The village of Harby lies nine miles north of Melton Mowbray in the heart of The Vale of Belvoir. With a population approaching a thousand, the village still retains a sleepy atmosphere in its position adjacent the Grantham Canal.
Harby, first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1085 under the name of Herdebi has a long history reaching back to the Viking era when it was known as the ‘village of Hjorti’.
Like many places in this part of the world many different people’s strode through Harby’s past. It is said that a Celtic tribe known as Coritini travelled from Lincoln through the area. Dressed in brightly coloured cloth which would have resembled the tartans of Scottish clans, they spoke in a tongue which sounded like Gaelic.
Gaelic was to be superseded by the sound of Latin when the appearance of soldiers of the Roman Empire came to the area. Research indicates that Harby would have been a series of single story building at this time, though the street layout would have been much the same it is to this day.
Passing through the Saxon era, one of some desolation in the village by many accounts, the Vikings brought new prosperity and a formal village with their new buildings and well prepared fields. The Danish in-comers settled in the area which they called ‘Heorde’, ‘the village of the heardsmen’.
Other notable happenings in the area include the building of the Grantham canal and latterly the railway. Nearby Langar air base saw many servicemen arriving in the area during WWII. The latter saw the top being removed from Harby Tower Mill, the local windmill being removed due to safety issues with low flying aircraft. Harby at this time became the home of many Royal Canadian Air Force servicemen and their families.
Within the self-contained village is the historic church of St. Mary’s which dominates the view at the approach from Langar. The village boasts two pubs, The Nags Head and The White Hart which face each other from either side of Main Street.
The Nags Head, Harby
The Nags Head, partly dating back to the 14th century, has an intriguing history and is indeed one of the oldest public houses in the country. However it was not always a pub but rather served as accommodation fo the local monks. It is recorded that the monks would keep their animals in the downstairs area of what became the popular drinking place.
The White Hart, Harby
Businesses such as the Nags Head at Harby must look forward indeed to the prospect of the nearby Grantham Canal being dredged and navigable once more with its resultant increased business from potential leisure boating traffic. Certainly villages such as Harby might well see renewed trade and interest.
Other businesses in Harby include a garage, two stores, one of which is a post office and two dairies. The local dairy’s produce is used in the production of the areas famous Stilton cheeses in neighbouring villages. There is a certain aroma in the air from the production of those cheeses it was noted at the time of visiting!
Situated close to the route of the Grantham Canal, the village of Bottesford in Leicestershire is one of the larger conurbations in the vicinity of the old waterway with its population of 3000. When I think of Bottesford two things come to mind, (well three to be more accurate). St. Mary’s Church with its magnificent 200ft high spire, visible for many a mile and also for the village’s connection with the legendary comedy couple, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Some years ago, a lady named Olga Healey ran a public house in Bottesford named The Bull Inn. Nothing unusual there you might say? Well this lady was actually the great comedian, Stan Laurel’s sister and The Bull Inn has become something of a shrine to the great comedy couple, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardie.
The Bull Inn’s lounge was closed when I last called, being a quiet Monday night, but on request, the landlady, Linda, kindly opened up for me a locked lounge that had sat in darkness, so that I might view some of the historic photographs and newspaper clippings adorning the walls. As she switched the lights on, the fantastic images of the famous pair came to life surrounding me in the history of the pair. Notably there was an official copy of Stan’s
birth certificate. Interestingly, Stan’s father’s occupation was shown as ‘Comedian’.
There was much mention of their well-reported stay at the pub in 1953 when the pair performed at The Empire Theatre in Nottingham. Not many knew at the time that they would also visit The Bull Inn variously on many other occasions privately. Stan and Ollie at one point even owned a home nearby in the Vale of Belvoir village of Redmile which lies on the Grantham Canal.
It was lovely to see the various photographs and memorabilia of Stan and Ollie raising a pint of ‘Bull’s best’. One can only imagine how quaint and lovely the scene must have felt for them when they travelled from their homes in the United States.
When I visited The Bull Inn, the landlady mentioned that the Stan and Ollie Appreciation Society, ‘The Sons of the Desert’ were to hold their annual meet there on the coming Saturday. The old films will be projected up in the lounge and some have even been known to come along dressed as Stan and Ollie! A fitting tribute to their genius.
“We haven’t eaten for three days – yesterday, today and tomorrow”
The market town of Grantham in Lincolnshire with a population of around 35,000 was twice voted ‘Most boring town in Britain’ and it’s said that some locals began to take a somewhat perverse pride in the tag at that time. Since those days the town has grown in size if not necessarily reputation due to it’s commutability to London via the main London-Edinburgh railway line.
Probably the two most well-known inhabitants of Grantham were Sir Isaac Newton and Margaret Thatcher and both these figures are paid tribute to in the town, Newton with a statue and a plaque at his former school whilst Thatcher’s birthplace at her father’s grocery store is also commemorated.
Thatcher birthplace, originally the Roberts grocery store
Like many similar towns, Grantham is a mixture of ancient buildings and extremely ugly modern ones. Whilst visiting I visited three of the oldest in the town in The Angel and Royal Hotel, and pubs, The Blue Pig and The Beehive. The former had large areas of medieval architecture still viewable inside and out and was a truly atmospheric building. I and friends sat in the original Georgian courtyard, a welcome cool haven after a strenuous walk along the Grantham Canal earlier, and admired the way the building had been lovingly kept.
The Angel and Royal Hotel
The Blue Pig
Locating The Blue Pig was a real stroke of fortune. This ancient public house was an absolute gem and had a friendly welcome to match. As we ate honest and simple, value for money dinners, we had great entertainment from other nearby customers too! Firstly a group of middle-aged people trooped into the bar wearing flamboyant 1970s’ ‘gear’. We hoped that they really were heading for a fancy dress night and that Grantham hadn’t slipped that far behind the times. The indications were not clear however. Momentarily we considered whether we appeared as ‘themed drinkers’ too – themed as people who head out for a pint on an evening dressed as hikers. We quickly dismissed that thought though. Secondly a small group of drinkers who were really old enough to know better continued an angry-looking discussion which transcended into lots of finger-pointing and red faces. What regular fun that group must have on an evening out.
In the mood now, we headed to another pub/coaching house courtyard situation that almost every market town in England seems to have. Now here were the local Grantham glitterati in all their finery. There was no shortage of ‘mam and dad’ tattoos nor little inked-in swallows on (red) necks either. Women of a certain age and some indeterminate, in various stages of undress passed through the courtyard in their regular Saturday night ritual as we at passively with our drinks biting our lips.
Onward to The Beehive then. Apparently old enough to be out on its own, the building was erected in all of 1550. This was not the only notable thing about the cosy little pub though as outside resides a ‘living pub sign’ made from an actual beehive complete with bees.
The Beehive Inn’s beehive
After being bored by an over-familiar and curious local who assured us that we had probably missed out last train home to Nottingham, we drunk up and headed briskly for the train station and the 22.24 service. This was not without some potential incident however as one back street we unfortunately chose to walk along contained the local chav youth corps whiling their time away. A couple of pushy teenagers followed us mouthing some type of youth patois that was largely unintelligible. Perhaps fortunately for them we were in a hurry for the last train as there were four males with large walking boots on and a drink or two inside us, in our party of five.
My overall impressions of Grantham during this brief evenings visit were very mixed then. It had been explained to us by one of our party who had worked in the area that there were/are some truly dire areas of housing in the area and this was not difficult to believe with that little brush at the end of the evening. In fairness however, this needs to be balanced against some of the nicely kept history in the area and what was generally a nice experience. One had the feeling that perhaps a lot of the residents who ventured out socially that evening had maybe headed out to some of the pleasant villages in the area and that Grantham suffered because of that. Certainly the town of Grantham has not forgotten to live up to its former image in some respects and retains a serviceable aura rather than an exciting or even interesting one. Any visitor to the area could do far worst than visit one of two of the hostelries I mention here though – perhaps after a little history lesson seeking out the story of Sir Isaac Newton, the man who put the Lincolnshire town on the map originally.