildhall on Lord Street, but in January 2008, they moved to a new £4.3m building in Marshall’s Yard. The old building was to have been converted into a hotel but some residents believe it is a financial millstone for the people of West Lindsey.
Silver Street is home to many of Gainsborough’s shops. Elswitha Hall is the birthplace of Halford John Mackinder, founder of the Geographical Association.
A large water tower stands on Heapham Road, built in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
West Burton Power Station is three miles (5 km) to the south-west of the town, near to the railway to Retford. At the East Trent Junction, on the east side on the railway bridge over the Trent, the railway line from Retford (and Sheffield) and Doncaster, the line splits into two – for Grimsby and Lincoln. The two respective railway stations in Gainsborough are Gainsborough Central on Spring Gardens near the town centre (for the Grimsby line) and Lea Road (for Lincoln) on Lea Road (A156) to the south of the town. At the equivalent West Trent Junction, on the other side of the river in Nottinghamshire, the lines from Doncaster and Sheffield meet. The bridge over the Trent carries four possible routes of trains (Sheffield or Doncaster to Lincoln or Grimsby).
Gainsborough is famed as Britain’s most inland port. It has had a long history of river shipping trade. The town’s Trent Bridge prevents larger coastal boats from going beyond it, and so many have to offload their goods at the town. There is one wharf in the town – mainly an importer of wood. Nevertheless, most shipping is now offloaded further down the river, at Flixborough Wharf, which has direct rail links.
At the A631 Trent bridge, there used to be a ferry across the Trent before 1787, a distance of 235 feet across. The bridge, which cost £12,000, was completed in the spring of 1791. Originally a toll bridge, it was bought by the Ministry of Transport, Lindsey County Council, Gainsborough Urban District and Nottinghamshire County Council for £130,000 in 1927, and declared free of tolls on 31 March 1932.
The house and grounds of Richmond Park, in the north of the town, was opened as a public park in 1947. Attractions include greenhouses, an aviary, and a 600 year old oak tree. Whitton Gardens, on the Riverside, opened in 1973.
“The Sands” venue, located in Gainsborough’s 1908 “Town Hall”, is a jazz club which seats 200 people.
In 2000 renovation of the town’s river banks was completed, providing residents and tourists with access to the riverside. The second weekend in June sees the town play host to the Gainsborough Riverside Festival, an annual arts/heritage event which has run since 2001.