Willow Rundle Spring

by Frank E Earp

The Nottinghamshire village of East Stoke, famed for being the site of ‘Stoke Field’, the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, was once connected to the neighbouring village of Elston by Elston Lane. The lane is now cut in two and the villages divided by the new A46. In a little ‘dip in the lane’ on the East Stoke side of the new road, lies the out flow of one of Nottinghamshire’s ancient springs. Known as Willow Rundle Spring, it has a number of legends which all connect it to the famous battle.

Willow Rundle Spring: Folklorist Ross Parish, an expert of holy wells and springs, calls the name of the Spring ‘unusual’ and suggests that Rundle is derived from ‘runnel’ an old word meaning a stream. Famed for its medicinal and healing properties, the water is said to be sweet to the taste. It rises in a field to the south of Elston Lane and flows via a stone culvert from the road-side bank into a three foot long, shallow stone trough, which in turn overflows into a nearby ditch. This situation appears to indicate that at one-time, the water from the Spring was diverted via the culvert, for the use of traffic along the Lane. Reputedly, the Spring is said to have always provided a copious supply of water and never to have ‘run dry’, – even in the famous drought of 1976. However, a report in the Newark Advertiser dated September 2010, states that on visiting the Spring, a member of a local history group Mr Eric Kirton, found it to be no-longer flowing. It was suggested that, when building the nearby new road, the contractors had damaged the Spring’s aquifer.

Elston Old Chapel: Although there is no written evidence to show that this was a ‘Christian Holy Well’, local legend connects it to Elston Old Chapel around one mile from the Spring on the opposite side of the new road. Of Norman origin the Chapel is said by some to once have been a ‘Leper Hospital’, with water from the spring used for the easy and comfort of its patients. This idea might, with archaeological investigation, prove to have a basis in fact. As I understand it, the word runnel can also mean a gutter or artificial water channel as well as a stream. Given this, it is possible that the short culvert (a runnel), from which the waters now issue, may once have supplied water direct to the Chapel. The fact that the Spring is especially noted for being powerful, means that its waters, when diverted into a well constructed channel, would have no problem in reaching the Chapel and beyond. If this is the case, the name of the Spring would indeed derive from ‘a runnel lined by Willow trees’, but an artificial channel rather than a natural stream.

Battle of East Stoke: There are a number of stories as to how the Spring both came into existence and got its name, all of which connect it directly to the Battle of Stoke Field. Before recounting these stories it is first necessary to say something about the Battle. On the 16th June 1487 somewhere around East Stoke, a Royalist (Lancastrian) army of King Henry VII met and defeated a rebel (Yorkist) force led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. The action developed into a rout in what is regarded as one of the bloodiest battles ever to be fought on English soil. A testament to the slaughter are said to be the mass graves containing over 7,000 bodies. By far the majority are those of the Irish rebels and German mercenaries who fought for the Yorkist cause. Not all of Yorkist dead were slain in battle. In an act which would today would be considered a ‘War Crime’, Henry had all of the Yorkist prisoners of war executed for treason. The exception to these executions were the Germans, who, deprived of their pay, were allowed to go free.

Disputed Ground: Some early O.S. Maps mark the site of the Battle as being on the east side of the old A46 close to the north of Elston. That there is a strong local tradition connecting Elston with the famous battle is borne-out by the fact that Elston Old Chapel stands of land belonging to the aptly named ‘Stoke Field Farm’, a little to the north-east of the village. Without supporting archaeological evidence, it is notoriously difficult to precisely fix the location of a battlefield, certainly a medieval one. The nature of warfare, fluidity of movement and numbers involved means that battles were rarely confined within a precise geographical location. As a perfect example, new archaeological evidence has recently seen the location of the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), move around 2 miles to the south west of its traditional site. The location of the Battle of Stoke Field has always been hotly disputed and some scholars give the start of the action as being on open ground between the villages of Flintham and Syerston. If this is ever proven to be correct, then Elston Lane, Willow Rundle Spring and Elston Old Chapel would have all been in the path of the routed Yorkist army as they fled back towards East Stoke and the Trent.

The Earl of Lincoln: There is a tradition which tells us that following the battle, the dead were not only buried in the mass graves around East Stoke, but that some were interred around Elston. If at least some of the action took place around village, then this would make practical scenes. However, tradition would have us believe that the Earl of Lincoln himself died fighting close to the Spring and was later buried in an unmarked grave on the spot where he fell or in the Chapel. Are these stories be based on fact? Were the remains of John de la Pole, as a Christian Nobleman, allowed a half decent burial in or close to the ancient Elston Chapel? None of this would seem impossible. We are reminded of the fact that following the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII permitted the body of Richard III to be buried in similar circumstances. But how could it be that amongst the carnage of the battlefield and 7,000 dead, the body of one man be singled out and identified? Certainly we know that the Earl was a ‘marked man’ that day. The King wanted him taken alive to be questioned on the extent of the rebellion among his fellow nobles and was angry when he heard that he had been kill. We can imagine then, that the King would have insisted on knowing the manner of his death and on seeing his body. Can we also imagine that he treated the body of his fallen enemy with a degree of respect?

Willie Rundle: There are several versions of a story which tells us that the Spring took its name from a devout Yorkist soldier named Willie Rundle. The simplest of these tells how ridding across the field, Willie was cut from his horse by his enemies. Where he fell to the ground a spring burst forth, which later quenched the thirst of his dying comrades. Another version has a mortally wounded Willie on foot. With his last dying breath he falls to his knees and praise to his ‘Patron Saint’ that his great thirst be quenched. His prayers are answered when water gushes from the ground in front of him. His equally thirsty comrades later drank from the new spring and the grateful survivors named it in his honour.


The overgrown trough of Willow Rundle Spring. (Photo: Ross Parish; ‘Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Nottinghamshire’).

There is a Heaven: The final version of the Willie Rundle story not only tells us how the Spring came into existence, but assures the Christian faithful of an ‘afterlife’ in Heaven. Fleeing from the murderous pursuit of his Lancastrian foe, the mortally wounded Willie falls to the earth. The ground around him is already littered with the dead and dying and the grass is red and slippery from their blood. Seeing him fall a comrade comes to his assistance and comforts the dying Willie with the last drop of water from his bottle. Willie thanks his friend for the water and the two men exchange words about their fate and weather there is an afterlife. With his dying breath Willie tells the man that he will soon know the answer and if he reaches Heaven he will send him a sign. With these final words Willie closes his eyes in death. Almost immediately water miraculously gushes from the ground close-by. Feeling assured of his place in Heaven for his act of kindness, the man replenishes the water in his bottle from the new spring. Others join him to partake of the life giving water and give thanks to God for ‘Willie Rundle’s Spring’.

Macabre Origin: The Willie Rundle story in all of its variants is clearly a Christian one with a theme of selfless acts and comfort for the dying. It further indicates that the Willow element of the name for the spring, is a mere corruption of the name Willie, (which seems an unlikely scenario to me). There is however, another story which tells how the Spring, already flowing at the time of the Battle, got its name. This time the Willow element of the name is given a very macabre origin.

Willow Stakes: The story is a simple one and is rather a local ‘folk-memory’ than a legend. Reputedly, there are bodies of Yorkist dead, each with a Willow stake driven through their hearts, buried somewhere close to the spring. A simple variant suggests that it is only the hearts and Willow stakes which were interred close to the spring.

How did this bizarre and macabre story come about and could it really have any basis in truth? If we look again at all of the elements in our story so-far, then I believe that the answer to the question is yes. But first we must look at the actual reason for the act of driving a stake through the heart of a corpse. When mentioned, there is an automatic response that this is something done to counteract or kill a vampire, a theme which features in Bram Stoker’s epic novel ‘Dracula’. However, the idea and in-deed the practice, is far older than the revised 19th century vampire myth of Stoker ‘et el’.

Restless Dead: For centuries people have gone to great lengths to prevent the soul’s of the recent dead from retuning to haunt the living, particularly those of murder victims and suicides who might be considered to be ‘restless spirits’. Well into comparatively recent times, there continued the ancient practice of burying such corpses at night in unconsecrated ground, particularly at crossroads. But the ultimate way of preventing the restless dead from ‘walking abroad’ was to drive a pointed stake through the heart, thus pinning the body to the ground.

Murder and Suicide: Returning now to Willow Rundle Spring, if the legend is true, who were the unfortunate Yorkist buried with willow stakes through their hearts? Certainly not the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 killed in the actual battle. But what of those who were taken prisoner and later executed on the field for treason by Henry? What ever way you look at it, at this date these men would have been seen as both murder victims and suicides. To kill someone in battle is one thing, but to cold-bloodedly execute prisoners, even by the standards of the day, would have been considered a form of murder. Execution for treason was originally regarded as a form of suicide. The logic being that, knowingly to go against the will of a divinely appointed monarch, was a crime against God leading to a self-invoked death and therefore a suicidal act. Given all of this, is it possible that, pricked by conscious and fearful of the doubly damned vengeful spirits of the restless dead, the executioners staked the hearts of their victims before burying their corpses? This would certainly be an act that would linger-on in the form of a folk memory.

Lazer-house: Amongst the story of Willow Rundle Spring, there is one more clue which when looked at more closely, may indicate a connection to the unfortunate Yorkist prisoners of war. This clue lies in the dedication of Elston Old Chapel as a Leper Hospital, to St. Leonard. Current estimates state that there were around 300 leper hospitals in medieval England, most of which were built between the 12th and 13th century. As religious institutions founded by the Church and its benefactors, such hospitals were known a ‘lazer-houses’ after St. Lazarus (Lazaro), the Patron Saint of Lepers. Founded in the early 12th century, ‘The Order of St. Lazarus’, a military order of knights, all of whom were lepers, built the first lazer-house for the care of their fellow sufferers, close to the northern wall of Jerusalem. As the practice of building such chapel hospitals spread, it is likely that most received a dedication to St. Lazarus. As time passed and the need for leper hospitals declined, a rededication to a more appropriate Saint would have been seen as reasonable.

Patron Saint: From its Norman origin, the Chapel, which never developed into a Parish Church, has survived intact as a fine example of a medieval chapel and one of only 177 churches in England dedicated to St. Leonard. It is not until we look at St. Leonard himself that we discover the relevance to our story of this dedication. St. Leonard or more precisely St. Leonard de Noblac is the Patron Saint of Pregnant Women and (more importantly) Prisoners of War. Could it be that the Elston lazer-house was given its dedication to St. Leonard after and in memory of the fact that Yorkist prisoners of war, before being executed, were held and given their ‘Last Rights’ in the Chapel? Did they in-deed as the stories suggest, slacken their thirst from the waters of the Spring, not in the field but rather from the ‘runnel’ which provided for the Chapel? When Willie Rundle prayed to his Patron Saint for water, was it to St. Leonard?


Elston Old Chapel. Is this the last resting place of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln? (Photo: Ross Parish; ‘Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Nottinghamshire’).

When I first read the references to this local belief, I was instantly reminded of the so called ‘Bog Bodies’. For those unfamiliar with the term, Bog Bodies or Bog People, is the name given to the naturally mummified human remains, of both sexes, found in ‘peat bogs’ throughout Northern Europe. Although some of these remains have been dated to later historical periods, the term is generally accepted as applying to the 60 or so bodies which have been attributed as dating between the Bronze and Iron Age. Archaeological and forensic examination of these bodies has concluded that they all suffered a violent death which has been attributed to ritual, human sacrifice. In some cases, the level of violence inflicted on the victim has been described as ‘over kill’. In a number of cases the cause of death has been a form of ritual execution know as ‘triple death’. In this practice the victim is first stunned by a blow to the back of the head before being garrotted by a ligature around the throat. In the final part of the execution the victims throat is cut, probably to allow blood from the still beating heart to flow out onto the ground. The common factor in all of these ritual sacrifices is the fact that the victims body has been carefully deposited in a ‘watery place’ (a spring or pool). It is believed that such places were regarded as entrances to the ‘Other World’. The final part of the ritual seems to have been securing the body in place with Willow stakes and rods. Again this is practice is seen by most authorities as being a form of protection against the ‘restless dead’. In an article on German folklore Struve says of the use of Willow stakes; “….such persons criminals, suicides, victims of violence or accident, were rendered harmless…so as not to return and haunt the living”.

Could it be that the Elston Willow staked bodies story is a folk memory connecting Willow Rundle Spring with ancient human sacrifice? Certainly long before the Spring was culverted its water would have flowed openly into the field forming a pool and run-off stream. But is there evidence that possibly links this ‘watery place’ to a wider Bronze or Iron Age ritual landscape? Of a site close to Elston Old Chapel, the official web-site of the village says; ‘Crop markings showing two concentric rings of post holes half a mile east north-east of Elston on Stoke Fields Farm and a little outside the parish, suggest the site of a henge monument [Bronze Age] or an Iron Age building, but no surface features are visible’.

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Bilborough Church

Before William the Conqueror and even in the Doomsday Book, there is no mention of a church at Bilborough. The first mention is in 1356 and the Parish seems to have had a priest in 1200.


St Martin’s Church- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


South Entrance- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

Some notable people have graced this entrance, one being the founder of the Baptist church movement Thomas Helwyn. The most notable monument in the church is the Alabaster memorial to Sir Edmund Helwyn and his Daughter who died 1592.

All the Helwyn family worshiped at St Martins and here Thomas Helwyn married Joan Ashmoreon on 3rd December 1595.


Looking down the Nave- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

The inside of the original part of the church is small and how most people would think a small village church should be.

The Nave in the original body of the church is now only used occasionally. Services are now held in the extension built in 1972.


View of the new part of the church- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

The above photograph shows a view from the back of the modern extension looking towards the alter and font. The curtain hides the east end wall of the original church building.


Article originally published by Peter Woodward of My Broxtowe Hundred Journal Website. 

Posted in Bilborough, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | 1 Comment

Three Nottinghamshire Men at The Battle of Waterloo

by Frank E Earp

As I write these words, the Nation is about to celebrate the 200th anniversary of one of the most significant events in its history, ‘The Battle of Waterloo’. Waterloo is seen as one of those great pivotal points in history, a deciding moment where the future of not only Great Britain but that of all Europe and indeed the World, hung in the balance. There will be many accounts published in the coming days and months that will describe the battle and its protagonist in various degrees of detail and it is not my intention to add further to the collection. My description of the battle is intended as a scene setter for what is to come later.

As always mine is an account which focuses on the roll played by the people of Nottinghamshire in this epic event. This then is the story of John Shaw and Richard Waplington, known collectively as the ‘Cossal Giants’, – who both fell at Waterloo, – and Thomas Wheatley, – who return home to tell his own tale. It is also the story of a unique memorial to their memory which, stands in a quite corner of St Catherine’s churchyard Cossall.

People’s Hero: Foremost of the three men is Corporal John Shaw of the 2nd Life Guards. If the Duke of Wellington was the ‘State Hero’ of Waterloo, then John Shaw was the ‘People’s Hero’. Such were Shaw’s exploits at Waterloo, he went on to inspire the next generation of fighting men of Queen Victoria’s reign. However, Shaw’s part in the battle was no greater than that of others of his regiment including his friend and fellow ‘Giant’, Richard Waplington. It is perhaps the fact that as a champion Prize Fighter, Shaw was already a National celebrity before ever he left England for the field of Waterloo.

Waterloo: The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday 18th June 1815 some 11 mile from Brussels near the Belgium village of Waterloo. On one side was an allied army of around 68,000 British, Belgium, Dutch and German troops commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Later in the day, Wellington was joined in the field by a Prussian army of over 40,000 men led by Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. Opposing them was a 72,000 strong French army commanded by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Field of Waterloo: Wellington, who had led a successful campaign against Napoleon in the Peninsula War, had taken up a defensive position either side of the main Brussels road on a ridge of high ground to the south of Mount St Jean. He had anchored his right flank by fortifying the large château of Hougoumont. His left flank was in and around the Hamlet of Papelotte. At his centre, in the valley bellow the ridge along side the road, he had also fortified a farm house by the name of La Haye Sainte. Here, Wellington awaited the arrival of the French. Napoleon’s approach to Waterloo the night before the battle, was from the south along the Brussels road. Napoleon halted his march at a road-side Inn called La Belle Alliance. This was to become his headquarters and the centre of his lines.

Napoleon’s mistake: The night before the battle there had been a tremendous storm with heavy rain fall which had waterlogged the ground between the two armies. Napoleon made the fatal mistake, – (the first of many that day), – of waiting until mid-morning for the ground to dry-out before beginning any action.

Attack on Hougoumont: Considering Hougoumont to be the weak point in the Allied lines, at around 11am, Napoleon decided to opened the battle with a cannonade and an hour later with an infantry assault against the château. He believed that Wellington would weaken his position by sending troupes from his centre to support the defenders at Hougoumont. However this was not the case and the château resisted wave after wave of French attacks through-out the day and became something of a side-show to the main battle.

Shock and Awe: By around 1.30 pm Napoleon realised that his diversionary tactic had not worked and the allies had not moved from their position on the ridge. He ordered Marshal Ney to attack Wellington’s centre and left. Ney brought up 74 guns and immediately began to pound the allied lines with shot and shell. The cannonade was later described by veterans of earlier battles, as the heaviest they had experienced. With cannon balls skipping and bouncing through files of men and shells exploding among the ranks, the fire was beginning to take its toll. Wellington ordered the bulk of his forces to retire to the reverse slope of the ridge and to take cover by lying down. After half an hour, the bombardment suddenly stopped and a few moments later the air was filled with a different noise. A roll of drums like the sound of thunder echoed across the valley floor and up the sides of the allied ridge. It was accompanied by the cry of over 18,000 voices sounding as one; “Vive l’Empereur!” and “Vive la France!” The drum roll then changed to a constant and rhythmic ‘rat-ta, tat, tat’. This was Napoleon’s ‘Shock and Awe’, his signal to the enemy that his invincible army was on the move. Indeed, this was the case. Supported by ‘heavy cavalry’, the French infantry of D’Erlon’s corps were advancing along the Brussels road towards Le Haye Sainte and the ridge beyond.

“They came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way.” (Wellington).

To all but the British veterans of the Peninsula, the rat-ta, tat, tat, of the drums must have been a dreadful sound as it drew ever closer. The French knew it as ‘Le Pas De Charge’. It was the rhythm sounded by mass corps of drums which had so terrified the armies of all Europe. The British veterans however, contemptuously called it ‘Old Trousers’, for they knew it meant that the French were ‘coming on in the same old way’, – and to paraphrase Wellington, – they would ‘defeat them in the same old way’. That ‘old way’ was to attack in a massive, densely packed column, propelled at a rapid march by the Pas De Charge. After the preparatory cannonade, the massed columns would smash into the enemy line like a giant hammer blow. Pursued by French cavalry, the fleeing enemy would be cut down and Napoleon would have another victory. However, at Waterloo this was not to be the case. Waiting to meet Napoleon’s attack were the British veterans who’s experience in the Peninsula meant that they knew how to stop the juggernaut of the French column. Their ‘same old way’ was to pour volley after volley – (up to 3 rounds per minute) – of trained and disciplined musketry into the densely packed ranks. This time it would be different, it would be French infantry fleeing from the swords of cavalry.


William Turners sketch of La Haye Sainte, Waterloo, from the North with La Belle Alliance in the Distance .


Napoleon Bonaparte


Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

Our real story does not begin on the field of Waterloo, but some 384 miles to the north west in the Nottinghamshire village of Cossall. It is after-all, the story of ‘The Cossall Giants’ John Shaw, Richard Waplington (Dick Wap), and Thomas Wheatley. Cossall is the village they all called home. Beginning with Shaw, it is time then, to tell their stories. But before I do, at this time of National ‘commemorations’ of the 200th anniversary of the battle, I offer what I think is an appropriate line from the pen of Major Knollys, taken from his book about Shaw and other ‘Heroes of Waterloo': “We are not, therefore, surprised to learn that, in these days of commemorations and statues, Shaw has not been forgotten…..”.

John Shaw: Shaw was born in the parish of Wollaton, in a farmhouse between Wollaton and Cossall, some time in December 1789, (his baptism in Wollaton church is recorded as 3rd January 1790). His father, William Shaw, was by all accounts a prosperous farmer and soon after his birth, moved the family to the old manor house which once adjoined St. Catherine’s church Cossall. It would seem from contemporary accounts that young Shaw was a sickly child as the local doctor declared to his father that he was ‘out growing his strength’ and ‘nothing but a liberal supply of new milk would save his life’. William apparently responded by setting aside a cow from his herd pacifically for his son’s needs. When he was old enough, Shaw was given a tin mug and allow to run to his cow as many times a day as he wished, until, we are told, ‘he dispensed with the mug altogether’. Are we to assume from this that he got his needs straight from the udder? Whether or not it was his milk diet, clean country air or just his genes, Shaw, like a young Hercules, grew rapidly. In a few short years he was, for his age, the tallest and strongest boy for many miles around.

School Bully: When he was old enough Shaw, or Jack as he was familiarly known was sent to a school on Trowell Moor, which was ran by a man named Newton. As an historian, sometimes when researching you have to ‘read between the lines’ to get a true picture of your subject. Our ‘Jack’ it seems was always ready with his fists, eager to take on and knock down all comers. Knollys and others refer to him as being ‘naturally of a pugnacious disposition’. Without wishing to besmirch a National Hero, I would call him a school bully with what is today referred to as ‘anger management problems’. Certainly, we would not describe Jack Shaw as a ‘gentle giant’.

Failed apprenticeship: At the age of 13, Jack left Mr Newton’s school and was bound apprentice as a joiner and wheelwright. As with all apprentices Jack went to live at the home or workshop in of his ‘Master’ in Radford (just a few miles from Cossal). It is more than certain that, as was customary, William purchased Jack’s apprenticeship at great cost to himself. This would have been a good start in life for his son and something fortunate for a boy at this time to have a father with enough money and foresight to do so. It wasn’t long however, before Jack’s ‘pugnacious disposition’ once again raised its head. In Knollys’ words; “….the scrapes he got into with other lads caused words between him and his master, until at last his indentures were given up, and he returned home to Cossal”.

Labourer: We can only imagine the words exchanged between father and son when Jack returned home. In a close-knit, small community news of the failed apprenticeship would have spread and Jack would have found it difficult to find other skilled work. It’s therefore no surprise to find that Jack’s next job, which lasted until he enlisted in the army, was as a labourer on the Wollaton Hall estate of Lord Middleton. Here, we are told, he put the skills learnt in his brief apprenticeship to good use ‘repairing gates and fences, and doing other rough carpentry work’.

Richard Waplington: We will leave John Shaw there for a time and take up the story of Richard Waplington (‘Dick Wap’), for the lives of the two men run parallel for a time before coming together at Nottingham’s ‘Goose Fair’. Richard or Dick as he was familiarly known, was born in Cossall sometime in 1787, – making him some two years Jack Shaw’s senior. Little is known of his parentage and early life save that he went to the same school on Trowell Moor as Jack. It is likely that the two lads from the same small village already knew each other, but at school they seemed to have become firm friends. Although he was the younger of the two, we might assume that given his nature, Jack would have been the dominant personality.

Coal Miner: Unlike Jack, Dick was not fortunate to have a father wealthy enough to purchase an apprenticeship for him and when at the age of 12 or 13, he left school, he went to work in one of the local collieries. For the young miners of this time, life was hard with 12 to 15 hour days toiling deep underground. At the end of each working day as part of their wages, for domestic use, each miner was allow to carry home on his own head, a lump of coal as large as he could manage. It is little wonder then that Dick, already a tall strong lad grew into a giant of a man.

Michaelmas 1807: In 1807, Nottingham’s annual Michaelmas Fair, The Goose Fair, held in the Market Square, was much like any other before it. A mixture of market stalls and entertainment, the Fair attracted both young an old from many miles around. One of the ‘booths’ which was probably attracting a lot of attention was that of the army recruiting officer, (usually a Sargent). It was common to see such booths at fairs and markets and the Goose Fair had a reputation for being a fruitful recruiting ground with many a Nottinghamshire taking the King’s Shillings at previous fairs. The British Army (and Navy) IN 1807 were engaged in the war against Napoleon’s France and there was a particular need for willing volunteers. Among the young men milling around the booth that day were two friends 20 year old Dick Wap and 18 year old Jack Shaw. How or why they were persuade to enlist we will never know, but enlist they did. Both standing over six feet tall with broad muscular frames, they were seen as ideal candidates for one of the elite cavalry regiments of the Army, the 2nd Dragoon Guards. As one of the Household Regiments in peace time they were part of the Sovereigns body guard on duty outside Royal palaces and as escorts on State occasions. In war they were ‘shock troops’, big men on great black horses. From the moment the two friends joined the regiment, even amongst these mighty warriors they were known as The Cossal Giants.


Nottingham’s Goose Fair. (Note the boxing match taking place in the left foreground)


‘Artist Model’ Part of a nude portrait of John Shaw by the artist William Etty (1787 -1849).

 We move now to the last of our trio of Heroes of Waterloo, Thomas Wheatley. As much as he played his part in the Battle of Waterloo, Wheatley’s story is not one of daring deeds and heroic death. Thom Wheatley was a man of his day and his life was lived against the backdrop of the history of the time, of which he played his own part. That history was not only the war against Napoleon’s France, but the Stocking Weavers Strike, the Luddite Riots in 1811 and the Reform Riots of 1831.

Thomas Wheatley: Thom Wheatley, the son of a ‘stocking weaver’, was born in Cossal (Marsh) in 1795 and was therefore the youngest of our trio. Until the age of nine, he was educated in a room above the almshouses in Cossall village. On leaving school he was apprenticed into his father’s trade. By all accounts the young Thom was a hard and loyal worker, dedicated to becoming a ‘journeyman weaver’ like his father. All might have gone well with Thom and he would have lived an ordinary undistinguished life, until that is, in 1811 the combined forces of fate and history intervened.

Stockingers: In the late 18th early 19th century, the textile industry and in particularly stocking weaving was a dominant trade in the East Midlands. Until the early 1800’s, the trade was largely ‘domestic’ with ‘frame-work’ knitters or ‘stockingers’ as they were called, working for a manufacturer in their own home on what was usually a rented ‘stocking-frame’ machine. It is likely that when apprenticed, Thom’s found himself living and working in the home of a stockinger like his father. By 1759, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire had 90% of the Country’s stocking frames with an estimated 14, 879 in Nottinghamshire alone.

Luddites and Strike: At the beginning of the 19th century changers in fashion and the increasing introduction of some larger, factory based steam powered frames, saw a decline in the living standards of the already impoverished traditional stockingers. By 1810/11 the frustrations of the Nottinghamshire stockingers boiled over into strike action. More direct action by a group known as the Luddites, began in Arnold, Nottinghamshire on the 11th March 1811, (but that, as they say, is a subject for another time).

A Riotous County: Nottinghamshire was at the centre of the civil unrest caused by the Luddites and this again is reflected in Dick Wap’s story. Prior to their departure for the Peninsula Champagne, the Duke of Wellington accompanied King George III on an inspection of the ‘Household Regiments’. According to Knollys whilst riding along the ranks of the 2nd Life Guards, Wellington and the King stopped before Richard Waplington. Calling him from the ranks the King reputedly asked Dick which part of the Country he came from. Dick replied “From Cossall in Nottinghamshire your majesty”. Upon hearing this the King turned to Wellington and said, “He is a very fine soldier, but he comes from a riotous county”.

From Stockinger to Soldier: The very nature of an industry where workers worked independent of one-another, made strikes difficult to manage and maintain. For his own reasons Thom’s father refused to take part in any strike action and continued to toil at his frame in secret at night. This caused great offence to Thom, who still only 16, thought that his father’s actions would only help prolong the strike. Knollys takes up the story; “Thomas so far forgot himself as to fire at his father with a loaded pistol. The father fortunately moved his head at the moment and the ball went through the window-shutter, where the hole remains to this day”. Regretting his action or fearing the consequences, Thom fled the scene and feeling unable to return, readily enlisted into the army. History does not record whether father and son were ever reconciled.

23rd Light Dragoons: It was thus that Thom found himself in the 23rd Light Dragoons a regiment that had already distinguished itself at Talavera in the Peninsula Campaign. Although classed as ‘light cavalry’, technically dragoons were mounted infantry, capable of fighting on-foot as well as on horse-back. The 23rd were one of the first regiments rushed out to Belgium for the Waterloo Campaign. On the 15th June 1815 the 23rd were in the rear-guard of Wellington’s retreat from Quatre Bras and were the last regiment to withdraw from the action at Genappe. The regiment were engaged in actions throughout the day at Waterloo and accompanied the army in its march on Paris after the battle. Due to Government cuts in defence spending following the Napoleonic Wars, the 23rd were disbanded in 1818.

Home to Cossall: Thomas Wheatley returned home to Cossall, as Knollys puts it, ‘with honours and a pension’. Either unable or unwilling to find work as a stockinger, Thom was employed as a ‘hammerman’ at the blacksmith’s forge of the Babbington Colliery Company. There his story might have ended, but history was not done with Thomas Wheatley yet.

Riots and the Battle for Wollaton Hall: As an ‘old soldier’ Thom was retained as a member of the local voluntary defence force, the South Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Cavalry, (given his experience, probably as an N.C.O.). At this date, without a proper police force, Yeomanry Regiments acted in defence of domestic security. It was under the Colonel of the South Notts that Thom was to see his last action, but this time it was to be on home soil and against an enemy with whom he probably shared a cause. In June 1831 the long awaited Reform Bill was carried in the House of Commons, only to be rejected some four months later by the House of Lords. Nottingham was filled with visitors to the Goose Fair and when on the 9th October, news of the Bills rejection reached the Market Square on the London Mail Coach, trouble broke-out almost immediately resulting in the worst mass violence and rioting the County has ever seen. On the 10th Oct. the crowd again assembled in the Square and spurred on by reformist speakers went on to ransack and loot Colwick Hall and to burn down Nottingham Castle the home of the hated anti-reformist, the Duke of Newcastle. In response the South Notts were mobilised and having ridden in through a stormy night from their various troop assembly points, were ready for action on the 11th. However, the Yeomanry failed to stop the mob burning down a Silk Mill in Beeston, but were on-hand to prevent destruction to Lord Middleton’s home Wollaton Hall. Middleton had armed and garrisoned a group of his loyal miners at the Hall and together with the Wollaton Troupe of the South Notts, – of which Thom was a member, – the Hall was well defended. The gates were forced open and as the rioters pored in they were met by a charge from the Yeomen, who afterwards managed to take many prisoners. Sporadic rioting continued until the 16th when the violence subsided. The 21 officers and 274 men of the South Notts had done their duty well over the six days they had ‘been in the saddle’.

Final words: I could find nothing more about the life of Thomas Wheatley in any of the historic accounts. I’ll conclude his story by saying: The last years of his life were spent in the almshouses at Cossall, and his ashes rest in the Churchyard of his native place”.


Young stockinger sitting at his stocking frame.


Sergeant, 23rd Light Dragoons. The uniform worn by Thomas Wheatley at Genappe and Waterloo.

The most celebrated of the three names engraved on the white marble memorial in St Catherine’s churchyard Cossall, is that of John (Jack) Shaw. After the victory at Waterloo, one of the most decisive battles in European history, the people of this country needed their heroes to worship. Not just Wellington, the great Duke himself, but ordinary men who had made the victory possible with extraordinary deeds. When reports and accounts of the battle began to circulate, there were of course many names of ordinary men to choose a hero from. But one name would have stood out from the rest, that of Corporal of Horse John Shaw. The people had already heard that name before. In the peoples eyes he was already a hero as John Shaw the Pugilist.

Shaw the Pugilist: Jack Shaw’s reputation as a pugilist has been grossly neglected in written accounts and certainly, in his home county of Nottinghamshire he should be ranked alongside ‘Bendigo’ (William Thompson). Jack began his boxing career long before he ever donned the uniform of the 2nd Life Guards. Ever the ‘scrapper’ at school the young Jack Shaw showed he had a talent with his fists. This talent was first truly recognised in a professional sense in 1805, by James (Jem) Belcher, bare-knuckle prize-fighter and Champion of All England. The story goes that at the age of 16, Jack engaged in a prize-fight with a local man much older and three stone heavier than himself. After several rounds Jack was getting the worst of it and his strength was beginning to fail. Suddenly, a voice rang out from the crowd of spectators: “Youngster, do not give in, fight slow and careful, and you are sure to lick him as my name is Jem Belcher”. This encouragement from the Champion of All England must have greatly effected Jack, for acting on Jem’s advice, he went on to win the fight. There are no further accounts which show that Jack continued his fighting career in the two years between this fight and his enlistment in the Life Guards in 1807. Prize fighting was a very popular sport during the early 19th century and Nottingham’s Goose Fair would have been full of both official and unofficial ‘prize rings’. Given the fact that Jack and his friend Richard Waplington both enlisted at the Fair, it is extremely likely that Jack was there literally looking for a fight.

Jack’s training and military exercise as a Life Guard increased his natural talent and ability as a fighter. Soon after joining the regiment he is described as being just over 6′ tall and nearly 15 st. in weight. His ready willingness to use his fists is attested to by a famous story which tells of an incident which took place outside the barracks near Portman Square in London. Three thuggish rouges were shouting insults at passing soldiers, that is until Jack stepped in and soon sent all three sprawling in the gutter.

It was customary for officers in the Household Regiments to encourage the ‘Noble Art of Boxing’ among their men and a chosen few within the ranks were actively sponsored to go on to greater things. Such was the fate of Jack Shaw and arrangements were made for him to ‘spar’ at London’s leading boxing hall, Fives Court in Little St. Martin Street. Success at Fives Court prompted his commanding officer Colonel Barton, to send him to Jackson’s Rooms (Saloon), 13 Bond Street London. This was a fashionable club and boxing academy established in 1795 by the then Champion of All England, ‘Gentleman’ John Jackson. Here Jack came under the tutorship of Jackson himself. Fighting (with gloves) under the nickname ‘The Milling Life Guardsman,’ he went on to defeat; The African American boxer, Tom ‘The Moor’ Molineaux’. – ‘Captain Barclay,’ Robert Barclay Allardice, the well-known and reputedly best amateur boxer in the country. In what was his only recorded defeat, all but it being a close one, Jack went up against Tom Belcher, (younger brother of Jem Belcher) at The Royal Tennis Court, London, during Tom Cribb’s proprietorship. Despite being defeated in this contest, Jack was on his way to the championship. On 12th July 1812, at Coombe Warren, Kingston Upon Thames, Surry, Jack climbed into the ring to face his first official bare-knuckle prize-fight. His opponent was a West-countryman named William ‘Bill’ Burrows, an experienced prize fighter. In 13 rounds contested over 17 minutes, Burrows was soundly beaten whilst Jack was totally unscathed.

Peninsula War: Although he was now a contester for the English Championship, Jack was still a trooper in the 2nd Life Guards and his boxing career was interrupted by his military duties and the war against Napoleon in the Peninsula. On the 27th October 1812 the Household Cavalry were posted to Portugal as part of the reinforcements for Wellington’s planed Spring Offensive of 1813. The day before landing in Lisbon, Jack was promoted to Corporal of Horse, – a rank equivalent of Sergeant in regiments outside the Household Division. The nature of the fighting and terrain in the Peninsula meant that there was little need for Heavy Cavalry and Jack and his comrades saw little, if any action. After seven years of fighting, peace finally came to the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe in 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris and Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The 2nd Life Guards returned to their barracks England, except that is Corporal Shaw who had been given the job as orderly to Lt. Colonel William Ponsonby. Ponsonby’s duties took him to Paris to make preparations for the Congress of Vienna.

Mortal foes: Whilst in Paris with Ponsonby, in one of those ironic twists of fate, Jack had his first encounter with those who were to become his mortal foes at Waterloo, French Cuirassiers. Jack was chosen to give a display of swordsmanship to 8th and 11th regiments and was given as a reward officer’s epaulettes by the French General Guitan

Return to the ring: Returning to England Jack resumed the rank of trooper and continued his boxing career. On the 18th April 1815, before a large crowd gathered on Hounslow Heath, Jack for the second time entered the prize ring as a bare-knuckle fighter. This time his opponent was Edward ‘Ned’ Painter. In a fight that lasted 28 minutes Painter was knocked down 10 times and totally vanquished. It was at Hounslow that Jack was to issue the challenge to all comers for the Championship of England. It was also to be his last ever fight as a pugilist, his next would be a fight for his life at Waterloo. But all that was not known at the time and sporting fans all over England were looking forward to the inevitable fight between ‘The Milling Life Guardsman’ and the retired, undefeated champion Tom Cribb.


The second fight between Tom Cribb and Tom ‘The Moor’ Molineaux’, Thistleton Gap, Rutland, in 1811.


Corporel of Horse, John Shaw in the uniform of the 2nd Dragoon Guards.

It was Easter 1815 and following his victory over Ned Painter on Hounslow Heath, Jack Shaw and his friend and comrade in arms Dick Wap, were home on leave in Cossall. In an interview many years later, a native of the village, Mr Buxton, remembered how proud the villagers were to have the two Life Guardsmen home. At a time when the average height was much less, they were proud too that both men over 6′ tall, should have earned the nickname ‘The Cossall Giants’. This was the last time that both men were to walk the native soil. The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had escape from Elba and on the 20th March 1815, triumphantly enter the gates of Paris. Once again war now loomed and Jack and Dick were recalled to their regiment to face the inevitable clash of arms that was to come.

The Cossall Giants at Waterloo: Jack Shaw and Dick Wap returned to their regiment where Jack was once again promoted to the rank of Corporal. On the 1st May 1815 they sailed for Ostend where the 2nd Lifeguards formed part of the Household Brigade under the command of Lord Uxbridge. At the start of the campaign the Lifeguards were ordered to Quatre Bras but arrived the 16th June when the fighting was over. On the withdrawal from this action the 2nd formed part of the rearguard whilst Wellington’s army was passing through Genappe. Although there is no evidence that the regiment saw any fighting that day, there is a story that Jack was wounded in the chest and ‘ordered to the rear’ to receive care. Having had his wound dressed, he retuned to his regiment feeling a little inconvenienced.

Creating a hero: Waterloo is one of those battles which seared its memory onto the pages of history. On all sides, many of those who took part, both private soldiers and officers, wrote their own accounts of the days events. Those of the retuning victorious British soldiers were eagerly snapped up by a waiting audience at home. These various accounts have one thing in common, they were all witnessed through both the literal and metaphorical ‘fog of war’ and with out doubt many were embellished with every retelling. Considering this, when reading accounts of Jack Shaw’s actions at Waterloo, it is hard to extract fact from fiction and the man from the myth.

Before the battle: An account of Jack before the battle began, paints him in rather a bad light. It was customary for soldiers to be given rum – to give them ‘Dutch Courage’ – before going into action. Reputedly, together with a couple of Troopers, Corporal Shaw was sent to fetch his Troop’s rum ration. According to one eye-witness the three men were seen liberally helping themselves from the contents of the small barrel. This might explain the fact that more than one account says that Jack’s later heroism was fuelled by alcohol. Another account has Jack in-charge of a foraging party. They had chanced on a small farmhouse or cottage where a woman and her daughters had hidden themselves in the loft. Under shouts of protest from the women, they were busy emptying the contents of milk and cheese from the dairy, when they heard the sound of the first cannon shot heralding the start of the battle. Abandoning their ‘booty’ Jack and his men rushed to join their regiment arriving in-time for the first charge.

Heavy Cavalry: At the start of the battle the Household Brigade, consisting of, 1st and 2nd Life Guards, the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, (Blues) and the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards, was station to the west of the Brussels to Charlroi Road in the rear of the British centre. To their left was a second heavy cavalry brigade, the Union Brigade consisting of the 1st Royal Dragoons, 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) and the 6th Dragoons (Inniskillings).

Charge: By the time Jack and his men had regained their ranks, it is likely that the French attack on the British centre was already under-way. French infantry columns of D’ Elron’s Corps engulfed the farm house of Le Haye Sainte and it’s King’s German Legion defenders as they passed and continued up the slope of the ridge. Supporting the infantry on their left was the Cuirassiers, – breastplate wearing heavy cavalry, – of Travers brigade. The French would not have been aware of the 2,332 sabres (officers and men) of the two brigades of heavy cavalry waiting just behind the brow of the ridge. The focus of their attack was the British infantry of Picton’s Division which, along with the rest of the Allied lines, had suffered the French cannonade some half hour earlier. Picton’s men, having fired in volley, charged the French columns, – Picton being one of the first to be killed in the attack. At this crucial moment, Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, ordered the two heavy cavalry brigades to charge. The Union brigade, coming to the aide of the Picton’s infantry charged into the French columns sending them fleeing back towards their own lines.

Shaw in action: Once again Jack Shaw was to demonstrate his swordsmanship to the French Cuirassiers, only this time in battle and not on the parade ground. The 1st and 2nd Life Guards smashed into the Cuirassiers, the effect being like ‘an irresistible force meeting an immovable object’. Some of the Cuirassiers fled the field whilst others stood their ground. One such was a Cuirassier who openly challenged Jack to single combat. Jack immediately accepted the challenge and rode forward to meet him. The Cuirassier swept his sword forward in a low blow. In the ring, Jack would have called ‘foul’, but parrying the cut, he brought his heavy sword down on the man’s helmet, cleaving his head in half such that his ‘face fell off like a bit of an apple’. Eight more Cuirassiers now challenged Jack and each in their turn was easily despatched. The last man called out in English with an Irish accent “Damn you, I will stop your crowing”. He too fell like the rest. Intermingled with their foe, the life Guards now pursued the Cuirassiers back to La Haye Sainte where they were stopped by the mass of fleeing French infantry and pursuing British Cavalry.

Dick Wap: There now followed a series of actions, – chargers and counter chargers. Somewhere amongst these actions we have our only account of Jack’s fellow Cossal Giant, Dick Wap. The account is by a veteran of Waterloo, Thomas Crooks. Crooks was an Ilkeston man and may have known Dick by sight. Temporally in possession of a French Eagle,, – the blessed standard of every French Regiment, – Dick was overwhelmed by Cuirassiers and was never seen again.

Jack’s Last fight: We now come to the end of Jack’s story of which there are several versions. All agree that in one of the melees which followed the first charge, Jack became cut-off from his fellows and surrounded by ten or more Cuirassiers. Jack fought bravely with his sword until the blade snapped. Throwing the hilt at one of his foes, Jack ripped the helmet from his head and wielding it like a medieval weapon fought on. One version of the story has him brought from his horse by a myriad of sword cuts, whilst another says it was a carbine shot to the shoulder. When the action around him had passed over, mortally wounded, Jack managed to crawl to the wall of La Haye Sainte. Here, he was joined by a wounded comrade who found him sitting on a dung heap with his head in his hands. On seeing the man Jack looked up and said; “Ah, my dear fellow, I’m done for”. Jack’s comrade exhausted, fell asleep. Next morning, when he awoke he found him cold a dead, still sitting in the same position.


Corporal John Shaw in action against French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Waterloo.

Monument: The Waterloo Monument which stands in St Catherine’s churchyard Cossell, is unique among village war memorials in Britain. It’s story begins in the summer of 1875 with a news paper report – The Ikeston Pioneer, – dated 3rd June. The report records the death of Samuel Wapplinton; “….the last of fifteen children, and the last of the name for generations known in the place (Cossall) born in 1798”. Samuel, the article goes on to inform the reader, was the brother of Richard Wapplington, the Dick Wap of Waterloo fame. It goes on to mention John Shaw and Thomas Wheatley, Cossall men, who together with Dick at Waterloo. It further mentions the fact that Wheatley, or Tom as the article calls him, lies in an unmarked grave in the churchyard. The article concludes with an appeal for a memorial to the three men; “Would it not be an act of grace to place some memorial in the beautiful village sanctuary, or in ‘God’s acre,’ to these humble, noble heroes?” The article prompted swift action and a committee of eight, mainly family and friends of the three, was formed to oversee the purchase and erection of a memorial. With donations from many local landowners a dignitaries as well as ordinary people, an initial fund of £100 was quickly raised. The resulting edifice is a tall white marble column encircled by a laurel wreath. The base is a white marble block carved in the Roman fashion, with trophies of war, which here consist of the helmet and breast-plate of a French Cuirassier over two crossed swords. Appropriately, the site chosen for the monument was the unmarked grave of Tom Wheatley. It was unveiled to great acclaim by the then High Sheriff of Nottingham, Mr. Rolleston on the 18th June 1877, (62nd anniversary of the battle).

Mystery of Shaw’s Skull: Confusion reigns over a rather macabre memento from the Battle of Waterloo, the skull of John Shaw, which was once exhibited in various museums in England. Just when and by whom the skull was exhumed and what became of it, have become matters of a bizarre mystery. Using several of the many reference sources, I have here attempted to unravel the mystery and conclude my account with what I believe to be its current resting place.

The skull: The skull, – minus the lower jaw, – is described as being of robust appearance and 22” in diameter around the forehead. The two front teeth are/where missing and the remainder being large and prominent. At sometime after its arrival in England a plaster-cast was “made by his comrades”. In a recent phone call to the archivist at the Household Cavalry Museum, Windsor, I was informed that at least two plaster-casts were made – one is currently on display in The Household Cavalry Museum, London and the other is retained by the Gentleman’s Club mentioned bellow.

When was the skull exhumed?: John Shaw’s body was buried at La Haye Sainte by his comrades on the 19th June 1815, the day after the battle. An adult corpse buried without a coffin, takes on average between 7 and 12 years to decompose into a skeleton. Given the fact that the skull was already skeletal remains, it could only have been exhumed, depending on the rate of decay, sometime between 1822 -1827 or after 1827.

Who exhumed the skull?: There are two candidates for being the person responsible for exhuming Shaw’s skull and returning it to England. The first of these is novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott. He is reputed to have become somewhat obsessed with Shaw after a meeting with the Life Guardsman at the studio of Benjamin Haydon and as a sporting man of his time, followed his boxing careerer avidly. On hearing the news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Scott was the first civilian tourist to visit the battlefield. More than one account states that it was Scott who arrange for Shaw’s ‘remains‘ to be exhumed “a few years after the battle” and personally retained the skull in his library at Abbotsford. However, the current label on the plaster-cast now on display in the Household Cavalry Museum, reads: ….but his skull was recovered and returned to England where the novelist Sir Walter Scott, excited by the drama of the battle, also had a plaster cast made of it’.

The second candidate is Admiral Sir Alfred Ryder son of Henry Dudley Ryder, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. Something not noted by other writers on the subject is the fact that Ryder was both a member of The Church of England’s ‘Purity Society and The Royal United Services Institution. The latter was set up by ‘Royal Warrant’ by Wellington as a Government military think tank. In an addenda to the 4th edition of Knollys book published in 1885, its editor J. Potter Briscoe states that he viewed a human skull purporting to be that of Shaw on display at the private museum of the R.U.S.I. The label to the exhibit read; ‘Skull of Shaw, the famed Life Guardsman who fell at Waterloo, procured by the Late Admiral Ryder’. Again however, this presents a mystery, as Ryder did not die until 1888. He goes on to say that he was informed by an attendant at the museum that the skull had been in the possession of the museum for some 60 years, putting a date of 1825 for its acquisition. He further states that he was informed that Ryder himself had the skull exhumed and brought back to England. This however is an impossibility as the good Admiral would have been only five years old at the time.

Sometime around 1887 or before, Shaw’s skull seems to have been given over to the keeping of a private museum of a ‘Gentleman’s Club’ which was not open to the public. In 1898 the Club moved to new premises at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, in London. The then curator of the museum, General R. Maltby, seems to have had concerns over exhibiting any form of remains of what he calls ‘a British soldier’. He expresses his concerns and more in a letter, – dated 26th May 1898, – to the then incumbent of Cossall Church, Reverend H. C. Russell; I am writing privately to ask you if it would be possible to place the skull of John Shaw the Life Guards Man who was killed at Waterloo under, or adjacent to the Memorial to him, and Tom Wheatley of the 23rd Light Dragoons created in Cossall Church yard. The reason I am asking for information is, that John Shaw’s skull has been in our museum for the last 11 years in our old quarters, the Public were not admitted, but now we have come over to the Banqueting House Whitehall the Council don’t think it very seemly to have on view the skull of a British Soldier & would like to find some suitable resting place. It would be very kind if you would let me have your views on the matter, I think it is essential that whatever is done should be done quite”. The reply to this letter has not survived, however, a note attached to the original dated 19th March 1918, presumably in the Reverend Russell’s hand tells how the matter was dealt with; “This skull was buried by me June 21st 1898 in Wollaton church close to the pillar near the font – in the presence of W. Harwood and Alfred Meats.”

Here is something that all other writers on the subject of Shaw miss. Taken together, the letter from Maltby and the attached note by Russell indicates that the two men, – ‘acting on the quite’, – found a suitable final resting place for the skull. At least some part of the mortal remains of Corporal of Horse, John Shaw, lies in his native soil in St. Leonard’s Church Wollaton, – close to the pillar near the font’.


The Plaster-cast of the skull of John Shaw on display in the Household Cavalry Museum London.


Early photograph of ‘The Waterloo Monument Cossall’.

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Old Nottingham Schools

by Bill Carson 

Extract Taken from White’s Directory of Nottinghamshire 1853: 

The Free Grammar School

This is in Stoney Street, and is now a handsome building, having lately been enlarged and ornamented with a beautiful sone front, in the Gothic order, though it had been repaired in the years 1689, 1708 and 1792. It was founded in 1513 by Agnes Mellers, widow of Richard Mellers, bell founder, and was by her endowed with lands and tenements in the town and neighbourhood, left in trust to the corporation for the maintenance of a master and usher. Robert Mellers, the son of the foundress, bequeathed to it, in 1515, a close in Basford and a house in Bridlesmithgate, betwixt St Petergate and Pepper Street. His brother, Thomas Mellers, who died in 1535, endowed it with “all his lands, tenements and hereditaments, in the town and fields of Basford”, but all the property in Basford parish left by these brothers was sold by the corporation sometime betwixt the years 1702 and 1720 (together with those tenements in London, left by Mr John West), to defray the expenses of a lawsuit which they had instituted against Richard Johnson, who was then master of the school.

John Heskey, alderman, in 1558, left to this school the tithes of the Nottingham fields and
meadows, and also a house in Carlton Street, except 10s to be paid yearly out of the rent to the poor. John Parker, alderman, in 1693, left £160, with which a rent charge of £13 10s per annum was purchased at Harby, in Leicestershire, for the purpose of founding and supporting a library in the school, and for furnishing £3 apprentice fees for small boys, and £3 gifts to assist them after they had served their apprenticeship, in setting up in their respective trades. In 1828, £72 was received in arrears of this rent charge. Four small closes betwixt Trough Close and Free School Lane belong to the Grammar School, as do also all the houses in Broad Street, from Agnes Yard to Goosegate; and several others in St Petergate, and St Peter’s Square, most of which were left by the foundress. The gross yearly income arising from rents and tithes amounted, in 1828, to nearly £700, since when there is not much alteration; out of which are paid yearly salaries and gratuities amounting to £150 to the master, £110 to the usher, and £50 to the writing-master. The school is now divided into a classical school, in which English and other parts of a good education
are taught; and an English school, for which a fouth master is appointed, who received £110 a year, paid by quarterages charged on the pupils of the upper school. The Rev. William Butler M.A. is the head master, and has a good house adjoining the school, but is not allowed to take boarders. Mr Samuel Langwith is the usher, Mr Isaac Sparey the writing-master, and Mr Thomas Hewson the assistant.


The original 1512 charter approving the foundation of a free grammar school in Nottingham-Photo Credit: Nottingham High School .

The Blue Coat School

This was founded in 1706, but the present building, which stands at the foot of the High Pavement, was erected in 1723, on ground given by Mr Wm. Thorpe, a benevolent attorney. It contains a large school room, and a suite of apartments for the residence of the master, who has 100 guineas a year, and he is allowed six tons of coals annually for the use of the school. Two statues, in niches at the front of the building, represent a boy and a girl in their school costume. The charity educates and clothes sixty boys and twenty girls, till they arrive at fourteen yearsof age, when the former are put out apprentice, with a premium of five guineas each, and the latter have each two guineas for the purpose of clothing them for servitude. Mr and Mrs Cockayne are the teachers, and attend as well to the religious as to the moral instruction of the scholars. The charity, which is supported partly by annual subscriptions and collections at the parish churches, is endowed with property which produces upwards of £380 per annum. A new school is about to be erected, on Mansfield Road, for which ground has been purchased.

blue-coat-school (1)

Bluecoat School, Weekday Cross, c.1740- Photo Credit: http://www.nottshistory.org.uk.

The People’s College

This was founded in 1846, and is situated in College Street. It was erected by public subscription, and the sum of £1,000 was contributed by one inhabitant of the town, George Gill Esq., of the Park. The design of the projectors was to afford superior instruction for the working classes. The college is open to all persons, without regard to their religious or political tenets. Controversial reading and lectures are strictly avoided, but books of any religious or political kind may be introduced to the library, if approved by the directors. The building is of brick, and belongs to the Gothic order of architecture. It is divided into compartments, the chief room being towards the east. The central door is pointed, and flanked by diagnal buttresses, above which is a pointed window of three lights, with quatrefoil tracery, surmounted by a square pinnacle or spire of singular construction, which contributes a picturesque aspect to the edifice. The west compartment presents gables and square windows. There is a female, as well as a male department. Mr Jph. Bright is the second master, and Miss Ellen Kirkland the mistress.


The People’s College in 1846- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

The Unitarian Free School

This is situated behind the chapel on the High Pavement, and was founded in consequence of a division which took place in 1788, amongst the subscribers to the Blue Coat School. It is supported by annual contributions, for the education of forty boys and twenty girls of any religious denomination. Ten of the girls are also clothed. Mr John Taylor and Miss Ann Mitchell are the teachers.

R:  122 G:  255 B:  158 X:54188 Y:    0 S:    0 Z:   53 F:  122

The old High Pavement School, which was built in 1805, with the old Unitarian Church, now the Pitcher and Piano pub, behind. This was the first proper building of the school, with the girls on the upper floor and the boys on the lower- Photo Credit: Joe Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

The School of Industry

This was founded by subscription in 1808, for the instruction of 150 poor girls in reading, writing and plain needlework. It now occupies part of St James’ Church Sunday School, which was erected in Rutland Street in 1824, and has another room occupied as an infant school. 

Trinity National School 

This is a neat brick building in North Church Street, erected in 1847 at a cost of £3,000, for boys, girls and infants. It has residences at each end, and one in the centre for teachers, and will accommodate 220 boys, 150 girls and 200 infants. Mr Richd. Thurlow is the master, C. Shepherd the mistress, and Ann Haslam the infant mistress. The master has five, and the mistress two pupil teachers.

St John’s National School

This is in London road, and is for boys, girls and infants. It is a handsome brick building, faced with stone, erected in 1843 at a cost of £2,500, and will accommodate 160 pupils of each sex, and the same number of infants. Luke Bland is the master, Sarah Ann Sylde the mistress, and Matilda Griffin the infant mistress, each of whom resides on the premises.

High Cross Street National School

This is a gigantic seminary, calculated for about 600 boys, on Dr Bell’s system. Mr Jph. Aldridge is the master.

Barkergate National School

This is a girls’ school, and is a spacious, neat building, erected in 1834. It consists of two storeys and cost £767, part of which was supplied by a grant from government. Sarah Addicott is the mistress.

The Lancasterian School

This is a boys’ school, and is a spacious building of one storey on Derby Road, erected in 1815. It is supported principally by the contributions of dissenters. Mr John Widdowson packer is the master.

The Ragged School

This useful institution occupies St Paul’s Infant School room, in Cur Lane, but will shortly be removed to new premises in Glasshouse Street, which will accommodate 300 children. Subscriptions are now being collected for this laudable purpose.

The British School

This is on Bath Street (removed from Leen Side). It is a neat building, erected in 1850, and will accommodate 200 boys and 150 girls. Mr Richard Stimson is the master, and Mary Jane Boot the mistress.

Catholic Schools

The boys’ school is a neat, brick building in Kent Street, opened in 1842. Patrick Kerman is the master. The girls’ school is situated on Derby Road, adjoining the Nunnery, and is under the superintendence of the Sisters of Mercy. There is also an Industrial Ragged and Infant School, in George Street, conducted by the Sisters of Mercy.

The Infant Schools

Besides the three already noted, viz. Trinity, St john’s and St James’, there are also infant schools on Canaan Street, Independent Hill and Chapel Yard, Cross Street.

Government School of Design

This is in Beck Lane, and was established April 1st 1843 for elementary instruction, instruction and design for manufactures, and in the history, principles and practice of ornamental art. A competent master, under the general superintendence of teh committee, is engaged to afford instruction in the various branches above enumerated. The director (Somerset House) exercises a general superintendence and control in every matter relating to the duties of all who are engaged in giving instruction in the School. The morning school is open from 9 to 12, the evening school from half-past six to nine, excepting Saturday, with other appointed vacations. Fees of admission are to be paid to the Secretary in advancem which are four shillings for the morning school, and two shillings for the evening. The morning students have permission to attend the evening school free of expense. Mr Thomas Clark is the present master.


The original school at the People’s Hall in Beck Lane (now Heathcote Street). moved to Plumptre House in Stoney Street in 1852 and to Commerce Square, off High Pavement in 1858. In 1863, a site was purchased in Waverley Street for the building of a new school- Photo Credit: http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk.

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A Look around Wollaton in the Early 1900s

Woodyard Lane one of the secluded wooded lanes that use to link parts of Wollaton, Bilborough and Aspley Hall. This was the way the old colliers used to walk to get to work. Through Woodyard Lane it goes on to join Colliers Way which goes over the railway and canal bridges on to Aspley Hall. It then passes through Robinswood and by its pits. Down Woodyard Lane you would have found a big house this was the home of Miss Sheila Russel, one of the daughters of the Vicar of St Leonards.


Woodyard Lane- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

Old Coach Road is next to another very popular track that use to be used by the Willoughby family. The family used it in the early days visiting the local gentry. They also used the Road to get to one of their largest farmsteads called Old Park Farm. Old Coach Road was also used by the miners working in Bilborough woods.


Quarry Road- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

The old pub in the above photo stands on the same spot as The Kings Head. At The Kings Head in the early 1800s was held the courts of William Peveril. This was where the magistrate would here claims of any injustice that had been done or any theft that had occurred.


Lime Tree Road- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

This Avenue is a wonder to walk down in spring as the smells of limes are in the air. The trees stand like a guard of honour down both sides greeting all the visitors from far and wide.


Article originally published by Peter Woodward of My Broxtowe Hundred Journal Website. 

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1854, April, 1st: Walk to meet the Gardeners in the Park

I got the Gig ready for me and the wife; we are going to Wollaton to meet my sons friend and her parents. We went through Strelley and out the Lodge gate at Bilborough and down Old Coach Road and onto the park and gardeners house.


Gardeners House, Wollaton- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

This place looked very interesting so out came my trusty camera and took this picture of the gardeners house with the daughter sitting outside to the left on the bench.


Cutting the Dangerious Trees- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

I crossed the road and passed into the park, looking in the general direction of Nottingham. I could see the gardeners working on a dangerous tree. By the time I got across to them the tree was down and loaded on a timber trailer ready for the woodyard.


Grass Cutting, The Old Way- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

Here we see Mr Meates and Mr Anderson, working “samson” keeping the grass down to a length that people like. These are just a couple of the many men that used to do the tasks, odd jobs and most other work on Wollaton Park.


Article originally published by Peter Woodward of My Broxtowe Hundred Journal Website. 

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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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