Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Normanton on Soar

River Soar from Plough Inn carpark
Our Normanton on Soar (meaning Norwegian village on the Soar) visit began in the carpark of The Plough Inn on a cold winter morning when the ground was covered in frost and snowflakes were beginning to fall. There were no boats in sight on the river but the mallards came close and two swans laboured to leave the water then noisily flew past at head height.  What a great setting!  It is lovely at anytime of year but it is obviously a bustling place during the summer months when the free mooring helps attract the river traffic.  The Plough Inn has a large garden waiting to be filled; a good choice on the menu and attentive staff.  Definitely worth a visit.

Plough Inn
While today the River Soar with its boats and wildlife can be enjoyed by villagers and visitor alike, the waterway was not  always such a clean and pleasant place.
In 1634 Thomas Skipwith of Cotes (brother to Henry Skipwith who we wrote about in the Stanford on Soar post where he met with King Charles I in 1645) obtained a grant from the King allowing him to improve the navigation on the Soar for barges and boats.  By 1794 river traffic had increased and  the Leicester Canal opened with a 40 mile section of the Soar being used by industrial barges. Throughout the early 1800s this river was a busy transportation link as it connected to the River Trent giving access to a wide region for trade.  Industries sprang up along the canal bank: malthouses, brewing yards and hosiery factories and the coal fields made full use of the route.  Pollution of the river became a problem and the waters were frequently a vivid pink colour from the Leicester textile works. Thankfully those days are passed and the poor fish can swim around in a healthier environment.  

Here is a 1890 painting of a river barge passing the village on the Soar.  

Normanton on Soar by J Orrock 1890
The artist was James Orrock (1829 - 1913).  Orrock was born in Scotland where he trained as a dentist then moved to a practice in Nottingham.  He enrolled at the Nottingham School of Design, became an associate of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and exhibited work at the Royal Academy.   He was also an avid art collector.  Unfortunately, after Orrock's death, two painting from his collection were found to be forgeries: further investigations have revealed that he commissioned a number of  forgeries of John Constable's works! The BBC art programme 'Fake or Fortune?' caused a few problems for the owners of one Constable painting, 'A Sea Beach, Brighton', which failed to sell after a connection with Orrock was discovered.

River Soar from the Church
An interesting feature of this village is the Normanton on Soar Chain Ferry (one of the last in the country).  This ferry ride across the river is operated by volunteers each weekend from 1st April until 30th September (10am to 4.30pm).  It is believed to date right back to 1200AD but the first written reference to it was on a map of 1771.  It costs £1 per person to cross, with dogs and bikes being charged at 50p.

Cruck House

This wonderful old building in the photograph above dates back to 1454 and, unsurprisingly, is the oldest house in the village.  It is a Cruck house (meaning it was built with curved timbers in the roof).   It used to be the Old Post Office but it is now the only lived in cruck house in Nottinghamshire.

St James' Church (pictured below) is older still is a 13th century Grade I listed building.  In the graveyard we found a number of slate headstones and a row of four War Graves which commemorate the young crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed near the village on 19th April 1944 having taken off on a training flight from Wymeswold just half an hour earlier.  

Church of St James

You can read about the church here .... but I just want to quote one section from the link as it amused me.  Apparently inside the church is a large memorial dedicated to Anne Ragdale.  She was obviously highly regarded as the memorial outlines her virtues in extremely glowing terms ... to the extent that it really annoyed the historian John Throsby who wrote:

 "And a large tablet to the memory of a late rector's wife, who died in 1768. She might deserve a good character; but the flattering inscription, intending to display her virtues, &c. is the most fulsome stuff I ever beheld: When all the goodness and perfections of the CREATOR are ascribed to his creature's, how offensive must it be to him who gave us being?...  should we suffer in our protestant churches, disgraceful inscriptions of mortals, whose characters are given, as it should seem, to vie with that of the ALMIGHTY?--- Within and without, this church bears evident marks of antiquity." ["Thoroton's History of Nottinghamshire" by J Throsby 1790].

Normanton Village Hall
The village hall is a modern building where tea and refreshment can be purchased from a small, well stocked Community Shop presided over by two friendly ladies.  I left with a cake and a second hand novel.  I was very happy with my visit to Normanton and have every intention of returning on a warmer, sunnier day!

Normanton on Soar: map here.

A beautiful weather vane

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Stanford on Soar

Stanford on Soar sits near the Leicestershire border in the southern-most tip of Nottinghamshire.  Most of the buildings here appear to date back to the nineteenth century but the village is considerably older. William the Conqueror granted the manor to Roger de Busli of Normandy soon after the Conquest.  The Notts historian Dr. Robert Thoroton (1623 - 1678) described de Busli as "the greatest Man of Lands in this County by many Degrees; ... in this small Shire, he had one Hundred seventy-four Manors, being the best Part of ninety Townships."

By the sixteenth century the manor had passed to the Knifton family but they lost it when Thomas Knifton lost his head to High Treason and his property was claimed by the Crown: in 1558  Queen Mary gave the manor and the advowson of Stanford Church to her Goldsmith, Robert Raynes.  The village appears to have been about the same size then as it is today.  It was described as comprising of "11 messuages, 14 cottages, 1 horse mill, 50 acres land, 100 of meadow, 300 of pasture, 3 of wood, 1,000 of furz and heath with all their appurtenances in Stanford, the whole of the fishing and liberty of fishing in the waters of the Sore ..."

In 1641 Robert Raynes's grandson decided to have a new manor house built on top of a hill near the village. He wanted to move the whole village eventually but the English Civil War interrupted his plans. Unfortunately the grandson had financially overstretched himself and had to sell up in 1661 when the property was acquired by a London Alderman, Thomas Lewes.  It would remain with his family for four generations.  Here is an illustration of the Hall from 1739.

By 1771 the manor passed to the Dashwoods through marriage and Charles Vere Dashwood had Stanford Hall completely rebuilt.  Although extra wings would be added by subsequent owners, Dashwood's Hall forms the centre of the present day building.  The 1851 census reveals a comfortable lifestyle at the Hall as the family had 13 live-in servants with other employees housed around the grounds.

Richard Ratcliff acquired the Estate in 1887.  The Ratcliffs had made a fortune in beer as part of the Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton brewing company.  In 1877 Bass was the largest brewery in the world, producing a million barrels a year.  Bass Pale Ale was exported throughout the British Empire.  Richard Ratcliff was therefore a VERY wealthy man and used his money well.  His initials appear on the water-pump and the houses around Stanford village as he set about improving living conditions in the village.  He also built a new village school ... now converted into a house .....

 .... and renovated the church.  Apparently one of Ratcliff's five daughters died before she married so her doting father spent her dowry on the chancel.

On Ratcliff's death in 1898 his son wrote, “Richard Ratcliffe of Stanford Hall and owner of 1682 acres of the Stanford Estate spent upwards of £11000 in embellishing and beautifying the church ....”

Unfortunately we could not get inside the church on this visit so we failed to see the beautiful stained glass windows in their full glory or to admire the brass figure of a priest in full robes set into the floor of the chancel (thought to be of Adam de Rothley, Rector from 1354 to 1361), or to photograph the tomb of  Sir Ambrose Cave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and member of Queen Elizabeth I's Privy Council.

Fortunately The Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project can give you more details about the church here).

We spent a few minutes wandering around under the yew trees in the graveyard.  King Charles I had stood with Sir Henry Skipwith under one such tree right here in 1645 discussing tactics on their way to the Siege of Leicester.  It was easy to feel eerily close! Sadly the old tree they stood under was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1987.  Close examination of its rings showed it had been 1200 years old.

Stanford churchyard hosts a large collection of  slate gravestones that date back to the 1700s.  These slate headstones are works of real skill and craftmanship.  At least one here was sculpted by William Charles of Wymswold.

Here are three headstones belonging to the Lacey family.  Robert Lacey was a Stanford Yeoman.  There is a lovely example of a Belvoir Angel in the top left hand corner of the headstone below which records the death of 16 year old Henry Lacey on 13th May 1753.

While Ratcliff was making changes to the village the Great Cenral Railway arrived and the Stanford Viaduct was built. 

The Viaduct opened in 1899 as part of the GCR London extension.  Its arrival led to the River Soar being diverted in order to make way for the embankment.  The line was closed in the 1960s but this section remains in use to carry gypsum trains to British Gypsum at East Leake and it forms part of the GCRN line ... a heritage railway, staffed by volunteers, that re-creates the experience of steam train transport through ten miles of Notts and Leicestershire countryside.

In 1928 another wealthy philanthropist took possession of Stanford Hall.  Sir Julien Cahn paid £70,000 (equivalent to just under £4 million at today's prices) but he then spent a small fortune on the renovations.  He employed Sir Charles Allom as his interior designer .... Allom had previously worked on the redecoration of Buckingham Palace and had designed the interior of the American multi-millionaire Henry Clay Frick's Fifth Avenue town house.  

A theatre was added to the house at a cost of £73,000 (yes that was more than he paid for the Hall and grounds!).  The walls were covered in art by Beatrice MacDermott, it could seat 352 people and had an orchestra pit with a self-playing Whirlitzer organ specially imported from Paris.  This instrument added to the atmosphere when Cahn was performing his magic shows.  He was the President of the Leicester Magic Circle and organised events to raise money for local charities.

Cahn had tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a bowling green built in the grounds.  He installed an enormous heated swimming pool with beautiful coral decorations and artificial caves added, together with a large trout lake and a sea-lion pool!  The sport he was most passionate about was cricket.  He not only had his own cricket pitch but a top ranking team to go with it.  Writing in 1938 the historian Arthur Mee noted Sir Julien Cahn's "cricket team is the delight of thousands who come here to see it play." Apparently the Sir Julien Cahn XI toured the world and lost only 19 of their 621 matches!

As President of the Notts County Cricket Club in 1935 he not only helped fund the players he also paid the membership subscriptions for 800 people who otherwise would not have had the means to pay.  

Present-day residents of Nottinghamshire owe this man a vote of thanks too.  He rescued Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron, by purchasing the building then he gave it to Notts County Council.

During the Second World War Cahn opened his home to convalescing soldiers.  Initially he offered space for 22 men but within a year he had made room for 70. 
Sir Julien Cahn died in his library at Stanford Hall in 1944.  He is buried at Wilford Hill Cemetery.

Sir Cahn's legacy lives on at the Hall because it has recently been acquired by the Duke of Westminster and the DNRC (Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre) for the treatment of seriously injured service personnel.  The Hall grounds have been completely transformed to create the modern facilities required for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of  those brave members of our military.  (video link here). The facility will open this year (2018).

Stanford on Soar: link to map here.