Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Two hours in Gainsborough.

Today I concluded my year in Sweyn's footsteps with a fleeting visit to Gainsborough, the Lincolnshire town in which he is supposed to have ended his days in early February 1014. Even though it was clear to me from the outset that there would be little of Sweyn's Gainsborough to see, at least in the course of so short a visit, I made the journey by car and, taking a recent BBC website article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-25341754) as my guide, set out to have a quick look at the town on foot. The weather was poor and time was limited, but I managed to get a small number of shots which I share with you here.

Gainsborough Old Hall

The main attraction in town is the late-medieval Old Hall, which is supposed to stand on the site of earlier structures, one of which might have been the eleventh-century fortified dwelling of Sweyn. I know nothing about the archaeology of this site (or indeed anything of the evidence for the layout of pre-Conquest Gainsborough), but would be interested to find out more.

View of Castle Hills from Richmond Park

Also mentioned in the article are Gainsborough's Castle Hills, which can be glimpsed from Richmond Park, a kilometre north of the town centre, and an essential stop for the youngest member of my party, who needed to stretch his legs after being confined in his car seat and pushchair for longer than he would have liked, and was showing signs of transforming into Sweyn Forkbaby.

I'd heard of Gainsborough's Sweyn Forkbeard pub, but I wasn't aware of the Canute just three doors up. These two establishments are the public face of Viking Gainsborough: there is currently little provision for tourist information in the town, which seems to be a sideline of the council offices' counter services. A cursory look inside the council building revealed nothing of relevance. One of the central themes of the BBC website article is a call for better and more visible interpretation of Gainsborough's Viking heritage, an impulse that I would support. The names of the pubs reflect and sustain awareness at a local level of the town's link with the Viking past: it would be interesting to canvass locals on their knowledge of their town's Viking heritage, and to draw comparisons with the situation in York, where the Viking age has been so firmly embedded in the city's sense of itself for the last 30 years.

Why not stop for a drink at the Canute...

...or even at the Forkbeard? If there was a Bluetooth pub in town, I didn't see it

Detail of the pub sign at the Sweyn Forkbeard

Like many provincial market towns in 2013, Gainsborough felt a little bit down-at-heel; I left with the impression that it could exploit its heritage assets better, and that the Forkbeard anniversary should have offered an opportunity for the town to draw in visitors, or at least to cater in some small way for those arrivals who come to celebrate the town's starring role in English history exactly one thousand years ago.

View of the River Trent, looking downstream, near Gainsborough Old Hall


  1. The photo of Castle Hills is showing the medieval marl pits, the site of the fortified enclosure is much further across to the left out of shot. Gainsborough is a town that makes little of it's history, for example plans were afoot to turn the Old Hall into a carpark until the Friends of the Old Hall stepped in to stop it!

  2. I organised this in Feb 2015