Gainsborough is a town 15 miles north-west of Lincoln on the River Trent within the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. At one time it served as an important port with trade downstream to Hull, and was the most inland in England, being more than 55 miles from the North Sea.
King Alfred, Sweyn Forkbeard and Canute the Great
Gainsborough was one of the capital cities of Mercia during the Anglo-Saxon period, which had preceded Danish rule. It is understandable that the Viking kings would have been drawn to it as an administrative centre, being close to the Danish stronghold at Torksey.
Historically, Gainsborough is the "capital that never was". Towards the end of July 1013, the Dane Sweyn Forkbeard, together with his son Canute, arrived in Gainsborough with an army of conquest. Sweyn defeated the Anglo-Saxon opposition and King Ethelred fled the country. Sweyn was declared King of England, and he returned to Gainsborough. Sweyn and Canute took up high office at the Gainsborough Castle (on the site of the present day Old Hall), while his army occupied the camp at Thonock (today known as Castle Hills). But King Sweyn was killed five weeks later when he was thrown from his horse in Gainsborough. His son Canute established a base elsewhere.
King Canute allegedly performed his unsuccessful attempt to turn the tide back in the River Trent at Gainsborough. Historians believe he may have been demonstrating on the aegir. He and his supporters may have known Gainsborough was the furthest reach of the aegir, and ideal for his demonstration.
The Domesday Book (1087) records that Gainsborough was exclusively a community of farmers, villeins and sokemen, tenants of Geoffrey de Guerche. The population was only about 80 people, of which about 70% were of Scandinavian descent.
The Lindsey Survey of 1115-18 records that Gainsborough was then held by Nele d’Aubigny (known as Nigel the Black). He was the forebear of the Mowbray family, and the Mowbray interest in Gainsborough continued until at least the end of the 14th Century.
A weekly market was granted by King John in 1204.
Gainsborough Old Hall
Thomas Burgh acquired the manor of Gainsborough in 1455. He built Gainsborough Old Hall between 1460 and 1480, a large, 15th-century, timber-framed medieval strong house, and one of the best-preserved manor houses in Britain. It boasts a magnificent Great Hall and strong brick tower. King Richard III in 1483 and King Henry VIII in 1541 both stayed at the Old Hall. The manor was sold to the Hickman family in 1596.
English Civil War
The town was garrisoned for the King in January 1643 and began co-operating with the garrison at Newark in raiding the surrounding countryside and harassing the Parliamentarians there. With the Great North Road blocked to Parliamentarian traffic, Gainsborough became significant as part of a route around Newark by way of Lincoln and the line of the modern A15 road. It was in the Royalists' interests to obstruct this, which gave rise to the battles of Gainsborough and Winceby. Parliament captured Gainsborough in the battle on 20 July but was immediately besieged by a large Royalist army and forced to surrender after three days.
Parliament captured Gainsborough again on 18 December 1643, but was forced to withdraw in March 1644, razing the town's defences to prevent their use by the enemy. The Earl of Manchester’s army passed through Gainsborough in May 1644 on its way to York and the Battle of Marston Moor.
After the Civil War ended in 1645, several people in Gainsborough were fined for their Royalist sympathies, including Sir Willoughby Hickman at the Old Hall, who had been created the first Baron Gainsborough by Charles I in 1643.
The first recorded evidence of a church at Gainsborough is in 1180, when the rectory there was granted by Roger de Talebu to the great Preceptory of the Knights Templar in Lindsey, at Willoughton. In 1547, following the Protestant Reformation, the parish of Gainsborough came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lincoln for the first time.
The medieval Church of All Saints fell into disrepair after the Civil War, and in 1736 it was demolished to make way for a new church. The new Parish Church was completed in 1748 with a mix of perpendicular Gothic and Classical Revival styles. All that remains of the Medieval church is the west tower, 90 feet high, and housing eight bells. A monument to Richard Rollett, master sailmaker on Captain James Cook's second voyage in 1824, is located in the porch.
The town's increasing population in the 19th Century required the building of a second church in the south of the town, and Holy Trinity Church opened in 1843. This was followed by St John the Divine Church on Ashcroft Road in 1882, and St George's Church on Heapham Road in the 1950s. Holy Trinity closed in 1971 (and is now the Trinity Arts Centre), and St John the Divine closed in 2002.
Non-conformism has flourished in Gainsborough. Some of the Mayflower Pilgrims worshipped in secret at the Old Hall before sailing for Holland to find religious freedom in 1609. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached in Gainsborough several times between 1759 and 1790. The town's first Methodist chapel opened in Church Lane in 1788, moving to a new site in North Street in 1804 (and rebuilt there as St Stephen's in 1966). The Primitive Methodists became established in the town in 1819, with chapels in Spring Gardens (1838), Trinity Street (1877) and Ropery Road (1910). The United Reformed Church opened in Church Street in 1896. St Thomas' Church in Cross Street caters for the town's Roman Catholics.
Second World War
Gainsborough suffered its only large-scale air raid of the war on the night of 10 May 1941. High explosive bombs and incendiaries were dropped but many of them fell harmlessly on the surrounding countryside. There was only minor damage in the town, and no casualties.
On the night of 28–29 April 1942 a single Dornier 217 dropped a stick of bombs on the town centre, causing extensive damage and the loss of seven lives.
On 22 May 1944 a RAF Spitfire fighter, in a training exercise, accidentally collided with a Wellington bomber and crashed into a Sheffield-bound goods train as it was passing over the railway bridge on Lea Road. The pilot was the only casualty.
In the early hours of 5 March 1945 a single Junkers 88 fighter/bomber made a low level attack over the town, dropping anti-personnel bombs on Church Street and the surrounding residential area. Three people lost their lives and 50 houses were damaged.
The town was formerly, before 1974, in the county of Lindsey in the Gainsborough Urban District Council. West Lindsey District Council was formed from five former councils.
Gainsborough Town Council was established in 1992, and in the same year Gainsborough's first Mayor was appointed.