Thursday, 1 March 2018


Shelford village
Shelford is situated quite close to a bend in the River Trent so the water slows down slightly causing silt deposits making the river shallower here ... and this probably accounts for the village name: Shelford or shallow ford.

Village sign
An Augustinian Monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary was founded here sometime around 1160.  The friars adopted a self sufficiant communal life, giving up ownership of all possessions. It sounds idyllic,  I can picture them now ... semi-bald black friars with their little rotund bellies, quaffing ale and singing three part harmonies as they hoed a field ... but these monks started to enjoy life at Shelford a little too much! Following a visitation in 1280 the Prior was ordered to abstain from drink; told to attend church services at the proper time and he had to retain no waster or quarrelsome person. His deputy was warned to take better care of the poor and abstain from all manner of business plus the person in charge of the cellar was instructed to present accurate yearly accounts. It doesn't seem to have made much difference ... a new Prior was appointed a short time later.

St Peter & St Paul Church
Henry VIII put paid to the friar's debauchery by closing the monastery in 1536. The following relics were recorded as being venerated there: some of the oil of the Holy Cross, a girdle that had belonged to the Virgin Mary, some of her breast milk (!) and part of a candle used in her Purification service after the birth of Jesus. 

At the time of the closure three Cannons were found guilty of "unnatural sin" and three others wanted to be released from their vows.

 Archbishop Cranmer (see Aslockton) asked for the monastery farm to be given to his brother in law "or some other house in Notts now suppressed."  (This petition failed but he was allowed to purchase Kirkstall Abbey and Arthington Priory both near Leeds in West Yorkshire, for his own use.)  Shelford was bestowed on Michael Stanhope (1508 - 1552).  Michael's half sister Anne was married to Sir Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1500 - 1552), elder brother to Queen Jane Seymour.  Powerful relatives were obviously extremely useful. Things improved even further when Henry VIII died (1547) and Edward Seymour was appointed Lord Protector (as the new King Edward VI was still a child).  For a time Edward and Anne Seymour were the most powerful couple in the country and Michael Stanhope continued to profit.  Unfortunately some of Edward's decisions were not popular with the right people and within a couple of years he fell from grace (1549) eventually taking Michael with him.  Both men were beheaded in 1552.

Manor House

Slate gravestone

Michael's son Thomas was only 12 years old when he inherited Shelford Priory. He was rather a forthright character and got involved in a number of quite violent disputes with his wealthy neighbours. He would die in 1596 heavily in debt ... mostly due to the cost of repairing and rebuilding his home! There were plans to build a beautiful mansion to rival Wollaton Hall but it never materialised. There is a well researched, detailed biography of Thomas Stanhope (details here) by B Cobbing and P Priestland. 

Thomas's grandson,  Sir Philip Stanhope (1584 - 1656) ... the 1st Earl of Chesterfield married Catherine Hastings in 1604 and had eleven sons and two daughters with her.  The family fought for the King during the Civil War.  One of Sir Philip's sons, Colonel Philip Stanhope, was left  defending Shelford Manor and the village when, on 3rd November 1645, the place was attacked by the Parliamentarians, led by Colonel John Hutchinson (see Owthorpe).  Colonel Stanhope was offered the chance to surrender but he refused. About 140 men died that night. 

There is a dip in the ground near the church showing where Hutchinson positioned his gun battery (this is a listed monument).

Slate gravestone
The Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project records the following event at Shelford:
"During the fighting, some Shelford men took over the church tower, drawing up the ladder and bell ropes after them. From there they fired on Roundhead troops, refusing to come down despite warnings that no quarter would be given if they did not. Hutchinson then sent for straw, set light to it and smoked out the defenders. Smoke damage could still be seen in Victorian times, and today the wall at the base of the tower staircase is darker than higher up - possibly the legacy of this event. Within the body of the church there was damage to Lady Anne Stanhope's monument and the font, which had to be replaced in 1662 after the Restoration. Philip Stanhope died from wounds received in the seige and much of the Stanhopes’ manor house was destroyed in a fire."

St Peter & St Paul Church Tower
Yet another Philip Stanhope (4th Earl of Chesterfield) is also worth a mention here.He was a statesman and an acclaimed wit of his day (in his later years a friend asked after his health: he replied that he had been dead for two years but did not wish it to be known!)  He is remembered for a critical letter written to him by Samuel Johnson after the Dictionary of the English Language had been published.  The Earl had written in praise of Johnson's hard work and dedication in producing such a fine document.  Instead of showing his gratitude at this noble endorsement Johnson expressed his annoyance that more help had not been forthcoming while he had been struggling with debts during the time of writing it.  The Earl could have been highly offended by this: instead he praised the way Johnson had expressed his insults!

Johnson was not quite so forgiving ... over a number of years the Earl had written letters of advice to his son explaining how a gentleman was expected to behave.  When these letters were published Johnson said of them "they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master."

Top of Stoke Ferry Lane
... and we can not leave the Stanhopes without mentioning George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon or Lord Porchester (1866 - 1923), famous for funding the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb.  He was one of the first to enter the tomb to see the many "wonderful things" they had spied through a tiny hole before it was opened. Unfortunately he died after being bitten by a mosquito and the Pharoah's Curse was thought to have claimed a victim. It was this Stanhope who had the village school built in 1873.  The school closed in 1964 and the building is now the Village Hall. 

Bingham market place holds a reminder of a most genial squire from Shelford.  His name was John Hassall.  He was so well liked and respected that when he died in 1859 local people collected the £700 to pay for the erection of the Bingham Buttercross.  The gilt lettering round the top reads: "To be Beloved is better that all Bargains" a motto he lived by.

A number of well-tended War Graves can be found in the grave yard.  Four commemorate an Australian aircrew who died during the Second World war.

Arthur Mee tells an amusing tale of a village tailor in Victorian times who started supplying beautiful velvet waistcoats at very competitive prices. He was also the church sexton so he had access to the Stanhope family vaults.  He was stripping the velvet from the coffins to make the garments. (Arthur Mee's 'Nottinghamshire')

The footpath fingerpost in this photograph leads to a field with one of the best views of ridge and furrow fields in Nottinghamshire.


Ridge and furrow fields

The village pub is the Earl of Chesterfield ("one of Nottinghamshire's finest ...") which obviously takes its name from the Stanhope family.  The pub was on the point of closing a few years ago but the locals organised a take over and saved it.  The business is now a thriving enterprise with good beer and excellent food.  We can highly recommend the lunchtime menu and the Christmas dinner.

Earl of Chesterfield

This has always been an agricultural community with farm building nestling amongst the cottages. At one time there were up to 30 acres of willows growing near the Manor House as the villagers harvested the stems to supply local basket weavers. Today we came across a field full of alpacas showing how the community is adapting to modern trends.

Stoke Ferry Lane

Stoke Ferry Lane leads down to the River Trent where a short ferry ride used to take passengers across to Stoke Bardolph.  It was once a busy form of transport.  Here is a description from 1908:  
"There is a very pretty view from hence down the Trent, Burton Joyce appearing just at the elbow, where the river turns.  Nor is this place altogether lonely, for there is a tolerably quick succession of passengers crossing the ferry to and fro, and boats sailing up against, or down with the stream.  A day or two in summer, might be passed very pleasantly in this neighbourhood ..."

Map of Shelford: click here.

Village website: click here. 

Millenium Stone

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