by Frank E Earp
The story of Robin Downes shows that the Mansfield Road is not just a physical route across the landscape of Nottinghamshire. On a different level it is a thread that appears to run through the life of an individual. In the late 18th century, the Road was to link the lives of two men, John Martyn and John Bagguley, with an ancient stone. The result ended in tragic consequences for both men and the destruction of the stone.
John Martyn was the well-known landlord of ‘Ye Lether Bottell’ public-house, which once stood at the corner of the Mansfield Road and Forest Lane, – formerly Bottle Lane. The Inn had been the home and source of income for the Martyn family for several generations.
Outside the Inn, close to the centre of the main road stood an ancient guide stone, then in-use as a ‘mounting block’. One of Martyn’s ancestors, also a John, had carved an inscription in doggerel verse on the Mansfield side of the stone;
John Martyn Stone I am,
shows ye great road to Nottingham.
Although there was a regular mail coach between Nottingham and Leeds, the post for Mansfield was still delivered on foot by a postman. In the 1790’s, the ‘round’ was the responsibility of veteran ’letter carrier’, 69 year old John Bagguley. Bagguley would walk from Nottingham to Mansfield carrying the post. On arrival at his destination he would ring a hand-bell in the streets to signify his presence. The good folk of the town would gather about him to see if there was a letter for them or to hand him mail that they wished delivered to Nottingham.
The winter of 1796/7 had been hard, and one morning in late February 1797 when Bagguley set out, the snow lay thick on the ground. By the time he reached Seven Mile House, the snow had again begun to fall. On reaching The Hutt, Bagguley was advised to wait until the weather had cleared or turn-back. However, he insisted on continuing with his delivery.
As he left the warmth and safety of The Hutt, who can say what was going through the mind of John Bagguley? The greater part of his journey still lay ahead. How long it took him to reach the Lether Bottel we cannot say, but we know that by the time he reached the familiar landmark, the great guide stone was almost covered in snow.
Bagguley was now exhausted and summoning what was left of his strength, he knocked on the Inn door and demanded entry ‘in the Kings name’. It is said that from an upstairs window, Martyn called back that he should go to hell. Bagguley struggled on to a spot around where Mansfield F.C. now stands, before finally collapsing. His frozen corpse was found later, still clutching the mail bag. John Bagguley was buried with much acclaim in Mansfield Churchyard on 1st March 1797.
Bagguley’s death shocked the town and Martyn was summoned to court to answer for his part. However, there was little evidence to convict him of manslaughter and all that the Magistrates could do was to deprive the Martyn family of their living by ordering that the Inn be closed and that the house never again be granted a licence. At this point in the story, Martyn disappears into the pages of history. In a strange twist to the story, the great guide stone also disappeared from its place in the road.
The Inn became a private house and passed through many hands. There the story might have ended. When the house was finally demolished, the old stone was found lying in its cellar. The stone proved too large to pass through the cellars hatch and was ignominiously broken up.