Saturday, 14 January 2017


Church of St Mary and All Saints.
On the day we visited Willoughby everyone else seemed to have left.  The streets were deserted; we passed the silent school and parked the car near the church where a large black cat was lurking amongst the old gravestones, it stopped to stare at us then wandered off.  Was this Willoughby or had we wandered into Thorpe in the Glebe?! (see footnote!).

We visited mid week .... years ago Willoughby would have been teeming with people as this used to be a self-sufficient agricultural village (prior to the First World War there were 13 farms here, a mill and a blacksmith forge): nowadays, whilst a couple of farms still exist, most of the residents are employed elsewhere as  Willoughby is very conveniently placed for transport links to Nottingham, Leicester or further afield.  In 1989 when the ladies of the WI published The Nottinghamshire Village Book they found "three full working farms .... and one public house.  There is a shop which is now a mini market, a baker and a pork butcher."

The Old School House
Well, we  passed the old post office .... now a house .... the old school house ... now a house  ....  the Old Bull's Head .... once the pub but now a house.  We found the Community Hall but no sign of a pub or a shop of any description.  The empty streets and lack of amenities made us wonder about any community spirit here.  It seemed to us there was nowhere to actually meet up and socialise.  We were wrong.  When we eventually found someone to speak to they told us there was a great community spirit.  People regularly meet up in each other's houses (they had 80 guests over New Year!); the community hall is a hive of activity with regular village breakfasts and social events; people meet at the school and there are fund raising events to improve the village (they bought playground and exercise equipment for the community park in recent years).  The photographs on the village website backs up the idea of a really friendly, supportive community.

So they don't seem to miss the pub! At one time the village had three public houses (as well as the church, a Methodist chapel, a Baptist chapel and a Primitive Methodist hall!).  The first to go was The Plough which was possibly a coaching inn and stopped trading around 1864.  The Three Horseshoes was demolished in the 1960s when a new pub was built ... also called The Three Horseshoes.  This has fallen victim to the recent decline in hostelries and new houses have been built on the site.  The Old Bull's Head we have mentioned above but the original inn had the distinction of being visited (in 1722) by William Stukeley (1687 - 1765), famous for his pioneering archaeological work on Stonehenge.  He was a close friend of Isaac Newton (1642 - 1726) and his memoir to Newton is the earliest source of the falling apple story.

The Old Post House
We were directed to the house of the church warden, Mrs Elizabeth Bryan, whose family have lived here since the 1600s.  If anyone could tell us the history of this place it was surely this lady .... 

This is an old village: The Roman town of Vernometum (meaning Spring Grove) stood close by here next to the Fosse Way   It is believed to have been a fortified town with a temple and theatre: a place where Roman soliders could rest on their long march between Lincoln and Exeter.  In the 1960s a new flyover was being built nearby and the remains of a cobbled Roman road were unearthed and we have already mentioned the urn containing 200 silver Roman coins found near here by a farmer in 1771  (Hickling).  It was interesting to discover that historians believe Emperor Hadrian spent the winter of 137 to 138 CE here!

An excavation near the village was carried out in 1964.  They discovered an Anglo-Saxon burial site.  A hundred graves were found: the archeologists found weapons, shields, amber brooches, beads and rings dating back to 600CE.

The Domesday book records the name as Wilgebi (named after willow trees) but the spelling changed over time and in the middle of the thirteenth century a wealthy resident decided to make the name his own.

This dynasty began in the late 1100s with a Nottinghamshire wool merchant, Ralph Bugge, who married a Miss Wollaton.  Nottingham University has a history of the Willoughby family here.  Over the generations the family bought 6 bovates of land (about 90 acres) and a large house in Willoughby. (Their Manor House once stood close to the church but was demolished in 1978 .... part of a wall may still be evident in the property now on that site).  Marriages brought them the Old Wollaton Hall and in later years the very large estate of Middleton in Warwickshire.  When Ralph Bugge's grandchildren inherited land they changed their names:  one became Ralph of Bingham while the other became Richard de Willoughby (this branch would go on to build Wollaton Hall).

Church of St Mary and All Saints.
Our friendly guide, Mrs Bryan, kindly gave us access to the church of St Mary and All Saints.  A number of  headstones in the graveyard bear the name of Bryan and a charity board (that dates back to the late 1700s) inside the church shows Elizabeth was not the first in her family to be a church warden here.

I was very surprised to find the old slate headstones in the churchyard are not listed.  They are very like listed ones we have seen in other graveyards.  This one commemorates John Wright, a 2 year old, who died in 1720:

1720 slate headstone

Inside the church was another surprise .... eight beautiful alabaster monuments to:
  • Two unknown ladies
  • Sir Richard Willoughby and lady (d 1325) ... he is depicted cross legged indicating he went overseas on a crusade.
  • Sir Richard Willoughby (The Lord Chief Justice who died 1362)
  • Sir Richard Willoughby (son of above ... died 1369)
  • Sir Hugh Willoughby (died 1448) and his wife Margaret Freville (died 1493) both very finely dressed indicating their great wealth and social position.
  • Isabel Foljambe (first wife of Hugh ....died 1417)
  • A priest ... possibly Hugh Willoughby Rector of Willoughby  (d 1344)
Sir Richard Willoughby (died 1362)

Lady Margaret Freville ... wife of Sir Hugh Willoughby (died 1493).  Their marriage brought the Middleton estate to the Willoughby family.

Rather old child breast feeding - panel on Sir Hugh's tomb

Panel on Sir Hugh's tomb

 They are tucked away at the side in a chapel of their own.

Memorial to Colonel Michael Stanhope

 Colonel Stanhope was only 24 years of age when he died in July 1648.  He was a Royalist and fell in the Battle of Willoughby Field during the Civil War.  The Stanhopes lived in Shelford: they were of equal rank to the Willoughbys and at various times they were connected by marriage; ex-marital affairs or rivalry!  A sketch exists of a plan for a grand house to be built at Shelford which would have put Wollaton Hall to shame ... work began apparently but the Civil War put an end to the dream.

On the day Colonel Stanhope died villagers used the church tower as a place of safety and a good observation platform across the fields to the action.  They were to witness the terrible scenes of the last battle of the Civil War in Notts. 

Colonel Rossiter commanded 150 Roundheads on horseback. The Royalists had the distinct advantage of numbering 7 or 800 men most of whom were experienced fighters as they belonged to wealthy families (Roundheads tended to be lower class not trained as swordsmen).  Rossiter's men had ridden many hours to reach the Royalist camp and without pausing to rest they charged the field.  The bean field belonging to Sir Willoughby would have been covered in the bodies of the dead and dying as the battle turned into close fighting with swords.  Colonel Rossiter was wounded in the thigh and lost his helmet because of a musket shot but continued to fight until his side was victorious and over 100 surviving Royalists were taken prisoner.  Only 30 Roundheads died.
The Royal Arms of King William IV

A large stone cross stood in the village ... made from one stone five yards in height apparently.  The Roundheads decided to pull it down and began to tie ropes around it.  The vicar had other ideas.  He served the men strong beer while he gave a long speech on the innocence of the cross.  Their drunken attempts to destroy it failed.

The cross is no longer here.

East window

Window hidden by the large organ hence the strange angle!

Eight men from the village are recorded as having died during the First World War: sadly three of them died in the final days of the war and two of those were brothers:

  • Jonathan Goodacre aged 28 died on 11th October 1918
  • Joseph Goodacre aged 24 died 18th October 1918
  • Harold Attewell aged 20 died 30th October 1918
The Second World War Memorial commemorates two deaths.  At that time though the population rose as children were evacuated from the towns. 

The Nottinghamshire Village Book by the WI tells us about an interesting resident from years gone by.  Her name was Mrs Wood:  wearing a long black cloak she would walk the eight miles into Nottingham in order to attend the Catholic Mass.  The poor woman put dried peas in each shoe before setting off as a penance for her sins!  She was convinced her house was occupied by evil spirits and complained the rats refused to say their prayers so she had the house demolished!

The peaceful atmosphere is disturbed when the Quorn Hunt meet here. In previous years Prince Charles was a frequent visitor on those days.

About a mile and a half west of the village are the sunken remains of Thorpe in the Glebe.  Pevsner describes it as "one of the best deserted medieval villages in the Midlands".  The remains of the church, which was still in use in 1743, lie in the farmyard of Churchside Farm.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Upper Broughton

The name 'Upper Broughton' appears on the road sign but this village seems to have a number of aliases .... we have Broughton Sulney (because Aluredus de Suleni owned the land in Norman times) and Over Broughton (to differentiate it from Nether Broughton in Leicestershire) is another.  What ever you call it the place has hardly changed over the last hundred years and the 250 residents intend to keep it that way.  They are fighting against wind turbines being located near by and putting their faith in a Neighbourhood Plan giving them a legal argument against future developments.

This was once a predominantly agricultural village with a mill and a brickyard but today it is part of the communter belt having easy access to Leicester, Melton Mowbray and Nottingham.

We parked up and within minutes a friendly resident stopped to chat.  She suggested various people we could turn to for information.

Our first point of call was the butcher's shop:

As the sign says this family business, F Bailey and Son, is over a hundred years old (established 1905).  People travel from miles around for their award winning Melton Mowbray pork pies.  We bought one and have since been back for another!  This is a real traditional local butcher.  He works on a large wooden block table while chatting freely with his cutomers.

Just down the road we stopped at the first of two village greens.  This one is called Cross Green because of the remains of an ancient cross.  The origins of this stone structure are unclear: one theory suggests it was erected as thanks to God after nearby villages were decimated by the plague but Upper Broughton was spared .... or it could be the remains of a 13th century market cross.

Children's swings take up one side of the green.  They blend into the rural character of the village as you can see from the see-saw in the photograph. Under the autumn leaves we found this beautiful Millenium mosaic.  All the little sections represent parts of Upper Broughton village life:

The stone cross features on the mosaic (at about 9 o'clock ... the light was all wrong to photograph it from a different angle!) then working round clockwise they have included a huntsman in a red jacket (the villagers are proud of their links to the Quorn Hunt ... indeed Prince Charles used to hunt here often); a tennis racquet and paint brushes denote the leisure activities; a pork pie is followed by a water spring because the ancient Woundheal Spring is to be found nearby (in the early 1900s this was a popular healing place for skin diseases.  A circular bath was constructed (10ft wide and 5ft deep) where people could bathe but this is now on private land and visitors are discouraged apparently ... more details here); next a lamb represents the farming links in the village; the cricket stumps show their sporting connections while the Belvoir Angel is included because in the 1700s a local stone mason was responsible for the listed slate headstones in the churchyard.

Cross Green is overlooked by Willow Cottage, a timber framed building that dates back to the 1600s. Back then this was the favoured method of building (with thatch rather than slate for the roof) but once the brick works and the railway opened things changed.

We continued along the road past this wonderful old cistern which is dated 1777 and has all twelve signs of the zodiac around the bottom:


 Lovely old houses and well kept gardens brought us to the village hall ...

... then we took our lives in our hands to cross the busy main road to Melton, the A606.  The main road used to go right through the village along Bottom Green and Station Road ... we walked right down the middle of both those roads with very few cars to worry us!  The A606 was rerouted in 1928.  

We have travelled along the Melton Road quite frequently but never stopped at the village pub even though it looks an inviting place.  The Golden Fleece sits at the side of the A606 and whenever we pass the conservatory is always full of people enjoying a cosy drink or a meal ... but not today!  The conservatory was filled with pub furniture as the place is being given a facelift.  Oh well, we will have to come back another day!

Next to the pub is the old village water pump ....  no drink from there either!

..... and just round the corner is St Luke's Church.  This is the centre of the original Anglo Saxon village.  Yew Tree House (next to the church) probably sits on the site of the original Manor House.

We rang the key keeper who very kindly came to show us round.  The Southwell Church Project is usually a good source of historical information for most Nottinghamshire churches.  The entry for Upper Broughton was rather sparce but this gentleman was a fountain of knowledge (and is in fact writing the entry for the Church Project).  

A small carving just inside the porch was thought by some to be part of a tympanum from the original church doorway.

The carving shows stars and a man who appears to be praying.  Our guide pointed out flakes of limewash which suggests this was not an external tympanum: more likely it was part of a larger internal decoration.  The three 'sticks' could be the bottom of the three Calvary crosses. Experts have dated it to the Norman period.  The porch itself was built in 1733 (date stone over the outer door) but stones and decorative features from previous centuries were used by the builders (a 13th century frieze and a 14th century carved stone).

Inside your attention is immediately drawn to the needlework:

 Created in 1981 the quilt tells the story of village life during the year.  There is a full explaination of the images here.

At the other end of the church the windows add to the colourful interior:

One of the pillars has a curious mark scratched into it .....

.... possibly an ancient act of vandalism!

Major changes were made to the church in the middle of the 19th century.  The architect S S Teulon drew up the plans.  He has quite a list of restorations to his name including the chapel at Blenheim Palace, several country houses and a whole village (Hunstanworth in Co Durham).  Only the chancel restoration followed his complex design: the rest of the church was restored a few years later in a simpler, and presumably cheaper, way.

The graveyard has 33 examples of slate headstones (one of the largest groups in Nottinghamshire) with some great Belvoir Angels.

Rev Charles Wildbore (1736? - 1802) is buried here. He was curate of St Luke's from 1768 to his death.  He was also editor of the prestigeous Gentleman's Diary or The Mathematical Repository (an almanack of articles revealing day to day life and society in the 18th century) from 1768.

We thanked our guide and walked up the hill to Top Green.  On the way we past the old post office, now converted into a house, but it still has the lovely old shop sign.

The Top Green has a more peaceful feel than the Cross Green.  No swings here just a bench and a sign telling us we have visited at the wrong time of year!   In Spring this place will be full of daffodils ... Upper Broughton Daffodils.  It has a pure white perianth with a pink crown and a deeper pink eye ... sounds lovely!  The bulbs were planted in 1936 in memory of Miss Dowson, the first president of the WI in the village.  (It was a Mr Benjamin Dowson who built the Woundheal Spring bath in the late 1800s.)

We past the impressive Broughton House ...

...then retraced our footsteps back up Station Road towards the tennis courts.  The Upper Broughton Youth and Social Club began life in 1952 all due to the hard graft of Bernard Hayes, a man from New Zealand.  You can read an account of Bernard's life here: he made a real difference to Upper Broughton.  He arrived in the village in 1946.  His wife's sick aunt lived in a house facing Top Green. As the couple nursed their elderly relative they settled into the life of the place and never left.  Bernard had a love of tennis and persuaded Colonel Holden of Yew Tree House to allow local children to use his tennis courts one evening a week.  Later he persuaded another land owner, Major Victor Smith, to donate a piece of land to build a tennis court for the village.  Bernard did most of the work himself. He would be very proud to see it today. He died in 1979 at the age of 91. A remarkable man.

On returning to the car I was puzzled as we had walked the length of Station Road twice but failed to find the station.  We soon found it outside the village.

The railway opened in 1880.  This was the ticket office.  The line closed for passengers in 1948 but it is still used today by Bombardier (a train manufacturer) as a line for testing new trains.

Just up the road is the 21 acre Sulney Nursery that specialises in shrubs and trees.
We always find people happy to tell us all the delights of the village they live in and this place was no different.  Everyone we spoke to praised the place.  There was one person I read about who was not so enamoured though ... this was a boy who was evacuated here during the Second World War.  He hated the place.  He informed his mother he had been placed on a farm where he was forced to bathe in a water butt and he was going to commit suicide if she didn't come immediately to take him home!  Well, he got his wish.  His name was Kenneth MacMillan.  His mother took him back to Great Yarmouth for a short time then arranged for him to evacuate to Retford where he was placed with a dance teacher.  He would go on to join the Royal Ballet as a dancer then as choreographer and Artistic Director.  He discovered Darcy Bussell too .... so perhaps we should be pleased he didn't like Upper Broughton! Personally I think he was wrong.

Map of Upper Broughton: click here.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


The Basin
The Basin sits at the heart of this village right next to the main
 road and the pub.  A couple of swans were sleeping on the bank while mallards and coots fell out with each other in the water.  The benches were filled with people throwing bread to them, encouraging more disputes.  It is a lovely scene but a quick look around and you can imagine what used to happen here.  This was part of the busy Grantham Canal.  Heavy mooring bollards line the banks where large barges docked obviously in quite large numbers.  Nearby is the Canal Warehouse, a Grade II listed building.  This stretch of the canal (from the Trent to the Leicestershire border) was authorised for construction in 1793.  Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall employed James Green as surveyor of the project ... The Duke of Rutland at Belvoir sponsored the rest.  James Green was not the first choice as surveyor: at the time William Jessop was the Number 1 canal builder and he actually accepted the job but fell ill so took on the role of supervising the whole thing while Green did the work.  Together they created the first English canal entirely dependent on reservoirs for its water supply.  It was obviously a lucrative project for all concerned: although the building costs went well over budget the debts had all been paid off by 1805 and shareholders began to see a return on their investments.  James Green had a beautiful large house built for himself  (Lenton Abbey House)  in the middle of what is now the Nottingham University Park.

Canal Warehouse
 The canal towpath gives walkers, fishermen and cyclists easy access to the counytyside next to the canal and on the day of our visit we could see it was well used.  Our route took us away from there into the village itself.  There are 31 listed structures in this village - 17 houses, headstones in the church and parts of the canal itself.

View of St Lukes
We made for St Lukes Church and phoned the very friendly warden who came and showed us round.

St Lukes
The graveyard is filled with more good examples of the 18th century slate headstones, some with Belvoir Angels, but it was the stone embedded in the church wall that grabbed our interest.

Church wall
As the church warden pointed out it had obviously been cut down to fit but it was still in very good condition to say it is over 600 years old.  Conservationists suggested it should be removed and brought inside to protect it but the idea was not acted upon.

To get inside we had to pass through this wonderful 14th century oak door.  The iron work is just beautiful and the door itself shows damage dating back to the days of the English Civil Wars.

Church door

Inside is an alms box dated 1685: some of the pews obviously belong to the same period as the poppy head carvings are being worn away by generations of use. This old table is supported by bits from an old four poster bed ...

Carved table

 .... but you hardly notice these objects because your attention is immediately drawn to the brightly coloured East window.  It dates back to 1839 but bits of the glass are actually from the original medieval windows   This window was commissioned by William Mandell, B.D., vice-president of Queens' College, Cambridge.  Queen's College hold the advowson for the church (they have the right to nominate a suitable candidate for a vacant church living for this parish)so, as you would expect, a number of incumbants were Cambridge men.

East window
Tucked away in a small dark room at the back we found The Queen's College Coat of Arms next to the Royal Coat of Arms of George II.  These paintings date back to the early 1720s.

Arms of the Queen's College Cambridge

Arms of King George II

 As you walk down the aisle you feel the need to walk round this very imposing brass. but it is rather a tight squeeze.  This is the Babington Brass ... a memorial to Ralph Babington, a rector of the church.  It is the finest example of a brass in the East Midlands and just makes you want to grab a sheet of paper and get rubbing!

Babington Brass
 Ralph Babington died in 1521 before Henry VIII broke with Rome.  Sixty five years later (1586) his great nephew, Anthony Babington, was planning to kill the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I in order to give the throne to a Catholic monarch, Mary Queen of Scots.  Mary had a legitimate claim to the throne (Mary's son James VI of Scotland would become James I of England in 1603 when Elizabeth died) so Elizabeth was keeping a very close eye on her rival.  Letters between Babington and Mary were intercepted the Babington Plot was revealed and they were both tried and executed for treason.

Closer to the altar is the cover of a one-thousand year old Saxon coffin.  It has been described as "one of the finest things of its kind in the land" (Arthur Mee Nottinghamshire).

Saxon coffin cover
The grave cover was so impressive we didn't really notice the stone 'slab' laying nearby ... once I started reading about the church I wish I had taken more notice!  We had ignored the 'Vaux tombstone' (you can see a photo here).  It was found in the graveyard in 1983 and moved into the church to protect it.  You can see where the effigy of  William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden, used to lie and round the edge the Latin inscription reads; 'Here lies William Harrowden on whose soul may God have mercy. Amen.'

William Vaux was another renowned Catholic.  His second wife was Mary Tresham whose grandfather Thomas Tresham was a leading figure in Henry VIII's court.  Unfortunately her young nephew Francis Tresham was not so popular with the royals ... he was fined £3,000 (around half a million pounds in today's money) for his involvement in the Essex Plot against Queen Elizabeth I then, even more disasterously, he ganged up with Guy Fawkes! Historians believe it was Francis Tresham who sent the warning letter to his relative that lead to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot.  Luckily for him Francis died before he could be brought to trial - they chopped his head off and branded him a traitor anyway.

...... & Albert
Chair carvings .... Queen Victoria

Near the altar are a couple of chairs with a happier connection to our royals.  Instantly recognisable carvings of the young Victoria and Albert in the early days of their marriage (we won't spoil the mood by metioning his untimely death!).

Church interior

Village road sign
Half an hour in this church and you feel like you have wandered into a time machine! (The Southwell Church Project has a detailed description of St Lukes here).

One historical detail I discovered since  our visit concerns a child who was born in Hickling in July 1865.  He was orphaned at just 3 months of age and adopted by an American family then taken to Farmington in Michigan.  His name was Fred M Warner.  He grew up to be an American politician and serve as the 26th Governor of Michigan from 1905 to 1911.

We thanked the warden for his time, left the church and continued into the village The old properties are surrounded by new builds but the place has a good community feel.  We saw notices for the village cinema group and the Village Scarecrow Festival; there were lots of people about passing the time of day and even the gardens had a cheerful look to them. 


We found the old methodist chapel ... which is now a house ....

Old methodist chapel

... and the old school .... which is now the Village Hall ...

Village hall

Then we decided to wander back towards the pub.  This was not our first visit to The Plough ... a cosy atmosphere, good real ale and they serve local produce on the food menu so what is not to like? Nothing! We will be back .... I fancy a walk along that towpath someday soon.  Who knows we might find hidden treasure.  In 1771 a farmer was ploughing a field near by when he unearthed an urn containing 200 silver coins and medals buried there in Roman times.  Must remember to bring the metal detector next time!

The Plough

 Map of Hickling: click here.