Laneham, Sturton le Steeple, Fenton and Littleborough

St Peter, Laneham. The church is essentially Norman.
St Peter, Laneham. The church is essentially Norman.

Passing from the martial glory of which we are reminded in the history of Rampton, we come to the neighbouring village of Laneham with its clerical reminiscences. For centuries the owners of Laneham were the Archbishops of York, and one of them, Thomas de Corbridge, died there in 1304, his remains being taken for interment to the collegiate church at Southwell.

In the chancel of Laneham Church a fine monument exists to Ellis and Gervase Markham, who once held estates at Laneham and Dunham. Gervase, a captain of horse ‘in Irelande and ye Lowe Countries,’ had a romantic career. He was the confidant and champion of the Countess of Shrewsbury, to whom some indignity was offered by Sir John Holles. Markham challenged him to a duel in Worksop Park, but Sir John’s rapier ran him through so that the weapon came out at the small of the back. He recovered from the injury, but vowed he would not eat supper or take the Sacrament till he had been revenged. From a correspondence in the State Papers, it appears that his peculiar conduct caused doubts to be entertained about his religious belief—probably in consequence of his abstention from the Sacrament—and his house was searched in 1629. The Earl of Newcastle, Archbishop Harsnett, and Walter Cary, Vicar of Dunham, declared him to be a bedridden gentleman, who had been a Protestant from his youth, so that he escaped further trouble on this score, But in 1635 the old soldier objected to the payment of the historic ship-money, alleging that he was assessed too heavily. The Sheriff had assessed Markham at £50 because he was a single man with £800 a year, and the Council, upholding his valuation, ordered his arrest. The warrant was not carried into effect, for the Constable of Dunham replied that the old warrior was not ‘portable.’ But the moral effect of it seems to have been sufficient, as he apologized and promised obedience. He died Jan. 16, 1636, after six years’ confinement in his chamber, and was buried at Laneham among the tombs of his family.

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Sturton le Steeple
Church of St Peter and St Paul, Sturton le Steeple. The impressive tower dates from the mid-14th century; the rest of the church was rebuilt in 1901-2 after a fire. (A. Nicholson, 2001).

Between Retford and Gainsborough the railway runs past the village of Sturton-le-Steeple, the massive tower of whose parish church is a prominent feature in the landscape. Its name was varied from Sturton to Streton, or Estreton, and here our pious forefathers erected a noble edifice with a large square tower. Inside are monuments to the Thornhaughs, and a fine alabaster statue of the ‘white lady,’ as she is called by the local residents, who was probably one of the same family.

This church is inseparably connected with the history of Fenton, a hamlet about a mile distant. Once there was a stately mansion here, where men eminent for valour in their country’s cause passed to and fro. Some stones of it, forming part of a farmhouse, remain, and there is a pleasant walk across the fields from the house to Sturton Church.

In 1614 Sir Francis Thornhaugh was the possessor of the greater part of Fenton, and his son Francis took the side of the Parliament in the Civil War. He raised a horse regiment, of which he was Colonel, and his son Lieutenant-Colonel, and Mrs. Hutchinson passes a glowing eulogium upon him for his bravery and benevolence of character. A skirmish took place at Lea, about three miles from Fenton, at which Thornhaugh and Cromwell were both present. Sir Charles Cavendish, a Royalist leader, was killed, the circumstances of his death being tersely alluded to in Carlyle’s ‘Letters of Cromwell.’ In 1644, the year after this event, Colonel Thornhaugh was engaged in the conflicts round Newark, when he had a personal encounter with Prince Rupert, and in the action received two wounds. The following year he became member of Parliament for Retford, but met his death at the Battle of Preston, in 1648, and was brought to Sturton for burial. He lies interred on the north side of the altar, where there is a slab bearing a Latin inscription to his memory.

Let us go back, however, to an earlier period than the stirring times of the Great Rebellion. Whether the house which the Thornhaughs occupied was the same as that tenanted by the Fentons, their predecessors in the ownership of the estate, we know not; but the little hamlet is famous for its connection with a statesman and navigator of Queen Elizabeth’s time. Geoffrey and Robert Fenton pushed their way in the world with unusual success. The former, devoting himself to literature, produced, in 1577, the ‘Golden Epistles,’ a book of translations, which brought him into notice, and marrying the daughter of the Lord Chancellor, he became Principal Secretary of State in Ireland, and before his death in 1608 saw his daughter Catherine married to Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork.

His brother Robert entered the navy, and became acquainted with Raleigh and Frobisher, the latter of whom, though a Yorkshireman by birth, held property at Finningley, in Nottinghamshire, some ten or twelve miles from Fenton.

A voyage was made by Martin Frobisher in 1576 to the New World, and, having reached the coast of Labrador, he returned with a glowing account of the wealth beyond the sea. Another expedition was fitted out, and among the adventurers was Fenton, who commanded two vessels, the Judith and the Michael. This was in 1578, and after many dangerous encounters the navigators returned with cargoes of ore reputed to be of fabulous worth. But alas for these day-dreams! When the wonderful treasure was examined it was found that two hundredweight contained nothing of value but two particles of silver, which are still attached with sealing-wax to the report of the analysis.

Nothing daunted, Fenton induced some rich merchants to equip another fleet, and in 1582 he set sail for the Cape of Good Hope, intending, after landing cargo, to discover a north-west passage to China. But he fell in with the Spaniards near St. Vincent, and a fight ensued, in which the Englishman’s ships parted company, and he arrived home after having endured, great suffering and privation.

Church of St Nicholas, Littleborough
Church of St Nicholas, Littleborough. The walls contain areas of herringbone masonry and some Roman tile. The chancel arch is Norman. (A. Nicholson, 1980).

When the Spanish Armada threatened the shores of England, Fenton was again to the fore in the offer of his services at that hour of imminent peril. As captain of the Mary Rose, he distinguished himself for the part he took against the haughty Dons, and when England was delivered for ever from the menace of this foe, he retired to Deptford, where he died, in 1603. He was buried in Deptford Church, where his monument with effigy may still be seen on the chancel wall. Although the villages of Fenton and Sturton are of great antiquity, there is one about three miles away, on the banks of the Trent, whose existence can be traced still further back, to the time of the Roman occupation. This is Littleborough, and here the Roman route from Lincoln to Doncaster crossed the river. Camden, in his ‘Britannia,’ identifies it with the Agelocum or Segelocum of Antoninus, and refers to the fact that there were traces of walls hereabouts, while the ploughmen turned up coins of the Roman Emperors. Relics of the former civilization continue to be discovered, tending to confirm the claim of Littleborough to be regarded as one of the earliest settlements in this county.