WALK: Attractive Wolds town makes for a great walk

The Bede Houses

The Bede Houses

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It can still be a soggy month underfoot so I’ve chosen a short town walk around historic Louth instead of a countryside route, writes Hugh Marrows.

And - just this once – I’ve changed my usual format and merged the route instructions with the walk’s historical background. The instructions are in numbered brackets and the walk is easy to follow without a map.

The Greenwich Meridian

The Greenwich Meridian

Architecturally Louth, dominated by St James’s church, has a strong claim as the most attractive of the Wolds towns. Sited on the River Lud between the Wolds and the marshes it’s a natural market site. It also became an educational centre, with a school documented from 1276, and Edward VI established a grammar school there in 1551. During Georgian times Louth also became the social centre for the local gentry whose many elegant town houses still enrich its historic charm.

[1] From the carpark entrance cross the road and turn left Within a few yards you will cross a metal plaque marking the Greenwich meridian line established in 1884.

[2] Continue until you reach the “Ye Olde Whyte Swan”. There has been an inn here since 1612.

[3] Keep right past the Town Hall (1853), turn right into Cannon Street; then cross Chequergate into Broadbank. Here you will find the Louth Museum although it is summer opening only. Outside however is an enormous volcanic boulder from Northumberland brought to the area by glaciers some 25,000 years ago; note too the large, carved wooden snail on the gable.

The Lincolnshire Rising

The Lincolnshire Rising

[4] Return to Chequergate and turn right following the road round to the traffic lights near St James. Keep right to reach the restored mill (1755) beside the River Lud. The river gives the town its name since in Saxon “d” was pronounced “th”. The mill bears a plaque recording the Louth Flood of 19th May 1920. On that fateful afternoon torrential rain on the Wolds deposited 4½ inches of rain in three hours. Around 5pm a tidal wave of water 14 feet high and 150 feet wide smashed into the town damaging hundreds of houses, making 800 people homeless and drowning 23. Severe damage caused to the wharf at the east end of the town also brought about the permanent closure of the Louth Navigation.

[5] Cross the road and walk back to the church and round the tower to the south porch. On the wall opposite another plaque records the start of the famous Lincolnshire Rising here on 1st October 1536, an event triggered by the vicar’s evensong sermon and leading eventually to his execution at Tyburn the following year. St James dates from the mid C12th but some rebuilding took place in the C13th and C15th with a Victorian restoration in 1857. The spire, at 295 feet the highest in the land, was completed in 1515 (taking ten years to build) at a cost of £305 and owes its graceful proportions to being of equal height to the tower. Do explore inside for there is much to see, not least the magnificent nave roof supported by brightly painted angels.

[6] Now walk away from the church down Westgate. On the right you will soon pass the C17th Wheatsheaf Inn. On two occasions here, 1717 and 1818, and resulting from wagers, customers have been brave – or foolish – enough to climb St James’s spire. A little further on (at number 54) is the former residence of James Fowler, Lincolnshire’s famous architect and a mayor of Louth. Westgate’s abiding appeal however lies in its beautiful old houses and views of the church.

[7] Continue to the junction with Breakneck Lane and there double back sharp left. Go left again on reaching Gospelgate. Here King Edwards School is behind you; ex-pupils were Lord Alfred Tennyson and the explorer Sir John Franklin. On the corner of Schoolhouse Lane are the flamboyant Bede Houses and another school dating from 1869 but standing on the site of the 1515 school.

Westgate and St James' Church

Westgate and St James' Church

[8] Walk to the junction with Upgate, turn left, cross over and enter Mercer Row.

Looking down towards St James again you will see more fine Georgian buildings including the 1750 former Corporation Assembly Rooms. In Mercer Row itself look above the King’s Head “Family Hotel” where the letter “i” is replaced with an eye.

[9] Take the little lane on the left opposite the King’s Head and then go right along the Cornmarket to the Market Place. Look half right here to see the old shop of Jackson’s printers (now Oxfam) who published Tennyson’s first book of poetry in 1827 when he was aged 18, in a joint enterprise with his brother Charles. The slender tower above the 1866 market hall is intended to imitate an Italian palazzo. Explore inside to see the ornate ironwork roof.

[10] Keep ahead back to “Ye Olde Whyte Swan”. Then return down the right-hand side of Eastgate to the carpark where you began. On the way you will cross another Greenwich meridian marker.