Records of Woodhall Spa and Neighbourhood - Historical, Anecdotal, Physiographical, and Archaeological, with Other Matter
by J. Conway Walter
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Transcribed from the 1899 W. K. Morton edition by David Price, email




Author of Letters from the Highlands, Forays among Salmon and Deer, Literæ Laureatæ, The Ayscoughs. Notes on Parishes Round Horncastle, &c.



The series of Records of various kinds which will be found in the following chapters are drawn from personal reminiscences, extending over more than half a century, combined with notes collected from many different sources during at least two-thirds of that period. In dealing with such material one is apt, even unconsciously, to be egotistical, and to linger too long and too fondly over scenes and incidents of which one might say, in Virgilian phrase, quorum pars, si non magna, at parva fui. Should the reader deem any portions unduly prolix, he will, perhaps, kindly excuse it on this score. But I have known several instances, and especially of late two in this neighbourhood, when a person advanced in years and of wide experience, has passed away, and there has been a general, and doubtless sincere, regret that he has gone, and all his store of accumulated information gone with him.

Circumstances have given me such opportunitiesand enjoyed so longof acquiring a knowledge of Woodhall Spa, and of most matters connected with it, that I am probably stating only the unvarnished truth, when I say that no one else living could bring together the varied details, however inadequately treated, which will here be found. Some of them may seem of small importance in the eyes of manycaviare to the generalbut I have thought it better that even these minor details should not be consigned to the limbo of the forgotten, because unrecorded.

I have approached the subject from different points of viewhistorical, anecdotal, naturalist, and archæological, so as to cater for the different tastes of readers.

Inheriting an interest in Woodhall Spa, hallowed by cherished associations, my aim has been so to unfold its many attractions, even in beast, bird, and flower, as to communicate an interest in it to others as well.

In publishing a third issue of these Records, I am bound in duty to thank a wide circle of readers for the interest so far taken in the work. I had now hoped to give it a more attractive form, but the low price at which a guide-book must be sold, in order to bring it within the reach of a general public, precludes a more expensive get-up of the volume. The only change, therefore, has been that the edition is brought up to date by a few necessary corrections and additions. To future readers I would only say, in Ovidian phrase:

Si qua meo fuerint, ut erunt, vitiosa libello, Excusata, precor, Lector amicus, habe.



It has been remarked that the discovery of many of our medicinal springs has been due to some romantic incident, or, in other cases, to some occurrence partaking almost of the ludicrous. At the famed Carlsbad, for instance, a princely hunter pursues his stag into the lake where it has sought refuge, whereupon the unusual cries of his hounds, too eagerly breasting the waters, speedily reveal to him the strongly thermal nature of the spring which feeds the lake, and the discovery has benefited the thousands who annually frequent that health-giving resort from almost every land. On the other hand, in the case of our own Bath, although well known to the ancient Romansas also in the later case of Bolsovertradition avers that an unhealthy pig, instinctively wallowing in the mire produced by the oozing spring, and emerging from the uncleanly bath cured of its ailment, was the humble instrument to demonstrate the health-restoring power of the water, to the subsequent advantage of suffering humanity. Other cases, more or less legendary, might be adduced; let these suffice.

The discovery, however, of the Woodhall water, if leas romantic, is no myth, shrouded in the mystery of a distant past, since it has the advantage of being, comparatively, of so recent a date, that the historian can consult the contemporary testimony of eyewitnesses still living, or of those to whom others have related the particulars from their own personal knowledge. The following account has been thus collected, and put into connected form:

In the early years of this 19th century there lived a certain John Parkinson, Esquire, a scion of a family of position and wealth in the county, who owned, with other property, the estate of Woodhall. {5} Being of a speculative and enterprising bent of mind, it is said that he became enamoured of three ideas or projects, which he thought he had the means and opportunity of carrying out. One of these was to sink a coal mine, a second was to plant a forest, and a third was to build a city. For the last purpose he purchased from the Crown a tract of fenland, situated between Revesby and Boston, being an outlying allotment of the original ancient parish of Bolingbroke. Here be built (about 1816) a street of houses, which he named New Bolingbroke. The speculation, however, proved a failure, probably owing to the loneliness of the position; and it was not till several years later, when the property had passed into the possession of J. Banks Stanhope, Esq., of Revesby Abbey, who spent much money on needed improvements, that the new city became a fairly populous village, as it is at the present time.

Mr. Parkinsons second project was the planting of a forest. For this purpose he secured a large tract of waste moorland, in the parishes of Roughton and Kirkby, lying to the south of the present road to Horncastle, and within some two miles eastward of Woodhall Spa. This land he planted extensively with fir and oak, and in course of time they became a dense wood. This growth has since then been largely destroyed by fire, or has yielded to the woodmans axe, and at the present time there are left not more than forty acres of the original forest, the rest being chiefly open moor, the whole going by the name of Ostlers Plantations, Mr. Ostler being the agent employed in the work and becoming himself (as will be seen) eventually the proprietor. Thus of two eggs which Mr. Parkinson brooded over, and desired to hatch, one may be said to have been addled, and the other did not prove useful to himself:

The best laid plans of mice and men Gang aft agley.

We now come to the third incubation, which has, it may fairly be said, proved (though once more, not to himself) a golden egg. It has been observed that he had conceived the idea of searching for coal. For this purpose he selected a spot which has since become the site of the Woodhall well. It is said that he was guided in this by the advice of a Mr. J. Clarkson, residing at that time at Moorby, not far from his residence at Bolingbroke, and who had had some previous experience among the Yorkshire coal mines. The boring was begun in the year 1811, and was carried on under the supervision of Mr. Clarkson. When the shaft had reached a depth of about 540ft., there occurred an inrush of clear, salt water, which compelled the excavators to retreat. The work was, however, afterwards resumed, a brick conduit for the water being constructed, and so, at the cost of great labour, and by shifts of men working day and night, without intermission, a depth of over 1,000ft. was attained. It is said (we know not with what truth) that Mr. Parkinson and his agent were induced to go on with the boring to this extent, because the men brought up in their pockets fragments of coal (which they had of course themselves taken down), and the hopes of success were thus buoyed up. When, however, this depth of 1,000ft. had been attained, and no vein of coal discovered, the unfortunate proprietor was compelled, from lack of funds, to abandon the enterprise. The boring to such a depth was, of course, a work extending over a lengthy period, and the occasional exhibition of these fragments of coal by the labourers led to false reports of success being periodically circulated. It is said that there were frequent scenes of great excitement at Mr. Parkinsons residence; persons of all classes, even the poor, flocking thither to lend their money to him on the bare security of his notes of hand, hoping themselves to derive a large profit from the expected mine. On one occasion the bells of Horncastle Parish Church were rung in the night, announcing the joyful tidings that coal had been found. But, alas! all these hopes were illusory. Mr. Parkinson himself became a ruined man, and many a poor investor lost his all, sunk in the mine. The attempt thus proving abortive, the mine was closed, and remained so for several years, Mr. Parkinson himself disappearing from the scene, and his Woodhall property passing into other handsthe ancestors of the present owners of the estate. As the result of this collapse, other portions of Mr. Parkinsons property in the neighbourhood also changed hands. Mr. Ostler, who has been already mentioned, had advanced to him large sums of money, and in lieu of repayment he acquired the Forest, since in consequence (as I have said) called the Ostler Plantations, and which still remains the property of his representatives.

During the making of the shaft a serious accident occurred. Two men were below in the shaft working at the bore, a man being at the top to hoist them, by machinery, to the surface, to be out of danger whenever, in the process of boring, an explosion was about to take place. They had arranged their explosive for a blast, had lighted the fuse, and then gave the signal to be hoisted up; but the man at the mouth of the mine had gone to sleep, their signal was disregarded, and they were left unable to help themselves. The explosion took place; one of them, William East by name, was killed, and his body much mangled; the other man, Tyler, was seriously injured, but escaped with his life. {8a}

A poem was written on the occasion by Mr. John Sharpe, of Kirkstead, {8b} which I here give. The rural muse was somewhat unclassical in those days, and versions vary, but it was in the main as follows:

It was early one morning, the 15th of June, I was called from my bed by a sorrowful tune; With sad lamentations a mother appeared, And sad were the tidings I then from her heard. {8c} Our William, she said, has been killed in the pit; Another is injured, but not dead yet. By firing some powder to blow up the stone, Poor William was killed, and he died with a groan. I put on my clothes, and I hastened away. Till I came to the place where poor William lay. He lay on some sacks all covered with gore: A sight so distressing, I neer saw before. I inwardly thought, as his wounds were laid bare. How many before had been slain in the war. {8d} In a moment of time he was summoned away; How needful that we, too, should watch and should pray. The Lord help us all through our hopes and our fears, To live to his praise all our days and years.

The pit, once closed, remained so for some years, and there seemed no prospect of anything but loss accruing from the undertaking. But meanwhile, as time passed on, Mother Earth was in labour. The water in the shaft gradually accumulated, eventually reaching the surface, and then overflowed, running down an adjoining ditch, which skirted what is now called Coal-pit Wood. This overflow naturally attracted attention. Such things as Spas were not unknown. There was one at Lincoln, not far from the present Arboretum, and the Woodhall water being found to be salt, as was said, like sea water, several persons tried it for different purposes. A very old man (living, in 1899, at Kirkby-on-Bain) {9a} states that he and several others in that parish used the water as a purgative (a property which it still retains). Others used it as increasing the appetite (one of the effects still remarked). Joseph East, lately resident at Kirkstead, and brother of the man killed in the pit, was sent, as a boy, to get a bottle of it to administer to a sick horse. The Squire, Mr. T. Hotchkin, found it very beneficial for his gout, and the servant, who brought the water for him, mentioned this to a woman at Horsington, named Coo, suffering from rheumatism. By the advice of her doctor, she tried the water, and was completely cured. In October, 1903, died Mrs. Wilson, mother of Robert Wilson, gardener, of Martin Dales, aged 92. She was the oldest patient then living who had baths at Woodhall before the first bath-house was built. There was only a wooden bath, at a charge of 1s. per bath. Many similar {9b} cases are recorded by the older inhabitants, which proved beyond doubt the efficacy of the water in the ailments of man and beast, especially for rheumatism and skin diseases.

This led to the re-opening of the mine shaft about the year 1824. In 1829, or 1830, a small protecting structure was erected, a windlass was put up, which was worked by a horse walking round and round, drawing the water from the well, as it came now to be termed, and an open brick tank was constructed in which the poor could dip, a veritable modern Siloam. {9c}

In 1834 a bath house was erected by the late Thomas Hotchkin, Esq., the then owner of Woodhall, and in the following year the Victoria Hotel was built by him, his whole outlay amounting to some £30,000. Provision was thus made for the reception of visitors, and the treatment of their ailments on a scale more than adequate for the public requirements at the time. Dr. Barton, Dr. Scott, and other medical practitioners successively resided at the Spa, but for some years longer (as will be shewn in the next chapter) the difficulty of access prevented any great influx of patients, such as we have seen in more recent times, and a primitive state of things still prevailed, such as in these days can be hardly realised, and Woodhall Spa was probably for some years little known beyond the neighbourhood, or the county.

About sixty years ago a second well (remembered only as little more than a floating, vague tradition) was sunk on other property, not far from the present Mill-lane, near Kirkstead Station. A solitary survivor of the workmen engaged in sinking it died in 1897, well known to the writer. This well was subsequently filled in again, the water being (as was said) too salt for use. It is more probable that the water tasted strongly of iron, as the local water, found within a few feet of the surface, is generally impregnated with this ingredient, so much so, that it commonly ferrs water bottles if allowed to stand any time in them, this being the effect of its ferruginous properties.

An account of the well would hardly be complete without some particulars, so far as they can be obtained, of the geological strata which were pierced by the shaft. These are said to have been gravel and boulder clay, Kimmeridge and Oxford clays, Kelloways rock, blue clay, cornbrash, limestone, great oolite, clay and limestone, upper Estuarine clay, Lincolnshire oolite, and Northampton sands, Lias, upper, middle, and part of lower.

Of the chemical ingredients of the water, as several accounts have been given by different authorities, it is sufficient to say here that its two most important elements are the iodine and bromine, in both of which it far exceeds any other Spa. The only known water which contains a greater proportion of bromine is that of the Dead Sea, in Palestine.


To those who visit Woodhall Spa, in its present advanced and advancing condition, it must be difficult to conceive the very different condition of the locality even in the middle of the 19th century. If the Victorian era has been a period of remarkable progress, nowhere has it been more so than at Woodhall Spa. The place was, in those days, only accessible with great difficulty. The roads, scarcely indeed worthy of the name, were so bad that the writer well remembers going there, as a boy, with his father, for the first time, when the ruts were so deep that the pony carriage, a four-wheeled vehicle, broke in the middle, and had to be abandoned by the roadside, and they had to return home to Langton, distant about five miles, on foot. The road (now the Horncastle-road, and in excellent condition) passed, for a mile or more, over a tract of sandy moorland, and when the ruts became too deep for traffic on one track, another was adopted, and that, in turn, was abandoned when it became impassable. It was indeed a veritable Sahara on a small scale. The road to Tattershall was fairly good, having probably been an old Roman highway. {11a} Such roads are locally called rampers, i.e., ramparts. The road to Kirkstead Wharf, or ferry, where now a fine bridge spans the river Witham, was also in fairly good condition. {11b} The road which now runs from St. Andrews Church by the blacksmiths shop and Reeds Beck to Old Woodhall and Langton was just passable with difficulty. A small steam packet plied on the river Witham, between Boston and Lincoln, calling at Kirkstead twice a day, going and returning, and a carriers cart from Horncastle struggled through the sand once a day, each way, in connection with it. {11c} The condition of the road remained but little altered till shortly before the opening of the loop line of railway between Boston and Lincoln in 1848. In preparation for this event the Horncastle-road was put into a fairly good state of repair. In connection with the railway two rival coaches were run from the Bull and George Hotels at Horncastle, calling at Woodhall Spa, en route to Kirkstead Station. As yet, however, the traffic was lacking to make the enterprise remunerative. The brace of coaches were then merged in one, but, for the same reason, that arrangement was presently abandoned, and for some years there remained only the carriers cart, slightly accelerated in speed, and even that was sometimes precarious in its journeys. The writer has found it necessary, on arriving at Kirkstead Station on a dark night, to shoulder his own portmanteau and carry it himself, for lack of other means of transport, from Kirkstead to Langton, a distance of six miles. {12} At length, in 1855, the line between Kirkstead and Horncastle, with a station at Woodhall Spa, was opened, which has proved to be one of the most paying amongst railway ventures in the kingdom, and has opened up communication between Woodhall Spa and all parts of the country. From these particulars it will be seen that, although the whilom owner of the Woodhall Estate (Mr. Thos. Hotchkin) had spent large sums of money (some £30,000 it was said) in building the bathhouse and hotel in 18345, yet the establishment for several years laboured under great disadvantages owing to its difficulty of access. Indeed, persons wishing to visit the Spa from a distance had, for the most part, to bring their own carriages; or, if arriving by the ordinary means of transit, and wishing to move beyond the immediate precincts of the hotel, they had to hire a conveyance from the Victoria Hotel, where the supply was very limited. Moreover, in those days some of the lighter kinds of carriage now in vogue, such as the modern dog-cart, were unknown. The chaise and the gig, large or small, were the conveyances in common use, the days not being yet past when the farmers wife rode to market on a pillion behind her husband.

In matters spiritual there was also a corresponding backwardness. The nominal district of Woodhall Spa consisted of outlying portions of the parishes of Woodhall, Langton, Thornton and Thimbleby, these villages themselves being distant from four and a half to seven miles. A person standing in the centre of the cross-roads, near the present Church of St. Andrew, could have one foot in Langton (his right), the other in Woodhall (his left) and hold his walking stick before him resting in Thornton. The nearest portion of Thimbleby began some 500 yards away northward, opposite the present blacksmiths shop. The portion of Langton extended from St. Andrews Church to Mill-lane, near the present Kirkstead Station. Thornton extended on the opposite, southern, side of the Kirkstead Wharf-road, from the present station, for a distance of some miles eastward, with the parish of Kirkstead running parallel to it on the south. The portion of Woodhall extended eastward from the aforesaid point at the cross-roads, and included Woodhall Spa and other land lying north and further east. In Mill-lane there was (a) a Presbyterian Chapel, served by a minister residing at Horncastle, also (b) a Wesleyan Chapel on the Kirkstead-road, the minister (a layman) being also resident in Horncastle. The only Church of England service in the near neighbourhood was held at the beautiful little church in the fields, distant about a mile to the southwest, being part of the remains of Kirkstead Abbey; but as this benefice was a donative, or peculiar, not under episcopal jurisdiction, {13} it might be opened or closed, and stipend paid to a minister or withheld, according to the will of the proprietor for the time being of the Kirkstead Estate. The services have, therefore, at times been performed somewhat irregularly, and it has now been closed since about 1880. Owing to the distance of the district from the parent parishes and its inaccessibility, the religious interests of the inhabitants had, at that time, been much neglected. It was said that they lived on a heath, and were, many of them, virtually heathens. And this was in truth only a slight exaggeration, for many of them attended no place of worship, they rarely were visited by a minister of any denomination, and many of their children were unbaptized; and when, a few years later, there was a resident curate, he broke down under the weight of his spiritual responsibilities amid such a population. A change, however, in this respect was effected during the forties. The Rev. Edward Walter, Rector of Langton and Vicar of Old Woodhall, two of the parent parishes, whose name is still held in reverence among the older inhabitants of Woodhall Spa, took up the matter. He held Church of England services for a time in a room at the hotel. He then got together an influential committee, with the Honourable Sir Henry Dymoke, the Queens champion, at their head, {14a} and they raised a sum of money, to which, among others, the Queen and the Dowager Queen Adelaide {14b} contributed, sufficient at first to erect a school and school-house, where the services were temporarily conducted; and finally for the Church of St. Andrew and the vicarage, which were erected in 1847, the church being consecrated by Bishop Kaye, of Lincoln, on Sept. 14th in that year. The architect was Mr. Stephen Lewin, of Boston, who built several other churches in the neighbourhood, notably that of Sausthorpe, near Spilsby, which is a very fine edifice. {14c}

The Rev. E. Walter at first endowed the benefice with £20 a year and 30 acres of land, others giving smaller donations. Subsequently, when some church land was sold in the parent parish of Woodhall, which would have augmented his own benefice, he conveyed £230 a year to the benefice of Woodhall Spa; or, as it was then called, Langton St. Andrew, as the church stood on part of Langton Glebe; and this was augmented in 1889 by his son, through the sale of land, formerly Langton Glebe, to the extent of a further £112. We may fitly add that the Rev. E. Walter rests in the churchyard of St. Andrew, the place of his own creation, with the tombs of other members of his family near his own. Were a worthy epitaph needed, it might well be, simonumentum quæris circumspice. No one, in his sphere, has been a greater benefactor to Woodhall Spa. It should be added that a large Wesleyan Chapel was subsequently built; also a Primitive Methodist Chapel, and more recently a Roman Catholic Chapel, with resident priest. The various parochial sections were constituted one ecclesiastical district in the year 1854; and in recent years have, with some portions of the parishes of Kirkstead and Martin, been made one civil parish, with its Urban Council.

In the year 1884, the late Stafford Hotchkin, Esq., proprietor of the Woodhall Estate, expended a considerable sum in re-furnishing the Victoria Hotel, and making other improvements, in a costly style; and in 1887 the hotel and bathhouse, with about 100 acres of the estate, were purchased by an influential syndicate, who have since laid out a very great amount in the enlargement of the hotel and grounds, the improvement of, and additions to, the bathhouse, in supplying expensive automatic machinery for the well, and other developments for the convenience or entertainment of visitors. {15} This gave a great impetus to the growth of the place generally. Another hotel, the Eagle, was erected, which is excellently conducted. A very large establishment, the Royal Hotel, with winter garden, etc., has been built by Mr. Adolphus Came, embracing an area of 1,000 square yards, covered by a glazed roof, and holding out many attractions during the season; while streets of lodging houses, semi-detached or single villas, and handsome residences have sprung up in all directions. With the growth of the population came a need for enlarged church accommodation; and the present St. Peters Church was erected by subscription at a cost of over £1,800, and was opened by the Bishop on Sept. 14th, 1893, the foundation stone having been laid in the previous year by the Right Honble. E. Stanhope, M.P., Secretary for War. It comprised, at first, only nave and South aisle; in 1904 chancel, organ chamber and vestry were added, and the church was consecrated by the Bishop on St. Peters Day, June 29, in that year; the total cost being about £3,700. There is a fine organ, and peal of tubular bells. The interior fittings are mainly the gifts of generous friends. The altar rails and sanctuary carpet were given by Mrs. Randolph Berens, of London, a frequent visitor to the Spa. The very ornate reredos, occupying the whole width of the east end, was presented by Mrs. Cator, of Fairmead Lodge, in memory of her husband, the late Colonel Cator. It is of oak, richly pinnacled and crocketted. The centre panel contains a basso relievo representation of the triple Crucifixion, with the Virgin and St. John in niches on either side. Above are the emblems of the four Evangelists. The buttresses are crowned by the four Archangels, SS. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Over the super-altar is the inscription, in raised letters, And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me; the inscription on the wings being Ad Majorem, Dei gloriam, et in piam memoriaun Thom Gulielmi Cator, qui in Christo obdormivit die xiv° Januarii. A.S. MDCCCC. This is the work of Messrs. Hems and Sons, of Exeter. The pulpit, of handsome carved oak, executed by the same artists, was presented by Lieutenant Stafford Vere Hotchkin, of the 21st Lancers Regiment, in memory of his father, the late T. J. Stafford Hotchkin, lord of the manor.

Of this church we can only say that all true lovers of architecture must regret the style in which it was erected. The original idea, strenuously advocated by the late Bishop Suffragan, Dr. E. Trollope, one of our greatest authorities (as well as by the present writer, as patron of the benefice) was that the Church of St. Andrew should be enlarged by doubling the nave and extending the chancel. Arrangements had been made to obtain stone for this purpose from the ruins of Stixwold Priory, of which that church was originally built. A suitable edifice would thus have been erected, in a central position. Unfortunately the Bishop died while the question was yet sub judice, and, as most persons of taste must feel, counsels less wise prevailed. The present structure of brick has been called a barn; it is of no architectural pretensions; the tracery of the windows is of the most meagre description. The ground around it is too limited to be used for burial, although the churchyard of St. Andrew is rapidly filling, and at no distant date a cemetery must be provided.

The writer, while incumbent of Woodhall Spa, in conjunction with Mr. R. Cuffe, M.R.C.S., then lessee of the Victoria Hotel, commenced, in 1873, a Cottage Hospital for the poor, on a small scale, which was largely beneficial, patients being admitted almost literally from Lands End to John oGroats house. Some left their crutches behind them, nailed to the walls of the bathhouse; and it may be added, as shewing the efficacy of the water, that cases occurred of patients who, on their arrival, could only get about painfully on crutches, but who yet, before leaving, ran in foot races at the village sports. The cottage then rented has of late years been superseded by the much larger Alexandra Hospital, a substantial building, under the patronage of the Princess of Wales, erected through the exertions of the Rev. J. O. Stephens, rector of Blankney, on a site presented by the syndicate. It was opened in 1890, and has conferred large benefits on the suffering poor. The medical officer is Dr. Williams, L.R.C.P., Ed., Brookside Cottage, by whom patients are treated with great skill. He has published a pamphlet on the Woodhall water and treatment. He is ably assisted by Mr. H. W. Gwyn, L.S.A. A pamphlet on the same subject was also published by the late Mr. A. E. Boulton, M.R.C.S., Horncastle. Mr. R. Cuffe, M.R.C.S., Surgeon-Major, has also a large residence, the Northcote House Sanatorium, for the reception of high-class patients, who are under his own supervision. He has had a large and long experience in every variety of ailment for which the Woodhall treatment is adapted, having been sole lessee of the Spa establishment from 1866 to 1883; he has written much on the subject; was himself mainly instrumental in founding the British Balneological and Climatological Society, which has as its members the leading physicians of the chief watering places in the kingdom; and at his hands patients receive the most scientific treatment, he having been the first to introduce, many years ago, the electrolytic treatment, so effective in internal cases.

A Home for Gentlewomen, in reduced circumstances, and needing the Woodhall treatment, was established in 1894 by the present writer, in co-operation with Mr. Cuffe, as hon. medical officer. It is under the patronage of his Grace the Duke of Rutland, and other distinguished persons. It was at first located in two bungalows, but now occupies a roomy residence on the Horncastle-road. It has been very generously supported, and has proved a great boon in many needy cases.

The annals of the Woodhall neighbourhood are not without their tragic features; and deeds of lawlessness have occurred equal to anything of the kind recorded in modern times.

On June 22nd, in the year 1822, a young man named Stennet Jeffrey was returning from Horncastle Fair to the farm of his employer, Mr. Warrener (still occupied by members of the same family), when, as he was passing along the footpath through a part of Whitehall Wood, called the Wilderness, he was attacked by, as was supposed at the time, two men against whom he had given information of their poaching. They were accompanied by a female named Sophy Motley, still remembered by some of my informants as a big, masculine woman. After a desperate struggle for his life, a track being trampled down round the tree, by which he tried to elude them (the grass, as tradition says, never growing again afterwards), he was overpowered and foully done to death. His body was found thrown into the ditch near at hand, with the throat cut. They carried off his watch, which he had bought at the fair that day, and his money. A sovereign was found near the spot a few years afterwards by a man who was ploughing in the adjoining field. The present writer remembers being told in after years, by a man living at Woodhall, who was at the time working in a field not far off, that he heard cries for help, but did not know what they meant, and so the poor fellow was left to struggle unaided in the unequal conflict. The tree has been seen by the writer, round which he tried to escape. It stood at the south-west end of the path through the wood, about two miles from Woodhall Spa, and was inscribed with the rudely-cut names of many a visitor to the spot. The parties to the murder were supposed to have come from Coningsby Moor, and this was confirmed by the fact that they afterwards stopped for refreshment at a small public house kept by Mrs. Copping, at Fulsby, which lay in the direction of Coningsby Moor. Near there some bloodstained clothes were found concealed in a hedge. A reward of £100 was offered for their apprehension. The woman Copping, at the public-house, was, it is said, fully aware of their guilt, but dared not say anything about it. The two men were convicted, and transported for life. The woman Motley was arrested on suspicion, but there was not sufficient evidence to convict her. In after years a man at Coningsby, named Paul Tomline, confessed on his deathbed that he had been a third party to the murder, having assisted in holding Jeffrey down while his throat was being cut. It is further stated that the woman, Sophy Motley, on her deathbed, said that the stolen watch would be found at the bottom of her box.

In the forties and fifties poaching was carried on in so openly defiant a manner, and on so formidable a scale, as is seldom heard of in these days. The writer was a party concerned in the following incident, not, be it said, in the immediate neighbourhood of Woodhall, although within easy reach of it. While he was visiting a worthy baronet for the purpose of shooting with him, they were informed by the head-keeper, as they met him one morning after breakfast, that he had received a private intimation that a gang of poachers, living in a neighbouring town, had chartered a special train to bring them down, on the following evening, to shoot some of the preserves, the line of railway skirting the property. We at once decided to give them a warm reception. This was not an entirely new thing for which we were unprepared, and the keeper had a most powerful mastiff, a monster Cerberus, who could plant his forepaws on the stoutest mans shoulders and pull him down. The baronets only son, the writers great friend, with whom he had walked many a league in the Alps, and many a milewith its bittockover the Scotch moors, was keen for the fray. No less so was the writer. As the estate comprised three parishes, and it was not known at what point the poachers would detrain, it was evident that we should have an extended frontier to protect, and it was decided at once to despatch a messenger to the owner of an adjoining estate, the M.P. for the Division, asking for the loan of his keepers, to co-operate with our own. Watchers were to be sent to various points, swift-footed vedettes, to come into immediate touch with the enemy on their arrival, and to report the direction taken by them, and their number. Everything was arranged in good time before the morning was over. It was settled that the keeper was to come to the hall at 9 p.m., when the son and the writer would be ready to join them. We were none of us to take firearms, but to be furnished with stout sticks. The evening passed slowly, in our eagerness for the joust. But at nine oclock the keeper came with a look of disappointment on his countenance. News had got abroad of the preparations we had made for the gangs reception; an ally, lurking near, had telegraphed that it would not be safe for them to venture on their raid, and the train had been countermanded. Since then the genial baronet has crossed the bar, as a Lincolnshire poet hath it; but of late the writer has had the pleasure, almost annually, of meeting her ladyship at Woodhall Spa. She was brought up in a parish closely connected with Woodhall, and she may almost be said to return to her native heath to renew her years.

The reader will please excuse this digression, as it illustrates the condition of things under which occurred the incident of local history which I am now about to give.

A no less atrocious murder than that in the Wilderness was committed, within less than a mile of the same place, at Well-Syke Wood, which again is about two miles from Woodhall Spa. The shooting of the wood belonged to the Rev. John Dymoke, afterwards the champion, who rented it from Lord Fortescue. In the year 1850, the head keeper, Richard Tasker, received a written intimation that a gang of poachers intended to visit the wood on a certain night, and the writer of the letter recommended him, for his own sake, to keep away. Tasker, however, was lodging not far from the wood, with a small farmer named Emanuel Howden, who also occasionally acted as a watchman; and the two men, accompanied by the rabbiter, James Donner, went to the wood, to protect their masters pheasants. Howden hung back, not liking the undertaking; Donner went off to watch the wood from another point. Presently a shot was heard, and on Howden and Donner coming to Tasker, they found him lying on the ground severely wounded, and he died the following day. It was a bright moonlight night, {21a} and Donner tried, for a time, to follow the poachers, but they eluded him. This occurred in a field just outside Well-Syke Wood, at the north-west corner, then occupied by William Hutchinson, grandfather of the present tenant, whose house adjoins the Horncastle-road, some two miles from Woodhall Spa. Most of the poachers were believed to have come from Horsington; two of them, brothers, named Bowring, and a third, Pearson Clarke, and another named Hinds; a man named Stennet was also arrested on suspicion; but they were all eventually discharged, there being no means of identifying them, as the murdered man was the only one who came to close quarters with any of them. Along with these, it is believed there was also a man named Joseph Kent, from Tattershall Thorpe, who is supposed to have fired the fatal shot. As Tasker approached the wood, this man came forward and recommended him to go home. Tasker called out that he was not yet going home, and that he knew him, whereupon Kent, finding that he was recognised, fined the shot. {21b}

The following is a less exciting incident. A few years later a man, representing himself as a beggar, called at Kirkstead Hall, about a mile from Woodhall Spa, asking for relief. Something was given to him, but it not being sufficient to satisfy his desires, he indulged in threatening language, unless he was treated more liberally. At length he became so violent that the door was closed in his face, and he was told that they would fetch the constable, whereupon he went off. The female inmates, being afraid that he might return, if they were left alone, thought it safest to send for the constable, and he, with the keeper, followed the man and apprehended him. He was handcuffed, his feet tightly tied together, and put by them into a cart, in which the constable, without the keeper, drove off to Horncastle, to place him in the lock-up, then called The Round House. As they journeyed on their way, near the Tower on the Moor, the man, lying at the bottom of the cart, complained to the constable that the cords on his legs were cutting into the flesh; Would he take them off? adding that the handcuffs secured him fast enough. The constable accordingly got down from his seat, and took off the cords. As he was remounting, the man slipt out of the cart behind, and, bounding off into the wood, Ostlers Plantations, close by, turned, as he mounted the boundary bank, defying the constable to follow him. The latter could not leave his horse, and, the man being very powerfully built, he also knew that he was more than a match for him single handed. The man disappeared. Some one coming up assisted the constable to tie up his horse and make a search for the prisoner; but all they found were the handcuffs, which he had wrenched off, lying inside the wood not far away. Two present inhabitants of Woodhall saw the constable pass their house, driving the cart with the man lying in it.

A very remarkable burglary was committed about two miles from Woodhall Spa on February 2nd, 1829, at Halstead Hall, a fine specimen of a Moated Grange, to which reference will be made in another chapter. It was at that time occupied by a farmer, Mr. Wm. Elsey, his wife, and farm servants. At eight oclock in the evening, when the servant men went out to supper up the horses, they were attacked by seven or eight men, thrown down, their legs tied, and their hands secured behind their backs, and each was left in a separate stall. The stable door was then locked, and one of the gang remained outside on guard. The burglars then proceeded to the hall, and knocked at the back door. One of the servant girls asked who was there. She received the reply, Open the door, Betty. She did so, whereupon four or five men rushed into the kitchen. One of the maids escaped, and ran to the room where Mr. and Mrs. Elsey were sitting. Mr. Elsey was smoking his pipe, and Mrs. Elsey was preparing something for supper. She saved her silver spoon, which she was using, by slipping it into her bosom. Mr. Elsey seized the poker to defend himself, but, on seeing their number, prudently laid it down. They then rifled his pockets and took his watch and money; also making Mrs. Elsey turn her pockets out. They then obliged the two to go into a small storeroom or closet, locked the door, and tied a hay fork across it. They then collected all the plate, to the value of £30, and £50 in cash; having first regaled themselves with a hearty meal. They also took all the silk handkerchiefs which they could find. Mrs. Elsey, in her confinement close by, complained to the burglars that she was very cold, and begged them to let her warm herself at the fire; accordingly, with the gallantry of a Dick Turpin, one of them brought her out, but seeing that she was noticing them, he ordered her into the store-room again, giving her, however, some greatcoats which were hanging in the passage near. When they had ransacked everything within reach, they compelled Mr. Elsey to go upstairs, one walking before him and another behind, each holding a pistol, and telling him that if he made any resistance he would be shot. They then, in the same fashion, obliged Mrs. Elsey to go up after him. The two were then locked up again, and the marauders politely wished them goodnight, and went off with their plunder, saying that if any alarm was given they would return. Mr. Elsey, about two hours afterwards, by the help of a small hammer and an old knife, succeeded in making a small hole through the brick wall of the closet, through which one of the maids was able to thrust her arm, and set them at liberty. The only article recovered was a plated silver teapot, which was found in Halstead Wood, near at hand. Outside this wood ran a bridle path leading towards Woodhall Spa, and in the course of the night the inmates of a farmhouse, standing close to this path, were disturbed by the voices of men passing by toward the Spa. One of these men was soon captured, and in due course hanged at Lincoln Castle on March 27th following; two more were taken that year, and hanged on March 19th in the next year, 1830. Of these two, one was known as Tippler, the other as Tiger Tom. Tiger Tom had been the terror of the neighbourhood, and the general opinion was that no one could take him. But two powerfully built and fearless men, David English, of Hameringham, and a gamekeeper named Bullivant, were set to accomplish the task, and they succeeded in running their man to ground, and securing him at The Bungalow, a public-house on the Witham, near Boston. {24} With them was hanged another noted character known as Bill Clarke, convicted of sheep-stealing. His was the last case of hanging for that offence. The last of the gang was not captured till two years later. He was the one who had planned the whole affair, having formerly been a servant of Mr. Elsey, and therefore well acquainted with the premises at the Hall. He, however, escaped hanging, being transported for life, as the excitement over the affair had by that time cooled down; and, further, it was pleaded in his favour, that he had prevented a bad character among them, named Timothy Brammar, from shooting Mr. Elsey, or ill-treating the maids. Of this same Timothy Brammar it is recorded that his own mother having foretold that he would die in his shoes, he carefully kicked them off as he stood on the scaffold, to falsify the prediction. It is further stated that the man transported was, with two other criminals sent out at the same time, thrown overboard, as the three were caught trying to sink the vessel in which they were being conveyed beyond the seas. These men, with the exception of this former servant of Mr. Elsey, were all bankers, as they were then called, i.e., navvies; and such men in those days were usually a very truculent class. A robbery of a minor kind was cleverly frustrated in Woodhall about the year 1850. A labourers wife, residing at a cottage on what is now called Redcap Farm, had been taking her husbands dinner to him in the fields. On returning, rather earlier than usual, she went to the bedroom upstairs. While in the room she detected the legs of a man, who had concealed himself under the bed. Retaining her presence of mind, she merely made a trifling remark to her cat, and went down again, and for some minutes made a noise, as though busying herself about her usual household work. She presently got out of the house, and ran to some men working near. The thief thinking, by her cool behaviour, that she had not noticed him, remained still in his place of concealment; and she quickly returned, accompanied by two men, who captured him; when he was found to be a well-known thief, who had been convicted more than once of similar offences. Not far from the scene of this occurrence, another attempted robbery was frustrated. An aged couple lived in a solitary house, distant from any high road, near the wood called Edlington Scrubs. After they had gone to rest a couple of men broke into the house. Hearing a disturbance, the wife opened the one bedroom door upstairs, connected with the room below by a Jacobs ladder, and looked down through the trap door at the ladder head, with a dip in her hand, to see the cause of the disturbance. She was immediately accosted with the demand, Your money, or your life. She replied, very deliberately, Well, life is not worth having without the money. One of the men began mounting the ladder, but meanwhile the husband had armed himself with a strong bill-hook, a tool for cutting hedges; he took his place by the trap door, and said to the burglar on the ladder, I shall cut your head off if you come up here. This position he maintained, moving his weapon backwards and forwards over the trap door, his figure being revealed to the thieves by the light of his wifes dip, until day began to break, when, to avoid being recognised, they went off, having to content themselves with what spoil the second man could find in the room below. On another occasion, a narrow escape from highway robbery occurred in Woodhall under the following circumstances. It was at the time of the great August Fair at Horncastle, much larger at that time (in the forties) than it is at the present day; for it then lasted some three weeks. That fair has been the occasion of many robberies, and more than one murder. Skeletons have been found buried under the brick floors of public-houses in the town, being doubtless all that remained of those who had fallen the victims of the sacra fames auri. The principal farmer in Woodhall was riding home leisurely from the fair late in the evening, when at a point in the road between Langton and Woodhall, about two fields from Old Woodhall Church, where a cartshed then stood contiguous to the road, two men rushed out from the concealment of the shed and seized his bridle. One of them told him roughly to give up his money, or he would pistol him. The other held up a lantern to his face, and then said, Oh, youre not the man we want; you may go, and think yourself lucky. The farmer in question was not much of a horse-dealer, and would not be likely to have much money about him. The man really wanted was a well-known character, then living at Stixwould, by name Grantham, who would be almost certain to be going home with pockets fairly full, as he dealt largely in horse-flesh, and the men had probably seen him make a good bargain or two in the fair that day. The farmer, thus set at liberty, hurried to his home, only two fields distant; and, having a shrewd guess for whom they were lying in wait, he sent an active young fellow by a short cut across the fields to warn Grantham. The lad succeeded in intercepting the latter before he arrived at the point of danger; and Grantham, turning his horse round, rode home by another route, through Thimbleby, instead of Woodhall, and arrived at his house in safety, thanks to the thoughtfulness of a neighbour.

There are some good historic names among the older residents of the Woodhall Spa district. Howard is one, a name, which still stands high in the peerage of England. Gaunt is another frequent name; some of the members of the family, in the fine build of their bodily frame and their dark hair and complexion, seeming to indicate descent from ancient Norman blood. Fynes, or more properly Fiennes, is another; implying a connection with the Ducal House of Newcastle; the father of the present generation (a former tenant of the writer) having been named Charles Pelham Fynes. Monuments of the Fiennes family are common in neighbouring parishes, and they still hold considerable property in the surrounding district.


The great charm of Woodhall Spa is its Rus in Urbe character. The visitor can hardly go for ten minutes in any direction from his hotel or lodgings but he finds himself by the woodside, among the hedgerows or on the heath, where the jaded spirit, or the enfeebled frame, may draw fresh energy from the bracing air, richly charged with ozone, and even at times perceptibly impregnated with the tonic flavour of the iodine. The author of a recent publication who visited Woodhall Spa, in 1897, says: Woodhall is as unlike the usual run of fashionable watering places as one can well imagine. It is a charming health resortsituated on a dry, sandy soil, where fir trees flourishthere are wild moors, purple with heather, and aglow with golden gorse; a land of health, and the air deliciously bracing. I do not think (he adds) there is a purer or more exhilarating air to be found in all England, or for that matter out of it. {27a}

Of the surrounding scenery it need hardly be said that we are not in the land of the mountain, though we have the brown heath, and shaggy wood, and occasionally, not far off, the flood, sung of by Scotias bard. But within sight are the Wolds, whose precipitous sides have, to my knowledge, astonished strangers, who, judging from the country traversed by the railway from Peterborough, expected to find the whole county as level as a billiard table. {27b} The flatness of the country, however, is amply made up for by other redeeming features. Within a mile of the Spa a view is obtained stretching more than 20 miles, with the grand Cathedral (which Ruskin says is worth any two others in the kingdom) crowning the steep hill of Lincoln on the horizon. Tis distance lends enchantment to the view, says the poet Campbell; and this prospect, slightly undulating, with extensive woods barring it at intervals, and village spires rising from their midst, seen through the marvellously clear atmosphere which we often enjoy, is a sight worth seeing.

An old writer {27c} describes the air as being crass, and full of rotten harrs; and Drayton, in his Polyolbion {28a} speaks of the unwholesome ayre, and more unwholesome soyle; but that condition of things has long ago passed away. Another charming effect of these distant prospects is the glorious sunsets. Kingsley, in his Hereward the Wake, truly says, the vastness gives such cloudlands, such sunrises, such sunsets, as can be seen nowhere else in these isles. A writer, whom I have already quoted, says, I am inclined to think the sky scenery, if I may be allowed the term, the finest and most wonderful in the world. As to its gorgeous sunsets, you look upon an atmosphere saturated with colour, so that it becomes opalesque; and the sinking sun, seen through the vibrating air, is magnificent. From the slopes of far California I have looked down upon the sun dipping into the wide Pacific, amid a riot of colour, but nothing like this. {28b} Nor is this any exaggeration. The visitor to Woodhall may see it for himself, and the writer has often gazed upon it. Towards evening the soft blue of the distance becomes gradually lit up by the lowering sun with the most gorgeous and varied shades of purple, gold, and ruby, until he sinks below the horizon in a blaze of crimson glory. Then follow, softer, more mellowed tints of violet, pink, emerald green, exquisite greys, and varying hues of the most delicate kinds, until they slowly fade away into the shades of night, or the silvery sheen of the moon.

For the student of nature, there are special attractions in the botany of the neighbourhood; scarcely less in its ornithology. The wild, four-footed creatures also are in unusual variety; and within easy reach the antiquarian will find objects of very special interest.

In these pages it would be impossible to treat of all these subjects fully.

I will take botany first. And I would here make the preliminary observation, that, in specifying different plants to be found in the near vicinity, I shall not indicate exactly the habitat of each, for the sake of preserving to Woodhall Spa in the future some of its choicest attractions. The track of the invading tourist is too often marked by massacre. A French ambassador, describing some years ago the country life of our gentry, said that one of the first proposals, made after breakfast by the host, would be, Let us go out and kill something; and this national tendency has disastrously affected our Flora as well as our Fauna. A writer has said, There is a base sort of botanist who prods up choice treasures wantonly to destroy them. They are murderers, to be classed with those who have stamped the quagga out of Africa, or those who fly to firearms if Nature sends a rare migrant creature of air, or earth, or water, in their way. Go through our English lakes, as the writer did recently, after not having visited them for several years, and you will find, for instance, the falls of Lodore, where once the parsley-fern abounded, now entirely stript of it. Just asto take a parallel casein a certain stream in Borrowdale, where some years ago the writer caught so many trout that the widow, in whose cottage he lodged, offered to keep him any length of time gratis, so long as he would supply her with fish at the same rate; now, in that stream hardly a fish is to be caught, from its so constantly being flogged by the tourist. The same holds good, though, so far, in a less degree, at Woodhall. Ichabod may be writ in large characters over the record of some of the plants once plentiful. I shall, therefore, leave the botanist, with few exceptions, to hunt out the specimens for himself, only stating that they exist. But is not this, after all, the chief charm of his pursuit to the true lover of Nature? To have everything found to hand for him may indeed lessen his labours, but it robs him of all the gratification with which he can exclaim Eureka, as his eyes rest upon the long-sought prize which he has found for himself. The difference between the true botanist and the sportsman has been thus defined: The sportsman seeks to kill; the botanist seeks to find, to admire, and to preserve. Would that it were always so. From the great difference in the soils in the immediate neighbourhood, varying from the lightest sand to the stiffest clay, or from the peat and bog of the fen to the gravel of the moor, or the leafy mould of the wood, there is also a very great variety of wild plants. The late Rev. R. H. Webb, author of The Botany of Herts, was some years ago a frequent visitor at Woodhall Spa, and he assured the writer, that in all his experience he had never known so large or so interesting a variety as was to be found in this neighbourhood. On one occasion the writer, collecting wild plants for a flower show, gathered, in the course of a mornings walk, more than 110 different specimens. Probably the rarest plant was the Silene Quinque vulneralis, the discovery of which led to a lengthy correspondence, it being rarely found in England, though fairly common in Jersey. It was growing in a field which now forms part of the garden of the Victoria Hotel. The alterations necessary to make that transformation extinguished it, or rather buried it out of sight; but as some correspondents gave instances where it had recurred in localities in which it had for years been unknown, there is no absolute reason why it should not also reappear in this case. Should it do so, we can only cry, parce, precor, to the too ruthless collector. The Osmunda Regalis, again, a few years ago was very plentiful; the writer has had plants of it which grew to be three, four, and even five feet in height, but it is now quite extinct. Not only so, but the writer, finding this to be the case, replanted some roots of it in 1897, where he fondly hoped they would escape observation, but, on going to look for them the following year, he found the soil dug up all round the place by the trespassing marauder, and not a trace of them was left.

The following plants have been mentioned by different authorities as among those which are be found. The Rev. E. Adrian Woodruffe Peacock, secretary to the Lincolnshire Naturalists Union, says: We may expect to find some of the following rare plantsRanunculus Hederaceus, Corydalis claviculata, Raphanus Raphanistrum, Silene Quinque-Vulnera (most rare), Silene Anglica (not so rare), Vicia Bobartii, Cotyledon Umbilicus, Sedum Villosum, Sedum Reflexum, Drosera Anglica, Epilobium Tetragonum, Campanula Ranunculoides. At a meeting of the Alford Naturalists Society the secretary exhibited the following plants, obtained from the Woodhall district, presenting a striking difference to the plants found about Alford, owing to the sandy moorland soil of Woodhall:Calluna Erica (ling), Erica Tetralix (cross-leaved heath), Artemisia Vulgaris (mugwort). Marrubium Vulgare (white horehound), Teucrium Scorodonia (wood sage), Hydrocotyle Vulgaris (white-rot), and the Hardfern (Lomaria Spicant); also fruiting specimens of Solidago Virgaurea (golden rod), Lepidium Campestre (field pepper-wort), Cotyledon Umbilicus (wall penny-wort).

I conducted the members of the Lincoln Natural History and Archæological Society round the neighbourhood a few years ago, in the month of April, and they reported 39 plants as being then in flower, the most interesting being Saxifraga Tridactylites (stone-crop), Draba Verna (vernal whitlow grass), Erodium Cicutarium (hemlock, storks bill), Cotyledon Umbilicus (wall pennywort), and the Tussilago Petasites (butter-bur), Stellaria Holostea (greater stitchwort); also Parietaria Officinalis (wall pellitory), not yet in bloom, and in a pond Stratiotes Aloides (water soldier) in great abundance.

More recently I conducted the members of the Lincolnshire Natural History Union through the district, in the month of August, and the following is a list of their chief finds; Hieracium Boreale (hawkweed), Lysimachia Vulgaris (yellow loose strife), Melampyrum Pratense (yellow-cow wheat), Tycopus Europeus (gipsy-wort), Solidago Virgaurea (golden rod), Malva Moschata (musk mallow), also a white variety of the common mallow (Malva Sylvestris), the two cresses, Lepidium Smithii and L. Campestre, Sparganium Simplex (simple bur-reed) the mints (Mentha Sativa, and M. Arvensis), Lythrum Salicaria (purple loosestrife), Geranium Columbinum (long-stalked cranesbill), Scutellaria Galericulata (skull-cap), Polygonum Hydropiper (water pepper), Lysimachia Nemorum (yellow pimpernel), Rhamnus Frangula (buckthorn), Gentiana Pneumonantha (blue gentian), Erica, Cinerea (heath), Malva Rotundifolia (round-leaved mallow), Marrubium Vulgare (white horehound), Calamintha Acinos (basil thyme), Eriophorum Angustifolium (cotton grass), Narthekium Ossifragum (bog asphodel), Galeopsis Bifida (hemp nettle), Senecio Sylvaticus (ragwort), three St. Johns worts, viz. Hypericum Pulchrum, H. Quaodrangulum, and H. Perforatum, Spergula Arvensis (corn spurrey), Saponaria Officinalis (common soap wort), Drosera Rotundifolia (round-leaved sundew), D. Intermedia (intermediate variety), Epilobium Macrocarpum (long-fruited willow herb), E. Parviflorum (small flowered do.). E. Palustre (marsh do.), Circa Lutetiana (enchanters night-shade), Pimpinella Magna (greater burnet saxifrage), Valeriana Sambucifolia (elder-leaved valerian), Solidago Virgaunea (golden rod), Gnaphalium Sylvaticum (high land cudwort), Hieracium Umbellatum (narrow-leaved hawk weed), Alnus Glutinosa (common alder), Juncus Acutiflorus (sharp-flowered rush), Anagallis Pallida (pale-coloured pimpernel), Pedicularitis Sylvatica (dwarf red rattle), Pinguicola Vulgaris (common butter-wort), Viola Flavicornis, also called V. Ericetorum (yellow-horned violet). {31} The Cichorium (succory) and Parnassia Palustris (grass of Parnassus) are found in the neighbourhood. The Myrica (Gale or bog-myrtle) is very abundant, and a useful preventive against the moth if placed in wardrobes or drawers. Like the Osmunda, the Pinguicola (butterwort), appears to be now extinct, owing either to drainage or to the ever-offending collector. Another interesting plant which at present is not to be found, though it may at any time recur, {32} is the Holy thistle, or Mary thistle (Carduus Marianus). Formerly plentiful, a mile away from the Spa, about the ruins of Kirkstead Abbey, it has been of late years entirely stubbed up by successive tenants of the farm. There is one locality, about three miles distant, to which specimens were transplanted a few years ago, and where it still survives. It also grew not far from the church of Old Woodhall, but there also farmers operations have exterminated it. Called the Milk or St. Marys thistle, because its white-veined leaves were traditionally said to have been lashed with the virgins milk, it is doubtless a survivor from the gardens tended and cherished by the monk of old. The Botrychium Lunaria (moonwort) and Ophioglossum (adders tongue) are found within 300 yards of the Baths (occasionally intermittent for a season); the Trichomanes (English maidenhair) grows in one solitary place on the inner walls of a closed well, though entirely unknown anywhere else for many miles round. Several varieties of ferns grow very luxuriantly. Before leaving the botany of the neighbourhood, I would direct the reader to an appendix at the end of this volume, giving a list of a considerable number of plants with their local vernacular names, which was compiled for me by a naturalist, who made this subject his special study during a prolonged sojourn at Woodhall Spa.

There are several different mosses, and a great variety of fungi.

This varied flora conduces to a corresponding variety of insect life. On one of the occasions referred to above, the following beetles were found:Loricera Pillicornis, Geotrupes Spiniger, G. Stercorarius, Elaphras Cupreus, Leistotrophus Nebulosus, Hister Stercorarius, Aphodius Ftens, A. Fimitarius, A. Sordidus, 22-Punctata, and Sphridium Bi-pustulatum.

Of butterflies there is not a great variety. The Papilio Machaon (swallow-tail) used to be common about the reedy pools and bogs near the Moor; but owing to drainage and clearance none have been seen for several years. The huge heaps of the aromatic ant were formerly very common in the woods close to the Spa, but the eggs being a favourite food for the pheasant, and collected by the keepers for that purpose, there seems to be none left.


I now proceed to speak of some of the birds of the locality. And again it may be said, as in the case of the wild flowers, that, from the variety of soils, there is a corresponding abundance in the species frequenting the neighbourhood of Woodhall. Unfortunately another remark made of the flowers also applies to the birds. Ichabod may be written in large characters over the records of several. In the writers youth, an old couple lived close to the Tower on the Moor, about a mile from the Spa, in a cabin of their own construction, made chiefly of sods, then locally called bages. {33} Old Dawson, or Tabshag, the soubriquet by which he was more commonly known, lived with his wife the rather wild existence of a squatter, on the waste, under sufferance from the owner. He kept a pig, and was wont to boast that he possessed the highest pigsty and the lowest barn in the country, because the sty was a structure of his own erection, in the old brick tower, above the level of the surrounding ground; while his straw was stored in an excavation (still existing) several feet below. At that time between the Tower and Bracken Wood there was a stretch of waste land, several acres in extent, consisting of bog, interspersed with tussocks of coarse grass, and straggling alders and birches, still known by the name of The Bogs Nook, or corner. {34a} On this ground the common green ploverVanellus cristatusthen commonly called the Pyewipe, {34b} bred in large numbers; the eggs were, as they are still, regarded as a delicacy, and old Tabshag used to make a considerable sum of money every year by sending hampers of these eggs by coach up to London for sale. So familiar he was said to be with the habits of the bird that he could tell by its cry how many eggs were in the nest. {34c} This land is now under cultivation, and the plaintive cry of the plover is heard no more, or only seldom. The plover, indeed, is still with us, but in numbers lessening every year. There are probably not now as many plovers nests in the whole parish as there formerly were in a single ploughed field. The writer, as a boy, was somewhat of an expert in finding these nests. He has watched the birds making them, which they do by turning round and round, with the breast or belly on the ground, thus forming a saucer-shaped hollow, in which they sometimes place two or three fibres of twitch as a lining. One bird makes three or four of such nests, and finally selects the one which, presumably, she deems most unnoticeable.

Sixty years ago black game were found on the moorland called now The Ostler Plantations, {34d} but though one still heard of them in the forties, they were then either extinct or a rapidly vanishing quantity. At the same time also the boom of the bittern might still be heard in the marshy parts of the same ground, but they are also now among the has beens.

No more shall bittern boom, No more shall blackcock crow: For both have met their doom, The sport of human foe.

From the character of the Ostler ground, formerly a very secluded tract of mixed wood, moor, and morass, it has been frequented by a great variety of birds. {35} The heron bred there within the last twenty years, a solitary nest remaining in a clump of trees in the south-west corner next to Tattershall, until it was blown down by a gale, and, the particular tree being shortly afterwards felled, the bird never returned. Drainage and the destruction of trees by the woodmans axe, or by accidental fires, have so dried the ground as to reduce greatly the numbers of certain birds of aquatic or semi-aquatic habits. The coot clanking in the sedgy pools is no more heard. The moor-hen with those little, black, fluffy balls which formed her brood scuttling over the water to hide in the reeds, is rarely seen. The wild duck has, indeed, in one or two instances nested near a still-surviving pool within the last ten years; a nest was once found by the writer among the branches of a pollard willow, overhanging a pool, some five or six feet from the ground. He has also shot teal on odd occasions lying in the open; but both these birds are now rarely seen, and the same may be said of the snipe, jack and full. The latter were once plentiful, so that it was a common occurrence to put up a whisp of them, whereas now one seldom sees more than three or four in a whole season. A delicate little bird, very palatable on the table, was the waterrail, now almost extinct. The writer used to have permission to shoot along the ballast ponds beside the railway, and he has frequently shot them there. The woodcock is still with us. The poet painter, Dante Rosetti, kept one as a favourite pet; we of Woodhall are more prosaic, and like to see the bird rise out of the bracken before us, and fall to our shot, eventually to appear nicely cooked on a toast before us at table. But of late years drainage has reduced their numbers. Although we could, of course, never at Woodhall, compete with the shooter on the Irish bogs, where as many as 100 or 200 are sometimes shot in a day; yet I could at one time almost always get a brace when I wanted them by trying certain spots which were their regular resort, and among my notes I find this: Nov. 16, 1872, shot Bracken wood, got five woodcock, making 20 in three days. [N.B.Bracken wood, as the visitor may not know, is within one field of the Bath-house at Woodhall Spa.] Some years ago certain sportsmen (?) in this neighbourhood used to go to the sea coast every year, in October, at the time of the arrival of the first flight of woodcock (the second flight is in November), and shot them in considerable numbers, when they were resting, exhausted by their flight; hardly a creditable practice, and unworthy of a true lover of nature. A wood in Kirkstead, named Bird-Hag Wood, was formerly a favourite haunt of the woodcock, and I have shot many in it; but it was cleared away in the seventies. {36a} Woodcock occasionally breed on the moor, and a nest was found some years ago within 80 yards of the road to Horncastle, opposite the Tower on the Moor. Among my notes I find this: Dec. 5, 1872, we saw about a dozen woodcock in Bird-Hag Wood, but only three were shot.

I have just mentioned Bird-Hag and its woodcock. Pleasant memories of that wood have lingered with more than one sportsman. A former poetic owner of Kirkstead has written of it thus {36b}:

Remote Bird-Hag, that favourite preserve, To crown some chosen day, the choice reserve Where noble oaks their autumn tints display, And fern gigantic checks the sportsmans way But well is toil and trouble there repaid, By the wild tenants of that oaken shade, While rabbits, hares, successive, cross your road, And scarcely give the time to fire and load, While shots resound, and pheasants loudly crow, Who heeds the bramble? Who fatigue can know? Here from the brake, that bird of stealthy flight, The mottled woodcock glads our eager sight, Great is his triumph, whose lucky shot shall kill The dark-eyed stranger of the lengthy bill Unlike the pheasant, who himself betrays, And dearly for his daring challenge pays. Small notice gives the woodcock of his flight; Not seen at once, at once hes lost to sight. Yet short his flight, and should you mark him down, The chances are that woodcock is your own; But quick the hand, and no less quick the eye, Would stop him as he hurries by; Few are the birds, whateer may be their sort, More try the skill, give more exciting sport.

A few words may be said on the pheasants and partridges; and first of the former. The breed on the Ostler ground have a history. The late Sir Henry Dymoke, of Scrivelsby Court, used to rear, in large numbers, a white breed of pheasant, and as, with the exception of the Ostler ground, he, with his brother, had almost the whole of the shooting, extending from Scrivelsby to the Witham, they spread over that ground, and sought a kind of asylum in the dense cover of the Ostler plantations. Further, the writers father-in-law imported an Indian breed, called the Kalege pheasant, a very handsome bird; and these two strains have affected the breed on that ground, and, doubtless, have also had their effect on pheasants in the neighbourhood generally. White broods of pheasants are from time to time hatched on the ground; also piebald varieties are not uncommon. In the year 1898, a cream-coloured specimen was shot. Some of the cocks have at times a decided fringe of blue or purple in their plumages from the Kalege mixture.

As to partridges: It is only in recent years that the French, or red-legged breed (Cannabis rufa) have established themselves here. In the sixties, though said to have been introduced into England by Charles II., they were almost, if not entirely, unknown here. The writer shot them in Cambridgeshire in the fifties; and from the south-eastern coast and counties they have persistently spread, until now we have them everywhere. In the first instance, probably, they were brought across the silver streak by a gale, like the sand grouse, of which we have read, on the coast of Yorkshire. But whereas the sand grouse were immediately shot as curiosities, the red-leg, being a bird (as every shooter knows) given to running, knew how to take care of himself, and, like many another unwelcome intruder, he came to stay. The flesh is decidedly inferior in flavour to that of the common English brown partridge. I well remember a practical joke being played on a Woodhall keeper. The Frenchmen, as they were called, had only just arrived. A party of us were out shooting, and a red-leg was shot. The keeper, seeing the new and handsome-looking bird, was very proud of it, and though he had never yet tasted one, he loudly proclaimed, in his ignorance, that it would be as good in the eating as fine in the plumage. A day or two after we were out shooting again. Luncheon time came, and we lay stretched on the sward under a spreading tree, on a hot day in September, where the ladies joined us, bringing the refreshment. Cold partridges were among the fare, and instructions had been given beforehand that the Frenchman should be specially reserved, to hand to the keeper. In due course the Captain passed on to the keeperas being specially favoured above his fellows, by the attentionhalf of a partridge. Nothing was said, and we all busied ourselves with the viands before us, but the keeper was under our careful observation. Presently his features were seen to be considerably distorted by wry faces, as he turned the leg or the wing about in his hands, while picking them, with some difficulty, to the bone. Probably the bird was not only a Frenchman, but a tough old cock into the bargain. At length he could stand it no longer, and, looking round at us, he said, Dal it! Captain, but this birds a rum un. Dont you like it? was the reply; why, its the handsome Frenchman you admired so much, when it was shot the other day. Well, then, said the keeper, I wish all such Frenchmen were at the battle of Water-gruel. Ill back the English. {38}

There are some rather curious facts in connection with the brown English partridge and the French variety. Though different in their habits, and, it is said, even hostile to each other, they yet, in some instances, consort. I once shot on the moor three brown and one red-leg, out of the same covey, all young birds. They had evidently been reared together in one brood, and the old birds were of the brown species. Mentioning this to a friend of large experience, he told me that he had known several instances where the eggs of the two kinds had been found laid in the same nest. The eggs are, of course, easily distinguishable, those of the common partridge being of a greenish drab colour, while those of the red-leg are of a dull, cream colour, covered with small brown spots. I have been informed by another authority that the eggs of the red-leg have also been found in the nest of an outlying pheasant. {39} A curious provision of nature, conducing to the preservation of the species, may be here mentioned as interesting; the partridge, while sitting on her eggs, has no scent. On one occasion a man was consulting me about a tombstone at St. Andrews Church, Woodhall. We walked into the churchyard together, and stood conversing opposite the grave in question. I was aware that a partridge was sitting on her nest concealed in the grass between that grave and the next, and therefore would not approach very near. Suddenly I perceived that he had a terrier with him, which was very busily hunting over the churchyard. I begged him to keep it in. He was rather indignant, and replied that it could do no harm in the churchyard. I remarked that he was not aware that within eight or ten feet of us a partridge was on her nest, and I did not wish her to be disturbed. He thereupon called in his dog, but that only brought his dog nearer to the nest, hunting the while; and the dog actually passed over the nest without scenting the bird. {40} The eggs were hatched the next day, and that doubtless accounted for her sitting so closely. Whether or not from an instinctive consciousness of this safeguard is not for me to say, but the partridge is rather given to selecting her nesting place near a highway or a footpath. I have known several instances of this, and only last year I repeatedly saw both the parent birds sitting on their nest together, on a bank close to a public footpath which was daily traversed.

To show how closely a partridge will continue to sit, under very trying circumstances, I give here an anecdote of what occurred in a parish adjoining Woodhall Spa, as it was related to me by the chief witness, the Squire himself.

In a meadow adjoining Roughton Hall, a partridge made her nest in a slight depression of the surface. The meadow was, in due course, mown, the mower passing his scythe over her without injuring her, and unaware of her presence, the depression having still enough grass to conceal the nest. The field was afterwards tedded, i.e., the grass was tossed about by a machine, which again passed over the nest, still leaving her unscathed and unmoved. In the process of cocking, the field was next horse-raked, the rake passing over the nest, with the same result. One of the haymakers, however, nearly trod on the nest; this drove the bird off, behind him, so that he did not observe it. But a friend was near at hand. The squire, seeing the bird fly away, went to the spot, found the hidden nest, and counted in it the unusual number of 19 eggs (promise of a good partridge season, weather permitting). He at once removed to a distance all the hay lying near, to prevent her being disturbed again, and watched the result. Within a quarter of an hour the partridge quietly returned to her nest. Ten days later she successfully brought off a brood of seventeen, two bad eggs remaining in the nest. Of course, as the hatching time draws near, the mother, feeling the young lives under her, sits more persistently than at an earlier period; but surely this mother partridge exhibited a remarkable instance of fidelity to maternal instinct, after passing through no less than four trying ordeals.

Of wild pigeons we have three kinds: the common woodpigeon or ringdove, of which there are large flocks; the stockdoves, which go in pairs, and (as their name implies) build their nest on a solitary stump or tree, or occasionally in a rabbit hole. The turtledove, though common in the south of England, is a migratory bird, and in these parts not a constant visitor. A wave of them spread over the Midland counties in 1895, and since that they have been seen in smaller numbers. The late Mr. J. Cordeaux, F.R.G.S., M.B.O.U., one of our greatest authorities, says that its note is lower and more of a querulous murmur than that of the ringdove. In size it is not much larger than a missel thrush.

The first of these pigeons is the bird named the Culver, in old writings, as Spencer sings in romantic ditty:

Like as the culver, on the bared bough, Sits mourning for the absence of her mate, And in her song breathes many a wistful vow For his return, who seems to linger late, So I, alone, now left disconsolate. Mourn to myself the absence of my love, And sitting here, all desolate, Seek with my plaints to match that mournful dove.

Of woodpeckers we have on the moor and in Bracken Wood at times, three kinds: the common green species (picus viridis) which is generally plentiful; the lesser spotted (picus minor), not seen every year, but occasionally; and, still less frequently seen, the larger spotted (picus major). Of the former of these spotted kinds, seeing three together, I shot one a few years ago; and the keeper shot another for me more recently, for our Naturalists Museum at Lincoln.

Of the birds of prey, so called, the greatest part are extinct, or nearly so, too often from a mistaken belief in their destructiveness; whereas they are really useful allies of the farmer, if not also of the sportsman. In the cause of the latter, they, for the most part destroy (if they destroy game at all) the weakly members, so conducing towards keeping up a vigorous breed, and for the farmer they destroy smaller vermin, the mice which, but for them, would multiply (as they have done in several places) until they become a plague. In the year 1890, a very large bird was reported as being seen about the woods near Woodhall, but I could not get a sight of it myself, nor could I get anyone else to give a description of it, except that it was very large. After a time it disappeared from Woodhall, and was reported as being seen for a time about Revesby, and on November 8th an eagle was shot by the son of a farmer residing at Tupholme Hall, in a wood at Southrey belonging to Mr. Vyner. It proved to be a male bird, in good condition, measuring 6ft. 7in. across the wings, and weighing 11lbs. I rode over to see it, but it had been sent to the taxidermist to be stuffed. It was a sea eagle (Haliactus albicilla). The kite (milvus ictinus) used to be common 40 years ago; its presence being notified by our hens cackling, and ducks quacking, as they called together their broods, when they espied it soaring at a considerable height above. If a reckless chick, or duckling, neglected to take the warning, and seek shelter beneath the mothers wings, there was for a moment a rushing sound, a general confusion in the poultry yard, a half-smothered scream, and the kite flew away with a victim in its claws. {42} I have seen this more than once myself. The kite is now quite extinct in this neighbourhood. The same may be said of the buzzard (buteo vulgaris). Although their food was chiefly mice and small birds; perhaps occasionally game, but not generally; since, though a very fine bird in appearance, they were not rapid enough on the wing to overtake the partridge in full flight; yet the keepers waged war against them to the knife. Many is the buzzard I have seen nailed up with the pole-cats and other vermin in the woods at Woodhall. But they are now seen no more, and a handsome and comparatively harmless ornament of our sylvan scenery is gone beyond recall.

The Hen-Harrier (circus cyaneus), a more active bird than the buzzard, is another of the Ichabods. Its last known nesting place was on the top of The Tower on the Moor, near Woodhall. As a boy, the writer has climbed that tower for the eggs, and he has now a very fine specimen of the old bird stuffed, measuring about 40 inches across, from tip to tip of the wings. These birds were wont to fly at higher game than the buzzard, and doubtless did at times destroy partridges; but they also fed largely on water-rats and frogs, and were not above gorging themselves on carrion. The female is larger than the male.

The beautiful little Merlin (Falco Æsalon) was also seen, though not common, twenty-five or thirty years ago. It was a very plucky little bird, and I have seen one strike down a partridge larger in bulk than itself. This is gone, never to return.

The Sparrow-Hawk (Accipiter fringillarius) survives, although in diminished numbers; and this indeed is the only one of the hawks against which my voice should be for open war. It is very destructive and very daring in the pursuit of its quarry. A connection of my own was sitting in a room facing the garden at the Victoria Hotel, Woodhall, when a sparrow-hawk dashed after its prey, broke the glass of the window, and fell stunned on the floor of the room. The female in this kind also is larger than the mate. This bird will kill young ducks and chickens, and partridges, and even pheasants.

The Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) also still survives, and we do not grudge it a prolonged lease of life. It feeds chiefly upon mice and small birds, cockchafers, and other insects; is a graceful object as it hangs lightly hovering at a considerable height in the air; with its keen vision detects its small prey half hidden in the grass or stubble, and then with lightning rapidity, drops like a stone upon it, and bears it away. I have kept kestrels and sparrow-hawks and tamed them; and the former will become tractable and almost affectionate, but the latter is a winged Ishmaelite, and very treacherous, and if allowed a little liberty, it generally ends in his making his escape. {44a}

Owls are still, I am glad to say, plentiful. They are amongst the farmers greatest feathered friends, killing enormous quantities of mice, which otherwise would damage his crops. {44b} We have three kinds on the moor or in the woods: 1stthe barn owl, or screech owl (stryx flammea); 2ndthe wood or brown owl (synnium aluco); 3rdthe horned-owl (asio otus). The two last are very much alike in both size and colour, but the last has two tufts of feathers rising on each aide of the head, from which it gets its name of horned-owl. I have a note among my shooting records: Dec. 5th, 1872, shot Bird Hag Wood, in Kirkstead, put up about a dozen owls. These would be the horned kind. Five were shot on that occasion, but as a rule they have been carefully spared, one only occasionally being killed as a specimen for stuffing. Within the nineties, being out with my gun, on the moor, when the ground was covered with snow, I passed by a solitary thick Scotch fir, when an owl flew out. I wanted a specimen for a friend who was staying with me, and I shot it. The report created quite a commotion within the tree, and some twenty owls were immediately flying about me. Not being likely to settle in the snow, and apparently dazed by the glare of the sun reflected from the snow, I left them as quickly as I could, to recover their composure, and return to the sheltered quarters in which they had congregated. Hunting, as they do, almost entirely by night, they have little opportunity of interfering with the game, nor is it their propensity to do so. {45} There are three very ancient hollow oak trees in The Arbours Wood in Kirkstead. These are a favourite resort of the barn owl.

The carrion crow still nests on the moor, although the eggs are taken every season. But the old birds are very wary, and manage to keep out of shot. The common rook, however, of late years, has got a bad name, as having taken up the marauding habits of the genuine crow. Owing to the improved cultivation of land, there is not now the supply of grubs on which the rook used to feed, and they have taken to hunting for the eggs of partridge and pheasant, and may be seen quartering the ground as methodically as a pointer or setter. They are strongly suspected of killing the young as well as rifling the nests of eggs, and the Scotch keepers complain of their depredations on the moors, among the young grouse.

A writer in the Yorkshire Poet (of August 22, 1898) says that black game are decreasing in the Border counties, as the rooks destroy the eggs.

This completes the list of the larger birds frequenting the neighbourhood. As I write this chapter, a letter from an old friend says that he well remembers the number of night-jars which were to be heard churring about Woodhall on a summers evening. This bird (caprimulgus Europus), locally called fern-owl, comes to us about May. I have a note: May 23rd, 1873, the first night-jar heard. During the daytime, the visitor, walking quietly through the woodland paths near the Victoria Hotel, may, if he has a keen eye, see the night-jar lying flat upon the branch of an oak, hardly indeed perceptible, owing to its colour being so near that of the brown bark. Then, towards evening, it may be seen taking its short and wonderfully rapid flights, and you may hear its bills snap together as it catches the moths and cockchafers on which it feeds. It breeds on the moor, the nest generally being laid on the ground among the bracken; whence its name of fern-owl. The old idea of its sucking the goat or cow, from the former of which it gets its classical name caprimulgus (as well as the English equivalent), is, of course, long since exploded. {46a} The churring note is seldom heard except when it is at rest on a branch of a tree.

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