Sleaford is a town in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated approximately north-east from Grantham, west from Boston, and south from the city and county town of Lincoln. A resident population of approximately 14,500 in 6,167 households was recorded at the time of the 2001 Census.
The name Sleaford is from the Old English 'esla+forde', meaning "ford over a muddy stream" (now known as the River Slea). In 852 the name first appears as 'Slioford' whilst in the 1086 Domesday book it is recorded as "Eslaforde". The river was the main trade route for the town for many years. In 1794, the Slea was canalised; known as the Sleaford Navigation, it operated until superseded by the railways in the mid-1850s.
Until recently, Sleaford was primarily an agricultural town, supporting a cattle market and seed companies such as Hubbard and Phillips, and Sharpes International Seeds. More recently, Sleaford is developing as a tourist and craft destination.
The modern centre of Sleaford originated as New Sleaford. Excavations in the market place in 1979 uncovered the remains of a small Anglo-Saxon settlement of eighth century date. Sleaford was one of the most important tribal centres of the Iron Age Corieltauvi and included a pre-Roman coin mint. Few Iron Age coins were found here however, and it is believed that after being poured into the pellet moulds, the coins were taken to Leicester to be stamped.
A Roman road, Mareham Lane, used to run through Old Sleaford, and southwards along the fen edge, towards Bourne. Where it passed through Old Sleaford, excavations have revealed a large stone-built domestic residence with associated farm buildings, corn-driers, ovens and field systems, as well as a number of burials. Building work in 2010 uncovered a complete 1,700-year-old human skeleton, as well as pottery, rubbish pits and property boundary ditches. Lead archaeologist Glenn Glover described the finds as 'further confirmation that Sleaford was a very large and important settlement in the Roman period'.
In 1858, just to the south of the town, a large Anglo-Roman cemetery was found, showing a mix of pagan and Christian burial practices. A large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, of some 600 burials was found during construction of the new railway station in 1882. Further to the south-west, in nearby Quarrington, a substantial Anglo-Saxon settlement was excavated during a new housing development. To the north of the town, an early Saxon settlement was investigated by APS prior to the construction of new housing and facilities at the Holdingham roundabout. Some of the artefacts can be seen displayed at the McDonald's restaurant on the site.
About 1130, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln built a castle just southwest of the town. The footings and moat can still be seen, in what is now the Castle Fields. This was the period in which the town moved westwards. The castle was demolished in the Elizabethan era, not later than 1604.
King John, who was disliked by the baronage, visited Sleaford in 1216, the day after he had lost his baggage train. He was already ill but someone spread the story that while staying overnight at Swineshead Abbey, he was poisoned by a monk with toad venom. After leaving Sleaford, the King continued his journey reaching Newark, where he died.
From 1556, the ownership of the town and its lands passed from the church to local absentee landowners.
17th and 18th centuries
Carre's Grammar School was established in 1604 by Robert Carre of Aswarby (later Sir Robert Carr of Old Sleaford) who went on to found Carre's Hospital in 1636 (Sleaford Hospital survives as a charitable trust, owning and operating the almshouses at the junction of Carre Street and Eastgate immediately to the south of St. Denys Church and a later set of almshouses in Northgate). The school eventually fell into decay and students were taught in the parish church (this part of St. Denys Church is now known as the Lady Chapel) until 1816, when the school was discontinued. It was rebuilt in 1834 in an Elizabethan style and classes continued. Although the school was free for classical learning, a fee of about two guineas per year was charged for other branches of education.
In 1726, William Alvey left an endowment for 20 poor boys and 20 poor girls to attend school. Alvey's Charity School was held in rented rooms until 1841. In 1785, James Harryman left the interest from £100 to provide shoes and stockings for the children of this school.
Enclosure of common lands around Sleaford began in the fourteenth century and was almost complete by 1750, however, some land in surrounding parishes, with poor soil, was not enclosed until the high grain prices of the 1800s made farming profitable.
The Sleaford Navigation was opened in 1794.
From 1829 to 1831, the street pattern of the entire town was reworked, a new Town Hall built, and better drainage laid. After the voting reforms of 1832, Sleaford became a polling place for the members of parliament for the Southern Division of Lincolnshire.
The railways arrived from 1857. Sleaford was eventually the junction of six major roads and five railway branch-lines, making it a regional centre. The railways caused the decline of the Sleaford Navigation, which closed in 1878. The Hubbard seed firm was founded in Sleaford in 1882 and then grew to become a major national business.
The Bass Maltings complex opened fully in 1905, replacing all the small malthouses in the area. The complex struggled to remain open during the Second World War, but survived and continued operating until 1960. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner considered the huge brewing malthouses to be Lincolnshire's most important industrial architecture, stating in his book Buildings of England; "For sheer impressiveness, little in English architecture can equal the scale of this building. A massive four-storey square tower is in the centre of a line of eight detached pavilions. The total frontage is nearly 1,000 feet."
During the First World War, from 1916 naval airships operated from nearby Cranwell, then known as HMS Daedalus, and a now defunct field, RFC Leadenham provided England's main defence against Zeppelin raids. RAF College Cranwell became the world's first military air academy in 1920.
During the Second World War, the many RAF airfields north of Sleaford played a role in the Battle of Britain, in the debilitating of the Axis war machine and RAF and USAAF airfields all around took part in the Allied invasion of Europe. (For example, see RAF Folkingham). However the area's wartime aviation history is more often associated with bombing, the name "Bomber County" being attributed to Lincolnshire.
In the 1940s, plastic surgery was pioneered at No.4 RAF Hospital, Rauceby, on the western outskirts of Sleaford. The Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House — one of the last remaining parts of Rauceby Mental Hospital (formerly the Kesteven Lunatic Asylum) to remain in NHS use as offices for Lincolnshire South West PCT following the Mental Health Hospital's closure in 1998. The whole site (which is now being redeveloped principally by David Wilson Homes for private housing) and its immediate environs including Rauceby railway station, has recently been renamed as Greylees, a suburb of the Market Town of Sleaford.
The town is also home to Sharpes International Seeds, whose history can be traced from their merger with Zeneca Seeds in 1996, which formed Advanta Seeds, right back to 1560.
Since 2000, the town and its buildings have undergone significant expansion and improvement; with the building of numerous new private housing estates on the periphery, a new infant school, and refurbishment of town centre buildings with a £15-million SRB 'Sleaford Pride' grant.
In 2005, a £55-million project was announced by Prince Charles and the Phoenix Trust, to restore the Bass Maltings complex on the southern side of the town.
In April 2005, the Channel 4 magazine Location, Location, Location named Sleaford as one of the Top 10 'house price hotspots' in England, forecasting a strong surge above spring 2005 prices before the end of 2005.
In June 2009, planning permission was granted for a Tesco Extra store to be built on the former Advanta Seeds site. The grant of permission was conditional upon a new access road being provided, the proposed route of which crossed Boston Road Recreational Ground, requiring the removal of 47 rare, mature trees. Once the new store has opened, Tesco's current Northgate site is expected to be converted into four retail units.
The two main local football teams — the Legionnaires and Sleaford Town F.C. – played for many years on Boston Road Recreation Ground. The wooden pavilion finally gave way to rot and decay in 2004, and their new stadium opened, located a little further down Boston Road just outside the town's curtilage in March 2007.
Sleaford Museum Trust keeps its collections in storage due to lack of suitable premises but has established a "virtual museum".
The United Reformed Church (previously the Congregational Church) in Southgate had its frontage redeveloped in 2007 to provide community rooms, called "The Source", with assistance from WREN and Lincolnshire County Council's 'Multi Use Centres' initiative. In 2008 Sleaford United Reformed and Community churches joined to become The Riverside Church.
Following Sleaford Fairtrade Group's launch in May 2009, Sleaford was declared by the Fairtrade Foundation to be a Fairtrade Town in June 2010. The Mayor, Councillor Jack Collings, was presented with the Certificate on 3 July 2010. Fairtrade Town status was renewed in October 2011 for a period of 2 years by the Fairtrade Foundation.