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Follow this trail to find out what Spilsby may have been like when Sir John Franklin was born here in 1786, and the town's current associations with him.
- Let's set off!
Start at the Franklin Hall. Built in 1899 as a Drill Hall and rifle range, it now serves as the town’s main meeting place and houses the Town Council Chamber. If the Hall is open, go inside to discover an important bust of Sir John Franklin, and a tapestry depicting his life, created by Spilsby WI. There are also toilets and information leaflets. Opposite the Hall is the entrance to Bull Yard, in Georgian times a very poor part of the town, and by 1851 housing 162 people in 31 cottages.
Walk along Halton Road, passing Alma Place, erected on the site of the Alma Engineering Works, and turn right down Tasman Road, named after Abel Tasman, the Dutch seafarer and explorer who in 1642 was the first European to reach the island off Australia. He named it Van Dieman’s Land after the Governor-General of the Dutch East India Company, with its name changing to Tasmania in 1855. Sir John Franklin was Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania from 1836 until 1843, accompanied by his second wife, Jane. Together they made considerable improvements to the cultural and educational lives of both free settlers and convicts, although his actions were not always appreciated.
As Tasman Road bears to the right, look left to see Erebus Close, named for HMS Erebus, the ship that Franklin commanded on his final voyage to find the North-West Passage. The ship and crew were last heard of in 1847, but in September 2014 Erebus was discovered in Canadian Arctic waters, 11 metres deep. Some artefacts, including the ship’s bell, have now been recovered from the wreck. Further along Tasman Road you will pass Resolute Close, named after one of the ships in the Admiralty expedition mounted in 1852 to search for Franklin’s whereabouts. It is probably preferable that the name of this ship was chosen for the street rather than that of Franklin’s other expedition ship, HMS Terror!
On your right is Franklin Gardens, a modern eco-development with its eye-catching jagged roofscape, built in 2004. Continue through the barrier and bear right. You will pass Fitzjames Close which is named after Captain James Fitzjames, second in command of HMS Erebus. Take the alleyway next to number 11 Shamfields, leading uphill, and turn left at the top to explore more of the town.
The house to the left of the Red Lion public house was built around 1700 as one of the first brick-built houses in the town. ‘Little Italy’ hides a mud and stud construction, typical of the poorer houses in the eighteenth century, and further along Market Street there are impressive houses on The Terrace. At the George public house, carefully cross Boston Road to reach St James’ Church.
Enter the church, the original part of which was built in the 14th century, with the tower added in 1529. This is how it would have looked when Franklin was baptised here in 1786. It was restored and enlarged in 1879 with the addition of the south aisle and the west end. On the wall at the west end there is a monumental tablet to Sir John Franklin, erected by his second wife, Lady Jane Franklin, after whom a modern estate in the town is named. There is also a monument to Eleanor, his first wife, and two of his brothers: Willingham and James. The flag on the wall was presented to this church on the bicentenary of Franklin’s birth by the High Commissioner of Canada.
Leave the church and cross over to the old Grammar School, founded in 1550 by King Edward VI. Franklin himself went to the Grammar School at Louth, but the former secondary modern school in Spilsby, which opened in 1953, bore his name. Go left to admire the impressive Spilsby Theatre, designed by H J Kendall in the Greek style. It opened in 1826, and originally housed the Court House for the Lindsey Quarter Sessions, with a prison behind, since demolished.
Go back past the school and cross Ashby Road to arrive at the west end of the market place. The arched building ahead served in Franklin’s time as a Corn Exchange. The statue of Sir John Franklin was erected in 1861, with £750 being raised by public subscription. The unveiling was marked by the distribution of buns, loose tea and pints of ale to the townsfolk. Franklin died in Arctic Canada on 11th June 1847, although his body has never been found.
Now go left to the White Hart Hotel, on the front of which you will find one of the earliest post boxes in the country. In Franklin’s time, mail coaches would have stopped here 3 or more times a week, putting Spilsby in touch with the outside world, and probably taking the young Franklin to London to join the Royal Navy, where he served with Admiral Nelson at the Battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar.
Further along High Street is Franklin Passage, once known as Jenning’s Smoot. This passageway runs alongside the house (now a bakery) once owned by John’s father, Willingham Franklin, in which John Franklin was born on 16th April 1786. As one of at least 11 children it must have been quite a squash!
Cross to the far side of the central market place, turn right and read the information board detailing the life and exploits of Sir John Franklin and his Arctic expeditions. HMS Terror was finally located in September 2016, co-incidentally in Terror Bay, standing in 48 metres of Arctic water, with 3 masts standing and all hatches closed. What happened to the crew, and that of HMS Erebus, has long been a mystery.
In the furthest market square you will find the medieval Butter Cross, beside which stood the town stocks. The little white house beyond it is made of mud and stud, although it would originally have been thatched with reed. Queen Street was originally called Leather Lane, indicative of the local trade. Spilsby at the time of Franklin’s birth had a population of around 900, but was a market town of some importance with a weekly market and twice yearly fairs.
Cross to admire the Methodist Church, built in 1878, on the site of the White Horse Inn where carrier’s wagons would stop for refreshment. Carefully cross Halton Road at the crossing to arrive back at the Franklin Hall. There are plenty of outlets in town for refreshments.
- You made it! Well done.