A Brief History of Beeston Church- St John the Baptist

by Joe Earp

At the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066, the then village of Beeston had three Saxon Manors belonging to Alfag, Alwine and Ulchel. By 1086 these had passed to the Lordship of William Peverel. Although there is no mention of a church in Beeston at the time of the Domesday – 1086, – it is likely that one existed. When Peverel endowed his Priory at Lenton he gave the ‘living of the church’ and the right to appoint a vicar to the monks. Probably under their influence, the simple wattle and daub structure evolved into a substantial stone building on the site of the present church. The font to the church is ‘Early Englsih’ and dates to the first stone built church on the site, built around the thirteenth century.

For the next 400 years not only the Church but the whole of Beeston and its villagers came under the control of the powerful Lenton Priory. By the year 1583, – the year of the Priory’s Dissolution under Henry VIII, – the medieval building had reached its height. After the Dissolution the Crown retained possession of the advowson of the vicarage. It was in the 16th century when the plague carried a way a third of Beeston’s population of between 300 and 350 souls. Their bodies were interred in a communal grave inside the Churchyard, this later became known as ‘the plague hole’.

The church was rebuilt under Henry VIII, using stones from the fourteenth century church. It was in late perpendicular architectural style, with a nave, chancel and small tower on the south side. It could accommodate 270 people in enclosed pews, of which only 35 were free and unappropriated. There was a doorway in the south wall of the chancel, used at this time by priests, but it is now blocked by the choir stalls

The church, except the chancel, was rebuilt in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The new church was built to seat 800 and cost approximately £3,500, of which £3,100 was raised by public subscription, thanks to the efforts of the Rev F.T.Wolley. Wolley’s wife laid the foundation stone for the rebuilding, but died before it was completed. The church was reconsecrated on 5 September 1844 by the Bishop of Lincoln, and a special train was laid on from Nottingham for the service, which included the consecration, morning prayer, Communion service and a confirmation.


St John the Baptist Parish Church, High Road, Beeston, c 1904- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

Since 1843, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s church has served the community of Beeston well. In 2007 a £860,000 re-ordering and renovation moved the main entrance to the west end, and cleaned the interior, with new heating, seating and a new organ. The next major stage of the restoration was in January 2012 and cost £5,000. This was to replace the lead on the roof after it had twice been targeted by thieves.

The final stage started in June 2013 and included cleaning of all masonry and re-pointing open joints, which cost £40,000. Stone restorer and cleaner Ivan Sorockyj reported to the Nottingham Post in January 2014: “I have worked on the project since the start and now it is finished it looks brilliant. We used a lime mortar as part of the restoration which is what was originally used when the church was built. The only problem we experienced was doing our work around the day-to-day running of the church because we obviously had to stop for services and funerals. It has been a great pleasure to work on and you can tell the difference.”


Beeston Church during the restoration and cleaning, August 2013- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Most recently the church has seen even more changes with the tram developments around the town. Part of the tram route goes past the church and leads to the Beeston Tram Station. It has been quite interesting to note how much of the tram tracks have taken up the churchyard.  Over the summer of 2013 a skeleton of a woman dating to the Victorian period was exhumed after it was discovered during the tram construction work. The Rev Wayne Plimmer, vicar at Beeston Parish Church, made a statement to the Nottingham Post regrading the skelton: “What has been discovered is the remains of a Victorian burial. Because it’s a full skeleton the contractors have to get the Ministry of Justice’s permission to exhume the remains. Part of that process is ascertaining if there are any living relatives. As long as the remains are treated with decency I’m philosophical about it. Any kind of activity around this body will be undertaken with dignity.”

The churchyard was closed for burials in the late 19th century, while gravestones were moved from the original plots to the sides of the graveyard in the mid 1950s. During the period of tram construction work around the church it is sad to see how many gravestones have been damaged and destroyed. Recently some more gravestones and a magnificent looking sandstone tomb were left broken up awaiting to be took away.


The photograph shows recent broken gravestones caused by the tram works, awaiting to be took away- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Despite all of the recent works on the church and around the surrounding area, the future looks bright for the next chapter of the church’s history. The Rev Wayne Plimmer commented: “We are a thriving church. The churchyard is a feature of Beeston and when the tram comes it will be a focal point.”

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A Nottinghamshire Calendar – August – A month of Carnivals, processions and hopefully good weather!

by Ross Parish

August is another month in the year bereft of many customs; this was because it was the time for the harvest to begin, but more of that next month. However, in more recent years because of the weather (or usually hope for it) and the school holidays events have developed. The precursor of this was the Sunday school outings which were very popular in the 19th century and involved games and a picnic.

The most traditional based, if not traditional sounding, of these is Nottingham’s Pagan Pride. A new event, of only five years, but firmly based around the older and pagan tradition of commemorating Lammas which was a harvest celebration focused around the 1st August. The colourful appearance of hundreds of neo-pagans celebrating their faith is a welcome addition to the calendar as they process from the market square to the Arboretum.


The Pagan Pride Procession Leaves the Market Square to begin their Journey to the Nottingham Arboretum- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

However, there is an older Nottinghamshire tradition associated with Lammas. An account reads:                                                                                                                                         

“A novel, service was held at Selston, a mining village in England, recently. At one time Selston was fairly rich in charities, but about one hundred years ago they were allowed to lapse. Some of the charities consisted in the distribution of bread to the poor on Lammas, or Loafmass day……..This distribution took place from a tombstone in the parish churchyard. In order to revive this custom the rector held a similar service, when loaves presented by the parishioners were given away from the same tombstone, and in order to enhance their value and the interest attached, a silver coin was baked in the loaves.”

This is possibly a unique and certainly unusual custom, which sadly has since lapsed and there is no local knowledge of it. Interesting, its association with a grave suggests it may have originated as a form of sin eating a way of passing on the sins of the deceased a common pre-Reformation funeral custom mutated into the wake.

A more colourful affair is Nottingham’s Caribbean Carnival. This has run since 1974 and as such is, after the famous Notting Hill Carnival, the oldest in Europe. It originally was undertaken by the St. Kitts community of the Meadows in Nottingham. It continued, spasmodically through the 1980s and 1990s due to funding problems. The Carnival was cancelled in 1998, due to security and safety aspects but this prompted the City Council to get help from outside sources such as Tuntum Housing Association, who helped to create an infrastructure to help re-form the Carnival and it was revived the following year. The Carnival consists of a parade of mass bands and colourful costumes which snakes vibrantly through the city to the Forest recreation ground where there are stages and a fun fair.


Colourful Costumes at the Caribbean Carnival- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

A more traditional procession is to be seen at Egmanton on the weekend nearest to the 15th of August. This is the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Egmanton. This has been held since 1919 and consists of Mass and an outside afternoon procession of the effigy of Our Lady and benediction. It has been a popular pilgrimage for members of the Anglo Catholic movement and on its Golden Jubilee in 1979; the High Mass was undertaken by the Lord Bishop of Southwell, the Rt. Revd. John Denis Wakeling.

The fine weather meant that feasts and wakes were often undertaken in August especially with parishes with St. Mary as their patron. Radcliffe Feast was moved from August 20th to the day of Our Lady of Assumption as the old date fell in harvest time. Whilst, Papplewick Feast was on the first Sunday after their Sheep fair, which the last Tuesday in August. Today events such as  Nottingham’s Riverside and Bleasby Festival continue this trend of August fairs….and the hope of a fine August Bank Holiday Monday!

Edited and extracted from the forthcoming book A Nottinghamshire Calendar Pixyledpublications

Interested in customshttp://traditionalcustomsandceremonies.wordpress.com


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A Brief History of the St Anns Allotments

by Joe Earp

Nottingham has a long history of allotment gardening. The St Anns Allotments are the oldest and largest detached town gardens in Britain, possibly the world. Their unique history and heritage has been recognised and it is a Grade 2* listed site.

The site has been in continuing use since the last 600 years. The name St Anns Allotments is a fairly modern name for the site and for many hundreds of years it was known as the Hungerhills. It has been suggested that the name Hungerhill comes from the Old English word ‘hungor’ which meant ‘sparse’ and was used to refer to bleak and bare hills. Another suggestion is that it derives from ‘hangar’ which meant a meadow or grass plot usually by the side of a road. A third suggestion is that it derives from ‘Hangra Hills’, which literally means hillside of clay. This third suggestion is quite probable as the whole site sits on a ancient filed which was known as the Clay Field.


This photo of the Hungerhill Gardens (c 1860s) gives a good impression what the site might of looked like in mediaeval times. – Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

The earliest reference to the site comes from a record transaction for a John and Anabilla releasing 2 acres of arable land to Ralph de Perewyche. Which explains: “The wronghlandis abutting upon the Becke Sike, or brokk and the other lies in lyngwolddale abutting upon Hongerhill”.

The land was originally owned by St Mary’s Church and the hospital of St John. In 1551 the land became the possession of the Nottingham Corporation who had acquired it from Edward VI. By 1605 there are records which show that the Nottingham Corporation leased two or three acres plots to 30 Burgesses or Freemen of the town of Nottingham. The plots were known  as Burgess Parts. This leasing of the land at £15 per year allowed the Corporation to use some of this money for the upkeep of the medieval Trent Bridge. The allotment of land to the Burgesses continued over the next 250 years.

By 1831 the population of Nottingham had grown from about 11,000 in 1750 to 50,000 by 1831. Most of the population of the town of Nottingham lived in the original medieval layout, which by the early 1800s,  was cramped and compact. The idea was quickly reconsigned that the Burgesses Parts, which were mainly used for grazing, could be turned into individual gardens and leased out to wealthy tenants. The Corporation to begin with were not happy about subletting and complained about these proposed gardens. However the idea was soon agreed and by 1832 30 Burgess Parts had become as many as 400 cultivated gardens.

These new detached gardens offered the wealthy Nottingham Victorians the chance to get out of the ever growing city and create their own pleasure gardens, within distance of the town. The plots were used and enjoyed by the shopkeepers and professional people who lived over their businesses in the town centre and so had little garden around their homes. Many had summerhouses where tenants could relax, enjoy their lawns and flower beds, make tea or a meal on the stove, and cultivate their fruit and vegetables. Glasshouses were also common.

Over time there was a slow transition moving away from gardens that were used by the middle classes for recreation towards allotment gardens for poorer workers. They offered low income families the opportunity to supplement their low wages by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Howit (1831) explained that many of the gardens had “excellent summerhouses and there they delight to go, and smoke a solitary pipe, as they look over the smiling face of their garden, or take a quiet stroll amongst their flowers; or to take a pipe with a friend; or to spend a Sunday afternoon, or a summer evening, with their families. The amount of enjoyment which these gardens afford to a great number of families, is not easy to be calculated – and then the health and improved taste!”


Hungerhill Gardens, St Ann’s, c 1860s- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

During the Second World War the gardens were used and were vital for the Dig for Victory Campaign. The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged people to transform gardens, parks and sports pitches into allotments to grow vegetables. People also kept their own chickens, rabbits and goats. Nine hundred pig clubs were set up and about 6000 pigs were raised in gardens. The Government knew the British people could be starved out by a sea blockade; as much imported food came from Canada and America, supplies were vulnerable to attack from the German navy. The British Merchant Navy also had to change its role, to be available for transporting troops and munitions. The campaign was spearheaded by Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, and it fired public enthusiasm via radio broadcasts. It introduced ‘Dr Carrot’ and ‘Potato Pete’; displayed iconic posters in stations, shops and offices; produced leaflets and recipes, as well as specially written songs and slogans, and even lists of recommended ‘food for free’ in the countryside.


Dig For Victory Became a Very Popular Campaign in Nottingham, with many local people being shown how to grow high-yielding varieties and how to convert lawns into vegetable plots. Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

From the 1950s the allotments fell into a slow decline, (there was some renewed interest in the 1960s and 1970s) and by the early 1990s the site was suffering from further neglect and decline.

In 1993 a group of allotment holders formed what is now STAA Ltd (previously knowns as the St Anns Allotment Campaign) to protect and improve the allotments and so began the process of reversing the decline and once more turning them into a vibrant centre of community activity. Today the site is a vibrant and beautiful setting.

So next time you are out that way why not drop into the visitor centre and have a tour of the St Anns Allotments. For more information regarding visiting the allotments please refer to the link below:



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



Today the St Anns Allotments is a vibrant and beautiful site- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


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Archaeology Along The Tram Route: Wilford

by Frank E Earp

History, not archaeology: The line carrying Nottingham’s newly extended tram network south to Clifton, crosses the River Trent via the Victorian Wilford Toll Bridge. It is by the reuse of this old bridge that the modern tram-works encounters history beneath the track rather than archaeology. How many of the passengers of the trams using the bridge will be aware of the fact that people have been crossing the river hereabouts for thousands of years?

Ancient ford: Wilford developed as a village divided by the River Trent and takes its name from a combination of the name of its principle founder and the ford connecting the two halves. The Domesday Book of 1086 lists the village of Wilford as ‘Willesforde,’ literally translating as Willa’s ford later corrupted to Wilfrid’s ford, confused by the dedication of the parish church. It is likely that there has been a ford at Wilford since prehistoric times. Now identified as being Roman, a paved ford bounded by oak post was found in the Tent a little way up-stream from the bridge in 1900.

The Ferry: From around the end of the 16th century a ferry began to operate crossing the river around the site of the bridge. It was Edward III who gave the ferry royal approval, which proved somewhat lucrative for the ferryman who was also given an alcohol licence for the ferry-house on the Wilford side of the river. The ferry-house became a very popular resort in its own rights and grew into the Ferry Inn.

The ferry boat, a kind of flat-bottomed punt, was originally hauled across the river by a system of ropes and pulleys attached to both banks, latter adapted to using iron chains. This made the boat very cumbersome to operate against the fast flowing stream and rather a dangerous crossing for the passengers, especially in bad weather. However, people form Wilford and other villages south of the river wishing to get to and from Nottingham market, continued to flock to the ferry rather than walk downstream to the safer crossing via Trent Bridge. It is this ferry which features in the legend of the Fair Maid of Clifton where Margaret, the Fair Maid, takes her milk and other dairy products to market and is ferried across the river by her lover Bateman.

Hazardous as it was, the ferry continued in use for over 300 years. We have no record of how many accidents happened in the early years of the ferry but in July 1784 disaster overtook the ferry and its passenger. The regular boat was out of use and under repair when 11 passengers embarked in the stand-in vessel all eager to get to Nottingham. A sudden gale midstream capsized the boat midstream an all were cast into the river. Most managed to cling onto the iron chain and raise themselves out of the swirling flood. However, in the confusion a man on shore mistakenly let down the chain and those clinging to it were swept away by the current. Only five survivors were eventually rescued from the waters.

A similar incident occurred exactly 35 years later when in July 1819 a party of 15 revellers from the Ferry Boat Inn climbed on-board the ferry for their journey home. This time it was not the weather which caused the accident but the chain which suddenly jammed when the boat was halfway across. One of the passengers was thrown into the water and drowned. The ferry was linked to another fatal accident on the 10th January 1837. A Wilford farmer by the name of John Oakley and two of his farmhands attempted to cross the river using their own boat further upstream. Caught by the current the boat drifted into the ferry’s chain and capsized.

Ever increasing traffic using the crossing led to calls for a bridge to be built and sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1862, a temporary wood structure was thrown across the river and the ferry went out of use. However, the Ferry Boat Inn, – now served by the new bridge, – continued to be a popular watering-hole as it is today.


‘Wilford Ferry’ by John Holland 1831-1879- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection

here is an old Nottingham legend which states that the River Trent between Trent Bridge and Clifton was only safe to cross in any year after 4 lives had been lost. In 1862, those crossing the newly built, but temporary wooden bridge at Wilford, must have felt reasonably safe. Whatever the reservations of those using the bridge, traffic continued to increase, pushing it beyond its safe capacity. By 1868 it was time to be thinking of a more permanent replacement.

THE TOLL-Bridge: The task of paying for a new bridge fell to the local MP, Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton 9th Baronet. This however was no altruistic gesture on Sir Robert’s part. In 1868/69 his company, – ‘The Clifton Colliery Company, – sank two shafts for a new colliery on the north bank of the river – Nottingham side almost opposite to St. Wilfred’s Church. A new and safe bridge was therefore essential for conveying workers and other traffic to and from the colliery. The Wilford Bridge Act of 1862 licenced the wooden bridge which replaced the ferry, to exact tolls for its use and this same Act was applied to Sir Robert’s new bridge.

Sir Robert’s bridge was manufactured of cast-iron by Andrew Handyside & Co. of Derby. The fine red-brick toll-house on the Nottingham side was designed by E.W. Hughes. Sadly, Sir Robert did not live long enough to see either the colliery go into full production or the opening of the bridge. He died of typhoid at the age of 43 on 30th May 1869. A tall statue of Sir Robert, erected close by the toll-house, was unveiled when the bridge was opened to traffic on 16th June 1870.Punch Magazine was later to say of this statue that it had the ‘worst pair of sculptured trousers in England’.

The bridge, which was popularly known as the ‘half-penny bridge’, continued to be owned and operated by the Clifton family until 1969 when it passed into the hands of Nottingham City Council. The passing years had not been kind to the structure and it was found to be in poor condition and was closed to traffic in 1974. In 1980 the bridge took on a new lease of life when the centre span was demolished and replaced by a narrower foot bridge of steel girders and a reinforced concrete deck slab, becoming a footpath and cycleway to Wilford and beyond.

Like a Phoenix, the half-penny bridge has risen once again to the new challenges of its life in the 21st Century. Without losing any of its original charm and character, the central portion has been strengthened and widened to 12.2m allowing it to carry a two-way tram system as well as pedestrian and cycle paths. Sir Robert would be proud to know that the new tram lines will convey passengers from Nottingham over his bridge through Wilfred and past Clifton Hall, his ancestral home, to the terminus at Clifton. How many of those passengers will know that they are crossing the Trent where others have crossed for thousands of years?

I finish this article with a table of tolls for the bridge, as exacted under the 1862 Act: ½ d. – for foot passengers. 6d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Coach or Stage Coach, Omnibus, Van, Caravan, Sociable, Berlin, Landau, Chaial, A-Vis, Barouche, Phaeton, Chaise Marine, Caleche, Carricle, Chair, Gig, Dog cart, Irish Car, Whisky, Hearse, Litter, Chais or any little carriage. 4d. – for every horse or other beast drawing any Waggon, Wain, Cart or other Carriage. 1½. - for every horse or mule, laden or unladen not drawing. 1d. or 6d. a score (20) – for every Ox, Cow, Bull or Neat cattle 1d or for a score 6d.

One cannot but wonder how much it would be for a fully leaden tram?


Wilford Toll-bridge and the statue of Sir Robert Juckes-Clifton. Photo by Tim Heaton. Note about the picture; Copyright Tim Heaton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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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 | 2 Comments

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.

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