Finningley church, c.1910.
Finningley church, c.1910.

At the extreme north of the county the boundary takes an eccentric course, for in a curious little tongue of land, projecting into the county of Yorkshire, is situated the parish of Finningley. Every appearance of the village betokens it an old-fashioned country community; its spacious green, upon which the spreading branches of a stately elm cast their shadows, its village pond, and its manor-house, are all institutions peculiar to rural life, and it is among such scenes as these that many of our bravest heroes have spent portions of their time. Such may be said of Finningley, for the manor-house once belonged to that famous Elizabethan seaman, Sir Martin Frobisher.

Some biographers have assumed that the great mariner was born in the village, but careful investigation leads us to the conclusion that his birth took place among the broad acres of the neighbouring shire, at Altofts. The earliest reference to him in the State Papers speaks of him as being of ‘Normanton, county York,’ and the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ says his family was of Welsh extraction, and removed from Chirk to Altofts, in the parish of Normanton, in the middle of the fourteenth century. Martin’s father, Bernard Frobisher, died during his infancy, so the hero was sent to London, and placed under the care of Sir John York, who introduced him to a seafaring life.

In 1576 he started on a voyage to discover a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and two other expeditions were also undertaken by him; but none of them could be regarded as successful, though they demonstrated in a remarkable degree the wonderful powers of endurance possessed by the Elizabethan mariners, who put to sea in vessels utterly insignificant compared with the ships of the present day.

Frobisher was accompanied in his second and third voyages by Edward Fenton, to whom allusion has already been made in these pages. The exploits of both of them live in the history of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Frobisher, for his gallantry on that occasion, was knighted, and the Queen granted to him for a money payment Finningley Grange, which had originally belonged to the Priory of Mattersey. It is impossible to say whether the naval hero saw much of his Nottinghamshire possession. He seems to have had an inborn love of the sea, and after the destruction of the Armada he was again afloat in command of a squadron against the Spaniards. In this expedition he was wounded, in 1594, in attacking Fort Croyzan, near Brest, and died on his return home at Plymouth.

According to the parish register, a Francis Frobisher was baptized at Finningley in 1589, and a year afterwards a Martin Frobisher was also christened, receiving his name after that of his famous relative. These were the sons of Francis Frobisher, of the Grange, who was the grandson of another Francis, Recorder of Doncaster, and was buried there in the 29th Queen Elizabeth. From this it would appear that the Grange had been held by the family prior to the time when the seaman obtained possession of it by purchase from the Queen. The State Papers throw some light on this transaction, for a certificate is there produced of a payment of £948 17s. 32 d., by Sir Martin Frobisher, for the Manor of Whitwood, in Yorkshire, and Finningley Grange, Notts.

Frobisher made Whitwood his chief residence, and there married, as his second wife, Dorothy, widow of Sir W. Widmerpoole, a daughter of Lord Wentworth. Other members of the family appear to have been in the naval service at this time, for there occur the names of ‘Young Martin Frobisher’ and Captain Frobisher.

The hero does not seem to have become rich by all his adventures, for he had a difficulty in settling for his newly-acquired properties, and after his decease there was a re-grant of Whitwood and Finningley to Peter Frobisher, his cousin and heir, on payment of £500, the estates having been forfeited by Sir Martin through default in payment of that amount. Finningley remained in the family until the end of the seventeenth century, when the Harveys of Ickwell Bury, in Bedfordshire, became the possessors of it.

In 1885 the church where the Frobishers formerly worshipped was restored at a cost of £1,250, of which sum £500 was a bequest from John Harvey, Esq. There are specimens of the Norman, Early English, and Decorated styles, which were carefully treated in the work of restoration under the able direction of Mr. C. Hodgson Fowler. The pulpit bears the date of 1603 and the name of John Partik.

The western portion of the manor-house was in existence till three years ago, when it was taken down and rebuilt. Before this reconstruction the old chimney and fireplace still remained as they had existed in the lifetime of the great explorer.