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Ian Dair takes a journey on the road to Toft

Road to Toft - Ian Dair feature
Road to Toft - Ian Dair feature

For many years now I’ve been driving the short trip from my village of Carlby to my golf course at Toft. Neither the road, the A6121, or the village of Toft itself, were of any particular interest compared to the delights and disappointments of my round of golf to come. However, all this changed when I found that Sue Cork of the Witham-on-the-Hill Historical Society had published a book called ‘A History of Manthorpe, Toft and Lound’. Sue has kindly given me permission to use extracts from her book. I hope these will be of as much interest to other Toft golfers and those who pass through Toft on the way to Bourne or Stamford as they are to me.

First, on my journey to Toft I turn out of Carlby on to the A6121. We moan about the potholed state of the road as it is today but it should be a big improvement on the past. As Sue Cork’s history says ‘The roads in the parish would have been very basic until well into the 20th century, rutted and muddied by carts and wagons as well as sprinkled with the droppings of so many horses.’ Maybe not that much different! At least we don’t have to pay as we drive on them. ‘The road from Stamford to Bourne was made a turnpike road in 1756, making the users pay a toll to travel on it; these tolls were levied to defray the costs of the upkeep of the road and bridges, which had been the responsibility of the local parish before their introduction’.

About half a mile from the Manthorpe/Witham crossroads, on my right, is the entrance to Bowthorpe Park Farm. The farm is ‘famous for the legendary oak tree near to the farm buildings, which is thought to be over 1,000 years old; it even features in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest-girthed living British oak, at a circumference of almost 40 feet. The tree has been famed over the centuries for being hollow, with accounts of meetings, parties and even meals held inside, it has even been used as an animal shelter. At one time the tree had a door fitted and a ceiling, with a pigeon loft above.’ You can visit the oak, for a small fee which goes to the Air Ambulance.

Next, the crossroads. Sue goes on to record ‘There was a tollhouse at both the Manthorpe/Witham crossroads and at the north end of Toft; these would have been small cottages that housed the toll keeper and his family, and both of these buildings were still shown on an OS map of 1886 and revised in 1903. Many of these tolls started out as a spiked barrier that was turned out of the way once a fee was paid, hence turn-pike, but gradually a large gate across the road became the norm’.

The crossroads put me on the alert as they are an accident black spot. As they have always been. A spectacular accident occurred in 1892. According to a parish magazine “the toll-bar cottage was seriously damaged when a heavy load of timber, descending the hill, got out of control as the horses took the corner at the gallop, and timber crashed like “a battering ram” into the house and right through the wall and over the shoulder of old Mrs Reddish (who lived there) sitting in the chimney corner”.

A rather nice new but rustic bus shelter occupies the approximate site of the toll-bar cottage. This shelter replaced the original which appeared in 1939. The Rev Cooley reports in the parish news of December 1939 that on November 20 he received consent of the County Council to erect a bus shelter and the next day it was up. He had it all made ready beforehand and had to sign an undertaking to remove it if it obstructed vision of motor traffic. He comments that “The shelter faces due south and will get maximum sunshine so residents of Witham and Manthorpe will wait for buses in comfort’. Would that planning permission for anything were so easy today. Maybe the fact that war had not long broken out had something to do with it. The bus stop was and is served by Delaines of Bourne, who started in 1890 with horse drawn vehicles carrying people to and from markets in the area. The daily service between Stamford and Bourne began in 1923.

The war certainly had an influence on local roads. All road signs were taken down and hidden at the outbreak ‘when the danger of invasion by the enemy was real and menacing’. These included distance signs provided by the AA in the early 1930s, such as the one in the bar at Toft Hotel, inset, top left, in main photo, and donated to the hotel, I believe, by the late John Gilbert of Chapel Rise in Toft. Signs on the roads didn’t reappear until June 1943.

Having negotiated the Witham crossroads safely and as I approach the golf club car park, I pass over a bridge spanning the River East Glen. Until I read Sue’s book I was totally unaware that I was driving over something of historic interest - listed as a Grade ll site no less. The bridge was built sometime after 1818 of “coursed limestone rubble with ashlar dressing, it is a single-segmental-arch span with slightly raised ashlar voussoirs and keystone, the bridge is splayed at the ends terminating in round piers with hemispherical copings”. I recognise it now.

We’re at Toft. I get from the car to get my clubs out of the boot. In 1818 I would have got my feet wet. The enclosure map of that year shows ‘There is a large formal oblong of water in the grounds of Toft House (approximately where the golf course car park is today) which in maps 90 years later is reduced to a round small pond.’

Like many villages in the old days, Toft was fairly self-sufficient, with a blacksmith’s forge, and over the years there were bakers, farriers, shoemakers, boot makers, tailors, carpenters, a garage owner and builders as well as farmers and labourers. There was also a pub, the Butcher’s Arms to attract the passing trade. The pub served a dual purpose as it really was both a butcher’s shop and a pub in the 1800s. It closed as a pub in the early 1960s.

Above, inset, is a photo of the main street of Toft at the junction with Lound road, taken in the days of the horse and cart. And the main photo is one I’ve just taken. They are pretty well identical. The blacksmiths is on the far left and there is the ‘little green’ (see below) in the middle. The three houses to the right still stand today as Toft Cottage and Pennine and Pensbury Cottages. In the old photo the Butcher’s Arms sign can be seen by the roadside. Next to the pub is the site of a chapel cum school room in Victorian times (where Chapel Rise now stands).

After my round of golf I head for the Toft House (now the Toft Country House Hotel). As Sue says ‘it has a prominent position beside the main road and is still the centre of the village as a hotel, public house, restaurant, caravan park, wedding venue, golf course clubhouse and location for other businesses’. Over the years it has had many owners, one of whom was George William Wallis. In 1913 he bought 500 acres of farmland from the Fenwick family of Witham-on-the-Hill, the purchase comprising the farmland, the house, lodge and fourteen cottages at Toft.

Mr Wallis, pictured right, centre, standing on the lawn of the Toft House. The lawn appears to be marked out as a tennis court – as indeed it was. His daughter Doris records that ‘fireworks on the tennis court gave a lot of fun --- Annie the maid cooked potatoes in their jackets and joined in’. Doris was clearly a bright and sensitive little girl and in her memoirs she paints a lovely picture of the sights and sounds of life on the farm. And the smells. ‘There was a time for manure carting and spreading on the fields --- all the windows were closed if the wind blew in our direction’.

The farm was a big enterprise. As well as cattle, sheep, horses and crops Doris remembers that ‘we had a turkey farm and reared young chicks, all free range. The turkeys were in the field which is now the golf course, behind the Golf Club shop. We reared 320 one year’. The turkeys went to London hotels. Another source of sustenance came from the dovecote. Doris says ‘the dovecote --- had hundreds of pigeon holes in the walls ---- at the turn of the century, pigeons were kept there for table birds’. The blacksmith whose shop is in the picture, inset left, also gets a mention ‘When the plough, reaper or binder needed repairing, the blacksmith, Mr Griffin came to the shop. I remember the sound of his anvil as our cart horses stood on the little green waiting to be shod. No traffic – about one an hour in those days!’

Toft House and the farm remained in the ownership of the Wallis family for 60 years. The next owner was Derek Lees. Having six daughters, Derek decided that none would drive the tractor so he turned his farmland opposite the Toft House (which Derek converted to the hotel in 1979) into my golf course, opened in 1988. Pictured right is what it looked like when cattle roamed over what is now the ninth green and 1st fairway, with the dovecote top left. On opening, the Stamford Mercury said ‘Derek --- has created a course which will be a decided asset to golf in Lincolnshire.’ And I can say, as a founder member, that the course has got even better every year since.

Derek and his wife Marilyn (who gave me the photo) have now leased the running of the hotel and golf course to the Reid family, who continue the tradition of a warm welcome to golfer and visitor alike.

Talking of tradition, the Captains of Toft Golf Club have always raised money for charity during their year. Maybe they are subconsciously following in the footsteps of Mrs. Stubley of Toft. She is recorded as having collected, ‘during 1942 and 1944, £113 for war charities from whist drives at Toft’.

Acknowledgements: 1 Sue Cork’s book ‘A History of Manthorpe, Toft and Lound’. A hard copy of the booklet, printed A4 size and mounted in a comb binder can be obtained from Sue or Peter Cork for £7.50: or it can be read as a PDF on Witham-on-the-Hill Historical Society’s page on the website for Toft cum Lound and Manthorpe Parish Council 2 ‘Haystacks and Needles’ by Doris Maynard (nee Wallis), copy supplied by Marilyn Lees.


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