Sleaford is a town within the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire, England. It is thirteen miles (21 km) northeast of Grantham and seventeen miles (27 km) northwest of Boston, and has a total resident population of around 16,000 in 7283 households.
Until recently, Sleaford, which takes its name from the River Slea, was primarily an agricultural town, supporting a cattle market and famous seed companies such as Hubbard and Phillips and Sharpes International Seeds (whose history can be traced from their merger with Zeneca Seeds in 1996, which formed Advanta Seeds, right back to 1560). Today however Sleaford is developing as a tourist and craft destination.
The modern centre of Sleaford originated as New Sleaford. Excavations in the market place in 1979 uncovered the remains of a small Anglo-Saxon settlement of eighth century date. Old Sleaford, towards the eastern end of the modern town, was probably a tribal centre of the Iron Age Corieltauvi. There may have been a pre-Roman coin mint here, since the largest hoard of coin pellet moulds ever found in Europe was excavated here. Few Iron Age coins were found here however, and it is believed that after being poured into the pellet moulds, the coins were taken to Leicester to be stamped.
A Roman road, Mareham Lane, used to run through Old Sleaford, and southwards along the fen edge, towards Bourne. Where it passed through Old Sleaford, excavations have revealed a large stone-built domestic residence with associated farm buildings, corn-driers, ovens and field systems, as well as a number of burials.
In 1858, just to the south of the town, a large Anglo-Roman cemetery was found, showing a mix of pagan and Christian burial practices. A large Anglo-Saxon cemetery, of some 600 burials was found during construction of the new railway station in 1882. Further to the south-west, in nearby Quarrington, a substantial Anglo-Saxon settlement was excavated during a new housing development. To the north of the town, a small early Saxon settlement was investigated prior to the construction of the new McDonald's restaurant at Holdingham roundabout.
About 1130, Bishop Alexander of Lincoln built a castle just southwest of the town. The footings and moat can still be seen, in what is now the Castle Fields. This was the period in which the town moved westwards. The castle was demolished in the Elizabethan era, not later than 1600.
King John who was disliked by the baronage visited Sleaford in 1216, the day after he had lost his baggage train. He was already ill but someone spread the story that while staying overnight at Swineshead Abbey, he was poisoned by a monk with toad venom. The king reached Newark and died.
From 1556 the ownership of the town and its lands passed from the church to local absentee landowners.
Carre's Grammar School was established in 1604.
The common lands were enclosed in 1777.
The Sleaford Navigation was opened in 1794.
From 1829 to 1831 the street pattern of the entire town was reworked, a new Town Hall built, and better drainage laid.
The railways arrived from 1857. Sleaford was eventually the junction of six major roads and five railway branch-lines, making it a regional centre. The railways caused the decline of the Sleaford Navigation, which closed in 1878. It had much to be proud of when this description was penned in 1870.
The Hubbard seed firm began in Sleaford in 1882 and then grew to become a major national business.
The Bass Maltings complex opened fully in 1905, replacing all the small malthouses in the area. The complex struggled to remain open during World War II, but survived until 1960 when it closed.
During World War I, from 1916 naval airships operated from nearby Cranwell, then known as Daedalus, and a now defunct field, RFC Leadenham provided England's main defence against Zeppelin raids. Cranwell became the world's first military air academy in 1920.
During World War II the many RAF airfields north of Sleaford played a role in the Battle of Britain, in the debilitating of the Axis war machine and RAF and USAAF airfields all around took part in the Allied invasion of Europe. (For example, see RAF Folkingham).
In the 1940s plastic surgery was pioneered at No.4 RAF Hospital, Rauceby, on the western outskirts of Sleaford. The Burns Unit was situated in Orchard House - one of the last remaining parts of Rauceby Mental Hospital (formerly the Kesteven Lunatic Asylum) to remain in NHS use as offices for Lincolnshire South West tPCT following the Mental Health Hospital's closure in 1998. The whole site (which is now being redeveloped principally by David Wilson Homes for private housing) and its immediate environs including Rauceby railway station, has recently been renamed as Greylees, a suburb of the Market Town of Sleaford.
The most prominent church in Sleaford is the parish church of St. Denys - the church abuts the market place, where markets are regularly held. The church has one of the oldest stone broach spires in England, and mostly dates from 1180, but parts of the church were rebuilt after an electrical storm in 1884. The altar rail (originally from Lincoln Cathedral) is by Sir Christopher Wren. The church is also known for its stained glass, elegant traceried windows, and carved heads.
Cogglesford Water Mill (open to the public), on the banks of the River Slea, dates from the 17th century. It is Lincolnshire's last working water mill, and is of national importance in terms of the history of watermills, possibly being the last working Sherrif's Mill in England. It is probably on the site of an earlier Mercian estate mill. The house where the mill worker would have lived is now a restaurant.
Sleaford's Bull & Dog pub (formerly the Black Bull) is from 1689 according to a date-stone set in its front wall, and is said to have the oldest surviving bull-baiting pub sign in England.
There is a large 1796 windmill in the town centre, Money's Mill, although now without any sails. At the nearby village of Heckington there is a working eight-sail windmill - unique in the UK.
Other town landmarks include the Handley Monument, the semi-derelict Bass Maltings, the ruins of the town's castle, and the Picturedrome (once a cinema (upstairs) and a pool hall (dowstairs), now a night club called Flicks).
The Bass Maltings are set to be redeveloped into a multi use centre, with a shopping centre and many other attractions.
In 2006, The biggest conference centre in the south of Lincolnshire was established in Sleaford. The New Life Conference Centre situated on Mareham Lane, is able to host 300 delegates in its large Auditorium and cater for other smaller events in its range of room facilities, creating an impressive conference venue.
In 2005, a £55-million project was announced by Prince Charles and The Phoenix Trust, to restore The Bass Maltings complex on the southern side of the town. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner considered the huge brewing malthouses to be Lincolnshire's most important industrial architecture, stating in his Buildings of England book: "For sheer impressiveness, little in English architecture can equal the scale of this building. A massive four-storey square tower is in the centre of a line of eight detached pavilions. The total frontage is nearly 1,000 feet."
In April 2005, the Channel 4 magazine Location, Location, Location named Sleaford as one of the Top 10 'house price hotspots' in England, forecasting a strong surge above Spring 2005 prices before the end of 2005.
The two main local football teams - the Legionnaires and Sleaford Town - played for many years on Boston Road Recreation Ground. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of several local Councillors (including the late Cllr John Pratt) to provide a new pavilion, the wooden pavilion finally gave way to rot and decay in 2004. Sleaford Town Football Club had fortunately anticipated this event and their new Stadium opened, located a little further down Boston Road just outside the town's curtilage opened in March 2007.
Sleaford Museum Trust, who lacked suitable premises for many years during which time their treasures have remained in storage, are hopeful of moving into one of Carre Street's historic shops during 2007.
The United Reformed Church (previously the Congregational Church) in Southgate had it's frontage redeveloped in 2007 to provide community rooms, called The Source, under the Lincolnshire County Council 'Multi Use Centres' initiative. In 2008 Sleaford United Reformed and Community churches joined to become The Riverside Church.
These three schools feed a unique joint sixth-form consortium.
Grantham station - and its express East Coast Main Line rail link to London - is about twenty-five minutes away from Sleaford by road , or around twenty-five to thirty minutes by rail . Travel by train to London King's Cross from Sleaford usually takes just under two hours (including connections).