The Victorian Fair – Freaks and Fisticuffs – Ann Featherstone

20th January 2020

A late change of speaker did nothing to detract from the enjoyment of our first meeting of 2020. Ann Featherstone travelled from Derbyshire to entertain us with her talk entitled “The Victorian Fair – Freaks and Fisticuffs” covering the history of ‘Fairs’ and the side shows with their mix of showmen. Her initial interest in the subject grew out her childhood adventures at her ‘home’ fair and looking forward to the annual Ilkeston Fair. These, often, annual events exist for a reason and many date back centuries. Ann explained they were often initially trading fairs with a follow on of entertainment, but over the years the onus altered as trade was done elsewhere and the fair remained as largely for fun and entertainment. Some were spontaneous like the Thames ‘Frost Fair’ when the river froze with 2-4 feet of ice which would support all the tents and man people with their horses and carts. The earliest recorded fair date was 1150, and regularly held into the 1650’s. The last Frost fair was in 1814 [maybe that’s when global warming began].

Her talk included a huge amount of information like the Charter Fairs, granted by the Monarch for trade from onions, to sheep, grain, and geese. Then there were the hiring fairs [see our own lectern on Top Street] and mst had specific days and places. Fairs celebrated parish boundaries, industrial holidays, northern wakes, food for Christmas and a number of other origins. She illustrated her talk with an extensive collection of slides from drawings, paintings, postcards and photographs. To name just a few Boston May Sheep Fair, Birmingham Onion Fair, Loughborough Backend Mop Fair, Portsmouth Free mart, Kings Norton Mop fair, last held in 1963 and Nottingham Goose Fair. Most were big local events opened by the town mayor or village dignitary with all the regalia of maces and ceremonial swords etc. There was even a ‘Runaway Fair’ held one week after a hiring fair which favoured the employer as he could obtain a different employee. The entertainment part, often the third day after the business had been done was a hotbed of pickpockets, drunken and licentious behaviour to a backdrop of sideshows featuring animals and freaks, including the tallest or shortest man as well as the ugliest woman or fattest boy. Theatrical family businesses toured the fairs with their shows as well as rope walkers and boxing booths, dancing dogs as well as the flying pieman. He sold a very grey pastry coffin filled with questionable meat, and carried a jug of gravy which he poured into the top of his pies after making a hole in the pastry cover with his finger!! Ann educated and amused us for over an hour with her stories and pictures.

A Tip from Family Search and Where It Took Me – Dave Valentine

18th November 2019

On November 18th our speaker was Dave Valentine, who had received ‘A Tip from FamilySearch’ just over 12 months ago. That snippet of information, just a single name, was the basis for his talk. He started with an explanation of FamilySearch, probably the oldest genealogical society in the world, as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. The name was William Stewart a cousin of his great grandmother. In c 1840 he had joined the Mormon Church, which at the time was a clandestine group meeting secretly in member’s house. With his wife, Mary Ann, two young daughters and William’s sister, they became part of a migration of almost 100,000 to establish new settlements in virgin territories of America. Their journey include sailing across the Atlantic, being almost shipwrecked off Florida, being towed into New Orleans and then journeying up the Mississippi to St Louis. Times were so hard he had to sell his watch to pay for the last part of that journey. After overwintering in St Louis and plying his trade as a shoemaker, earning enough to survive and then undertake the next part of their migration. They became part of a small wagon train and whilst crossing the great plains encountered everything from native Indians, and stampeding buffalo, to fording across the Rio Grande and near starvation. After 17 weeks and more than 1000 miles of dust and mountain passes they arrived in Salt Lake to join other strugging Mormon migrants. William’s sister Elizabeth had stayed behind for a time in St Louis and married Mary Ann’s brother John Marriott. They too made the same journey across the plains and set up home in Utah. Many of the towns are now named after those early settlers, Brigham City, Layton, Ogden and even Marriott bear testament to the early Mormons. The story went on to include the building of their first homes, some as log cabins, some cut into of rock caves and others built of turf sods. In 1853 they even dismantled their cabin and moved it into a fort as protection from armed forces. They were friendly with the Shoshoni Indians and learnt many survival skills from them.

The Mormons practiced polygamy openly from the early arrivals until around 1890. William had just two wives and a total of 12 children. John Marriott took five wives, Elizabeth being the second, and between them all, they produced 15 sons and 20 daughters [25 of them survived to adulthood]. All were listed in Dave’s talk, but he followed the line of just one son, Hyrum Willard. He in turn produced eight children including John Willard Marriott, who with his wife Alice set up a small ‘Root Beer’ bar with just 10 stools and 6 tables in 1927. Their business prospered and over the years became the Marriott Hotel Group which now has 1.3 million rooms in 131 countries – but Dave although a fourth cousin has yet to introduce himself or get a ‘freebie’!

My Granny, the Suffragette – Mick Rawle

16th September 2019

At our September meeting we welcomed Mick Rawle who had researched his grandmother’s activities in the early 1900’s. His talk went way beyond the summary we have space for here.

Mary Ann was born in Lancashire in 1878, becoming a cotton mill worker at the age of ten. In 1900, she married Francis Rawle, an iron turner, with whom she had two children. The poverty and harsh working conditions of her own life and those of the people around her drove her to political activism, which started with local politics and led to her becoming a member of her local branch of the Independent Labour Party at Ashton-Under-Lyme.

By 1906, she was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and was part of a deputation of 400 women textile workers who went to the prime minister on 19 May. At that event, she came into contact with Teresa Billington-Greig, Annie and Jessie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst. She took on more of a role within her local WSPU and attended the second Women’s Parliament in March 1907, dressed in shawl and clogs. She was arrested in London and sentenced to two weeks in Holloway Prison.

While she was in prison, she kept a diary, with a passionate appeal for why women should be granted the vote: ‘The women of the Union are prepared to make any sacrifice even liberty itself to get the franchise.’ She wrote about how the vote would get them better wages and it would secure them better rights. Mary wrote about the injustices that existed against women, such as having no rights over their children and that a man could divorce his wife but ordinary women would find it impossible to divorce an unfaithful husband.

She finished part of her plea with the statement, ‘Give them [women] the chance and you will see that you as well as they will profit by it.’ In 1907, she joined the Women’s Freedom League and became the secretary of its Ashton-Under-Lyne branch. By 1910, she had moved to Grantham and became involved with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies there in 1913. She would later stand as a Labour candidate in the Grantham municipal elections and was chair of her branch of the Women’s Co- operative Guild for 17 years. The 1918 Representation of the People Act failed to grant her the vote and she would have to wait until the 1928 Act to see her dream come true. Mary continued to be a campaigner as she got older, and in 1945 she was chair of the Grantham branch of the Old Age Pensions Association.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Crematorium – Jane Price

15th July 2019

On Monday July 15th a sizeable audience were educated and entertained by Jane Price. Jane is the wife of Wadworth’s Clergyman and as such is involved in a variety of roles assisting her husband. Her talk entitled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Crematorium” was both informative and humorous. She started by telling the tale of the family who chose a certain hymn only to leave Jane herself as the only person singing it when the day came! She had views on the ‘National’ versus ‘Local Independent’ undertakers and explained the fors / againsts. Her description of one crematorium with it’s different shades of pink – she thought looked more like a Dulux colour chart than place for the last journey! Another mourner had taken the flowers home to decorate the house rather than the crematorium having paid out £83 for them. Jane explained her views on religious and non-religious along with some of her experiences of different types of coffin – including KNITTED ones. Involving children in the ceremonies and the intake of breath as two young children sat on the side of the grave cut dangling their feet over the coffin below as if they were on the side of a swimming pool! Some of us were surprised to see the pictures Jane brought along of the different types of hearses – she had not only a traditional black limo, and horse drawn carriages but also VW camper Van, Morris Traveller, Range Rover, Motorbike with sidecar ‘platform’, and even an extended three wheel motorbike. There was the tale of the person who said the burial taking place was in the wrong grave [should have been with his mother], only to find that he had been placing flowers on someone elses grave for years. Jane had so many different tales that we were nearly into ‘overtime’ before the morning ended!

A History of Bolsover Castle – John Taylor

20th May 2019

At our meeting on Monday 20th we welcomed John Taylor, a professional historian and researcher for English Heritage and other organisations. His talk on Bolsover Castle  its occupants, and connections was extensive and detailed.  The first building on the site was commenced in 1086/7 and has seen many changes over the 900 plus years since then. John produced an audio visual display which covered the various periods of construction, the occupants and their connections far and wide. The links to other local and overseas houses and castles were explained. There were Kings and Queens from Henry II and his son John, through to George IV, the Cavendish family, Wootton family, even Rubens and many more. Hardwick, Welbeck, Trafalgar Sq. Woollerton, and Court of Savoy all got a mention amongst others. The recurring theme around the passion for horses, their breeding and indoor riding schools which were a feature of Bolsover and other stately houses was evident throughout. Then there was an illustrated tour of Bolsover as it is today with its painted walls and decorated vaulted ceilings, that could not fail to attract those who have not visited to do so.  There was so much information and so many names that these notes just scratch the surface of the knowledge that John imparted upon us.

The Retford Union Workhouse 1837 – 1930 – Harry Foxley

18th March 2019

Following a short AGM our speaker on March 18th was Harry Foxley and his subject was East Retford Union Workhouse. He started by putting us in the setting of the workhouse with a cup of gruel for supper in the evening and then to pick up our chamber pots, and retire to our dormitory by 8.30pm and all candles to be extinguished by 9.00pm latest.

In 1800 as many as 1/3 of the population was living in poverty, some of it so severe that one family in West Stockwith were found in their hovel literally all starved to death. Originally Retford had 3 poor houses on, Moorgate, Carolgate, and Grove Street. There had been a structure of village poor houses but in 1830 parliamentary approval was given for the formation of Unions of parishes to share the burden by building purpose built ‘workhouses’. There were 26 parishes that made up the Retford Union and a workhouse was built in 1836-38 at a cost of £4500.  It was designed to hold to house 200 inmates and sited at the top of Spital Hill outside the then boundary of the town, not far from the current St Saviour’s Church on in the parish of Clarborough. The smallpox isolation hospital was very close by. This new workhouse was to replace all the poor houses and was overseen by a team of guardians [one appointed by each parish] who met every two weeks to inspect the workhouse and review the day book kept by the Master.

Each workhouse was supposed to be self-financing, but this was rarely achieved and the balance came from the parishes. The income for the workhouse came from broken stone, down to marble size with quota per fit man 30cwt [1 ½ tons] per day. This ceased in 1892 when the new income came from cutting old sleepers to sell as logs. The women’s oakum was equally valuable and mixed with tar was for waterproofing boat and ships hulls. The hair shorn from inmates by a barber paid ½ d per head [480 haircuts to earn £1] was also sold – records show 1s/4d was paid for 14lbs.

We had many facts given to us about life in the workhouse, poorly and fraudulently run workhouses with ‘bad’ masters who even starved their inmates. The standard menu was laid down and was barely sufficient to keep the inmates alive and healthy enough to work. There was no electricity, gas only came in 1881 and water was from 2 wells, inmates were segregated to 3 parts sectors as male, female [some with nursing children], and children. Orphan children were often apprenticed out, thus saving on the cost of looking after them.The facts, shocking as most were by today’s standards kept rolling out to a backdrop of images of workhouses, inmates and masters of guardians amongst others. Harry spoke for almost an hour and then answered numerous questions about the workhouse and more general Retford heritage.

Member’s Stories and Anecdotes

21st January 2019

On 21st January after some announcements and discussion we entertained ourselves with our annual series of member’s stories and research ‘discoveries’.

About half of those at the meeting had prepared a short presentation. The first involved a great grandfather who presented the initial problem of tracing him on census returns as his family was easily found but he was not present. This was eventually solved when he was found travelling around the country with his employer the Duke of Devonshire. His occupation was ‘postilion’ and this led to more searching and an interesting series of slides of him in uniform, his place of work and about the role – postilion is a person who rides the near horse of the leaders in order to guide a team of horses drawing a coach. [Another facinateing discovery and subject for investigation by family researchers!] This was followed by the equally interesting story and investigation into the wartime aircraft crash in the village. It was 1943 and the plane came down near Corner farm on a flight from Steeple Morden, Cambs., to Goxhill possibly due to bad weather. A Nottinghamshire investigator has compiled records of the pilot from U.S.A. and a number of other aircraft tragedies. We heard about the retrieval of the majority of the crashed aircraft by ‘Queen Mary’ transporter as well as the stories of smaller bits, including a part with wedding ring that was returned to the family, being ‘ploughed’ up for years following. Some of the live ammunition retrieved found its way into the now disappeared village pond.

We then had another AV presentation on the owners and activities of Beckingham Shipyard. The progress of Joseph Spencer Compton Watson, was traced in some detail, from initial shipping work in London in 1869 to his purchase of land and establishment of ‘Watson’s Ship Builders’ in 1889. He brought his workforce with him, built houses for them, and donated land for the village school. Joseph’s son carried on the business and members of the Watson family became stalwarts of the village. We were treated to pictures and details of a variety of ships & boats built in the yards before its closure in 1960’s, even their whereabouts today. This presentation was followed by an amusing poem about the trials and tribulations of a family historian’s research. We had received an enquiry in December about a family who had once lived in Wheatley. The discovery of a newspaper piece about a Golden Wedding in that family was read out the details and will be passed on to our enquirer. Finally we had a third AV presentation originally produced as part of the WW1 commemorations last November. This served to demonstrate how research into families can expand knowledge and produce many more stories of interest and intrigue.

How the Black Diamonds Book was Made – Martyn Johnson

19th November 2018

On Monday 19th November we had a very good turnout including a number of welcome guests. Our speaker for the morning was Martyn Johnson who would enlighten us about the writing of the best-selling  book, ‘Black Diamonds’, subtitled, The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, by Catherine Bailey.

Having established that very few of us had actually read the book, he proceeded to tell us a bit of his life’s story leading to how and why he became involved. Starting with tales from his school days in the small mining village Darfield where he claimed to be less than academic. When he left school at 15, and not wanting follow his father down the pit, he ‘fell into’ a job as an apprentice blacksmith, where he loved hammering red hot metal. At the youth club he met the local vicar, who submitted an application to join the police force for him. He raised many laughs in his audience as he recounted not only the recruitment process but his early ‘beat’ days in Attercliffe, one of the toughest parts in the east end of Sheffield City. His stories of ‘action’ on the beat in the mid-1960s, before Health & Safety took over were in some cases gory or risqué as well as humorous. After a spell in CID he returned to the beat as his life revolved around grassroots policing. He just loved people.

He has been a long-time resident of Wentworth and one evening in the local pub he met a chap who was trying to write a book about his great grandfather, Lord Milton of the big House. The young man had such a posh voice and city dress sense that the locals would not engage with him. Martyn helped by quizzing his local friends and the book was written.

Sometime later the same guy met a lady in London, Catherine Bailey, who was trying to write a book about the family at Wentworth Woodhouse. She too was struggling with her research as many records had been burnt, so the young man suggested she contact Martyn. We had tales of working with the estate gamekeeper, and the sunbathing ladies of the training college in the big house.  Also a very old locked box in the stables, which was opened by a former prisoner who left jail as a born again Christian. Martyn knew him from his police days as one of the best criminal lock pickers in the business. Then when Catherine visited Martyn with a list of people, the top of the list was erroneously marked as deceased. Martyn suggested that they visit him but not to tell him he was dead. There followed 3 ½ years of work, including more visits by Catherine, who became a good friend. So the book was produced with much input from Martyn’s local knowledge and contacts. Amongst them was a 96 year old working butcher who produced a special flavouring for his dripping sandwich by scraping his working apron with his knife.

The tales of his visits to London for the book launch and award ceremony were also very amusing. His gift of signed copies being the only payment except a jar of pickle in a Fortnum & Mason’s wicker basket which he produced from a plastic bag! As a result of Martyn’s involvement in these books he was encouraged to write his own and he has now published several books recounting his days in the police and also a book of postcard picture based on Wentworth village and house.

A Family Tangle – Lynda Hotchkiss 

17th September 2018

We welcomed back Lynda Hotchkiss on Monday 17th September, with her extraordinary tale of ‘A Family Tangle.’ Her own profile notes read as follows – “ I was able to work at my hobby and get paid for it when I became staff genealogist at Lincolnshire Archives. The old dusty records used to build a family tree hide so many stories just waiting to be told.”  This proved to be so true as she took us through a maze of names and relationships that sent us dizzy with the confusion of marriages, births, cousins and inter marriage within close families. All this led to great amusement as we tried to keep up with surnames used as given or Christian names to identify the fathers. Half siblings by blood, half in laws by marriage as well as half cousins by marriage were all documented, there were great step grandmothers and on the screen we watched as lines were drawn through generations to show the links.

The investigation started with the Rippin family which was traced back from Tattersall, Lincolnshire to Sprowston, Leicestershire. The research led to murder, and one man marrying two sisters, confusion with 2 cemeteries next to one another in the tiny hamlet of Froghall. People seemed to have disappeared, only to be found on the census called by nickname rather than registered names. Newspaper reports of murder over a tin of corned beef and a dog, wives buried with husbands but named on the stone by their second husband’s surname all added to the intrigue. One name of a participant in this story was the wonderful Charlotte Fanthorpe Brackenbury – how could you miss her on a census? Then to cap it all Betsy, the youngest sister in one family married both her deceased sisters’ husbands before marrying her stepfather with children fathered by them all. So it is not surprising that Linda’s talk was truly ‘A Family Tangle’.  –   Her two published book incidentally are titled ‘Bad Boys and Naughty Girls’ and ‘Mrs Cave, Her Husband and His Wife’. If our talk was anything to go by they should both be a good read!

Nottinghamshire’s Dark Side – Chris Weir

16th July 2018

Family & Local History Society met on Monday 16th July and welcomed 3 guests from Retford who, along with a good turnout of regular members, enjoyed a talk by Chris Weir who, now retired, was chief archivist at Nottingham Archives. His subject was “Nottinghamshire’s Dark Side” and starting with a quote from Macbeth ending in “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble,” that set the scene for a morning of tales about witchcraft, murders and hangings in previous centuries and mainly in our own county. We started locally with John Darrell an exorcist working from Mansfield but travelling to Mattersey, Sutton and West Drayton. His own brushes with the ‘law’ in the form of the Foljambe family and the Archbishop of York interrupted his activities. We heard about the ghost of Sophia Hyatt, dubbed the ‘White Lady of Newstead’ and how her infamy came about. Then there were the arguing Carmelite Friars and their ‘armed’ combat in 1532 which led to a coroner’s court hearing. Chris then took us into the murky area of medical research and the disappearance of corpses from several places but in particular Southwell workhouse. If the body of an inmate was not claimed or there were no known relatives then the body could be disposed of rather than buried on site. This led to a lucrative trade in bodies for dissection in particular at Cambridge University School of Anatomy. Their final resting place being recorded many miles from where they died.

In 1851 a group, numbering 30-40, labelled ‘rogues and vagabonds’, but more likely men with starving families at home, set off from Mansfield and Sutton in Ashfield on a mass poaching mission on the Rufford estate. News of the raid reached Rufford before the men and the head Gamekeeper, Frederick Brocksop raised a party mainly of fellow estate workers, to protect the game including rabbits. In the affray that followed William Roberts, also a gamekeeper was killed. The killer was tried, found guilty of murder and transported for life. There were many other true stories that Chris had researched from records kept at the archives / newspapers (far too many to report here) and he kept us entertained for more than an hour. The point was made that these interesting facts can add so richly to family histories and are not available in most cases on the internet. Googling archive catalogues to see what is available and making visits to them can really enhance the family histories that many of us are striving to research.

Inn Signs and Their Stories – Robert Mee

May 21st 2018

After the weekend of the Royal Wedding we enjoyed a really good journey around the public houses of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with our guest speaker Robert Mee. Robert has a M.A. in English Local History and has written for many magazines on the subject, but on Monday morning 21st May he took a detailed look at inn signs primarily around the local counties. All the signs and more were displayed on the screen with some very interesting slides. This was not a history or travel guide to the inns and pubs themselves but more how they got their names and the story behind many. We started with a brief history as the origins of signs at drinking places go back certainly to roman times when they were a pictorial sign for the purpose of the building. From that came the likes of the Grapes Hotel, and the Vine [from which came the wine]. With the population being predominantly illiterate picture signs were so important. A law in 1389 even made alehouse signs compulsory. Robert listed some of the popular names at different dates.

We then had a go at guessing the top names in the England, which turned out to be, in order, Red Lion, Crown, Royal Oak, White Hart, Swan [plain, black or white], Plough, and Bell. Each of these had a link to some aspect of history, with royalty or hunting featuring highly, and with many different interpretations. Then there was the link to the landowners, the Cavendish, Newcastle Arms, and even the railway that ran across their land, with The Final Whistle. Dukes – Devonshire Arms, Rutland Arms, and pubs that change their names like the Middleton Arms becoming the Dewdrop. We were treated to a plethora of names that had links to different subjects or uses. It is almost possible to trace historic coaching or travel routes, – Coach & Horses, Waggon and Horses with stables, or just Horse & Groom or Travellers Rest. The Cheshire Cheese is on a route from York to Cheshire and payment for the bed was made with cheese, being the main ‘cargo’ of the waggoners.

Robert explored pubs named after trades, or areas, from Miners Arms, Jolly Colliers, Brickmakers Arms and we even had Lacemakers and Needlemakers. Agriculture with Farmers Arms, or Wheatsheaf, – railways with Station Inn even where there is no longer a railway, but the history is still remembered or Great Northern, – rivers and their history with Ferry or Ferryboat.  More unusual names such as the Quiet Woman and the story of the beheaded landlady, The Flying Bedstead and the Harrier in Hucknall with the story of the Harrier jump-jet’s origins.  There were so many that it is impossible to list them here, and with such interesting origins. We were truly treated to a fascinating and thought provoking talk. In future we will try to work out why the pubs we visit is so named!

Life in the Fire Service -Mike Hodgkins.

March 19th 2018

Mike Hodgkins is a retired fireman and kept us well entertained for over an hour. He was born in a Yorkshire mining village and the kids slept head to toe in one bed. His hobbies included rock climbing so he was always active, he listed several early jobs from a window dresser to the RAF. He lived for a time near a fire station and eventually enquired about being a part-time fire fighter to boost his wages from his job at Rowntree in York. He was persuaded to apply for a full time role and after initial training was posted to Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire. There followed a long list of stories about incidents varying from RTAs, rescuing cows and a parrot, to major hotel fires and explosions. Despite the seriousness of some incidents including fatalities most of the stories were told with humour and kept the attention of the whole audience.

Steady progress through the ranks led to postings in Sheffield and Rotherham where the stories continued and included the spectacular effect of molten steel on water as well as assisting with firework displays. Then he went back to North London at Borehamwood where the local police used the fire brigade station facilities as a social club. He was not popular as a new station commander charged with improving morale and efficiency which included kicking out the constabulary. Mike had brought along some personal memorabilia including his long service medal to show us and added some fire safety advice. He retired and moved to Swaffham in Norfolk where he renovated a house before selling up and moving back nearer to ‘home’ territory in Chesterfield. Over recent years he has taken to writing and has had several books published.

Members Stories and Memories

January 22nd 2018

The Society’s first meeting of the New Year was held at the Village Hall on January 22nd. It was the annual members open meeting when members expressed their opinions on the last twelve months along with plans for the future and had the opportunity for discussion in preparation for the AGM in March.

We then had a good round of six 5 -20 minute presentations by individual members some verbal and some using the AV equipment. As always these covered a wide range of subjects and each one was very interesting in their different ways. There was an update from a member on the Segelocum Archaeology Project that a few members are involved in, details of which are on the Sturton village website. One member had a detailed history of their ancestors covering a 100 year period from 1760 and we were surprised by the distances individuals traveled in those times. Ten family members managed to travel from the small parish of Algarkirk near Boston, Lincolnshire to Cheltenham, Manchester, London, the Lake District, and Edinburgh. But then further afield to Ireland, the West Indies, India, Brazil and New Zealand – so the age of globetrotting is not a recent phenomenon!  A shorter but no less interesting story then emerged of ancestors who lived on the river Ouse and traveled between Kings Lynn and the upper reaches beyond Bedford carrying cargo. Investigations into the social history had discovered the use and design of river lighters and prompted return visits to the lovely town of St. Ives near Huntingdon. Then we amused by the newspaper reports from the Edwardian period of prosecutions of motorists for exceeding the speed limit by traveling at 15-18 mph in Retford and Clarborough when the limit was 10 mph. The method of timing over a 200 yard distance was described in detail. Finally we had a slide show of old village photos which generated some discussion on where they were taken and who the people were.

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

Annual Outing

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).

Footpads, Kings and HighwaymenIan 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.