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

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