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Gainsborough is a town in the West Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. The population of the town was 22,117 at the 2015 census. It is situated 18 miles (29 km) north-west from the city and county town of Lincoln, and on the River Trent. At one time it served as an important port with trade downstream to Hull, and was the most inland port in England, being more than 55 miles (90 km) from the North Sea.

Gainsborough Old Hall

Marshall's Yard, Gainsborough

There is little evidence from the prehistoric and Roman period, although activity is recorded in the wider region. Archaeological excavation to the south of Thornock Hall has recorded the probable remains of a small Roman settlement and Roman features, as well as scattered coins and pottery.


The name ‘Gainsborough’ dates to the early medieval period and is believed to mean ‘Gegn's fortification'. A permanent settlement at Gainsborough is known to have been established in this period. Its location is unknown, although it is likely to be buried beneath the later town. By the 9th-10th century, the area was occupied by the Gainas Tribe. Ealhswith, wife of Alfred the Great, is believed to have originated from this group. In 1013, King Swein is recorded as arriving in Gainsborough, allowing Swein access to the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw, Northumbria and Lindsey. Swein’s son Canute (Cnut) acceded to the throne in 1016.

Gainsborough began to develop into the town which is recognisable today, in the medieval period. The medieval extent of the town is thought to have been located around Church Street, Silver Street, Lord Street, the Market Place, Caskgate Street, and Bridge Street. The plots extending from these streets were interspersed with alley-ways and courtyards, for goods, storage, and gardens.

The first record of the church dates to 1180, and is known to have belonged to the Knights Templar. All Saints Church is thought to be located on the same site as the older structure. It dates to the 14th and 18th centuries, the tower being the only part of the earlier structure remaining. In 1200-1250, Gainsborough was officially awarded borough status and was granted permission for a market. Charters granting permission for fairs were awarded in 1242 and 1292. The town was an out-port for Torksey (located to the south of Gainsborough next to the River Trent). In 1298, Gainsborough was granted permission to build or repair it's own quay. It was not until the 15th century that Gainsborough began to over-take Torksey in importance and by the 16th century merchants in Hull complained of Gainsborough stealing their custom. Gainsborough Old Hall was built as a fortified manor house between 1471 and 1484 by Sir Thomas Burgh. The building, which comprises a great hall and two wings, in a horseshoe shape originally had a fourth side, although this was destroyed during the Civil War in the 17th century. Gainsborough saw a small number of battles and skirmishes during the Civil War of 1642-1651. Its strategic location made it an important town during this period. A battle site is recorded to the south of the survey boundary, and documentary evidence provides further insight into Gainsborough during the war.

All Saints Church, Gainsborough

The 18th century saw Gainsborough grow into a thriving port, although the town was not granted official port status until the mid-19th century. In this period the town also became an industrial centre with dozens of industries, including malting, milling, brewing and, in the 19th century, engineering. The courtyards and alleys of the town centre were in-filled in the late 18th and early 19th century. This was the result of housing shortages as well as the reluctance to encroach on common land. Dozens of small cottages and terraced yards were built to the rear of the main streets. New land was made available when in 1796-1804 an Act of Parliament was passed for enclosing the agricultural land around the town. This changed former common land into private ownership, which was swiftly made available for development. Dozens of terraced streets were erected to the south of the town, many of which were paid for by local industries such as Marshall and Sons Co. The 20th century has seen large changes to the town, including the clearance of the former terraced yards, which had become dilapidated and unhealthy. New housing was built for those displaced by these clearances, to the north and east of the town. Large housing estates have also been constructed to the east of the town throughout the century. In the town centre, remodelling has been a constant feature as old streets and buildings not fit for purpose have been renovated, changing the nature of the town and its streets.


Character summary 

Gainsborough is distinctive for the level of renovation and regeneration it has been subject to, from the 17th century up to present day. This has created a singularly interesting town, with a strong identity and a unique sense of place. The historic core preserves some of the former medieval layout and retain many buildings from the 16th-19th century, which themselves are a product of redevelopment. 20th century redevelopment has removed some of the former historic patterns and character. New development in the 19th century included terraced streets and industries. Much of this new development was constructed in red brick. 18th and 19th century warehouses line the river front, many of which have been renovated for residential use. In the early 20th century, slum clearance in the town centre prompted the council to build new streets to the north of the town. These streets are typical of the early 20th century and are largely formed of red brick terraces and semi-detached houses. 

The population of the town continued to grow throughout the 20th century, resulting in several large-scale suburban developments. These residential streets reflect national building trends and are a mixture of housing styles and brick colours. The presence of small playing fields, cul-de-sacs, gardens, and schools also demonstrate a modern planned environment. The large industrial areas, once common in the town centre have moved from the town centre and river front to the edge of town, and now occupy large industrial estates. Lea is now part of Gainsborough, connected by urban sprawl.

Download the Gainsborough EUS report using the button below.
Download the Gainsborough Historic Environment Records using the button below.
Download the Gainsborough HUCT Image Pack using the button below.
Download the Gainsborough HUCA report using the button below.
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