Nottinghamshire’s Part in Richard III’s Story

by Frank E Earp

Unless you have been living on another planet for the last three years, then you could not have failed to have noticed the World wide media attention given to what began in September 2012 as a small archaeological ‘dig’ at a Council car park in Leicester and ended in Leicester Cathedral on the 26th March 2015 with the re internment of the remains of a King of England. Having read so far, you might be saying to yourself, – “Oh no! Not another of those articles on Richard III”. – but this is not the case. This is the as yet untold next chapter in the story and takes place in Nottinghamshire not Leicestershire. But before I begin I must first ‘set the scene’.

Burial place of a King: The car park in question, in the aptly named Greyfriars district of the City of Leicester, was part of the former site of ‘The Priory of the Grey Friars’. The Priory, reputedly founded in 1255 by the legendary Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, was the home of a group of Franciscan Friars, regularly referred to as Grey Friars in reference to the colour of their cloths. Unlike other monastic orders those known as Friars did not exclude themselves from everyday society by living in a secluded community. Their home and work was amongst the local population on who’s charity they relied for support. It is for this reason that the nave of their church would have been open to public and use rather like a parish church. After the Dissolution, in 1536, the Priory like so many others, was ‘sold off’ to the highest bider and might have disappeared into the mists of history leaving only its name to the area in which it stood. However, a memory of events which happened in the little Priory church in 1485, persisted. Grey Friars Priory church was reputed to be the final resting place of Richard III after his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd Aug. 1485.

Looking for Richard: To prove the historical accuracy of this legend, in August 2012, members of ‘The Richard III Society’ initiated the ‘Looking for Richard’ project. Working in partnership with Leicester City Council, the University of Leicester Archaeological Services began an archaeological excavation on the Greyfriars site. In one of those rare events, on the first day of the ‘dig’ the skeletal remains of a body was found buried beneath what would have been the floor of the Priory church. Over the following days the remains were carefully exhumed. There then followed months of extensive anthropological and genetic testing, the remains. The discovery caused a World wide sensation and the media waited with bated breath for the results of the tests. Finally on the 4th February 2013, the University announced to the press that the remains were indeed those of Richard III, the last king of England to in leading his troops battle.

From Car Park to Cathedral: The discovery of Richard’s remains has been heralded as one of the greatest archaeological events of the age, but the question arose; ‘What do you do with the body of one of the most famous kings in the history of Britain?’ The answer of-course was to give Richard a burial fit for a monarch. But where should that final resting place be? The most obvious answer might have been Westminster Abbey along-side the graves of other British royalty. However this was quickly ruled-out. Richard III or more correctly Richard Plantagenet was before his ascension to the throne Richard Duke of York. The City of York was the ancestral home and power-base of the Plantagenet family. It is little wonder then that York Minster put in its own bid to be the depository for Richard’s remains. Following months of debate between York and Leicester it was finally decided that Richard’s remains would be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral just ‘a stones throw away’ from his first burial site. It has been said that reinterment of King Richard III was ‘an event of great national and international significance’ and when it finally took place on the 26th March 2015 it was indeed a carefully orchestrated ceremony akin to a ‘State Funeral’ deserved of a monarch.

A place in history: From the moment the identity of the ‘Skeleton in the Car Park’, – a term coined by the media, – was positively identified as that of Richard III, it was clear that all those involved in the Looking for Richard Project had earned themselves a unique place in history. When the Cities of York and Leicester contested over claims for the King’s body, they were not just arguing over his final resting place, but their share in that place in history and the lucrative tourist trade it would bring.

Visitors Centre: Over the three years from discovery to burial, every aspect of the life and death of King Richard III has been microscopically examined. History has always given Richard a bad press portraying him as a deformed evil king responsible for the murder of ‘The Princes in the Tower. – his own young nephews. New research has proven much of this to be character assassination on the part of later Tudor writers and has all-but vindicated his role in the murder. The forensic sciences involved in the identification the skeleton was truly breath taking. As a part of this process, a reconstruction of the skull produced a model of Richard’s head with a striking resemblance to contemporary accounts and later portraits. All of this information has been brought together in a neat and tidy package and the model head now forms part of the exhibition in Leicester’s new Richard III Visitors Centre. Together with Richard’s tomb in the Cathedral the Visitors Centre now forms a large part of Leicester’s tourist industry.

Not the end of the story: History however, is never ‘neat and tidy’. Although thanks to forensic science, now told in graphic detail, the exhibition only reveals Richard’s story to the point of his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field and ignominious burial in Greyfriars Church. But for Richard’s contemporaries, this was not the end of things. Richard’s life and death is also the story of the Wars of the Roses. Despite claims to the contrary the Battle of Bosworth Field was not “….the last significant battle of the Wars of the Rose”. The saga of The Princes in the Tower did not end with Richards death. In the next part(s) of this article I will be telling the story of where and how The Wars of the Roses really ended and how this heralded in the start of one of Britain’s greatest dynasties, the Tudors.


Portrait of Richard III and facial reconstruction of the skull of the ‘Skeleton in the Car Park’.

The life and death of King Richard III is wholly set against the back-drop of a period or chapter in English history known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’. Although Richard’s part in this epic struggle ended, – at least for him, – with his death on the battlefield of Bosworth, for Richard’s successor to the throne, Henry VII, (Henry Tudor), events set in motion by Richard’s actions had yet to happen and as I tell this part of the story were a long way in the future.

The Wars of the Rose: The Wars of the Roses is the name given to a protracted period of English Civil War brought about by claim and counter claim to the Throne, by two branches or houses of the dynastic Plantagenet family. Throughout the conflict each of the rival factions and their supporters became known and referred to by the of their power base; York, – the Yorkist. Lancaster, – the Lancastrians. The roses element of the name for the conflict is derived from the supposed heraldic device or badge of the two rival factions; the White Rose, – York and the Red Rose Lancaster.

Edward III: Both sides in the conflict claimed their right to the ‘Throne’ through their descent from the 7 sons of King Edward III, 1312-1377. As an aside, the story of Edward III succession to the ‘Throne’ is yet another part of English history played out in part, in Nottingham and will be the subject of another article. In 1337 Edward laid claim to the French Throne the rejection of which sparked what became known as ‘The One Hundred Year War’. England’s repeated campaigns against both France and Scotland plunged the Nation into a prolonged period of both political and financial turmoil.

Richard II: Edward III’s eldest son, also Edward, known as the Black Prince, died in 1376 and the line of succession passed to his grandson who was crowned Richard II after Edward’s death 1377.

Henry IV, first Lancastrian King: Richard II, died without issue in 1399 and was succeeded by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke of the House of Lancaster.

Henry V: Following Henry IV’s death at the age of 45 or 46 in 1413 the Crown passed to his son Henry V who’s short reign was brought to an end by his premature death from dysentery in 1422.

Henry VI: At the time of his death Henry’s son, (yet another Henry), was only 9 months old and as King Henry VI, holds the record as being the youngest successor to the English Throne. For the first twenty years of his reign the Country was governed by his various uncles and others. Throughout his life Henry VI suffered from ill health and his ineffectual rule meant that his realm was controlled by powerful nobles each with their own private army. Not least of these was Henry’s French wife Margaret of Anjou and his uncle, Richard Duke of York. In 1453 Henry suffered a complete mental breakdown. His incapacity left a power vacuum which Richard ceased the opportunity to fill when the powerful Richard Neveille, Earl of Warwick, made him ‘Protector of England’. Although Richard was persuaded by Margaret not to take the crown, he was in all but name, King of England. Loyalty in the Country was now divided into two separate factions, the Yorkist under Richard and the Lancastrians under Margaret.

Civil War: In 1455 Henry recovered his health and Margaret set about re-establishing her own and her husband’s authority. Richard was forced to take-up arms in self-defence resulting in Civil War. Fighting between the Yorkist and the Lancasterians broke-out all almost immediately and for the next five year the pendulum of war swung back and forth between the two factions. In the winter of 1460, Lancastrian nobles began to gather their armies in the north of England. In a counter move Richard moved his forces north in an effort to contain them. In the resulting battle, – near the Yorkshire town of Wakefield, – Richard and his second son Edmund were both killed. Having defeated Richard’s army the Lancastrians began a march south towards London. By February 1461, the Lancastrians had reached St. Albans where they defeated the Yorkist forces under the Warwick. However, Richard’s eldest son Edward, – who had taken the title Duke of York after Wakefield, – having already defeated a Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross, had stolen Margaret’s march on London. The young Duke of York’s arrival in the Capitol was well greeted and in March 1461 he was proclaimed King Edward IV. Together with the remains of Warwick’s forces, the new King pursued Margaret’s army back north and defeated the Lancastrians in a bloody battle at Towton. For the Yorkist the battle was a complete victory and Henry, Margaret and their son were force to flee for their lives to Scotland.

For a time fighting between the Yorkist and Lancastrians ended, but an internal dispute within the Yorkist faction exploded into open conflict. In 1469, feeling increasingly rejected and isolated in the new king’s court, Edward’s former friend and ally Warwick, and his younger brother George Duke of Clarence rose in open rebellion. Edward was taken prisoner after the Battle of Edgecote near Banbury but by 1470 he had regained control. Warwick and George fled to France where they allied themselves to their former Lancastrian enemies Henry and Margaret.

In September 1470 the combined forces of Warwick, George and Margeret returned to England where they successfully deposed Edward and restored Henry to the Throne. The following year having regained the loyalty of his rant brother George and secured Burgundian aid, Edward decisively defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Margaret attempted to come to the aid of Warwick and landed with her forces at Weymouth the day after Barnet. Realising that she was to late Margaret attempted to flee to the safety but was intercepted at Tewkesbury by Edward. In the resulting battle her army was crushed and her only son, Henry’s heir, was killed. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London where on 21st May 1471, at the age of 49 he was murdered probably as a direct order from Edward.

Edward IV and Nottingham Castle: With all opposition gone Edward’s Crown was secured. It is at this point that Nottingham or rather Nottingham Castle enters the story. For a long time the mighty fortress that was Nottingham Castle had existed as a mere royal residence and its true military value had been ignored. However, Edward recognised the strategic importance of the Castle and ordered the immediate strengthening of its defences and the building of a new strong tower and royal apartments. It was from Nottingham Castle that news was announced to the people of England that second half of the reign of Edward IV had begun.


Nottingham Castle: Where Edward IV declared himself King of England for the second time in 1471.

Under the reign of Edward IV, Nottingham Castle had once again returned to being one of the greatest military strongholds in the land. The Castle had first been brought to Edward’s attention in 1469, shortly before the ill-fated Battle of Edgecote. The war against the Lancastrians was over, but he now faced the rebellion of his younger brother George and the Earl Warwick. Edward’s army was not strong enough to face the rebels alone and it was at Nottingham Castle that he garrisoned his troops to awaited reinforcements under the Earl of Pembroke.

Pembroke’s army, on its way to Nottingham, was intercepted near Banbury and defeated at the ensuing battle of Edgecote. For Edward, there followed a short period of captivity, but he had dispersed his forces in Nottingham and elsewhere saving them from destruction. After his return to power in 1471 he began to strengthen and re-fortify Nottingham Castle. Although Edward initially forgave his brother George for his part in the rebellion, relationship between the siblings was never quite reconciled. Following a dispute over Edward’s paternity and rights to the Throne, George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason in 1478.

For the remainder of Edward’s reign something of piece and stability settled over the land and with its royal connections Nottingham would have enjoyed a new degree of prosperity. King Edward IV died in 1483 naming in his will his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Protector of the realm until his son and heir 12 year old Edward or his brother 9 year old Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury, were old enough to rule independently.

Princes in the Tower: Almost before Edward’s body was cold, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, – the second Yorkist to be Protector of England, – lodged his young ‘charges’ in the Tower of London for their own protection. For this reason, the two young boys have been forever referred to as ‘The Princes in the Tower’. Although officially King Edward V, Prince Edward never made it to his Coronation as both he and his brother mysteriously disappeared.

Richard III: Edward V’s Coronation was set to take place on 22nd June 1483, but even as plans were being made for the ceremony, his father’s marriage to his mother Elizabeth Woodville, was declared invalid. This claim, – endorsed by an assembly of lords and commoners on the 25th June 1483, – made Edward and his brother illegitimate and his right of succession invalid. Richard Duke of Gloucester was crowned King Richard III the following day. Within months of his Coronation, Richard III faced a challenge from his own kith and kin who were supporters of Edward IV. The revolt was soon put-down.

When it came in August 1485, the next challenge to Richard’s authority was to lead to his death at Bosworth. Despite political plots and machinations, murders and years of open warfare, the House of York had not rid itself from the challenge to the Throne of England by the rival House of Lancaster. Through the efforts and support of Jasper Tudor, the Lancastrians had found their last remaining claimant to the English Throne in the person of Jasper’s young nephew, Henry Tudor. Henry’s claim to the Throne came in the main through his mother Margaret Beauford and her family. The Beaufords trace their line from John O’ Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster the fourth son of Edward III.

The road to Bosworth: With a small escort of Scottish and French soldiers, the exiled Henry Tudor landed in Wales close to the Tudor’s ancestral home of Pembroke Castle. Henry knew that his only chance was to deliver a swift and decisive blow against Richards ‘field army’. Richard, having received news of Henry’s invasion, had gather his forces in the Midlands with large contingents of troops garrisoned at Leicester and Nottingham. With support from the Welsh, Henry marched into England gathering an army of around 5,000 men along the way. The race was now on to defeat Richard, who was with his forces at Leicester, before he could receive reinforcements from Nottingham.

Traditionally, Henry’s Lancastrian rebel army met Richard’s Yorkist royal army at Ambion Hill, close to the small Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth. Richard, who had divided his army into three groups or ‘battles’ is said to have been in personnel command of the troops on the summit of the hill. It is from here that he watched Henry’s forces arriving from the south and deploying in the little valley bellow. A betting man at the time would have felt safe to have his life savings and his shirt on the King’s victory. However, as sometimes happens, the odds-on favourite falls before the finishing post. In an effort to bring the battle to a swift conclusion, Richard took the military gamble of leading his personnel body guard of mounted knights in a charge aimed directly at Henry. When picturing Richard’s final moments, the romantics among us will for ever hear the words put into his mouth by Shakespeare: “A horse, a horse! My Kingdom for a horse.” In reality, Richard’s death like the battle was bloody and brutal.

Again tradition or perhaps Tudor propaganda, tells that Richard wore a gold circlet around his helmet symbolic of the Crown of England. Whilst surveying the scene of victory one of Henry’s supporters, Sir Reginald Bray, found the gold circlet under or in a Hawthorne Bush. He immediately carried it away to Lord Stanley who placed it on Henry’s head, declaring him to be Henry VII King of England.

The Battle of Bosworth Field marked the start of a new era in English History and the reign of the Tudor dynasty. It did not however mark the end of the civil strife caused by the Wars of the Roses. Although he had won a complete military victory over the Yorkist at Bosworth, Henry knew that his new realm was still a divide country. Unless he gained the loyalty of former Yorkist supporters he faced rebellion and the crown, so dearly won at Bosworth might be lost. One of Henry’s first acts as the new king was to pardon all of the Yorkist nobles. In an effort to truly unite the two factions which divided the nation, in May 1486, Henry married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. Henry knew that as the sister of The Princes in the Tower, any future children Elizabeth might have, would be legitimate heirs to the Throne. Through the marriage, Henry had not only legitimized his own line of succession but deprived the Yorkist of a rallying point for any future rebellion. As a symbol of the union of the two great houses Henry combined the white rose of York with the red rose of Lancaster thus creating the emblem which became known as the Tudor Rose. In one ‘fell-swoop’ Henry had both literally and symbolically united the country. Henry must have now felt secure, however, he had overlooked one thing inherited from Richard III, ‘The Princes in the Tower.’ The true fate of the two sons of Edward IV had not been proven and there were those among the Yorkist who believed or at least hopped that Elizabeth’s brothers had escaped their prison.


Lambert Simnel, The boy who would be King.

By the time Henry VII came to the Throne in 1485, England had suffered years of Civil War which had divided the Nation, both nobles and commoners, into two opposing factions. Henry knew that the people were tired of the conflict and any Yorkist rebellion against his authority would not gain popular support without a figure-head as a railing point. In making Elizabeth of York his Queen and uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York in to one family, the Tudors, he had deprived the Yorkist cause of their last legitimate claim to the Throne. However, whilst the fate of Elizabeth’s brothers, The Princes in the Tower, remained in doubt, however slight, the union of the Nation was not complete.

There must have been rumours a-plenty about the fate of the boys circulating both at court and amongst the common people. What seems strange to me is the fact that the King himself does not seem to know the answer to the mystery. If they had indeed been murdered, why did he not act quickly to end the speculation and produce the bodies of the Princes? Could it be that their was a genuine reason for suspecting that they were still alive?

Another ‘Prince’ in the Tower: Henry had inherited from Richard III not only the legacy of The Princes in the Tower but also the problem of what to do with a third potential Yorkist claimant to the Throne, their cousin Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. Edward was the 12 year old son of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, the young brother of Edward IV and Richard III. Following his fathers execution for treason in 1478, the then 3 year old Edward had been legally removed from the line of succession. Under the reign of his uncle Richard III, Edward was made a ‘royal ward’ and along with another of Richard’s nephews, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, he was housed in the castle at Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire. Henry might have thought that he had solved the problem when the day after Bosworth, whilst still lodging in Leicester, he had the then 10 year old Edward arrested and removed to the Tower of London. However, this was not the case. Early in the year 1487, a young Oxford priest Richard Symonds began a rumour that Edward, Earl of Warwick and rightful King of England, had escaped captivity and was in his care. Henry must have known that in reality this was a call to arms, a signal that the Yorkist had found their railing point.

Symonds took his young charge to Ireland, a Yorkist stronghold. Here his claim was greeted with credulity and immediately gained the support of the Earl of Kildare, the Archbishop of Dublin and the Lord Chancellor. Messages appealing for help were sent to Edward’s aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and to other prominent Yorkist like Sir Thomas Broughton and the Earl of Lincoln.

Lambert Simnel: If he was not the real Edward Earl of Warwick, who was the young boy Symonds had taken to Ireland? Symonds, like many priest of his time, ran a small school. He had apparently noticed that one of his pupils, Lambert Simnel, a boy of about 10 years old, bore a striking resemblance to the two sons of Edward IV. Contemporary accounts of Simnel say that he was both handsome and intelligent. At first, Symonds intended to ‘pass -off’ the boy as the youngest of the two Princes in the Tower, Richard Duke of York. On reflection and considering the strong likelihood that Richard was indeed dead, Symonds decided to present him as Richard’s cousin Edward Earl of Warwick. To this ends, Symonds educated Simnel in courtly ways and provided him with something of the real Edward’s life history. It is however very unlikely that this was all Symonds idea and it is clear that it was all part of an elaborate Yorkist plot, the chief architect of which was probably Lincoln himself.

Henry’s response: For his part, Henry moved swiftly to counter the growing threat posed by the impostor. On the 2nd February 1487 he had the widow of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville imprisoned in a convent in Bermondsey. The ‘real’ Edward, Earl of Warwick was brought out of the Tower and publicly paraded through the streets. Lincoln was amongst the Yorkist leaders who were summoned to witness the event. Knowing their close family relationship, Henry probably hoped that he would publicly acknowledge the real Warwick and thus weaken the Yorkist cause.

Rebellion begins: Although he is said to have spoken to Edward in person, instead of supporting the King, Lincoln immediately fled to Flanders where he met with Lord Lovell, the leader of and unsuccessful Yorkist rebellion in 1486. In Flanders, Lincoln showed his true elegance by endorsed the claim that the boy in Ireland with Symonds was the real Earl of Warwick. He further endorsed the idea in a letter to the Duchess of Burgundy in which he claimed to have helped her nephew escape the Tower and to have personally given him into the care of Symonds. Having no reason to doubt the word of his cousin and one who knew her nephew personally, Margaret responded by despatching to their aid an army of 2,000 German, (some Swiss and Flemish) mercenaries under the command of Colonel Martin Schwartz. These men were all professional soldiers were equipped with all the latest armour and technology including handguns and must have been a great boost to the Yorkist moral. Together with Schwartz’s command and their own personnel retinue, Lincoln and Lovell sail for Ireland where they landed on 23rd May 1487.

Whether or not Kildare and the other Irish nobles actually believed Simnel to be the Earl of Warwick is debatable, but on 24th May Simnel was crowned Edward V, King of England. Plans for the invasion were now put in motion. Whilst Lincoln had been in Flanders, Kildare had been busy gathering his own army. Under the command of his younger brother Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh, he had raised a force of around 4,000 Irish levies, – poorly armed and equipped soldiers. It was a combined force of English, Irish and Germans, between 7,000 an 8,000 strong which landed at Furness on the Lancashire coast on 4th June. The rebel army moved through Lancashire unopposed and crossed the Pennines into Yorkshire heading for York. It was their leader’s intention to swell their ranks by gathering new recruits from the very heartland of the House of York. The response to the invasion was not the expected one. The City of York refused to open its gates and stubbornly held-out for the King. It must have been a bitter disappointment for Lincoln and the other commanders as they were forced to turn their army south towards Nottinghamshire. Although they did not know it, they were now on the road to East Stoke and one of the bloodiest battles ever to be fought on English soil.


German mercenary soldier equipped with hand-gun.


Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick.

The real Edward never escaped from captivity in the Tower of London. He was executed for treason by Henry VII on the 21st November 1499.

The road to Stoke Field: In terms of actual foot soldiers, Lincoln’s rebel army (Yorkist) did not get the new recruits it expected or needed. However, it was joined by over 40 Yorkist nobles and armoured knights each bringing their personal retinues. To Lincoln and the other commanders and perhaps to the newly crowned Edward VI, (Lambert Simnel), this must have have inspired a growing confidence and added some sense legitimacy to their cause.

Henry VII had not been idle. From the moment the rebel army had landed, his forces had been gathering, ready to engage it at the first possible chance. That chance came as the rebel forces neared the Nottinghamshire town of Ollerton. A royalist force of around 6,000 men under the command of Sir Edward Woodville came out of Doncaster to intercept them. However, finding that he was greatly outnumbered, – the rebel army was by now around 9,000 strong, – Woodvile began to make a tactical retreat ahead of them. For the next 3 days there followed a ‘cat and mouse’ pursuit through the heart of Sherwood Forest. Some accounts say that when the news was heard in Nottingham that the rebels were drawing closer, the town was evacuated.

Somewhere near the village of Farnsfield the rebel army turned off of the Nottingham road and made towards Newark. It seems likely that this was a deliberate attempt by the Earl of Lincoln, to reach the relative security of his own lands and holdings in Lincolnshire and perhaps even Lincoln Castle.

The King moves to Nottingham: At this time Henry was at Kenilworth Castle, but calling on some local levies, he set off at once for Nottingham. In military terms it would seem that Woodvile’s tactical retreat was a delaying action rather than any unwillingness to engage the enemy. The King reached Nottingham on the 14th June where he was joined by his uncle Jasper Tudor and a large contingent of ‘longbowmen’ from his native Wales. The presence of these expert archers was to be one of the decisive factors in the battle that was to follow.

Battle of Stoke Field: On his arrival, the King learnt that the rebel forces had reached Southwell. One account says that by the next day, 15th June, he had already moved part of his army to Ratcliffe. As was the custom at this time, Henry had divided his army in groups know as ‘battles’ each having its own commander. As at Bosworth two years earlier, the overall command of the army fell to John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.

Early the next morning, 16th June, Henry received the news that the rebels had crossed the Trent via the ford at Fiskerton and were now making their way up the steep, narrow sunken road leading to the village of East Stoke. Oxford immediately took the vanguard of the army, – including the Welsh longbowmen, – and marched along the Fosse Way the 8 miles which separated the two armies. He arrived at East Stoke at around 9 a.m. and found that Lincoln had already taken up a defensive position with his army in a single block along the brow of Rampire Hill with his right flank on the high point known as Burrand Furlong. It was at this point that strange lights in the sky were interpreted as ill-portents by Lancastrian soldiers, which led to some desertions. However, Oxford and other nobles were quick to restored morale and his men were soon in “good array and in fair battle.”

Stoke Field: The battle opened with the Welsh firing volley after volley of arrows in to the packed ranks of the rebel forces. The rapid and accurate fire of these expert archers had a devastating effect on Lincoln’s men, especially the poorly protected Irish levies. Lincoln had no choice but to abandon the high ground and launch a direct assault against the royalist. Oxford’s men were among the finest of Henry’s army and received the charge in good order. Although Henry’s army in total, out numbered Lincoln’s, on this narrow front Oxford’s vanguard took the full weight of the rebel attack. By this time, Henry had come up behind Oxford with the rest of his forces. Rather than engage the enemy directly, Henry chose to constantly supply Oxford with fresh troops as his front line became depleted. In this war of attrition there could be only one winner and slowly at first, Lincoln’s rebels began to retreat back up the hill. With their backs exposed the air again became filled with Welsh arrows and the ordered retreat became a rout.

Bloody Gutter: The German and Swiss mercenaries chose to make a last stand. One eye-witness account says that by the end of the battle they were “filled with arrows like hedgehogs”. Pushed from the front by the enemy and surrounded by the Trent on three sides, Lincoln’s routed army had no choice but to retreat back down the sunken road they had come up earlier that morning. Caught in the confined space, the result was slaughter. It is said that the lane ran with the blood of the rebels and the waters of the Trent turned red. From that day to this, the sunken road has been known as Bloody Gutter, (Red Gutter, Red Lane). Those rebels who made-it to the river bank were cut down and many more drowned in the Trent in their attempt to swim across.

Henry’s War Crime: The massacre of he rebel forces did not end after the fighting. In an act that today would be considered a ‘war crime’, captured English and Irish soldiers were mercilessly hanged. Surviving German and Swiss mercenaries were deprived of their pay and allowed to go free.

End of the Wars of the Roses: Stoke Field was to be the last time that the armies of the House of York and the House of Lancaster faced each other on the field of battle and therefore, the last battle in the Wars of the Roses. It was a greater contest than Bosworth and ranks as one of the most bloodiest battles fought on English soil. After 3 hours of fighting, the slaughter produced an ‘estimated’ 7,000 dead, around 5,000 of which were Yorkist. Perhaps the most noted of the Yorkist dead, – including John de le Pole Earl of Lincoln, – were given a half-decent burial in St Oswald’s churchyard. As for the rest, given the fact that the battle took place in the height of summer, it was a priority to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible and their remains lie in mass grave pits in and around the churchyard. The only testimony to the dead of Stoke Field is a stone which now leans against the south wall of the churchyard.


Battle of Stoke Field Memorial Stone.


Scene of slaughter. A view looking up Red Gutter. (photo Hannah Shepherd 2013)

Unlike Richard III, Henry VII did not lead his troops into battle that summer’s day in 1487. That morning’s work had been done in the King’s name, by men like the Earl of Oxford and Jasper Tudor. When he arrived on the scene shortly after the fighting had ended, Henry was expecting to find that his main protagonist, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had been taken prisoner. He had planned to interrogate Lincoln as to the depth of the Yorkist conspiracy against him elsewhere in the Country. He was however, disappointed and angered to learn that along with his captains, Sir Thomas Broughton, Col. Martin Schwartz, Thomas FitzGerald and many other Yorkist gentry, Lincoln had died fighting.

In the weeks that followed the Battle of Stoke Field the King set about healing the wounds of civil war. He launched a series of enquiries into the rebellion and although a few of the implicated Yorkist nobles and gentry were found guilty and executed for treason, most received punitive fines. For their part, the Irish lords, like FitzGerald’s father, the Earl of Kildare, were pardoned as Henry could see the value of keeping them onside for the protection of his kingdom. Richard Symonds, – the supposed guardian of Edward VI, (Lambert Simnel), – was sentenced to ‘life in a bishop’s prison’. John Payne, Bishop of Meath, who had preached the sermon at Simnel’s, coronation was pardoned and eventually restored to royal favour.

Mystery: Mystery surrounds the fate of Lord Francis Lovell, Lincoln’s second in command. Eye witnesses claim that the last time Lovell was seen alive he was escaping the slaughter by swimming his horse across the Trent. At the court held after the battle, it was decided that in the absence of any firm evidence or a body, he must have fled the country. There is some suggestion that he reached Scotland where he was granted sanctuary. One ‘school of thought’ has it that the body which lies beneath an alabaster sepulchral slab in All Hallows Church, Gedling, is that of Lord Francis Lovell. It has been suggested that after swimming the river to Fiskerton, Lovell attempted to reach Stoke Bardolph (Castle) the ancestral home of Jane Bardolph, his mother. Lovell either died in his attempt or having gained his destination died later of his wounds. Either-way, his body was secretly buried to prevent it suffering the indignation of being ‘hung, drawn and quartered, – the fate of a traitor.

A popular Tudor story started by Francis Bacon tells how Lord Lovell having escaped the field of battle, fled to his family home Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire. Here, supported by a faithful servant, he hide for many years in a secret vault or chamber beneath the house. One day the servant stopped visiting with supplies of food and water. Having been sealed in to prevent discovery, Lovell died of starvation. A discovery in 1708 is claimed to have confirmed this story. Workmen carrying out repairs to the Hall came upon the vault and having broken in were met by a strange sight. Seated at a table littered with books and writing material was the skeleton of man and at his feet the skeleton of a dog. The apparition lasted but a few seconds, for as fresh air entered the room, man, dog books and all, crumbled to dust.

Lanbert Simnel: What of the fate of the young pretender, Lambert Simnel? Henry recognised the fact that the young boy had been a mere pawn in the Yorkist plot and if the battle had gone the Yorkist way, Lincoln would have been the real power behind the Throne. Certainly given Simnels age, as Edward VI, he would have been deemed to young to rule alone and as victor of Stoke Field, Lincoln would have ceased the role of Lord Protector. In a remarkable act of clemency Henry pardoned Simnel and even took the boy into service in the royal kitchens as a ‘spit turner’. Simnel worked hard and soon achieved the prestigious job of ‘Royal Falconer’, a role he continued in until his death in 1534.

Royal Standard: The site of perhaps one of the most important events that took place after the battle, is now marked by a much warn stone, lost and neglected in the undergrowth. Sometime after his arrival on the ‘field,’ Henry rode-out along Rampire Hill to Burham Furlong where Lincoln had fix his strong point. Here, in an act of ‘Sovereignty’ he raised the Royal Standard. This was considered so significant that later, to prevent the site from being lost, a thorn bush was planted on the spot.

The Burrand Bush: Curiously, the bush became known as The Burrand Bush, a name which makes no reference to the purpose to which it was supposedly planted. Thorn bushes, White Thorn and Black Thorn, have for thousands of years held a sacred connection to Sovereignty and it is not surprising to find a bush of this kind being used to mark such a site. What I find interesting is the fact that a thorn bush twice plays a role in Henry VII life at a time when his rightful kingship is challenged. We do not know how-long the original bush lasted or if, as it died and decayed, it was replaced by another, but what is certain is that the bush was eventually replaced by a succession of stone markers know as The Burrand Stone. Again it is curious that the stone bares an inscription which seems to first commemorate the bush rather than the raising of the standard; ‘Here Stood The Burrand Bush Planted On The Spot Were Henry VII Placed His Standard After The Battle Of Stoke June 16th 1487′.

By raising his standard on the height known as Burrand Furlong, Henry both signalled his victory in the last great battle of the Wars of the Roses and confirmed the fact that his was the one and only King. The start of the age of the Tudors had begun.

Last word: Although it has been rather long and full of dates and history, I hope that the reader has enjoyed this article. One of my reasons for writing it has been to heigh-light the fact that, although it does not have the body of a king to show for it, Nottinghamshire played as important a part in the Wars of the Roses as did Leicestershire. Whilst Bosworth has a ‘battle-field trail’ and purpose built ‘Heritage Centre’ for visitors to enjoy, East Stoke is little known. Apart from some long out-dated information boards in the church and the two neglected stones mentioned above, it has nothing to tell of the part it played in history. Since the discovery of Richard III’s remains the Bosworth Heritage Centre has seen an increase of 40% in visitor numbers. The overall effect of the World wide ‘King in the Car Par’ phenomena has injected over £59 million into the local economy and produced hundreds of jobs.


Lambert Simnel, ‘spit turner’ in the royal kitchens.


The Burrand Stone. This much neglected stone marks the spot where the great Tudor dynasty began.

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The Sunken Church of Bramcote

by Joe Earp

Many visitors and even residents of Bramcote are curious to know the history of the old sunken church standing in a dominating position at the top of Town Street in a crowded churchyard. All that remains of this ancient relic is the small tower.

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Sunken Church in Bramote. The only part of the church which still survives is the tower- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

The Domesday Book (1086) records a settlement in ‘Bruncote’. A simple wooden structure is likely to have served as a place of worship before a stone church was built. The body of the church which consisted the nave, north aisle and the tower date to the 12th or 13th century. The chancel to the church was a later edition. The arch above the east doorway suggests the same early English period as the font. The church was much altered over the years and only guess work can be made of the original church’s appearance. 

Most people when first seeing the church often wonder and ask the question-”has the church sunken into the ground?”. The answer is no but the appearance makes it look like that. There is no evidence of subsidence to the church structure. No one really knows how the church came to have the name of the Sunken Church. Perhaps the reason why is because when approaching the church from a great distance it really does appear to be sinking into the ground. The reason why only the tower survives was because of general decay of the church. The main reason for the church’s demolition was because a larger church was built in the 1860s. St Michael & All Angels was built to cater for the growing population of the village. The early photograph below shows what it was like before the nave and chancel were demolished in 1862.

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The church prior to it being demolished in 1862- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

The building was described in a Bishops Terrier of 1777 as “in tolerable condition, having three new bells and an elegant singing gallery”. It is believed to have held around 30 people, far to small for the influx of framework knitters, coal miners and domestic servants to the gentry in the mid 19th century. The village population was 700 in 1850 and the burial ground was full by the end of that decade.

When the new church of St Michael & All Angels was built the local squire, John Sherwin Gregory, gave the land for the church. Stone from the old church was used in construction of the boundary wall. The Tower was preserved to house some memorials, and although the bells were transferred to the new church along with the font, the timber bell frame of 1586 is still in situ.

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The 1586 timber bell frame still remains in situ in the tower- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

In more modern times the grounds fell into neglect and the tower was deemed unsafe. In recent years however both the tower and the grounds have undergone renovation and restoration by the Bramcote Old Tower Trust, supported by the Friends of the Old Church Tower, for the community and visitors to enjoy.

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The Sunken Church Tower- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

Posted in Bramcote, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

The Archaeology of Halifax Place

by Joe Earp


Photo Credit: The Nottingham Post.

This photo recently found in our archive has thrown up some great interest. The above photo shows archaeological excavations led by the then City Council’s Assistant Archaeologist Graham Black in 1979/80. The site of excavations was under a Victorian Warehouse in Halifax Place in Nottingham’s Lace Market. In the photo postholes stand out clearly in the sandstone revealed by the excavations. It is in that area that the archaeologists found one of the deep cesspits dating from Viking Age Nottingham.

Other finds were a large Viking building, post holes for one incomplete wall show it was over 40 feet long. A building as long as this must have been a very high status building with some very important owners. A bronze end decoration for a belt and the head of a staff also in bronze were found, both dating from the time of Viking occupation in Nottingham.

Scott Lomax is a current researcher and archaeologist who has been studying the archaeology of Halifax Place for the last seven years. He has worked for Trent and Peak Archaeology as well as for Nottingham City Council. Mr Lomax commented “There is a lot of interesting archaeology from the site from the Saxon, high medieval and post medieval periods. Substantial buildings, which I believe to be of high status, covered several phases of occupation. There were 8 or 9 medieval corn drying ovens, and a probable iron smelting furnace found. There was also evidence of pottery production on the site with never before seen pottery found. The kiln itself is unexcavated to this day – it was seen in section and lies just outside the excavated area. From the pottery found adjacent to it, which came from the kiln, it was believed to date to c. 940. Of the post medieval period a large pit was found containing nationally significant pottery of the 18th century and a gold ring inscribed with a simple message was thought to be a christening present for a baby during the 17th century. The site was certainly very important and I have a lot of theories about it”.

Nottingham is rich in Anglo-Saxon and Viking history. Many incidents happened here such as Snott and his Angles founding the site of Nottingham. The Great Heathen Army capturing Nottingham in 867. Alfred, who would later become King Alfred, tried to besiege Nottingham with his Brother Aethelred who was King of Wessex at the time. Aethelred and Alfred were unable to recapture Nottingham. Nottingham became part of the Viking Danelaw. Eventually Nottingham was recaptured by King Alfred’s children- Edward and Aethelflaed. They captured the East Midlands and East Anglia from the Danes in 917, and Edward, following his sister’s death, became King Edward the Elder. He recovered the five boroughs of the Danelaw- Lincoln, Derby, Nottingham, Stamford and Leicester. In Nottingham he strengthened the town’s defensive walls and built a bridge over the River Trent.

Earlier excavations of Halifax Place have shown evidence for possible Iron Age occupation. Cyclindrical pits were discovered, cut into the rock. A small amount of Late Iron Age pottery sherds were found within the fills of one of the pits, suggesting to the excavators that the periods dated to that period. One interpretation is that they were part of a Late Iron Age farmstead and were used for the storage of grain. If there was Iron Age occupation on the site, then this means that Halifax Place was a important site with constant occupation right up until 1350 when the site became a garden and remained so until the eighteenth century.

The excavations at the time gave a good insight into what Anglo-Saxon/Viking Nottingham was like. However much more research and archaeological work is needed for us to get a greater understanding of the site of Halifax Place and it’s history in general.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Archaeology | 1 Comment

An April custom: St George’s Day

by Ross Parish 

St George’s Day nationwide appears to be having a comeback and Nottinghamshire has shown that it too is supporting this tradition. According to a correspondent of the NFWI states that at Ranby where a Mr Mason, went to the local school and tell the story of St. George and the Dragon. In Saint John’s School Mansfield St George’s Day was observed:

“1925 Today by St. George’s Day, the flag had been hoisted out the commencement of ….so our visitor (Mr J. E. Davis from Australia originally Bulwell) had the pleasure of seeing it flying in the breeze invitingly on his arrival to the playground.”

Nottingham St Peter’s Church is reported to have had a St. George’s Day sermon endowed in the 1950s, however upon investigation there appears to be no record of its foundation and of course it has not survived.  In Newark in the 1920s it appears that the Lord Mayor would attend a special service of remembrance on St. George’s Day but this surprisingly considering the survival of similar customs in the town has died out.

The most obvious manifestation of the celebration of the feast has been processions. Before the 2000s these appear to be mainly undertaken by the scouting movement and a number of processions are recorded. The biggest of which would that at Southwell. Undertaken on the Sunday nearest, 100s if not 1000s of Scouts, Cubs, Beavers and Explorers attend with Brownies and Guides also. Assembling at the Burbage the collected group is quite impressive and their parade from there around the town and to the Minster is similarly striking – all of Southwell lines the street to see the colourful spectacle. The packed service at the Minster is the opportunity for them to renew their pledges and includes awards and recognition of its members. In Nottingham until 2006, a similar parade was the city’s only recognition. Scouts still parade on the nearest weekend, but firmly affixed to the day is a very colourful St George’s Day procession headed by St. George and other knights on horseback and a dragon, followed by St George’s groups. Associated events are have been medieval market and bands in the market square.

Started the same year, is the very colourful modern tradition established at Ollerton by the village’s Residents Association and a later established St. George’s Day celebration Group on the Sunday nearest. The first year included amongst other aspects stalls, jugglers, sword dancers and a play called ‘An Ollerton Romp’ in a village fete, subsequent years have included St George on his horse, knights and large dragon parading through the street. The day ends with a battle between the Knights, and the burning of the dragon. Recently all stall holders dress in medieval themed costumes and themes for the parade have been introduced and Rattlejag and Forester Morris have been involved.

This is undertaken by the CRaPPPs as a new initiative to celebrate the day, although it is also enacted at Southwell on the Gate to Southwell in June. It was constructed from existing St. George’s Play texts with additional text and characters from their Calverton Plough Play. It was first performed on the 23rd April at the Gleaners, Calverton in 2012 and has been performed around Blidworth and Woodborough at the following weekend.

Unlike other calendar customs which could be seen in decline, St George’s Day observations are doing the opposite. Their revival and invention shows that calendar customs are still a desirable occupation for communities and their residents.

Ross is still continuing to compile the definitive guide to calendar customs and traditions of the county for publication this year!


St George’s Day Celebrations at Southwell, Nottinghamshire- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

st george ollerton

St George’s Day Celebrations at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire- Photo Credit: RB Parish.


St George’s Day Celebrations in Nottingham’s Old Market Square- Photo Credit: RB Parish.


Calverton Mummers Performing the St George’s Play, Calverton, Nottinghamshire- Photo Credit: RB Parish.


Calverton Mummers Performing the St George’s Play, Calverton, Nottinghamshire- Photo Credit: RB Parish.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Traditional Customs and Ceremonies | Leave a comment

Maps of Nottingham: Badder and Peat Map of 1745

by Joe Earp

This is a really interesting map of Nottingham. It is the Badder and Peat Map of 1745 which shows Nottingham as a garden town. Lots of orchards and gardens, and the town stops at what is now Parliament Street in the north, and the River Leen in the south. There is an incredible amount of detail in the map.

Little changed before the Enclosure Act of 1845, which relieved the pressure by permitting building on the common fields surrounding the old town. It can be noted that there is no road outlet from the town to the south, except for the London Road bridge over the River Leen.

Other streets show much more importance than today, for example North Street, (now Foreman Street), which was the main outlet to the Mansfield Road, compared with Boot Lane (now Milton Street).

The map doesn’t even show the modern busy roads of Albert Street, Carrington Street, King Street and Market Street.

Discarded names include:

Cow lane (Clumber Street),

Gridlesmith Gate (Pelham Street),

Bearward lane, (Mount Street)

Back Side (Parliament Street)

Timber Hill (South Parade)

Bar Gate (Chapel Bar)

Fink Hill Street (Maid Marian Way)

The map has all street names, and individual buildings and gardens, but some places are shown numbered on the map itself. A key to the various numbered places/features is shown below. This key is not shown on the map itself.

1 – Shoe booths

2 – Hen Cross

3 – Queen Street

4 – Peck Lane

5 – White Friars

6 – St. Peter’s Church

7 – Reservoir

8 – Collin’s Hospital

9 – Mrs Newdigate’s House

10 – Mrs Bennet’s house

11 – The home of the Hon. Rothwell Willoughby

12 – Johnson’s Court

13 – Byard lane

14 – Weekday Cross

15 – Charity School

16 – St. Mary’s Church

17 – The Long Stairs

18 – Castle

19 – Bog Hole

20 – St. Nicholas’s Church

21 – The Water Engine

22 – The Lead Works formerly Grey Friars

23 – Marsden’s Court

24 – Pennyfoot Row

25 – The summerhouse of Longford Collins


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Great Oaks of Sherwood

by Frank E Earp

A few weeks ago I received an e:mail from one of my many contacts urging me to vote for the Major Oak in a competition for ‘The European Tree of the Year’. The Major Oak with its associations to the Robin Hood story, is of course the most famous tree in Sherwood Forest, – and perhaps the most famous oak tree in Britain.

The European Tree of the Year: As the name suggests, the competition, which began in 2011, is an annual pan-European popularity contest for trees across the continent, – it has been described as the Eurovision for trees. Competing trees are judged for their cultural value to the local, national and even international community. From an initial start of only 5 participating countries, this year’s competition has seen entrants from 14 European states including England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Celebrity trees from across each of the competing countries are first nominated for the national heat of the competition. The resulting national finalist then go ‘head to head’ to be ‘crowned’ by public vote with the title of European Tree of the Year. All of the nominees for the title have their names and details added to ‘The European Trail of Trees, further enforcing their celebrity status.

Disappointingly, the Major Oak did not win the competition despite votes coming from fans as far away as the U.S.A. The Major Oak received 9,941 of the total of 185,000 votes cast and was soundly beaten into sixth place. The winner, an Estonian oak tree know as ‘The Football Tree’, received 59,836 votes just short of 32% of total votes cast. So, what makes this Estonian oak, – which by the way although a mature tree, is a mere sapling compared to Sherwood’s mighty giant, – so special and valued to the community? The fact is that the tree appears to have been judged more on its novelty status than any cultural heritage or history, for it stands in the middle of a football-pitch. Before 1951 the tree stood on the edge of a small sports ground in the town of Orissaare. When the facility was expanded, the tree which was protected, ended up in the middle of the stadium. Space dictated that it was necessary to layout a football pitch around the tree. The tree however takes an active part in games played on the pitch, with players from both sides allowed by local rules to use it has an extra player and deflect balls off of its’ trunk. Before its honoured role in the game of football, the oak was already a symbol of national resistance. Legend has it that Russian forces under Stalin tried to uproot the tree using two tractors but failed when the cables kept breaking. Locals proudly point out the marks left on the tree’s trunk from this attempted destruction.

Scotland’s entrant to this years competition was a 100 year old Scots pine which stands close to the waters edge at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s, Loch of the Lowes reserve near Dunkeld, Perthshire. Known as Lady’s Tree, the pine’s claim to fame is that it has, for nearly a quarter of a century, been the chosen nesting site for the country’s most famous osprey, a bird known as Lady. Lady’s Tree came 9th in the competition with 4,193 votes.

The entrant for Wales, also a Scots pine twice the age of Lady’s Tree, came 10th with 1,548 votes. This solitary tree, appropriately referred to as the Lonely Tree was once a familiar landmark high on the top of a hill above the town of Llanfyllin, Powys. In April 2014 the tree blew over in high winds and to help promote their efforts to save the tree, the good folk of the town entered it into the competition.

Oak Trees in European culture: It is not surprising that in a competition in which trees are judged for their cultural value and importance, that we should find that three of the fourteen contestants are oak trees. What is a surprise is the fact that there were not more. The oak tree has held a place of high esteem in most European cultures for thousands of years. Across Europe it has always been associated with the chief deity of the many and various pantheons of pagan gods and goddesses, particularly those who’s attributes are represented by thunder and lightning, – Zeus, Jupiter and Thor. In Britain the Iron Age Druids, – who’s very name derives from the Latin for ‘oak knower’ – conducted their ceremonies in oak groves. Famously, the most sacred plant of the Druids is the mistletoe, particularly that which is found growing on an oak tree. In folklore, the legendary Merlin, who is probably based on an actual Druid, has strong associations with the oak.

The history of the birth of Christianity in both Britain and Continental Europe is littered with incidents of the cutting down of pagan sacred oak trees. In France, the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne ordered the destruction of the pagan sacred oak groves. The Christianization of the Germanic peoples was said to have begun when, in 723 A.D., a Christian missionary named Winfrid cut-down an oak tree sacred to the god Thor.

Like the tree its self, the pagan veneration of the oak was so deep rooted that the early Christian Church found it hard to entirely extinguish. As with other pagan imagery, the oak leaf and acorn became incorporated into church architecture in the form of the ‘green man’ or more correctly the ‘foliate head’, as a symbol of the wild and lustful side of human nature.

Heart of Oak: There are far to many examples of the oak trees significance in British and European folklore and culture to give further space to in this article, but it is safe to say that the oak’s importance in these aspects can not be over emphasized. However, leaving all this aside, the oak has always been prized for its strength and beauty and for the value its’ timber. Of all the countries of the U.K. it is England that is perhaps most associated with oak trees, – and for good reason. One might say that it is a tree that both helped build and protect a nation. It was oak trees which were chosen as the preferred timber to provided the great roof beams of Anglo/Saxon halls, Norman castles, great houses, cathedrals and parish churches all over the land. The most famous role of the oak in history is however, that of providing the ‘wooden walls’ which once protected England and the rest of these isles from the threat of foreign invasion. The wooden walls are of course the great warships of the Royal Navy, like Nelson’s Flagship The Victory. Nowhere is the sentiment of the wooden walls better reflected than in the patriotic song and official march of the Royal Navy, ‘Heart of Oak’ The image of the ‘mighty oak’ has become one of England’s national symbols and the great oaks of Sherwood a proud symbol of Nottinghamshire.


The Football Oak, in the middle of a Football Stadium in the town of Orissaare Estonia.

Hail, hallow’d oaks:

Hail, British-born, who, last of British race,

Hold your primeval rights by Nature’s charter.

‘Caractacus’ William Mason 1724 – 1797.

Major Hayman Rooke: It is impossible to write about the ‘Great Oaks of Sherwood’ without first mentioning one man, Hayman Rooke. Little is written about Rooke’s early life, however, it is known that he was born in London on the 23rd February 1723 and was christened one month later at the church of St. Martin’s-in-the-Field, Westminster. After following an unremarkable career in the Royal Artillery and having achieved the rank of major, he retired to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire around 1780. Rooke took-up residence at Woodhouse Place at what is now the corner of Leeming Lane South and Mansfield Road and seems to have settled very quickly into a life as a ‘Country Gentleman’ and Antiquarian (Archaeologist). Just how and when he acquired his passion for ‘antiquities’ is unknown, but Rooke had already contributed a number of articles to the journal ‘Archaeologia’ between 1776 and 1796 whilst still serving in the army. Although he took an active interest in ancient sites across the Country, Rooke is best known for his pioneering work in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

As well as his passion for archaeology, Rooke took a deep interest in both meteorology and natural history. A particularly favourite interest was the venerable old oak trees growing all around him in Sherwood Forest. In 1790 he published a book entitled ‘Description or Sketches of remarkable Oaks in Welbeck Park’ and nine years later a pamphlet with the descriptive title of ‘A sketch of the ancient and present state of Sherwood Forest’. Rooke, like most antiquarians of the day was an excellent artist and draughtsman and consequently both books are full of lavish illustrations of all the most notable trees including: The Porters, The Greendale Oak The Duke’s Walking-stick and The Seven Sisters.

Affectionately known locally as the Major, Hayman Rooke died at the age of 83 on the 18th September 1806 and was buried with much acclaim in the chancel, – a place of great honour, – of St. Edmund’s church Mansfield Woodhouse.

Oak with three names: According to legend, one of the Major’s (Hayman Rooke), favourite haunts was a “….beautiful wood or rather grove” known as Birchland, on the Duke of Portland’s Welbeck estate. The Major himself describes the wood as consisting of over 10,000 oaks intermixed with birch trees and covering an area of around 1,800 acres. Of all the oaks in Birchland, there was one special tree to which the Major was drawn. This was an ancient oak known as the Cockpit Tree from the fact that caged cockerels where kept insides its great hollow trunk prior to their participation in the once popular sport of ‘Cock-fighting’. It is said that the Major was often seen to take his morning brake beneath the trees’ spreading boughs. Here he would rest, eat his picnic lunch or write -up his notes. So frequent were his visits to the tree locals began to referrer to it as ‘The Major’s Oak’ and then, simply The Major Oak. Charming as this legend might be it is not entirely true. The fact is that although first referred to as The Cockpit Oak, the tree now known as The Major Oak was also called The Queen Oak or Queen’s Oak throughout the 19th century. Sorting fact from fiction a more likely sequence of events is that the tree’s official or actual name was the Queen or Queen’s Oak and in popular parlance was given the more local nick-name Cockpit Oak due to its associations with the sport of Cock-fighting. Perhaps the Major did take his ease beneath the boughs of this great tree, but the more likely reason for its current name is less prosaic. The fact that the tree was introduced and made popular to a wider audience in his book on the Welbeck Oaks. However, although he gives both an illustration and description of the tree in his work, he does not refer to it by any name. We can imagine then, that those readers of the book wishing see the tree for themselves would turn up in Birchland and amongst its 10,000 oaks and ask the locals “Which one is the Major’s Oak?” The tree is easier to find these days. Birchland is now a part of the Sherwood Forest Country Park and the modern visitor needs only to follow the signs from the Visitors Centre near Edwinstowe.


Rooke’s engraving of The Queen Oak carries the caption ‘An ancient Oak in Birklands Wood’.

The Major Oak: The first written reference to the oak tree now known as The Major Oak, comes from the pen of the antiquarian Major Hayman Rooke, from whom the tree takes its’ name. There has been many thousands of words written about this tree since the Major’s day, but such is the value of his report that it is worth repeating here in full: On the north side of the great riding is a most curious antient oak, which, before the depredations made by time on its venerable trunk, might almost have vied with the celebrated Cowthorpe oak. for size. It measures, near the ground, 34′ 4” in circumference; at one yard, 27′ 4”; at two yards, 31′ 9”. The trunk, which is wonderfully distorted, plainly appears to have been much larger; and the parts from whence large pieces have fallen off are distinguishable; the inside is decayed and hollowed out by age, which, with the assistance of the axe, might be made wide enough to admit a carriage through it. I think no one can behold this majestic ruin without pronouncing it to be of very remote antiquity; and might venture to say, that it cannot be much less than a thousand years old”.

One thing is certain about this account, we can learn as much from its omissions as we can its inclusions. It will be noticed that Rooke begins by introducing the Major Oak as ‘a curious antient (ancient) oak’ and gives neither the tree’s vulgar name, the Cockpit Oak or its’ more likely name The Queen Oak. The accompanying illustration also simply has the title ‘An Ancient Oak in Birchland Wood’. With one other exception, all of the other trees in the book are referenced by name and their illustrations appropriately labelled. Did Rooke not know the trees’ name or was it purposefully omitted?

The Major Oak is so famous today that we might have expected it to have had first place in Rooke’s work and for the account to contain the most information. However, this is not the case. The honour of being the first tree mentioned in the book is given to a magnificently tall and straight oak appropriately known as ‘The Duke’s Walking Stick’. The greatest amount of text is given-over to a tree called the Greendale Oak which appears to have been the most famous tree on the Duke’s estate. Although clearly a reference to a venerable old oak, why did Rooke include a description of what seems at the time to be an obscure tree?

‘Description or Sketches of remarkable Oaks in Welbeck Park’, – first published in 1790, – was not intended to appeal to a mass audience. It is a survey of the trees on the Duke of Portland’s estate and was written and paid for by subscription. As the title page, dedications and list of subscribers, (sponsors including the Duke himself) indicate, the book was intended to be read by the aristocracy, gentry and other distinguished members of society. Bearing in mind the intended audience, Rooke seems to have included the Major Oak rather for its great age, size and unique appearance. All this is very cleverly done in his direct comparison in the text with the ‘Cowthorpe Oak’. Aside from the fact that the tree was in Rooke’s time, the most famous oak tree in Britain, why did Rooke make this comparison and where did Rooke learn of the Cowthorpe Oak? The answer to the first question will become apparent when we look at the Cowthorpe Oak in detail. As to the source of Rooke’s information, knowing Rooke’s passion for Sherwood Forest and its great oaks, there is but one possible answer, John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva’.

John Evelyn’s Sylva: Sylva, with the full title of ‘A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions’, was a book that Rooke and his patron, the Duke of Portland would have been familiar with. Rooke’s own books were inspired by, if not directly influenced by this prestigious record of the trees of Britain. Sylva comes from the Latin word for forest and in this case referrers to silviculture, – the general care and maintenance of trees and forests. The work was first presented to the Royal Society in 1662, by one of its founder members the diarist John Evelyn, as a ‘paper’. Two years later, in 1664, at the behest of several Commissioners of the Royal Navy, it was granted a Royal Charter and published as the first ever volume on silviculture in the English language. From this date until 1825 there follow successive editions, the last five being published under the editorship of Dr Alexander Hunter.

The Cowthorpe Oak: Cowthorpe is a small rural village in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire around 14 miles from York. The village has but one claim to fame, it was once the home of the greatest and most famous oak tree in Britain. The tree, which was considered to be completely dead in1950, has been estimated to have been around 1,800 years old. Compare this to the estimated age of the Major Oak of between 800 and 1,000 years old. In 1776, writing in his first edition of ‘Evelyn’s Sylva’ Hunter says of the Cowthorpe Oak: “When compared to this, all other trees are but children of the forest”. Hunter’s full description of this truly gargantuan tree makes it nearly twice the size of the Major Oak: “The dimensions are almost incredible. Within three feet of the ground it measures sixteen yards [48′], and close by the ground twenty-six yards [78′]. Its height, in its present ruinous state (1776), is almost eighty-five feet, and its principal limb extends sixteen yards [48′] from the bole. Throughout the whole tree the foliage is extremely thin, so that the anatomy of the ancient branches may be distinctly seen in the height of summer”. The tree is believed to have been in full vigour around 1700 and to have occupied a site of close-on half an acre.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words and certainly this is true of the of the Victorian image of the Cowthorpe Oak reproduced here. Although not the earliest image of the tree, this engraving, first published in the ‘Graphic’ in 1872, shows not only the trees’ amazing size, but its popularity and the truly vast crowds of visitors it once attracted. By this date the tree had already been a popular attraction for over 100 years.

I believe that in making the comparison with the Cowthorpe Oak, Rooke was flattering his patron, – the Duke of Portland, – by drawing his attention to the oak on his estate. He was in fact saying something like; “Look at this my lord. You too have a great oak like the Cowthorpe tree on your land”. I further believe that by not mentioning the tree by name, Rooke cleverly infers that he is responsible for its discovery. Certainly, following the publication of Rooke’s account, the obscure Queen Oak starts it journey to becoming the popular attraction it is today. The fact that the tree is now known as the Major Oak gives full credit to Rooke for the trees popularity.


Victorian image of the Cowthorpe Oak, in the village of Cowthorpe Yorkshire.

Two Trees: Who ever entered the Major Oak into this year’s European Tree of the Year competition may have been somewhat technically cheating. Latest scientific opinion tells us that The Major Oak is in fact two oak trees and not one. What is even more amazing is the fact that the two may even be of a different species of oak tree making The Major Oak a unique high-bread. I have it on good authority, – ‘Robin Hood’ himself, a.k.a. Dr Tony Rotherham, that acorns and leafs on one side of the tree are distinctly different from those on the other. It would seem that between 800 and 1,000 years ago, on the spot where The Major Oak now stands, two acorns germinated side by side. As the young saplings grew their branches were close enough to touch each other and by a natural process known as ‘inosculation’ they fussed together. Underground, the same process occurred with the roots of the young trees and by the time that the trunks had grow sufficient to bridged the gap between the pair, they too fussed together. The rest as they say is history but the product of this inosculation is with us today in the form of the mighty Major Oak.

The union of the branches of two or more trees through the process of inosculation is not uncommon, especially where trees of the same genus are growing in close proximity, such as orchards and woods. Even branches of isolated trees will sometimes fuse and become one where gravity or deformity of growth have forced them together. However for two trees of a different but related species to grow together is rare, but when it does happen it produces spectacular results.

The Oak and the Ash: One of these natural unions of two trees, sometimes known as ‘husband and wife trees’ or marriage trees, is described by Rooke in his account of what he referrers to ‘as a fine grove of large oaks’, on the west side of the lake in Welbeck Park. Here he says, are trees of between 12′ and 22′ in circumference: “One of these trees is worthy of notice, being a singular ‘lusus naturae’ [play on nature] which represents an ash growing out of the bottom of a large oak, to which it adheres to the height of about 6′; it there separates, and leaves a space of near three feet in height; here, as if unwilling to be disunited, it stretches out an arm, or little protuberance, to coalesce again with the fostering Oak. Circumference near the ground, taking in both trees, 36′ feet; at one yard, 18′ 9” circumference of the oak only at two yards, 15′ 4”; the ash at two yards, 6′ in circumference; height of the oak 92’”.

A Question of Age: Everyone knows that the easiest way of determine the age of any tree is to cut it down and to count the number of annual growth rings contained within the trunk. Thankfully there is a less destructive method available, simply measure the circumference of the tree at a point of around 5′ from ground level. Because of the special place oak trees have in the culture of the areas in which they grow and the fact that oaks have been deliberately cultivated for many hundreds of years, their growth patten has been widely studied. From these many observations a comparison table of the average diameter of trees of different ages growing in similar conditions has been developed.

Given the right conditions, acorns germinate very quickly. There then follows a rapid period of growth for the first 80 to 120 year where the tree puts on both hight and bulk. At around 80 years old the average oak is around 6′ 7” in circumference and by 120 years of age the tree will have reached a circumference of around 9′ 6”. At this age on, growth begins to slow down. By the time a tree has reached a circumference of just over 22′ it is estimated to be around 500 years old.

What then of the forest giants like the Major Oak? From 900 and 1,000 years old an oak tree will have reached a circumference of between 30′ 11” to 32′ 11”. Rooke gives two measurements for the circumference of the Major Oak; at the height of one yard 27′ 4”, which gives an age of around 800 years and at two yards 31′ 9” equalling an age of around 1,000 years. However, there are other factors to take into account when considering the age of the Major Oak. Rooke tells us that there was evidence in his day that the tree had once been much larger in girth. Could this add extra years to the trees age? If we except the idea that the Major Oak is the product of two saplings grown together as one, how does this effect the estimate of the overall age? I’ll leave it for the reader to ponder on and for the experts to decide.

Oldest Tree in Europe: Until its declared death in 1950, with its massive girth of over 48′ and estimated age of around 1,800 years, the Cowthorpe Oak in Yorkshire was reckoned to be the oldest oak tree in Europe. With this tree now gone, where does this leave the Major Oak in the ranking of Europe’s ancient trees? Disappointingly not in first place. That honour now belongs to a tree in the German village of Nöbdenitz. The tree, simply known by locals as ‘The Thousand Year Tree, is around 40′ in circumference. Like its fellow ancient oaks, its trunk is hollow throughout and is held together by iron bands. Badly damaged by a storm in 1819 the tree is now clinging onto life nourished by only one living root.

Oldest Tree in Britain: If the Major Oak is not the oldest oak in Europe, then the reader might ask ‘surely it is the oldest oak tree in Britain?’ However, the answer once again is no! According to the Guinness Book of Records that title belongs to the Bowthorpe Oak, a tree close to Bowthorpe Park Farm near the Lincolnshire village of Manthorpe. The tree was measured in 1804 and found to have a girth of 37′. Allowing for the additional 206 years of intervening growth, the tree can be estimated to be well over 1,000 years old.

Thor’s Oaks?: It can not be failed to be noticed that two of Britain’s greatest oak trees take their names from locations ending with ‘thorpe’. In such cases where thorpe occurs as a place name element, it indicates a Scandinavian (Viking) settlements dating from the 10th century. Both of these trees are are isolated specimens and are not associated with woods or oak groves. The Cowthorpe tree stands in a field close to the parish church, whilst the Bowthorpe tree is in a field close to a farm once the site of a manor house. The attendant manorial chapel was considered important enough to be acquired by Sempringham Priory in 1226. Knowing these fact and considering the great importance of the oak tree in Norse pagan mythology, could it be that these ancient trees are the direct descendants of trees once sacred to the god Thor?


‘Britain’s Oldest Oak Tree’. Late 19th century image of the Bowthorpe Oak.

Hollow Oaks: Perhaps the most recognisable and distinguishing feature of all of the venerable old oak trees where ever they are found growing, is the fact that they are all hollow. This is a process the tree has no control over. Like humans infected by a virus in old age, these trees have succumbed to one of the tiniest of living organisms, a fungal infection. Fungal spores enter the tree through cracks and crevices in the bark and, through a process of rot and decay, the fungus begins to ‘eat the tree form the inside out’. There is no one specific fungus that can be blamed for this decay. Fungal diseases which cause this form of rot are collectively known as sap or heart rots. As well as rotting the core of the tree’s trunk the fungus eats away at its branches compromising its strength and stability. Outwardly, the tree may show no signs of infection until a fallen limb is found to be hollow. This fact is most spectacularly demonstrated when a great limb is ripped from a living tree during a storm. All of the ancient trees so far mentioned have been recorded to have suffered this occurrence.

Dying for success: According to the ‘Woodland Trust’, the recognisably hollow trees are in the third and final stage of life. With their rotund shape and their major branches gone, they take on the familiar squat appearance and great cracks in their outer bark seductively lead to their hollow interiors. Who can resist the lure of entering the heart of a hollow oak? Certainly not the many thousands of visitors to the Major Oak. Little did Major Hayman Rooke know that from the moment he brought the Queen Oak to the attention of the general public, he was condemning the tree to a slow death. In the early 1970’s none of the experts could explain the fact that the Major Oak’s health had taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the worst and the tree was in fact dying. An urgent diagnosis of the cause was needed to save it. After a process of elimination it was found that the physical footfall of the thousands of visitors to the popular old oak had compacted the ground around the roots to such and extent that the tree was being starved of water (rainfall) and nutrients. A very quick and easy, practical solution was found to solve this deadly dilemma. In 1975 the Major Oak was fenced-off to the public and all access to the trees’ interior cavity forbidden. The ground around the tree was lightly ‘rotarvated’ and re-seeded with grass and all of its affected areas painted with a green anti-fungal paint. Astonishingly, the tree made an almost instant recovery, so much so that it has been found that the entrance hole to the interior has begun to close-up. When we look again at the Victorian print of the Cowthorpe Oak and the large crowd gathered around it, then I suggest that the trees’ demise in the 1950’s can be attributed, literally, to the footfall of its popularity.

Robin Hood’s Tree?: Over the years of their public popularity, all of the great oaks seemed to have competed for the number of people the interior space could hold and the often intriguing use that space could provide. Obviously, the larger the tree’s circumference the greater the potential hollow space within its trunk. The Major Oak has claimed to have once accommodated around 30 people whilst the Cowthorpe Oak upwards of 60. The hollow in the German oak tree has been turned into a chapel or prayer room dedicated to a local politicisation and diplomat Hans Wilhelm von Thummel who was buried beneath the roots of the tree in 1824. The Bowthorpe Oak’s hollow interior has played host to a table around which 13 guests have sat-around for tea.

It is however, the Major Oak which lays claim to the most famous use of its hollow trunk. The tree is infamously known as the hideout for Robin Hood and his outlaw band. Looking again at this popular story it can quite easily be proven as an exaggerated claim. If we except the trees age as being 1,000 years (+ or – 200 years) it gives us a date of around 1115 for the germination of the acorn. The most popular period for the setting of the Robin Hood legends is during the reign of King John 1199 – 1216. This means that the tree would have been around 84 years old at the beginning of John’s reign and 101 at the end of his reign. Squeezing the data a little by working on a later date for the Robin Hood legend and allowing for the tree to be a little older, we can come up with a figure of 300-400 years for the trees age at the time of Robin’s famous exploits in Sherwood Forest. Working on our previous calculations for judging the age of an oak from its girth, a tree of this age would have had a circumference of between 18′ and 20′. Even if the tree had been hollow at this age, there would not have been enough room inside to accommodate Robin and all his Merry Men. Perhaps it was just Robin and little John who hid inside the tree or more likely the whole story is a romantic invention, a Victorian myth. What ever the story’s origin, in the heart of every visitor, the Major Oak it will always be Robin’s secret hiding place.

The Greendale Oak: Rooke in his account of the tree later to be known as the Major Oak wrote the line; “….the inside is decayed and hollowed out by age, which, with the assistance of the axe, might be made wide enough to admit a carriage through it”. In giving this rather alarming statement Rooke was making no idle jest, but rather a veiled recommendation of actually taking an axe to the tree. Writing in 1790, Rooke was addressing his comments to William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland. He was in fact making a reference to the fate another mighty oak had suffered at the hands of William’s father, Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland. This tree, – a classic hollow oak, – known as the Greendale Oak, is said to have been at least 700 years old, over 30′ in circumference and around 54′ in height. In 1724 Henry Bentinck acted on a bet made at a dinner party, that he could drive a ‘carriage and four’ through the tree. To achieve this feat he had his woodsmen take their axe to the tree and cut an arch 6′ 3” wide and 10′ 3” high through its trunk. In cutting this arch it was clear that the surviving trunk would have been unable to support the major branches of the tree, and were therefore all remove. The wood however did not go to waste. One of Henry’s neighbours, ‘The Countess of Oxford’, being very fond of oak furniture, “….had several cabinets made of the branches and ornamented with inlaid representations of the oak”. The Greendale Oak became a popular visitors attraction and the most famous tree on the Duke’s estate. However, the savage attack by the Duke had shortened the trees natural life-span and by Victoria’s reign the tree was all but dead. Such was its bulk, the remains of its rotting carcass did not finally disappear until the mid 20th century.

I hope that the reader has enjoyed this look at just a few of the great oaks of Sherwood as much as I have. There are many more named oak trees in Sherwood Forest, all with interesting stories and I will be writing more on these at a latter date.


The Greendale Oak Evelyn’s Sylva, 1825.

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Nottingham at Waterloo

by Michael Kirkby wellington at waterloo

Day break, 18th June 1815 the combined allied force under the command of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington is just waking up from a sodden night of continual rainfall on the ridge of Mont St Jean near the tiny Belgian hamlet of Waterloo. Across the landscape the French army under the command of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is also forming up for what would eventually the ultimate clash between Britain and France ending a war that had been waging for almost 24 years.

Wellington’s forces were busy getting ready to repulse the huge French army that faced them. His infantry and cavalry began moving into position, the artillery began setting up their batteries and the Guards units that were holding the fortified farmhouses of Hougoumont, La Haye Saint and Papellotte in preparation to repel the massed French army facing them. Wellington’s strategy was simple, funnel Napoleon’s troops through the gaps between the farmsteads and cut them to pieces so that by the time they met the main British force holding the ridge they would be exhausted and their numbers severely depleted. Matthew Clay from Blidworth, Mansfield was one of the troops stationed with the Light Company of the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards (Scots Fusiliers) at Hougomont. Two days before his regiment had encountered the French at Quatre Bras where they had beaten back the French offensive but had then been forced to retreat. Whist his regiment was positioned to the right of Wellington’s flank, Clay’s company was placed into the Chateau of Hougoumont to add strength to the Guards units already there. The main French attack, rather than just march past the Chateau, turned and attacked directly. For twelve hours Clay was confined within the chateaus walls as the garrison fought desperately to prevent the French from entering. The chateau almost fell in the first attack when a giant French sapper identified as Sous-lieutenant (Junior lieutenant) Legros, smashed open the gates with his axe and forced his way in leading a stream of Frenchmen. Col. MacDonnell and his men managed to close the gates behind them and the garrison set about hunting out all of the Frenchmen who had worked their way in killing them to the last man bar one drummer boy. Throughout the day the battle raged on around Hougoumont with French attacks being repulsed, but gradually the defenders began to run out of ammunition.

At 3:30 on the afternoon of the 18th Napoleon directed howitzer fire onto Hougoumont which set the thatch roofs on fire. With the buildings burning down around them a message arrived for MacDonnell direct from Wellington ordering the troops to not withdraw but to retreat into the gardens and continue to fight the enemy. Despite being surrounded and their defences burning down around them the Guards and Hougoumont held out for the battle. Matthew Clay and his defenders had been holed up for twelve hours of continual fighting but had survived the French onslaught.

Following Waterloo he returned home with the regiment and promoted Corporal in 1818 and sergeant in 1822. He later fought again in Spain during their Carlist Wars and upon leaving the army he joined the Bedfordshire Militia. Matthew died in Bedfordshire in 1873.

In the same Regiment as Clay though with the main body of the regiment on Wellington’s right was Samuel Whitehead (1777 – 1870), an Ilkeston born soldier who had been fighting the French since the Duke of York’s ill-conceived plan to invade Holland in 1799. Whitehead had joined the regiment a year before aged only 20/1. Whitehead’s first active service almost ended in disaster when he caught fever and almost died, but making a good recovery he would go on to see action in Egypt, Germany and Copenhagen. His regiment was sent out to the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 where Whitehead saw action in the following years at Talavera, Busaco and Fuentes d’Onoro. Sadly at the latter battle he was wounded by a French artillery shot and didn’t see any further action until 1814 by which time he was promoted corporal. He was 38 when the 3rd Foot Guards were posted out to the Low Countries and saw much action at Quatre Bras where in records he stated that they spent most of the battle in the corn fields without much food but a large quantity of brandy! At Waterloo he spent the majority of the battle assisting the surgeons behind the lines. Whitehead was to witness one of the most important turning points of the battle as at 7:00 pm Napoleon ordered his beloved Imperial Guard, whom he had kept in reserve all the day to attack Wellington’s right flank. Up to 6000 of Napoleon’s elite troops were now marching on Wellington’s shattered lines that for the whole day had been battered by Napoleon’s 18pdr guns. Much of the regiments had been ordered to lie down to not attract the French artillery fire but seeing the French columns approach Wellington stood in his stirrups and called out to General Maitland, commander of the Guards units, “Now Maitland! Now’s your time!” The Imperial Guard, completely oblivious to the presence of the British line were suddenly faced with British soldiers springing up from the ground to pour well trained volley fire into their ranks before they even had time to react. The Imperial Guard, who had made a name for themselves as fierce soldiers, halted, wavered, and began to fall back. This symbolised the beginning of the end for Napoleon, and soon his army began to melt away from the field.

Following Waterloo, Whitehead remained in the army until 1818 when he returned to Ilkeston and opened a druggist shop.

Samuel Whitehead’s brother, Thomas Whitehead, also enjoyed a military career serving under Wellington. Born in 1783 he joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1805 where during a 30 year career he was promoted from gunner to bombardier, corporal, sergeant and staff sergeant. He fought in the entire Iberian Peninsula from 1809-1914 and was present at the fall of Paris. As an artillery gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery, Thomas’s service was invaluable to The Duke of Wellington. Whilst the army was commanded by Wellington, the artillery was commanded by the Board of Ordnance who often conflicted with Wellington over military affairs. The Board often left Wellington short of supplies, resources and men, so what artillery was given to Wellington he had to make most of. As Royal Horse Artillery, Thomas was part of a mobile artillery unit that would get quite close to the enemy, unlimber, fire and then limber up and race off to other parts of the battlefield where necessary. At Waterloo the Royal Horse Artillery were armed with howitzers and 6pdr guns, and were responsible for taking the sting out of the French advance so they were weakened by the time they reached the British lines. Wellington came to rely so much on his artillery that he made it a flogging offence for gunners to engage in artillery duels with French guns. Following Waterloo, Thomas enjoyed a long service until invalided out in 1835 with poor eyesight and rheumatism.

Whilst Wellington’s infantry played an integral part to his success that day, Waterloo, owing to landscape was one of the only battles where Wellington could make full use of his cavalry to charge the French positions and harass their artillery. Wellington’s cavalry was commanded by Henry Paget, Earl Uxbridge who was also his second in command. Uxbridge, responsible for directing the cavalry attacks on d’Erlon’s Corps needed to ensure that his cavalry did not overstretch themselves as they were prone to doing after a charge. Carrying Uxbridge’s messages around the battlefield was Thomas Wildman, a young officer of dragoons acting as aide-de-camp to Uxbridge. Wildman joined the7th Light Dragoons in 1808 as a Cornet and later that same year was promoted to Lieutenant. Wildman’s role at Waterloo put him in certain danger of being hit by enemy fire and would bring him into close contact with the French positions. Towards the latter stage of the battle Uxbridge was hit below the knee by French artillery shot. Wildman was one of the first to attend him and helped to staunch the flow before carrying him to a surgeons post. Wildman’s bloodstained glove can be seen on display at the National Army Museum in London. Following Waterloo Wildman bought Newstead Abbey from his childhood friend Lord Byron in 1818, two years earlier he bought a Majority in the 2nd West India Regiment and then the 9th Light Dragoons. He became a Captain in the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry in 1828 and after being promoted to Colonel in 1837 and lt. Col of the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1840.

Another commander in Wellington’s cavalry at Waterloo was Sir Arthur Benjamin Clifton (1771-1869), of the revered local aristocracy, who was Lt. Col. of the 1st Royal Dragoons.

The 1st Royals already had experience of fighting the French and had landed in Portugal in 1809 where mostly for the time in the Iberia they skirmished with French cavalry patrols on the Spanish – Portuguese border. They were used to cover the army’s retreat to Busaco and Torres Vedras in 1810 and 1811 and again used to harass the French rear guard as they pulled back into Spain. Following the winter retreat of 1811 they then followed Wellington’s army as it advanced into the heart of Spain and took part in the engagements at Fuentes d’Onoro, Vittoria and the Pyrenees. Though present at the battle of Toulouse the regiment did not see action and following Napoleon’s abdication they sailed home for England. When Napoleon escaped from Elba the regiment was despatched to Belgium in May 1815. Though they saw no action at Quatre Bras they helped cover the retreat of the allied army back to Waterloo. On June 18th the 1st Royal Dragoons took part in the charge against d’Erlon’s corps, where Captain Clark and Corporal Styles succeeded in capturing a French eagle of the French 105th Regiment. The 1st Royals lost 97 men and 97 wounded at Waterloo. Following the battle they returned to Dover in January 1816. Sir Arthur Clifton, leading his regiment in their many charges that day also reputedly took command of the brigade late in the afternoon of 18th June after their commander was wounded.

Wellington’s heavy cavalry was split into two brigades at Waterloo, Somerset’s 1st cavalry brigade to which Clifton’s 1st Royal Dragoons belonged and Ponsonby’s 2nd cavalry brigade which comprised of the Lifeguards. It was within the ranks of the Lifeguards that John Shaw and Richard Waplington both hailing from Cossall were stationed. Known as the ‘Cossall Giants’ for their height and strength they both perished on the field that day in hand to hand conflict with Napoleon’s cuirassiers, their French cavalry equivalents . Shaw took six of the enemy cavalry with him, using his helmet as a club when his sword snapped, and Waplington was cut down from the saddle surrounded by enemy cavalry as he clung onto an enemy standard. Both were buried near the British stronghold of La Haye Saint after the battle. Another Cossall man, again serving in the cavalry at Waterloo was Thomas Wheatley, a light dragoon whose regiment acted as scouts for the army, reconnoitring the enemy positions and harassing enemy movements . Wheatley survived the battle and returned to England later to serve in the local militia. He was later buried in Cossall Churchyard and today a monument stands to all three Cossall men over his resting place.

Whilst Nottinghamshire men were busy engaged with the Napoleon’s army in Belgium, across the waters the 45th Nottinghamshire Regiment was in the process of boarding their troop transports in an Irish harbour to take them to the Low Countries. They were par t of an army that had been requested by the Duke of Wellington to fight the French tyrant but sadly were not to make the battle in time.

The 45th had enjoyed a varied military life fighting under Wellington in the Peninsula Campaign of 1808 – 1815. Fighting in nearly all his Peninsula campaigns, the 45th were amongst the first wave of troops to land at Mondego Bay, Portugal in 1808 and took part in almost all of his battles earning his respect as well as their nickname ‘The Old Stubborns.’ The 45th was one of the few Regiments to never return home throughout the Peninsula Campaign and after 7 years of fighting returned home in 1814 battered and exhausted when Napoleon was first defeated.

The named individuals in this article are by no means an exhaustive list of Nottinghamshire men who fought at Waterloo. They do however go to show that Nottingham made an imprint in one of the most prestigious battles recorded in British military history. Whether they were infantry, cavalry or artillery, each individual had their own integral part to play in ensuring that the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, met his fate and ended a 24 year long war between Britain and France, securing a new Europe.



Michael Kirkby will be delivering a series of talks and events this summer around Nottinghamshire locations to bring the story of Nottingham’s Waterloo heroes home.

For more information please visit his website at or for further information on his research please email him directly at

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