Sleaford is a town in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, England. It is located 13 miles (21 km) north-east of Grantham, 17 miles (27 km) west of Boston, and 19 miles (30 km) south of Lincoln, and had a total resident population of around 14,500 in 6,167 households at the time of the 2001 census.
The name Sleaford is from the Old English esla+forde, meaning “ford over a muddy stream” (now known as the River Slea). In 852 the name first appears as Slioford whilst in the 1086 Domesday book it is recorded as Eslaforde’. The river was the main trade route for the town for many years. In 1794, the Slea was canalised; known as the Sleaford Navigation, it operated until superseded by the railways in the mid 1850s.
Until recently, Sleaford was primarily an agricultural town, supporting a cattle market and seed companies such as Hubbard and Phillips, and Sharpes International Seeds. More recently, Sleaford is developing as a tourist and craft destination.
The modern centre of Sleaford originated as New Sleaford. Excavations in the market place in 1979 uncovered the remains of a small Anglo-Saxon settlement of eighth century date. Old Sleaford, towards the eastern end of the modern town, was probably a tribal centre of the Iron Age Corieltauvi.There may have been a pre-Roman coin mint here, since the largest hoard of coin pellet moulds ever found in Europe was excavated here. Few Iron Age coins were found here however, and it is believed that after being poured into the pellet moulds, the coins were taken to Leicester to be stamped.
A Roman road, Mareham Lane, used to run through Old Sleaford, and southwards along the fen edge, towards Bourne. Where it passed through Old Sleaford, excavations have revealed a large stone-built domestic residence with associated farm buildings, corn-driers, ovens and field systems, as well as a number of burials.
In 1858, just to the south of the town, a large Anglo-Roman cemetery was found, showing a mix of pagan and Christian burial practices. A large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, of some 600 burials was found during construction of the new railway station in 1882. Further to the south-west, in nearby Quarrington, a substantial Anglo-Saxon settlement was excavated during a new housing development. To the north of the town, an early Saxon settlement was investigated by APS prior to the construction of new housing and facilities at the Holdingham roundabout. Some of the artefacts can be seen displayed at the McDonald’s restaurant on the site.
Under the Anglo-Saxons, until conquered by the Vikings, Sleaford became part of the Flaxwell Wapentake. Sleaford (‘Eslaforde’) was then held by a man named Bardi.
William the Conqueror gave the manor of ‘Eslaforde’ to Remigius de Fécamp, the first Bishop of Lincoln, in around 1086.
About 1130, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln built a castle just southwest of the town. The footings and moat can still be seen, in what is now the Castle Fields. This was the period in which the town moved westwards. The castle was demolished in the Elizabethan era, not later than 1600.
King John, who was disliked by the baronage, visited Sleaford in 1216, the day after he had lost his baggage train. He was already ill but someone spread the story that while staying overnight at Swineshead Abbey, he was poisoned by a monk with toad venom. After leaving Sleaford, the King continued his journey reaching Newark, where he died.
From 1556, the ownership of the town and its lands passed from the church to local absentee landowners.
Carre’s Grammar School was established in 1604 by Robert Carre of Aswarby (later Sir Robert Carr of Old Sleaford) who went on to found Carre’s Hospital in 1636 (Sleaford Hospital survives as a charitable trust, owning and operating the almshouses at the junction of Carre Street and Eastgate immediately to the south of St. Denys Church and a later set of almshouses in Northgate). The school eventually fell into decay and students were taught in the parish church (this part of St. Denys Church is now known as the Lady Chapel) until 1816, when the school was discontinued. It was rebuilt in 1834 in an Elizabethan style and classes continued. Although the school was free for classical learning, a fee of about two guineas per year was charged for other branches of education.
In 1726, William Alvey left an endowment for 20 poor boys and 20 poor girls to attend school. Alvey’s Charity School was held in rented rooms until 1841. In 1785, James Harryman left the interest from £100 to provide shoes and stockings for the children of this school.
The common lands were enclosed in 1777-1794.
The Sleaford Navigation was opened in 1794.
From 1829 to 1831, the street pattern of the entire town was reworked, a new Town Hall built,and better drainage laid. After the voting reforms of 1832, Sleaford became a polling place for the members of parliament for the Southern Division of Lincolnshire.
The railways arrived from 1857. Sleaford was eventually the junction of six major roads and five railway branch-lines, making it a regional centre. The railways caused the decline of the Sleaford Navigation, which closed in 1878. The Hubbard seed firm was founded in Sleaford in 1882 and then grew to become a major national business.
With the establishment of the Kesteven County Council under the Act of Parliament of 1888, Sleaford became its county town.
The Bass Maltings complex opened fully in 1905, replacing all the small malthouses in the area. The complex struggled to remain open during World War II, but survived and continued operating until 1960. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner considered the huge brewing malthouses to be Lincolnshire’s most important industrial architecture, stating in his book Buildings of England; “For sheer impressiveness, little in English architecture can equal the scale of this building. A massive four-storey square tower is in the centre of a line of eight detached pavilions. The total frontage is nearly 1,000 feet.”
During World War I, from 1916 naval airships operated from nearby Cranwell, then known as RNAS Daedalus, and a now defunct field, RFC Leadenham provided England’s main defence against Zeppelin raids. RAF College Cranwell became the world’s first military air academy in 1920.
During World War II, the many RAF airfields north of Sleaford played a role in the Battle of Britain, in the debilitating of the Axis war machine and RAF and USAAF airfields all around took part in the Allied invasion of Europe. (For example, see RAF Folkingham). However the area’s wartime aviation history is more often associated with bombing, the name “Bomber County” being attributed to Lincolnshire.
In the 1940s, plastic surgery was pioneered at No.4 RAF Hospital, Rauceby, on the western outskirts of Sleaford. The Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House — one of the last remaining parts of Rauceby Mental Hospital (formerly the Kesteven Lunatic Asylum) to remain in NHS use as offices for Lincolnshire South West PCT following the Mental Health Hospital’s closure in 1998. The whole site (which is now being redeveloped principally by David Wilson Homes for private housing) and its immediate environs including Rauceby railway station, has recently been renamed as Greylees, a suburb of the Market Town of Sleaford.
The town is also home to Sharpes International Seeds, whose history can be traced from their merger with Zeneca Seeds in 1996, which formed Advanta Seeds, right back to 1560.
Since 2000, the town and its buildings have undergone significant expansion and improvement; with the building of numerous new private housing estates on the periphery, a new infant school, and refurbishment of town centre buildings with a £15-million SRB ‘Sleaford Pride’ grant.
In 2005, a £55-million project was announced by Prince Charles and the Phoenix Trust, to restore the Bass Maltings complex on the southern side of the town.
In April 2005, the Channel 4 magazine Location, Location, Location named Sleaford as one of the Top 10 ‘house price hotspots’ in England, forecasting a strong surge above spring 2005 prices before the end of 2005.
In June 2009, planning permission was granted for a Tesco Extra store to be built on the former Advanta Seeds site. The grant of permission was conditional upon a new access road being provided, the proposed route of which crossed Boston Road Recreational Ground, requiring the removal of 47 rare, mature trees. Once the new store has opened, Tesco’s current Northgate site is expected to be converted into four retail units.
The two main local football teams — the Legionnaires and Sleaford Town F.C. – played for many years on Boston Road Recreation Ground. The wooden pavilion finally gave way to rot and decay in 2004, and their new stadium opened, located a little further down Boston Road just outside the town’s curtilage in March 2007.
Sleaford Museum Trust keeps its collections in storage due to lack of suitable premises but has established a “virtual museum”.
The United Reformed Church (previously the Congregational Church) in Southgate had its frontage redeveloped in 2007 to provide community rooms, called “The Source”, with assistance from WREN and Lincolnshire County Council’s ‘Multi Use Centres’ initiative. In 2008 Sleaford United Reformed and Community churches joined to become The Riverside Church.
Following Sleaford Fairtrade Group’s launch in May 2009, Sleaford was declared by the Fairtrade Foundation to be a Fairtrade Town in June 2010. The Mayor, Councillor Jack Collings, was presented with the Certificate on 3 July 2010. Fairtrade Town status was renewed in October 2011 for a period of 2 years by the Fairtrade Foundation.
The parish church of St. Denys forms the eastern side of the town’s market place. The building, which has the oldest stone broach spire in England, mostly dates from 1180 although sections were rebuilt following an electrical storm in 1884. The altar rail (originally from Lincoln Cathedral) is by Sir Christopher Wren. The church is also known for its stained glass, traceried windows and carved gargoyle heads, the buildings Grade I listing notes “particularly good mid Cl4 tracery and ornament”.
Cogglesford Mill (sited on the banks of the River Slea) dates from the 17th century. It is Lincolnshire’s last working water mill and is possibly the last working Sherrif’s Mill in England (making it of national importance). It is probably on the site of an earlier Mercian estate mill. The adjacent house where the mill worker would have lived is now a restaurant.
Sleaford’s Bull & Dog pub, formerly the Black Bull, dates from 1689 (according to a date-stone set in its front wall) and is said to have the oldest surviving bull-baiting pub sign in England.
In the town centre stands Money’s Mill, a 1796 windmill. It currently has no sails and for several years served as Sleaford’s tourist information centre.
Other town landmarks include the Handley Monument, the semi-derelict Bass Maltings, the ruins of Sleaford Castle, and the Picturedrome (once a cinema (upstairs) and a pool hall (downstairs), later a nightclub and currently unoccupied).
In 2011 agreement was reached to convert the Bass Maltings site into shops, offices and more than 220 apartments and houses.
The Hub National Centre for Craft & Design includes galleries and studio space. It is situated in the former Hubbard’s Seed Warehouse on the Sleaford Navigation wharf.
The town is situated south of the intersection of the A17 and A15 roads at the Holdingham roundabout. The town was bypassed by a 3 miles (4.8 km) long dual carriageway section of the busy A17 in 1975 . To this day the Sleaford bypass (with the exception of the A1) remains the only major stretch of dual carriageway that is located in Southern Lincolnshire and as a result it is a hotspot for overtaking and speeding.Perhaps because it is one of the very few places in the area where it is possible to safely overtake the numerous slow moving trucks, tractors and caravans that have been congesting the roads for miles.It was bypassed by the less busy A15 in 1993.
The three-platform railway station provides a junction served by local trains using the Peterborough to Lincoln Line on which trains continue to Doncaster (historically part of the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint Railway), and the busier Grantham to Skegness Line on which trains continue to Nottingham. From Nottingham, there are connections to Cardiff via Birmingham, Liverpool, Leicester, Derby and Worksop. Sleaford is the only Lincolnshire town to be served by lines running both North-South and East-West.
There are plans to make the River Slea navigable again by boats, from the River Witham up to Sleaford. It is currently navigable only by canoes and similar lightweight one-person craft. Most of the Slea has footpaths running alongside it, and these complement the area’s many public footpaths and cycle-paths.
Sleaford holds a market in the town on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Until 1202, it had been held on Sunday but in that year it was transferred to Thursday and at a later date from Thursday to Monday. Since 1912, an annual charity raft race has taken place on the River Slea. In recent years, this has been coupled with the Water Festival local music event.
Sleaford is twinned with Marquette-lez-Lille, France; and Fredersdorf-Vogelsdorf , Germany.