Horncastle (St. Mary)

HORNCASTLE (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the soke of Horncastle, parts of Lindsey, county of Lincoln, 21 miles (E.) from Lincoln, and 134 (N.) from London; containing 4521 inhabitants. From its situation, and the circumstance of a very extensive castle having been erected here, a portion of the remains of which is still visible, this place has, with great probability, been considered the Bannovallum of the Romans, mentioned by the geographer of Ravenna. Its present name is evidently a corruption of Hyrncastre, as it was denominated by the Saxons; from hyrn, an angle or corner (the town being situated within an angle formed by the confluence of the rivers Bane and Waring), and castrum, a fort or castle. The vallum, or fortification constructed by the Romans, having been considerably strengthened by Horsa soon after the arrival of the two Saxon brothers, was demolished by Vortimer, the brave king of the Britons; and the castle, also, was taken and destroyed after a victory obtained by one of his generals over the Saxon prince, at the adjacent village of Tetford. At the period of the Norman survey, the manor and soke belonged to the king; previously to which they had formed part of the possessions of Editha, Queen of Edward the Confessor. It does not appear at what time the manor came into private hands, but after several grants and reversions, it was sold in the reign of Henry III. to Walter Mauclerke, Bishop of Carlisle, to whom that monarch granted three charters, conferring various immunities on the inhabitants of the town and soke. Horncastle, from an insignificant village, now became the general mart for the surrounding district; and for many years continued to advance, under the immediate patronage of the bishops: Bishop Aldrich died here in 1555, and the episcopal residence was not demolished until 1770.

The town, which is neat and well built, and lighted with gas, occupies a low but pleasant situation at the foot of the Wolds. From a plan made by Dr. Stukeley in 1722, it seems to have been scarcely half so large as it is at present; and the houses, then built with clay walls, and covered with thatch, have been succeeded by respectable brick edifices. The general appearance of the neighbourhood, also, has been greatly improved by the inclosure of lands, under the authority of an act procured in 1803. Here is a subscription library, formed in 1790, and containing about 1000 volumes; and the clerical library, in High-street, comprises some respectable standard works. A mechanics' institute was erected in 1836. Formerly, many of the inhabitants were employed in tanning leather, but about 80 years ago this branch of trade experienced a rapid decline, and there are now only two tanyards remaining. The prosperity of the town, however, was in a great degree advanced by an act obtained in 1792, under the powers of which a canal was constructed, communicating with the river Bain, which was thus made navigable to the Witham; and by this means a junction was formed with the Trent and its numerous ramifications. Since the completion of the undertaking, in 1801, considerable commerce has been carried on in corn and wool; about 30,000 quarters of the former, and 3000 packs of the latter being annually sent from this place to different parts of England. The market is on Saturday. The fairs are, one concluding on the 22nd of June, which lasts about three days; another, which terminates on the 21st of August (having continued for about ten days), and which is the largest fair for horses in the kingdom, many thousands being exhibited for sale during its continuance, and the fair being resorted to by dealers from all parts of the country, from the continent, and from America; and a third, held on October 28th and 29th, which was removed hither from Market-Stainton, in 1768, for a consideration of £200, paid to the lord of that manor. The powers of the county debt-court of Horncastle, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-district of Horncastle. The charter granted by Henry III. to the bishop, as lord of the manor, gave authority to try felons and hold a court leet, and exempted the inhabitants from toll and several other payments and services, besides protecting them from arrest by the officers of the king or the sheriff; but these manorial rights and privileges, except the court leet, have been long disused. On the eastern boundary of the parish is a spot called Hangman's Corner, where criminals capitally convicted in the court of the manor were executed.

The parish comprises by measurement 2000 acres, chiefly arable land. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £14. 4. 2.; net income, £612; patron and appropriator, the Bishop of Carlisle: the tithes were commuted for land and a money payment in 1803. The church appears, from the few remaining portions of the original edifice, to have been erected about the time of Henry VII.: it comprises a north and south aisle, continued on each side of the chancel; the aisle north of the chancel was rebuilt in 1820, and part of the aisle south of the nave in 1821. The interior is exceedingly neat, and contains several interesting monuments to members of the family of Dymoke, of Scrivelsby, in which is vested the office of hereditary champion of England. The Baptists, Wesleyans, Independents, and Primitive Methodists, have each a place of worship. The free grammar school was founded by Edward, Lord Clinton and Saye, lord high admiral of England, by virtue of letters-patent granted in 1562; and is endowed with about £200 per annum, under the control of a body corporate possessing a common seal. There is also a charity school founded by Mr. Richard Watson, in 1784. The poor-law union of Horncastle comprises 68 parishes or places, and contains a population of 23,222. The remains of the ancient fortress of Horncastle merely serve to exhibit its form and magnitude. A little south-westward from the town, near the union of the rivers, was one of those labyrinths common to Roman stations, called the Julian Bower; and many urns, coins, fibulæ, and other vestiges of the Romans, have been discovered in the immediate neighbourhood at different periods.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.