The History of Grantham
There is evidence of a settlement at the location of present-day Grantham very early in human history. In 1875 late neolithic vessels from a burial were found at Little Gonerby, in the north of the town. There is known to have been a Saxon village at Grantham, with a market and a thriving economy. The origin of the name Grantham is uncertain but is probably Saxon. It appeared as early as 1086 in the Domesday Book spelled as Grantham. The Norman census, the Domesday Book, reckoned Grantham’s population at 1,000. This meant it was a substantial town by the standards of the time. Before the Normans arrived the Anglo-Saxons fought a long war with the Vikings and Danes, as a result Grantham spent many years held by them. This occupation left its mark on Grantham, the use of the word ‘gate’ in street names in the town comes from the Scandinavian ‘gata’ meaning street or way.
Grantham continued to flourish in the years after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Wool was a very important industry in the Grantham area at the time. The town’s location near vast areas of excellent grazing and yet along the Great North Road made it an ideal place to grow a wealthy market town. The wealth of a town at the time was often reflected by that of the Church. The 13th century Church of St Wulfram and its 281-foot tall spire demonstrates the might, and spending power, of the church at the time. In 1598 St Wulfram's added a chained library. The books are literally chained to the shelves to stop theft, in the 16th century books were extremely valuable.
In 1642 Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe near Grantham and attended the famous King's School in Grantham. His old school is still open to this day, although some visually disappointing buildings were added to the fine medieval fabric of the school in the 20th century. In 1797 a canal was built linking the River Trent to Grantham. The canal proved a minor success, before the railways came, and helped bring some of the raw materials the town needed to drive growth in the Industrial Revolution .
In the first ever British census carried out in 1801, the population of Grantham was almost 4,300. It grew rapidly over the next 50 years to reach 11,000 by 1851, meaning Grantham was a fair sized town by the standards of the time. As it entered the 20th century the population of Grantham had grown to around 17,000. Much of Grantham’s growth had been literally driven by the Great North Road which ran through the town. The road, the ancient route connecting London and the South to the North and Scotland, has always been a busy one. Travellers along this road stopped in Grantham and spent money there.
The 18th century and early 19th century marked the age of the stagecoach but the coming of the railway completely changed the way the country travelled and transported goods. Fortunately for Grantham the railway came relatively early, in 1850. The route of the line closely followed that of the old road, putting Grantham on the main railway line from London to Scotland. The town’s merchants had long grown wealthy from the fruits of the surrounding rural landscape and now agricultural machinery was made in the several ironworks there.
In the 20th century Grantham continued to grow rapidly, partly driven by the internal economy but also the main railway line to London had a big role to play. As speeds on the line approached 125mph Grantham became a viable commuter town. Britain’s first ever woman Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was born in Grantham in 1925.