Short History of Littleborough
Littleborough’s origins are traced back to the Roman occupation c100-400AD when the town was known as Segelocum. The Town owes it existence to the military road that was built from Doncaster (Danvm) to Ermine Street at Scampton and on to Lincoln (Lindvm). Here the Romans built a significant fortified town estimated to cover at least 40 acres (16 Hectares) at the crossing point of the river Trent. Segelocum was about 2/3 of the size of Roman Lincoln but only small scale excavation work has been done at the site so very little is known about the area. The means of crossing was a substantial causeway that was 5.5 metres wide supported by 3.7 metre long oak piles driven into the river bed. The causeway was covered in square rough stone slabs and crossed the river where in joined the road on the east bank at Marton. During those times the river was much wider and not as deep as it is now, it was described as being numerous streams or rivulets’ rather than a single channel as it is today. This explains why the Romans were able to cross it by means of a causeway rather than a large bridge. The river was deepened by the Trent Navigation Board in 1820 to allow navigation by large coal and grain barges, this is when the causeway was dismantled. From 1820 the only way to cross the river at this point was by a chain ferry, some of the mechanisms of this ferry can still be seen near the remains of the slip. The Ferry was abandoned about 1910 after it was sunk in an unfortunate collision with a Barge. We have been unable to locate an image of the Chain Ferry that ran between Littleborough and Marton on the Lincolnshire bank. However it would have been similar to this one on the River Witham at Bardney. One interesting feature of the area at the Ferry Landing is the Gibbet that is marked on Stukeleys map of 1722 (see below). This was placed deliberately in this position as a reminder to anyone who entered the area of their fate if they transgressed. A rather ghoulish reminder of the violent past of this area.
There is some debate over the meaning of the name Segelocvm. Some historians say the name means “Strong place” whilst others believe the name to mean “Grain place”. Judging by the number of querns found at Littleborough the latter seems the more obvious name. Whatever the correct meaning it was such an important place to the Romans that they placed a milestone found April 2nd, 1879, in the Bailgate, Lincoln, and reads as follows:
“Under the empire of Caesar Marcus Piavonius, Victorinus the fortunate, pious, unconquerable, Augustus, chief Pontiff, invested with tribunicial power, father of his country from Lindum to Segelocvm forteen miles” Indeed Segelvum is exactly 14 miles from that point, this milestone can be seen at the museum in Lincoln.
The second century Antonine Itinerary twice lists the Roman name for Littleborough, in the fifth itinerary as Segeloci and in the eighth as Ageloco, this could be a simple translation error or a reference to the River Trent Aegir, a tidal bore that sweeps up the river and named after the Norse god Aegir.
Finds of Roman materials are recorded from the 16th century onwards and a number of archaeological excavations have discovered much evidence of the Town that straddled the ancient street. The map shows where some of the buildings were located and the original position of the main street would have lined up with the site of the Causeway. It is not certain what these buildings were used for, they could have been military stores or just as likely civilian strip buildings. Judging by the amount and type of items found it is obvious that the site was occupied for many years. Several hearths or ovens have been discovered that are of the domestic or agricultural type rather than of industrial use. Many Roman coins and pottery sherds have been found dating from the 1st to the 4th Century AD giving an accurate date of the occupation. Numerous querns have been found giving evidence of the growing and processing of grain in the area. Excavations in the vicarage garden in 1970 uncovered a series of buildings with clay floors, plastered walls and tiled roofs, The earliest building phases were dated to the Flavian (69-96 AD) period, and these buildings were overlaid by structures of the late-Antonine (c160 AD)
Littleborough is the only Roman Town known in Nottinghamshire that has been in continuous occupation since the Romans built the road and causeway in the 1st century AD. It was once the major crossing point of the river Trent that lasted for 1800 years. The 19th century bridges at Gainsborough and Dunham and the coming of motorised vehicles and river traffic had a direct influence on both the Roman Causeway and the Ferry. Whatever the future holds for Littleborough one cannot deny its place in our history.
In the late 17th century the land between the causway and what was then the Town was ploughed over. As a result the locals found numerous coins of Nerva (96-98AD), Trajan (c100AD), Hadrian (c130AD), and Constantine (c300AD), also a number of urns. In 1718 two Roman altars were found; in 1759 a curious watch-tally, or pass was discovered. In 1860 a new grave that was being dug in the Churchyard uncovered a Roman stone coffin that contained the remains of a wealthy female. This coffin is now in the cloisters of Lincoln cathedral. The Bassetlaw Museum in Retford have a substantial collection of items discovered at Littleborough.
The church dedicated to St. Nicholas is one of the smallest Churches in Britain. It is built on the site of a former Roman Alter. There is a perfect Norman chancel arch which has remained untouched, in the outer walls of the chancel and nave are fine specimens of Saxon herring-bone style masonry but this also includes a number of Roman terracotta tiles that were recycled during its construction. It is possible that William the Conqueror was involved in the re-construction of the current church as Littleborough was part of his great manor of Mansfield.
Inside the church there are two Saxon pillars giving evidence of an earlier building than the Norman. Further up stream at the Hamlet of Coates two Saxon stone coffin covers have been discovered giving further evidence of Saxon occupation of this area. The bells were later additions, The northern bell “Sancta Maria” was cast between 1180-1200 and is the oldest bell in Nottinghamshire. The bell to the south “Ave Maria” dates from 1350. Both bells were rehung with new headstocks and clappers in 1934.
The great legacy of the Roman occupation made Littleborough the most important crossing point of the River Trent north of Newark. The fine road and the massive causeway that linked the Road with Ermine Street to Lincoln and York has been used for over 1800 years. Indeed King Harold and his army passed this way after their victory against the Vikings at the battle of Stamford Bridge. Within days of this victory King Harold and his army passed over the great Causeway at Littleborough on their way to death and defeat at the hands of the Normans in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Two years later William the Conqueror used this same crossing to put down the Saxon insurrection of Earls Morcar and Edwin, and again in 1069 when the Normans ravaged the country from the Humber to the Tyne, and secured the City of York for the invaders.
Although the Romans were pagan, it is now accepted that Segelocum became “Tiovulfincacester” (Tiovulf’s encampment), the scene of the conversion of our forefathers to Christianity. Bede, in the 8th century, records the details of St. Paulinus’s mission in the 7th century (less than 200 years after the Roman occupation), he says the saint baptized “the multitude in the river Trent hard by the city, which in English is called Tiovulfincacester.” If St. Paulinus and his deacon James traveled southwards from York as far as Lincoln. He must have traveled the great Roman highway, so this must be the place of his passage across the Trent, and it is here that Bede’s records show that these baptisms took place in the shallow waters of this already historic ford? The first known use of the name “Littleborough” appears in the Great Domesday Book dated 1086 as Litelburg. People mentioned in this record as landowners are: Alvred; Alwine; Church of Flintham; Earl Aelfgar; Earl Morcar; Guy; King Edward as landholder; King William as landholder; Priest of Church of Flintham; Tosti; William.
The freeholders in Littleborough Town in 1612, were Robert Sherbury, William More, William Turuell of Eaft Markham, Richard Rawlin, John Deane, Thomas Wright, John Bercock, Edward Horley, Thomas Trufwell, Henry Bromeheade, Thomas Bingham, John Quippe, clerk, Edward Clark, Thomas Cartwright, John Gallon, George Holmes, Thomas Nettleship, and Thomas Seaworth.
William Camden in 1586 published his Britannia, where he wrote these words of Littleborough. “a little towne in deed and truely answering to the name, where, as there is at this day a Ferrie much used, so there was in times past that station whereof Antonine the Emperour once
or twice made mention, and which according to sundry copies is called Andelocum or Segelocum. This towne have I heretofore sought for in vaine about the Country adjoyning, but now i am verily perswaded and assured that I have found it out, both for that it standeth upon the old port High-waie, and also because the field lying to it sheweth expresse tokens of walles, and besides affordeth unto plowmen every day many peeces of the Roman Emperours coine, which because swine many times rooting into the ground turne up with their snouts, the country people call Swines-penies. Which also, according to their simple capacity, are of opinion that their fore-fathers in times past fensed and mounded that field with a stone-wall against the waters of Trent that useth in Winter-time to overflow and make great flouds”.
Dr. William Stukely (7 November 1687 – 3 March 1765) visited Littleborough in 1722.
Extract from Iter Britanniarum; or, that part of the Itinerary of Antoninus … – Page 265 records Stukeley’s notes:
Additions Nottingham Britan Agelocum SEGELOCI M P XIV Littleborough Notts This town is one of those that have had a variety of situations assigned to them but the present is the most approved and the evidence in favour of it very satisfactory According to f Gibson Talbot placed it at Aulerton in Sherwood Fulk contrary to Antoninus who makes the distance of this town from Lincoln fourteen miles looks for it at Agle not more than six miles from that city Thoroton is inclined to reduce it to the bank of the Idle where Eaton stands and on that account may as well be called Idleton Camden seems to have been at first of the fame opinion with the last author but he afterwards found reason to change his mind and to adopt Littleborough in which determination he is followed by Burton Horfley and others Formerly E he tells us I sought for this place in vain hereabouts but now I verily believe I have found it both because it stands by a military way and also because the marks of an old wall are still visible in the neighbouring field where many coins of the Roman Emperors are daily found by the ploughmen which are called Swine’s Pennies by the country people because they often are discoverable by the grubbing of the swine there They also imagine according to their poor senie of things that their forefathers inclosed this field with a stone wall to keep the water from overflowing it in winter Stukeley.
Stukeley made an excursion to visit this town and has given a description and plan of it North of Lincoln a branch from the Erming street with an obtuse angle to the left which towards Yorkshire This branch he was inclined to pursue as far Agelocum for so this town is called in the eighth Iter h ridge of this road he remarks is likely to be of eternal from the little use made of it It is called Tilbridge Lane it is viewed on the brink of the hill it is as a visto or running through a wood or garden very straight and pleasanter prospect than when you come to travel it wanting a Roman legion to repair it It passes through Stretton and Gate Burton so called from the road and by a ferry crosses over the Trent to Littleborough Agelocum or as by later times corrupted with a Sibilus Segelocum It is a small village three miles above Gainsborough just upon the edge of the water Agel auk Frons Aquae is a pertinent etymology It seems to have been only environed with a ditch and of a square form and the water ran quite round it for to the west where Whitessbridge is a watery valley hems it in j so that it was a place sufficiently strong. The Trent has washed away part of the eastern side of the town Foundations and pavements are visible in the bank Mr Roger Gale once passing by found an urn with a coin of Domitian Great numbers of coins have been found here when the enclosures between the town and the bridge were ploughed up many Intaglios of Agate Cornelian the finest coral coloured urns and Pateras some wrought in Relievo the workman’s name generally impressed on the inside the bottom Two altars also handsomely moulded have been dug up here which are set as piers in a wall on the side of the steps that lead from the water side to the inn Many very small coins are found here like flatted peas They call them mites In this fame field near Whitesbridge are great foundations of buildings On the east side of the river has been a camp Horfley 1 considers the road to Littleborough as leaving the Erming street at Lincoln for he observes that they go out at different gates The common road to Littleborough leaves Lincoln to the west and passes through Saxilby and Fenton to Marton but the road described by Stukeley was most likely the road made use of in this Iter. By the map the distance must be nearly the same by both roads M P XIV Pateribn gives the road from Lincoln to Marton a town on the ea 3an c 0f tne Xrent opposite Littleborough and about a mile from it and makes the distance thirteen miles The lines of the other road are much more direct but take a larger circuit The scale of the map shews that by this course Little borough must be full fourteen miles from Lincoln perhaps nearly fifteen miles.
Items discovered at Littleborough recorded by Stukeley (Itinerarium curiosum) as being in the possession of Rev. Ellis, Vicar of Rampton:
A confecration piece of Vefpafian Cof IIII IMP CAES NERVAE TRAIANO AVG GER DAC PMTRP COSVPP B SP OPTIMO PRINCIPI The mole at Ancona IMP CES NER TRAIANO OPTIMO AVG GER DAC B SENATVS POPVLVS l_ROl IAN VS Fortune fitting with a Cornucopia in one hand a rudder in the other FORT RED SC IMP САЕЗ ôte as the fecond а genius fitting on trophies with a fpear in the left hand and in its right IMP CAESAR TRAIANVS HADRIANVS 3 PONT MAX TRP Britannia fitting with a fhield a fpear in her left hand a laurel in her right the right foot upon a rock BRITANNIA SC CONSTANTINV S AVG B SOLI INVICTO COMITI Another E ALEMANNIA DEVICTA Several Of thofe ftruck about Conf tantius’s time with a galeate head on one fide and URBS ROMA B a wolf fuckling Romulus and Remus others CONSTANTINOPOLIS many more of Aurelius Fauftina Gallienus Tetricus Viftorinus _Caraufius Conftantine Conftantius Crifpus Alleëtus and the lower Empire
Above are a few samples of Plaster of Paris mouldings made in 1934 from the wording and icons on the two Church bells. The letters made up the words “Sancta Maria” from the North Bell and “Ave Maria” from the Southern Bell. Both with further embellishments. Note the image of a fish above the letter “C”, possibly a reference to when Christians used the fish image to identify themsleves to other Christians during the era of Roman persecution. Or it could be a homage to the fishing in the adjacent River Trent. An anchor can also be seen and a possible sailing boat in the images, a clear reference to the busy River port that Littleborough must have been in the 12th-14th century when the bells were cast.