GEORGE Slinger of Birchgrove Garden Centre is still able to joke about the former Spalding cattle market auction hall he bought for
the bargain price of £1.
“£45,000 later and we have this very cheap £1 building in our car park at Pinchbeck,” says George wryly.
The auction hall is not the only piece of South Holland’s heritage to be rescued by George as he and his colleague Alan Davey, realising the decline of the bulb industry was imminent, went to a lot of auction sales buying unwanted agricultural equipment.
“In the 1990s there were just 80 acres of tulips and there are propably two or three acres now,” says George sadly.
The equipment from farm sales, people’s photographs and stories as well as a professional film show have been assembled into a Flower Bulb Museum that covers the back of the garden centre and is open to the public during the summer months and in winter by special request.
The auction hall meanwhile has been used as an art gallery in the past but George has plans for using that too, partly as a museum.
George and Alan’s interest in local history was a perfect fit for Michael Elsden when he was looking for a publisher for the sixth in the Aspects of Spalding series. They agreed to publish the book and arranged for it to be printed at Abbey Print, where George’s daughter-in-law Helen is managing director.
That book – Seventy Years in Spalding, Aspects of Life in Spalding from 1900 to 1970 – is now available exclusively from Birchgrove Garden Centre, where it was launched to the public last weekend.
George is confident there is still a large appetite for local history, despite the fact that Michael has written five other books on the subject. These include the first, Aspects of Spalding 1790-1930, which now changes hands for as much as £365 on the secondary market, as well as the second, Aspects of Spalding, People & Places, both of which were jointly produced with Norman Leveritt.
Michael then went on to write Aspects of Spalding, Villages, More Aspects of Spalding and finally Aspects of Towns and Villages, which he self-published.
The people of South Holland think that preserving the area’s history is important, if the comments in the garden centre’s visitors’ book are anything to go by. George thinks that’s true of those born and bred in the area as well as people who have moved in and who probably cannot imagine the spectacle of field after field of colourful tulips that once attracted train-loads of visitors.
However, there are other aspects covered in Michael’s latest book that readers will find fascinating, such as the damage sustained by Spalding during two air raids in the Second World War.
The first was a night-time raid in 1941 when Michael, who is 72, can still remember spending the night with his mother and grandparents in the air raid shelter at their home in West Elloe Avenue. In that raid, among the many builings destroyed were the Woolworths building in Bridge Street and the beautiful Penningtons store that stood where Boots is now in Hall Place. Scores of houses were damaged and destroyed and five people were killed while others were injured.
Spalding was hit again in 1942, this time during a Sunday afternoon raid when an enormous crater was left in Ayscoughfee Gardens and 300 other houses and properties were damaged, although there were no fatalities.
Michael was older then and can remember his father being home for the weekend from his work in the shipyards. “They put me under the table in the dining room and mother and grandmother got their heads under the table,” recalls Michael. “Father stood at the back door and said, ‘They are coming out that door like a string of sausages’.”
Michael says the book is full of interesting snippets of information about people and places and local characters, as well as institutions like South Holland District Council, the Johnson Hospital, Spalding Gas Works and the Gleed Schools.
Seventy Years of Spalding costs £25 and is available from Birchgrove Garden Centre or can be ordered online at www.birchgrovegc.co.uk.