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Nottinghamshire: Widdershins

Where is Nottinghamshire?

In our seventh and forty-seventh episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Nottinghamshire-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

St Mary's Church, Nottingham

St Mary’s Church – Grade 1 Listed and the largest medieval building in the city of Nottingham - is an iconic example of Nottingham’s prosperity during the 15th century. Its magnificent architecture - massive tower, slender columns, huge windows and alabaster monuments – testifies to the wealth poured into its construction by the guilds, merchants, and gentry of Nottingham society.

The Reformation of the 16th century, the Civil War of the 17th and unsympathetic alterations in the 18th stripped St Mary’s of its medieval splendour but the last two hundred years have seen sensitive restorations and additions, for example the splendid west front, chapel of the Holy Spirit, glowing stained glass, fine furnishings and a stunning stone floor.

In the quiet churchyard the grave of George Africanus, a West African former slave who became a successful entrepreneur in Nottingham in the late 18th – early 19th century, has become a focus of much local interest.

St Peter's Church Clayworth and the Traquair Murals

This beautiful church was built between 1150 and 1180 and is situated on the main street which runs through this charming north Nottinghamshire canalside village, 6 miles north of Retford.  It is a Grade I listed building and is regarded as one of the finest village churches in the county.

It is home to the Traquair Murals, the largest work of art in the East of England, painted by the eminent Scottish artist Phoebe Traquair in 1904/5. The church also features a fine 13th century stone screen - a rare possession in a village church, and the Elizabethan Fitzwilliam tomb, one of the earliest examples of decorative plasterwork in the country.

Phoebe Traquair, 1852 - 1936, was a Scottish artist and a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. She was raised in Dublin and attended Trinity College where she showed a penchant for art. She met her husband, Doctor Ramsay Traquair whilst training there. In 1874 they moved to Edinburgh where they raised a family. She produced a large body of work from murals and embroideries to illuminated manuscripts, bookbinding, enamel work, furniture decoration, and oil painting.

Traquair's other works are in the Royal Hospital for sick children, Edinburgh, St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh and Mansfield Place Church, sometimes known as Edinburgh's Sistine Chapel. She undertook six major mural works, of which two were in England. The murals were painted in 1904/5, and were commissioned by Lady D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne to celebrate the safe return of her son from the Boer War.

The paintings were damaged and some destroyed in the 1960's and were partially recreated in 1996. The east wall depicts the Madonna and Angel of the Annunciation. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge is also shown, complete with serpent. On the south wall Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is depicted with sleeping disciples and a depiction of the Last Supper. Lady D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne herself is depicted looking down from the foliage at the Last Supper. The north wall depicts a group of people bringing offerings to the Divine Child. Some of the donor's children were used as models. Between the arches of the north arcade an Angel Choir is depicted including members of the church choir in 1905. Above the chancel arch on the west wall is a kneeling figure receiving a lantern, and on the right side an Angel offering a heart.

Southwell Minster and the Leaves of Southwell

Southwell Cathedral, widely referred to as Southwell Minster (especially locally) and formally the Cathedral and Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Church of England cathedral in Southwell, England. The cathedral is the seat of the bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the mother church of the diocese of Southwell and Nottingham; it is governed by a dean and chapter. It is a grade I listed building.

The earliest church on the site is believed to have been founded in 627 by Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York, when he visited the area while baptising believers in the River Trent. The legend is commemorated in the Minster's baptistry window.

The fluid carvings of plants, animals and green men found within the Chapter House – known collectively as ‘The Leaves of Southwell’ – are of quite exceptional quality. Regarded as the best example of 13th century naturalistic carving in the United Kingdom, they are globally important.

It is seventy years since Sir Nicholas Pevsner wrote his classic King Penguin Monograph about the Leaves. It is rightly celebrated; but Pevsner limited his attention to only half the carvings and did not write about the artistic religious and mythological significance of the sculptures. We now know a great deal more about the Chapter House and its positioning near ancient well springs that supplied baptismal pools and believe this may have significant bearing on the interpretation and symbolism of the carvings.

Newark Castle

Built 900 years ago, Newark Castle was once the glamorous palace of Bishop Alexander ‘the Magnificent’ of Lincoln. The Castle Gatehouse Project will reinstate some rooms in Bishop Alexander’s castle, revealing the colourful stories and characters of the medieval world. For now, visitors can enjoy the ruined 12 century monument set in beautifully maintained Green Flag winning gardens, with the river Trent flowing alongside.

Newark Castle has been home to a court of law, soldiers’ garrison, cattle market and bath house. It has been a romantic ruin, coal wharf and public pleasure garden. Now it is host to re-enactments, weddings, music festivals and playdays. Constantly changing, but always central to the heart of Newark life.

St Catherine's Well, Newark

Newark’s famed St. Catherine’s Well is perhaps the second most noted in the county due to a legend attached to it is given at length by Dickinson (1816). He notes that a fair damsel of Newark, Isabel de Caldwell, had two lovers, Sir Everard Bevercotes and Sir Guy Saucimer. The rivals, fought over her hand and Sir Guy slew Sir Everard by the Devon bank, on St. Catharine's eve. Where the body of Sir Everard fell this spring gushed out, and has never since failed. Sir Guy fled to foreign lands and Isabel died of grief. Years later when he was stricken with leprosy, Sir Guy decided to return home and on his way the St. Catherine appears to him in a vision, she tells him that where his crime was committed was a spring and this was only water that can cure his leprosy.

Returning home he decided to build himself a hermitage on this spot and a chapel to St. Catharine. However, another version states that this site was regularly flooded by the nearby river Devon. This caused him to move site to another spring to the north-east and here he placed the chapel. Whichever is the exact story, he is said to ‘lived a sad and godly life’ to eighty-three, much venerated by all hereabouts, by whom he was known by the name of St. Guthred.

Nottinghamshire Pudding


  • Batter Pudding Mixture (using 2 eggs)

  • 4 evenly sized Bramley Cooking apples

  • 50g/2ozs butter

  • 50g/2ozs demerara sugar

  • Nutmeg

  • Cinnamon


  • Pre-heat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6.

  • Make up the batter pudding mixture, beat well and leave to rest in the fridge.

  • Butter a shallow oven proof dish about 2inches (5cm) deep and big enough to hold the apples and batter mixture.

  • Cream the butter and sugar together, adding a pinch each of nutmeg and cinnamon to taste.

  • Peel and core the apples. 

  • Fill the centres of the apples equally with the butter and sugar mixture.

  • Remove the batter mixture from the fridge and beat very well once more. 

  • Place the apples in the dish, well spaced out and pour the batter mixture over them, allowing it to run into the bottom of the dish.

  • Immediately place in the preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes.

  • Serve with custard or cream.

Hocktide Celebrations

One of England’s best known and most ancient customs, medieval Hocktide is also the most important event in the life of the Town and Manor of Hungerford, and takes place annually on the second Tuesday after Easter.

It’s believed that Hungerford is the only place where this festival continues to be marked and celebrated.

Held on the second Tuesday after Easter, and first recorded in the twelfth century, this was an important holiday and rare day off for the villeins, allowing them a break from working the land and to let their hair down after Lent.

Although there were many regional variations, a common theme of the celebration is the collection of pennies by various means, including the waylaying of travellers through the town and demanding a ‘ransom’ with the proceeds going to the parish church.

On Hock Monday the men would chase the women, trussing them up and demanding a kiss before they were released. On Hock Tuesday the roles were reversed, and by many accounts the woman reaped their revenge with gusto!

But there was also a serious side to Hocktide: the collection of rents by tithing men and the holding of manorial courts to appoint officers and to deal with the administration of the town.

The festivities were eventually banned by Henry VIII, and though reinstated in Elizabethan times, were largely forgotten by the end of the seventeenth century. However, the tradition persisted in some areas until the ending of the manorial court system in 1922.

Here's a 40 minute documentary all about the tradition:

Newstead Abbey

A beautiful historic house set in a glorious landscape of gardens and parkland within the heart of Nottinghamshire.

Founded as a monastic house in the late 12th century, Newstead was home to the poet Lord Byron between 1808 - 1814. Inside the Abbey there is much to explore including Victorian room settings, and the poets private apartments.

The gardens and parkland at Newstead Abbey cover more than 300 acres with paths that meander past lakes, ponds and waterfalls. The formal gardens are the perfect place to relax and offer something in all seasons from the bright colours of the rhododendrons in late spring to the Japanese maples in autumn.

Historic House tours take place Saturday & Sunday at 3pm. Please note that tours must be booked in advance. They take place periodically throughout the year, please click here for details.

The Fosse Way

One of the straightest of straight Roman roads across England, the Fosse Way runs from Exeter in Devon in the south to Lincoln in the northeast.

When troops of Emperor Claudius landed in Kent in AD 43, they soon pushed inland and conquered much of southern England. The Fosse Way, built in the first phase of occupation, effectively marked the western frontier of the early Roman province, punctuated by military stations.

The name “Fosse” derives from the Latin fossa meaning “ditch”; probably less to do with road-building techniques than with the suggestion that the Way followed a one-time defensive ditch running along the western border of Roman-controlled England.

You can almost lay a ruler along the diagonal that the Fosse Way describes and, although its course now sometimes dwindles, you can drive substantial sections, or along roads that shadow it, taking in places redolent with English history from Roman times to the present: Exeter, Bath, Cirencester and the Cotswolds, Leicester and Lincoln.

Wollaton Park and Hall

Wollaton Hall was built between 1580 and 1588 for Sir Francis Willoughby and is believed to be designed by the Elizabethan architect, Robert Smythson, who had by then completed Longleat in Wiltshire and was to go on to design Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.

Since opening to the public in 1926, Wollaton Hall has been home to Nottingham’s Natural History Museum.

With a collection of 750,000 objects, ranging from fossils, minerals, plants and eggs to invertebrates, vertebrates, shells (molluscs) and taxidermy, as well as preserved ‘spirit’ animals and rare specimens from across the globe, Wollaton is the largest dedicated Natural History museum in the county.

The Lace Industry in Nottingham

The Lace Market area is probably the oldest part of the city of Nottingham, with evidence of the earliest rural settlement have been found around Belward Street and Bellar Gate dating from fifth and sixth centuries - near the current site of the Motorpoint Arena Nottingham and National Ice Centre.

Pre-dating the arrival of the Normans, the Lace Market was the Saxon area of Nottingham. This is apparent from existing place names as the word ‘Gate’ arose from the Danish ‘gata’, meaning street. A Norman area of the town - centred around the castle - emerged following the Norman Conquest, and it was then that the city became merged.

The Lace Market then became the administrative area of the city and developed into the commercial and cultural sector in the Middle Ages. This can be seen in place names such as Fisher Gate (fish sellers) and Fletcher Gate (butchers). Shire Hall became the administrative centre for the county from 1449 and takes its name from the Sheriff. The current building, now a museum, was built in 1770.

The invention of the knitting frame by William Lee of Calverton in Nottinghamshire radically changed the area and eventually gave the Lace Market its name. Richard Arkwright established a small cotton mill in Hockley in 1768 and this led to the development of back to back housing for mill workers. Lace was manufactured on a frame adapted from that of William Lee and was further improved by John Heathcote and John Levers in the early 19 century. By the 1840s lace making was changing from a domestic industry into an international export.

This resulted in the high density warehouses and narrow streets that are characteristic of the area today. You can still see great Victorian buildings such as the Adams & Page building on Stoney Street and Barker Gate House, designed by the famous architect Watson Fothergill.

Find out more about The Lace Market today by clicking here.

Hardwick Hall

from the National Trust

Hardwick Hall is a spectacular Elizabethan house filled with rich furnishings and tapestries preserved by successive generations of the Devonshire family.

It was the formidable 'Bess of Hardwick' who first built the house and developed the surrounding estate in the late 1500s. Her descendants, the Dukes of Devonshire, treasured Hardwick, while lavishing much of their attention and money on nearby Chatsworth.

Their success – intimately associated with empire over 400 years and across the globe – preserved Hardwick, and their interests elsewhere saved it from significant alteration.

In the 20th century, keenly aware of Hardwick’s great significance and unique appeal, the Devonshires ensured that this remarkable building was passed on to the nation with its Elizabethan splendour intact.

The Hardwick Estate is open every day, for countryside walks with picturesque views, woodland family play trails, locally sourced gifts in the shop and delicious seasonal menus in the restaurant.

Nottingham Castle

The Castle is basically Nottingham’s museum, art gallery and tourist attraction rolled into one.

The building doesn’t look like a castle, but there’s a very good historical reason for that. What you see today is actually a former stately home, originally belonging to the Dukes of Newcastle. This Ducal mansion was built on the site of the former castle which was destroyed in the English Civil War. The one part of the old castle still standing is the beautiful gatehouse which welcomes you to the site.

The castle now has a number of additional attractions. The most impressive one is the Robin Hood Adventures gallery which has interactive technology in use, but is not included in your standard admission price. The staff fighting simulation here is great fun! Another addition is a gallery dedicated to the Rebels of Nottinghamshire. There’s also a fantastic new adventure playground for younger visitors.

The Creswell Crags

Creswell Crags is a spectacular magnesian limestone gorge that straddles the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

It is dotted with a large number of caves, fissures and rock shelters, many of which harboured secrets from our Prehistoric past. Archaeologists have been excavating these caves since the 19th Century, when the Victorians first discovered the artefacts that lay beneath the cave floors.

So much material was excavated early on that many of today’s archaeologists now excavate the spoil heaps (rubbish dumps) of previous excavations to find any artefacts which were missed!

The Pinhole Cave Man and Other Discoveries

A above bone, carved with a horse's head, known as the Robin Hood Cave Horse (previously known as the Ochre Horse) was found in Robin Hood's Cave at Cresswell Crags. It is now housed in the British Museum. A replica of the artifact is displayed at the Creswell Crags Visitor Centre.

The tooth of a Machairodus or sabre-toothed cat was found at the same time.

An engraving of a human figure on a woolly rhinoceros rib bone, known as the Pinhole Cave Man, was discovered the Pin Hole Cave in 1928 by the archaeologist A. L. Armstrong. This carving dates to the Upper Palaeolithic and is about 12,000 years old, it is now also kept at the British Museum.

The carving is 5 cm tall, the whole bone measures 20.8 cm long. The man may be wearing a mask, or he is just depicted with a protruding nose and jaw. He has legs that appear incomplete, a crooked back, and a long engraved line across his upper body.

Other worked bone items along with the remains of a wide variety of prehistoric animals, including mammoth, lynx, bear, deer and hyena, have been found at the caves in excavations from 1876 to the present day.

The Oldest Pub in England

Many people believe the pub is named ‘Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem’ because people made a trip to Jerusalem from there. In fact the word “trip” does not mean a journey in this case. An old meaning for ‘trip’ is a stop on a journey, like being tripped up, so the inn’s name means a stop or rest on the way to Jerusalem.

The pub is famous for its caves, carved out of the soft sandstone rock against which the building is set. The larger ground level caverns are now used as the pub’s rear drinking rooms. There is also a network of caves beneath the building, originally used as a brewery. They seem to date from around the time of the construction of the castle (1068 AD).

The cursed galleon is a small wooden model of a ship in one the upstairs lounge. It is claimed that people who have cleaned it have all met a mysterious death. Landlords have refused to allow anyone to dust the ship over the years, allowing inches of thick grime to build up on it. The galleon is now encased in glass.

The pub also houses an antique chair; it is claimed that a woman who sits in the chair will increase her chances of becoming pregnant. So many people have sat on the chair in the hope of it bringing them pregnancy that is now is too weak to withstand the huge demand… It is now on display in the upstairs lounge.

Robin Hood

Legend has it that Robin Hood was an outlaw living in Sherwood Forest with his ‘Merry Men’ – but did he really exist?

There are several versions of the Robin Hood story. The Hollywood one is that of an incredibly handsome man – Errol Flynn – clothed in garments of Lincoln green, fighting for the rights of the oppressed and outwitting the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.

However the first known literary reference to Robin Hood and his men was in 1377, and the Sloane manuscripts in the British Museum have an account of Robin’s life which states that he was born around 1160 in Lockersley (most likely modern day Loxley) in South Yorkshire. Another chronicler has it that he was a Wakefield man and took part in Thomas of Lancaster’s rebellion in 1322.

Nottingham's Robin Hood statue

One certain fact is that he was a North Country man, with his traditional haunts as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest and a coastal refuge at Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire.

One well known story about Robin that places him in Whitby, Yorkshire, is about him and Little John having a friendly archery contest. Both men were skilled at archery and from the roof of the Monastery they both shot an arrow. The arrows fell at Whitby Lathes, more than a mile away. Afterwards the fields where the arrows landed were known as Robin Hood’s Close and Little John’s Close.

Robin became a popular folk hero because of his generosity to the poor and down-trodden peasants, and his hatred of the Sheriff and his verderers who enforced the oppressive forest laws, made him their champion. Some chroniclers date his exploits as taking place during the reign of Edward II, but other versions say the king was Richard I, the Lionheart. Robin having fought in the Crusades alongside the Lionheart before returning to England to find his lands seized by the Sheriff.

All versions of the Robin Hood story give the same account of his death. As he grew older and became ill, he went with Little John to Kirklees Priory near Huddersfield, to be treated by his aunt, the Prioress, but a certain Sir Roger de Doncaster persuaded her to murder her nephew and the Prioress slowly bled Robin to death. With the last of his strength he blew his horn and Little John came to his aid, but too late.

Little John placed Robin’s bow in his hand and carried him to a window from where Robin managed to loose one arrow. Robin asked Little John to bury him where the arrow landed, which he duly did.

A mound in Kirklees Park, within bow-shot of the house, can still be seen and is said to be his last resting place. Little John’s grave can be seen in Hathersage churchyard in Derbyshire.

But what of his lover Maid Marion? Not much of Robin’s career is known, but nowhere in the chronicles is Maid Marion mentioned, so we must assume she was ‘added’ to the stories at a later date.

So, Robin did exist, but not in quite the same way as the Robin Hood we all think of, the cinematic Robin of Sherwood, Prince of Thieves! His story however, remains one of the best known tales of English folklore.

The Wise Men of Gotham

So the story goes, threatened by a visit from King John (who reigned from 1199–1216), the Wise Men of Gotham decided to feign stupidity and avoid the expense entailed by the residence of the court.

Royal messengers found them engaged in ridiculous tasks, such as trying to drown an eel and joining hands around a thornbush to shut in a cuckoo. Hence, the king determined to stay elsewhere.

The “foles of Gotham” are mentioned in the 15th-century Wakefield plays and Merrie Tales of the Mad-Men of Gottam, a collection of their jests, was published in the 16th century.

The Hemlock Stone

Just outside the Nottingham suburb of Stapleford (which itself means “river crossing by the rock” in Anglo Saxon), this 28-foot-tall mysterious monolith towers above a small country park. How the two-tone stone pillar got here isn’t entirely known, though there are myths aplenty.

Opinions are divided as to whether the rocky column is a natural feature, composed of a harder material than the rest of the now-weathered-away hillside, or whether it was purposefully left by workers of an ancient quarry.

A third theory states that the Devil (or, say some, a giant) hurled the rock at nearby Lenton Priory from his lair near Castleton, in neighboring Derbyshire.

The Lenton Priory Stone

Apparently Satan wanted to silence the pious prayers of the Lenton monks by throwing the stone at them, but the priory-pulverizing projectile missed its target and has been embedded on its current spot ever since.

The etymology of the stone’s name has also proven to be something of an enigma. Witches may have used the poisonous Hemlock Plant in rituals at the site, or the mysterious moniker could be derived from the German for Heaven’s Hatchet (Himmel axt); or a Norse word meaning an overhanging (hemmelig).

The stone is the centerpiece of an annual local festival, the Hemlock Happening. The free event began as part of celebrations for the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002, and features music and dance performances with a firework finale.

Buttermilk Jack and The Witch

Eleanor's story this week is a retelling of Buttermilk Jack and the Witch, a traditional Nottinghamshire folk tale. You can find a version from the Nottingham Hidden History team here.

And if you'd like a bit more sack-hopping action, here is Jim Henson's take on The Soldier's Tale.

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