Tuesday, 20 October 2015

East Stoke

Updated: 27th October 2015
Church wall
There is very little evidence at East Stoke that one of the bloodiest battles in English history took place here in June 1487.  Three hours of fighting resulted in over 7000 dead bodies littering the fields around this village.  Apparently the church yard is higher than the surrounding ground because so many bodies were buried there! (What an awful idea!).  It is definitely surprising that Nottinghamshire doesn't make more of this great historical event.  Look at how many people visit Bosworth, only forty four miles down the road and there were far less deaths there!  Yes, one of them was a king .... but surely Notts could attract some visitors by sharing the story of East Stoke!

Church yard memorial stone
So what happened here?  Very briefly, Richard III (of York) was killed at Bosworth Field in August 1485. Legend has it that Lord Stanley (who entered the battle late to see whose side he should fight on!) found Richard's crown in a hawthorn bush and took it to Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian) who was immediately crowned King Henry VII.  Wikipedia describes Bosworth as "the last significant battle of the the War of the Roses" ... the people of East Stoke know better!

The Lancastrians had unexpectedly gained the throne but Henry knew the Yorkists were far from happy.  Richard's named heir was John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, but after the battle Lincoln submitted to the new king and attended Henry's coronation. The only other Plantagenet contender for the throne was King Richard's nephew, ten year old Edward, Earl of Warwick.  Henry secured his own position by imprisoning Edward in the Tower.

A few months later the Earl of Lincoln was introduced to Lambert Simnel, a youth who bore a striking resemblance to Edward. Lincoln was overjoyed at this opportunity to undermine Henry. Lambert was trained in courtly manners and taken to Ireland where the Yorkists crowned this imposter as King Edward VI, they then gathered troops to challenge Henry for the throne.  The troops were mercenaries made up of men from England, Ireland and Germany.  They sailed to England and by 15th June they had reached the outskirts of East Stoke.

Site of the Battle of East Stoke
Lincoln's 8,000 troops were deployed on high ground just outside the village.  The Royal troops, under the command of the Earl of Oxford, had spent the night eight miles away at Radcliffe.  On 16th June Oxford divided his troops into three groups and marched towards the rebels. During the march Oxford's group ... the more experienced and better equipped bunch ....became separated from the other two groups. So, at 9am, Lincoln's look-outs spotted this small group of Royalists and tried to gain an advantage by attacking first.  Oxford's men could have been overwhelmed but their experience and discipline meant they were soon in control of the situation as the rest of their soldiers turned up.

The Yorkists fought hard but after three hours, with most of their leaders dead, the Yorkist ranks finally broke and the defeated soldiers made a desperate attempt to escape by running down a small gully towards the River Trent.  Big mistake ... they were slaughtered in their thousands. It is a horrible thought but this was in the days of arrows, pikes and swords ... these men were hacked to death not gunned down.  They were ‘stricken down and slayne like dull and brute beasts’ according to a contemporary source quoted by Cornelius Brown in 1896. All these years later this path is still known as the Red or Bloody Gutter!

One Yorkist leader did manage to escape ... Viscount Lovel.   He was seen fleeing on horseback across the River Trent.  He was never seen again .... or maybe he was .... in 1708 the skeletal remains of a man were found in an underground vault at Lovel's Oxfordshire residence!!  Who knows!

The Red Gutter where the Yorkist troops were slaughtered as they tried to escape.

After the battle Henry raised his standard to claim victory at Burham Furlong where a stone memorial marks the spot (this is inaccessible at the present time). Legend has it that Henry was more than a little vexed that Lincoln had been killed during the battle. The treacherous Earl is supposed to be buried along Elston Lane near a spring called Willow Rundle. Some historians think his final resting place might have been the Old Chapel at Elston.  A number of mass graves have been discovered around the battlefield site but John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was a nobleman after all so, once Henry had checked Lincoln was definitely dead, perhaps he allowed a proper burial.

The spring at Willow Rundle has a very long history.  This is a very old spring.  During the 12th and 13th centuries the Old Chapel at Elston was used as a Leper Hospital and the clear, sweet water from the Willow Rundle spring was apparently channelled towards the chapel to be used for its medicinal properties.  This obviously puts paid to the various legends that connect the birth of the spring to the Battle of East Stoke.  Putting the different versions of the story together the tale goes that a fatally wounded Yorkist soldier, named Willie Rundle, collapsed and a second soldier stopped to help by kindly giving Willie the last drops of water from his canteen.  While lamenting their predicament Willie told his new friend that if there was an after-life he would send a sign once he got to heaven ...  then he promptly died. A moment later a spring gushed from the ground supplying the fleeing troops with healing water.  The spring never failed for five hundred years: it never froze in winter or dried up in summer. It flowed into a large stone trough next to Elston Lane and gave refreshment to travellers along that road for centuries.  Unfortunately the Highways Agency then came along ... the road workers cut off the source when they dualled the A46 and the trough is now dry.

Now I will tell you yet a third tale about this spring.  Here is a far more gruesome reason for the name Willow Rundle. After the battle Henry ordered the execution of all the English and Irish prisoners of war (the Germans mercenaries were allowed to return home unpaid).  They were locked in Elston Chapel then brought out and killed.  Folk memory has it that local people were afraid the souls of the executed men would not rest so they hammered willow stakes through their hearts to pin them to the ground.  Very Vampiresque!  The prisoners were buried in a mass grave near the rundle (or spring) hence the name Willow Rundle.

Well, enough of death ... 'What happened to Lambert Simnel?' I hear you ask.  This young lad survived the fighting and Henry was very lenient. Lambert was, after all, only a young boy.  Henry put him to work in his kitchens.  The real Earl of Warwick was executed in the Tower in 1499.

Deadman's Field where many of the bodies were buried
There is nothing here to mark what happened (we found the battlefield site by the use of a GPS Ordinance Survey Map) but knowing what happened makes this a strange place to visit.  There is a footpath at the bottom of the Red Gutter that is obviously a popular route for dog walkers: I wonder how many of them just walk past there without giving it a second thought.

We followed a wide track (which incidentally used to be part of the main route from Nottingham to Newark a few hundred years ago) and arrived at the river opposite the Bromley Arms at Fiskerton. One evening last December (2014) a young man was driving an Audi car along this track but in the dark he failed to realise the river was at the end of it!  His car sank in thirteen feet of water with the headlights still on.  The youth escaped from the vehicle but was swept some way down river.  Emergency services took half an hour to find him by which time he was suffering from hyperthermia and described as being a "gibbering mess" but he survived.  It was the owner of the Fiskerton Ferry Boat Hire Company who took the emergency services out to the rescue.

 The river used to be much shallower here. Horses and carts could wade across the Trent at this point.  This was in fact the main crossing points on the Nottingham/Newark route. For many centuries a ferry used to cross over to Fiskerton from here ... it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Foot passengers were taken across in a rowing boat while animals and carts were transported on a barge.  Bert Elliott, the last ferryman, died in 1971.

The Bromley at Fiskerton & site of the ferry over the River Trent
Walking back towards the village we called into St Oswald's Church.

St Oswald Church, East Stoke
 Outside we found another 'home-made' sun-dial like the ones we saw on the walls at Hawton church.

Church sun-dial
 There is some lovely stonework inside too ...

Stone carving inside the church
The vestry contains wall panels outlining the history of East Stoke.  They are detailed and well illustrated .... but tucked away.

Church window from the outside
 Parts of the church date back to the 13th century but it was largely rebuilt in the 1700s.

The window below is glazed with bits of medieval glass:

Medieval glass
Inside there is a whole wall of memorials to the Bromley family who have had a long association with this village.

The Dowager Lady Bromley painted this church window .....

St Oswald Church window
 .... while this window is "a tribute of grateful affection from Arthur Bromley in memory of his mother. "  It is believed to have been designed by another Lady Bromley.

St Oswald Church window
  The Bromley women were a very artistic lot. According to Leonard Jacks (1881):

"There is another lady of artistic acquirements in the house—Mrs. Henry Bromley. The carved oak cabinet in the hall is her handiwork, and so is the oak pulpit in the adjacent church."

 Here are the very impressive panels of the oak pulpit:

In the church yard is a Grade II listed monument to the Right Honourable Julian Pauncefote,  1st Baron Pauncefote.  

Monument to Sir Julian Pauncefote
His monument is here because his daughter, Lilian Pauncefote, married Sir Robert Bromley in 1900 at St John's Church, Washington DC, USA.  Sir Robert was the Attache to Washington 1897 to 1901 but his father-in-law went one better.  Baron Pauncefote was the very first British Ambassador to the USA ... in fact he was the first ever British Ambassador to anywhere as such a post had just been created.

The Bromleys didn't just add decorative elements to the church: the family have in fact contributed quite a bit to East Stoke (they set up schools in the village for one thing) and to Nottingham as a whole (Bromley House on Angel Row in Nottingham city centre houses a fine subscription library).
Bromley House was built in 1752 as the town house of George Smith, grandson of Abel Smith the founder of Smiths Bank, the oldest known provincial bank in the country.  George Smith was the 1st Baronet of East Stoke and lived at Stoke Hall in the village.  His son was Sir George Pauncefote Bromley, 2nd Baronet of East Stoke.

Stoke Hall
Stoke Hall is a Grade II listed building situated next to the church.  Looking on their wedding venue website you can see the photographs of the lovely interior and the even more beautiful walled garden.  The present owners are doing a good job at looking after the place but it was built in 1812 by Lewis Wyatt (who also made alterations to Flintham Hall) so it should be good ... the Wyatts were a famous family of architects who worked on some of the most prominent buildings in the country.  A wealthy banker like Abel Smith could afford the best.

So, over the years, this humble village has been visited by royalty, it has been the scene of brutal deaths and the home of wealthy bankers and international diplomats.

East Stoke street view
 Today it is a more tranquil place.  The busy A46 (the main route between Nottingham and Newark) used to cut straight through it.  The road has now been dualled and the lorries diverted so the village is much quieter.  There used to be a village pub called The Pauncefote Arms on the main road.  It has closed now.

Pauncefote Arms ... now closed
 So the village is no longer cut in half by a stream of cars and it can settle into a peaceful retirement after its very turbulent former days.

Church door

Update: 27th October, 2015

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was the grandson of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk.  Alice was the granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of The Canterbury Tales.

Lord Paucefote was rather a remarkable man.  He represented Britain at the first Hague Conference where he helped to establish the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  He was Attorney General in Hong Kong and Chief Justice of the Leeward Island before going to the USA.  As Ambassador in Washington he had to deal with two serious incidents which could have resulted in hostilities between Britain and the US.  The first concerned Canadian vessels fishing in the Behring Sea and the second was about a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana.  Lord Pauncefote effectively calmed both situations and the two countries formed a treaty pledging never to fight one another.  When he died his body was brought home in an American warship.

Admiral Bromley owned an extract from Captain Scott's last message to the nation.  When he moved out of Stoke Hall he gave it to the church.  Wish I had known this earlier ... it might have been hanging on the wall ... if it was I missed it!

Map of East Stoke: click here.


  1. Many thanks for filling me in on the Battle of East Stoke! A fascinating encounter, technically after the Wars of the Roses should have been settled

  2. The Pauncefote Arms pub was a very successful business for over 12 years and not only succeeded as the local village pub but as a very popular restaurant, winning awards for it and having people travel from all over the country to visit it, and only became an Indian restaurant when it was sold on by the previous owners. Please refrain from tainting it's name with your incorrect and ill informed blog.