Horncastle is a market town of some 5,000 residents in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It lies to the south of the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB, where the River Bain meets the River Waring, and north of the West and Wildmore Fens.
Horncastle was given its market charter in the 13th century. It was formerly known for its great August Horse Fair — an internationally-famous annual trading event which lasted until the early 20th century.
The Romans built a fort at Horncastle, possibly on the site of an existing Saxon Shore Fort. Although fortified, Horncastle was not on any important Roman roads, which suggests that the Bain was the principal route of access.
Roman Horncastle has become known as Banovallum (i.e. "Wall on the [River] Bain") – this name has been adopted by several local businesses and by the town's Secondary Modern school – but in fact the actual Roman name for the settlement is not definitely known: Banovallum was suggested in the 19th century through an interpretation of the Ravenna Cosmography, a 7th century list of Roman towns and road-stations .
The walls of the Roman fort remain in places — one section is on display in the town's library, which is built over the top of the wall. The Saxons called the town Hyrnecastre, from whence comes its modern name.
4 miles from Horncastle is the village of Winceby, where, during the Battle of Winceby in 1643 – which helped to secure Lincolnshire for Parliament – Cromwell was almost killed. Local legend has it that the thirteen scythe blades which hang on the wall of the south chapel of the town's church (St. Mary's) were used as weapons at Winceby. This story is generally regarded as apocryphal, and the accepted opinion is that they probably date from the Lincolnshire Rising of 1536.
The great annual horse fair probably first took place in the 13th century. The fair used to last for a week or more every August, and in the 19th century was probably the largest event of its kind in the United Kingdom. "Horncastle for horses" made the town famous – the fair was used as a setting for George Borrow's semi-autobiographical books Lavengro and The Romany Rye – but the last fair was held in 1948.
Horncastle is twinned with Bonnétable, a ville de marché (market town) in the French département of Sarthe with a population of 4,000 (approximately). The towns' relationship is commemorated by a Rue Horncastle in Bonnétable, and a Bonnetable (sic) Road in Horncastle.
The town is famous locally for its many floods, notably in 1920 and 1960 – with 3 floods between 1981 and 1984. Folklore among Horncastle's more elderly and religious citizens will tell you how closely these floods coincide with the changing of Horncastle's vicar. The vicar changed in 1919 and 1959, both less than a year before a flood. The flooding of the early 1980s has been all attributed to the change of vicar in 1980!
- Sir Joseph Banks, botanist to Captain James Cook
- Peter "Biff" Byford, lead singer of heavy metal band Saxon
- William Marwood, public hangman
- Samuel Roberts, 19th-century mathematician and Fellow of the Royal Society
- Thomas Sully, portrait painter
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, was born 6 miles from Horncastle in the Wolds village of Somersby. Tennyson apparently disliked the town, saying: "Of all horrors, a little country town seems to me to be the greatest."
- Robert Webb, television sitcom actor
- Sir Henry Simpson Lunn (30 July 1859 – 18 March 1939) was an English humanitarian and religious figure, and also founder of Lunn Poly, one of the UK's largest travel companies