Gainsborough is a historical town by the River Trent, which has provided it with much of its colourful past. The main historical focus is the Gainsborough Old Hall, built by Sir Thomas Burgh in the 15th century and resting place for both Richard III and Henry VIII.
There are indications that Gainsborough was at one point planned to be the capital of England, with Sweyn Forkbeard basing himself in Gainsborough after becoming king in 1013, and King Canute allegedly attempting to turn back the tide in the River Trent. Certainly, Gainsborough was a capital city of Mercia during the Dark Ages. During the Civil War Gainsborough became a stronghold for Royalist forces, and Pilgrim Father John Smyth held his sermons there before leaving for Holland and eventually America.
Gainsborough’s success is mainly founded on industry, and this can still be seen in the remains of Marshall’s Yard, now converted into a shopping outlet but still retaining much of the original architecture and containing many nods to Gainsborough’s industrial past, such as a fountain surrounded by early pictures of life inside Britannia Works. The new shopping outlet opened in Easter 2007 and includes high-street names such as New Look, Brantano and JJB, whilst Market Square contains more locally-owned shops, some dating back to Victorian times. Each Tuesday and Saturday Gainsborough has a market selling a wide range of products from lace trimmings to grapefruit.
Culture and the arts are also alive and well in Gainsborough, with the Old Nick Theatre putting on plays quarterly and the Trinity Arts Centre showing films and arts and crafts exhibitions. Each summer the town plays host to the Riverside Festival, with craft stalls, a parade and local bands, and the Lark in the Park, which is on the theme of a different Shakespeare play each year.
Gainsborough’s River Trent is one of only two rivers in England to have a tidal wave, known locally as the Aegir. During an Aegir, the water flows backwards. The best time to see this phenomenon is spring, and the best place is Gainsborough’s newly renovated riverside, which now incorporates locally-owned shops such as art gallery Bend in the River and music shop Dizzy Gumbo’s.