Colsterworth, Gunby, Stainby and North Witham History

History of Colsterworth and District

There is some evidence of continued habitation in this part of the Witham Valley from the Bronze Age, when along with the rest of England; the area was mostly covered with trees. Evidence of human activity in the Later Bronze Age consists mainly of metalwork.

Colsterworth buckle

The Colsterworth Buckle (private collection)

The Corieltauvi (formerly thought to be called the Coritani, and sometimes referred to as the Corieltavi) were the local inhabitants at the time of the Roman invasion, and they were a loose amalgamation of tribes whose capital was situated at what is now Leicester. In 1931 a Roman smelting furnace was found in Colsterworth.

In the 1940s excavations at Colsterworth revealed a small defended Late Iron Age settlement, containing evidence for roundhouses and pottery, which pointed to a date at the very end of the Iron Age and early Roman.

Iron age settlement

Iron Age Settlement

The closeness of the River Witham; a major Roman road from Londinium (London) to Eboracum (York) via Lindum (Lincoln); the profusion of ironstone and trees suggests that smelting and iron working was practiced in the early Roman Period. Roman troops of Germanic origin (foederati) must have left a great influence on the native population.

In the Post Roman Period, Ermine Street as the Anglo-Saxons called it, was diverted westward to go through Colsterworth and renamed the North Road.

In the 7th century the Kesteven area lay within the northern part of Outer Mercia. The first documented Viking attack on Lincolnshire was in 841. Lincolnshire and the East Midlands passed between Viking and English control up to the middle of the 10th century when King Edward finally gained control of the region.

The Norman Conquest brought with it major changes, particularly in laws and landholding. Colsterworth is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as COLSTEUORDE – enclosure of the charcoal burners – a reference that suggests a smoky environment. The Domesday Book formalised the status of Anglo-Saxon lords and their landholdings.

Domesday entry

Domesday Book entry for Colsterworth

Woolsthorpe is found in Domesday as ULESTANESTORP, Gunby is also mentioned as GUNNEBI, Stainby was formerly called STIGANDEBI and before that STIGANDI in Scandinavian. Witham was known as WIDME.

The Medieval Period saw a sharp decline in the population as the area became more agricultural. The Church was a powerful influence by raising money for church building and improvement; there are over 700 medieval parish benefices in the whole of Lincolnshire. The local parish churches are: Saint John The Baptist, Colsterworth; Saint Nicholas, Gunby; Saint Peter, Stainby; and Saint Mary, North Witham.

Maps, including the 1930 Ordnance Survey, show a Priory site on the west side of the River Witham opposite the Church. Saint Barbara's Priory was suppressed in the early fourteen hundreds and some of its stone being reused in the Church. Monastic sites were more or less self-supporting by producing their own food, drinks and other necessities.

The villages were mostly constructed of stone that was readily available locally from the many nearby quarries.  Some of the villages have splendid stone Manor Houses and the one at Woolsthorpe was the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton.

Newton's sundial

Isaac Newton sundial in Saint John The Baptist Church, Colsterworth

The 17th century saw the beginning of the ‘golden’ age of the stagecoach with Colsterworth having a number of inns and hotels that catered for the travellers. There were a number of staging inns dotted up the North Road and Colsterworth was well placed being 100 miles from London. It couldn’t of been a pleasant experience in winter to journey on the outside of the coach and judging by the number of travellers of all ages who in the early 1800s were buried in the churchyard it could often be fatal.


In the 1840s there were 7 inns: The Red Lion; The Blue Lion; The White Lion; The Sun; The George; The Marquis of Granby; The Queen and as well there were 5 beer houses including The Drum and Monkey and The Wagon and Horses. In the 1861 census other Inns and Free Houses were mentioned in Colsterworth, The King and Queen, the Royal Oak, and The White Hart. Woolsthorpe had The Isaac Newton. North Witham had The Plough, Gunby The Blue Fox and Stainby The Blue Dog. By 1937 the only inns left were The Isaac Newton at Woolsthorpe, and in Colsterworth, The White Lion, The Sun and The George. At the present time there is only one left The White Lion.

From the early 1920's until the 1970's extensive quarrying for ironstone was carried out in Colsterworth, Stainby and the surrounding area.

Colsterworth quarry

The limestone overburden was removed to get at the ore. Mining ceased when cheap ore became available from abroad, making the local railway redundant. Today there is little evidence of the mining apart from some lowering of the land and limestone escarpments which are an attraction to wildlife.