The more I thought about it, the more obvious a choice this place became. This is not somewhere I have visited by chance, but where I was brought up. Certainly obscure, Barton-upon-Humber doesn’t register much of a flicker outside of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire (sometimes not even then). The location most likely has a lot to do with that, nestled on the south bank of the River Humber, in a region occasionally referred to as the Bermuda Triangle, in between Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby (none of which will ever feature on this website), an area of irrigated marsh, rolling hills and arable farmland. To borrow a phrase, it’s about as connected as a kibbutz.
Why bother then?
Barton is a typical example of an easterly historical market town, with the kind of distinct brickwork and masonry you see all across the region, along with a traditional market place of a kind you see all across the region. It’s a shame the country is seen only in terms of North and South when you have clear differences between East and West as well.
Barton also boasts an inheritance of buildings that hark back to an era where the town was somewhat of a major port (difficult to believe these days when you look at the silted up Barton Haven which is a trickle of sludge that looks like a model miniature of the equally brown and unappealing River Hull). Then there’s its role as a pioneer of children’s education, hotbed of Methodism (and further back, more medieval religious activity). The ropery building once laid claim to being the longest individual building in the country, and is still intact. As teenagers my friends and I used to bike down the road running parallel to see who could ride none-handed the longest. Barton possesses a 10th century Saxon church, St. Peter’s which featured in the Domesday book. It is one of the oldest churches in the country and in a remarkably good state of repair.
Most people these days would associate Barton with The Humber Bridge, an enormous elegant single span suspension bridge across the river estuary, until recently the longest in the world, now simply ‘wow that’s incredibly big’. Not too many small market towns could boast being situated at the end of something like this.
The Humber Bridge starts in another interesting area of town, Far Ings, probably the second most visited attraction in the town, an area of marshland, clay pits and reed beds that attracts birdwatchers and walkers from far and wide. A walk/cycle across the bridge to the Humber Bridge Country Park and back, combined with a wander around Far Ings makes a very nice day out. The views across the estuary from the bridge are, as you’d expect, stunning, as is the span of the bridge itself. It can all be done freely as well.
Okay, interesting…tell me more…
Until the 2007 smoking ban in public places, and the recession a few years later, Barton used to have an extraordinary number of pubs and bars for a place of its size, not only in the town centre but spread about residential areas as well. Prior to the ban, the government started offering late licenses, which seemed like the loosening of a tap at the time, with landlords calling time at 10:30-11 and the majority leaving for home frustratingly early. For a good couple of years before I left town Barton was extraordinarily lively, in some places until as late 2-3 in the morning on a Friday and Saturday. Pubs would have bouncers outside and people would willingly queue for half an hour to get in to a thunderously mediocre pub such as The Red Lion. Regrettably, however, this was a peak. Everyone likes to hark back to their own ‘glory days’, but in my case this was objectively true, a result of a coming together of various factors, meaning 15-16 pubs in a town of 10,000 people (at least at the time) were packed full on weekends. This could be occasionally dangerous but on the whole it was a very healthy social scene.
Is that all dead then?
Much of it is dead or heavily curtailed these days, and the town has what I would call a more normal level of pub activity for a place of its size. The centre point of socialising is now the market place, with the traditional pub The Wheatsheaf which has good ales and a very decent country character, the impressive looking Old Mill (pictured above) with a pub made out of the storage areas next to the mill tower, with brick walls, wooden beams and a cosy atmosphere, and latterly the renovated George Hotel which has seen some notorious times but is now just ‘okay’. I’d also recommend wandering down to The Sloop near the waterside which is another pub with a distinct Lincolnshire charm. Just don’t expect anywhere to be ‘buzzing’. That said, I have noticed on my last view visits that young people have started coming back to some of the pubs and re-occupying a void that has existed for about 6 years where the chain was broken. Long may it continue.
Only through living elsewhere do you get the space to appreciate where you come from and to see things you are used to through the eyes of others. Growing up, I thought all the outstanding features of Barton were just normal features of my life, and like any other town was going to be. Slowly, I began to realise most towns of its size didn’t actually have anywhere near the same cultural inheritance we did. It is an interesting place to spend a few days, and with the open space and countryside around. I was therefore quite lucky to live there in a good time.
On a social level it must be said the town is true blue Tory for the most part, mixed with UKIP voting country bumpkins and incredibly insular-minded idiots who complain about things like immigration despite nearly everyone living there being white. (They don’t mind using the Chinese takeaways or the Indian restaurants of course, and if for any reason they befriend someone at the pub from another race they’re described as being ‘one of the good ones’) Everyone knows what a ‘small town mentality’ means. Part of the problem appears to be Brain Drain. The logical path taken by most young people brought up in Barton is to get out of there after leaving college and into places with better life chances, education, jobs, and into wider culture. Many good people remain living in Barton, but a lower portion than those who were produced there to begin with. It is destined to be ever thus. As a visitor, however, this is unlikely to be a concern of yours over and above visiting anywhere else in the UK.
It is a frustratingly provincial but unusually feature packed small town, and therefore I submit this article for your perusal and acceptance in the hope that one day you may decide to give it a try yourself.