If we stand on the opposite side of the road to Alive Church on St Peter’s Hill and look around, what do we see?
On our left is Castlegate, a one-way street, stretching into the distance, with the Beehive pub and its living sign on the left. Straight ahead is Avenue Road and to our right is the Guildhall and St Peter’s Hill green with Sir Isaac Newton’s statue.
If we travelled back in time for 50 years, very little would have changed, except that the church is now called the Congregational church and Castlegate is open to two-way traffic.
Turning the clock back another 100 years to 1865, the church and Avenue Road would have vanished, and ahead of you would have been Cheney House, a large brick-built Georgian House. The house was on the site of the church and across what became Avenue Road. Its gardens would have extended on your right on to St Peter’s Hill, adjacent to the houses overlooking the green. At the back, the gardens would have stretched down to the River Witham.
The current Guildhall was not built until 1868. An earlier Congregational church stood on Chapel Street, which was later demolished, the street becoming part of Brook Street. The new and enthusiastic minister was Rev William Goldie, a native of Elgin, who instigated the purchase of the land for the new church, after the demolition of Cheney House in 1867.
The new church was built on the land in 1869. Castlegate still stretched into the distance on the left, and the Beeeive pub was still on the left with its living sign. On St Peter’s Hill was the statue of Sir Isaac Newton, surrounded by iron railings, which had been erected seven years previously.
If we go back another 100 years to 1765, Cheney House would be in the process of being built and Castlegate would still stretch off to the left. The road would have been made of stones and earth and would have been uneven and muddy.
The earliest image of the Beehive pub and its living sign is the Nattes’s drawing of it 28 years later in 1793. There would be several large houses surrounding St Peter’s Hill and the remains of a chapel, which was demolished about 1728, may have been visible. Many of the stone houses in the town were being modernised and rebuilt or re-faced in brick.
Back another 115 years, to 1650, in front of us would have been a very different newly-built house. Seventy-five years later, it was occupied by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who was a friend and biographer of Sir Isaac Newton. It had formal ornamental gardens with statues and objects from antiquity. Castlegate, one of the original roads in Grantham, continued off to the left. On St Peter’s Hill, to the right, stood St Peter’s chapel, as well as the remains of the magnificent Eleanor Cross, recently destroyed in the Civil War. The cross had been erected in memory of Queen Eleanor, wife of King Edward I, whose body probably rested in St Wulfram’s church on the way to London, following her death at Harby in Nottinghamshire in 1290.
During 2015, the Civic Society is erecting a stone tablet on St Peter’s Hill to commemorate Queen Eleanor and the stone cross which once stood there.