Monday, 6 July 2015


Whatton lies in a triangle formed by the busy A52 to the south, the River Smite to the west and the River Whipling to the east.  It has changed considerably since the 1970s when cars and lorries used  to use the Old Grantham to Nottingham Road: the A52 takes the strain now. 

These days crossing the A52 is a dangerous business ... but the Old Grantham road was just as bad in its day.  In 1892, Mr W Hardy, coachman, was travelling from Whatton Manor to Aslockton Railway Station when he rounded a corner to find a steam roller in his path.  The horse veered and overturned the carriage.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt.  Unlike an incident a few years later ....

December 1913.  Mr George Leverington, a 22 year old chauffer, was found guilty of dangerous driving and causing the death of three people.  The Bench at Bingham Court House believed that had Leverington been driving at a more moderate speed the accident would not have happened.  Evidence showed he had been travelling at 15 miles per hour!

 Whatton is a village of surprises.  The first one being the beautiful avenue of mature trees you drive through to reach the village green. 

As we drove through this shady tunnel I felt as though we should be approaching a stately house rather than a village ... we soon found out there was a good reason for that.  As we stopped to photograph the scene a friendly local stopped to tell us the history.  Apparently the Players family (of Players cigarettes fame) live at Whatton.  One of the sons had an avenue of trees planted along the road leading to their home, Whatton Manor.  Not to be out done, the other son had this avenue of trees planted along the road into the village.  Town planners should take note ... the Players created two lovely roads.

We parked next to the village green.

On one side is Ivy Row .... an attractive row of cottages.

On the other side. behind a large wall, set in beautiful grounds, is Whatton House.

This really is a very picturesque village.

As in other villages the older buildings have been converted into houses.  Here is the Old Forge:

Beautiful isn't it?!

This is all that is left of the village pub:

The Griffin was a popular establishment in years gone by.  During the summer months Whatton used to be a popular 'tourist' spot for Nottingham factory workers.  On Bank Holidays and festival days in the late 1800s the pub landlord, Mr Tomlinson, would organise entertainment and lay on the food and ale.  The building has now gone and new houses stand in the old car park.

From here we walked out of the village, across the A52,  to Whatton Manor. Today it is a stud farm and a very successful one: they have bred quite a few winning racehorses and thoroughbreds.  The Dam of  Overdose (nicknamed The Budapest Bullet) is stabled there.  Overdose was sold as a yearling for 2,000 guineas but went on to win hundreds of thousands of pounds in prize money for his new owners. Never mind though, Whatton Manor Stud  had six winners in one day a couple of years back! 

Whatton Manor Stud Farm

In 1066 William the Conqueror granted Whatton Manor to Gilbert de Grand with jurisdiction over the manors of Aslockton and Hawksworth.  Today Aslockton is the larger village so it seems odd to think of little Whatton as being the more important of the two.  Gilbert installed Robert de Whatton as Lord of the Manor. Whatton is listed in the Domesday Book of 1088 where it is called Watone (the name could derive from its watery situation - between the Rivers Smite and Whipling - or it could have been a ton or farm where wheat - hwaete - was grown).  There was no reference to a church in the listing.

Robert's son Walter succeeded him and Walter's son Robert took the title in 1135.   On a board inside the Church of St John of Beverley, Whatton, R Fitzwalter is listed as the first vicar, circa 1188.  Robert died in 1189 and his daughter, Adelina, became Dame of the Manor.  A year later she granted the church and some land to Welbeck Abbey in memory of her father and her late husband (William, Lord Heriz of Gonalston).  She also paid the King 100 marks to entitle her to marry someone of her own choosing.  When she did marry Adam de Novo Mercato (Newmarch) the Manor passed to the Newmarch family. She gained a husband but lost a fortune ... wonder how she felt about that!

The Newmarch family passed on the Manor through the generations (or through the marriage of daughters) until 1840 when Thomas Hall bought the property for his grandson Thomas Dickinson Hall.  By 1841 a large country house had been built:

Thomas Dickinson Hall was a great philanthropist. Yet another local pointed out to us that a number of the cottages round the village had the letters TDH carved above the door as Thomas  made improvements to the living conditions of the residents.  The family also spent a lot of money restoring the church.  One of their sons, Thomas Kendrick Hall (b 1848) was the vicar at Whatton for a time.  In 1890 he visited Australia and was returning home with his two young nieces when the steamship on which they were travelling, the Quetta,  hit a rock and sank.  Rather like the Titanic it had been built with seven compartments to hold water if the hull was ruptured.  Like the Titanic the accident happened at night when most passengers were in bed.  The rock left such a large hole along the ship it sank within five minutes.  Most of the passengers perished.  The crew, who were on deck rather than sleeping, faired rather better.  One of Thomas Hall's nieces survived ... she spent 36 hours in the water though before the rescuers found her.

Thomas's mother, Sophia Elizabeth Hall, paid £3,000 for St Thomas's Church, Aslockton. to be build as a memorial for her son.  Their eldest son, Cecil, also died early (aged 30 in 1874) in an accident at Whatton but I haven't yet found out what happened.

The Hall family sold the property in 1919.  It is now owned by the Players.

We spoke to another villager who recalled Lady Player opening up the grounds to hold a village fete each year.  She remembered eating sandwiches on the lawns as a small child ..... sounds like P G Wodehouse's Blandings.  Well, the lovely old house was demolished in the 1960s (another surprise to us!) so we couldn't see much once we had walked through the tree avenue, only the stable block remains and a 'smaller' house hidden by a thick hedge.

We returned to the village again and  made our way to the church.

Whatton and Scarrington churches are only a few miles apart yet both are dedicated to St John of Beverley, Archbishop of York.

St John of Beverley, Whatton
  The church was built in the late 12th to early 13th centuries but it has undergone many restorations since then. One took place in 1807 when the pews were installed: another, in 1870/1871 was overseen by Rev T Butler, the Vicar of Langar and father of the author Samuel Butler. It has a large tower, a steeple with a peal of eight bells (one of which dates back to the early 1400s - pre Reformation times). Inside it houses effigies of  two Robert de Whattons.

This Robert de Whatton lies above his tomb.  He was Cannon of Welbeck and Vicar of Whatton from 1304 to 1310.

The second Robert de Whatton effigy commemorates a descendant of the Church's founder.  In 1322 this Robert supported King Edward II in battle against the Barons and was well rewarded with confiscated castles and estates from Thomas Plantagenet, Earl of Lancaster.  He died circa 1336.  The effigy is beautifully carved and makes him look so comfortable lying there with his feet up! 

Effigy of Robert de Whatton

Shame the same can't be said for poor old Sir Hugh Newmarch.  His effigy lies nearer the front of the church but he is minus one leg!  Apparently the church warden in days long ago used to use the effigy to break firewood each week when heating the building before the services.  He was obviously too enthusiastic one week as the leg dropped off.  This effigy is also well carved but in a surprisingly different way.  At one time the church doubled up as a school room ... bored pupils added their own carvings to the figure.

Sir Hugh Newmarch .... plus graffiti. Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, during the reign of King Henry VIII, was born in  Aslockton in 1489.  He was instrumental in setting up the split from Rome and founding the Church of England.  When Henry's daughter Mary succeeded to the throne in 1553 she reintroduced the Catholic faith: during her reign over 280 religious dissenters were burned at the stake .... Thomas Cranmer was one of them.  His family worshipped in Whatton Church and his father was buried there in 1501.  On the floor of the Cranmer Chapel is a life sized memorial to Cranmer's father.                                                                                                      In 1547 King Edward granted Archbishop Cranmer both the rectory at Whatton and at Aslockton.
There are ten beautiful stained glass windows in the church: some of these are memorials too. Thomas Dickinson Hall, his wife Sophia and their son Cedric have windows: Sophia's is by C E Kempe. He was a life long friend and collaborator of the famous architect, G F Bodley.  Kempe's work can be found in York Minster, Chester Cathedral … and the church at Clumber Park ... as well as numerous other places. Look closely ... you might find the wheat sheaf  (his trademark in his designs)

C E Kempe window
In my opinion the most outstanding window in the building is dedicated to William and Elizabeth Harrison and their two sons, William and Edwin.  This window was designed by William Morris's company no less, from a design by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Burne Jones.  

Bodley worked with Morris & Co for a number of years but began to look around for more traditional artists to complement his own Gothic style.  Obviously I can appreciate the beauty of Kempe's work but the Morris window beats it for me.  Just look at the oranges, lemons and flowers behind the saints. ... not to mention the Pre Raphaelite faces on the angels .... wonderful!

William Morris window
 This one was totally special! 

Details of William Morris window


These artistic gems may be one of the best kept secrets of Nottinghamshire. 



Another Pre Raphaelite window is by Heaton Butler and Bayne Their work can be found in Chester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.  The window designer was Robert Turnill Bayne.  He sported a wonderful full beard and moustache in real life and tended to include at least one bearded figure in his work where possible.  Here is a very dapper Christ.

Heaton, Butler & Bayne window

In the grave yard are seven listed grave stones.

They all belong to the Carpendale family who were buried here between 1710 and 1748.

Two hundred years later two members of the Houghton family were also laid to rest here.  William Houghton, 61, and his youngest son, Jasper, 20, lived at Hill Top Farm.  The family also owned the Mill.  In early January 1914 two life insurance policies were taken out on Jasper's life to the value of  around £15,000.

A few weeks later Jasper and his older brother, John Fredrick, went to the Mill with a Clerk to measure the height of the structure.  The Clerk held the measuring tape on the ground while the brothers climbed to the top.  According to the Clerk he suddenly heard a cry from above and saw Jasper struggling on the narrow platform.  When the brothers returned to the ground Jasper was rather shaken and reported the ladder had slipped and Fred had managed to grab him before he fell.  He did not accuse his brother of pushing the ladder but this became a possibility in the Clerk's mind in February when Jasper was killed.

Whatton Mill

On that fateful day the family had eaten the evening meal and Fred said, "Good night," and went upstairs to bed. Jasper followed soon after.  A moment later the parents heard a gun shot. Jasper had been shot in the face.  Mr Houghton ran to the stairs and Mrs Houghton was then horrified to hear a second shot and her husband tumbled back down covered in blood. 

At his trial the jury were told that Fred was heavily in debt and had persuaded his brother to take out the insurance policies.  As the eldest son he stood to inherit the insurance money, the farm and the Mill once his brother and father died.  Mrs Houghton had to give evidence against her son.  He suffered 14 epileptic fits while on remand and three doctors testified that he was insane at the time of the crimes so he was sentenced to be detained at his Majesty's pleasure.

Originally the Mill had sails but after the murders it was never worked again and has fallen into disrepair.  It is a Grade II listed building.

The residents were incredibly friendly.  They stopped to chat and were proud to share their knowledge of their village.  It has a lovely rural feel to it helped by the farms that edge the village, so even while you are standing close to houses, there are sheep staring at you from under a tree or cows watching you walk by.  A very quiet, tranquil location.

So the final surprise has to be the tall, barbed wire fences surrounding Whatton Prison.  Sited on the edge of the village is a Category C prison.

Steam Engine from Whatton at the Riverside Festival
Sometime after this original post we had a wander down the Riverside during the festival and came across this steam engine chugging away. Based in Whatton it is normally parked outside the owner's house. A fantastic piece of engineering...the steam engine not the house!

Google map: Whatton     

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