- The villages around Bourne, Lincolnshire, England -
DR FRANCIS WILLIS, who was famous for curing George III of his madness in 1788, lived in and maintained a private asylum at Greatford Hall. He was one of the foremost physicians of his day in the treatment of "persons of distinction and respectability" and the King was his most illustrious patient. His mental hospital was later transferred to Shillingthorpe Hall, a mile away, built in 1833 for his son John, but this building was demolished in 1949.
There is a monument to Dr Willis, a Nollekens bust, in the transept of the Church of St Thomas à Becket which stands nearby. He lived to be almost 90 and was laid to rest here in 1807 but by then the king had been cured a second time by the doctor's two sons, John and Robert Willis. The inscription reads:
Sacred to the memory of the Revd. Francis
Willis M D who died on
There are three pronunciations for the name Greatford. The older inhabitants call it Gritford, the rest of the village call it Gretford while visitors invariably say Greatford, as it is spelt. Both local pronunciations appear to be correct because Greatford appears in the Domesday book of 1086 as Griteford and Greteford, the meaning of the name being the grit or gravel ford on the West Glen River. Gretford is still found in the school records until 1900.
Greatford Hall was a large 16th century house, built during the reign of Elizabeth I, but was burned down in 1930 and sympathetically rebuilt in the straightforward vernacular style. Today, the hall hides its light under a bushel because it cannot be seen from the road, being hidden by trees and hedges and stone walls, while "Private" notices deter the curious from venturing into the grounds. By the side of the hall is a 16th century barn, often erroneously called a tithe barn, but which was used as a wool collecting centre for South Lincolnshire. From here, the bales were transported by fenland rivers and sea to Flanders to be woven into cloth.
In the churchyard, close by the porch, is the grave and headstone of a later parishioner and owner of Greatford Hall, Harry Lyttelton Dowsett (1907-1996), wealthy businessman and benefactor of the church. After his death, when the peal of five bells had become unsafe to ring, his widow Mary had them restored in his memory and a service of thanksgiving and re-dedication was held in May 1988. A grant from the Lottery Millennium Fund helped finance the addition of another bell in 1999 and thirty subscribers in the village donated the difference, their names being inscribed on the bell that was installed in time for the ring of six to celebrate the millennium.
There is a quiet and unhurried charm about Greatford that has been unchanged for centuries and the view above, which was popular with photographers in past times, has hardly changed in the last 100 years. You will find more period cottages here than in most of our surrounding villages and the wide streets are tree-lined for much of their length, making it a pleasant place to stay awhile if driving through.