History of Colsterworth
The village of Colsterworth in Lincolnshire has two ancient hamlets within its parish namely Woolsthorpe, the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton and Twyford, once much larger than Colsterworth itself. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the three settlements were treated separately.
The name of Colsterworth comes from the Old English colestre+worth and means the settlement of the charcoal burners. The River Witham flows through the village.
For centuries the Parish of Colsterworth was agricultural but during the mid 1800s it was transformed into a busy centre of inns, shops and numerous ale houses, serving the travellers on the Great North Road, which then passed right through the village; these amenities were also enjoyed by the villagers who could buy anything from a button to a whole suit to stitch it to! It has been suggested that 1856 marks the high point of Colsterworth's prosperity. During the 1920s the village was bypassed and the Great North Road renamed the A1; Colsterworth's prosperity began to fade, with the old coaching stops being transformed into houses or businesses.
The Parish Church is dedicated to St John the Baptist and its origins go back to Saxon times, as indicated by the herringbone stonework in the chancel. The Norman arches were preserved during the Victorian period of renovation. The surrounding churchyard has been closed for almost a century. Inside the Church, and mounted upside down behind the organ is a stone sundial generally acknowledged as the work of a young Isaac Newton.
In 1884 the case of the Home Office Baby was something of a publicity stunt when the then eccentric rector of Colsterworth, Rev Mirehouse who was in dispute with the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, about the proposed closure of a local graveyard, mailed the corpse of a stillborn baby to Harcourt marked 'perishable'! Later ecclesiastical lawyer Walter Phillimore gave the opinion that Mirehouse had not committed any offence known to the canon law of the Church of England and therefore could not be disciplined.
The Colsterworth branch of the Society of Methodists started in a barn lent by Mr Wood of Gunby. The services were led by Mr John Treadgold who was from a family of Methodists in Little Brington, Northamptonshire, moving here around 1795. In 1814/15 the Society moved to another barn, one fully set out as a chapel in Colsterworth itself, but the exact location is unknown. In 1835, a piece of land on Back Lane was rented from Sir Montague Cholmeley at a lease of a hundred years at a nominal rent of half-a-crown a year. The scheme was ambitious in that it was the first time that the Methodists had designed and constructed a place of worship. Attendance varied during the following years but for the summer of 1850 there are records showing an average of 200 adults and 80 children at afternoon Worship and 170 adults in the evening. Unfortunately a schism at this time caused another chapel to be opened at Dunkirk, an area over the river at the bottom of what is now School Lane, formerly known as Workhouse Lane. Here the services were held at the industrial premises of Edward Ingle who used to live in Middlefield House. This Wesleyan Reform Chapel was particularly associated with the Temperance Movement and moved onto the High Street and later into the building especially built in 1858 and sold for housing in 1950. There was also at one time a Primitive Methodist Chapel which held its meetings somewhere in Woolsthorpe. Only the original chapel on Back Lane is still in use.
During the early 1920s, the ironstone workings were started in and around Colsterworth. The iron fields stretched over a huge area in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. Pit Number One was opened up c1926 to the west of the village followed by Pit Number Two c1927. Many properties disappeared to the mining in the 1920s and 1930s.
There is some evidence that the south of Grantham was used as a settlement area for retired legionaries in Roman times and during the mining period a smelter, some coins and other Roman remains were unearthed. Colsterworth is close to the old Roman Road of Ermine Street, which runs directly to Lincoln, once a Roman settlement. During excavations the topsoil was removed and piled up in heaps known locally as 'The Alps'. A network of railways was built to transport the ore to the main LNER line and away to Scunthorpe. Offices and workshops were built at Dunkirk and called 'The Yard' and much village housing was built or bought up to house managerial staff. A hostel was opened for female office staff.
The ironstone brought work to men and women from this and many other nearby villages and towns, some cycling ten or twelve miles to and from work every day. It is said that working on the ironstone was like working in a big family and everyone has fond memories of their time 'on the ironstone'. It came as quite a blow when the ironstone closed in the 1970s due to the availability of cheaper and richer ore from abroad. The topsoil was replaced in accordance with the original agreement and the fields were restored to agriculture, the village returning to its rural tranquillity once more.
A new school was built on Back Lane in 1973 to replace the old 1824 and 1895 school buildings in School Lane, which are now two houses. The old village hall also on School Lane, a converted army hut from World War One has been replaced by a new village hall, called the Sir Isaac Newton Memorial Hall, opened in 1984 on land donated by British Steel, between Woolsthorpe and Colsterworth, and donated by British Steel. The area also includes a social club and a sports field.
On the other side of the A1 about a mile away are the remains of North Witham Aerodrome, a Second World War Airfield used by the Americans in 1943; you can still see the wide-open runways and the derelict control tower. The Americans lived in hundreds of tents; they did not build more permanent living quarters because they were not there for long. At 21:30 hours on 5th June 1944 20 C-47 aircraft took off to drop 200 American paratroops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions over Normandy in the early hours of D-Day, thus being the first to leave English soil that night. After just a short time of frantic activity its usefulness as an airfield was over and it was placed on care and maintenance until finally being closed in 1956. The site was disposed of in 1960 with the original woodland site being returned to the Forestry Commission and re-planted. BRM racing motors of Bourne made use of the empty runways in 1961 and 1962 to test their cars.
This page was last edited on Thursday 17-Sep-09 22:09:53 BST