Saturday, 3 September 2016


 I could start by telling you that Cotgrave has a very long history: Ice Age flint tools have been found here and a Neolithic monument with eight Bronze Age burials; a 6th century Anglo Saxon burial ground where seventy-four adults and thirteen children had been laid to rest (one of the adults had been buried with a shield and spear) has been excavated at Mill Hill just outside the village and there's also evidence of an Iron Age settlement .... but I won't!  Instead I will tell you that tucked away in the graveyard at Cotgrave are Robert Dalziel Runcie and his wife Ann.  They were the parents of Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury (1921 - 2000) .... now the great man himself never lived in Cotgrave but it stands to reason that he must have visited the place and his story is worth telling!

At the age of 24 Runcie was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.  His citation reads as follows:

 'One of his three tanks was knocked out by an anti-tank gun and set on fire. Runcie discovered that one of his men was trapped in the tank and went across open ground under enemy fire in order to pull out this remaining man who was unconscious. He succeeded in getting him out.' Citation for Gallantry for the Military Cross: March 1945

The following day he was involved in a battle to destroy three anti-tank guns making him the only modern-day Archbishop who is known to have killed someone.

Runcie's son, James, is a successful writer of novels and television scripts.  Recently he has been working on Grantchester, a popular TV series based on a crime fighting clergyman with a wartime past ... the character is loosely based on Archbishop Runcie.

The Cotgrave Cross (which is a stone column not a cross!) is situated just outside the churchyard on the corner of the very busy main road junction.  It looks like a really old village monument but photographs from the 1920s reveal it was not in situ then so this is a relatively 'new' addition.  The stone pillar itself dates back to the 16th century but, according to a local forum, it was discovered and dug up from the Rectory garden then placed at the crossroads ... hence the name The Cotgrave Cross. 

The large village War Memorial is in the churchyard.  A suggestion to move the Cotgrave Cross to make way for the Memorial was discussed recently but rejected because of the cost.

Cotgrave was the home of a war hero.  Ernest Hayes was awarded the Military Medal three times during the Great War, one of only 180 men to do so.  He survived the war but died in Beeston in 1938 aged only 39 years old. His brother John Hayes died in action and has no grave just a commemoration on the Thiepval Memorial.

The Cotgrave branch of the British Legion are involved in a project to record the personal, family and military histories of the fourteen men who gave their lives in the First World War.  It really brings these young men to life for us: Earl Manver's under-gardener who enlisted at 15, was quickly promoted to lance corporal then died aged 17; the 22 year old who bought an engagement ring but died before popping the question and two young neighbours who enlisted on the same day and were killed within a few weeks of each other ...  one of these lads lived in Vine Cottage whilst (Ernest Reeve) had lived right next door at the Rose and; Crown.  If you follow the link to his name you will see just how much the pub has improved since his day!!

We called in to the pub while we were passing and enjoyed a refreshing half an hour in the sunny garden.  The place has a friendly atmosphere and a good selection of well kept ales .... a place we will definitely be going back to visit.

We tried but failed get into the All Saints' Church because we visited on a weekday (the church is open Saturday mornings and Sundays). Parts of this building date back to the 12th century but the Domesday Book records "half a church" here in the 11th century. During an outbreak of the plague in 1637 the church was used to store food with a hollow stone filled with vinegar being used to disinfect money paid for the goods.  According to Wikipedia that stone is still inside the church. Ninety-three people, including forty-six children, died from the disease.  That was about a fifth of the population.

Apparently the church had to be restored (by John Cunnington, architect) after an arson attack in 1996 and two modern stained glass windows were added: one commemorates the farming traditions of the village and the second one shows the connection to mining.

You can get detailed information and photograph about All Saints' Church from the Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project

The population of Cotgrave exploded in the 1960s when Cotgrave pit was opened.  Until then records show a population of 700 to 800 but within a couple of years this figure was 5000 and grew to over 7000.  Large housing developments sprang up round the old village centre.  Experienced miners from other pits were encouraged to move into these new, fully furnished homes.  At first it was people from other Nottinghamshire pits but when miners from Gatehead began to arrive older residents remember special meetings being arranged where local people mixed with the new-comers in order to get used to the different accents and dialects ... a vital health and safety issue in the dangerous mining industry of the time.

Princess Margaret cut the first sod at the inauguration in 1954 and nine years later the mine began to produce coal: the first Notts mine south of the River Trent.  All the coal was destined for the Ratcliffe on Soar Power Station.  The pit hit problems in the late 1980s: it lost over £11m in 1988/9.  Coal production ended in 1992.  There are records of ten fatalities over the 32 years it was in operation.  (Link to a history of the pit).

Today the site has been developed into a country park and more housing is being built there.
This further development will hopefully be good news for the area. The shopping centre could do with a bit of updating but it sits next to a children's park and both are clean, tidy spaces.

 One area the locals can feel very proud of is the excellent primary education offered by the local schools.  Candleby Lane Primary School is a leading light in sharing outstanding practice across Nottinghamshire.  Cotgrave Church of England School is rated Good by Ofsted and pupils with Special Educational needs fro 3 - 19 years of age can attend Ash Lea School.

From a social point of view there are two public houses still in business ... quite an achievement these days! A third pub was built in the 1960s but closed in 2004 and was replaced by new houses. The old Miners' Welfare, now the Social Club, boasts a main hall capable of seating several hundred people, one of the largest fully equipped stages in the East Midlands, several bars and entertain suites, snooker rooms and a large garden ... showing what a thriving community this was when the pit was open. Obviously the pit closure caused a few economic issues but the village has weathered that storm and continues to grow.

Map of Cotgrave: click here.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


Owthorpe: Colonel Hutchinson's fish pond
Owthorpe is one of the smallest villages we have visited.  It sits on a road signposted as a dead end! At a glance it is a small cluster of residential farm buildings, a community centre and a padlocked church.  You might think there's no reason to visit here unless you know one of the residents. You would be wrong. This "out of the way" feel is actually a selling point.  Sitting next to the Grantham Canal, just outside the main village, you will find The Little Retreat Spa offering relaxing treatments and cream teas.  Close by is Woodview Cottage offering trout and course fishing holidays.  The village is surrounded by beautiful countryside a perfect location to get away from it all.

Owthorpe countryside
This is the Leicester / Nottinghamshire border ... where the land used by the famous Quorn Hunt meets the South Notts Hunt territory.  South Notts trace their history back to the Earl of Lincoln hunting here in 1677 but The Quorn is recognised as one of the oldest fox hunting packs in the world ... the original hounds were owned by Thomas Boothby in 1696.*  Riding with hounds continues to be a traditional rural activity in these parts despite the abolition of fox hunting (Hunting Act 2004). Local residents have given permission for their land to be used and during the autumn and winter months the roads around Owthorpe can become packed with cars of hunt observers chasing the riders.

Owthorpe countryside

We parked on the verge of a country road that was surprisingly quite busy. No wonder the council had dug out a couple of unusual signs:

Owthorpe: Community Hall

The community hall is down the road just passed the interesting collection of old ploughs. This is a surprising large building.  It can accommodate 102 people ... that's the whole village population with room to spare!  They obviously plan events with lots of friends.

A footpath takes you passed the hall to the old village church of St Margaret.

Owthorpe: St Margaret's Church

Owthorpe: Church tower

Parts of the church date back to the 12th century when it was a much bigger building.  Colonel John Hutchinson had this smaller version built in 1659.  It is a strange mixture of stones and colours and the old clock needs some attention but the swifts like it ... there was a nesting pair and their young making a fabulous din in the bell tower the whole time we were there.

A large padlock prevented us entering so this internal shot was taken through the glass window:

Owthorpe: Church interior
 We could see the 15th century stone font and the Jacobean pulpit with the ornate canopy.  We could not see a large wooden screen that is thought to have come from the old Owthorpe Hall. I also wanted to see the two monuments to the Hutchinson family on the wall of the church ... another day perhaps.

Owthorpe church yard

Colonel John Hutchinson (1615 - 1664) is the most famous resident of the village ... but the fame should really belong to Lucy, his wife (1620 - 1681).  She was born in the Tower of London where her father, Sir Allen Apsley, was the Lieutenant in charge of such famous prisoners as Sir Walter Raleigh (it was Lucy's mother who paid for his famous chemical experiments whilst he was incarcerated) and King James I's ex-partner, Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset. With Robert Carr in prison the King now had a new favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.  Apsley was married to one of Villier's relatives which helped a great deal when they appointed the new Lieutenant to the Tower.  This could be quite a lucrative, and responsible, position. (Oddly enough, before the Hutchinsons bought Owthorpe manor members of the Villiers' family had lived there).

Lucy married John Hutchinson when she was 18.  At first they lived in London where they had twin sons then moved to Owthorpe at the beginning of the Civil War in 1641 where a third son was born.  They would have nine children in all. John fought on the side of the Parliamentarians: the Royalists offered him £10,000 to change sides but as a man of principle he refused. He became Governor of Nottingham Castle and moved his family there for their safety.  In 1645 he took the garrison of Shelford after a heavy battle.  His neighbour Sir Philip Stanhope died from wounds received in the seige. By 1649 the battles were over and Hutchinson's was the thirteenth signature on King Charles I's death warrent.

Owthorpe: Church clock

 After he served in Cromwell's government until 1651 when he retired to a quiet life in Nottinghamshire.  The old manor house had been almost destroyed by the Royalists and had to be completely rebuilt. The new house was in the field close to the church.  Large stone steps took you into a spacious entrance hall with a long table and welcoming fireplace. A staircase lead up to a galleried landing big enough to accommodate an orchestra for the upstairs ball room.  The family quasrters were on the left of the Hall while three entertainment rooms for guests were situated on the right. These rooms opened to an outside terrace and bowling green type lawn with flower borders and a shrubbery.  Trees had been cut to allow views across the countryside towards Langar and Belvoir Castle.

He planted the trees that are still growing around the fishpond he created in his grounds.  A local group called The Friends of Fishpond Wood have recently worked on this area and on the lost garden (more details here).

Owthorpe: Colonel Hutchunson's fishpond
 According to a description written by Julius Hutchinson in 1775, "All parts were built so substantially, and so well secured, that neither fire nor thieves could penetrate from room to room, nor from one flight of stairs to another."  Were they expecting trouble when they designed the house?  They should have been.  Royalty returned to the throne in 1660.  While the other Regicides suffered terrible executions Hutchinson escaped unscathed but riddled with guilt and remorse.  He described himself as having been "involved in so horrid a crime as merits no indulgence".  On his retirement he had distanced himself from Cromwell and friends and relatives petitioning on his behalf suggested he had secretly been working in favour of the Royalist cause (there is no evidence to support this claim though!). He was left in peace for a short time.

They arrested him in October 1663 as he walked to church, a short distance from his secure house.  They accused him of being involved in the Farnley Wood Plot, an uprising against the King.  It was probably a trumped up charge to get him imprisoned.  Twenty six men were arrested and sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered ... again Hutchinson was not one of them.

They kept him on the Tower of London but transferred him to the less salubrious surroundings of Sandcastle in Kent where he died of a fever in September 1664. Lucy was granted permission to bring his body home but it was not an easy journey.  A hearse with six horses in full mourning gear was sent.  Firstly the castle Governor demaned a ransom then some of the villagers along the route were rather hostile to the late Roundhead and skermishes broke out.  It would have been quite a relief once he was laid to rest in St Margaret's Church.

Church gate
The Hutchinson family vault is inside but the enterance has been lost.  Part of the church floor collapsed in 1859 and stairs to the burial chamber were revealed.  They found seventeen coffins: one belonging to a lady was in an upright position chained to the wall.

1712 headstone in memory of James Watson
There are a number of slate gravestones dating back to the 1700s: some examples of Belvoir Angels and one signed by Sparrow (a local monument mason of the time).

Owthorpe: Village House with sun dial on the  gable
Lucy sold the house to John's brother Charles and returned to London.  I said earlier that the fame should be hers.  As a girl she had eschewed the usual female pursuits of needlework and music in favour of Latin.  She is the author of Order and Disorder, the first epic poem by a woman in the English language. She also wrote Memoirs Of The Life Of Colonel Hutchinson.  Her purpose here was to inform her children of their father's innocence.  It was published by the family in 1806.  Lucy was also buried in Owthorpe in 1681.

Owthorpe: Street view
 Owthorpe Hall was purchased by Sir George Smith Bromley, Bart. We have come across him before .... his family famously set up the first Bank (Smith Bank) and they lived at East Stoke.

The Bromleys rented out the house but it fell into disrepair then, around 1825, it was destroyed by fire and the whole place was demolished in 1832.  The large ornate garden pots were removed to Stoke Hall ... who knows, they might still be there.

Garden ornament

Map of Owthorpe: click here.

Owthorpe barn
*  Thomas Boothby (1677 - 1752) inherited Tooley Park in Leicestershire when he was just 15 years old. During his life he was married three times ... each wife increased his wealth which enabled him to dedicate most of his time to hunting and breeding his foxhounds.  He was Master of the Quorn Hunt 55 times.  Tom O' Tooley sounds a bit of a terror ... he grabbed hold of the local vicar and almost drowned him in a fishpond after the poor cleric made the mistake of telling Mrs Boothby that Tom was keeping a mistress.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Colston Bassett

Colston Bassett: Street view
Colston Bassett is an interesting village for a number of reasons:  firstly there is the spooky old abandoned church ....

Colston Bassett: the ruins of old St Mary's Church
..... then there's the fabulous properties like Tanglewood: designed by the award winning Guy Phoenix and described as "the most luxurious house in Nottinghamshire".....

.... a truly fabulous place! A third point of interest has to be the Martin's Arms .....

Colston Bassett: The Martin's Arms
A map from 1600 shows a building here.  It is a comfortable, traditional pub with a great reputation for fine dining.  In fact it has been named Nottinghamshire's Dining Pub of the Year five years in a row (2012 - 2016).  A visit here is always a pleasure.  In the summer months you can enjoy an evening sitting in the beautiful garden as the sun goes down .... or during the colder months there is a warm log fire giving a cosy glow. I think this is probably the main reason for people to visit this quiet corner of the county.

Generations of estate workers enjoyed the hospitality of this hostelry when it belonged to the Colston Bassett estate. It was sold into private ownership in 1990. It was named after one of the Squires: Mr Henry Martin Esq.

Colston Bassett: Martin's Arms carpark
The village itself also took its name from the estate land owners.  The Colston part dates back to before the Domesday Book when the tun (or settlement) belonged to a Saxon or Scandinavian named Col.  The Bassett part refers to a wealthy Norman family. Ralph Basset was Lord Chief Justice of England in 1120 when King Henry I awarded him the manor.

Ralph Bassett was not a popular figure. At one session of the Leicestershire Assizes he condemned eighty criminals to the death sentence and six more to undergo terrible tortures as punishments.  Apparently he made himself a large fortune from the forfeiture of goods.  He had a bit of a conscience about it though as he gave quite a bit of land to religious orders to gain some goodwill in heaven.

The village stayed with the Bassett family for eight generations. Some time during the 1200s King Edward I granted permission for a market and fair in the village.  Just down the road from the Martin's Arms stands the Market Cross.  It is on the site of the original cross.

Colston Bassett: Market Cross

The last Bassett (another Ralph) died in 1390 when the estate passed to a nephew, Sir Hugh Shirley then onto another relative - a member of the Stafford family.  Now here is an interesting bunch!  Three of them were Dukes of Buckingham.  The 1st Buckingham (Humphrey Stafford 1402 - 1460 was created Duke in 1444)) inherited massive estates in over a dozen counties when he was still an infant.  After his mother's death he became one of the greatest landowners in England.  Despite his huge wealth he fell into debt because he was Captain of the Calais garrison and was responsible for ensuring the men were paid which he did from his own pocket.  By the time he left France in 1451 the Crown owed him almost £20,000 (a hefty sum even today!). He died in the Battle of Northampton supporting King Henry VI during the War of the Roses.

His young grandson, Henry Stafford 1454 - 1483, became the 2nd Duke of Buckingham (Henry's father had died of the plague two years earlier). At the age of 11 Henry was married to King Edward IV's sister in law, Catherine Woodville.  When Edward IV died in 1483 Henry helped to put Richard III on the throne instead of Edward's son.  Edward's children were placed in the Tower of London for their protection .... unfortunately it didn't help: the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower has never been solved but Henry Stafford is one of the principle suspects for their murder.  Later that year Henry changed allegiance and plotted against Richard III in favour of Henry Tudor.  Richard uncovered the plot and had Henry Stafford arrested and beheaded without trial the next day.  His lands and titles were forfeit to the crown.

Henry's five year old son, Edward 1478 - 1521, spent the next couple of years being hidden away in various houses until the death of Richard III at Bosworth when King Henry VII restored the family fortunes.  The 3rd Duke of Buckingham had a very close relationship with the royal family.  He attended their weddings; took part in Henry VIII's coronation as bearer of the crown; he was a member of the Privy Council and attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1521.  Unfortunately Henry VIII did not take too kindly to rumours that Edward was suggesting himself as a contender for the crown should the King die without a male heir.  Edward's strong Plantagenet bloodline gave Henry good reason to be concerned so he conducted the investigation himself.  Edward was arrested, tried, convicted and executed for treason.  Henry profitted greatly from the death ...Edward's lands and titles were forfeit to the crown and this time they were never returned.  His 'poor' children had to make their own way in the world ... they went on to marry into the Percy family, the Pole family and the Neville family, all familiar names from Tudor history so no worries, they didn't end up on the poverty line after all!

Colston Bassett:  the ruins of St Mary's church

A wealthy merchant and one time Sheriff of London, Sir Thomas Kitson, purchased the Colston Bassett estate but it is doubtful he ever lived here  (he also owned Hengrave Hall in Suffolk so, lovely as CB is, I can understand why!).

 Two generations later the estate passed to the possession of Mr Edward Golding.  He too was an absent landowner ... Thomas Hutchinson occupied the Manor House on a forty year lease from 1532.  (The Hutchinson family owned nearby Owthorpe Hall and would be strong Parliamentarians during the Civil War.).  Golding died in 1584 when his son (another Edward!) was only 11 years old.  He came of age and took possession of his lands in 1591.  He did eventually move into the village. Records show he purchased Colston Bassett Rectory in 1605 .... about the same time as a terrible outbreak of the plague wiped out half the population.  There were 83 burials between July 1604 and March 1605.  Just like the more famous outbreak at Eyam, Derbyshire, the villagers cut off all communication with anyone from outside and supplies were left at designated spots where coins could be washed in vinegar. 

Colston Bassett:  the ruins of St Mary's church

That old abandoned church we mentioned earlier was supposed to have stood in the centre of the infected village.  St Mary's was in existence before 1135 ...  a Saxon stone has been found nearby which shows it was a very early place of worship. 

 It has been suggested that the plague survivors abandoned their houses and moved the village a short but safe distance away once the disease passed.  Modern historians disagree as maps dating back to 1600 reveal the houses had already moved away from the church.  The ruins attract photographers and people passing by regularly stop to wander round the old walls and grave yard.  It is a scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. 

Colston Bassett:  the ruins of St Mary's church
Edward Golding was a Royalist during the English Civil War.   The conflict split the village and some families. Colonel Francis Hacker, a staunch Parliamentarian, had a property (Manor Farm) on Baker's Lane.  We heard his sorry story on our visit to East Bridgford. Colonel Hacker's brothers were Royalists.  In May 1643 Francis's younger brother, Thomas, was killed during a skimish at Colston Bassett. Not a happy time for Francis then.  The Colonel was eventually hanged, drawn and quartered because he had signed King Charle's I's death warrent.  His poor wife was partly to blame because she innocently handed over the offending document to his accusers.

Colston Bassett Hall
The Golding family added another point of interest to the village by building this beautiful Hall in 1704.  Over the next few years they would also improve the area through planting hundreds of trees.  

By the end of the 1700s the estate was passed to Henry Martin and his son... Henry Martin!  They took a real interest in the place.  The Rectory and the Yews were built by them, the Sunday School was set up and, as we have already said, the pub was named after them.  As keen huntsmen they saw the benefits of continuing with planting trees in order to improve their sport so the greenery of the present day village is down to them.  

Colston Bassett: Street view

 Mr George Thomas Davy only owned the estate for a short time (1864 - 1876) but he had a major impact.  He improved village access by lowering the steep gradient of Hall Lane and had a New Road constructed to Langar.  A "small village" of glasshouses was built in the Hall grounds as Mr Davy was a keen gardener: his collection of orchids was legendary! He had a large house built in the grounds for his Head Gardener too.

Colston Bassett: Hall gates
The villagers benefitted when the school was built and part of the park was levelled for a cricket ground.

Colston Bassett: Cricket & Croquet Club
Colston Bassett: Cricket & Croquet Club

We found the Cricket and Croquet Club on the wonderfully named Washpit Lane (probably a reference to an old communal laundry area close to the River Smite).  

Robert Millington Knowles was the next owner.  Another huntsman: he kept four packs of hounds and first class hunters in the stables.

 He had the new Church of St John the Divine built in 1893.

It was built in memory of his wife and of his son John who, at the age of 21, had drowned during a day fishing trip.


The old church had been falling into disrepair since the middle of the 1700s so the new building must have been welcome.  The restrictions on the new church yard would have been slightly contentious though as villagers were not allowed to be buried here until this year.  Apparently one old resident has been subbornly holding on to life in order to be one of the first to be allowed in!! 

Colston Bassett: St John the Divine interior

 We had an interesting chat with the broadcaster Richard Spendlove MBE during our visit.  He has strong connections with the village and had a bible restored and given to the church as, in 1826, it had belonged to John Bonser, one of the wardens.

I looked into the village hall and was very impressed.  Being able to hold social events, entertainments and meetings adds to the lovely community atmosphere.

Colston Bassett: Market Cross
 There are two beautiful village signs ....

Colston Bassett: Village sign

Colston Bassett: Village sign

It is very much a rural village: other local businesses include the Belle Vue livery and riding school and a Belvoir boarding kennel. Then, of course, there is also the Colston Bassett Dairy which produces award winning traditional Stilton cheese from local milk.

Colston Bassett Dairy

Every where you look there are signs of a bustling village life from yesteryears.  Street names like Bakers Lane and Washpit give images of workers; the house names also throw back to the past ....

Today it is a quiet peaceful place to live.

Colston Bassett: street view

Colston Bassett: school


Map of Colston Bassett

A Concise History of Colston Bassett

Nottinghamshire History

Colston Bassett Parish Council 

Rev Evelyn Young, A History of Colston Bassett, (1942)

Geese over the village trees
A pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord bitter at the Martins Arms during a lunchtime revisit. There is a reasonable selection of beers available here, but this pub is best known for its outstanding food and beautiful garden setting. Well worth lots and lots of visits.