Like towns across the country, Horncastle celebrated as never before when word began to spread that the end of the war was to be announced. Rumours started on the evening of Monday 7th May, and by Tuesday the 8th people were listening to their radios with anticipation.
People decorated their houses, shops, and streets with union jacks, bunting, streamers and anything red, white and blue they had to hand.
Geoffrey Meanwell (80) who was then just a boy shared his memories:
“We lived at 57 Prospect Street, and there was lots of bunting up and down the street. In the evening my father took me across the road The Garibaldi where there was a party. It was full of people singing and dancing. At the time I didn’t really understand what it was all about.”
In the town centre streamers were run out across the roads in the High Street, North Street and West Street. The Stanhope Memorial was decorated with streamers hung from it the surrounding trees. Scarcely a house was not decorated. Unfortunately despite we have not been able track down a single photo of VE Day in Horncastle, but photographs from coronations and other celebrations like the one above give us an idea how it might have looked.
The bells of St Mary’s Church rang out throughout the day, and there were three services of thanksgiving. Whilst at the railway station the fog horns were sounded in celebration, to the shock of people going about their business.
At 3pm people gathered in the Market Place, where the Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s now famous speech was played over loudspeaker to the crowd.
As the sun went down on a warm evening, the Market Place was illuminated with coloured lanterns and spotlights shone on a party like no other in Horncastle’s history. Elsie Tempest (84) recounted here memory of it:
“We used to live in St Lawrence Street in the house that’s now Jabberwock Books, and it was covered in flags. I was 9 at the time and me and my sister went to join the dancing in the Market Place, which was full of people. It wasn’t just adults there were children too. There was a stage and a record player lent by a man who had a shop on West Street, and they were playing all the popular songs.”
At 11pm the crowd were asked if it were time to go to bed, to which they responded with a unanimous “No, carry on!” The music continued until a little after midnight, and ended patriotically with the National Anthem.
In other parts of the town, and no doubt in many homes, the party continued. On West Street, a Mr Clover had strung electric lights across the road with dancing to a record player from his house. This crowd grew as people left the festivities in the Market Place, and this after party continued until it was 2 o’clock in the morning.
The following day, Wednesday 9th, was also a national holiday. There were no posts, so no letters were received and in Horncastle all the shops were shut. There was a Victory Dance at the Drill Hall (now Stanhope Hall) which was packed as the Market Place had been the night before.
On Thursday businesses reopened, and as the Horncastle & Woodhall Spa News put it:
“Horncastle returned to work, its people ready to play their part in building the better world for which so many have died.”
We have reproduced the full text of the original article below thanks to the kind permission of the paper’s current publishers JPI Media.
Horncastle & Woodhall Spa News 12th May 1945
Horncastle Rejoices – How VE-Day Was Spent By Townspeople – Dancing on Market Place until After Midnight
It was on Monday afternoon that Horncastle really commenced to celebrate the victory over Germany and the end of the war in Europe. By some means or other, news got round that the Prime Minister was to announce the end of hostilities at 3 o’clock, and everybody gathered with tense expectation round wireless sets. When the usual programme went on and no announcement came people gradually drifted back to their ordinary labours, although they sensed there was something “in the air.”
A few flags appeared in the street fluttering shyly in the breeze- wonder if they were too soon. When the announcement came on the evening wireless that Tuesday would officially be VE-Day, and Tuesday and Wednesday would be national holidays, the spirit of joyousness was soon apparent everywhere. Householders made hurried preparations with their streamers and flags.
Quickly on Tuesday morning was Horncastle gay with bunting. Union Jacks were flying gaily from almost every house and the display of colour made a brave show, despite the difficulty of obtaining flags. Every street was beflagged and the narrow parts of High Street and West Street, lending themselves to the ranging of streamers were particularly noticeable, as was North Street.
For a time the Market Square stood out in its bareness, but after a hesitating start, the Urban Council and its officials rose to the occasion splendidly. In the short time available they arranged a programme which would give townspeople an opportunity of showing their joy in a way they wished.
The Market Square was chosen as the centre for the town’s festivities – what more appropriate place could have been chosen – and soon the Surveyor and his men had streamers swinging from the Monument to the trees, while coloured lamps showed that we were to have illuminations after dark.
In the afternoon the Prime Minister’s “Cease Fire” declaration was heard through loud speakers erected on the Market Place, and Mr J. T. Friskney, chairman of the Urban Council spoke a few words to the crowd. Music from Mr Robinson’s panatrope followed.
In the morning and at intervals during the day, the bells of St Mary’s rang out over a merry peal and the staff of the L.N.E.R. Station made us jump with fog signals.
The Vicar arranged an early celebration of Holy Communion at St Mary’s, and three short services of thanksgiving. All were well attended.
Evening came, and then everybody wended their way to the Market Place. The spirit of festivity reached its highest pitch, and the joyous celebrations became general. All Horncastle was there – adults, boys and girls and children danced and frolicked amidst joy and laughter under the stream of coloured lamps and in the glare of the floodlighting, provided by Mr Dobbs until after midnight – and kept it up continually except for a brief pause to hear the King.
It was a well-behaved and sober, yet happy, crowd that danced round and round the Stanhope Memorial to music from Mr Robinson’s panatrope.
Mr J. H. Morris, vice-chairman of the Council, assisted with the announcements, and when he asked about 11 o’clock “if it is time to go to bed”, the crowd quickly set his mind at rest with a unanimous “No, carry on”, with never a thought for sore feet and tired limbs. Midnight chilled and it was a quarter of an hour later when the last waltz came, and Horncastle ceased dancing and went home to bed, after expressing their loyalty with the National Anthem.
In West Street
Some, however, stayed out longer. Those passing along West Street on their way home suddenly came into the glare of floodlighting, and people dancing. Here Mr. B. V. Clover had erected on a cable across the street from his residence a brilliant electric light. He was providing popular dance tunes on his gramophone. The temptation to dance was too great, sore feet and tiredness were forgotten, and it was as 2 o’clock in the morning before the crowd would go home, to end a joyous day.
Mr H. Parker assisted Mr Clover to achieve a gay scene.
The weather was favourable. A thunderstorm on Tuesday after a sunny morning raised doubts, but the storm cleared after a heavy deluge and the rest of the day and Wednesday were warm and sunny.
The Drill Hall was packed for the Victory Dance on Wednesday evening. Wednesday was another general holiday in the town – no shops were open – and on Thursday morning Horncastle returned to work, its people ready to play their part in building the better world for which so many have died.