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East Midlands Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Ignored by the tourists, Gainsborough is a market town in the north west corner of Lincolnshire. It is a pleasant small town with a lot going for it.

It has a long history and was one of the capital cities of Anglo-Saxon Mercia. Sweyn Forkbeard and his son Canute defeated the Anglo-Saxon Army of Ethelread the Unready here in 1013. Sweyn was killed when he was thrown by his horse in Gainsborough a few weeks later and has rather disappeared from history as Canute became King of England. Now his name is remembered by the Wetherspoons pub on Silver Street.

After that excitement, Gainsborough returned to its role as a rural backwater. The Domesday Book records a population of 80 farmers and villains.

Gainsborough’s other claim to fame is that it is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional town of St Ogg’s in George Eliot’s ‘Mill on the Floss’.

Gainsborough is on the River Trent which is tidal as far as here. It boasts a tidal bore, the Aegir, although this isn’t as big or as famous as the Severn bore.

In the Middle Ages, Gainsborough was a major wool centre and thriving inland port. Once the railways arrived in the mid C19th, the port was no longer as important and the area along the riverside was becoming very run down in the mid C20th. Regeneration plans have resulted in several of the massive, splendid warehouses along the river being turned into flats with a riverside walkway.

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The Eight Jolly Brewers, near the river front, is a popular watering hole with at least eight real ales and appears regularly in the Good Beer Guide.

Gainsborough was an important manufacturing centre from the mid C19th. Marshall, Sons & Co based at Britannia Iron Works, a massive site in the centre of Gainsborough, produced steam engines, light aircraft and agricultural machinery, especially tractors. The factory closed in the 1980s. Now the only reminder of the tractors produced is the topiary tractor in the middle of the roundabout on the A631/A159 roundabout.

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Part of the works was demolished for a Tesco super store, but part of the glorious brick facade along the A159 has been preserved.

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A grand entrance leads into Marshall’s Yard Retail Park, with a range of shops and cafes, designed to complement the original facade.

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The central area has been landscaped and has a very popular splash pad.

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This also hosts the popular Farmer’s Market on the second Saturday of the month.

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The original shopping area is along Silver Street and Lord Street, with their many small shops and the cobbled Market Place with its Tuesday and Saturday Market.

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Once an impressive open square with impressive bank buildings, the market is a shadow of its former self and some of the shops are beginning to look a bit sad. The money and business has moved to Marshall’s Yard.

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Tucked among the terraces of Victorian housing is an undiscovered gem, Gainsborough Old Hall. It is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval manor houses in England with its timber framing gently sagging with age.

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It has a splendid Great Hall and untouched Tudor kitchen.

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The Old Hall also has links to the Pilgrim Fathers as Sir William Hickman allowed the Separatists to meet here.

Just across the road from the Old Hall is All Saint’s Church. The C15 tower is all that is left of the original medieval church.

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The inside is a wonderful example of a Georgian church, with a gallery around three sides.

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The cafe is popular with oldies providing excellent value with its substantial breakfasts and lunches.

Gainsborough Heritage Centre in the splendid old post Office building on North Street is run by enthusiastic volunteers.

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It has an extensive archive collection, old shop fronts. lots of photographs and a rolling programme of exhibitions. It also has a small cafe with a selection of homemade cakes. A pot of tea and a slice of cake will cost you £2.75.

Trinity Arts Centre in a redundant church hosts a series of live shows.

And finally we mustn’t forget the Gainsborough Model Railway Club which has one of the largest model railways in ‘O’ gauge, depicting the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross to Leeds Central. Based near Tesco on Florence Terrace, it is open on some bank holidays and Sundays during the summer.
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