Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
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Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

Gainsborough is a town in the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. The population of the town was 20,842 at the 2011 census.[1] It is situated on the River Trent, 18 miles (29 km) north-west from the city and county town of Lincoln, 15 miles (24 km) south-west of Scunthorpe, and 35 miles (56 km) east of Sheffield. At one time it served as an important port with trade downstream to Hull, and was the most inland port in England, being more than 55 miles (90 km) from the North Sea.


Gainsborough Old Hall
The Aegir (tidal bore) on the Trent
Market Place
River Trent and new Gainsborough Riverside developments

King Alfred, Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great

The place-name 'Gainsborough' is first attested in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1013, where it appears as Gegnesburh and Gæignesburh. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it appears as Gainesburg. The name means 'Gegn's fortified place'.[2]

Gainsborough was one of the capital cities of Mercia during the Anglo-Saxon period, which had preceded Danish rule. It is understandable that the Vikings would have been drawn to it as an administrative centre, being close to the Danish stronghold at Torksey.[3]

In 868 King Alfred married Ealhswith (Ealswitha), daughter of Æthelred Mucel, chief of the Gaini, whence the town gets its name.[4][5]

Historically, Gainsborough is the "capital that never was". Towards the end of July 1013, the Dane Sweyn Forkbeard, together with his son and heir Cnut (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 Cnut 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).[5] But King Sweyn was killed five weeks later when he was thrown from his horse in Gainsborough. His son Cnut established a base elsewhere.

Cnut may have 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, a tidal bore. He and his supporters may have known Gainsborough was the furthest reach of the aegir, and ideal for his demonstration. However the story was only written down a century later by Henry of Huntingdon, who gives no location, and may have been a myth or a fable.

Medieval Gainsborough

The Domesday Book (1086) 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 whom 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.

Gainsborough Old Hall

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.

English Civil War

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, 1st Baronet at the Old Hall, who had been created the first Baronet of Gainsborough by Charles I in 1643.[6]


All Saints' Church

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, is located in the porch.[7]

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 flourished in Gainsborough. It has often been claimed that some of the Mayflower Pilgrims worshipped in secret at the Old Hall before sailing for Holland to find religious freedom in 1609; no historical evidence for this has been found, whereas the congregation of John Smyth that did meet in the town developed into the Baptists and some returned to England. The John Robinson Memorial Church in Church Street was dedicated in 1897; the cornerstone had been laid by Thomas F. Bayard, U.S. Ambassador.[8] Now the United Reformed Church, it was named in honour of John Robinson (1576-1625), the pastor of the "Pilgrim Fathers" before they left on the Mayflower.

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). St Thomas's Church in Cross Street caters for the town's Roman Catholics.[3]

Second World War

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.[9]

New town

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.[10]


The Guildhall, former offices of the West Lindsey District Council

The town was before 1974 in the Gainsborough Urban District in the county of Lindsey. 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.

Sir Edward Leigh has been Gainsborough's MP since 1983.


In July 1958, BP discovered oil at Corringham, then at Gainsborough in January 1959.[] This is part of the East Midlands Oil Province.


A631 bridge over the Trent

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.

George Eliot and The Mill on the Floss

In order to see Mr and Mrs Glegg at home, we must enter the town of St Ogg's,--that venerable town with the red fluted roofs and the broad warehouse gables, where the black ships unlade themselves of their burthens from the far north, and carry away, in exchange, the precious inland products, the well-crushed cheese and the soft fleeces which my refined readers have doubtless become acquainted with through the medium of the best classic pastorals. It is one of those old, old towns which impress one as a continuation and outgrowth of nature, as much as the nests of the bower-birds or the winding galleries of the white ants; a town which carries the traces of its long growth and history like a millennial tree, and has sprung up and developed in the same spot between the river and the low hill from the time when the Roman legions turned their backs on it from the camp on the hillside, and the long-haired sea-kings came up the river and looked with fierce, eager eyes at the fatness of the land. It is a town "familiar with forgotten years." The shadow of the Saxon hero-king still walks there fitfully, reviewing the scenes of his youth and love-time, and is met by the gloomier shadow of the dreadful heathen Dane, who was stabbed in the midst of his warriors by the sword of an invisible avenger, and who rises on autumn evenings like a white mist from his tumulus on the hill, and hovers in the court of the old hall by the river-side, the spot where he was thus miraculously slain in the days before the old hall was built. It was the Normans who began to build that fine old hall, which is, like the town, telling of the thoughts and hands of widely sundered generations; but it is all so old that we look with loving pardon at its inconsistencies, and are well content that they who built the stone oriel, and they who built the Gothic façade and towers of finest small brickwork with the trefoil ornament, and the windows and battlements defined with stone, did not sacreligiously pull down the ancient half-timbered body with its oak-roofed banqueting-hall.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book Sixth, Chapter XII.

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 Tulliver/Wakem feud. It's also possible that she witnessed the Trent Aegir, which inspired the flood in her story's climax.[3][page needed]



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.[3] 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.

Entrance to Marshall's Yard, 2008

Tesco, on the corner of Trinity Street and Colville Terrace, demolished a large section of the works to create its large store around twenty years ago. Tesco had intended to replace their current store with a 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) Tesco Extra store, on stilts with parking underneath however these plans have been scrapped. 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, at Morton by Gainsborough and on the old site of the Jack and Jill Pub by St Georges Community Hall.


Another area of Gainsborough's industry is Rose Brothers,[11] 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, including Cadbury's chocolates after which the Roses selection is named. They produced seaside rock-making machines, cigarette-making machines and bread-slicing and wrapping machines. When the company closed, A.M.P Rose bought the confectionery packaging side of the business.[3]


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),[12] 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[13] for regeneration.

West Lindsey District Council used to have their main offices at the Guildhall on Lord Street, but in January 2008, they moved[14] to a new £4.3m building in Marshall's Yard.

View of the Water Tower on Heapham Road
A631 bypass - Thorndike Way looking west

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.[15]



The town has two railway stations, served by different railway routes.

The town's main station is Gainsborough Lea Road on Lea Road (A156) to the south of the town. It is served by the Sheffield-Lincoln and Doncaster-Lincoln lines and receives mainly hourly services to Lincoln, Sheffield and Doncaster. Services to Sheffield generally call at Retford, Worksop and Sheffield only, and then continue towards Leeds.

The town's second station is Gainsborough Central on Spring Gardens (behind Marshall's Yard) near the town centre. It is on the Brigg branch line and is the terminus of an hourly service to/from Sheffield (Mondays to Saturdays only), calling at all stations. On Saturdays there are also three services to Cleethorpes via Brigg and Grimsby Town.

Where the railway crosses the Trent, the four lines come together at two junctions, on either side of the river. The railway lines from Lincoln and Cleethorpes meet at the East Trent Junction (east of the river), while the lines from Sheffield and Doncaster meet at the equivalent West Trent Junction (on the opposite side of the river in Nottinghamshire). This means the bridge over the Trent carries four possible routes (Sheffield or Doncaster to Lincoln or Cleethorpes).

West Burton Power Station is three miles (5 km) to the south-west of the town, next to the Sheffield-Lincoln Line.


There is a frequent bus service running throughout the town Monday to Saturday. There are no Sunday services available. The large majority bus services which serve the town are operated by Stagecoach. The town has two local services connecting the uphills area of the town and Morton to the town centre, one running roughly clockwise, the other running roughly anti-clockwise. The town is a travel connection hub with hourly services to Lincoln, Scunthorpe and Retford and a bihourly service to Doncaster; Services to these destinations also serve various villages along their route. Various school bus services run through the town during term times. The town's bus station is located on Hickmen Street.


River Trent in Gainsborough, 2009

Gainsborough is claimed as Britain's most inland port.[] It has had a long history of river shipping trade.

There is still one wharf in the town, but ships no longer navigate this far up river. Commercial shipping only takes place further down the river at Gunness wharf, Grove wharf and 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. The building of the bridge meant taller river traffic of the day could no longer go any further upstream than Gainsborough, resulting in the town receiving its port status. 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.[3][page needed]


The town is home to semi-professional football club Gainsborough Trinity F.C. who play in the Northern Premier League, the seventh level of English football. During a brief spell at the start of the 20th century, the club was professional and a member of the Football League.

Gainsborough Rugby Club (the All Blacks) have been playing Rugby Union in the town since 1924.

There are several cycling clubs in the town including the Trent Valley Road Club, the Viking Velo and the Gainsborough Aegir Cycling Club.


The house and grounds of Richmond Park, in the north of the town, were 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 Town Hall, located in Gainsborough's 1908 town hall, is a restaurant and entertainment venue. It was rebranded from The Sands Venue (closed 2012) after a change of ownership, and it reopened in 2016. It accommodates up to about 200 people.[16]

In 2000 renovation of the town's river banks was completed, providing residents and tourists with access to the riverside. After the riverside renovations, the second weekend in June saw the town play host to the Gainsborough Riverside Festival, an annual arts/heritage event which ran between 2001 and 2013, but was scrapped in 2014 due to financial constraints.


Unlike most of the UK, Lincolnshire still retains the Tripartite System, with secondary education for many pupils decided by voluntary examination at eleven. The town has one of the top state schools in the country,[17]Queen Elizabeth's High School (selective state grammar school from 11-18 featuring a sixth form) on Morton Terrace (A159).

QEHS students consistently earn outstanding GCSE & A-Level results, and the school is over-subscribed.[18][19] Alternative secondary education is provided by The Gainsborough Academy, a new school which opened in a £25 million new building on Corringham Road in September 2009 as Trent Valley Academy and changed its name in July 2014. From 2010, both secondaries in collaboration with Lincoln College and the Aegir School, a new local Special School, are delivering the new Diplomas at Level 2 and Level 3 through the 14-19 Gainsborough Partnership, an organisation designed to offer educational opportunities for young people in the Gainsborough area.[] There are many primary schools in the town.

The town has links with the John Leggott Sixth Form College in Scunthorpe, North Lindsey College, and Lincoln College which has a branch at Gainsborough College on Acland Street, focussing on vocational education.

Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark and England, who died in Gainsborough in 1014

Notable people born in Gainsborough

International relations

Gainsborough is twinned with:


  1. ^ UK Census (2011). "Local Area Report - Gainsborough Built-up area (E34004397)". Nomis. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ Eilert Ekwall,The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, p.191.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Beckwith, Ian S. The Book of Gainsborough (1988)ISBN 0860232697[page needed]
  4. ^ Walker, Ian W (2000). Mercia and the Making of England Sutton ISBN 0-7509-2131-5
  5. ^ a b Cox, J. Charles (1916); Lincolnshire p. 133; Methuen & Co. Ltd.; retrieved 23 April 2011
  6. ^ West, John. Oliver Cromwell and the Battle of Gainsborough (1992) ISBN 0-902662-43-0
  7. ^ monument to Richard Rollett at All Saints' Church, Gainsborough
  8. ^ New York Times 30 May 1897
  9. ^ Gainsborough Heritage Society Gainsborough at War 1939-1945
  10. ^ Clyde Binfield, The History of the City of Sheffield, 1843-1993 p.27 (1993)
  11. ^ [1] Archived 5 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "About Us". Retrieved 2013.
  13. ^
  14. ^ "West Lindsey Marks Green Building Completion". Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 2013.
  15. ^ commemoration plaque on the side of the water tower
  16. ^ The Town Hall
  17. ^ Gurney-Read, Josie (26 August 2016). "GCSE results 2016: state school results". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2018.
  18. ^ "Education | League Tables | Performance results for The Queen Elizabeth's High School, Gainsborough". BBC News. 13 January 2010. Retrieved 2013.
  19. ^ "The Queen Elizabeth's High School, Gainsborough". Department for Education. Retrieved 2018.
  20. ^ Michael Joyce. The Football League player's records 1888 to 1939. ISBN 1899468676.
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c * This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gainsborough". Encyclopædia Britannica. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 389-390.
  23. ^ McCulloch, Derek "The Musical Oeuvre of Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (1740-99)" in Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle #33 (2000)
  24. ^ plaque erected near Thomas Miller's birthplace
  25. ^ a b c "Gainsborough, Lincolnshire - Information on Visitor Attractions, Events, Hotels & Business Directory". 1 October 2011. Retrieved 2013.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ plaque erected at Halford Mackinder's birthplace
  27. ^ "Who's Who in the Cinema", The Movie volume 13 p. 431. Orbis Publishing (1981)
  28. ^
  29. ^ Entertainment and Sports Programming Network
  30. ^ "John Alderton" at Internet Movie Database
  31. ^ Entertainment and Sports Programming Network
  32. ^ obituary in The Independent
  33. ^ "Bill Podmore" at Internet Movie Database
  34. ^ biographical notes on Kingdom Come album "Galactic Zoo Dossier"
  35. ^

External links

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