Acknowledged as one of the most beautiful towns in England, Stamford is known to have been the scene of human activity for around 5000 years.
Situated 90 miles north of London, on the route of the old Great North Road (A1) and now by-passed a mile to the west, it is an easy base for trips to the industrial Midlands, the North and rural East Anglia.
The visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the fine stone buildings with their locally quarried Collyweston stone slate roofs. If the cars could be removed from the streets the scene has remained unchanged for a couple of centuries.
Industrial activity has contributed to the wellbeing of the Town, but it was the wool trade that formed the basis of great prosperity in the Middle Ages. A host of small trades were thriving in the 19c, malting, brewing, tanyards, soap-makers, terra cotta ware, bone crushers (for agricultural fertilizer), candle makers, millers, traders in coal, lime and timber, to mention but a few. Although most of these activities have disappeared, traces of them can be found in buildings and street names.
And so the Stamford Notebook Company, an offshoot of the printing industry, making notebooks by hand, is adding to the long list of small enterprises that have kept the Town ticking over for centuries.
In March 2013 Stamford was named by The Sunday Times as the best place to live in Britain. It is praised for wonderful architecture, good schools, shopping facilities and transport links. Stamford is largely a beautiful Georgian stone built town. It was voted runner up in 2017, and made the list again in 2019, with the Sunday Times calling Stamford, "Still the best looking Town in Britain."
A quote from the supplement published by The Sunday Times said: “The ducks are quacking and the river sparkles in the spring sunshine. Across the green of Stamford’s famous water meadows, young families and couples enjoy the day, sipping takeaway coffees from the cosy independent cafes, such as the Fine Food Store, that line the gloriously Georgian high street’.
‘The architecture and honey-stone streets really are magnificent, but that’s not all Stamford has to recommend it; this friendly town offers good organic produce as well as designer boutiques.”
Historically ‘England’s most attractive town’
Such praise is not new. Throughout history Stamford has been mentioned by many including:
‘as fine a built town all of stone as may be seen’ – Celia Fiennes, late 17th-century
‘England’s most attractive town’. – John Betjeman
‘Among stone-built towns there may be some that equal, none I think that surpass Stamford and, since here the Welland leaves the freestone country to enter on the vagaries of a Fen river, it certainly chooses the supreme, architectural moment.’ – Lady Wedgewood, 1936
In East Midlands and the Peak by G. Grigson 1951, historian W. G. Hoskins said:
‘If there is a more beautiful town in the whole of England I have yet to see it. The view of Stamford from the water-meadows on a fine June evening, about a quarter to half a mile upstream, is one of the finest sights that England has to show. The western sunlight catches the grey limestone walls and turns them to gold. It falls on towers and spires and flowing water, on the warm brown roofs of Collyweston slates, and on the dark mass of the Burghley woods behind. The hipped and mansard roofs of the town rise from the edge of the river above the flashing willows, tier upon tier, to the spire of All Saints, and the towers of St Martin’s, St John’s, and St Michael’s, and, above them all, to the noble tower and spire of St Mary’s, the central jewel in the crown of Stamford…’
Not surprisingly, the BBC chose Stamford as the setting for their Middlemarch historic drama in 1993. Stamford and Burghley House have also been used as a filming location in several films such as Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. It also features in The Davinci Code.
Romans, Saxons and Danes were here
The Romans had settlements nearby but the towns real history begins with the Saxons and the Danes who had settlements each side of the river before the Norman conquest. In the 14th century Stamford was one of the richest town’s in England from its woollen, cloth and pottery industries.
Due to its position half way between York and London on the Great North Road, Stamford had a second period of prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries as a stopping point for stagecoaches and safe refuge from highwaymen. In that time the large town houses were built which give the town its heritage appearance today. Hotels such as The George, one of the most prominent coaching inns, are in beautiful buildings.
The railways meant the decline of coaching towns
In the 1830s when railways began to take over from coaching, the town became less important as a transport hub. Today it is quieter, but maintains its quintessential English charm.
The town is famed for its many church spires, and nearby Burghley House, built in Elizabethan times, hosts an internationally famous horse show every year. Across the border in the county of Rutland is Rutland Water, Europe’s largest man-made lake.
There is also a Stamford in Connecticut, USA. According to Wikipedia it was named after Stamford, Lincolnshire. ‘Stamford was known as Rippowam by the Native American inhabitants to the region, and the very first European settlers to the area also referred to it as such. The name was later changed to Stamford after a town in Lincolnshire, England’.
A visit to Stamford, today
In the Sunday 1 June edition of You magazine from The Mail on Sunday Sarah Stacey praised the Stamford and Rutland area. In her article ‘Time To Get Active’ she talks about her visit to the area with her two under 10 year olds and her dog.
They stayed at The William Cecil hotel in Stamford, experienced the wonderful Burghley House estate, home of the famous Burghley Horse Trials and went cycling around part of the Rutland Water cycle trail. From there they went on to climb the well known Rock Block at Whitwell.
Whilst they did not have time to experience Rutland Water sailing, Luffenham Heath golf or fly fishing, Sarah was very much enthusiastic about her short stay in the area.