There are several Langton villages in England, of which three are in Lincolnshire. These are Langton by Spilsby (also sometimes known as Langton by Partney), Langton by Wragby and Langton by Horncastle. There is some speculation that all these villages originally formed part of the same estate, but there is – so far – no proof of this.
Langton by Spilsby is unique in Lincolnshire (and unusual in the country) in that it has been in the hands of the family bearing the name of the village continuously since at least the reign of Henry II (1154-1189). The estate was formerly much larger and included various villages in the Fens and elsewhere, but the rising burden of debts appears to have shrunk the estate in the 19th century. Oxcombe (a village a few miles north of Langton) was acquired in 1641, but sold in 1791 for £10,000. The estate’s boundaries have not changed since at least the early 20th century . The Langton family farms the estate today and remains actively involved with the village community.
The 1841 census shows that the village had a population of 194, of whom 106 were aged 20 or under: only 8 people were not born in Lincolnshire. According to the 1892 edition of White’s Gazetteer of Lincolnshire Langton had a rectory, a school, a shop, a smithy, a pub and at least 30 houses and cottages in 1891. The total population was 177 and the post was delivered at 7.30 a.m. and collected at 4.30 p.m. The farms employed about 50 people. Kelly’s 1937 Directory shows that there were 137 inhabitants in 1931. Today the village has no shops or pubs and less than two dozen houses and cottages; farming mechanisation has, as elsewhere, reduced the number of people employed on the land – and there is only one daily delivery and collection of mail. The 2006 population is about 40, of whom less than 10 are under 20 years old.
There has always been a strong tradition that Archbishop Stephen Langton (c. 1150 – 1228), who was instrumental in compelling King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215, was a member of the Langton family. One of only four extant copies of Magna Carta is in Lincoln Cathedral.
Bennet Langton (1737-1801) was a founder member of “The Club” (later known as The Literary Club) in London, together with Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the first English lexicographer and writer, who was much older than Langton and became godfather to Jane Langton, one of Bennet’s daughters. Other members of The Literary Club included James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke.
Johnson visited “Lanky” at Langton in 1764, when he stayed with Langton’s parents for three weeks. Bennet Langton was one of Johnson’s favourites and, according to Boswell, said of him: “I know not who will go to Heaven if he does not.” In Johnson’s will Langton was left £750 to provide an annuity to Johnson’s manservant Francis Barber and Johnson’s Polyglot bible. This bible and some other papers, including a letter from Johnson to his goddaughter Jane Langton, was sold to Donald and Mary Hyde (subsequently Lady Eccles) in the 1960s and formed a key part of the their library of Johnson’s works at Four Oaks Farm in New Jersey. This Hyde Collection is now in the Houghton Library at Harvard. Unfortunately the house that Johnson visited no longer exists. No other members of The Literary Club are known to have visited Langton at his country home.
James Fowler (1828 – 1892), a prolific architect who was five times mayor of Louth, designed the last Langton Hall, built in brick in 1866-7 at the then very considerable cost of £8,000. James Veitch (1815-1869), who owned the Royal Exotic Nursery of Chelsea and who came from a long line of horticulturalists specialising in fashionable and exotic plants, designed the garden. This house was pulled down in 1960 as it was impractical for modern living but the former stables are now used as farm buildings. It was a successor to a Palladian style hall which was built on the edge of the village in 1822 on defective foundations and therefore lasted only some 23 years. There is now virtually no trace of this building, the site of which is in the middle of a wood a few hundred yards from the centre of the modern village and which had replaced a previous hall built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Elizabethan hall, the foundations of which have recently been discovered in the centre of the village, in turn replaced an earlier hall which was destroyed by fire in about 1405 in the reign of Henry VI, but the location of which is unknown.