Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Beeston

by Frank E Earp 

 It is a sad fact that most archaeology these days is ‘rescue digs’ that are paid for by developers or local government ahead of development or engineering projects like the tram works. Not all archaeological sites and finds prove to be ‘exciting’ but are still worth the effort, as all offer to add to our knowledge of our ancient and not so ancient past. Such is the case for the work at Beeston.

At Beeston the tram line to the terminus at Bardill’s island pass through the heart of the old village and runs around the edge of the parish church of St. John the Baptist. The Domesday Book of 1086 does not record the presence of a church at Beeston, but it is generally believed that there would have been a small ‘timber’ building on the site at this date. The population of the settlement at this time has been estimated at between 70 and 80 persons. Like so many of our parish churches, as the population grew the old wooden structure was replaced by stone. By 1300, records show that St. John’s was under the control of Lenton Priory which appointed its vicar and collected the main tithes.

For a brief time during his war against the French, Edward III, – who wished to restrict the powers of foreign monastic orders, – took-over the living. It was at this time that a great disaster struck Beeston when 40% of its estimated population of 300 to 350 people, died of the plague. Their remains were buried in a ‘plague pit’ on the eastern side of the churchyard. Fortunately the tram works do not disturb this side of the churchyard.

With the end of the French war the living of St. John’s was returned to Lenton Priory where it remained until the Dissolution in 1538. Once again in Crown hands the church was rebuilt by Henry VIII using stones from the 14th century church. Except for the chancel, the church was rebuilt again in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert.

It is evidence of this last phase of building that has been exposed in a utilities trench alongside Chilwell Road. Here was a long section of the foundations or first few courses of the churchyard boundary wall either side of the original entrance. Also exposed on the Beeston side of the gate was a brick lined stone volt or funerary monument, – other grave stones were also recovered bellow what would have been the road surface on the Beeston side.

The line of the wall corresponded to the current edge of the churchyard running alongside of the road, with the apparent gate aligning to the modern path leading to the main church door. The wall was composed of un-mortared ashlar blocks standing to the height of around ½ m. Evidence that the gate may have been an imposing structure was demonstrated by the presence of large blocks of stone forming three sides of a niche or alcove. The wall on the Chilwell side of the gate stretched for around 7 m. whilst that on the Beeston side was slightly shorter with clear evidence that it had been ‘robbed-out’ at an earlier stage. Without dateable finds it is difficult to date stonework accurately. On my first visit, an archaeologist working on the site stated that the wall was possible of  late Victorian date, around 1900. However, if this is the case, it may be that it was built along the line of the original boundary from stone recycled from the demolition of the Tudor/medieval church. We must wait for the publication of the full archaeological report for more detailed information.

On a subsequent visit to the site I asked what would happen to the wall after completion of the ‘dig’. There were two options, either it would be removed and displayed in another part of the churchyard, or would be crushed and used as road fill. A visit to the site a couple of days later answered my question. The wall had been removed and the stones crushed. The gravestones will be re-buried within the churchyard and the funerary monument will covered with soil disappearing beneath the re-landscaped churchyard.

Beeston Wall 1

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 2

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Beeston Wall 3

Remains of the original church boundary wall at Beeston Church- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Archaeology, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 1 Comment

Fairs, fun and sermons….Some Nottinghamshire Customs of July

by Ross Parish

July is often short on traditional customs, however with its’ with long evenings and better weather, closeness to the harvest, July has the potential to be a good time for events and those which were established were feasts and fairs, or more correctly geographically speaking Wakes.

The most famed was the Charter Fair of Mansfield, which was around the 14th. It was more famed for its associated traditional dish, the Gooseberry Pork Pie. The fair itself was founded by Richard II in 1227 and stated that Mansfield could hold a market forever. The Mayor’s cutting of the Gooseberry pork pie was one of the ceremonies of the custom and this was watched by large crowds. The pie often contained 60 pounds of berries and these were distributed to the crowd and indeed smaller pies were made to be sold or taken home.  A photo exists with Mayor Alderman Maltby about to cut a giant pie in 1927 to mark the fair’s 550th anniversary and a similar pie was made and sent to Mansfield Massachusetts. When the custom died out I have not discovered by in 2010, the local radio station Mansfield 103 spearheaded a revival and sold the pies in the market. However, this appears to have been a one off.

Despite the risk of rain, Wellow had a St. Swithin’s Fair on the 15th granted in 1330 as did Woodborough, but on the first Sunday after the 2nd July. Duck and green peas were served on this day according to a correspondent of Nottinghamshire within living memory.

As Wakes appeared to have died out and fairs become simply fun fairs, Carnivals appear to have evolved. Some of these in the county have a fair age such as Radcliffe on Trent carnival and although ‘foreign’ in concept they have absorbed many traditional aspects such as a Queen, procession and fair..albeit now just for fun! A more formal affair was the Elkesley Robin Hood Feast for the members of The Loyal Portland Lodge which was founded in July 1859. This was revived in 2011 and is now associated with a re-enacted Oddfelllow’s walk and a small fete.

A less formal walk, so to speak, existed for nearly 30 years at Kimberley. The Pram Race which was a charity event done in fancy dress was a popular charity event, as seen elsewhere, was it appears effectively stopped due to claims over drunkenness!

Elkesey Feast (18)

The Oddfellow’s Elkesely Walk- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual Nottinghamshire custom associated with July probably arose as a consequence of a Wakes week Fair, although this fair has long since gone, it continues. This custom is the Selston Tower Sermon, a little known event, although better known I think since I started to post about it perhaps and draw the Calendar customs website to it.  

Although tower services are relatively common, those which consist of choirs singing on the roof, often at Ascension Day, sermons are rare. Indeed, this may be the only example from a roof top, as St. John’s Sermon, Cambridge is from a pulpit upon the wall. Although it should be stressed that the choir indeed did sing from the roof, but perhaps it was thought too dangerous.

The custom is over 100 years old, dating from 1907 when the Reverend Charles Harrison started it. What prompted him to start the sermon is unknown, but it is thought that he did so to attract local travellers, who camped on Selston Green and would visit the grave of Boswell, the King of the Gypsies, often with their new born babies, in a local ritual of blessing. They may have been in considerable numbers if it was Wakes week. Another theory is that he may have done it to commemorate its restoration in 1904/5.

I was informed by Mr Tew, the present church warden, that one year an estimated congregation of 1000 attended, although they must have spilled over the churchyard wall and into the street!  You’ll be glad to hear that despite the precarious nature of the event, no accident has ever been recorded…except for one incumbent who almost never made it, this was when thirty years ago, the Rev Vic Simmons, was about to read his final tower sermon set his foot alight with weed killer (accidentally). He was determined to do it, stating:

“It was the highlight of the church year. I didn’t want to miss it.”

So a chair was carried up and no doubt he made a slow and rather tender climb to the top.

There is a tradition of inviting a guest preacher, for the 100th anniversary in 2007 saw the presence of the Rt Rev Anthony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood.  Mr Tew doubted that the tower service was enacted every year since 1907, but I had the fortune to speak to a 90 year old parishioner who remembered being taken ‘babe in arms’ to the service and regularly attended from her infant years.  A proper tradition for the warm summer’s day..when we get it!


Selston Church Tower- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish


Selston Tower Sermon- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | 1 Comment

Jeremiah Brandreth: The Leader of England’s Last Revolution

by Joe Earp 


Jeremiah Brandreth, he was also known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’.

Jeremiah Brandreth was a casualty of the development of a working class. A man slung by treachery from poverty to guilt. He later became known as the ‘Nottingham Captain’. His name deserves to be remembered more than it is today. If it were not for men like Brandreth, men who were prepared to break the grip of the government by force if necessary, the reforms since Brandreth times, may have taken much longer to achieve. The whole labour movement owes much to a man like Brandreth, yet today he is virtually unknown.

Jeremiah Brandreth was born in the small village of Wilford just outside of Nottingham, around 1790. Brandreth became a stockinger by trade. He later moved to Sutton-in-Ashfield, where he was a resident from 1811 to 1816. He married Ann Bridget of Bedlam Court, Sutton-in-Ashfield, on September 29 1811. Their children Elizabeth (1813), Timothy (1815) and Mary (1818) were all born in Sutton-in-Ashfield and baptised at St Mary’s Church.


Brandreth was born in Wilford, Nottingham around 1790.

On September 12, 1816, an Order of Removal was obtained by the Overseers of the Poor which resulted in the family being ‘removed’ to Wilford, Nottingham. Brandreth found himself unemployed and at the mercy of parish relief after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1816, there were, in Sutton-in-Ashfield, over 1,700 persons claiming relief while only 220 houses were able to pay the poor rates. Clearly this was seen as a desperate situation by the Overseers and they soon sought ways of reducing the number of claimants. It would seem reasonable, that Brandreth developed an all consuming grudge against not just the local injustices, which he experienced, but against the whole organisation of government in Britain.

By November 1, 1816, the Brandreth family were living in Butcher’s Close in Nottingham. Here Jeremiah or Jerry, as he was known to his friends became associated with a group of people whose intentions were to mount a revolution. In May 1817 Brandreth met William Oliver from London. Oliver claimed that a large group of Radicals were planning an armed uprising in London on 9 June and asked Brandreth to persuade local workers to join the rebellion. This was untrue and it is now believed that Oliver was working as an ‘agent provocateur’ for Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary.

Concerned about the growing unrest, Lord Sidmouth sent spies throughout England, including the Midlands, to keep watch on the centers of discontent. Since these spies were informers paid by results, they quickly became ‘agents provocateur’, stirring rebellion where there was none so they would be paid. Among the spies was one William Richards, better known as William Oliver, or “Oliver the spy,” who incited open rebellion in the Midlands.

Similar groups to the one Jeremiah Brandreth joined in Nottingham, existed all over the country. The Home Sectary was keen to keep a close eye on groups like the Nottingham one, by using spies like Oliver. The date for the uprising was set, 9 June 1817.  Oliver encourage the group by telling them that 70,000 men were under arms in London and that the forces in the north could hardly be contained. Shortly beforehand, Brandreth journeyed to Pentrich, Derbyshire, from where his men were to march on Nottingham.

On the 9 June, in the pouring rain, the Brandreth’s group set out for Nottingham. Along the way they called at villages and farmhouses to demand ‘a man and gun’. At a cottage owned by a Mrs Hepworth, a widow, a manservant by the name of Robert Walters was shot dead. This murder was blamed on Brandreth who later denied the accusation, even when under the sentence of death.

Brandreth’s ‘army of men’ marched on through the rain, interrupted by a call at the Butterly Ironwork in Nottingham. There a detachment of Hussars, led by magistrate Rolleston, put the march to flight. After a short pursuit most of the group were arrested. Brandreth escaped to Bristol where he twice failed to get a safe passage to the United Sates. He returned to what he thought was a ‘safe house’ in Nottingham, but was betrayed after the authorities offered a generous reward for his capture.

Brandreth and two others, Turner and Ludlam were sentenced to death and another eleven men were transported for life. The men were originally sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but the quartering was remitted.

On 7 November, the prisoners were drawn around the yard of Derby Jail on a sledge. Around 1.15pm, they mounted the scaffold. On the scaffold one of the men shouted out that “they were victims of Lord Sidmouth”  and “Oliver the Spy”. The bolts were drawn and the three dropped to their deaths. The bodies were left hanging for thirty minutes. After that their bodies were raised back upon the scaffold and their heads were severed by the axe and the knife. The bodies and heads were placed in coffins before a crowd of 6,000 and then taken to St Werburgh’s church-yard in Derby for burial.


Soon after the hanging Brandreth’s head was decapitated from his body.



The head of Jeremiah Brandreth was severed from his body by the axe of the executioner.

So ended the life of Jeremiah Brandreth, a man who is generally forgotten about today. We today as people who enjoy democracy and sometimes take it for granted, should remember that it was men like Brandreth who fought a long and hard system to make life better for the average working man. Unfortunately the death of Brandreth would not change much and many more hard years would have to pass for real changes to be made.

Posted in Nottinghamshire People | 1 Comment

“Whistling Charley”……A Street Musician

by Frank E Earp

In 1790 John Thorsby republished ‘The Antiquities of Nottinghamshire’ a work by fellow antiquarian Robert Thoroton, first published in 1677. Already an extensive, Thorsby not only expanded the work into several volumes but updated it and brought it firmly into the 18th century. Thorsby’s work can by no means be considered a dry history of the County. He relates many anecdotal tales and with these paints a vivid picture of life on the streets of Nottingham.

They say that history has a habit of repeating itself and I found this to be the case when I came across the story of ‘Whistling Charley’, – one of Nottingham’s 18th century ‘eccentrics’, – in Thorsby’s writings. As I read the story I could not help comparing it to the life of Frank Robinson, – Xylophone Man. I will leave the reader to decide if this is indeed a fair comparison

Under a section in the book discussing ‘Old Market Square’, Thorsby populates his scene of the Square and the streets around with descriptions of familiar individuals. It is under the heading of ‘The Street Musician’ that we find our latter-day Frank Robinson. The account is a first-hand one and therefore relates to one of Thorsby’s contemporary.

Thorsby does not deem it right to give his ‘street musician’s’ full name; It is not material to our purpose to know of whom he was born, or how trained up into his present way of existence.”.He goes on later to state that he was generally known Charley, – the prefix ‘Whistling’, is added in a later account and is noted from the fact that he often chose to play a small pipe or whistle. How many people knew Frank’s real name, but simply referred to him by the name of the instrument he played? The second part of the sentence is an enquiry into Charley’s way of life, – had he always been a trained professional beggar?

Charley we are told was born in the hamlet of Clapham in the parish of Clifton. He is described as being, in Thorsby’s own words;“….meagre figure, decrepit form….” – “….deformed and a cripple…”, – “….now nearly 70 years of age…”. Thorsby seems to admirer the fact that Charley is still able to earn a living by entertaining the Nottingham public; “Every day, although now enfeebled by years, you find him perambulating the streets of Nottingham to catch game”. And; “….paddling along the streets in all seasons of the year, often supply him with pecuniary wants”.

Having gained from Thorsby a good description of Charley, what form of entertainment did he offer that gave him such a lucrative living enabling to survive to then goodly age of 70? Charley was of course a musician, – whether a particularly talented one or not Thorsby does not say. He seems to have varied his instruments from day to day and could be found playing the lute, a horn, but more often a whistle. Charley appears to have been something of a ‘Chameleon’ and it is in the manner of his dress that singled him out from others of his kind. He had a variety of costumes in which he would dress; that of ‘a beggar’, ‘the trappings of the great’, and ‘the array of a soldier’. All of these he varied at his pleasure, as Thorsby puts it.

Like his better known contemporary, Benjamin Mayo, ‘the Old General’, Charley seem to have attracted the particular attention of small boys who we are told seem to have been almost his constant companions. He also seems to have been the butt of the jokes of what Thorsby calls ‘booby men’, – people of low intelligence. Charley however was not ‘put-off’ by this attention but used it as part of his act: “….the playful indiscretions of the boys make him an object of the Granger’s (Farmer’s) bounty”. As to his reward for his efforts, Thorsby states that; The brown jug, the tankard or cash, are alike to him….”.

Frank Robinson, no plaque records his presence on the streets of Nottingham. Thorsby’s writings came too early to record what became of Whistling Charlie and without his real name we are unable to discover his final resting place. It his only through Thorsby recording that he takes his rightful place as a footnote in the pages of history. The next time you find yourself in the market square, listen out for the sound of a tin whistle; it may well be the ghost of Whistling Charlie.






Posted in Nottinghamshire People | Leave a comment

The Beekeeper of Beeston

by Joe Earp 

The Beekeeper sitting contemplatively on his bench at the centre of Beeston’s shopping hub, he certainly looks content. The Beekeeper or ‘George’ as he is familiarly known by locals, has became part of the town’s identity. The sculpture was designed by artist Sioban Coppinger in 1987.

The sculpture was erected after the local council decided to redesign Beeston in the 1960s and 1970s. Before the town was redeveloped, a lot of older buildings such as the Tudor Style Boots and the old town hall were demolished to make way for the then new shopping precinct and many new buildings.  Beeston was becoming a brave new world of concrete and glass, like many other cities and towns throughout England.

It is quite ironic now how Beeston is going through another redevelopment changing the face of the town for ever. When the £300,000 improvement scheme for the pedestrianisation of Beeston High Road was announced just like the trams today it caused a lot of protest from local residents. Pat Ashworth writing for local paper the ‘Nottingham Topic’ (May 1998) about her article on ‘Booming Beeston’, looked back at locals reactions to the pedestrianisation:

“The announcement drew howls of protest from the town’s shopkeepers. You’re going to close us down. You’re going to make Beeston a ghost town, they predicted. But they were wrong and even the most ardent critics of the scheme admitted they were wrong”

Whatever the controversy at the time, if it wasn’t for the pedestrianisation of High Road we certainly would not have George the Beekeepr in the town. The sculpture consists in the main of two L-shaped concrete hedges. In the angle of one hedge the concrete figure of an elderly man sits on a bench, complete with beekeeper’s hat and gloves lying beside him. He wears an overcoat and Wellington boots and in his right hand is a smoking a pipe. In his left hand he holds a block of honeycomb. At the angle of the other hedge is a concrete carved tree-stump on top of which is set a conical beehive. The hive, and many other parts of the sculpture, are covered by small bronze bees securely stuck to the surfaces. A few of the bronze bees have been knocked off as souvenirs, but all in all the Beekeeper is in good condition.


‘The Beekeeper’ not long after he was erected in Beeston, c late 1980s- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

The idea of the sculpture was to bring a bit of the countryside into the town. Sioban Coppinger explains about the sculpture further “THE BEESTON SEAT was designed as a quiet meditative resting place at the centre of a busy shopping street. The sculpture itself  was modelled on Steven Hodges, a friend who has that timeless ability to exude calm when all else are succumbing to stress. Maybe his years spent on the sea have instilled a sense of proportion in him or maybe he just looks the part? A stack of mail from Beeston residents confirms that the BEESTON BEEKEEPER has been absorbed into the life of the community”.

He certainly has been absorbed into the life of the town and long may he continue to do so.


Photo Credit: Joe Earp, Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

The Gate to Southwell: A sad end to a 900 year old custom

by Frank E Earp

As many of my readers will now know, I’m not just an ‘armchair folklorist’ observing and writing about folk customs and traditions from an academic’s desk. Over the years I have participated in and actively help organise many different calendar customs. I must admit that this has not always been the case. It was my interest in folklore and customs – and lack of sporting exercise, – which, in my early 30’s, prompted me into joining a Morris side (team). Since that time I’ve danced the Morris, acted in Plough Plays and St. George Plays, carried a Hooden Horse and generally participated in many Calendar Customs and other traditions. My little booklet ‘May Day in Nottinghamshire’ – first published in 1992, – inspired the erection of a new English Maypole in the village of Linby and the revival of Maypole Dancing at Clifton. Working with the Sherwood Forest Trust, I’ve help organise events at Edwinstowe and Wellow.

Like Morris Dancing itself, many of the customs and traditions I have had the privilege to take part in have been modern revivals of their more ancient form. Some have been ‘one off’ events organised for a special occasion, whilst others have been a genuine attempt revive and continue an ancient tradition in modern times. One such a revival I have been happy to have taken a small part in has been the ‘Gate to Southwell’. This modern version of an ancient Whitsuntide procession to Nottinghamshire’s ‘Mother Church’, first began in 1981 and has continued for the last 33 years. It is fair to say that the ‘Gate’, – as it is affectingly known, – has become a custom in its own right. I have used the past tense in reference to the Gate, due to the fact that Saturday 8th June 2014 witnessed the last performance of the event.

The word ‘gate’ when used in this context is derived from the middle English/Old Norse ‘gata’ and simply means road or way; Thus The Gate to Southwell = The Road, or Way to Southwell. The Gate as a customwas founded as both a religious and civic event and is linked to Nottingham’s ‘Mother Church’, Southwell Minster. Supposedly founded by Paulinus, (Archbishop of York), there has been a Christian church on the site at Southwell since around 627. In 1108 work began on replacing the old Saxon church with a new Norman edifice along-side which was to be a Bishop’s Palace.

One year later, in 1109, Thomas Beverley, (Thomas II or Thomas the younger) was appointed as the new Archbishop of York. One of his first acts as Archbishop was to order that all parishes within his diocese of Nottinghamshire contribute a portion of their annual income towards the building cost of the new church at Southwell. This became known as the Southwell pence and in order that the money arrived safely and on time the priest and churchwardens of each parish were instructed to deliver it to Southwell in person. Records show that the contribution from Nottingham’s St Mary’s Church amounted to 13s 4p, whilst that of the village of Stanton, (Stanton on the Wolds, west of Mansfield), was 1p. This may not seem much, but when we think that the medieval penny had a current value of around £20, the total of the two contributions amounts to £256. When we allow for the fact of inflation, in today’s terms, this would be a considerable sum. It was also arranged that after delivering their Pentecostal offering, the priest would attend a Synod to keep them informed and updated of Church events.

On Whit Monday, – the day decided upon for the offering, – the great and the good of Nottinghamshire assembled in the in front of Nottingham’s old Guild Hall by the Weekday Cross market. The assembly included the Mayor and Aldermen of the town, parish priests and church wardens and many other ordinary townsfolk and villagers, egger to make a pilgrimage to their new cathedral. This would not have been a solemn crowed that had gathered in the market place. Joy would have come from the knowledge that the county was getting its own cathedral and the fact that those responsible no longer had the burden of delivering their church revenue to York Minster, which had previously been the case. From the Guild Hall the procession first set off towards Sneinton and thence following the line of the Trent to Southwell. It is very likely that many more country folk joined in enroot as the procession past through villages along the way.

The Church of Saint Mary of Southwell was largely completed by the year 1250. The annual Gate and Synod continued with the Pentecostal offerings going to York and its Archbishop. In 1171 a ‘Papal Bull’ of Alexander III, finally broke Nottinghamshire with the See of York by declaring that St. Mary’s be; “….be free from Episcopal jurisdiction, and that they might institute fit vicars in them without any contradiction, as the said Archbishops and Chapters of York….”. The same Bull granted new licence to continue the Whit Monday procession and Synod, only now the Southwell Pence went direct to the Church in Nottinghamshire. The Gate continued unabated for the next 600 years until 1770 when the Synod was abolished by the then Archbishop of York, John Sharp. It is likely that contributions from Nottinghamshire parishes continued to be paid into to the Church’s coffers but without the Synod there was no longer a reason to deliver it in person.


The procession started at Nottingham Guild Hall, Weekday Cross and finished at The Church of St Mary of Southwell. (Southwell Minster).


16th Century Morris Dancers as they may have appeared on the 1530 ‘Gate to Southwell’.

It was Saturday 7th June 2014, and just as ‘Little John’, – the bell of the Council House clock, – announced the fact that it was 8.30 am, I found myself entering Old Market Square. Along with my youngest son Joseph, – also a fellow Morris dancer, – I was about to join the small crowd gathering in the square for the Gate to Southwell. This was not the first time that I had taken part in the annual procession to Southwell, but it was about to be the last for any of us.

Tradition or Revival?: I was acutely aware of the fact that what I was about to take part in was technically, a revival of an ancient custom. I also reflected on the fact that it had been exactly 33 years since the first time I had joined what was to become this long-running annual event. How many times does an action or event have to be repeated for it to become a tradition, – a custom in its own right? I do not know the answer to this question, but after being repeated 34 times, the Gate must be considered as a true folk custom. It is not hard to imagine some future folklorist or historian waxing lyrical when writing about this ‘wondrous’ event.

Changed or not?: It is a sad fact that I am unable to remember exactly how many times I have made the annual pilgrimage to Southwell, but I guess that it must be at least 20 times. I must admit that I needed to trawl through the photos of the official archives of the Gate to arrive at this ‘guesstimate’. Doing so brought back many happy memories and the realisation that the atmosphere, character and routine of the event has not changed. The photos, from first to last show people, – both participant and spectators, – enjoying themselves. This must surely be the mark of a true custom and tradition and the reason it keeps going. Although it was necessity that began the first Gate to Southwell in the 12th century, it was enjoyment which saw it continue for close-on 600 years. Although the various scenes and activities in the photos did not change, the aging faces of friends and acquaintances showed the passage of the years. Mine was no exception. The first time that I walked across the square to join the Gate I could not possible have imagined that I would be doing the same thing 33 years later with my youngest son, – a grown man, – walking by my side.

The Morris and the Gate: Every year, before the procession sets-off, it has become customary for the participants to be presented with a simple ‘button badge’ as a memento of the event. One man, Bob Hine, – a member of the Dolphin Morris Men, – has a full set of these badges. And why shouldn’t he? Bob is the creator instigator of the modern Gate to Southwell. In 1980 Bob was busy searching through historic records to try to find the earliest reference to Morris dancing in Nottinghamshire. Among his many source materials were the records for the Borough of Nottingham containing the chamberlain accounts for the year 1530. Here Bob was to find what he was looking for.


Morris Dancers on the 1981 ‘Gate to Southwell’ outside Southwell Minster- Photo Credit: Foresters Morris Men.

The Nottingham borough accounts of 1530 provided Bob Hine with the earliest known documentary evidence of Morris dancing in the county. Under the accounts for money paid by the Mayor and Council towards the cost of ‘The Gate to Southwell’ was the following:

Morris dancers coats; ‘Item payde to Edward Balle for ij yards and a d. [2½ yds] bocram that made the moryn‘s [morris dancers] cote xd. 10d’ – Item payde to Myles Askwyk for making the sam‘ cott [same coat] ijd. 2d.’

Bells and adornments; – ‘Item payde for x. byles [10 bells] to Sponer xd. 10/-’ – ‘Item payde to Robard Fychar for byles [bells] and for assadowne [thin Brass, tinsel] at Couentrie iiijs. Ijd. 4/2d.’

Morris Dancers refreshments (ale); ‘Item payd for alle [ale] that ye danssers dranke at Addam Elton‘s iijd. 3d’ – ‘Item payde to Cotygh wife for halle (ale) that the denssars drawnch [dancers drank] at all tyms‘ xiiijd. 14d.’

Transport (nowadays we use buses); ‘Item payde to Robard Harreson for ij (2) horses yat ye danssars had viijd. 13d 8.’

Further research showed that the Council also paid for the Morris dancer’s shoes at a cost of 6d a pair. It would seem that the dancers and others on the 1530 Gate enjoyed themselves as much as any of their modern successors. The accounts show that along with the items for the dancers, the Council paid for ale pots, plates, cup and sauces, food and drink and other sundry items even including a women to do the washing up.

Reading these accounts as a modern Morris dancer and participant in the Gate, the references to these Tudor Morris Men, although somewhat scant, reveal a lot of information. Nothing seems to have changed; we still enjoy copious amounts of ale, wear bells on our ankles, dress in bright colours and need transport between dance spots.

Archbishop Wolsey: Please with his discovery, Bob was immediately posed with two questions; Why were Morris dancers taking part in what was seemingly a religious event, and why had the Council paid out such a large amount of money to sponsor them?The answer to both questions lay in the fact that in the year 1530, Archbishop Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had chosen to retreat to the Bishops Palace at Southwell to escape from his ever growing conflict with Henry VIII. It would certainly have been Wolsey who would have received the Southwell Pence that Whit Monday. The Council where out to impress the second most important man in the country. No one could have known it, but at that time, Wolsey was only months away from his grisly death on the scaffold.

The Gate after 1530: Bob was intrigued with his findings. Not only had he discovered the earliest reference to Morris Dancing in the County but a spectacular and special event in which the Morris played its part. From Bob’s research we discover that the annual Whit Monday procession may have ceased during the troubled times of the Reformation. The next reference to the Gate in the Borough accounts does not occur until the year 1558. Once again the accounts show the presence of the Morris dancers. Perhaps they had been there all-along entertaining the crowds and making the journey more plesent?

1558; ‘Item (5/-) paid to William Parker of Sneynton for caryng stuff to Southwell on Whytson Monday.’

Sporadic entireties in the records show that the Gate continued in one form or other until the original Synod was abolished by the Archbishop of York around 1770. However, although the excuse for a formal procession had now gone, the Southwell pence continued to be delivered to Southwell around Whit Monday with some sense of occasion, well into the reign of Queen Victoria.


Archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey- Photo Credit: FE Earp.

In 1980 Bob Hine, a member of the Dolphin Morris Men, whilst trawling the archives for the earliest records of Morris Dancing in Nottinghamshire discovered the Gate to Southwell. Nottingham’s annual Whitson Tide procession to Southwell was an ancient custom lying dormant, just waiting for revival. Like so many moments in history, the revival was the result of a set of coincidences which came together at a single point. Had it not been for the fact that the infamous Cardinal Wolsey was present in Southwell to receive the Pentecostal offering in 1530; the town council would probably not have spent a huge amount of money on Morris Men to enhance the event. It was also Wolsey who played a prominent role in the following tumultuous years for both State and Church which indirectly led to the absences of records of the Gate in the Borough accounts until 1558.

The Gate 1981: There is an old saying; ‘You can’t keep a good idea down!’ The combination of Morris Dancing and an event in which it played such an important role was too much to ignore. Following much planning, – as a part of a charity fundraising event, – the first ‘revived’ Gate to Southwell took-place on the 6th June 1981. After a dance display and speech from the then Lord Mayor, the procession set-off for Southwell Minster at just after nine in the morning. The procession was led by a newly created banner, a processional cross on loan from a local church and Bob Hine carrying the Southwell Pence; – several poaches containing old coins to the value of the original contributions made by the parish churches of those participating. Two Morris ‘sides’, Dolphin Morris Men and The Foresters Morris were in the van. I was one of the Foresters. Behind the dancers came a small number of sponsored walkers, some in Tudor or medieval costume.

It was the intention of our side at least, to dance and walk the whole 20 + miles to the Minster. Along the way we perform dance displays, first at Sneinton and then at various villages along the route. I remember that we were scheduled to arrive at the Minster for the ceremonial hand-over of the Southwell Pence at 6 pm. However, we arrived at Easthorpe on the edge of Southwell just after 5 p.m. This meant an impromptu visit to a nearby pub for a sit-down and liquid refreshment. When the time came for us to assemble on the road outside and to dance the last few hundred yards to the door of the Minster, I found myself hardly able to rise from my chair, – my muscles had ceased up and my legs felt like lead.

The Gate 2014: The 34th Gate to Southwell took-place on the 7th June 2014. Unlike the 1981 Gate, this event received national coverage by the media, – even getting a mention on B.B.C. Radio Wales, so I supposes that’s international coverage. Why were the press and other media so keen to cover this local custom after 33 other chances of doing so? The answer lies not so much in the fact that this was the last time this long running event was to take place, but in the perceived reason for its demise!

I began this series of articles on the Gate by saying that nothing but the passage of time had changed from first to last. But time, as they say, changes everything. All around us the City of Nottingham had changed and so had the route or way to our final destination, – the original meaning of the word Gate. That first year we danced out of the Square all the way to Sneinton, an escort of Police Offices kindly holding up traffic at appropriate road junctions. Trams now ‘clanged’ their way along past the Square and their passage is uninterruptable even by a procession of dancing Morris Men. We were relegated to walking the pedestrian pavements, – but these too were blocked by their own heavy traffic. That first year, around 30 or more dancers and musicians from just two Morris sides ‘Winstered,’ – (Winster being a Derbyshire processional dance), – out of the Square. In 2014 a much depleted Foresters, – around 7 or 8 men led the dancers behind the Southwell Pence. New ‘health and safety’ regulations dictated that 15 of the Dolphin men, – regaled in bright orange reflective vests, – act as marshals. Regulations also dictated that certain roads along the route, – including those around the Minster, – be closed to traffic. The organisers of the Gate had to pay for the marshals and road closures. It was this modern ‘health and safety night-mare and ‘red tape’ that the media ceased upon, declaring it to be the reason for the death of the Gate. However, – and here is a scoop for the Topper, – the real reason is less prosaic. Bob Hine and the other organisers of the Gate felt that the event had ‘run its course’ and that it should end as it had begun on a high of exuberance rather than being crushed to death by modern life. This article too has ran its course and space dictates that it ends here. I hope the reader has enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed taking part in the Gate.


The last procession of the 2014 Gate to Southwell leaves Nottingham’s Old Market Square- Photo Credit: Dolphin Morris.



The final handing over of the ‘Southwell Pence’ at Southwell Minster- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.


To see more of the final Gate to Southwell check out our videos taken on the day. 


Gate to Southwell 2014- Speech in Market Square:


Gate to Southwell 2014- Speech at Sneinton:


Dolphin Morris dance there first dance at the last Gate to Southwell:


Gate to Southwell 2014- Final Speech at Southwell Minster: 



Posted in Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | 1 Comment

Midsummer in Nottinghamshire

by Ross Parish 

As Midsummer approaches, I thought it would be interesting to pick out some customs associated with the longest day. Across the country, the period was associated with wells, bonfires, rents and associated charities often being associated with St. John’s Day.

Only one account of a midsummer bonfires exists, that of Wollaton, where there is an account of 8d money being paid by the steward:

for bred and ale the benefyre on Mydsomer evyn”

According to an article in the Nottingham Evening Post in 1974 people had recently started ascending Parson’s Hill in Bingham on the night for food and fun, I would be interested if this custom still survives. Festivities were often associated with wells.   At Beauvale’s Robin Hood’s Well it was common practice on Midsummer Eve for local people to dance on a lawn space around it in the woods. When the site was turned to a pheasant reserve, the lawn was allowed to grass over and the dancing ceased.  A similar tradition is associated with Welham’s St. John’s Well, of which Piercy (1828) in his The History of Retford in the county of Nottingham notes:

“Here was, until lately, a feast, or fair, held annually on St. John’s day, to which the neighbouring villagers resorted to enjoy such rural sports or games as fancy might dictate.”


Robin Hood’s Well- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Being a quarter day, as rents being paid on this date, it is not usual to find that quit rents were paid, in particular the giving of a rose. Newstead Priory have a grant of 8 acres just before the entrance to the priory with right to enclose the same, for which they are to render a rose at the exchequer at Midsummer Patent rolls (1437) and for woods in Carlton Gervase de Clifton gave a rose, which was a common motif and survives in London with the Knolly’s Rose and on and off in Leicester as well. Being a rent day, charities and doles were also established. Epperstone’s Pepper’s Charity took money from rents and gave to poor on this day. Blyth’s Croft Charity gave 40s worth to the poor, Mr Hempstall’s Dole left £100 money for six women and six men in Farndon and Holme Pierpoint Clayton’s dole of £10 and 10s in sixpenny loaves.   


Knolly’s Rose- Photo Credit: RB Parish

A notable survival of this period of rents and sales survives, albeit not always on the 24th is the Laxton Grass sales, the grass of Sykes being used to make hay are sold to ‘anyone who puts smoke up a chimney in Laxton’ therefore all tenants of the Laxton Crown Estate. It is said that it was bought on the longest day but paid for on the shortest day!                           

The final custom is perhaps the most interesting, of which Deering (1751) in Nottingham via Vetus et Novanotes:

“by an ancient custom, they keep yearly a general watch every Midsummer Eve at night, to which every inhabitant of any ability sets forth a man, as well voluntaries as those who are charged with arms, with such munitions as they have; some pikes, some muskets, calivers, or other guns, some partisans, holberts, and such as have armour send their servants in their armour. The number of these are yearly almost two hundred, who at sun-setting meet on the Row, the most open part of the town, where the Mayor’s Serjeant at Mace gives them an oath, the tenor whereof followeth, in these words: ‘They shall well and truly keep this town till to-morrow at the sun-rising; you shall come into no house without license or cause reasonable. Of all manner of casualties, of fire, of crying of children, you shall due warning make to the parties, as the case shall require. You shall due search make of all manner of affrays, bloudsheds, outcrys, and all other things that be suspected, &c. Which done, they all march in orderly array through the principal parts of the town, and then they are sorted into several companies, and designed to several parts of the town, where they are to keep the watch until the sun dismiss them in the morning. In this business the fashion is for every watchman to wear a garland, made in the fashion of a crown imperial, bedeck’d with flowers of various kinds, some natural, some artificial, bought and kept for that purpose, as also ribbons, jewels, and, for the better garnishing whereof, the townsmen use the day before to ransack the gardens of all the gentlemen within six or seven miles about Nottingham, besides what the town itself affords them, their greatest ambition being to outdo one an- other in the bravery of their garlands. This custom is now quite left off. It used to be kept in this town even so lately as the reign of King Charles I.”

There are a number of references to this practice in Borough records. In 1557-9 12d was given to Damport for going about with his drum on St. John’s Night and St. Peter’s before the watch and 16d for:

for 2 gallandes wyn that ye wach had on Mydsomer nyght”

Another 8d in 1529-30 for a:

‘pottye of Malse that was dronke at the crosse on Cobcryste Day’

The custom died out by the 1700s it appears, but has been revived at Chester with a midsummer parade on the nearest Saturday which is the closest in spirit to Nottingham’s.

The Chester Midsummer Watch Parade- Photo Credit: RB Parish

Such are some of the Nottinghamshire customs of midsummer, sadly now largely forgotten so perhaps it’s time to revive them – light a midsummer bonfire, dance around your well and offer sometime for let with a rose payment!

 Ross is still researching calendar customs and traditions of the county. Click on the following links if you are interested in such customs.

Traditional Customs and Traditions

A Nottinghamshire Calendar

Posted in Nottinghamshire Folklore, Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | 1 Comment