Stamford is a town and civil parish on the River Welland within the South Kesteven district in the County of Lincolnshire, England. It is north of London by road, and on the east side of the A1 road to York and Edinburgh. The resident population at the 2001 census was 21,800, including the adjacent parish of St Martin's Without.
The town is best known for its core of 17th- and 18th-century stone buildings, older timber-framed buildings and five medieval parish churches. In 2013, Stamford was rated the best place to live by the Sunday Times.
Stamford was the first conservation area to be designated in England and Wales under the Civic Amenities Act 1967. Since then the whole of the old town and St Martin's has been made an outstanding area of architectural or historic interest that is of national importance. The town has over 600 listed buildings, more than half of the total for the County of Lincolnshire. Therefore there is much interest in its vibrant local history.
In June 1968, a specimen of the sauropod dinosaur Cetiosaurus oxoniensis was found by Bill Boddington in the Williamson Cliffe Quarry, close to Great Casterton. It was calculated to be around 170 million years old, from the Aalenian or Bajocian part of the Jurassic period. The Rutland Dinosaur is one of the most complete dinosaur skeletons found in the UK, being fifteen metres long, and since 1975 has been in the New Walk Museum in Leicester.
The Stamford Museum was in a Victorian building in Broad Street from 1980 to 2011. In June 2011 the Museum closed because of Lincolnshire County Council cuts. Some of the former exhibits have been relocated to the Discover Stamford area at the town's Library.
In 972 King Edgar made Stamford a borough. The Anglo-Saxons and Danes faced each other across the river. The town originally grew as a Danish settlement at the lowest point that the Welland could be crossed by ford or bridge. Stamford was the only one of the Danelaw Five Burghs ("boroughs") not to become a county town. Initially a pottery centre, producing Stamford Ware, by the Middle Ages it had become famous for its production of wool and the woollen cloth known as Stamford cloth - which "In Henry III's reign ... was well known in Venice". There was an example of this cloth, also called haberget, in Stamford Museum.
Stamford was a walled town but only a very small portion of the walls now remain. Stamford became an inland port on the Great North Road that superseded the Roman road Ermine Street, which passes near the town, where it forded the River Welland. Notable buildings in the town include the mediaeval Browne's Hospital, several churches and the buildings of Stamford School, a public school founded in 1532.
The historian David Roffe has made a study of many aspects of the Danelaw, and his web site includes an extensive and scholarly history of Stamford Castle.
A Norman castle was built about 1075 and apparently demolished in 1484. The site stood derelict until the late twentieth century when it was built over and now includes a bus station and a modern housing development.
A small part of the curtain wall survives at the junction of Castle Dyke and Bath Row. From the doorway within it hustings were held until around 1971, the candidates speaking from a position above the crowd.
Stamford has been hosting an annual fair since the Middle Ages. Stamford fair is mentioned in Shakespeare's Henry IV part 2 (act 3 scene 2). The mid-Lent fair is the largest street fair in Lincolnshire and one of the largest in the country. On 7 March 1190, crusaders at the fair led a pogrom; many Jews in the town were massacred.
According to local tradition, the origin of the custom dated from the time of King John (1199 - 1216) when William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, standing on the battlements of the castle, saw two bulls fighting in the meadow beneath. Some butchers came to part the combatants and one of the bulls ran into the town, causing a great uproar. The earl, mounting his horse, rode after the animal, and enjoyed the sport so much, that he gave the meadow in which the fight began to the butchers of Stamford on condition that they should provide a bull, to be run in the town every 13 November, for ever after. The town of Stamford acquired common rights in the grassy flood plain next to the Welland, which until the last century was known as Bull-meadow, and today just as The Meadows.
Seventeenth-century historians described how the bull was chased and tormented for the day before being driven to the Bull-meadow and slaughtered. "Its flesh [was] sold at a low rate to the people, who finished the day's amusement with a supper of bull-beef."
The custom was abandoned in the nineteenth century after a campaign by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the intervention of military and police. Stamford residents defended their ancient custom as a "traditional, manly, English sport; inspiring courage, agility and presence of mind under danger." Its defenders argued that it was less cruel and dangerous than fox hunting, and one local newspaper asked "Who or what is this London Society that, usurping the place of constituted authorities, presumes to interfere with our ancient amusement?"
The last bull run was in 1839. The last known witness of the bull running was James Fuller Scholes who spoke of it in a newspaper interview in 1928 before his 94th birthday; "I am the only Stamford man living who can remember the bull-running in the streets of the town. I can remember my mother showing me the bull and the horses and men and dogs that chased it. She kept the St Peter's Street - the building that was formerly the Chequers Inn at that time and she showed me the bull-running sport from a bedroom window. I was only four years old then, but I can clearly remember it all. The end of St Peter's Street (where it was joined by Rutland Terrace) was blocked by two farm wagons, and I saw the bull come to the end of the street and return again. My mother told me not to put my head out of the window - apparently because she was afraid I should drop into the street."