- Horncastle -
Once the saying was ‘Horncastle for horses’. This attractive market town midway between Lincoln and the coast, on the boarder between wold and fen, was renowned for its August horse fair – judged in early Victorian times to be the biggest in the world.
Today the saying ought to be ‘Horncastle for antiques’, since the town is now deservedly famous as the antiques centre for eastern England; there are over 60 independent antique dealers in Horncastle, and collectors and buyers make a beeline for the place from as far away as Continental Europe and the United States.
To the Romans Horncastle was Banovallum – ‘the walled place on the river Bain’, and an important fortress of which some of the fragments survive. Later the Anglo-Saxons had an even more precise name for their fortified home: Hyrnceastre, or ‘the castle in the corner between the two rivers’ (the Bain and the Waring). The richness of the farmland hereabouts gave Horncastle a prosperity which was augmented in 1230 by Henry III, who instituted a weekly market that survives to this day.
St Mary’s church, with its bulky tower and its odd little spire, is built of the characteristic local greenstone, and the oldest parts of it probably date from the 13th century. Inside are clues to the decisive role, which Horncastle played in the English Civil War. In 1643 Cavaliers and roundheads clashed at the battle of Winceby; the Cavalier Sir Ingram Hopton almost took Oliver Cromwell’s life on the battlefield, but ultimately Hopton himself was slain, and after the defeated Royalists had been chased to Newark, Cromwell rode back to Horncastle and arranged for his enemy to be buried in St Mary’s Church.
The 13 scythe blades which can also be seen inside St Mary’s are said to have been used in the Battle of Winceby, but there is no proof of this. What is certain, however, is that Cromwell spent the night in a house in West Street, since demolished, which stood next door to the present day Cromwell House.