Fairyland of Flowers by Charles Ekberg – Lincolnshire Life Spring 1962
FROM the industrial north of Lincolnshire where steelmaking and fishing flourish only a few miles from the hilly beauty of the Wolds, it is a short 90-minute journey to the flat acres of Holland in the south. Here lies picturesque Spalding, a typical market town whose history goes back to the Romans. It was those early civilisors whose engineering skills built the embankments to contain the River Welland and lay the foundations of modern drainage.
Spalding’s prosperity lies in the rich Lincolnshire soil that makes it one of the most important agricultural centres in Britain. It has been dubbed “Capital of Tulipland” a romantic title that fits it well when hundreds of acres of tulips, daffodils, narcissi and hyacinths flood the district with colour from March to May and provide a scene of unrivalled beauty.
As its name suggests Lincolnshire’s Holland strangely resembles the Dutch bulb-growing areas across the North Sea, with its low-lying fenland criss-crossed with streams and dykes. How necessary these waters are can be realised when the high tide level on the Lincolnshire coast at many times rises above most of the road levels in the Spalding Urban District!
At tulip time thousands of visitors flock to the Spalding district to drink in the beauty of the fields that become more breath taking as the season matures. At the peak period of the season usually towards the end of April and early May an official route for motorists and coach parties round the fields has to be approved by the Ministry of Transport. This fairyland route 45 miles long has to be planned to take literally thousands of vehicles in reasonable comfort and safety.
The height of the flower season comes with the crowning of the Tulip Queen and she and her court are chosen every year from the girls who work in the bulb industry. The ceremony takes place in Ayscoughfee Gardens and is symbolic of a season that produces millions of bulbs which give pleasure all over the world. There are two distinct seasonal periods first the forcing of daffodils and tulips from January to early Spring, and finally the field harvest which gives a glorious flower carpet for many miles before the blooms are plucked and sold.
If the bulb fields are Spaldings shop window, the rich loam soils of the agricultural areas play their part in filling Britain’s larder. It is a truism that though the name Spalding is synonymous with bulbs it has in fact as; far greater agricultural importance. Spalding developed cereals have a high place in British production and there are many acres of potatoes, vegetables and salad crops.
And the selling internationally of the produce of the Spalding district is mirrored locally in the hundreds of tiny stalls put on the roadsides by smallholders offering flowers, fruit and vegetables to the thousand and one motorists who pass their way.
Such is the Spalding of the present day, a vast garden and the “salad bowl ” of the British Isles. Like the rest of Lincolnshire, the Spalding district is rich in historical association and lore. The Romans, as we have seen, first used their ingenuity in creating earthworks to prevent the Welland overflowing onto the surrounding country.
Spalding Priory it was founded by Thorald of Buckenhfl.le, brother of Godiva in 1051 It began its life as an offshoot of Crowland Abbey some miles distant. During the next 500 years the Priory grew until its influence and prosperity far exceeded those of Crowland to which it was first subject. It was well into the 14th century when the discord between Crowland and Spalding Priory finally died and the latter gained its independence.
In the march of history, among the distinguished guests were numbered Edward I, Edward Il, John o’ Gaunt and his learned friend Geoffrey Chaucer. But like so many others in England, Spalding Priory came under the notice of Henry VIll and disappeared as an entity after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Part of the moat of an ancient castle may still be traced in Spalding in the Pinchbeck Street area, and it was in this fortress that Ivo Taillebois, the great Norman Lord, settled with his bride, Thorald’s niece and heiress. Ivo was a native of Angers, a nephew Of William the Conqueror, and bore his standard at the Battle of Hastings.
Today there are only a few fragmentary pieces of stonework to remind us of the great Spalding Priory of the Middle Ages. The castle has vanished completely. The town has, however, a number of interesting old buildings which are well preserved and reflect the pageant of history e in the quiet Lincolnshire Fens. Lovely Ayscoughfee Hall—now the seat of local government in the form of the Urban District Council—dates from the early 15th century. Though the building was partly restored in Gothic Style, a great deal of the original brickwork remains. The hall’s stained glass windows are extremely valuable, and its gardens have been developed as a public park of extraordinary beauty.
The Spalding Parish Church of St. Nicholas amply repays the attention of the visitor and lies close to Ayscoughfee Hall. It is of unusual design and was built in the early English style by Prior William Littleport who flourished around the middle of the 13th century. In its present form the church has a number of peculiarities. For example, as well as the north and south aisles to the nave there are east and west aisles to the transepts. Thus the building is made as wide as it is long.
What was originally a monastic prison—our ancestors had far different ideas on the mortification of both soul and body than we have is known as the Prior’s Oven. The building stands in the sheep market and is steeped in the atmosphere of cruelty which pervaded our country in the Mediæval Era. There are many tales about it one is that a bell hanging in the tower built by Clement Hatfield, Lord Prior, used to toll when prisoners were about to be executed for either religious or political crimes. Now all that remains of Hatfield’s Tower is the lower vault which used to be used as a blacksmith’s shop.
A piquantly silent comment on the changing pattern of history now shows the once dreaded prison as a teashop. And a noisier one is added by the roar of the traffic as it toils past the White Hart Hotel, where once the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots looked out on an England long since lost.