The History of Louth
Louth is a Lincolnshire market town situated at the point where the ancient trackway Barton Street crosses the River Lud. It is the river which gave the town its name as Louth is a corruption of the Saxon meaning loud, derived from the noise of the river there. It is situated on the Greenwich Meridian which passes through Eastgate and is marked by a plaque. The Saxons built a monastery there in the 7th century but this was later destroyed by the Danes in the 9th century. Louth has many street names featuring the word ‘gate’. These derive from the Scandinavian word ‘gata’ meaning street and are a long-standing reminder of the town’s early life at the hands of the Danes. After the Norman Conquest , during the 10th and 11th centuries, the town grew into a small market town and began establish itself as the ‘capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds ’. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists just a few hundred inhabitants, a fair size for the time.
Wool from sheep reared on the hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds drove prosperity in Louth. Mercer Row in Louth is a testament to the town’s past, ‘Mercer’ is a medieval word for a dealer in fine cloth. A thriving Cistercian Abbey was established in 1139 at Louth Park. The famous church of St James in Louth also dates back to medieval times. Most of the present structure comes from the 15th century with the octagonal tower being built in the 16th century between 1501 and 1515. The eight bells in the tower are known for their fine peal. The great bell was cracked when it was enthusiastically rung in 1798 to celebrate Nelson 's victory on the Nile. The bells were re-hung in 1957.
Henry VIII closed Louth Abbey in 1536 as part of the Dissolution. The town then received a visit from one of Henry’s men sent to value the possessions the local parish churches. Fearing the officer had been sent to value the churches for sale the locals were outraged and dispatched the man back to King Henry. While he was gone the rumours of Henry’s evil intentions grew. A rebellion began to stir at a meeting held at St. James Church, Louth, after evensong on 1 October 1536, shortly after the closure of Louth Abbey. This grew to become the Pilgrimage of Grace, a general protest and uprising against King Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries which centred mainly around York . The rebellion was brutally suppressed by the King and his man the Duke of Norfolk. It ended with the execution of all its leaders in 1537. Among the 216 rebels put to death were 38 monks and 16 parish priests.
After the rebellion Louth suffered from outbreaks of plague in 1587 and in 1625-26. The plague returned again in 1631 killing 700 people. This left a large part of the population dead but Louth soon recovered despite these terrible setbacks. The geographical position on a road and river, and surrounded by productive farmland, continued to drive the Lincolnshire market town’s growth.
King Edward VI Grammar School in Louth is one of the oldest schools in the country, it is thought that schooling was available there as early as the eighth century. The oldest written reference to a school is by Simon De Luda, the town's schoolmaster, which dates back to 1276. The school was originally funded by the town's religious and merchant guilds, aided by a Chantry established by Thomas of Louth in 1317.
Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1548 led to a petition from the local community to King Edward VI , asking him to secure the school's future. The plea worked and on 21 September 1551 the school received a large grant. A Foundation was established to administer the bequest and this continues to this day.
By the 18th century Louth was an important and very prosperous market town. Many of the town’s fine buildings and structures date from this era. In the late 18th century a carpet making industry came to Louth, attracted by the availability of wool, water and labour. A canal was opened in 1770 and lasted until 1924, having slowly declined since the railway reached Louth in 1848. By 1801 the population of Louth had risen to over 4,250 and this continued to grow in the early 19th century. By 1851 10,000 people lived there and the total population today is around 16,000.
Water has always been a feature of Louth, even giving the town the inspiration for its a name. The same water has also wreaked havoc in Louth which suffered a devastating flood on 29 May, 1920 when both the river and canal overflowed into the town. The flood killed 23 people and there are several stone plaques around the town marking the high water level. Louth suffered further but much less severe flooding twice in June 2007.