Lincoln to London Stage Wagons

From around 1760 when main roads were improved by Turnpike Trusts, the long distance transport of heavy loads became feasible, and stage wagons were the juggernauts of their day.  

This image of a wagon, published in 1820, shows its huge size.  It was pulled by eight powerful horses, controlled by a man riding alongside who used his voice and a whip to guide them.  In December 1826 it was reported that one carrier at Peterborough conveyed to London 40 tons of geese between a Tuesday and Thursday evening, and that “13 tons of this surprising quantity was sent by one gosherd (goose breeder) at Deeping.”  If each goose weighed, say, 14lbs, 13 tons would equal over 2,000 birds.

Thomas Walter, who lived in Church Street, Market Deeping was proprietor of the Lincoln Stage Wagon in 1803.  It set out from the Horse Shoe Inn, Goswell Street, London every Saturday at noon and arrived at Lincoln the following Wednesday morning.  It left Lincoln again at 1am every Thursday morning, conveying goods to towns along the route.  As Market Deeping was “on the great road from London to Lincoln”, these heavy goods vehicles would have  thundered past his house.  At that time, the bridge over the river Welland was made of wood, and the impact of the hooves of eight horses, plus the weight of the wagon and its load, must have been considerable.

Mr Walter had been a licensed carrier for more than a decade.  In 1793 he was in partnership with John Thomas Vokes who owned a brewery in Deeping, and they operated a wagon “conveying goods between London, Peterborough, Deeping, Stamford and Spalding … performed with fidelity and dispatch”.  When he died in 1810, aged 66, Thomas Walter still owned a new carrier’s large cart body with axle and shafts.  He was also said to have a great knowledge of botany and grew pineapples in a hothouse at his home (now called “The Cedars”).

From the 1840s, the new railway network started to be used for transporting heavy freight and stage wagon trade gradually declined.  At the age of 14 in 1844, Elizabeth Tyler went into service with William Shillaker, a grocer and draper in Church Street, Market Deeping.  In her old age, she recalled how her master “as a buyer of goods, often visited Manchester, and incredulous villagers listening to him when he said he had seen wagons run without horses – yes, seen them with his own eyes!”

(Stage wagon engraving is in the British Museum’s collection.  Memories of Elizabeth Wright, nee Tyler, from Lincolnshire Free Press, 1911)



The Crowland Wash Catastrophe

Nowadays, the B1166 road near Crowland, alongside the lake, is a scenic route with mature willow trees by the waterside, surrounded by arable fields.  In previous centuries, this flat land, known as Crowland wash, regularly flooded in winter and travellers used a gravel causeway, separated from the lake by a “cradge” or bank.

On 28th December, 1868 the floods were deeper than usual, when three Deeping men started their journey home after sunset.  There was a strong wind and it was snowing.  Thomas Garford  was driving a horse and cart, with his fellow plumber William Jibb and stone mason John Crowson as passengers.  They had all been working on a new Wesleyan chapel near Crowland.

As they drove across the submerged gravel in semi-darkness, they met five men in a rowing boat, heading towards them.  Their horse shied and wheeled round, upsetting the boat into several feet of water. It then backed the cart and its occupants into the lake.  The men from the boat scrambled to safety on the cradge.  John Crowson either fell from the cart or jumped before it became submerged, but both his companions and the horse were drowned.

Thomas Garford (aged 23) was buried in his home village of Maxey.  He had worked for John Wyles, a plumber and painter in Market Deeping, for over 7 years and played cricket for the Deeping Morning Star team.

William Jibb, who lived in Church Street, Market Deeping, left a widow and 7 children, including two sets of young twins “in the deepest distress without means of support”.   He was also employed by Mr Wyles, and described as a steady and industrious father.  Many people from the surrounding area gave donations to a trust fund, to help clothe the children until they were old enough to earn their living.  Friends also helped Mrs Jibb to start a small haberdashery shop at her home.

A few days after the tragedy, veterinary surgeons in Crowland asked farmers and graziers of Deeping St James and St Nicholas to call out vets from Spalding, until the inundation of Crowland Wash was less dangerous to cross.

John Crowson suffered from the shock and exposure, but  eventually recovered at his home in Deeping St James.  In 1876 he was appointed by the Will of Miss Mary Ann Scotney, to build her almshouses in Market Deeping. 







Change of Speaker on 9th May

Due to illness, June and Vernon Bull are unable to give their talk about “Secret Peterborough” at our meeting on Thursday.  Instead the speaker will be Dr Ernest Warman on the “History of Theatres in Peterborough”.  He has given several presentations to us in recent years, and this should be an enjoyable topic.

When music hall performances were popular in the early 20th century, Charlie Chaplin frequently appeared at Peterborough, as part of a touring troup, in the old Empire Theatre, Broadway. Previously called The Theatre Royal, the Empire closed in 1959 and a few years later, Sheltons Department Store was built on the site – now converted into flats.  Ernest Warman has a rich theatre history to draw upon…

The photograph below, from the Day family’s collection, shows a theatrical-looking group at Towngate crossroads.  They may be dressed up as part of a parade for Towngate Feast, which was held each October, until the event died out around 1915.





The Hidden Past

June and Vernon Bull, founder members of Peterborough Local History Society, will be the speakers at our meeting on Thursday, 9th May.  It is five years since they last visited and gave an excellent talk about the city’s history.  This time they will reveal less well-known events and characters, in their presentation titled “Secret Peterborough”. The talk starts at 7.30pm in the Conference Centre, Deepings School.  (£2 charge for non-members)

It is often common-place activities from the past that fail to be recorded and are forgotten. The scene below was a familiar sight in Deeping for decades – the sheep dyke or sheep dip, at the corner of Godsey Lane and Towngate East.

From the mid 19th century, sheep were routinely immersed in water treated with insecticide, to kill parasites in their fleece and avoid skin infections such as sheep scab.  When not in use by farmers, the fences around the dipping site provided a resting place for people out walking.  Just visible in the field behind the wall are sheaves of corn, stacked by hand into stooks and left to dry in the sun.

The man in the photograph is Walter Edgar Greenfield, born in December 1896, and his youthful looks suggest the picture was taken around the time of the First World War.  He was known as Edgar, son of Walter James Greenfield a motor engineer in Halfleet. When only about 16 years old, Edgar assembled the first wireless receiver in the village, in time to hear news of the Titanic disaster in April 1912.


Only one small concrete section of the sheep dip now remains on the corner of Godsey Lane, opposite The Deepings Practice.

The photograph below shows another farming activity which is no longer seen – a group of women potato picking at West Deeping. They are gathering potatoes into baskets, which are then emptied into the horse-drawn carts in the background.  Some of the women are wearing traditional Lincolnshire bonnets made of white cloth with a flap at the back to protect their necks from the sun while they work in the fields.

The bonnets were usually hand-made and designs varied in different parts of the county.  Some incorporated a wide collar that covered the shoulders as well as the neck, for extra protection against sunburn.

Both old photographs were originally owned by Horace Mason Day and his family, who lived in Towngate.  His daughter Florence, born in 1913, wrote “History of the Deepings”.

After June & Vernon Bull’s presentation on 9th May, we take a summer break, until the start of next season’s talks on Thursday, 12th September.  There are still six places available for the conducted tour of Peakirk church and village on Thursday, 13th June.  It is being organised by local historian Dr Avril Lumley Prior, to raise funds for renovation of St Pega’s church.  The charge per person will be about £6 and the tour starts from the church porch at 2pm.  If you would like to take part, and haven’t already let us know, please email 



Exploring the Fen Edge

Rex Sly’s family have been farming in the fens for several generations, and he is the author of four books about fenland history.  He has a deep understanding of this re-claimed land and people’s changing relationship with it.  At our meeting on Thursday, 11th April, he will talk about settlements along the fen edge, following the line of the Roman Car Dyke. 

That artificial waterway once stretched from the river Nene near Peterborough to the river Witham near Lincoln, though it’s not clear whether the Romans used it for navigation, as well as drainage.  The name “Car” is thought to derive from the old English word Carr, meaning an area of fen where alder and willows grow.  Its route followed the western edge of the fens, passing through local villages.

The section of the Car Dyke through Deeping was approximately along the line of Godsey Lane.  As shown on this modern Ordnance Survey map, it then continued in a straight line across Towngate East to North Field Road.


Only a narrow remnant of the original watercourse remains here, behind houses in Lancaster Way.  As shown in the photograph, it could easily be mistaken for an ordinary field drainage ditch, rather than an ancient monument.

A wider section of the Car Dyke can be seen at the back of the car park of Lidl’s store, on the outskirts of Bourne. There is a public footpath along the bank from Thurlby.

When Deeping Fen was surveyed in November 1641, it was described as “a large and spacious common fen or marsh …. some part thereof was overflown by waters … but we guess the same to contain at least ten thousand acres.”  Inhabitants of the Deepings, Uffington, Tallington, Baston, Barholm and Stowe had the right to graze animals there during summer months, when water levels receded and left rich grassland.

For centuries, large numbers of cattle, horses and sheep were kept in the Fen, and the processing of animal skins was an important local trade.  In 1696, William Sanby, a tanner in Market Deeping  had 100 calf skins, 80 sheep skins with wool, and a quantity of horse hair.  In 1754, William Boyall was tanning leather on an even larger scale, with hides valued at over £450 – at a time when his riding horse, two saddles and bridles, were worth only £3.  Finished leather was made into horse collars, saddles and harness, gloves, upholstery, boots and shoes by generations of Deepings craftsmen.  It wasn’t until the early 20th century, that land in the Fen was converted to large scale arable farming.

Rex Sly’s talk starts at 7.30pm in the Conference Centre at Deepings School.  Everyone is welcome.  There is a £2 charge for non-members.









History of Lincolnshire Windmills

At our meeting on Thursday, 14th March,  the speaker will be Malcolm Ringsell of Burgh le Marsh Heritage Group, who are custodians of Dobson’s Mill, which is fully restored and open to the public.  Malcolm will describe the history of windmills throughout the county – few of which still survive.

This painting by Karl Wood (held in Lincolnshire Archives) shows the disused windmill at Deeping St James in 1933.  It was completely demolished in the 1960s, and used to stand near Broadgate Lane, in an area still called Windmill Close.

It was owned by the Tomlin family who were millers and bakers in the village for over 100 years, and was known locally as Tomlin’s Mill.

Originally, the Deeping St James windmill was a wooden structure, fixed to a timber post so that it could be turned manually to catch the wind.  It was described in 1831 by Thomas Tomlin, owner and occupier, as “a capital post windmill with one pair of French and one pair of grey stones, dressing machine and round house.” The roundhouse, made of brick or stone, would have concealed the wooden supports and provided storage,

By 1871, Deeping St James mill had been converted to a “well-built stone smock windmill”, meaning its base was made of stone, with a wooden upper tower (similar to the windmill pictured below at Dyke, near Bourne).  Its tower was later re-built completely of stone.  The mill was still operating by wind power in 1900, but in its final working years, is believed to have been engine driven.

The remains of the smock mill at Dyke have been standing without sails since about 1927, when  it ceased to be used for milling corn.   It was previously used as a wind pump to drain water from Deeping Fen.  When steam power was found to be more efficient at keeping the land drained, this mill was dismantled and moved to Dyke, where it was fitted with mill stones and used to produce flour and cattle food.  Its outer shell has been restored and it is now privately owned.

Less is known about the windmill at Market Deeping.  In 1584, John Lownde owned “the half of the windmill, the half of the three watermills, the malt mill and malt mill close.”  Other members of the Lownde family shared leases of the mills.  Margery Lownde, a widow who died in 1596, owned “the half lease of the mills” and “half a mill post”, which indicates that the windmill was a wooden post mill.

Two hundred years later in 1798, Land Tax records show that John Molecey owned a windmill and close in Market Deeping.  It was situated in Church Street, almost opposite the Rectory Paddock.  The mill had been demolished by 1840, when a row of three cottages and the Prince of Wales beer house were built on the site.

Malcolm Ringsell’s  practical experience and enthusiasm for windmills will ensure  an enjoyable event. His talk starts at 7.30pm in the Conference Centre, Deepings School, and  everyone is welcome.  There is a £2 charge for non-members. 

Bypassing History

At our meeting on Thursday, 14th February, Philippa Massey will describe how Stamford has accommodated different modes of transport through its ancient streets over the centuries.

In the 18th century, it prospered as a stopping place for stage coaches, on the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh.

This coach and horses, pictured in St Mary’s Street in 1955, was reviving the traditional way of travel. (Photograph by Stamford Mercury)

When railways took over, the East Coast main line to Scotland was routed through Peterborough, rather than Stamford, and business in the town declined.  Trade improved with the advent of motor transport, but by 1929, heavy traffic was causing problems in the narrowest streets and a bypass was proposed.  The new road was to be on a viaduct across Stamford meadows, then pass through the old St Peter’s churchyard (next to the present bus station), bisect St Peter’s Street and cut through the site of All Saints vicarage.  Fortunately, it was never built.

This destructive proposal may remind Deeping residents of their own bypass drama.  In 1989 the Department of Transport favoured a road which would cut Eastgate, Deeping St James in half.

The infamous red route, shown on the plan, involved demolishing four houses, then either closing Eastgate to traffic and building a subway for pedestrians and cyclists, or building a bridge for the bypass to cross Eastgate at a height of 4.5 metres.

A local Action Group was formed to fight the scheme and over a thousand letters of protest were sent to the Department of the Environment.

An alternative bypass route (shown by the blue line) was eventually approved and opened to traffic in 1998.

As an historic trading centre, Deepings’ experiences with transport mirror Stamford’s.  Business in both places benefitted from canal traffic in the 18th century, and Market Deeping was at the junction of turnpike roads from Boston to Stamford and “the great road from London to Lincoln”, bringing trade to the shops and inns.   It missed out on the benefit of a railway station, and increasing numbers of HGVs passing through in the 20th century caused disruption.  Villagers began protesting about the volume of traffic in 1939.  In 1963 the County Council envisaged a bypass “within 15 to 20 years”, but in the event, the Deepings had to wait another 35 years.  Stamford gained its north-south bypass in 1960.

Philippa Massey has an in-depth knowledge of Stamford’s past and will have some interesting stories to tell.  Her talk starts at 7.30pm in the Conference Centre, Deepings School.  There will also be a display of reports and photographs relating to the fight for Deepings bypass.  Everyone is welcome.  There is a £2 charge for non-members