- The villages around Bourne, Lincolnshire, England -
THIS VILLAGE on the B1176 four miles south west of Bourne, was an important railway centre during the 19th century where passengers and freight using local lines could find connections to other parts of Britain.
Although Little Bytham no longer enjoys such prominence, it remains a village famous among railway buffs because it nestles around a grand Victorian viaduct that carries the main east coast line between London and Scotland. These activities brought many workers to Little Bytham and a church mission hall was built in the centre of the village opposite the Carpenter's Arms, one of the three local hostelries that is now a private house.
It was on this stretch of track between Grantham in Lincolnshire and Peterborough on Sunday 3rd July 1938 that the LNER 4-6-2 locomotive No.4468 Mallard hauling seven coaches weighing 240 tons achieved the highest speed ever ratified for a steam locomotive of 126 mph over a distance of 440 yards. Driver Joseph Duddington was at the controls with Fireman Thomas Bray and the engine suffered severe damage as a result.
The 16th century hostelry in the village High Street below the arches was originally known as The Green Man but because of the growing interest in railways and the steam engine record, its name was changed to The Mallard in 1975 and although it closed in 2002 and is now a private residence, it has been named Mallard House. The viaduct is still in use and inter-city express trains rather than steam engines now thunder past at regular intervals.
Originally, the twin villages of Castle Bytham and Little Bytham were known simply as West and East Bytham respectively and the latter possessed clay deposits which were used by the Romans for their pottery while in the 19th century, the bricks and pantiles produced here won a country-wide reputation for their fine quality and were used in the building of the great railway viaducts that still dominate the locality. But competition for such an industry proved too fierce and the brickworks are no longer active.
The village church at Little Bytham is unique in at least one respect. Anglo-Saxon in its architectural beginnings with Norman and later additions and improvements, no other church in England is dedicated to St Medard who was Bishop of Noyon in 531 A D and is reputed to have come to England 1,400 years ago and visited this little place. It stands on a hill and is surrounded by ancient cottages in narrow streets little used except by farm traffic. There is a Norman south doorway leading into the chancel with two tiny windows at one side, over which is a curious stone tympanum having a tiny carved man on horseback and circles containing two birds, a probable allusion to the eagle of legend which protected St Medard from the rain with its wings. In the chancel are stone seats round the walls and there is Saxon as well as Norman masonry in this ancient church.
The name of another little known French saint has recently been added to the dedication and it is now known as St Medard's and St Gildard's. Research by local historians revealed that following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the lands and the church of Little Bytham were granted to a French nobleman who decided to rename it after these two little known 6th century saints from his homeland in Normandy. The two were twin brothers who both became bishops and the church was dedicated to both of them but St Gildard's name was dropped 300 years ago and he was soon forgotten, the last mention of him being in the old east window which was removed when the church was renovated during Victorian times. The change of dedication was made at a special service, unique in Lincolnshire, by the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev Robert Hardy, in March 1999.