Just One in Six Million, But His Country Needed Him

By Mitch Peeke

 

Photo Credit: Mitch Peeke

Photo Credit: Mitch Peeke

This medal was purchased by chance, purely in passing, by my daughter, Katie; from Fieldstaff Antiques in Rochester High Street, in September of 2019. She saw it and just thought that it might cheer me up whilst I was laid up, having had a serious motorcycle accident. (I think she also knew that I wouldn’t just say “Thank you” and leave it there)! I have to say, curiosity aroused, it certainly gave me something positive to do!

The medal was easily identified as the Great War Victory Medal, which was awarded to every British Serviceman who’d survived that war. On the bottom edge of the medal, there is an impression which reads: “83870. Gnr. E. Ashley. RA”. Beyond that, there was no other information that came with the medal. So; who was 83870 Gunner E. Ashley? Time for some online detective work, and Army serial numbers are a great starting point!

83870, Edgar Ashley, was born on 14th December 1889 in Nottingham. His Army papers show that he was 5 feet 7 and three-quarter inches tall, weighed 151 pounds and was in good physical condition, having a 38 and a half inch chest that he could expand by three and a half inches. He had a short scar above his left eyebrow and he was a “Telephone Instrument Fitter” by trade. An early phone engineer.

His exact date of enlistment is not shown but it was around mid-May 1916, as his papers give a declared age at enlistment of 26 years, 156 days. His Army medal card shows he was not entitled to either the 1914 Star or the 1914-1915 Star. To qualify for either of those medals, a soldier would have had to have volunteered before conscription was introduced, early in 1916. Therefore, he; like many others, was a conscripted soldier.

He enlisted in his native Nottingham, at No 4 Depot, Royal Garrison Artillery and passed the Army medical at Nottingham Recruitment Centre. Initially, he was posted to the 111th Battery, RGA. There he would receive three months basic Army training, before moving on to a further three to six months of specific Artillery training. After training and practice, he was posted to the 181st Siege Battery, RGA, in France.

The 181st Siege Battery was one of two such units raised at Forth in June of 1916. It was one of ten new Batteries raised that month, the other eight all being raised down South. Armed with BL 6 inch, 26cwt Medium Howitzers, the 181st Siege Battery, RGA were sent to France on 12th October 1916.

By 1916, the RGA had grown into a very large component of the British Army and it was still growing at a rate of ten new Batteries per month. The Siege Batteries were all armed with heavy, large-calibre guns and howitzers that had immense destructive power. Hurling its 100lb shells aloft in a high, plunging trajectory, the BL 6 inch, 26cwt Howitzer, with its combination of firepower, (two rounds per minute) range, (9,500 yards) and (for its day, anyway) mobility, was arguably one of the British Army’s most important weapons of World War I. A later variant, fitted with solid rubber tyres mounted on solid metal wheels, was still in active front line service during WW2, such was its design quality.

In WW1, the Artillery would be positioned well behind the infantry battle line, firing at unseen targets and controlled by a Forward Artillery Observer. As the war progressed, the heavy artillery and the techniques of long-range artillery were massively developed. By mid-late 1915, the RGA was often supported by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) who had devised a system whereby the crew of a spotter aircraft could use wireless telegraphy to give corrections of aim to the guns. The two-man RFC spotter aircraft carried a wireless set, a hand held Aldis Signalling Lamp (in case the wireless set failed), and a map divided into squares. After identifying the position of an enemy target the Observer in the aircraft was able to transmit messages such as “Square A5” (or B3, or C1, etc) in Morse code to a RFC land station attached to a heavy artillery unit, such as the Royal Garrison Artillery’s Siege Batteries. Later advances in the science of Gun Laying enabled the guns to be aimed at co-ordinates on a map calculated with geometry and mathematics; a technique later used in WW2.

The RGA, especially the Siege Batteries, had significantly increased in size by the time Edgar Ashley joined their ranks. The RGA had increased from 32 Regular and Territorial Force Batteries in 1914, to 117 by the end of the war. The Siege Batteries increased from just three Regular Batteries in 1914, to an incredible 401 by the end of the war. Siege Batteries had the largest guns such as 5 inch 60 pounders, 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers. There were even a few of these Siege Batteries that had huge 12 inch Howitzers, specially mounted on equally large railway flat cars or on fixed concrete emplacements.

A 6 inch 26cwt Howitzer Battery of the RGA in action on the Western Front in WW1.

Being an Artilleryman in WW1 was not an easy posting. Whilst not quite as risk exposed perhaps as an Infantryman in the trenches, the Royal Artillery collectively lost about 10% of its personnel in WW1, with countless others wounded, or returned home having survived being gassed, but incapacitated. One of the main objectives for the German Artillery was of course to neutralise the British Artillery! To that end, the Germans constantly targeted the British Artillery positions, raining High Explosive, Shrapnel and of course Gas shells onto the British Gunners, who tended to return like for like. Just because the Artillery positions of both sides were behind their respective trenches, did not mean that they were safe positions. Far from it! They were out in the open, not dug in and covered only with light camouflage netting. There was also no crew shield fitted to the guns for the Gunners to get behind either.

Gunner Ashley arrived in France to join the 181st Siege Battery around February of 1917. His arrival amid the cold, the wet and the legendary mud of the Western Front, must have been something of a shock to him. As the Spring came, the weather may have improved and the mud may have dried out somewhat, but the war still raged on with no let up in its ferocity. It was almost inevitable: Near the end of April 1917, Gunner Ashley was badly wounded by Shrapnel to his left forearm. He was sent home to England for treatment and recovery, arriving at Fort Pitt, Rochester, on 20th April. Six days later, he was transferred to the Military Hospital at Lees Court in Faversham, where he remained till 29th May.

The following day, having been discharged from the hospital, he received a ten day leave pass and went back to Nottingham, to the family home at 56, Lees Hill Street, Sneinton; which was and still is, a tall and slim, three-storey, Victorian terraced house that had been their family home since April 1911.

He seems to have been fortunate enough to have come through his time in that awful conflict relatively unscathed, with only the Shrapnel wounds to his left forearm. His wounds were evidently bad enough for him to be sent home, but not bad enough for him to remain there. Ashley returned to his unit on the Western Front at the end of his ten day leave. He remained in France till the Armistice, after which, his unit returned to England.

Gunner Ashley’s military service ended in October of 1919, when the 181st Siege Battery, RGA, was sent to the Reserves. His Discharge Certificate shows that he had obtained a special Army qualification in Gun Laying for a six inch Howitzer Battery. Quite how that was going to help him in Civvy Street is unclear!

After leaving the Army, Edgar Ashley returned home to Nottingham and presumably back to his pre-war occupation as a telephone engineer. He was awarded the British War Medal in Silver (Combatant) and the Victory Medal, for surviving!

WW1 Victory Medal (Left) and British War Medal, known colloquially as “The Mutt and Jeff Pair”.

There was no sign of his British War Medal in the Antiques shop, just his Victory Medal. This is not uncommon. The War Medal was made from solid Silver, so it had value. During the Great Depression of the 1920’s, it was very common for ex-servicemen to pawn, or even to sell their British War Medal for its scrap value, to help financially. The Victory Medal is not made from precious metal, like the War Medal was, so the Silver-coated Bronze Victory Medals tended to survive.

In July of 1922, Edgar Ashley married Ethel Cheatle, also of Nottingham. They had one child but for whatever reason, the marriage didn’t last. In July of 1928, he re-married. His second wife was Mary Elizabeth Carter, also of Nottingham. They too had one child. The connections on Ancestry.co.uk were a bit tenuous by this point in his life but at time of writing, (September 2019) it woud seem that his two children are still living.

Edgar and Mary moved to Spilsby in Lincolnshire at some point later in their married life. After 43 years together, Mary died, in 1972.

Edgar.

Mary.

Edgar Ashley died nine years later, in October 1981, also in Spilsby, Lincolnshire. He was almost 92. What is something of a mystery though is this: Although he was temporarily hospitalised at Fort Pitt, Rochester; Edgar Ashley had absolutely no other local connection to the Medway area. He did not return to the Rochester/Chatham area after the war. He spent most of the remainder of his long life in his native Nottingham and he died in Lincolnshire. So of all the places that it could have ended up; how on Earth did his Victory medal come to end up in an Antiques shop just half a mile down the road from where he was initially hospitaised, 100 years after it was awarded and sent to him in Nottingham?! The proprietor of Fieldstaff Antiques says the medal was simply part of a household lot. I may never find out the answer to that one, but it is a very strange coincidence, if nothing else!

Despite my enquiries in specialist online medal forums and the like, no trace of his Silver British War Medal has materialised. Perhaps it went the same way as so many of them. In the meantime: Here’s to the memory of the late Edgar Ashley of Nottingham; who, like so many others of his era, answered his Country’s call in its hour of need. Two, or even three generations down the line, we salute you:

“Lest we forget”

 

Mitch Peeke has a keen interest in aviation, and is a former member of the Kent Gliding Club. He was also an Air Cadet, many years ago! In his spare time, he is often to be found roaring around the countryside on his classic custom 1,450cc Harley Davidson.

A founder member of Lusitania Online (website http://www.lusitania.net), Mitch co- authored Lusitania and Beyond: The Life of Commodore William Thomas Turner (Avid Publications 2001), as well as The Lusitania Story (Pen and Sword Books, 2002 and updated Centenary edition 2015). He also wrote Lost Souls Of The River Kwai (Pen and Sword Books, 2004) with the late Bill Reed, as well as writing 1940: The Battles To Stop Hitler. (Pen and Sword Aviation 2015).

Mitch writes for numerous websites and journals and has contributed to programmes on BBC Radio Kent. He has also acted as a historical advisor to The Discovery Channel as well as smaller, independent film makers. Mitch lives with his wife Jane with whom he has one daughter and one son, (plus Jane’s menagerie of rescued animals!). The family live at Allhallows-on-Sea, near Rochester, Kent; where in June 2019, having recently researched the story, he raised a memorial to the crew of an American B 17 “Flying Fortress” Bomber, which crashed on the beach at Allhallows in 1944 following its first combat mission.

Posted in Nottinghamshire Military History | Leave a comment

How Goose Fair Acquired its Illustrious Name

by Joseph Earp

Traditionally it is thought that the Nottingham Goose Fair got its name from the hundreds of geese which were, at one time driven from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to be sold in Nottingham. However the below tale suggests an alternative origin. A squire is left to bring up his son after his wife’s death, and he prevents the boy from having any contact with women. When the son is older they go to the fair, inevitably they run into some women, and the son is bewildered. The father explains that they are ‘geese’.

Below is the tale which supposedly explains how the name ‘Goose Fair’ came to be. It is taken from a London Magazine from the year 1863:

“Once upon a time there was a certain squire, whose experience of wedded life was such as to induce him to vow that his only son, who had been motherless from his infancy, should never so much as cast eyes upon one of the fair sex until he arrived at that certain age known as ‘years of discretion’. This praiseworthy intention was carried out with the greatest scrupulosity, insomuch that the young hopeful arrived at the time when most youths imagine they have put away childish things, and was in ignorance of the existence of the daughter of eve.

It was, then, in the month of October, that the squire conceived the fatal idea of introducing his son to the enjoyments of the Nottingham Fair. It was a perilous experiment; but it was possible that the youth’s early education would render him wholly insensible to feminine charms, and that he would accord no more notice to the gentler sex than to the gingerbread, ‘learned’ pigs, giants and dwarfs.

The busy scene of the fair was new to the young man, and his eyes wandered wonderingly from one thing to another, until at length they rested upon a fine hat and feathers, and upon the owner thereof into the bargain. ‘What is that Father?’ was the query resulting from the examination. ‘A goose, to be sure!’ was the surly reply. ‘And this? and that? and these? and those?’ continued the son, growing excited as crowds of gaily-attired and merry laughing maidens passed them by. ‘Geese boy, all geese’ quoth the culpably satirical or wilfully mendacious parent. The parent immediately drew the attention of his charge to more instructive objects, and strained every nerve to hit on some all absorbing device which might effectually prevent his thoughts from straying on forbidden ground.

In such attempts the day grew old, and it was time to think of returning home. ‘Well, Joe,’ said the squire, ‘choose something for a fairing. What would you like best?’ Joe did not hesitate. He looked delighted, and astonished his parent by exclaiming ‘A goose, father, please buy me a goose!’.

The story getting wind, that mart (so ’tis said) was ever afterwards known as ‘Goose Fair’”.

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Nottinghamshire Hauntings

by Frank E Earp

It is said that there are more legends and stories of ghosts per square mile in Britain than any other place in the world. How can we explain this remarkable fact? Perhaps one of the overriding factors is the rich and varied history and cultural heritage of the British people. These elements are woven into the very landscape in which we live.

There are many different kinds of hauntings. Here, we will look at four Nottinghamshire cases that I believe fall in to the category of ‘genius loci’ – (guardian) spirits of the place.

Bramcote; All that remains of the medieval church of St. Michael in Bramcote is the square tower. Popularly known as ‘The Sunken Church’, the tower, – within the remains of the church-yard, – stands high above the road – Town St., – almost opposite its junction with Cow Lane. In 1978, a motorist driving by the church reported seeing a black hooded figure, – which he described as ‘monk like’, – in the church yard. Later the same year a police officer, driving the same route reported seeing a similar figure.

The 'Sunken' Church. Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

The ‘Sunken’ Church. Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Calverton; From Nottingham, the ancient road into the village of Calverton begins in Arnold as Calverton Rd. It passes north over the hill known as Dorket Head and crosses the B684 – Lime Lane, Woodborough Rd. From this junction, it takes the name Georges Lane. For just over one mile Georges Lane snakes its way over the wooded Georges Hill and descends into the village where it terminates at Main St. Georges Lane has become infamous for its hauntings. It is said that taxi drivers will avoid using this route into the village. On a dark winters night the lane, – particularly in the wooded section – seems to generate an air of terror. On a number of occasions this has been manifested by an actual presence. Several motorists have reported seeing, – through the rear view mirror, – an old lady sitting in the back of their vehicle and at least one reported a hooded figure. These phantoms usually disappear when the driver attempts to investigate their presence further. A young student returning home one evening was shaken, when her car struck a dark figure that ran out in front of the vehicle. Stopping the car, she got out expecting to find an injured pedestrian lying in the road. However, she could see no one and so she ran home to get help. Although she return with her father and search the area by torch light, no trace of an accident victim was found. The earliest recorded report of the strange haunting on Georges Lane comes from the 1930’s. At around midnight, a young man, – by the name of Bardhill- encountered a strange and frightening entity whilst walking home from the Goose Fair. He had reached the point where Georges Lane begins at Dorket Head, when he saw a dark mass immerge from the hedge-bottom on the left-hand side of the road. Mr Bardhill, – keeping an eye on the ‘thing’ – continued walking. He quickly realised that it was keeping pace with him and as it did so had changed into the form of a tall man wearing what seemed to be a cloak and a broad-brimmed hat. Around the figures shoulders he could clearly see a large silver chain. Although Mr Bardhill could not make out his companions features he could discern a large hooked nose. The figure appeared to glide rather than walk and effortlessly paralleled Mr Bardhill course, even when he had quickened his pace and crossed to the other side of the road. Understandably, Mr Bardhill became very alarmed and began to run, pursued at a short distance by the sinister figure. It was not until he neared the village and home that the phantom disappeared back into the hedge-bottom. Mr Bardhill eventually arrived home in a very distressed state and reported feeling unwell for a number of days after the event. A number of years later, the wife of a local farm was driving along Georges Lane at around dusk. Through the rear-view mirror she could clearly see a figure, – which matched the one described by Mr Bardhill, – sitting in the back of her car. The unwanted passenger stayed with the unfortunate lady all the way to the village where it disappeared as she turned into her drive.

George’s Lane, Calverton. Photo Credit: J Thomas.

Gotham; December 1976 saw the village of Gotham covered with a light blanket of snow. On a cold and frosty night, just before Christmas, Fred Talbot, – a respected member of the community, whose family had lived in the village for generations, – set out to meet his friends for his weekly game of whist. Fred took his usual short-cut through the church-yard. Here, he was to encounter a frightening apparition. Gliding between the tombstones and keeping a parallel course to his, he saw what he later described as a spectral figure of a wild looking man. However, this wasn’t the usual hooded phantom. The man was naked and Fred was later to state that his manhood was decidedly prominent. Keeping the figure in sight, Fred retreated from the church-yard as quickly as possible and arrived at his destination visibly shaken.

Rufford Abbey; Rufford Abbey is said to be one of the most haunted sites in Nottinghamshire. Founded in the 12th century as a Cistercian Priory it became a ‘country house’ at the ‘Dissolution’, later passing to the Savile family in who’s hands it remained until 1938. It is now a country park with the remains of the Priory and house managed by English Heritage. The park is most famously haunted by a tall, black, hooded figure with a skeletal face. He is said to come-upon people from behind and ‘tap them on the shoulder’ and in the early 1900’s is believed to have literally frightened a man to death. There are a number such phantom monks in the county but Rufford is perhaps the best known and most frightening.

Haunted Rufford Abbey. Photo Credit: English Heritage.

Posted in Bramcote, Calverton, Gotham, Nottinghamshire Folklore | Leave a comment

Beeston’s Green Man

by Joe Earp 

 

A Green Man is a sculpture or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the mouth, nostrils, or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Commonly used as a decorative architectural ornament, Green Men are frequently found in carvings on both secular and ecclesiastical buildings.

Usually referred to in works of architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, carvings of the Green Man may take many forms, naturalistic or decorative. The simplest depict a man’s face peering out of dense foliage. Some may have leaves for hair, perhaps with a leafy beard. Often leaves or leafy shoots are shown growing from his open mouth and sometimes even from the nose and eyes as well. In the most abstract examples, the carving at first glance appears to be merely stylised foliage, with the facial element only becoming apparent on closer examination. The face is almost always male; green women are rare.

Beeston does indeed have its very own Green Man. Blink and you might miss this one. For those wishing to take some time out from the Town’s busy shopping streets it is recommended that you take a little stroll, – as Beestonians have been doing for over 100 years, – through Dovecote Lane Park. This wonderful wooden sculpture entitled ‘The Green Man’ is located in the enclosed garden area of the park at the Trevor Road end. Rather than saying anything about it, we will let him speak for himself.

The Brass plaque attached to the stone base tells the whole story:

‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard (1920 – 2012), a Beeston sculptor, from a piece of yew tree in autumn 2008. It was undertaken as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to replace the ‘One World Sculpture’ on this site which commemorated Earth Summit 1992. The new sculpture has as its theme “man’s interaction with the natural green world.” The sculpture also marks the 100th anniversary of Dovecote Lane park which was opened in 1908′.

The ‘One Word’ sculpture replaced by the Green Man, was another of Stan’s works. It consisted of a ‘totem pole’ type carving of a man’s head, with falcon like shoulders and abstract tree like body. It was painted yellow and black and gloss varnish.

Once again we will let the original plaque tell the story:

‘This sculpture was carved by Stan Bullard, a Beeston sculptor, from a beech tree, felled at Strelley after storm damage. Work commenced in Beeston Square on One World Day, 30th May 1992 and was completed as a commission from Broxtowe Borough Council to commemorate Earth Summit 92′.

Note that Stan gave a live demonstration of his work before completing and installing it in the park.

Posted in Beeston, Nottinghamshire Suburbs | Leave a comment

Carmelite Friars or Whitefriars of Nottingham

by Joseph Earp 

Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel, which succeeded the schools of the prophets in ancient Israel or the Crusader states. There are no certain records of hermits on this mountain before the 1190s. By this date a group of men had gathered at the well of Elijah on Mount Carmel. These men, who had gone to Palestine from Europe either as pilgrims or as crusaders, chose Mount Carmel in part because it was the traditional home of Elijah. The foundation is believed to have been dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Virtually nothing is known of the Carmelites from 1214, when Albert died, until 1238. The Rule of St. Albert was approved by Pope Honorius III in 1226, and again by Pope Gregory IX in 1229, with a modification regarding ownership of property and permission to celebrate divine services. The Carmelites next appear in the historical record, in 1238, when with the increasing cleavage between the West and the East, the Carmelites found it advisable to leave the Near East. Many moved to Cyprus and Sicily.

In 1242, the Carmelites migrated west. The Order grew quickly after reaching Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, the order had around 150 houses in Europe, divided into twelve provinces throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. In England, the Order had 30 houses under four ‘distinctions’: London, Norwich, Oxford and York, as well as new houses in Scotland and Ireland. It has been estimated that the total Carmelite population in England between 1296 and 1347 was about 720, with the largest house (London), having over 60 friars, but most averaging between 20 and 30.

Sometime before 1271 a small group of Carmelite Friars acquired a plot of land to establish a new Friary between St. James Lane and Moothall Gate in Nottingham. They also acquired a row of houses which bounded their property to the north along the side of Beast Market Hill. The Friary itself was a modest group of buildings for the Carmelites were an order bound to a vow of poverty and relying on begging and charity for a living. Very quickly after the establishment of the Friary, Moothall Gate became known as Friar Lane, – a name by which it is still known today. The Friars where to remain on this site for the next 250 years.

The friary was dissolved as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was surrendered by Prior Roger Cappe on 5 February 1539. The friary was, at the time, home to six friars: William Cooke, William Frost, John Roberts, William Smithson, William Thorpe, Robert Wilson. The friary site was granted, in 1541, to James Sturley of Nottingham.

Nothing remains of the former Friary. It stood near to the south-west corner of Old Market Square; the priory precinct occupying the area between Friar Lane and St James Street. The area has been heavily developed since the dissolution and the site has been “almost solidly built over” It is remembered locally in the street name: “Friar Lane”.

Plan of the Carmelite Friary at Nottingham.

Carmelite Friar

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The Monks Way

Monks Way LogoMonks Way, Monks Path, Monks Steps and Pilgrims Path are all terms used locally to describe the traces of stone paving or causeway which can be found in Cossall, Strelley, Ilkeston and beyond.

The term ‘Monk’s Way’ is a general term frequently used to describe the network of ancient tracks which often linked monasteries and settlements to facilitate trade and communication.

The monastic connection for the paths around Cossall, Strelley and Ilkeston is not clear but it is known that the monks of Dale Abbey, Newstead Priory, Lenton Abbey, Felley Priory and Beauvale Priory had land and mining interests in the areas around the Erewash Valley as early as the 14th century. It is therefore possible that the stones are all that is left of routeways that perhaps linked the monasteries and provided access to Nottingham and the River Trent.

Ancient Routeways

As long as man has needed to trade there have been transport routes from the place of production to the point of sale. Many roads and paths originate from medieval times or even earlier when packhorses or mules were often the main method of transport for goods. These early tracks often linked to rivers where goods could be transported in bulk.

Canals and railways were a further development requiring new or adapted transport links to feed the barges or trains. Man’s activities, including mining and road construction, have obliterated many ancient tracks, but it is still possible to discover the signs of old pathways if you know where to look!

Who laid the stones?

Legend has it that the stones were laid by monks who brought a slab on the back of a mule each time they used the path. This may be true but equally there are theories that the stones are more recent having been laid for the transport of coal by packhorses during the 18th century.

No-one knows for sure the origins of the Monks Way although the stone paths almost certainly pre-date the canal ere (the Nottingham Canal was built in 1796) and may well be laid over an ancient route.

Where can the stones be seen?

The map of the Monks Way shows where the stones can be found. They are most obvious at Main Street, Strelley where they are incorporated into the footpath from the Broad Oak Public House up to the church. Traces can be found on the paths and bridleways linking with Cossall village and several sections have been uncovered on Mill Lane at Cossall between the Nottingham Canal and the railway.

It is known that the stones were removed from Park Road at Ilkeston when the road was constructed. A number of stones salvaged from this area can be found at the Erewash Museum, High Street, Ilkeston.

There is little doubt that other stones remain intact buried under grass or road surfaces, however sections were also borrowed to find new purpose as barn floors or walling in nearby farms and cottages.

Small areas of sandstone paving exist away from the route shown on the plan, one example being the path which links the Nottingham Canal with Nottingham Road near to Furnace Road on the Ilkeston/Trowell border. This seems to be an isolated path and is believed to be a remnant of the original Nottingham to Ilkeston Turnpike which was realigned in 1874.

Map of the Monks Way

 

 

All information above by kind permission of Peter Woodeward of the now defunct Broxtowe Hundred Website and Broxtowe Borough Council. 

Posted in Nottinghamshire Suburbs, Strelley | Leave a comment

Franciscans or Greyfriars of Nottingham

by Joseph Earp 

In the year 1224 the Franciscans, – the last monastic order to come to this Country from France, – arrived in England. The Franciscans are among the few orders who, alongside their conventional brethren, have monks known as Friars. Today we might consider Friars as being a sort of ‘out-reach worker’ administering their faith amongst the local community rather than being confined to their Priory. Franciscan Friars were known as ‘Grey Friars’ after the colour of the habit. Nottingham seems to have been one of the first places in England to have a Franciscan Friary, which is mentioned in documents of 1230.

The Friars came to Nottingham soon after their arrival in England and immediately appealed for land to build their home. They would have found that there was no open space large enough within the town walls to accommodate their needs and so they were given, – possible by King Henry III, – marginal land to the east of the town along the banks of the River Leen, – Broad Marsh. Here they quickly established their Friary, which naturally enough became known as ‘Greyfriars Friary’. Perhaps the first thing they did was to erect the massive stone ‘Preaching Cross’ we know to have existed on the site. The precinct of the Friary extended between the road Broadmarsh, (now gone) to the north and Canal Street to the south and included all of the land now occupied by the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. The first buildings on the site were of wood. Records show that between 1230 and 1261, the King donated to the Friars, vast amounts of oak timber, a valuable building resource, from the Royal Forest of Sherwood. In 1256, beginning with a new church, work started on rebuilding the Friary in stone. Once again Henry fulfilled his religious obligation by granting the Friars permission to use stone from his quarry in Nottingham. The church was not completed until 1303 the year in which it and the surrounding churchyard were consecrated. It took another seven years to complete the additional side-chapels which were consecrated in 1310. The new church would have served both the Friars and the community (as a parish church) and whilst in use was considered one of the finest in Nottingham.

The Franciscans monastery building in Nottingham did not survive past the 17th century. This photograph show us the ruins of the Franciscan monastery in Gloucester and gives us a good idea and scale of what the Nottingham monastery would have looked like. Photograph Credit: Joseph Earp/Nottingham Hidden History Team.

The Greyfriars had its beginnings with the help of King Henry III and it is somewhat ironic that it met its end 300 years later at the hands of another Henry, King Henry VIII. Like every other monastic site in the Country, was ‘dissolved’ (closed) with Henry’s ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’. Greyfriers was surrendered to the authorities by its Warden (Prior) Thomas Basford and seven other Friars on the 5th February 1539. It is interesting to note that the last Warden was, judging by his name, a Nottingham man. Basford, once a rural village, is a suburb of the City.

We do not know what happened to the site in the nine years following the Dissolution, for it is not until 1548 that we get another mention of Greyfriars in the records. It was in this year that the Friary and all its estates were granted to Thomas Heneage. By 1611 we find that the site had passed into the hands of Nottingham’s Corporation. In that year the Corporation demolished the Friary’s boundary wall and removed the foundations of the Cross. From this time on the name Greyfriars disappears from the pages of history only to appear briefly as Grey Friar Gate as a street name. But that too has now gone, swallowed up by the shopping centre along with the memories of the Franciscan Grey Friars who for 300 year made the Broad Marsh their home.

A Franciscan Friar.

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