Zeppelins Over Retford – Adrian Sumner.
Monday, 20th November 2017
At our meeting on 20th November the chairman congratulated the team of Ann Smith, Judith Goacher, Alan and Mary Guest who had been successful in winning the quiz in the village hall on Saturday night after a tie break of 5 additional questions by 5 to 4. Ann then told the meeting that the team from Retford who had taken on the task of visiting all the graves of local men who lost the lives in WW1 had visited the graves / memorials of several men who are commemorated on the village war memorial in St Peter & St Paul Churchyard.
Our speaker for the morning, Wing Commander Adrian Sumner RAF (retired), was then introduced. Adrian first briefed the meeting on his 32 year career in the RAF, starting in 1966. He first flew the Vulcan as a co-pilot in 1970 then held a number of posts around the world including Cyprus, Nebraska USA, Canada and Belgium. He missed the Falklands mission as he was out of the UK at the time. He retired from the RAF and became a commercial pilot then latterly flying Royal Navy Jetstreams at RNAS Culdrose. He finally retired some 10 years ago after 40 years of flying.
His subject for the day was “Zeppelins over Retford”. We were treated to a superbly researched and detailed history of German Airships. The first thing we learned was that they were rigid airships originally developed by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and then taken on by Ludwig Durst and although there were different designs and manufacturers they all went under the grouping of Zeppelins. They were patented in 1895 and the first commercial flight took place in 1910. The world’s first airline DELAG was formed in 1909 and as passenger ships they were very spacious unlike modern aircraft. Between 1910 and 1914 there were 1588 flights carrying 10,197 fare paying passengers. Two of these ships the Hansa and Vicktoria and their interiors were amongst a series of slides we were shown.
We heard a lot of statistics which were explained as we went, including the numbers allocated to the ships that were to raid & bomb England, but some facts were more memorable than others – it was said that the frame inside the outer skin of a Zeppelin had 1 million rivets holding it together – the inner Ballonettes which were made of cattle intestines glued together held 1 million cu. ft. of hydrogen. We pondered on how many cattle it took to provide the intestines for one airship let alone well over 100 produced. The passenger ships could travel thousands of miles – there were routes from Europe to Argentina and USA. They could stay aloft for days, travelling at just 50 mph. The first series were 536 ft long and 61 ft in diameter and as they developed they grew to 650 ft long and 78 ft diameter, starting with 2 small engines the larger ones had 6 powerful engines.
They were then used by the German Navy for reconnaissance and flew first over the UK in the Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool areas. The implications once armed with bombs struck the population of the UK – no longer was it a “Fortress Island” and while the men were away fighting the Germans were able to bomb and kill the families at home – a totally new act of war. In 1915 the Navy Airships were sent to bomb the Humber area but got blown off course and bombed Great Yarmouth and that was where the first ever bombing casualty occurred. Our own military used the bombings as an incentive for men to join up and prevent further damage. Hull was bombed later in 1915-16 and the Shambles destroyed when 60 bombs were dropped and 16 people on the ground were killed. Our air defences were not really up to the job as the Zeppelins eventually could fly as high as 20,000 ft and it took our aircraft 50 minutes to attain their early height of 10,000 ft! The 3 inch truck mounted guns even though guided by search lights could not fire shells to that height either. Air raids took place across the country from Goole to Liverpool and Staffordshire to Lincoln.
On 3rd September 1916 a total of 16 airships raided England in one night, bombs were dropped on Gainsborough, East Stockwith and Morton, then at 12.56 am they moved to Retford – most bombs dropped in fields but one hit the gasworks and caused a major fire which could be seen from as far away as Sheffield. Edwin Wilmhirst’s house suffered shrapnel damage. No animals or persons were killed, just 2 women with minor injuries. Amongst the slides Adrian showed were an air raid predictor made by Colemans’ the mustard manufacturer, Air raid Insurance policies, even a stained glass window in Washingborough church dedicated to ships L30 & L32.
Lt. William Leefe Robinson was the first pilot to shoot down an airship, SL11, using the new incendiary bullets and was awarded the VC for his bravery. (Google his name for a fascinating account of the action.) Over the next 3 months a further 5 ships were downed and this was a turning point in the air raids. The final raid was on 5th August 1918. There were several grass airfields in our area notably 33 Squadron RFC at Gainsborough and 199 Squadron at Retford. In all 115 zeppelins were built, 53 were destroyed, 24 were damaged, a total of 40%. They caused the loss of 557 lives, 1358 injuries and £1.5 Million in damage. In the end the majority were destroyed by their crews just like the German naval fleet at Scappa Flow.
Turnpike Murder – Lynda Hotchkiss
Monday 18th September 2017
Lynda set the scene for us of the ‘Turnpike Murder’ explaining that we were to act first as a Coroner’s ‘jury’ and then as the jury in the Assizes. This was a true ‘story’ researched by her over a number of years because one of the witnesses was found to be a distant relative. The year was 1833 when the ‘law’ was enforced by the parish constable and there was no police force as we know it today. The village of Heckington south of Lincoln was on the junction of major thoroughfares with much passing traffic. On the evening of March 9th 1833 about 5.45pm, just as it was getting dark, John Nichols a wine and spirit merchant had finished his business in the village and was headed home. He spots a body lying in the road. We are asked to consider his character and that of the other individuals, as we hear about them, as to whether they make honest and reliable witnesses in each of the courts. We hear many facts about the circumstances, the injuries, the possibility that it might be murder, the surgeon who examines the body. The card game taking place in a village ale house, men drinking from breakfast time until the discovery of the body, where they were, who did what and when, the discrepancies of times given by individual witnesses. William Brown the landlord, William Taylor one of the card players, whose movements alert suspicion, the fact that the body was warm when found. The evidence stacking up including the fence post likely to have been the murder weapon, the identification of the corpse and his bulging purse, the finding of that same purse empty near the body and a whole host of other plausible facts. All this comes out in the Coroner’s court and the finger of suspicion of murder is pointed at Taylor. Here we are asked to vote on 3 options. None of us believe him to be guilty, 4 think he is not guilty and 13 want more evidence.
The Coroner instructs John Robinson the constable to arrest Taylor for the murder of Burbank and send him to the Assizes. The evidence given by several other witnesses is laid before us and all the witnesses identified. Isaac Cook a ‘rag gatherer’, William Hilson a carpenter both give evidence as does the landlord’s wife and several others. The family of the accused is fully investigated, father is a well-respected and religious man, his eldest son follows him in character but the accused and a third son are wayward by nature and in trouble on a regular basis. After a further wealth of evidence we are asked to vote again – this time one of us believe him to be guilty, 4 still think he is innocent and the rest still want more evidence to judge.
Taylor is found guilty at the assizes, and his demeanour is strange. We hear about the prison at Lincoln where he is held the Chaplin’s opinions, the walk to the executioner, Taylors claims on the gallows that the murder was committed by two carpenters, the coroner again to examine the body after execution. All the facts and evidence lead Lynda to believe that Taylor may have been a young man with Down’s syndrome. He had been accused, tried, and hanged within 3 weeks and no significant defence given to court. This was another murder mystery that had been superbly researched from the gushing and detailed reports in the newspapers of the times and laid before us. There were a few questions, observations and a deal of discussion before the meeting drew to a close.
Inspector Hopkinson’s Discovery – Ian Morgan
July 17th 2017
Monday 17th July found the members in the Village Hall acting as a jury in the case of “Inspector Hopkinson’s Discovery”. Our guest speaker was author, Ian Morgan who had spent a very long time researching and putting together the story that was to unfold this morning. The events we were to pass verdict on had occurred in Mansfield in the year 1895 and involved the Inspector, his wife, a 48 year old widow, Mary, her eldest stepson, 33 year old George Reynolds, two teenage sons Charles, and William (Big Willie), two grandchildren Robert and William (Little Willie), who were only with grandma for one night whilst their parents went away, plus Mary’s lodger Henry Wright. Before we could listen to the full story we had a glimpse at some of the press and news items of the time and their comparison to the truth or fiction of similar reporting of modern times and the resultant public judgement that in some cases result in riotous behaviour.
But back to the events as they were recorded, there was far too much detail to include and this is just a summary. The start was a 2.00 am knock on the door of the police station where the Inspector and his wife lived. At the door was Henry Wright, almost naked with a child in his arms who’s clothes were on fire, putting out the burning clothes the Inspector passed the child to his wife for her care. At this point he also realised that Henry’s throat was cut and his windpipe severed. He could not speak but pointed down the road where Mary’s house was on fire. The Inspector blew his whistle [no radio communications then] to summon assistance and two constables arrived fairly quickly – one was despatched to the fire station where the horses were readied and men called to haul one hand pump to the fire. At the fire another constable and neighbours were attempting to rescue those in the house. A Dr Godfrey was called and he sewed up Henry’s windpipe. Once Henry’s throat was sewn up he apparently whispered to the Inspector and constable Bishop, and they were the only people in the room at the time, that “He had done it!”
By now neighbours had been evacuated from their houses next to the end of terrace building that was on fire. The front door is locked, a ladder was found to gain access as the backdoor appeared jammed after opening just a couple of inches. We had all the gory details of what was found inside the burning house, more cut throats, Mary’s mutilated body blocking the opening of the back door. Apart from Henry and the burnt child the only other survivor was George Reynolds. He had helped with the attempted rescue and the seven hour battle the firemen fought to extinguish the burning home. The fire was on the Sunday, the inquest took place on Monday, with a number of conflicting pieces of evidence.
There was so much more background information which was given to us and we were eventually asked to decide if Henry was guilty of multiple murders or was he guilty of what we know today manslaughter by diminished responsibility. Our members were divided on their verdicts, but we do know that Henry was hanged for murder. The story did not end there, as premature deaths of many of those involved in the case occurred shortly after Henry died. What a mystery and what a superb presentation of the facts by Ian.
Waikiki Beach Party
July 16th 2017
The Local and Family History Group was again present at this annual event in the village. As in the last two years, we had a table on which some 15 interesting items were displayed, with the idea that people would attempt to identify these objects.
The winners this year were Keith and Peggy Horton who correctly identified 9 objects. The two runners up, each with 8 correct answers, were Andrew Walster and Frank and Rose Childs.
As can be expected, the “wrong” answers were often at least as interesting as the correct answers!
The correct answers were:
Item 1 Spoon and Pusher set
Item 2 Victorian Mouse Trap
Item 3 Fireguard Tester (Children’s Homes)
Item 4 Fire Extinguisher
Item 5 Darning Mushroom
Item 6 Picture Hooks
Item 7 Game hanging Hook
Item 8 Fireman’s water Pipe Nozzle
Item 9 For Cooking Jacket Potatoes
Item 10 Jar Opener
Item 11 For Melting Glue
Item 12 For Holding up Dresses
Item 13 Fireman’s Water Pipe Connector
Item 14 Wallpaper Trimmer
Item 15 Stocking Repair Hook
June 8th 2017
Thursday, June 8th was the date for our now traditional ‘Summer Outing’ and cars arrived direct from Wheatley, Retford and Doncaster at our chosen location, Wentworth Woodhouse.
We had booked a ‘private’ tour, but were greeted first with a welcoming drink in their restaurant. After a very brief introduction we were taken via the pillared hall to a scale model of the house. We learned that the front of the building is the longest façade of any English country house. It measures a whopping 617 feet long from end to end, some 7 feet longer than when it was originally built. The additional feet are in the main due to mining subsidence and we saw evidence as we went around when some doors failed to meet as they should when closed and a few cracks which were not part of the design. The present house was built by the Marquis of Rockingham, and incorporates part of an earlier manor house built c 1630. There were a variety of architects who worked on the changes which resulted in what we see today.
There were a variety of tricks used to give false appearance such as some wooden pillars coloured to appear like marble, but in fact painted and the design added with a large feather. The wallpaper however is not false and some of the more recent renovations have cost in excess of £160 per roll! Some of us were struck by the differences in construction from the stone front façade to the internal areas and courtyards of red brick. One could see from the huge curved redbrick wall how it had been built to accommodate a very large curved stair. We were led through a number of rooms each with a tale to tell, superbly narrated by our guide for the morning Robert, who had been part of the staff for many years and knew some of the owners prior to it becoming a charitable body. Our journey led us to the long gallery which is 180’ x 18’ and built solely for the purpose of indoor exercise rather than braving the Yorkshire weather in colder or wetter times.
There are relatively few original items in such a grand and spacious house but we did see a wonderful full Meissen dinner set decorated with birds. Part of the ceiling in the boudoir is sadly in need of replacement. We were shown a large cedar wardrobe made in that wood specifically to moth proof it. We inspected one of the bathrooms with a ‘view from the loo’ and the back stairs for the servants with its wooden sink cunningly disguised as a cupboard. The plumbing here dated mainly from changes made between 1902-5. We learned how the open cast mining had come almost to the front door and puzzled over the carving of a parrot above the main door. Then the green painted billiard room, the paint of which needed an unhealthy amount of arsenic to retain the colour and led to the early demise of many painters and decorators of the time.
The tour we took which lasted almost 2 hours probably covered about less than 20% of the inside of this huge house. It is in a very poor state of repair, and will take much hard work and a huge amount of money that the charity needs to raise just to make it weather proof and start to return it to its former glory. They like other many other large estate houses are diversifying into events such as weddings and a number of big screen and TV productions have made use of the house as well as the gardens. It is not part of any national body and needs all the support it can get so look at the tours they do on their website and if you can make a visit – it will be well worthwhile.
Despite a breezy and cool June day we all enjoyed the visit which was rounded off by a superb meal in the Rockingham Arms, after which a number of members spent both time and money in the Wentworth Garden centre which is another very large place to match the scale of the big house.
Velocipedes – Rosemary Beney
15th May 2017
Who would have thought that our guest speaker, Rosemary Beney, from Chesterfield, for the morning of Monday May 15th, could have kept us interested, amused and even made us wiser, with a talk entitled ‘Velocipedes’. That however is exactly what she did! She had taught herself to use an iPad and how to use it to produce audio visual presentations. So the journey she took us on started in Germany around 1818 with what was also known as a running machine, consisting of 2 wheels roughly connected by a wooden frame with a central ‘saddle’ [no pedals] and the rider straddled the saddle and just ran, occasionally taking his [no lady riders yet] feet off the ground to ‘cruise’. These eventually sprouted pedals and very crude braking systems. We were shown something like 150 pictures and short video clips taking us through the development of bone shakers, hobby horses, penny farthings or high wheel bikes. There was even instruction not only on mounting and dismounting the latter, but a video of some rather fast and dangerous racing of them. We progressed through a whole variety of single seaters, tandems and side by side tricycles. There was even a four wheeled velocipede to take the family out on. After wooden frames and wheels the use of metal and even solid rubber tyres were part of the progress made in the first few years. A pneumautic tyre was even made by Robert Thompson in 1845, but never used and it was 1888 when John Dunlop produced tyres and tubes for practicl use, and riding became more comfortable!
Tricycles were developed with big baskets for delivery of almost any consumables from bread to laundry, then small models for children and in 1895 ‘chain driven’ machines. Tom Stevens took 2 years to ride round the world in 1880’s. We were even shown a ‘mad’ uni-cyclist riding round the top of a 100ft high chimney where the bricks were crumbling away.
The first ladies even tried to ride side-saddle, A style that was later to be followed by pillion passengers of today. We had folding bikes, carried inside a small suitcase, for businessmen in London as well as the cycle corps in WW1 and the folding bikes taken to war by paratroopers. Beryl Burton, from Leeds, won world titles with her cylce racing between 1960 and 1968 and was competing at national level until 1986, even setting a tandem record with her daughter in 1982.
We were treated to a selection of photos of unusual uses of bicycles including, ambulance in both world wars, knife sharpeners, a whole variety of deliveries, ice cream vendors, the mid-wife, attached trailers of all sorts and sizes. After a good hour Rosemary was able to answer a number of questions from members. Even the Tour de France has visited Yorkshire, and cycling is one of the UK’s best Olympic sports.
What Tha Up To – Martyn Johnson
March 20, 2017
At our meeting on Monday March 20th we were entertained by Martyn Johnson. He was born near Barnsley and went to school in Darfield. From an early age he developed a great love of nature and spent more time messing around outside than on his school work. As a result he never passed any exams and in his words ‘was thick’! His father was a miner so we were invited to imagine the home life he led. Then at the age of 15 he started work as an apprentice blacksmith, a job that he thoroughly enjoyed. His physical stature [‘size large’] meant he was built for the job. He also attended a local youth club which was not only a social outlet but the leader was also keen to help the teenagers’ progress in life. They put him forward to Barnsley Borough Police Cadets – but sadly there were no vacancies at the time. Finally at the age of 19 in 1962 he ended up in Sheffield Police.
Martyn then went on to describe his beat area in Attercliffe, some of the many residents of the area, and how he gained experience in the job. Some of the lessons were harder than others! He proceeded to keep his audience enthralled with many humorous stories of his arrests as well as some more unusual incidents. There were a number of accidents he had to deal with, some that also on reflection he and the victims were able to laugh about. All in all a most entertaining morning thoroughly enjoyed by all who were present. Martyn had to leave for an appointment with Sheffield Radio but he will return with more tales at some time in the future.
We went on to hold a very short AGM, settling matters for the foreseeable future and agreed that this year’s summer outing, in June, would be to Wentworth. As March is also the start of our membership year now is the ideal time to join us and enjoy a varied programme for the coming 12 months.
Member’s Stories and Memories
January 19, 2017
Our meeting on January 16th was the now traditional annual members meeting. Everyone has the opportunity to tell the group a story from their memories, family research or any other historic matter of interest. This year we were treated to the usual variety of ‘tales’. Audrey started with a series of transcriptions and records all relating to the same word which started as REMDEN in 1901, moved to REM DEER by 1911 and finally turned into REINDEER, which is what it had been all along. This is a common ‘error’ we all have to see through and retain an open mind on when we are researching both person and place names and many of us have similar examples. Alan then took us on a trip into boxes of old papers retained and not looked at for many years. He had found some original plans for a house his father had had built in 1948 which led him to memories of crashing his ‘trike’ as a 7 year old. More interestingly though the plans were fully coloured and accompanied by letters to and from solicitors, builders, council planners and mortgage companies along with receipts the materials. They told a story forgotten by most of the difficulties encountered during the post war years when rationing was still with us. Wood was rationed and had to be sparingly used, money was limited and therefore a maximum spend was imposed. The floor was temporary and only finished in wood blocks some years later after rationing was progressively lifted in the 1950’s.
Roy had a great little book purchased in parish church of St Aidan, Bamburgh, Northumberland. It was effectively a book of memories by a parishioner including the 3 rooms of a school, and the headmaster T W Liddle, and his nickname the TW standing for Tobacco Waster as he spilt more on the ground when filling his pipe with ‘baccy’, not unlike Roy’s own grandfather. Somewhere mentioned were Goose eggs, Rhubarb, and Mushrooms, but the tales went back to schooling how the writer was involved 2 long walks either end of 3 train changes – remember both ways every day – before and after a full school day, all without parental accompaniment on the short trip to Anwick. The parents living in a 4 room house with no fewer than 9 children. Ann then recounted stories nearer to home with the Bellamy family and Wheatley Woods, WWII tales of flying bombs being no threat until the flame went out at the rear, collecting the paper strips used to confuse early radar. The close knit community in the years around the war, with rabbit being a staple meat, village events like tennis and hoopla to name but two of the many sporting events and then finally the relief of Butlin’s holidays when things started to return to normal. Judith brought along a selection of postcards dating from 1900 – 1915, when you could use a postcard to advise of your plans for a visit 24 hours later and know the card would arrive 12 hours before you and all at a postal rate of 1/2d. She had been able to decipher some of the initials and signatures and fit them into her family researches.
We then made use of the AV system within the hall to put on 2 PowerPoint presentations. The first from Dave, telling the story of trading tokens, issued before the minting of 1/4d and 1/2d coins as a means of paying home workers and others for the labours. He had found details of tokens issued by boroughs, mining, navigation, tea, purified water, cider, and what started the research om this previously unknown subject for him, Bedfordshire lace making. This was a trade in which all branches of his family had been involved. Finally Freda had a well-researched and presented story of two brothers, ancestors of centenarian Eunice Mary Nield 1911-2014. She had traced them back from Doncaster to Leeds, including Oulton Brewery at Woodlesford nr. Leeds, emigration to Melbourne, Australia, and on their way a role as ship’s surgeon, there were a selection of interesting pictures and portraits culminating in a link to a very tasty desert, Peach Melba, named after the Australian soprano, Nellie Melba! As always, great ‘self’ entertainment with a mystery subject from everyone involved.
Saints & Sinners in the Classroom – Barry Davis
21st November 2016
Just 36 hours after we said our farewells to King Henry, we were back in the Hall on Monday morning 21st November to welcome Barry Davis, a retired teacher from Nottingham. He set the scene by recounting tales from his childhood in Birmingham and then Llanelli, and a father who returned from war as a hopeless alcoholic, suffering from what was then known as shell shock but now ‘Post Traumatic Stress’ and with recovery help on offer. As a child he had been packed off to South Wales to live with a strict maiden aunt who had little idea of the needs of a child. Her staunch religious beliefs prevented even kids playing on a Sunday let alone washing or housework. He was befriended by a local Baptist preacher, who took on the role of father figure, and ‘groomed’ [not to be confused with the modern use of the word] him with the intention of training for the ministry. However not long after the preacher suddenly passed away and in Barry’s mind he could not ‘square’ this sudden loss with the ‘love’ of God. He lost his faith, and took to training as a teacher.
His first job at the age of 24 was in North London where he told of the antics of a class of 15 year old girls that taught him ‘never to try controlling women’. Having moved to Cricklewood he met with more ‘trouble’, but this time with a small and seemingly uncontrollable young Afro-Caribbean boy. We heard a number of tales more about ‘sinners’ than ‘saints’ in school. Then in a chance purchase of a newspaper some 30 years later whist on holiday in the Greek Islands there pictured was a face the eyes of which were unmistakably that same young boy, but now he was an adult and sentenced to death for a double murder on the island of St Kitts in the West Indies. Mixed in the true were the lad’s progression to Mr Universe, and his girlfriend a budding Miss World contestant, some infidelity and a gun, as well as a sentence commuted to life. It was to mean life as any chance of parole was ruined by the man’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crime. This all led to the link with Autism and Aspergers disease. [Goolge – ‘Bertil Fox’]
Barry retired as a deputy head at the age of 65, but after a couple of years became bored and started to work again with children who had been expelled from school so many times that they became permanently excluded from the standard education system, and often because of autism. He spent a further 10 years working in this field, so now we had the story of the girl he was sent to teach at home. She lived in the attic of the house with 2 cages of pet rats (one of males and the other females) and she could only ‘function’ in the presence of her female rats. So he was to teach her with a rat on his shoulder nuzzling his ear whist another tried the trouser leg route. Barry had a very interesting ‘double’ teaching career before retiring for a second time 2 years ago. There was also some interesting discussion at question time about the effects of both conditions and how we now know so much more about them than when Barry first taught that Afro- Caribbean child.
The Royal Visit – Henry VIII
19th November 2016
On Saturday evening 19th November 2016, 90 members of the Family and Local History Society and their guests were transported back nearly 500 years in time. The year was 1544 and King Henry, the Eighth of that name, was engaged upon ‘Royal Progress’. His Majesty halted in the village of North and South Wheatley in order to afford his loyal subjects, the opportunity to have ‘audience’ with their Sovereign Lord and King. The King had embarked upon such ‘progresses’ for at the time it was wise to be rid of London – it being a place of great stinks and pestilence!
During the course of the ‘audience’ the King recounted the events of his long reign: telling of his wives and their various demises along his children. His Majesty, recently married to his new (and sixth) wife, Queen Catherine Parr, was at this time in poor health; his leg was continuing to cause him considerable pain. Despite his impediment which put him in poor humour, he told of his prayers, his happiness with each new wife, and his anger as all but one failed to give him the male heir he so desired.
All this whilst the assembled Lords, Ladies, gentlemen and poor serfs enjoyed a fine full six course Banquet, which comprised of potage, stuffed eggs, game pie, gilded meatballs, swine and fowl meats with breads followed by a rice potage with poached pear and jelly accompanied by Shrewsbury cakes, cheese, and other delicacies. The King answered some impertinent questions with great humour, and his loyal subjects gasped at the detail and were in great merriment at their ‘audience’.
The Society is greatly indebted to our members and chefs of the evening Dee Miles and Hilary Bennett, and to Roy Bennett for the wooden platters upon which our meals were served. Everything ran so smoothly due to the small army of ‘servitors’ (far too many to mention individually) who waited upon us with both the food and wine. Those in the village who missed this ‘audience’ missed the event of the year – being 1544! (and 2016).
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Footpads, Kings and Highwaymen – Ian Morgan
19th September 2016
Our meeting on Monday 19th September found us once again in the Village Hall and this time being entertained and educated by Ian Morgan with his talk entitled “Footpads, Kings and Highwaymen” which was simply the history of 34 miles of the Old North Road. He started with a gem of knowledge and education for many of us. What is a ‘Footpad’? It seems to be a term now virtually extinct from most dictionaries. He explained – A ‘Footpad’ is a highwayman or street robber who goes about on foot. Probably today the closest term we use would be a ‘mugger’.
Ian then took us back from today’s satnav methods of getting from one place to another, through a series of maps, their styles, and their ability to guide the traveller, until we got to the 1600’s when a county map might have a major town signified by a name and drawings of a few houses, then dotted around an otherwise plain piece of paper, might be village names, drawings of the odd mill, or hill and the occasional church. There might be a river, but there were no roads or paths, certainly no distances and in most cases little in the way of scale. So he took us on a journey up the Old North Road, entering Nottinghamshire south of Newark and completing our journey at No 1, Yorkshire, the first house on the south entry to Bawtry. The first map that was remotely helpful for the journeyman was a ‘strip’ map which was simply a series of columns on a page starting bottom left and continuing until you left the page maybe on the 6th column top right of the page. The North Road was mapped in this way but there were no directions if you left that main road. One needed a guide, a bit like modern travellers might employ for a trip into thick jungle.
The only travelling done was by the aristocracy in their own coaches or even more uncomfortable for the standard traveller who might be perched on top of a mail coach, on occasions even the drivers were known to have frozen to death. Mail coaches travelled at night and changed horses about every 10 miles. The long coaching horn was used to summon the inn keeper and for him to provide a new team of horses with the minimum of delay and maybe a hot drink for the driver. Despite the conditions the mail coaches ran on a very tight schedule and nearly always made the journeys on time. We heard how the Old North Road was diverted to go through Retford in 1765, there were a series of facts that fascinated us, where the tolls were, some of the ‘mile’ stones and even a 5 foot high stone memorial still to be seen in the hedgerow south of Tuxford. Stories around the civil war and cannon shot in a church spire aimed at a look out. How the White Hart in Retford handled 19 coaches a day, which meant finding around 80 fresh horses every day, and refreshing the exhausted ones. We had all these facts plus many more in an educational and entertaining 70 minutes of history and humour.
Ian has written a number of books on historical crimes, their punishments, and the social history of the area. His professional presentation was one of a number of different talks he gives and I am sure we will welcome him back in the future.