THE TOWN OF STAMFORD
Topographical History of Stamford
Fig. 1 Map showing the extent of the borough of Stamford
Area covered by Inventory.
(Figs. 1, 2 and 4)
STAMFORD is a small town in the S.W. corner of Lincolnshire, 11 miles N.W. of Peterborough. It lies
mainly on the N. bank of the River Welland at the lowest reasonable crossing-place, and where the
flood-plain is at its narrowest for several miles in either direction. To the E. the flood-plain widens progressively until the fenland is reached after about 7 miles. The next medieval bridge upstream, between Ketton
and Collyweston, is approached on one side by a long stretch of road liable to flooding. At Stamford
itself the land rises fairly steeply in several terraces to about 200 ft. OD. Over most of the surrounding area
the rock is Lincolnshire Limestone, which forms a gently rolling plateau dissected by several stream and
river valleys. The largest of these is the River Gwash which flows into the Welland to the E. of the town,
and forms its boundary in that direction. Further W. the plateau is cut by a valley which runs in a southeasterly direction on the line of Casterton Road and Scotgate; it then turns S. into the W. side of the
present Red Lion Square to join the Welland near the S. end of Castle Dyke. This, the Scotgate valley, is of
particular significance in the siting of Stamford (Fig. 2).
Although Stamford lies in the area where the prehistoric line of communication known as the Jurassic
Way crosses the Welland Valley (W. F. Grimes in A. Rogers (ed.) The Making of Stamford (1965), 1–14)
there is no evidence for prehistoric occupation within the borough despite ample evidence of occupation
in the surrounding area, especially on the lower Welland gravels. The Roman Ermine Street between
Casterton and Water Newton crossed the Welland half a mile upstream from the narrowest point of the
flood-plain, at a point where easy gradients of the valley sides create a good crossing-place. The extent of
Roman occupation in the area is not easy to define but a tessellated pavement was found near St. Mary's
Hill in 1839 (1) and possible cremation urns appear to have been discovered in the 18th century in High
Street and Barn Hill (2–3); more recently further casual discoveries have been made (4). However, the
history of Stamford as a settlement appears to begin in the post-Roman period, and much of the early
development of the town can only be learnt from the evidence provided by the topography of the present
town, supplemented by the small amount of historical and archaeological material available.
The first attempt to interpret Stamford's topographical history was made in the early 18th century by
William Stukeley, then incumbent of All Saints'. He believed that he could discern the outlines of 'Hengist's
camp', of Roman type, to the W. of Red Lion Square, the axial Via Praetoria on the line of St. Peter's
Street, and the site of the forum where St. Peter's church stood (Fig. 3). Although the tactical importance of
the Scotgate valley and Castle Hill was appreciated, the fact that the land falls away steeply on the S. of
St. Peter's Street was ignored. Stukeley's interpretation persisted into the 19th century, and Knipe's map of
1833 marks a headland in the open fields N.W. of Rutland Terrace as the W. boundary of a supposed
In more recent times, Hoskins has postulated a ford a few yards E. of the present bridge, the approach
roads to which had been diverted in the Middle Ages (W. G. Hoskins, Local History in England (1972),
98–9); this would imply an original settlement around St. Mary's church. This suggestion, however, finds
little support in the present topography of the town. More recently the recognition of the probable site of
the Danish burh in the area bounded by Broad Street, St. George's Street, St. Mary's Street and Red Lion
Square, and the complementary identification of the S. part of St. Martin's as the Saxon burh (C. Mahany,
The Archaeology of Stamford (1969), 4–6) have given a more satisfactory basis on which to build an interpretation of Stamford's physical growth. The account given below differs in several respects from previous
Fig. 2 Medieval Stamford in its physical setting showing N.-S. roads.
During the Roman period the principal settlement near Stamford was that at Casterton (P. Corder,
Roman Town at Great Casterton (1951–61)), and this site appears to have been occupied by Saxons until the
6th century. The pattern of Anglo-Saxon settlement in the Stamford area, as revealed by place-names and
village sites, involved two types of site. To the S. of the Welland there is a series of villages and village-sites
set well back from the river, either on the valley-side or on the summit of the plateau, the settlements being
from one to two miles apart. Near Stamford there are Collyweston, Easton, Wothorpe, Burghley, Pilsgate
and Barnack, with Bainton further E. on the fen edge. To the N. of the Welland is a similar series of
settlements also between one and two miles apart, but situated close to the river. Ketton is on the small
River Chater, followed by Tinwell, Uffington, Tallington and West Deeping. Stamford fits into this
regular sequence between Tinwell and Uffington. There is thus good reason to believe that long before the
Danish burh was established in 877 there was a Saxon settlement in the area of the present town. The two
poorly recorded discoveries of Anglo-Saxon date do not indicate the location of this settlement (7).
Fig. 3 Copy of drawing by W. Stukeley
of supposed camp of Roman pattern.
An examination of ancient parish boundaries in the area helps to clarify the relationship between
Stamford and its neighbouring settlements. To the S. of the Welland the parishes are mainly elongated
strips of land stretching back from the river. The single exception, Barnack, was probably formed by
merging the two pre-Conquest settlements of Barnack and Pilsgate. The parishes of St. Martin's Within and
St. Martin's Without were originally one, and contained the vanished settlement of Burghley which was
probably the original settlement in the parish and took its name from the Saxon burh. Stamford Baron or
St. Martin's Within, is an intrusion into both the pattern of parishes and the pattern of Saxon estates and
To the N. of the Welland the arrangement of parish boundaries is less regular owing partly to physical
features such as the River Gwash, and partly to later alterations to the boundaries. The interlocking boundaries of Great and Little Casterton, as well as their place-names, suggest that they once formed a single
unit, while Tickencote may have been split off from Tinwell. Stamford itself appears to have gained the
land to the W. of Ermine Street from Tinwell, a parish which has every appearance of having been encroached upon. Without this land beyond Ermine Street, Stamford would have had the same rectangular
shape that is more usual for the parishes N. of the Welland.
Another interpretation is possible. Stamford appears in some respects to be the medieval successor of
Roman Casterton, and in Domesday Book an area called Portland and described under Great Casterton
seems to have been the W. part of Stamford. The line of the Great Casterton-Ryhall parish boundary is
continued southwards within Stamford by the medieval parish boundary separating All Saints' and St.
Paul's. Further S. the boundary between St. Michael's and St. Mary's on the W. and St. George's on the
E. is not exactly on this alignment. It could then be suggested, but not demonstrated, that Stamford derives
its territory from Tinwell, Casterton and Ryhall.
The position of the early Saxon settlement on the N. bank of the Welland cannot be located closely.
The medieval North Road running through the town from S. to N. took a tortuous and implausible route.
After crossing the Welland at the present bridge it first turned W. into St. Mary's Street, then N. into St.
John's Street, and turned again in Red Lion Square to Scotgate. The most probable explanation for this
awkward route is that the road was diverted from an earlier line to one which had to recognize an existing
pattern of man-made topographical features, and indeed this route skirts the S.W. corner of the Danish
burh. The original line of the medieval North Road must be sought elsewhere.
The most suitable site for a ford is probably a few yards upstream from the medieval bridge. Here the
flood-plain is just wide enough for the river to follow a shallow course, and the approach on either side is
an easy descent. At this point the river and mill-stream are now crossed by the George and Lammas bridges
respectively. Both foot-bridges, now rebuilt, are recorded in the 17th century but are of earlier origin.
They are linked by a modern causeway following the line of an early pathway, the maintenance of which
has long been the concern of the town council. The medieval North Road S. of St. Martin's is aligned on
this crossing; just S. of the occupied area it bends to the E. but the alignment, after a gap, is picked up and
continued to the crossing by Wothorpe Road. On the N. side the route would have continued along Castle
Dyke and then climbed onto the limestone plateau through the valley along the modern Scotgate, ultimately
joining Ermine Street just S. of Casterton. The George and Lammas bridges, therefore, mark what is on
topographical evidence the most probable position of the first Saxon river-crossing.
If the identification of this crossing is correct, then the original Saxon settlement would have been near
the mouth of the stream, now culverted, flowing down Scotgate and Castle Dyke. The centre of the
settlement is likely to be indicated by its church. In this area there are two churches, St. Peter's and All
Saints' with dedications that may denote early foundation; both are recorded in Domesday as being in
Portland, under Great Casterton. The two parishes are now united and their original boundaries unknown
except in the S. extremity where Mallory Lane is recorded as being the boundary in 1299 (Peck IX, 34).
Mallory Lane is on the line of the culverted stream, suggesting that the boundary may have run along the
line of this stream, and thence along the Great North Road. All Saints' may perhaps be regarded as the
earlier on the evidence of it having been split into two parts by a narrow strip of St. Paul's parish, although
Stukeley believed St. Peter's to be the older parish on account of its extent (Stanfordia Illustrata I, 24).
The size and importance of this settlement is unknown, but its position at a crossing of a navigable river
must have given it advantages over its neighbours. This advantage was seized upon by the Danes in the
9th century when they fortified Stamford and made it one of the Five Boroughs in this part of the Danelaw.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 877 the Danish army shared half of Mercia among themselves.
They established several political and military centres, each having an army whose members were settled
in the surrounding area. Stamford was one of these and the burh, mentioned in 918, was doubtless established
This Danish burh (8) lay immediately E. of the Saxon village, on a terrace overlooking both the original
settlement and the Welland. The main axial road of the burh would have been the present High Street on
the line of an existing E.-W. routeway which ran along the N. side of the Welland valley. The S. side
of the burh was probably on the crest of the scarp of the main Welland valley; the W. side was against
the E. edge of the present Red Lion Square where the land slopes gently away, as it does on the E. where
the boundary is marked by St. George's Street. The N. boundary was along the S. side of Broad Street,
carefully acknowledging the tactical difficulties of the sloping site.
A possible expansion of settlement dating from some time after the Danish conquest is represented by
the medieval parish of St. Clement, later united with that of St. John and now with All Saints'. This parish,
bisected by the later medieval walls, was a roughly rectangular area on either side of Scotgate, immediately
N.W. of the original Saxon settlement. The church is not recorded before 1223, but the dedication to St.
Clement suggests an early origin for both the church and the extension of settlement along the Scotgate
The Danish military occupation of Stamford lasted for 40 years, until Edward the Elder in 918 'went
with the army to Stamford and ordered the burh on the south side of the river to be built, and all the people
who belonged to the more northern burh submitted to him, and sought to have him as their lord' (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, under 920 AD, quoted from English Historical Documents I. (1955), 198). Only topographical evidence remains to indicate the position of this Saxon burh (9) (Fig. 4). Stukeley's suggestion
that it lay on the site of the later St. Michael's Nunnery is not supported by any evidence now visible
(Stanfordia Illustrata II, 60). The most probable site is the area in St. Martin's, on the first terrace above the
Welland, bounded on the N. by the steep drop to the flood-plain, on the E. by Park Lane, and on the S.
by Pinfold Lane and the modern borough boundary. On the W. the line is less well-defined, but continued
on the alignment of Pinfold Lane, a little E. of Wothorpe Road. The straight section of High Street St.
Martins would then have been the axial road, as High Street was in the Danish burh. The deflection of the
main road just S. of the Saxon burh, from the alignment leading towards Wothorpe Road and the river
crossing, to the axis of the Saxon burh, indicates how the burh was laid out alongside the North Road
rather than across it, a feature shared with the Danish burh.
Fig. 4 Map showing Danish Burh (8) and Saxon Burh (9), and lines of North Road.
The Danish and Saxon burhs faced each other across the narrowest part of the Welland valley, where the
flood-plain is only 100 yards wide and the river flows between high banks which provide a suitable site for
a bridge. When the bridge was first built is not known, but it was in existence by 1086, and probably much
earlier. As soon as the Saxon burh was built the North Road was diverted to run along its axial road; at
its N. end it turned slightly E. to the bridge. On the N. of the river the road ran straight up the scarp along
St. Mary's Hill, and then turned W. along St. Mary's Street, skirting but not entering the Danish burh
During the 40 years of Danish overlordship Stamford, as one of the Five Boroughs, had obviously
been of great importance, and in the following years of Saxon rule this importance was retained. There are
several indications of prosperity during the late Saxon period. From about 979 to the 12th century there
was a mint functioning in the town. The large number of moneyers, and the number of dies which were
used, both point to an output exceeded only by the large towns of London, York, Winchester and Lincoln.
Presumably this busy mint resulted from the commercial position held by Stamford, for it was not a
county-town and does not appear to have had any great administrative function in the post-Danish
period. The Mid Lent Fair, later of great importance, may have originated at this time. We know of only
two commodities, cloth and pottery, whose manufacture and sale contributed to Stamford's prosperity.
Haberget, a diamond-twill cloth apparently of high quality, was a prestigious export to Europe until the
13th century, and its manufacture probably began before the Norman Conquest (Med. Arch. XIII (1969),
148–66). Other cloths of lesser quality were doubtless produced; by the 13th century the word Stanfort
had come to mean a good material irrespective of its place of origin, but the name may not derive from
Stamford as has usually been assumed (A. L. Poole, From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 86). In the late
Saxon period Stamford was one of the few English centres of production of glazed pottery with a fine,
hard white body. It is easy to over-estimate the significance of pottery because of its relative indestructibility
and the consequent use made of it by archaeologists; however like haberget, Stamford Ware was a highquality luxury article and was distributed widely in Eastern England. Production may have begun in the
late 9th century, using local estuarine clays (Med. Arch. XIII (1969), 95).
The prosperity of the town in the late Saxon period led to considerable expansion. The chronology of
this growth is not certain, but all of the parish churches were established by the middle of the 12th century
and many of them had by then been in existence for some time. This suggests that the town had grown to
approximately its maximum medieval extent by about 1100, even if it had not reached its maximum
Expansion took place on all sides of the settlement on the N. bank of the Welland. To the E. of the
Danish burh settlement extended along the road leading from the E. entrance, now called St. Paul's Street.
This was the medieval parish of St. Paul, and beyond lay Holy Trinity, a parish which was largely outside
the 13th-century wall-circuit. Further development took place immediately S., along the present St.
Leonard's Street, associated with the parish of St. Michael Cornstall. The medieval name of this street,
Cornstall, may imply the former existence of a grain market. Just outside the S.E. angle of the burgh is St.
George's church, and a small knot of streets and houses forming its parish. It is in this area to the E. of the
Danish burh that most of the known kilns producing Stamford pottery have been found.
The land between the Danish burh and the river was probably built upon at an early date. St. Mary's
Street and the churches of St. John and St. Mary lie on the edge of the Danish burh, the defences of which
must have become obsolete by the time these two churches were built. Both have small parishes lying
mainly outside the burh, encroaching only along its edge. St. Mary's Hill was probably laid out when the
bridge was built; it rises up the valley side and stops abruptly on meeting St. Mary's Street.
Settlement also spread along the road leading westwards from the original Saxon village towards
Tinwell. This road, now called St. Peter's Street, formed the spine of the occupied part of St. Peter's
parish. Beyond this parish lay that of St. Mary Bynnewerk, whose church was described as 'extra burgum'
in 1157. Whatever the precise meaning of the phrase, it reflects the relatively late date of settlement at the
W. end of St. Peter's Street. When the town walls were built on their present line in the 13th century,
St. Mary Bynnewerk, as its name indicates, was within their circuit.
Early extension along the line of the North Road would have been a natural development. The parish
of St. Clement, which incorporated most of Scotgate, appears to represent such expansion. Perhaps for
tactical reasons most of the parish was left outside the town walls in the 13th century. Broad Street lies
immediately N. of the Danish burh, and its shape and width suggest that it may have begun as a market
place. To the S. of the Welland the road from Easton, which joined the old North Road just outside the
Saxon burh, was extended along a tortuous course, now Church Lane and Church Street, to meet the new
High Street St. Martins which had been extended N. when the bridge was built (Plate 3). Settlement also
extended eastwards along the bank of the Welland; its street, formerly known as Estebythewater and now
as Water Street, is probably coterminous with the former parish of All Saints by the Bridge. This riverside
suburb may have arisen in response to the need for wharfage downstream from the bridge.
By 1086 Domesday Book records some 412 houses in the five wards of Stamford N. of the Welland;
the population of the sixth ward, St. Martin's, is not indicated. St. Martin's, though always regarded as
part of the borough, was administratively in Northamptonshire and belonged to the Abbey of Peterborough. The Domesday figures suggest that by then Stamford was approaching the size of the 13th
century walled town. Between 1066 and 1086 a castle was built at Stamford, displacing five houses. It
commanded the pre-Danish crossing and was also on the most easily defensible site in terms of 11th-century
military techniques. The small number of houses displaced is perhaps partly explained by the sloping site
which was not well-suited to domestic occupation. The extent to which the town was defended at this early
date is not known, but the fact that it withstood two sieges in the Anarchy of the 12th century and only fell
to the third siege suggests that there was a defensible circuit. The stone town walls of which fragments
remain probably date from the period of murage grants in the 13th century. The first of these grants was in
1261 and the last in 1352 (H. Turner, Town Defences in England and Wales (1971), 238; Cal. Pat.).
During the 12th and 13th centuries six religious houses were founded in Stamford. All of them were
established on the periphery of the town, although one extended its site by purchasing occupied houses.
The Priory of St. Leonard was founded as a cell of Durham in the early 12th century; in origin it seems to
be associated with the need for a convenient base from which to administer estates in the area. The house
stands remote from the town, on the edge of the river valley. St. Michael's Nunnery which followed in
the middle of the century was sited just beyond the occupied area of St. Martin's parish.
The Mendicant Orders lost no time in establishing themselves in Stamford. The Franciscans arrived by
1230, acquiring a site on the E. edge of the town next to the parish of Holy Trinity; by 1241 the Dominicans
had a house just outside the town in St. George's parish, and shortly afterwards the Carmelites were given
a small site between the two other friaries. This site was gradually extended by purchase into the parish of
Holy Trinity. The Friars of the Sack had a house in Stamford but the order was suppressed in 1274, and
in 1341 the site was given to the Austin Friars. It lay immediately outside the town on the W. The siting of
these religious houses on the edge of the town underlines other evidence for the size of Stamford in the
13th century by which time the town had reached its greatest extent.
During the Middle Ages the commercial functions of Stamford appear to have been distributed widely
over the town. Red Lion Square and St. Mary's Hill were important shopping areas in the 12th and 13th
centuries. Most documentary references to both shops and undercrofts relate to these streets and to High
Street St. Martins. References to Jews also suggest that they were mainly living within a short distance of
Red Lion Square; they had a synagogue (PRO, SC 11/426) but its site is unknown. The importance of
High Street in the 13th century is not easy to demonstrate, but it had a market and a conduit by the later
Middle Ages. Surviving or recorded domestic buildings of this date are widely distributed and although
their continued existence is due to factors operating at a later date, their quality indicates that wealth was
not closely confined to one quarter of the town. However, some activities were localized. Pottery kilns
appear to have been limited to the E. part of the town, and names such as Butcher Row (PRO, SC 11/422)
and Street of Fishmongers (PRO, C 41/174) indicate groups of tradesmen dealing in similar commodities.
Markets were held in Red Lion Square where the temporary stalls became rebuilt as permanent shops,
in High Street where the stalls acquired a permanent cover by the 18th century, in Barn Hill until 1781,
in St. Mary's Place after 1481, and perhaps at an early date in St. Leonard's Street whose medieval name,
Cornstall, suggests a specialized market. Stamford Baron was always in a subsidiary position but had an
economic life of its own, shops being recorded in the 13th century.
Stamford's prosperity in the 13th century was due mainly to its position on the Welland, close to the
fenland producing cattle, horses and hemp, to the limestone uplands producing sheep and grain, and to the
Northamptonshire forest producing cattle and sheep. The local sheep, noted for their long fleece, gave
wool of very good quality which commanded a high price. Stamford acted as a collecting-centre for this
wool, some of which was woven in the town into luxury cloth such as haberget, but most was sent down
the Welland to Boston whence it was exported to Flanders. Some wool went to France through King's
Lynn, and in return woad was imported to dye the locally-woven cloth (Rot. Hund. i, 353, 357; Revue du
Nord 25 (1953), 89 ff.). Stamford probably acted also as a collecting-centre for grain which in the Middle
Ages was transported by river wherever possible. Grain and livestock markets continued to be of importance into the 19th century.
The surviving churches are evidence of the prosperity of the town in the 13th century. All Saints' was
built on an ambitious scale with much decorative enrichment, St. Mary's was rebuilt with a splendid tower,
and St. George's and St. Paul's retain work of the period; St. Michael's had fragments remaining after
later rebuilding. Only St. Paul's retains any earlier masonry, all other Romanesque work having been
swept away in later periods of rebuilding. By contrast parts of several houses of the 12th and 13th centuries
remain, bearing witness to the wealth of the town at that time.
During this period of prosperity the townsmen gradually increased their influence in the government
of Stamford. In 1202 a charter was secured changing the date of the weekly market from Sunday to
Monday, and the town had its ancient liberties confirmed. A commune was granted in 1257 along with
trading privileges, and in 1313 this was enhanced by the right to elect a burgess as alderman to rule the
commune. Full borough status and freedom from the control of the lord of the manor was not obtained
until 1462 (Rogers, 42).
In the early 14th century the Gilbertines had a hall in Stamford where advanced teaching took place,
and St. Leonard's Priory may have had some scholastic functions. These institutions were apparently of
relatively little influence but in 1334 they were joined by a number of northern students from Oxford.
The choice of Stamford for this short-lived secession may have been due as much to geographical factors
as scholastic (VCH Lincs., 428).
By the 14th century the centres of the English wool and cloth trade were moving away from the old
areas of importance, such as Lincolnshire, to new regions such as East Anglia, where the manufacture of
worsteds was increasing. Although local wool remained a major element in the economy of the area,
there was clearly a decline in prosperity. Stamford and Lincoln, both inland towns, had derived much of
their importance from their roles as local centres of the wool trade. During the 15th century Lincoln suffered
a serious economic decline that Stamford appears to have avoided. The activities of the Browne family,
merchants of the Staple, based on Calais, show that considerable personal wealth was still to be gained
from collecting and dealing in wool during the 15th century. In the later 15th century the largest occupational group on the council was the drapers and mercers, forming 20 per cent of the whole (Rogers in
Everitt, Perspectives in English Urban History (1973), 32); other textile-working trades represent a further
10 per cent, with an equal percentage of leatherworkers.
The population of Stamford was apparently declining by the beginning of the 15th century. The
incomes of the churches had begun to fall, partly owing to a changing pattern of piety, but partly resulting
from a contraction of the town. The parish of St. Michael Cornstall, always poor, had been merged with
St. George's as early as 1309, and St. Leonard's Street, probably the nucleus of the parish, has remained a
relatively poor area. By 1428 Holy Trinity church, whose parish had been encroached upon by the Carmelite Friary, appears to have been taken over by a guild fraternity who changed the dedication to St. Stephen.
In this way the demolition of the church was delayed until 1556, when the parish was merged with St.
Michael's. All Saints' by the Bridge was amalgamated with St. Martin's in 1434, and St. Mary Bynnewerk
parish with St. Peter's in 1462. All these parishes were on the periphery of the town, and none was large
or rich. The first half of the 16th century saw the disappearance of a further four parishes, all a little nearer
the centre of Stamford. St. Andrew's was merged with St. Michael's in 1546, St. Paul's with St. George's
by 1548, St. Clement's with St. John's in 1553, and St. Peter's with All Saints' by 1560.
The churches which survived these redundancies, however, show that Stamford remained a relatively
rich town. St. John's and St. Martin's were entirely rebuilt and All Saints', St. Mary's and St. George's were
all extensively rebuilt in the middle and second half of the 15th century. Much of this work, of very high
quality, bears witness to continued prosperity, even if at a lower level than hitherto. A charter granting
borough status was obtained in 1462 and in 1481 this was supplemented by a second charter granting a
market whose profits were to belong to the townsmen, not the lord of the manor. The Browne family
was exceptional in its wealth, enabling it to build a hospital and rebuild the greater part of All Saints'
church; the contemporary baker William Hikham completed the guild chapel at St. Mary's; in the following century one citizen handsomely endowed a school in 1532 and another rebuilt the Town Hall in
1558. Surviving domestic buildings, though much altered, also give the same impression of a thriving
The sack of Stamford by the Lancastrian army in 1461 played only a small part in the gradual decline
of the town. The deserted house sites, reported by Leland some 80 years later and ascribed to the Lancastrian attack, are equally likely to have been the result of a shrinking population. Although there is little
direct evidence of decline before the 15th century it was certainly taking place by the middle of that century.
In 1574 unemployment and poverty caused the council to require that townsmen should be given employ
ment in preference to strangers; later in the century the town had difficulty in raising money to pay taxes,
and in 1624 was described as a 'poor decayed town'.
About the beginning of the 17th century the population of Stamford appears to have begun a steady
increase which, though checked in the early 18th century, continued until the 19th century. Stamford had
always been a thriving market serving the nearby widely differing areas of fen and upland, and it had
long been a major stage on the Great North Road. These functions had been supplemented in the Middle
Ages by industry, which had subsequently declined. During the 17th century both industry and transport
were improved. The main trades were based on locally-produced materials, especially wool, hemp and
leather. Attempts to introduce canvas manufacture in the 1560s failed. The malting industry, based on local
grain and river transport, revived later in the 17th century and was to become of great importance. Efforts
to revive trade by improving navigation began in 1570 but the canal to Deeping (27) was not opened
until the 1660s. This allowed Stamford to play a greater part in the distribution of grain, imported timber
and, later, coal. Road travel was improved by the introduction of long-distance coach services.
As population increased derelict sites in the town were again built on. In 1600 the E. side of Gas Street
had consisted of gardens where houses had formerly stood; by the middle of the century these gardens,
in one of the poorer areas of Stamford, again had houses on them (Blore, 285–90). The number of stonemasons, recorded when they became freemen, increased greatly, and this is reflected in a change in the
buildings of the town. Timber framing went out of fashion and use; those who could afford it refronted
their houses in stone, and those who could not covered the exposed woodwork with laths and plaster.
Although the face of the town changed, no new streets were laid out. The old pattern persisted, the area of
the medieval town proving large enough for current needs.
It is difficult to define the areas of commercial prosperity in the 17th century. The largeinns generally follow
the line of the Great North Road. The George (239) was rebuilt at the beginning of the century; the Bull (352)
and the George and Angel (350) almost adjoined in St. Mary's Street, and the Red Lion (278) stood near All
Saints' church. The Blue Bell in High Street (240–244) though rebuilt shortly before 1595, seems to have been
declining, but the importance of High Street is demonstrated by the buildings that were put up at the end of
the century. Water Street, Scotgate, St. Leonard's Street, and to a lesser extent St. Peter's Street were of little
social or economic consequence; St. Paul's Street appears by contrast to have enjoyed a quiet prosperity.
By the 18th century the commercial centre of Stamford was clearly the High Street and Red Lion
Square. Streets of a socially high class were Barn Hill, St. George's Square, the S. half of High Street St.
Martins, and to a lesser degree Broad Street. St. George's Square and the E. end of St. Mary's Street
benefited from the building first of the Assembly Room and later of the Theatre. During this century,
the new Town Hall and the building operations of the 9th Earl of Exeter radically altered and improved
St. Mary's Hill and the N. end of St. Mary's Street, and gave them a fashionable quality which was soon
marred by the introduction of shops.
Stamford's importance as a market town and social and economic centre for the surrounding area
increased during the 18th century. Besides merchants dealing in local produce and imported coal and
timber, and manufacturers including tanners and maltsters, there was a wide range of professional men
such as apothecaries and solicitors. Ironmongers and cabinet makers occur in numbers, some being of more
than average competence. Among the cabinet makers, Benjamin Tipping and Henry Tatam did work for
the Earls of Exeter (Country Life, 3 May 1973; 29 Aug. 1974). The town's position as a centre for social
life is reflected in several new institutions, for example in a theatre, originally in Broad Street, and in regular
assemblies. Horse racing on Wittering Heath began before 1619; a new course was laid out at Easton about
1717 and an annual three-day meeting established which became an important social event. The present
stand, in Wothorpe, now in Cambridgeshire, was built in 1766 (Fig. 5).
The 18th century saw a complete change in the physical appearance of Stamford. Affluence, fashion and
the presence of good building stone nearby resulted in the wholesale refronting or rebuilding of houses in
the current style. In almost every case both workmanship and design were by men living and working in
Stamford, and these same craftsmen also worked in the surrounding area. John Sutton in 1670 built the
shell of Lyndon Hall, Rutland; George Portwood in 1737 designed the tower of Witham-on-the-Hill
church, Lincolnshire; and William Legg designed alterations to Casewick Hall, Lincolnshire, in 1785.
The products of Stamford's monumental masons are also found over a wide area.
Fig. 5 Stamford Racecourse at Wothorpe
Reconstruction of 18th-century grandstand.
As Stamford's population continued to increase, the town gradually filled the area within the medieval
walls. The site of 24 St. Mary's Street (358) was an open space with a ruined barn on it as late as 1753, but
had been built upon by 1779. In about 1749 a row of cottages was built in the garden behind 3 St. Leonard's
Street (316), other space not being available. Expansion beyond the medieval walls was hardly possible,
for the open fields remained unenclosed until 1875. Immediately outside the walls and encircling the town
was a narrow belt of manorial waste used mainly for grazing; there were also several ancient enclosures,
one of which was a bowling green. Encroachment before 1800 was rare. In 1771 Robert Hunt built an
iron foundry on the fields near the present North Street Chapel (39), but there was relatively little other
Only after about 1810 were cottages built in large numbers on the peripheral waste; by 1828 there were
about 100 cottage encroachments, and the Survey of 1845 lists 380 houses, apart from a miscellany of
carthouses, hovels and sheds. A group of cottages, sheds and yards, called New Town, covered an enclosure
just beyond Scotgate, beginning some time in the 1820s. Rutland Terrace was built on a bowling green
to the W. of St. Peter's Street and was the only row of fashionable houses to be built on a new site in the
early 19th century. Most of the encroachments were on the N. side of the town where the closely-built
houses rapidly earned a dubious reputation. Part of the area of Tenter Meadows had been used for the
gas works opened in 1825 (452) and more houses and workshops were built nearby in subsequent years.
In 1840 a new estate was laid out on the site of Blackfriars; it was not included in the 1845 survey of encroachments. Its history is instructive for although the N. part, intended for small houses, was built over
fairly rapidly, the S. part, intended for large houses, was used instead as private gardens by the richer
townspeople. Pressure on space within the town took two forms; one was for building-sites, which led to
houses being built on former gardens, the other for pleasure-gardens to replace those lost to housing.
Despite this, several large gardens remained in the town.
Enclosure of St. Martin's parish took place in 1796. Burghley Park was immediately extended to reach
the Great North Road and the occupied area of the town, thus preventing expansion in that direction.
The park was surrounded by a wall, and the Burghley Lodges were built in 1799. Land on the W., formerly
St. Michael's Nunnery precinct, was also owned by the Cecils, and not made available for building. All
new houses in St. Martin's were therefore confined to Water Street and the area around Church Street.
Two alterations to the road pattern were made at enclosure in 1796. Barnack Road was laid out, replacing
the earlier road from Burghley Lane, and the road to Easton was diverted from Church Street and Church
Lane so that it ran directly into High Street St. Martins. On the N. side of the Welland the enclosure of
Stamford open fields was held up mainly because the second Marquess of Exeter wished to gain as his
freehold the encroachments on the waste around the edge of the town and also to acquire as much land
as possible, mainly common land, in the open fields, before allowing enclosure to take place (S. Elliott in
Lincs. History and Archaeology I. 4 (1969), 23 ff; Agr. Hist. Review 20 (1972), 155 ff).
After enclosure in 1875 Stamford expanded over the fields to the N. The Freehold Land Society's
estate was an important early development, though most building was in the hands of private speculators.
That part of the town within the line of the medieval walls has undergone relatively little alteration in the
present century. Some new building has taken place on garden plots, a number of buildings have been
replaced, and one or two buildings of quality have been undeservedly demolished (189) or needlessly
vandalized (188). Internal alterations for commercial enterprises have formed the major changes, and few
noteworthy buildings have been put up since the death of the architect Edward Browning. The early 19th-century cottages around the periphery of the medieval town have been almost totally demolished, removing
a social problem and also providing space for an encircling road which does little damage to the fabric of
the medieval town. The Great North Road was diverted to a new route to the W. of the town in 1961.