Tuxford and the Rebel Stone

by Frank E Earp

THE pretty market town of Tuxford lies alongside the ʻOldʼ Great North Road (B1164) some 21 miles north of Nottingham. Little of the original ancient village remains as Tuxford was almost destroyed by a great fire which broke out on 8th September, 1702.

The damage caused by the fire was so great that the reigning monarch Queen Anne authorised a nationwide collection fund to help rebuild the town.

Despite the fire, Tuxford has much to offer the enquiring visitor. The 12th Century parish church of St. Nicholas contains the remains of many of the countyʼs noteworthy families.

One such is the tomb of Thomas De Gunthorpe, Prior of Newstead, who was buried here in 1495. The town ʻlock-upʼ, built in 1823 and one of only two such remaining in the county, must have been the height of luxury for those incarcerated within. It contains two separate cells, each with its own ʻearth closetʼ.

The town is lucky enough to have a working windmill which was built in 1810 and restored in 1993 after falling into disrepair in the 1920s. Tuxford owes its place in history to its location on an ancient north-south highway. The Great North Road was one of the most important roads in the country.

Tuxfordʼs place on this ancient highway means that, before the advent of the railway, it had travellers from as far away as the Scottish Highlands in the north and London in the south passing through its streets. For centuries, along with ordinary folk, royalty, the mail and armies — on their way to suppress some rebellion in the north — ave all passed this way.

It is hard to imagine now the scene in the town when Scottish drovers — cowboys — passed through with their herds of highland cattle filling the narrow streets.

We should not think of the original Great North Road in terms of its replacement, the modern A1, which follows much of its original route. The Old Great North Road was nothing more than a dirt track. The land around Tuxford over which it passes is heavy clay soil.

A letter of 1640 by William Uvedale, Treasurer at War, says: ʻAbout Tuxford is the most absolutely ill road in the worldʼ.

The antiquarian Throsby travelling on horseback describes his progress in the district, as little more than two miles an hour. Delays to the mail for London prompted the authorities to publish this timetable; Scrooby to Tuxford – 7 miles – 2 hours. Tuxford to Newark – 10 mile, 3 hours. Newark to Grantham -10 miles – 1½ hours.

Although Tuxford, Nottinghamshire is clearly in the English Midlands, its allegiance over 300 years ago lay with Jacobite cause and Scotland. This fact is confirmed by a Grade II Listed monument which stands to the south of the town by the western side of the Old Great North Road. This stone is around 2ʼ square and 6ʼ high and bears the inscription ʻHere lyeth a rebel 1746ʼ.

This monument, known as the Rebel Stone or Rebelʼs Grave, has kept a secret which, when revealed, tells us something of the attitude of the people of Tuxford nearly 300 years ago.

One clue to this secret comes in the form of the local tradition which states that the Scottish drovers, whilst passing the stone, would remove small pieces as a supposed cure for toothache.

Whilst this type of ʻfolk cureʼ is not uncommon, in this case were the drovers using it as a cover story in order to pay homage to a fallen clansman or even a local sympathiser?

THE Rebel Stone, or Rebel’s Grave, became a listed monument in 1985. The listing document describes it as ‘A mid 18th century Ashlar 2m high with a splayed base and moulded cap’. On the left/south side is a defaced inscription said to read ‘Here lies a rebel, 1746’.

The stone is said to mark the burial place of a Scotsman who fell in the rebellion of 1745/46.

Who was this Scottish rebel and why was he buried so far from home? The statement on the listing document implies that he was a Jacobite, derived from Jacobus, the Latin word for James.

Jacobite was the name given to supporters of James Stuart. Before the Act of Union in 1707, James was crowned James II of England, King of Ireland and James VII of Scotland in 1685.

His Catholic faith and pro-French persuasion was seen as unsuitable for an English monarch and he was deposed by Parliament in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

His eldest daughter Mary and her Dutch-born husband, Prince William of Orange, both of whom were Protestants, were invited to take the throne and were jointly crowned in 1689.

These events triggered the Jacobite Risings, which began as a political movement seeking the restoration of the Stuart dynasty.

James’ Scottish origin meant that much of his support came from the north. However, Jacobite clubs and societies held secret meeting in towns and cities throughout the country. In an attempt to place James’ son Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) on the throne, two bouts of armed insurrection, known as 15th and 45th Rebellion, took place in 1715 and 1745.

The Jacobite Rebellion finally ended in 1746 after the defeat of Charles’ army at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

Local legend says that a group of ‘Jacobite Rebels’ were being transported south to face trial and possible execution in London. Just south of Tuxford one of these men attempted an escape.

Rolling or jumping from the back of the cart in which he was travelling, he hit the ground with such force as to break his neck and die. Someone amongst the crowd of locals following the prisoners and escort organised a rudimentary ‘military funeral’ and he was buried close to the spot where he died.

The ‘town drum’ was hired to sound the ‘retreat’ as the man was lowered to his grave. Sometime later, a substantial monument was erected on the site.

Closer examination of the story finds that it does not quite fit with fact. Directly after the Battle of Culloden, many of the prisoners taken in the field’ were summarily executed on the spot. Many hundreds were taken prisoner the following year. Whilst the leaders of the rebellion were brought to trial in London, the rest were sold into seven years of servitude to the American Colonists.

In the beginning most were shipped direct from Scottish ports but as numbers grew, a fleet of transport ships took the prisoners south to be held at places like Tilbury Fort to await transportation to America. A mystery has always surrounded the monument.

Why would someone pay for an expensive memorial to an unknown Scottish Rebel?

The answer might lie in the 1695 diary of the clergyman Oliver Heywood. In September of that year he writes that he had witnessed the spirits of Papists and Jacobites at work in Nottinghamshire.

Perhaps he was referring to Tuxford, where we find that meetings of Non-Jurats and Jacobites were regularly held at the house of the postmaster?

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Photo Credit: Richard Croft

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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