Let's move to Stamford
Voted the best place to live by The Sunday Times in 2013, Stamford has appeared near the top of the list every year since and it’s easy to see why. Becoming Britain’s first conservation town over 50 years ago certainly helped to preserve much of its glory, but special thanks should also go to the 2nd Marquess of Exeter who in the 1850s blocked the LNER railway crossing his land. The Marquess, however, was motivated not by a desire to protect the town’s heritage, but by worries that an influx of working people would lose him votes in his rotten borough.
Stamford is a beautiful Georgian town with fabulously elegant architecture built from honey coloured limestone - think Bath, but much smaller. Unsurprisingly it’s a popular location for film makers - Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice were both filmed here. The townspeople appear not to mind the disruption and many appear as extras.
Situated in the very south of Lincolnshire, just off the A1, the town is easily within striking distance of much of the country. London King’s Cross is a 45-minute train journey from Peterborough, which is less than a 20-minute drive from Stamford, and many residents commute to work in the capital. Trains run hourly both ways so theoretically you could be in London in just over an hour. The same train runs to Cambridge and Stansted airport. Cambridge is less than an hour’s drive away, although beware, the A14 is notorious for traffic chaos in the mornings. Birmingham, Leicester and Oakham are on the same train route and many commute to these towns (albeit mainly by car) as well as to Nottingham, again an hour’s drive away. The A1 offers easy access north and south. No wonder many young families are relocating here.
Despite its growing population and more transient locals, Stamford retains the feel of a small market town. In fact, it still has a market every Friday on Broad Street, so don’t leave your car there on Thursday night. You will quickly become recognised in the shops, restaurants and bars and the locals are friendly (it’s far enough north for this!). And if you have a dog, you are definitely in. Everywhere welcomes dogs, from The George (see below) to the town’s many independent coffee shops and bars, where you’re likely to find dog treats on the bar alongside the scotch eggs. Rare is the establishment that doesn’t leave a dog bowl outside. You can even pop in and say hello to Valentine the whippet, the shop dog of Miss Pickering the florist, who has his own Instagram account. The Meadows in the middle of the town is a large open space alongside the River Stour, used by many for picnics, meeting up and the odd game of football. Large enough to absorb everyone, you can walk miles along the river bank.
Renowned for its high numbers of churches and pubs (because it was a coaching stop on the Great North Road), we can only assume the townsfolk of Stamford enjoyed sinning on a Saturday night before seeking redemption on a Sunday morning. Both still attract the crowds. Plenty of restaurants, mainly independents, offer good quality locally sourced food and ingredients and none is more popular than The George. In fact, wherever you go in the country, everyone appears to have heard of this magnificent coaching inn, right in the heart of the town, with its York Bar and London Room, and the gallows hanging across High Street, St Martins, to discourage would-be highwaymen.
Independent shops offer varied wares including Arch Label, a dress agency offering high end brands - regulars travel a long way for this shop. Marks and Spencer’s food hall, at the top end of the High Street, is small but always busy and Space NK, Neal’s Yard and the White Company are popular additions. Waitrose can be found on the edge of the town centre.
Burghley estate dominates the town, much of it is still owned by the family of the same name; Burghley House lies to the south and its parkland is freely accessible to everyone. The Burghley Horse Trials are held here every September so the town can be quite chaotic that weekend, but the local hostelries and restaurants do a roaring trade. A predominantly farming area, tractors driving through the town are a frequent sight. Field sports are popular with well-known hunts such as the Cottesmore and the Fitzwilliam holding meets locally and there are some good game shooting syndicates just outside the town. Newmarket is just over an hour’s drive and there are many local point-to-points.
Those interested in the arts will love the open-air theatre at Tolethorpe, just outside the town, where the Stamford Shakespeare Company perform every summer, and get rave reviews from the national press. Stamford Arts Centre is popular with a small cinema, plenty of productions and lots for the kids to do.
The average house price in the town, according to Zoopla, is £323,000. But don’t be fooled - in the Georgian centre you won’t get much change from a million for a family home. If you want off-road parking you will be paying much more and waiting quite a while as properties like this are few and far between. The large Edwardian villas and Victorian terraces just north of the town centre are also proving popular. There are a few new developments in the town centre, slotted in well aesthetically, which are equally expensive.
Nearby villages such as Barnack, Easton on the Hill, Tinwell and Ketton are slightly cheaper and extremely pretty. Here you will get more bang for your buck and larger gardens but choose wisely as some villages no longer have schools and some are better than others. Bear in mind too that public transport in these rural areas is minimal or non-existent, meaning that you will be a taxi service for the kids.
Stamford is close to some of the country’s top independent schools and an excellent grammar. There is also an increasingly decent state senior school and well-respected primaries and preps in the town and local villages. Crossing the county lines to go to school is common as Stamford sits on the border of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. Lincolnshire is a grammar county but Stamford itself does not have one; it also lacks a highly rated comprehensive. Grammar pupils are bused to the next town, Bourne, which is in Lincolnshire. Unashamedly academic, Bourne Grammar has increased its intake to attract bright pupils from much further afield than just the town and surrounding villages. Pupils now travel from as far as the other side of Peterborough to benefit from this academic hot house. In the private sector there are the Stamford Endowed Schools in the town as well as Oakham, Oundle and Uppingham within 20 miles.
State secondary schools
Stamford’s only state secondary has struggled historically, but a revamp and change of name to Stamford Welland Academy, a sharp new uniform and an ambitious new head has seen a slow but steady improvement, and some parents are willing to take a punt on it. There’s a dearth of state sixth form provision in the town, however, with the one exception of New College Stamford which offers A levels as well as vocational courses. It’s suitable for the self-motivated pupil who has had enough of more formal education, but probably not ideal for a high flyer aiming for Oxbridge.
If it’s a grammar you’re after, Bourne Grammar is about 10 miles away. It used to be that you had to practically live on the doorstep to get a place but a large increase in numbers to 240 in a year has made it more accessible for Stamford residents, who are taking full advantage. Be warned, it takes no prisoners and expects pupils to keep up with the fast pace of teaching (most of them do).
The King’s (Cathedral) School in Peterborough is a Church of England comprehensive with an excellent academic, pastoral and musical reputation. It supplies choristers to Peterborough Cathedral and the benefits of such a high standard of musical discipline permeate the school. However, it’s heavily oversubscribed and you will need to prove church attendance of many years’ standing.
From the Good Schools Guide on Bourne Grammar ‘Parents talk about the fast pace of teaching, with those who can’t keep up expected to catch up in their own time. Fine for the conscientious.’
From the Good Schools Guide of The King's (Cathedral) School, Peterborough ‘A happy, nurturing school that is by far the best in Peterborough, and the parents know it and work hard to gain admission. Amazing how many families turn to religion at times like this, but who can blame them?’
Private secondary schools
The Rugby matches played between these four schools are legendary. Kirkstone House, in Baston, a few miles from Stamford towards Bourne, is a small non-selective private day school. All staff are dyslexia aware so it’s a popular choice for SEN pupils and those who need a slower pace of teaching. A strength of this school is its small class sizes. It also offers the more vocational BTECs as well as GCSEs.
From the Good Schools Guide on Stamford School ‘The main school site is amazingly spacious and open considering that it is in the centre of the town. This adds to the sense that Stamford School is at the heart of Stamford itself, and the link is very important to everyone there.’
From the Good Schools Guide on Oundle School ‘Oundle has always been one of the UK’s top-performing co-ed boarding schools, but parents sense a new energy about the place. We too were bowled over by this dynamic, innovative, forward-thinking school.’
State primary schools
There are five state primaries in the town, including a Catholic one, and all are rated outstanding or good by Ofsted. Malcolm Sargent is the largest. Some are more aspirational than others so check what their views are on 11+. A number of the village primaries are excellent too, with outstanding Ofsteds - Uffington, Great Casterton and Ketton among them – but there’s a scramble for places so check carefully when house buying. Some, like Uffington, are tiny with years taught together, others much bigger.
Many of the children from the village primaries head to Stamford or Bourne Grammar for secondary education so the schools are well set up for entrance exams. And you get all the delights of a rural school – pupils watching lambs being born on the other side of a fence, and so on. The village primaries are quick to gain and then lose popularity, though, with certain parents clamouring for places and then voting with their feet a few years’ later. The vagaries of fashion.
Again, lots of choice when it comes to private day schools, from Stamford Junior in the town and Copthill nearby in the village of Uffington, to the magnificent Witham Hall, one of the top preps in the country with its strong sense of community and success at scholarships (up to 60 per cent of pupils leave with awards).
Stamford Junior is popular, with its softly, softly approach to learning in the early years and automatic entry into the senior schools. Copthill in Uffington, situated on a 350 acre farm and with a fabulous forest school, is well-liked for its outside learning and robust character building qualities. All claim to be non-selective but there’s no doubt they’re looking for ‘potential.’ The nurturing Kirkstone is in Baston, again with automatic entry to their senior school. All these preps prepare for the 11+ as well other entrance exams. Slightly further afield are the smallish Brooke Priory in Oakham and Laxton Junior, the feeder for Oundle. All are day schools, with the exception of Stamford where you can start boarding at eight (but few do so that young). And then there’s Witham Hall, about six miles from the town, regarded as one of the crème de la crème when it comes to preps. Tatler magazine awarded the head, Head of the Year in 2017 and the school was runner up in School of the Year the year before. It’s a feeder for Eton, with one or two going every year, but most of its cohort head to Oundle.
Popular locally as well as with those from further afield as they seem to get the best out of their pupils, kindly. The idyllic setting, a beautiful honey-coloured mansion in generous grounds, encourages lots of sport and it’s particularly renowned for the number of art scholarships its pupils win to many top public schools.
From the Good Schools Guide on Witham Hall ‘A fantastic setting, fabulous limestone mansion set in beautiful grounds. It couldn’t be more quintessentially English.’
From the Good Schools Guide on Laxton Junior: ‘They promote independence and confidence as well as a good all-round education.’
From the Good Schools Guide on Stamford Junior School ‘Fresh air seems to be king at this school. Windows are flung wide and the garden is inside with vases of flowers everywhere. All bright and cheerful.’
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