A Brief History of the Ancient Parish of Whaplode

It has been documented that Quapplode (ancient name for Whaplode) consisted of a large spit of high ground surrounded by rivers, streams and marshland, providing access to both the sea and the hinterland (the sources of the principal rivers).

The first known colonisation of the land dates back to a Roman settlement just south of the main habitation, although there are probably remains of earlier settlements that still remain buried.  The area has undergone three known boundary changes, brought about by changes of the coastline attributable to the reclamation of arable areas.  It is known that the eastern most edge of the Parish boundary was part of the coastline, allowing a harbour to be established at Whaplode, from which merchants were able to conduct trade with people from mainland Europe.  This added considerably to the wealth of the area and it has been recorded that the area was amongst the richest (containing and supporting some of the wealthiest people in the land) areas during the Middle Ages.  It was due to the influx of wealth and opportunity that Whaplode at one time was recorded as a town, with a population in excess of both the nearby towns of Holbeach and Spalding.  It was the baronial home of one of the most influential of William the Conqueror’s Norman relations, one Guy de Creon (there are several corruptions of this name, but this is the one recorded in association with the Parish Church).  It is recorded in the doomsday Book of 1086, although there is no mention in that chronicle of the existence of a church, despite the fact there is solid evidence of a Saxon church being on the site of the present church.

Whaplode has undergone many changes, not only as a recorded settlement with numerous variations of its name, but equally so as a focal point for trading.  This latter fluctuation is no doubt directly related to the changes that occurred with the altering coastline, making Whaplode less attractive as a trading harbour as the navigation of the nearby rivers changed, added to which the means of transport changed.  With increasing trade, there was inevitably increased demand for larger and better-equipped vessels, making the navigation of local rivers less attractive.

One explanation of the name refers to the inhabitants as fishers of eelpouts, distinguishing them from the marshland inhabitants.  The area was known to be populated by the Girvii, a tribe of people who separated their land into ‘Hundreds’.  Some remnants of these are found in the Parish divisions of East and West Elloe, where courts were held.  The local Elloe Stone is known to have been a marker for one of these hundred courts.

Whaplode has been known throughout history to have a chequered time, probably one of its most notorious occasions being the Whaplode riot of February 1482.  This situation was brought about as a direct consequence of the Abbot of Crowland being super-efficient at collecting local tithes (taxes) but failing to provide adequate provisions for the maintenance of the church.  This led to the townspeople rebelling and demanding that they be allowed to harvest the wood from the trees that stood within the churchyard in order to repair and make good the fabric of the church.  The Abbot, being one of the few educated people in the area, continued to deny access, which led to the population rioting and chopping down as much of the timber as they thought necessary.  Realising the situation was getting out of hand, the Abbot sent his steward to the town to control the outbreak of lawlessness (during those times Bishops and Abbots were amongst the most powerful people in the land, controlling not only the purse strings of the church and therefore local communities, but also the imposition of the law through their appointed sheriffs, stewards, reeves and wardens).  The response of the townspeople was to seize the steward and take him hostage.  Fortunately the priest in charge of the church rescued the steward, but not before the people demanded that the Abbot be sent a letter demanding access to the timber of the churchyard in exchange for the safe return of his steward.

There are many other incidents associated with the area that have gained the attentions of a wider audience, one of which was the spat between the school headmaster (a recent convert to Catholicism) and the then Vicar of St Mary.  In order to denounce the headmaster, the Vicar had engaged him in a series of exchanges regarding the existence of a female Pope, which the headmaster thought were worthy of a wider audience, having the whole series of letters published in the local newspaper (with some national papers also covering the now public argument).

Whaplode has continued to play its part in influencing local changes, not least with the tremendous expansion in the late 1940s and early 1950s of the tulip fields.  These vast areas of intricately patterned fields of tulips in the spring of each year must have provided a magnificent natural canvas.  The fields attracted huge coach loads of people from all over the country, with probably quite a few foreign visitors too.  One only has to listen to some of the tales from people in their eighties to realise just how many visitors the area attracted year after year, but sadly these have now almost disappeared from view, replaced instead by fields of rapeseed, although we do still have many daffodil growers in the area.

Whaplode Parish Council would like to thank the ‘Local Village Guide & Directory’,  from which this article was taken, and the author Cyril Hearn, for their kind permission to reproduce the article in this website.