Gilbert Heathcote, 4th Baronet (1773-1851).
THE HEATHCOTE DYNASTY
The Heathcotes (pronounced Heffcot) were not an ancient aristocratic family. Their fortune was founded by Gilbert Heathcote, 1st Baronet (1652-1733), who was a successful London merchant, a Governor of the Bank of England and Lord Mayor of London. He bought the family seat at Normanton in Rutland, of which only the stable block now survives.
The family member probably most closely associated with Folkingham was John Heathcote (c.1727-1795) who sanctioned the purchase and initial investment in the town as a trustee of the estate. Sir Gilbert Heathcote, 4th Baronet (1773-1851), whose mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Hudson of London, came into his inheritance in 1793, fully purchasing the manor of Folkingham after John’s death in 1796. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he paid much further interest after an initial political campiagn, other than the town being part of his property portfolio. Aside from politics, fox hunting and the horse racing were Gilbert III’s main enthusiasms.
Gilbert seems to have assigned the management of the Folkingham estate to Arthur Heathcote (1829-1869), his only son from his marriage with Charlotte Eldon of London. Arthur lived at The Durdans in Surrey and continued his father’s passion for horses. Arthur empowered his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Heathcote (1810-1883), Vicar of Lenton just to the west of Folkingham, to manage his affairs in Lincolnshire. Thomas thus became the titular Lord of Folkingham in 1835, a role later inherited by his son, Thomas Arthur Robert Heathcote (1863-1916), who lived at the Manor House in Folkingham - his sister, Lucy, married the artist Cuthbert Bradley.
When Gilbert III, the 4th Baronet died in 1851, ownership of the Folkingham estate passed to Gilbert John Heathcote, 5th Baronet (1795-1867). Gilbert IV was succeeded by Gilbert Heathcote Dummond-Willoughby, 1st Earl of Ancaster and 2nd Baron Aveland (1830-1910). His successor was Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, 2nd Earl of Ancaster (1867-1951). The manor of Folkingham was sold in 1920 in the difficult financial period following the First World War. Its sale was probably precipitated by the death of Thomas Arthur Robert Heathcote, Lord of the Manor, in 1916 at the age of fifty three - his residence was Folkingham Hall on West Street.
1. The Lodge, Market Place.
2. Nos. 36 & 38 Market Place.
A GEORGIAN RENAISSANCE
On 24th June 1788 the manor of Folkingham was purchased by trustees acting for John Heathcote during the minority of the 4th Baronet. Much of what was achieved seems to have been done in an initial burst of activity under Thomas Forsyth, who was termed ‘The Tenant’s Friend’, echoing Richard Wynn’s works exactly a century earlier. There seems to have been a decline in investment and interest after the 4th Baronet finally bought the manor from the estate of John Heathcote in December 1796. Indeed, it may have been that Gilbert III brought closure on the project, fearful that what had already been spent would not be recouped. It must be remembered that the Heathcotes were astute business men above all else.
If Gilbert did have concerns over whether Folkingham could be restored to a prosperous market town, then these were well-placed. Although there was a gradual growth in trade and population, it was not significant. By the 1820s there were reports that the town had little trade and whatever optimism there was was finally extinguished by the end of the coaching era in the 1840s.
1. The Greyhound, 1930s.
2. Classical plasterwork panel in the court/assembly room at The Greyhound.
The Heathcote set piece was undoubtedly the remodeling of The Greyhound at the top of the Market Place. The aim was evidently to create a fashionable inn which would meet the expectations of travellers and operators involved in the burgeoning coaching trade along the Lincoln to London road.
The new work was supervised by Thomas Forsyth in 1788-89. £4,000 was apparently lavished on the project. The main work involved the rebuilding of the front range over three stories, which was faced in a non-local red brick using a Flemish bond, with a Collyweston slate roof. To the east a grand, double-height assembly room was built with a large Venetian window looking onto the square, flanked by stone quoins. This social and entertainment venue also functioned every fortnight as the assize court of the Kesteven Quarter Sessions, which had moved to The Greyhound in 1753. The floor was raised to accommodate a prisoners’ hall and two brick-vaulted cells beneath, while plaster panels representing Justice (a male figure holding scales and carrying the sword of authority) and Wisdom (the Roman goddess Minerva in armour with her owl and olive branch) still survive on the east wall above a set of twin fireplaces.
Behind the inn a variety of outbuildings were constructed which are shown on the Tithe Map of 1839. The only one to survive is the main stable block and cart shed which is in the form of three ranges around a west-facing courtyard.
Notable visitors to the revamped inn included Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, who came here on a hunting trip in November 1789, during the early years of the French Revolution. In 1791 John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, the celebrated diarist, arrived and wrote entertainingly of his visit.
In February 1796, the Folkingham Agriculture Society was founded at The Greyhound, being the first such organisation of its kind in the county.
The Sun/Red Lion, No. 13 Market Place.
The owner of the manor of Folkingham exercised a virtual monopoly on the victualling trade. As well as The Greyhound, the Heathcotes owned The Five Bells, The Sun/Red Lion and The Green Man. Two of these premises were redeveloped under John Heathcote - only The Green Man survived relatively unaltered, proof that not all estate property was improved. The Five Bells at No. 28 Market Place was substantially rebuilt into a three-storey property which included accommodation for travellers, together with a function room behind accessed off Tannery Lane. The Sun public house at No. 13 Market Place was rebuilt using red-brick and the motif of brick wedge lintels and projecting keystones, in this case over horizonal-sliding sash windows. The hostelry was renamed The Red Lion in the early nineteenth century.
THE AGE OF IMPROVEMENT
In 1788 the manor of Folkingham, including Stow and Threekingham, was purchased by the trustees of the Heathcote estate as part of a programme of property acquisition in the region. So began a reimagining of the town on a scale to surpass the interventions of previous proprietors.
The result of this work still defines the predominantly Georgian character of the Market Place - it is by no means a set-piece, but it is an elegant space. The effect of Heathcote investment, though, went further than aesthetics and property. It revitalised the town. Whether the gesture was philanthropic, or one born from more commercial considerations, its effect was certainly one of gentrification - a town emerging from rural obscurity into the age of enlightenment. The window tax returns for 1796 reflect this investment, with seventy-three for Folkingham, compared with just twenty-five for Threekingham. The longer term effects were a gradual increase in population and prosperity through the early nineteenth century, boosted by the expansion of the coaching and carrier trades.
However, as we shall see, this renaissance was relatively short-lived, its curtain call heralded by the arrival of the railway and end of the halcyon days of long-distance coach travel. The Folkingham estate would ultimately end up under the administration of lesser members of the Heathcote family until its eventual disposal in 1920.