by Frank E Earp
IN our hectic lives we often travel the roads of our urban conurbations without a thought for their history.
Most people reading this are mainly from the county, so must be familiar with the busy bye-ways of West Bridgford.
At a set of traffic lights, the road from Nottingham divides in two in a large V, becoming the Melton and Loughborough roads. Here, on the broad side of the V stands a modern block of flats. It is hard to imagine now that this pattern of roads is many hundreds of years old.
Travelling from Nottingham and arriving at this junction in the year 1830, what would the scene before us have been like? No buildings, just a large triangular scrub-land field and one of the strangest sights in the county.
Standing at the point where the roads divide and peering across the field, we would have made out the figure of a one legged man looking back at us. Strange to us but to the people of the time he was a familiar sight, having stood there in all weathers for as long as anyone could remember.
So who was the mysterious figure? He was known as the ʻStone Manʼ, (aka The Nottingham Knight) and the field in which he stood was known as ʻStoneman Closeʼ.
If our curiosity had got the better of us and like Captain Barker (author of Walks round Nottingham), we ventured to take a closer look, we would have found him to be :
“a sculptured form of a cross legged knight miserably mutilated, part of the shield yet remains on the left arm”.
Stood before him we would, like Edward Hind in his poem (1853), ask:
“Good mister stone man, can you tell me who the Dickens you were made to represent?”
Like Hind, we would not have received an answer. That would take nearly another 70 years. Close examination of the figure would have revealed it to have been that of a 14th century knight in early chain mail armour. Not one legged as most people supposed but with one leg folded behind the other.
This indicates that he was never meant to have stood upright in this ungainly pose. These kind of stone figures adorn the tombs of medieval lords and knights in many of our ancient churches.
The modelling of the figure is meant to tell us much about the person it represents and the cross legged style indicates that they were a benefactor to the church. Our question should be how and why did this particular tomb effigy come to be here?
Photographs from a newspaper report of the 1890s show that the Stone Man was not actually alone in the field. He was in fact attached to the largest of a line of stones that ran across the field. These ʻmearstonesʼ marked the southern-most boundary of the manor of Nottingham. It would seem that around 100 years earlier a gang of workmen digging a pond near the boundary unearthed the figure and thought it proper to attach him to the ancient stone. They also took it upon themselves to use another of the stones to bridge a nearby stream.
This situation seems to have been accepted by the authorities. We find that the Mickletorn Jury, a group elected by the mayor to annually inspect the boundaries of the city, were appointed to touch the figure or incur a forfeit. And so it was that the Stone Man became part of the landscape and lives of the people of West Bridgford. Having stood on boundary duty for several years, experts began to speculate as to who the Stone Man might be.
The first suggestion that he was the founder of Flawforth Church was soon dropped in favour of the founder of St. Gilesʼ Church, in West Bridgford. However, the style of his armour points to a date of around 1300, which means that we can put a name to the statue.
If he was a local knight, then he would have been Sir Robert Luteril, Lord of the Manor in around 1315. St Gilesʼ was partly remodeled between 1320 and 1350. Robert was probably the man who provided much of the funding and therefore deserved a place of honour in the church.
Whoever he was, how did he come to be buried in such a strange place?
There is a lot that is questionable about the story of the Stone Man. In 1893 the field, Stoneman Close, was purchased by developers Messers Wright & Hircombe.
What became of the mearstones we do not know but the Stone Man finally came home. The then churchwarden requested that the figure be removed to the church— and so he was.
When the church was remodeled, the arch of the original founderʼs tomb in the chancel of the old church was re-erected in a new chancel. Curiously, this arch, said to be late 14th century, was minus its recumbent statue. Here was placed the Stone Man and here he rests to this day.
Barker, MH., 1835. Walks round Nottingham, by a Wanderer. Nottingham.
Hind, E., 1853. Poems. London.