Sunday, 13 September 2015


Street view
As we arrived at Thorpe I looked round and asked, "What on earth can we say about this place?" We had parked up and walked passed a few houses, a few horses and a church.  A lovely looking, quiet place but I was convinced this post would consist of a few photos because there didn't appear to be anything there!

After a couple of minutes of research I was surprised to find that this was once a bustling Roman fortified town.  Ad Pontem was one of four Roman settlements along the Fosse Way between Lincoln and Leicester.  The name means "the place near the bridges" which may be because there was an old bridge over the River Trent near Fiskerton or it could refer to wooden boards placed over the marshy footpaths in the Trent flood-plain.  Although the site hasn't been fully excavated it is believed there was a double ditch defence system, then later stone walls.  People lived, worked and passed through here from around 50AD until the 4th century. Whilst it was not as big as Margidunum (just up the road near present day Bingham) it was nevertheless a stopping off point for people travelling along the Fosse Way.

A few more minutes research and I found this was the home of Lucy Townsend (1781 - 1847).  "Who?" I hear you cry ... Well, modern day feminists see the roots of today's Women's Movement in the work of Lucy Townsend.  There is no Blue Plaque on the wall but she lived and died in Thorpe Rectory.  She is buried in the village church.

Old Rectory Thorpe
Lucy was born in Staffordshire where her father, William Jesse, was the incumbent at All Saints Church, West Bromwich.  It was here that Lucy met her husband, Rev. Charles Townsend M.A. Charles was an abolitionist and an active member of the Anti-Slavery Society.
Lucy and Charles were married in 1807, the same year as the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in Britain. William Wilberforce (yes, we have all heard of his name from our history books!) had spent many years attempting to bring an end to the slave trade.  He believed this would gradually end slavery as the supply dried up.  It was not that simple however, there were plenty of young slaves …. The owners could just breed some more. The abolition of the slave trade was a welcome first step but the work of the anti-slavery groups had to continue.

In 1825 the Townsends were living in Birmingham and Lucy organised a meeting at her house … this was the augural meeting of the Ladies’ Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves.  Elizabeth Heyrick, Sophia Sturge and Sarah Wedgwood (daughter of Josiah Wedgwood and sister of Emma who married Charles Darwin) were all present that evening.  At the time the “separate spheres” philosophy (business matters are controlled by men and the women look after domestic matters) was firmly embedded into society.  Women could not speak in public meetings or take a leading role in mixed gender committees.  This did not prevent them from adding their weight to the anti-slavery movement.  Being in charge of the purchase of household goods women could make a very valuable contribution to the cause by refusing to purchase sugar or rum from slave plantations in the British Colonies.  They leafleted door to door to spread the word.  As sales slumped shopkeepers began to display signs in their windows saying their goods were free from slave labour  … much the same as Fair Trade signs today.

St Laurence Church Thorpe
 Fund raising activities were acceptable so they organised stalls, rallies and women’s meetings to publicise the cause. Sarah Wedgwood’s father was also an abolitionist.  He had designed a medallion depicting a shackled negro slave in a praying position with the logo “Am I not a man and a brother?” The design became a popular image on women’s brooches, hairpins and other items of jewellery.  Staffordshire potters began to transfer it onto dinner services, snuff boxes and other household goods.  The fund raising activities were very successful.

Very soon there was a network of over seventy anti-slavery women’s groups throughout the country.  A large proportion of these women disagreed with the gradual abolition of slavery they were fighting for an immediate ban with no compensation for the slave owners.  They were fighting for a moral cause.  Elizabeth Heyrick wrote a pamphlet expressing her views.  Now you would imagine William Wilberforce would have praised her commitment … not so.  His earlier attempts to stop the trading in slaves had been a long and bitter dispute because of the economic implications of such a move.  At one point a Bill was passed in the Commons but overturned in the Lords where the members had a vested interest in keeping slaves in the British Colonies. Wilberforce wanted a gradual end to slavery as he felt that would win the day.  He told his supporters not to distribute Heyrick’s pamphlet or speak about it in meetings.  

In 1830 the women decided to push their case at the National Conference of the Anti-Slavery Society by putting forward a motion asking for the campaign to be centred around an immediate ban. They threatened to withdraw their funding if the motion was not taken seriously …. the motion was passed!  

The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833.

The abolitionists’ fight continued as they focussed their campaigns on other countries.  In 1840 the World Anti-Slavery Conference was held in London.  Lucy Townsend was in attendance together with some famous women abolitionists …Anne Knight from Britain and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and LucretiaMott from America.  After all their hard work and commitment they were still not allowed to speak at the conference. It was this treatment that so incensed the women they decided to fight for their own freedom from subjugation and the Women’s Movement was born.

A painting was commissioned to celebrate the World Anti Slavery Conference.  Anne Knight wrote to Lucy urging her to push to be included in the painting: "I am very anxious that the historical picture now in the hand of Haydon should not be performed without the chief lady of the history being there in justice to history and posterity the person who established (women's anti-slavery groups). You have as much right to be there as Thomas Clarkson himself, nay perhaps more, his achievement was in the slave trade; thine was slavery itself the pervading movement."  
While a small number of women were included in the group Lucy's face is not one of them.
Church of St Laurence
The Townsends moved to Thorpe in 1836 when Charles became the incumbent of the village church.

The pretty church of St Laurence has a 13th century tower but the rest was rebuilt in the 1870s by the rector, Rev William Wood.  Inside there is a badly damaged 14th century effigy of Lady Margaret Thorpe (both arms are missing).  Her husband was Lord William de Thorpe, a lawyer and Chief Justice of the King's Bench (1346 - 1350).  He was a very wealthy man with great estates in Lincolnshire.  He was knighted in 1345: he fought at Crecy in 1346 where Edward III, his son, the Black Prince plus 16,000 English and Welsh men faced King Phillip VI of France who had an army of over 85,000.  At the end of the day the British celebrated a great victory.  De Thorpe was also present when Calais surrendered to Edward. He sounds like a bit of a crook though ... he took bribes and was involved in pay-rolling lawsuits on the understanding that he got a good percentage of the payout.  At one time he obviously upset someone ..... he was assaulted and they urinated on him.  In 1350 he was arrested on charges of bribery: his property was confiscated and he was condemned to death but he managed to regain the King's favour, he was acquitted and his lands restored.  In 1352 he became Baron of the Exchequer but he was excommunicated in 1357 after he failed to attend the trial of the Bishop of Ely, Thomas de Lisle who had disobeyed the King.  He died in 1361. Someone should make a film about this man!

In 1665 a silver Communion Cup was given to the Church by Henry Druell.  He had returned home to Thorpe from plague infested London and gave the cup as an offering of thanks to the Lord.  An older cup had been stolen during the Civil War so on the base of this one is a warning to would-be thieves:

 Let those yt this cupp sacralegiously dare take
 Beware least God's vengeance ym an Example make.

 It seems to have worked.
It was near here that King Henry VII raised his standard in June 1487 before the terrible battle of East Stoke that finally secured the Tudors on the English throne.  A stone marks the spot at Burham Furlong.

Thorpe was the home of a branch of the distinguished Molyneux family for a few generations.  Judge Molyneux was an advisor to Henry VIII, his son was a supporter of Edward Seymour, Duke of  Somerset and Lord Protector of Edward VI.  By the reign of Elizabeth I Sir John Molyneux had inherited the Thorpe property.  Star Chamber documents reveal Sir John's litigious nature.  He had public arguments with members of his own family and with other wealthy local families, namely the Markhams and the Stanhopes.  The feud with Sir Thomas Stanhope of Shelford lasted for many years and involved tit-for-tat destruction of property, insults and minor law suits.  After one particularly public disagreement both men were ordered to keep the peace and had to pay £200 surety of good behaviour.

During the 1570s he led three hundred soldiers to fight against northern rebels.  Unfortunately the soldiers didn't get paid correctly and armour belonging to the county disappeared after their return.  Markham and Stanhope took great pleasure from the fact that Stanhope's relative, the Earl of Rutland, was in charge of the ensuing enquiry.  The report was not favourable to Molyneux.

In the 1580s Sir John, a Catholic, reportedly sheltered a visiting priest in his house at Thorpe.  At least two of his children were recusants.

Manor Court
 The beautiful Manor Court at Thorpe is now a hotel: recently refurbished with weddings in mind. 

 "Manor Court is a fine example of a six bedroom Gothic manor house set in the heart of Nottinghamshire, presented in a luxurious and lavish style. Tremendous attention to detail has been taken in its creation, offering generous and flexible accommodation. Each room has been individually created for complete relaxation and comfort ..."

Just behind Manor Court is Manor Court Farm.

Manor Court Farm
 We were amused to read the old sign next to the gate:

Street sign
 I love the formal use of language ..... you feel you have to read it in a 1930s film documentary voice!

So from thinking there was nothing to write about we have moved from a busy Roman town to important royal battles both home and abroad, to the London Plague and the Tudor Court then the Transatlantic slave trade to the birth of Feminism.  Yet again a tiny Nottinghamshire hamlet has surprised me because of its great historical connections.

Map of Thorpe: click here.


  1. You found a lot more out about Thorpe than I did on my visit there running! It's also a regular village on my cycling route. Visited Shelton for the first time the other week, and Sibthorpe too. Nice to see someone else is travelling around here with their eyes open!

  2. I found out some more so up dated this one!