Bawtry - A town with a gift for change

A star-struck Chris Titley discovers the gateway to Yorkshire awash with celebrities<br/>Photographs by Bill Hearld

Bawtry has a habit of reinventing itself. From Roman settlement to port, from market town to stage coach stopover, it’s always on the move. Bawtry may stand on the River Idle but the townsfolk are anything but. Its latest incarnation must be the most remarkable yet. Bawtry has become a haven to the stars.

The South Yorkshire town, a few miles south of Doncaster, is not the first place you’d expect celebrities to hang out. That’s not to deny its abundant charms: this is a very pretty town, with history aplenty and a profusion of interesting shops and restaurants. But London’s West End it ain’t.

That hasn’t stopped a steady procession of famous names making the trek to Bawtry. Some are connected to the world of racing, as it is home to some leading stables and the Northern Racing College is nearby.

And considering his Doncaster origins, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson’s love of the ‘simply glorious’ A631 road from Gainsborough to Bawtry shouldn’t come as a massive shock.

More surprising Bawtry fans include comedians David Walliams and Matt Lucas, and pop superstars Boyzone. All have stayed at the Crown Hotel on the High Street.

‘The hotel has a great relationship with a secret local studio which famous bands and groups hire out prior to going on tour,’ explained the Crown’s sales manager Katey Dent. ‘In the past we’ve had groups such as Kasabian, McFly, Kings of Leon and Scouting for Girls. Boyzone came back to the hotel for the third time this year.

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‘We were also the base for the BBC show Come Fly with Me while it was filming at Doncaster Airport. We had 50 BBC crew staying for two weeks including Matt Lucas and David Walliams. People really do not know who they are going to bump into in Bawtry’

Katey said the business community in Bawtry worked together for the good of the town. ‘The hotel, together with a few local bars like Coco Ice and Zini’s, have joined together to put in place “evening economy wardens” to ensure the Bawtry evening experience is a good one for guests and locals.’

As well as its guests, the Crown is known for its ghosts. Among them is said to be a waitress murdered by her jealous chef lover more than a century ago. She wanders the corridors crying, they say.

It’s no surprise that a town with such heritage should have its fair share of spectres. Last year archaeologists unearthed a dozen skeletons off Tickhill Road. The remains date from the 14th century when a hospital run by monks was located there.

St Nicholas Church dates even further back. It was founded around 1200, although it only became Bawtry’s Parish Church much later in Victorian times.

This is Pilgrim Fathers country – just up the road is Scrooby, home to the pilgrims’ leader William Bradford – and their minister, Richard Clifton, preached at St Nicholas. The link is commemorated in local names including the Bawtry Mayflower Primary School, and the Mayflower Sanctuary for dogs and cats.

Another notable building is the Grade II listed manor house, Bawtry Hall. Like the town, the hall has reinvented itself over the years. Originally built in 1778 as a family home for a mill owner, it was requisitioned by the War Office to become the northern RAF Bomber Command HQ. Bombing raids during the Second World War and the Falklands conflict were coordinated in the operations room.

Today Bawtry Hall leads an altogether more peaceful existence as a Christian conference and training centre.

Bawtry’s thriving Phoenix Theatre began life at the hall in 1932. Today its home is a converted chapel on Station Road. The theatre has its celebrity connections too: an active member is Rupert Atkinson, brother of comedy actor Rowan.

Thanks to its gift for reincarnation, Bawtry is clearly thriving. And it remains an excellent introduction to Yorkshire.

For many years it even boasted an address any son of the county would have envied: Number One Yorkshire. But some time back the post office re-designated that house as No 1 South Parade – one reinvention we could have probably done without.

Getting there: It’s hard not to find yourself in Bawtry as all roads seem to lead to it. From the north, head down the A614 or A638. There’s no railway station any more but you can catch a connecting bus from Doncaster.

Where to park: There’s plenty of parking off the High Street.

What to do: Take a look round Bawtry’s interesting independent shops, which include everything from a delicatessen to an art gallery. See a show at Bawtry Phoenix Theatre.