Bourne Archive: Bourne: Cooke                Latest edit 18 Dec 2009

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George Alexander Cooke’s Description of Bourne1

This is transcribed from a copy of the book in the Willoughby Memorial Library, to the trustees of which, I offer my thanks.



The map of Lincolnshire from a superior edition of Cooke, George Alexander. A Topographical and statistical description of the County of Lincoln (ca.1808)2


The itinerary lists the notable residents of the Bourne vicinity as: at Hanthorpe, Col. Pack, R.: at Bourn, Mrs. Pochin3 and James Digby, esq. 4: at Grimsthorpe Castle, duke of Ancaster5: at Thurlby, J. Barnes, esq.


The Topographical Description follows a number of routes through the county beginning with that from Barton to Deeping, through Lincoln. The description of Bourne is as follows: -

About seven miles from Aslackby, after passing through the village of Morton, we arrive at Bourn, a market-town, situated in a flat adjoining the fens. Contiguous to the town is a spring, remarkable for the purity of its water, which turns three mills6 within a very small distance of its head, and runs through the town to Spalding. From this stream the name of the town derived; Bourn signifying a stream of water. Here was formerly an abbey and a castle; of the abbey there are some small remains, which evince the antiquity of the place, if we may credit a date upon one of the stones, in the upper part of a wall, which is as early as 161. This abbey , at the time of its dissolution, posessed an annual revenue of 167l. 14s. 6d. per annum. [£167 14s.6d.] Very few vestiges of the castle are left; a few steps being the only remains, which are formed out of some of the old stones laid across a dry part of the moat, which are yet very fresh, as are the entrenchments round it.7 It does not appear, however in the annals of Britain, that this castle was ever made serviceable in any of the internal wars of this kingdom, though this town was formerly, according to an ancient historian, the residence of men of prowess and valour; for, says this writer, when the Danes made an inroad into Lincolnshire, one Alger, of Spalding, was sent to oppose their progress; and, being joined by Marcot, Lord of Bourn, and his numerous family and attendants, trained in arms, with about 250 men from Croyland Abbey, they marched northward, and met the Danish army at Laundon, where a desperate battle ensued, which was terminated in favour of Alger and Morcot, after slaying three of the enemies’ kings; from which circumstance the town received the name Threekingham, which by a corruption of pronunciation, is now called Freckingham.8

Bourn at present is but a dirty mean-built town,9 of about a mile and a quarter in length from east to west, and about half a mile in breadth from north and south. It has one parish church, and a chapel for dissenters.10 The Church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, is a handsome structure, consisting of a lofty chancel,11 a nave, with side aisles, and a short transept on the south side. The nave is separated from the aisles by plain circular arches, springing from large columns, exhibiting a specimen of the early Norman style. It had formerly two large towers at the west end, of which one is nearly down12.

Here are two Almshouses, one for six poor men, and the other for as many poor women, each endowed with 30l. per annum; and also a Free-school. Besides these, there are many other gifts, donations, and benefices, belonging to the poor of this town13. In the centre of the Market-place is an ancient Town Hall, where the petty sessions for the parts of Kesteven are regularly held at Michaelmas and Christmas14.

About 50 years ago, a tesselated pavement was discovered, in the park grounds15, and a few Roman coins have likewise been dug up in the neighbourhood.

In a farm-yard within the town is a medicinal spring, much frequented, the waters of which have a brackish taste, and a purgative quality.

A canal16 has been cut from this town to Boston, for boats of ten tons burden, by means of which some mercantile business is carried on; its chief trade, however, consists in tanning leather. The market is on Saturday, but is not much frequented17; it has four annual fairs, viz. March 7, May 6, October 29, November 30; and its common is noted for horse-races18.

Bourn has twice suffered severely by fire; on the 25th of August, 1605, that part of the town, called Manor Street, was totally destroyed by fire, not leaving a single house standing: and again on the 25th of March, 1637, another fire destroyed the greater part of Eastgate.19

The town, which is situated 97 miles from London, contains 282 houses, and 1,474 inhabitants. It is famous for being the birth place of the great statesman, Sir William Cecil20, lord treasurer, who was born here in the year 1521; created Baron Burleigh in 1571; and died in 1598. The unfortunate Dr. William Dodd was likewise a native of Bourn, whose father was vicar of the place21.


1. ^    This small book is not dated but its information comes from before the old Bourne Town Hall was pulled down on completion of its replacement in 1821 and the death of Mrs. Eleanor Pochin in 1823.  It is after the building of the Abbey Church chancel, apparently in 1807 and the death of George Pochin in 1798. If its information was up to date when it was published, it is earlier than the death of the 5th Duke of Ancaster in 1809. The writers of this sort of book were more alive to this sort of information than to some, as it was important to their clientele. They sold their books to this sort of person; therefore, they would be judged on the accuracy of this sort of information. It is therefore reasonable to say that the book was published close to 1808.

2.      Such maps were printed in black and farmed out for hand colouring. The colouring work here is not of the best but will have been done down to a price. Such work was often done at home, by children, as a supplement to a family’s income.

The cost of such a printing plate as this was high, so that one engraved for an earlier work or edition might commonly reused. Consequently, it is not possible to state confidently that as a particular feature is shown here, that feature was in fact present in the landscape, at that date.  For example, the road shown passing through Grimsthorpe Park, had probably been by-passing it for three decades or more. And the old course of the River Witham, between Dogdyke and Boston is shown. That had been straightened in the 1760s.

That the plate never was wholly reliable is indicated by the course shown for the Witham in the Lincoln area.

3.       Of the Abbey (Abbey House). Her husband, George Pochin, died in 1798 (Birkbeck p.56). See also his memorial. The house came into Mrs Pochin’s ownership when George’s sister, Mary died in 1804.

4.      Of the Red Hall.

5. ^   He died in 1809.

6.      These are known today as Notley’s Mill, on the site of the Abbey’s mill; Baldock’s Mill, on the site of the castle mill; and West Street Mill.

7.       Clearly, Cooke did not regard the earthworks as being a significant part of the castle. It seems that we can assume that the stone buildings were virtually all gone by this stage and that some of the moat was then dry but that the form of the moats was still clear.

8.      The battle at Threekingham (870) took place well before Bourne castle was built. The story of the origin of that place name is highly likely to be a matter of folk etymology. The most likely origin of the name lies in its translation as being the ‘homestead of the Tricingas, the people of Tric’. Its Domesday Book name is ‘Trichingheham’. It seems to have originated as an outpost of Tric, on the Kesteven side of the tidal flats formerly existing between Kesteven and Holland. Tric is mentioned in Domesday Book as being in the vicinity of Skegness (Candleshoe Wapentake). This is the best available explanation rather than a certainty.

9.      This seems a little harsh, though Moore (1809) agrees. He should have known, as he was brought up there. Cooke seems not to have used Moore’s information as he appears to have published slightly earlier than Moore. There was a fair number of solid seventeenth and eighteenth century houses including the Red Hall, Abbey House, Judge’s now demolished premises and so on. The dirt may have come from the passage of livestock but there was a lively leather trade, which may have given that impression. Some of today’s residents remember the rendering plant known ironically as ‘the Bovril’.

10. ^ This will have been the Baptists’ Church. Its present, main building is from 1834 but as an institution, it goes back to the 1640s. The lack of mention of the Methodist church is consistent with the Parliamentary Gazetteer (1843)’s statement that their church dates from 1811.

11.     The chancel was then newly rebuilt (1807). Its proportions had been governed by the remaining ruin of the mediaeval one, the dimensions of which were appropriate to a small fifteenth century abbey.

12.     At this stage, it was a hollow, roofless ruin. It did not form part of the interior volume of the building. See the Almonry page 2.

13.     See Ball’s printed copy of the list which formerly appeared in the Abbey Church.

14.     The site of this is now represented by the traffic island which carries the traffic lights at the entrance to West Street. It was replaced by the present Town Hall, in 1821. It is just discernible on the faded plan, which forms part of the 1770 Bourne Enclosure Award, held by the Lincolnshire Archives.

15. ^  This appears to have been discovered in about 1765, in making the park, or sheep lawn of Abbey House (then called Bourne Abbey). The ground is known today as ‘The Abbey Lawn’. White’s Directory (1882), gives a date of ca. 1776 and calls the ground ‘Park Farm’. By 1882, Abbey House had first become the vicarage then, been demolished (in 1879).

16.     Reinstated use of the Bourne Eau under the Bourne Eau Navigation Act of 1781.

17.     From time to time, attempts were made to remedy this: for example, in 1824 and 1860.

18.     What could have been regarded as ‘the common’ at this stage, well after the enclosure acts, is not clear.

19.     Moore gives a little more detail.

20. ^ See William Cecil, the Barons Burghley and the Cecil Family.

21.     See Marrat’s note, Wesley’s verbal tussle with Dodd, Dodd the publisher, the father’s ledger stone and Wikipedia.

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