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Of the celebrities who visited the village in comparatively recent times, two perhaps stand out. An occupant of one of the two manor houses, that now called The Abbey, at some time after the war was the daughter of Lord Rank the cinema mogul. This was no doubt the reason that well-known and popular film star David Niven came to spend week ends in Skillington and he would stroll about chatting with the villagers. The other celebrity became a much bigger name. Long before the war the village’s thriving Methodist group had a guest preacher come regularly from nearby Grantham. The preacher would bring along his young daughter and they would take tea with the prominent village family named Morley. The preacher was Alfred Roberts and his daughter Margaret was destined to become Britain’s first lady prime minister, the redoubtable Baroness Thatcher.
Skillington is a small village in the Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. Its parish boundary on the western side is the ancient pathway known as the Viking Way, an old drovers’ road called The Drift on most maps, and this also forms the boundary between Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. An obvious attraction to early settlers must have been the abundant water supply, with many spring-fed wells and the village’s Cringle Brook with its three sources, one inside the parish. This small brook then feeds into the Witham at Great Ponton. The village is built mainly of locally quarried stone and a large area of these mellow stone buildings has been designated a conservation area. The present population of around 300 inhabitants was boosted in recent years by a large building development but it still falls well short of the maximum of 490 reached in 1851.
Although the villagers now have a typically wide spread of occupations, the farming origins are truly emphasised in the 1901 census returns where, out of 354 inhabitants, 55 were listed as farm labourers or ploughboys, 19 were waggoners or grooms and 4 were shepherds. Every single person had employment in the farming industry or in village support occupations. The farming is mainly sheep rearing with wheat and barley the two staple arable crops. The first real break with this tradition and a welcome alternative source of income came shortly after WW2 when the extensive stone quarrying on the south side of the parish finally reached into the village itself. Virtually all signs of the upheaval this caused are now lost.
In the Second World War the outside world discovered Skillington! The nearby airfield at Saltby, now used by a local gliding club, was firstly used as a bomber station then as one of the airfields used to fly gliders to the D-day invasion and, later, the airborne assault on the bridges at Arnhem. The runway then extended onto parish land. Many of the forces personnel stationed there used the two Skillington inns, the Blue Horse and the Cross Swords, during those stressful times. Somehow, a retaliatory German bomb managed to miss the houses and people of the village but blew in the windows of the old vicarage, now called Skillington House. The war also saw an incredibly brave act performed by a Skillington man, though as a civilian.
Fred Meads was one of two men to arrive at the scene of a crashed American bomber. The two entered the burning plane, which was carrying a full load of bombs, and helped out four trapped crew members. For this Fred received the British Empire Medal and this now hangs proudly on the wall of the church belfry. Two other villagers received Commendations for Bravery for the help they gave.
With regard to the two inns … The Blue Horse was converted from three cottages and probably dates to when Buckminster Estates acquired land and property in Skillington (see later) but it was there at the time of the 1891 census. The Cross Swords was a house built as a pub and dates (in title) to c1830 but was probably built shortly before that date. Ale Houses existed in the village at least as far back as 1696 when four houses were licensed.
An Airspeed Horsa Troop Carrying Glider
The church building of St James is a very old building. Quoining has been dated to the Anglo-Saxon period. There are many features of interest to note when one visits this ancient church. In recent times, to celebrate the advent of the second millennium, ladies of the parochial group made a set of kneelers which record key items in the village’s history. The most notable of these events and an item, which is further recorded in memorial windows together with a display, came about with the death of a vicar, the Reverend Charles Hudson, in 1865.
Charles Hudson was a remarkable man. He was one of the best amateur mountain climbers of his day and in the fateful year he was a member of a party attempting to become the first to climb the famous Matterhorn. This was accomplished but on the way down some members of the team fell over a crevasse, the rope parted and four of the team including Hudson fell 4,000 feet to their deaths. This was fully reported in the Times. Both the congregation and fellow climbers then contributed stained-glass windows and also a fifth bell was added (Hudson had purchased the fourth out of his own pocket).
The main landowners in recent times have been Buckminster Estates (representing the Earl of Dysart, later the Tollemache family); the Easton Estates (representing the Cholmeley family); and the Turnors of Stoke Rochford. The first of these was the last to acquire land, purchasing 452 acres from the Church Commissioners in 1883 for £16,500. The outcome of the Buckminster Estates’s acquisitions was the unusually-named Blue Town housing for their workers and the Blue Horse pub. Blue was the colour of the Earl of Dysarts political favours. The Dysart and Cholmonley families provided twin Lords of the Manor and all three donated many beneficial gifts to the village as well as providing employment.
The picture of land ownership is well recorded at 1797 when the Enclosure Awards for Skillington changed forever the long-established pattern of farming. The three huge fields of around 2,000 acres, which had been cultivated in the strip system (the remaining signs of this are referred to as ridge and furrow), gave way to smaller, hedged fields ideal for sheep rearing. The main beneficiaries with over 50 acres were …
Montague Cholmley (567), Rev John Hopkinson (374), Heirs of Henry Christian (133), Edmund Turnor (115), Mary Newton (90), Thomas Berridge (85), Thomas Knight (70), and William Green (68). Incidentally, 6 stone pits were mentioned.
The Victorian era saw much building take place and renovations to the older houses. Constructions include the School, built in 1842/3 for £600 – used as a village hall at one time but recently converted into a private house: 1847 saw the much-needed Methodist chapel built overlooking The Square. The land used was Blacksmith’s Close, purchased for £15 and the chapel itself cost £643. Home Farmhouse was extended towards Middle Street in 1837 and in 1850/51 the Vicarage, now Skillington House, was built under the patronage of C.Turnor with the aid of £200 from Queen Anne’s bounty.
In the mid-1700s the main road passing close to Skillington (and which formed the main street of Colsterworth) was The Great North Road. The new turnpike toll system around this time led many drovers, taking beasts to the rapidly expanding London, to avoid payment by using the ancient Viking Way. It is also a possibility that Dick Turpin used this byway on his famous ride north but that is mere speculation. At this time there were only two main roads leading into Skillington: the north-east road which connected with the Great North Road (and to Grantham) via Stoke Rochford. This appears to have been nearer to Cringle Brook than the present Grantham Road. And the south-west road, now Buckminster Lane, which led to Melton. Sproxton Road and Colsterworth Road seem to have been little more than bridle paths. At some time – but reaching into 1900s – Church Street and Colsterworth Road were jointly known as Far Street (hence Far House on the corner by The Square).
Other features in the church are:
On the small village green by the church is the stump and base of a moot cross. This is recorded on O/S maps as having been originally sited on The Square above the main green. Why and when it was moved has not yet been ascertained. Other village features of historical note are:
The Fish Well. Only a memorial to this ancient feature now exists. The original well was located just inside the fence of the paddock which has now been built upon. The University of Leicester’s Archaeological Team did a report on this and other finds in that area dating back to medieval times with excellent photos of the well as it was. The name (for a well) remains a mystery.
The Village pump. In front of the old schoolhouse.
The Dovecote. Near to the church and probably originally associated with the nearby moated manor house. Built to house 450 birds. Now a listed building.
The Moot “Cross”
The Village Pump
The Fish Well
Sir Isaac Newton’s connections with Skillington, including those already mentioned, are to be found in various biographies of the great man. Westfall’s Never at Rest states that he had three aunts living in Skillington. One of these may have been his father’s sister Elizabeth who married a William Woodrough of Skillington. The other two were probably Isobel, who married John Cook of Skillington, and his uncle Richard’s second wife, Anne.
Skillington is, of course listed in the Doomsday Book but the earliest record of names, here listed, is taken from the Lincolnshire Lay Subsidy published on the internet by the University of Leicester. William Danet; Alexander de Wywell; Richard de Herington; Stephen de Langtoft; John Bully; Nicholas filius Thome; Richard de Ses; Thomas de Somerdeby; Richard de Cumbtorp; Thomas Berdeyn; Nicholas in venella; Simon filius Thome.
Sir Isaac Newton
The origins of the village of Skillington may well go back to Anglo-Saxon or even Romano-British times. Certainly the village was closely surrounded by occupying Romans, evidenced by finds at Stoke Rochford and the quarries at Colsterworth. However, the earliest proven link is in its very name. This is a corruption of the Viking name Sciella together with tun meaning a farmstead or small village. Thus, Sciella’s village. By 1018 this had developed to Scillintun.
The above text has been reproduced by kind permission of Trevor Palmer, an ex-resident of Skillington who now lives in Grantham. A full download of Trevor’s Book “The History of Skillington” Can be downloaded in PDF Format free by clicking on the link below. (c50mb)
Click the button below to read about the history of the two Skillington Inns
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