Washingborough is a small village three miles east of the city of Lincoln on the lower slopes of the limestone escarpment known as the Lincoln Edge where the River Witham breaks through the Lincoln Edge at the Lincoln Gap.
Washingborough is typical of the many stone villages that can be found almost equidistance strung along the Lincoln Edge, the centre of each village on the spring line.
The centre of Washingborough is stone cottages, with walled gardens. Outside the village church can be found the remnants of the old village pump.
Archaeological research shows evidence of habitation in the Bronze age, perhaps to the end of the 6th or 7th centuries BC. Later, 'Wassynburg' was the starting point of the Car Dyke, a great Roman drainage canal. By the time of Domesday the name had become Washingeburgh, and the Domesday Book tells us that Ralph, the standard bearer, held it in Edward the Confessor's time.
The River Witham is now a canalised river lazily flowing between two large embankments. At times of heavy rain and full flood, it is very fast flowing and almost tops the embankments. In earlier times it was a much broader river, prone to flooding, winding its way between reed beds and marsh. At high sea levels, the tide would have reached as far inland as Washingborough. The rich, dark soil of the fields, that lie between the main road and the river, are all that remains of the former reed beds and marsh land.
In the cold, wet autumn of 2004, archaeologists took the opportunity afforded by works to the flood defences to excavate the site of a Bronze Age settlement. They were given just six weeks. The site proved to be a spectacular find, some 10,000 objects being found during the brief period of excavation.
Mark Allen (of Pre-Construct Archaeology) who carried out the excavation described it as
a very important site, an important trading place … As well as making things themselves on the site, including metal objects, the inhabitants of the settlement may well have organised markets here where people would come to trade and buy things that they couldn't make locally.
Many of the objects found on the site would have been brought in from some distance away, including metal ore that was probably used as pigment from Cornwall and shale from Dorset or perhaps from Nottingham.
The Collection, formerly the Lincoln City and County Museum, will eventually house the main finds from the Washingborough excavation. The new museum will include a special section on the ancient history of the Witham Valley and two boats dating from the Iron Age.
Washingborough is where the Fens begins. Carr Dyke, constructed by the Romans, was the first attempt to drain the Fens. It ran from Washingborough to Nene (near Peterborough).
Probably the first real account of Washingborough comes from REGISTRUM HONORIS de RICHMOND in 1280 AD. The village had 385 acres of arable land with 40 acres of meadow, all rented at a shilling an acre. Through the Middle Ages and up to 1800 village life changed very little. Farming was the main occupation, and this is reflected in entries in White's Directory of Lincolnshire (1826) listing: 6 farmers, 2 wheelwrights, 2 blacksmiths, 1 miller, 2 butchers, 2 publicans (of The Hunters Leap and the Ferry Boat Inn). [relevant extract from White's Directory can be found in Washingborough Library]
The Ferry Boat Inn is a 16th Century listed building. The low-beamed ceiling as you walk in off the street is typical of a building of this period. An ale house on the site is known to date from 1547. The Inn had the ferry rights across the river. Originally it was for horse and passengers, later for passengers only. The River Witham at the time was a quarter of a mile across. A painting by local artist Peter de Wint hanging in the Usher Gallery in Lincoln shows how wide the river once used to be.
The first census of population in 1801 recorded 324 inhabitants. Common land, including a Penfold where stray animals could be corralled until their owners were contacted (to be released on payment of a fine), was central to the village in the mid-1800s. Constant flooding of the common and ancient enclosed ground resulted in improvement schemes where drains were cut and banks built. Problems continued and after a severe flood in February 1840, when no boat could get under the High Bridge in the centre of Lincoln, steam pumps were installed including one at Washingborough.
Remnants of Penfold can be found near the village library. The name Penfold lives on with the Penfold Players, a local amateur dramatics group for all ages.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw important changes in communications and growth of the village. There was no direct link between Washingborough and Lincoln until 1834. Up to that time, travellers used tracks. A new road, raised above flood level, was built and a toll had to be paid until 1875. A stone bungalow, once the Toll Bar Lodge, can be seen today.
In the late 1800s you could travel by water on the horsedrawn packet from Lincoln. Later, there was the steam packet to Boston and onwards to London. However, the days of waterway travel were numbered. After much acrimony and debate the Great Northern Railway was born and a railway from London to York cut literally through the parish. The station opened in 1846 and there were several trains a day to Lincoln. People with new occupations moved into the village and built slate-roofed brick houses which contrasted with the older stone and thatched dwellings. By 1901 there were 662 people in the parish, a figure which rose to 924 in the late 1940s.
The present status of Washingborough is that of a dormitory town for nearby Lincoln. In the last 40 years the population has quadrupled and settled around 3800 persons. The historic core with its stone built houses is still to be found near St John's Church, only now surrounded by brick built houses and bungalows.
The latest addition is to be found at the top of Church Hill behind the farmhouse. A very good job has been done on conversion of the old stone barn, a stone house built in the traditional style using stone, then spoilt by the ugly modern red-brick houses further into the little estate.
In the centre of the village lies the Village Hall (1850), opposite is Manor House, one of two large mansions in the village, the other Washingborough Hall is now a 3-star hotel.
The Village Hall, was the former village school, founded in 1728. Rebuilt in 1850, it became the Village Hall.
A Grade II listed building, Washingborough Hall is a late Georgian Manor House. It was the 19th century home of Sir William Amcotts Ingilby, Lord of the Manor. In 1970, after a period of semi-dereliction, the Hall became a hotel.
The Manor House was at one time the home of Joseph Ruston, a name synonymous with engineering in Lincoln. Later, it became the home of Alderman Higgs, who owned two tobacconist shops in Lincoln. The last shop was until recently a prominent feature near the Lincoln Stonebow.
A cottage on the Main Road was home of Danny Fitter, an organ builder. Accused of beating his wife, he was the last person to be Ran Tanned. Villagers banged drums, kettles, pots and pans, indeed anything that would make a noise, singing the Ran Tan rhyme. On the third night his effigy was burnt. This was legal under common law.
St John's Church, like too many churches, is locked during the day. The congregation, too small to support its own clergy, timeshares with another church.
St John's Church has a Norman tower, inside the church a Norman font. Also inside the church windows depicting a Zeppelin raid on the village in 1916. On the tower can be seen demons looking down.
The railway line that used to run through Washingborough now lies disused, the tracks long since ripped up, the old railway station a house by the river. The disused track has found a new lease of life as a cycle route into Lincoln, part of the National Cycle Network running between Lincoln and Bardney, and on to Boston.
Known as Water Rail Way, the cycle route passing through Washingborough runs from Lincoln to Boston. The name reflects its historic past, but also a shy waterfowl the water rail found on the river. The Lincoln to Boston line opened in 1848.
The section of the Water Rail Way running from Lincoln to Washingborough was completed some years ago, Washington to Five Mile Bridge in 2004 and Five Mile Bridge to Bardney in July 2006. Eventually this riverside route will consist of 20 miles off-road and 13 miles on quiet country lanes, with an expected completion date of 2008.
The Water Rail Way is featured in Go With the Flow: Riverside Walks and Rides and Keep Up With the Flow: Riverside Walks, both published by Visit Lincolnshire.
Across the river can be seen the Norman church at Greetwell. Look up river and you can see Lincoln Cathedral on the skyline.
Washingborough has three pubs, the Ferry Boat Inn and The Hunters Leap in the centre of the village and The Royal Oak (1856) on the Main Road as the most recent addition to the village.
There used to be a lovely old village Post Office conveniently situated in the centre of the village. It was sold to the Co-op, who in the face of stiff local opposition, closed it. Villagers now have to trek to the ugly shopping centre, the haunt of teenage yobs in the evenings.
Local residents had a big shock in the days leading up to Christmas 2006, when a security guard was coshed over the head in the shopping precinct and £100,000 stolen. The three masked robbers escaped in a stolen get-away car. [see Masked raiders steal £100k]
For quality food, villagers pop to the neighbouring village of Heighington, which has a local butcher of some repute and where fresh-baked bread may be bought.
Washingborough is a good centre for walking. From the old railway station either way along the banks of the River Witham. An alternative is to go the the top of Church Hill (noting the view of Lincoln Cathedral and in the far distance the Lincolnshire Wolds), over the main road, and along the country lane opposite. A number of footpaths and tracks lead off the country lane. At the end of the lane, a lovely old stone barn and farm house. From the end of the lane a choice of three routes, including along the banks of the stream. The other two routes lead to higher ground from which there are stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Written with the assistance of Heighington Parish Council, Lincolnshire County Council has published a leaflet covering two circular walks in the countryside around Heighington, part of series on Lincolnshire Walks.
A group of volunteers has created an arts and heritage trail through Washingborough. A strange leaflet has been published for the trail which fails to mention many places of historic interest for example St John's Church, Washingborough Hall, the old village post office, whereas the ugly shopping precinct does get a mention!
A spires and steeples route runs from Lincoln Cathedral, through Washingborough, then on to Heighington and Branston and onwards through Dunston and Metheringham and all the way on to the small market town of Sleaford.
Washingborough won the Best Kept Village (Class III, large villages and small towns) in 2007. This was the second year running that Washingborough had won the Best Kept Village award. [see Revealed: The best villages in Lincolnshire and Washingborough Parish Council newsletter Winter 2007]
This guide to Washingborough is loosely based on material from the Washingborough Village Guide compiled by George Walker and Ray Pulman, plus additional material. A section on local history can be found in the village library. A village trail leaflet, winner of the Heritage Lincolnshire Village Trails Competion (1992), is available from the village library.