Lincolnshire’s rich history is often best told by its village inns. Throughout the centuries, these are the places that have always been at the centre of events and at the heart of community life. Sadly, many fade away over time. But thanks to a beautiful restoration project spearheaded by Heritage Lincolnshire, the Old King’s Head in Kirton near Boston has been given a new lease of life as a luxury four-star bed and breakfast, café and community room.
The project has been seven years in the making. As you might expect for an undertaking of this magnitude there have a few bumps along the way, not to mention a global pandemic. But the Old King’s Head finally reopened on Friday 1 October 2021.
We paid the 16th-century inn a visit to check it out, and Hannah Thompson, Heritage Lincolnshire’s business manager, gave us some insights from behind the scenes of the restoration work.Check prices and book your stay at the Old King's Head
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A quick history of the Old King’s Head, Kirton
On the wall of the café inside the newly restored Old King’s Head, a colourful display tells the inn’s eventful journey since it first opened in 1599. It is a story of a building that has been integral to community life in the village from the very beginning – and this was a key factor in Heritage Lincolnshire’s involvement.
“It’s a fascinating building. It has got a very rich history,” says Hannah. “It has numerous interesting stories with its various landlords and family owners. That was certainly a pull, and obviously it is true to our charity ethos in preserving historic buildings.”
At least 36 different landlords and landladies have been at the helm of the inn during the 360-or-so years it was previously open to the public. Its occupants have included judges, British boxing champions, brewers and haberdashers, to name a few.
“We wanted it to be reflective of the building and the history, but also quite modern as well.”
For most of its life, the building was a coaching inn. Tall black gates still stand to the left of the front entrance, where horse-driven coaches would once swing violently through and lurch around the corner into the yard, clipping at the building’s brickwork as they passed, their riders ready for an ale and a comfy bed.
At the rear corner of the building today, you can see where the brickwork structure has been reinforced as part of the restoration work, patching up the spot where it had been chipped away over the years.
The inn was originally called The Swan, and it is not clear exactly when it became the King’s Head. It was likely some time after the English Civil War, but was not officially recorded as such until the turn of the 19th century when it was bought by Samual Barnard of Boston for £1,100 – the equivalent of around £95,000 in today’s money.
Tragedy and mystery struck the inn in 1875, when a brewer who lived on the premises went missing. The next day he was discovered drowned in a brewing copper, and the coroner gave a verdict of suicide on the grounds of ‘temporary insanity’.
After changing hands several more times, the inn finally closed its doors to the public in 1969 when its then-brewery sold the building to a private buyer. The former King’s Head would become a residential property, its eventful life as an inn seemingly coming to a permanent end.
But fast-forward to the mid-2010s, and the tale took a new turn…
The beginnings of the restoration project
The restoration of the Old King’s Head has been a huge undertaking, with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and active community involvement throughout.
As a charity that specialises in conservation projects and rescuing historic buildings at risk, the project was a natural fit for Heritage Lincolnshire. The charity first became involved back in 2014.
Hannah has been closely involved since she joined Heritage Lincolnshire in early 2019. While her role has a commercial focus, much of her involvement in the Old King’s Head restoration has been around building local community engagement.
“With any National Lottery Heritage Fund project there has to be an element of community activity,” she explains. “So we’ve been bringing local volunteers on board, and running talks and programmes to tell the history of the village from around the time the building was built. We’ve even done archaeological digs and made it a part of local schoolwork as well.”
A tremendous amount of groundwork was required before a single tool was lifted on the restoration work. “With all of our projects, it can take two years before we apply for any funding and actually start it,” says Hannah. “We have to do research and have building recording surveys done to decide if it is going to be viable.”
After the exploratory works went smoothly, Heritage Lincolnshire bought the property in 2016. Attention could now turn towards making the restoration a reality.
Reinventing the Old King’s Head as a B&B
The restoration of a Grade II listed building is rarely a simple task. The original inn was built with some 161,000 hand-made bricks, and its roof was thatched with eight tonnes of straw. While it is always desirable to retain as much of the original essence as possible, it can be difficult to find a balance.
“We wanted a heritage feel, and for it to be reflective of the building and the history, but also quite modern as well,” explains Hannah. ” The challenge with these buildings is that even though they are historic, it’s not always practical to take them back to how they used to look.
“And practicality is also a huge thing, especially for it to be a café as well.”
The interior is designed with a heritage-inspired sage green theme interspersed with white and pale blue. Its historic feel has preserved by the careful restoration work and the integration of old features such as a large brickwork fireplace into the layout.
The bed and breakfast has nine rooms, each individually designed and stamped with its own character. Four of the bedrooms are located in a separate building to the rear, where you will see some bird-themed elements in the room designs.
“The bird aspect is because we’ve had a great relationship with the RSPB at Frampton, who have been hugely supportive” says Hannah. “We are hoping that we will be able to attract some of their 65,000 visitors a year to come and stay here.”
Another example of the building’s old charm can be seen in the entry route to one of the bedrooms in the main building, which is accessible only by stooping through a low doorway, a remnant of the historic structure.
Café and community room
In addition to providing luxury bed and breakfast accommodation, the restored Old King’s Head also features a café that is open to the public from breakfast time until mid-afternoon, seven days a week.
True to the community spirit of the project, it also features a space in the grounds that will be available for local groups to hire for meetings, events and celebrations.
Charity at the heart of the project
The Old King’s Head is the first project of its kind for Heritage Lincolnshire, as the charity will retain ownership of the building and the responsibility for operating it. The income that it generates will go back into supporting the charity’s work.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” says Hannah. “The fact that we can regenerate money, and that people can come in here for a cup of tea and a slice of cake and actually help support charity in the local area by doing so – I think that is the essence of why this is so special.”
“As long as you like a good piece of cake, then everybody’s welcome!”
The team at Heritage Lincolnshire hope that the project will be the first of many. “We are looking towards the next few projects for preserving these buildings, restoring them and making people aware of their story.
“This is going to be the flagship. But we’ve already got another holiday let that will be soon available, which we are restoring now. It’s really exciting times.
“It’s about looking at how we can support the charity in a different way, and that people in the community are still getting something out of it.”
Everybody is welcome
While the Old King’s Head has an obvious appeal for anyone interested in heritage buildings, care has been taken to make it accessible to anyone.
“I don’t think there is any particular audience that we’re going for at all, because I think it’s all about that community element,” says Hannah. “We’ve got crayons and colouring sheets for kids. We’re going to have some beautiful bright furniture outside for people who are cyclists, or if they have dogs. So we are covering all angles really to keep it as open as we can for everybody.
“As long as you like a good piece of cake, then everybody’s welcome!”
Book your stay at the Old King’s Head
All ready to book your stay at the restored Old King’s Head? You can find out more, check prices and make your booking.
You can also arrange to take an hour-long tour of Kirton village with Heritage Lincolnshire volunteers to learn about its history and how the Old King’s Head fits into it.
Check out our article on fun things to do in Boston for activity ideas during your stay at the Old King’s Head!
Where exactly is Kirton?
The village of Kirton is just five miles (around a 12-minute drive) south of Boston in Lincolnshire, straight down the A16 or B1397.
If you’re driving from Lincoln, the quickest way is usually to take the A15 to Sleaford and then the A17 on towards Boston and Kirton. For car hire, we recommend using RentalCars, which helps you find and compare the cheapest options.
If you want to read about more old village pubs in Lincolnshire, then check out our article on another King’s Head: the King’s Head Tealby, which is the oldest thatched pub in the county.