A History of Louth

By Tim Lambert

Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Louth

Louth began as an Anglo-Saxon village. Its name is probably a corruption of a Saxon word meaning loud (from the loud gushing of the river). In the late 7th century a monastery was built there.

However, in the 9th century, the Danes conquered Lincolnshire. They destroyed the monastery at Louth. Yet the Danes gave Louth some of its street names. The ending gate has nothing to do with gates in a wall. It comes from the Scandinavian word gata, which meant street.

Eventually, in the 10th or early 11th centuries, Louth grew into a small market town. In those days there were no shops and if you wished to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market. Peasants from the surrounding villages would go to Louth to buy and sell.

As well as markets from the mid-12th century Louth had fairs. In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and people would come from a wide area to attend them.

However, Medieval Louth would seem tiny to us. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 it probably only had several hundred inhabitants. Still, settlements were very small in those days. Later in the Middle Ages Louth grew to have a population of about 1,500 maybe more.

In Medieval Louth, you would find the same craftsmen that were in any town such as butchers, bakers, brewers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and vintners. There was also a wool industry in Louth. Firstly the wool was woven then it was fulled. That means it was cleaned and thickened by being pounded in a mixture of clay and water. Wooden hammers worked by watermills pounded the wool. After it dried the wool was dyed. Mercer Row takes its name from the Medieval word for a dealer in fine cloth, a mercer.

Wool and dyeing

In 1139 a Cistercian Abbey was built at Louth Park. Meanwhile, the parish church of St James played an important part in everyday life. Most of the building dates from the 15th century but its octagonal tower was built in the years 1501-1515.

Louth 1500-1800

In 1536 Henry VIII closed Louth Abbey. Shortly afterward he sent a man to make a list of all the valuables in the parish church. The people of Louth feared the king intended to sell them all to raise money and they were outraged. When a representative of the king arrived he was met with an angry crowd. He agreed to go away and find out what the king intended to do before proceeding any further.

However, rumours about what Henry planned to do spread, and shortly afterward men from Louth staged a rebellion. They marched towards Lincoln but their way was blocked by royal troops. The rebellion collapsed and the ringleaders were executed.

Otherwise, Louth continued to prosper in the 16th and 17th centuries and its population grew. This was despite outbreaks of plague. There were outbreaks of plague in 1587 and in 1625-26. Another outbreak in 1631 killed 700 people in Louth, a large part of the town’s population. However, Louth soon recovered.

There was a school in Louth from the 13th century. However, the Grammar School was founded in 1551. Then in 1681, Louth obtained its first fire engine. It was a hand-operated pump pulled by horses.

In the 18th century, Louth was an important market town and it continued to grow. In the late 18th century a carpet-making industry was created in Louth. Meanwhile, industries in the town received a boost when a canal was opened in 1770 making it easier to transport goods to and from Louth.

Modern Louth

In 1801 the population of Louth was over 4,250. By the standards of the time, it was a fair-sized town. It continued to grow rapidly in the early 19th century. By 1851 Louth was a town of 10,000 people. However, growth then ceased. The population of Louth fell slightly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There were a number of improvements to Louth in the 19th century. In 1825 an act of parliament formed a body of men with powers to pave and clean the streets. From 1826 the streets were lit by gas. However many people in Louth in the 19th century lived in slums.

In 1803 a dispensary was created in Louth, where the poor could obtain free medicines. Then in 1873, a hospital was built. Meanwhile, a cemetery opened in Louth in 1855.

In 1848 the railway reached Louth. However, it took business away from the canal, which closed in 1924.

In the 20th century amenities in Louth continued to improve. Hubbards Hills opened to the public in 1907 and Louth Museum was founded in 1910.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the first council houses were built in Louth. From 1935 the streets were lit by electricity. Meanwhile, in May 1920 Louth suffered a terrible flood in which 23 people died.

In 1922 a War Memorial was erected to all those who fell in the First World War. However, during the Second World War, 15 people in Louth were killed by German bombing.

From the 1920s the population of Louth grew again. By the 1970s the population of Louth had risen to 13,000. In 2022 the population of Louth was 17,000.