Long considered to be one of England’s most beautiful smaller towns, and recently declared the Best Place to live in the UK in the Sunday Times, Stamford, with well over a thousand years of history behind it, occupies a hilly site either side of the River Welland in the extreme south west corner of Lincolnshire, immediately adjacent to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire and to the counties of Northamptonshire and Rutland.
Always a place of importance in the country’s history, the market town of Stamford evolved around a natural stopping point at a ford where the Great North Road (A1) crossed the River Welland. For centuries this famous thoroughfare has brought trade and prosperity and provided convenient access to the rest of the country, ensuring a commercial importance that only declined with the advent of the railways.
Stamford has been described (by Sir John Betjeman) as the finest stone town in England. The town and the surrounding area boasts over 600 listed stone buildings constructed from local limestone and is protected by its conservation status, which was awarded in 1967, making the centre of Stamford the first urban Conservation Area in England. As a result Stamford has been popular with film makers, who have produced the television series Middlemarch and the film Pride and Prejudice in Stamford.
Stamford’s commercial importance dates back to the Saxons and, by the 10th century, the Town was a borough whose rights were confirmed between 1462 and 1714 by successive Royal Charters (all of which may be viewed in the Town Hall). Stamford’s opportune situation and distance from London made it a convenient stopover point for transiting kings and queens. King Edward I was a frequent visitor as were King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, who were all entertained here. King Charles I was said to have spent his last night of freedom in Stamford at the end of the Civil War. The town’s long and interesting history is clearly reflected in Stamford’s many beautiful churches (including five from the medieval period), its historic commercial and domestic architecture, its ancient hostelries and fine squares and quaint alleyways, all of which draw tourists from around the world.
Stamford is renowned for its wide range of small independent shops in the St Mary’s Hill area together with a surprisingly extensive range of retail outlets along the pedestrianised High Street and Ironmonger Street. Of historical importance, the extensive Friday market sees stalls along Broad and Ironmonger Streets and the colourful and lively activity draws shoppers and day trippers from a wide area in search of fresh produce and bargains from the wide range of general stalls. The popular fortnightly farmers’ market is also well worth a visit.
Of historic interest, just on the outskirts of the town and closely linked with it throughout the centuries, is Burghley House, one of the largest and grandest houses of the first Elizabethan age. It was designed and built in the late 16th century by William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley and Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.
In addition, Stamford is close to Rutland Water; this horseshoe shaped lake is the largest man-made lake in Britain (and one of the largest in Europe), with a surface area of about 3,100 acres and a perimeter of 24 miles. A quite delightful place to visit, Rutland Water is served by four large car parks and picnic areas and has facilities for sailing, fishing, walking and bird watching. The market towns of Uppingham and Oakham are within easy reach.