Until a few years ago ‘ Plough Monday’ was a great day with the agricultural labourers. Bodies of them used to parade the village streets adorned with paper finery, and their cheeks dyed a deep red by the application of ochre, soliciting contributions with the request ‘Remember the plough bullocks.’ The writer has a distinct recollection of a party of them visiting his father’s house at night adorned with paint and feathers, and performing a play. The text of this grotesque representation is given in ‘Hone’s Everyday Book,’ as one used by Christmas mummers; though it was customary to intersperse songs and speeches appropriate to the occasion according to the skill of the actors. The play commenced with one of the party delivering the following little prologue:

‘Room, a room, brave gallants, room,
Within this court
I do resort,
To show some sport
And pastime,
Gentlemen and ladies, in the present time.’

Then appear other members of the company such as a Plough Bullock, a Turkish Knight, and St. George. The two latter enter into a fierce encounter with swords, which adds to the excitement of the scene. The Turkish Knight is mortally wounded; but a doctor comes in to try and cure him. Other actors in the play are an Old Squire, Hub Hub, and the Box-holder.

Immediately at the close of the performance contributions were solicited, and the plough bullocks then proceeded to other farmhouses to repeat the performance, winding up the day with a supper and jollification at the nearest public-house.

When a man ill-used his wife the villagers were wont to gather in a body, draw his effigy through the streets, and repeat some doggerel verses descriptive of the offence of which the husband had been guilty. This custom was  known as ‘riding the stang,’ and lapsed into desuetude about half a century ago.

One of the most romantic legends in the county is that of the Fair Maid of Clifton, told in pleasant verse by the youthful Nottinghamshire poet, Henry Kirke White. Margaret was the peerless beauty of Clifton, and as such had many lovers, of whom to young Bateman she gave the preference. After the two had exchanged vows one night, he told her he had to go to a foreign land for three years. Then, as an earnest of her constancy to him, she broke her ring in two pieces, giving him one part and keeping the other herself. But before the time for his return was up:

‘Absence had cooled her love, the impoverished flame
Was dwindling fast, when, lo ! the tempter came;
He offered wealth and all the joys of life,
And the weak maid became another’s wife.’

Bateman returned to claim his bride only to find that she had become the wife of a rival. Driven wild with grief, he plunged into the silent waters of the Trent.

‘Then all was still, the wave was rough no more,
The river swept as sweetly as before;
The willows waved, the moonbeams shone serene,
And peace, returning, brooded o’er the scene.’

Margaret heard of the fate of her lover. Remorse seized her, and having given birth to her child the same night, when her attendants were sleeping, she rushed to the river and there found a watery grave with the lover whom she had forsworn.

‘The neighbouring rustics told that in the night
They heard such screams as froze them with affright
And many an infant at its mother’s breast
Started dismayed from its unthinking rest;
And even now upon the heath forlorn
They show the path down which the fair was borne
By the fell demons to the yawning wave,
Her own and murder’d lover’s mutual grave.’

Another equally romantic legend of love and tragedy is that which surrounds the history of St Catherine’s Well at Newark, the waters of which are still held in high repute for their purity and sweetness. Two knights, Sir Everard Bevercotes and Sir Guy Saucimer (so the story goes), loved the daughter of Alan de Caldwell, and the dame giving the preference to Sir Everard, he was slain by his rival. On the spot where he fell a stream of pure water gushed from the ground, and continued to flow plentifully and brightly ever after. Sir Guy withdrew to foreign parts, and Isabel!, the fair enchantress, died of grief. When the former heard of her death he returned to England, having been, since his crime, stricken with leprous sores. As he was asleep in the forest of St. Avold, the holy Catherine appeared to him and revealed that the well where Sir Everard had fallen was the only place where his sores could be cured. Thither he journeyed as a hermit, and built himself a cell on the banks of the Devon near the spot where he slew his rival. By the name of St Guthred he lived till he was eighty-seven years of age, and was venerated by all for his piety and goodness.

An equally romantic story is told by Mr. Thomas Bailey in a ‘Handbook to Newstead Abbey’ of a fair maid at Broxtowe who lived during the Civil Wars. The daughter of a Royalist, she fell in love with a Puritan captain, who had rescued her from robbers. Stolen interviews followed, and when a bullet struck down her lover, she flung aside her dainty attire, abandoned the amusements of the world, and lived for sixty years in the diligent performance of all good works.

A curious tradition has survived since the year 1666, when the district round Newark suffered severely from the ravages of the plague. In the village of Holme, says Dr. Wake, there is a little room over the porch of the parish church called Nan Scott’s Chamber. The name is derived from that of an old woman who took refuge in it when the epidemic attacked the villagers. She stored provisions in it sufficient to last her for several weeks, and, without leaving her place of refuge, watched from a window the funeral processions of her old friends as they were buried in the churchyard. When forced to visit her home for supplies, she found the parish deserted by all except herself and one other person, and was so horrified at the results of the plague that she returned to the chamber, and there ended her days. A small cottage in this same village of Holme is said to have been frequented by Dick Turpin, the outlaw, who procured food and cordial for his horse to sustain the animal during the famous journey from London to York. The tradition is that the occupant of the cottage underwent sentence for being an accomplice of the daring highwayman, and many years ago a richly-embroidered pistol-holster, with other articles, was found in the building—all of which circumstances lend colour to the story.

The romantic and important part which Newark took in the Civil War is matter of national history, but it never fails to excite interest in those who love the reminiscences of chivalry and heroism. Some stirring lines come down to us descriptive of one of Newark’s sieges, and ascribed to Sir William Davenant. The poem deals with the most glorious episode in the military exploits of the time—that of the relief of the garrison by Prince Rupert when the Roundheads had invested the town in 1644. A brilliant onslaught was made by the Prince from the eminence still known as Beacon Hill, and when the Parliamentary forces began to give way, and the garrison to free itself, the climax in the repulse of the rebel army is reached, which the poet thus depicts:

‘The garrison have sallied out, the foes fall back a space,
For Rupert presses onward: neither give nor ask for grace;
And ever in the hottest fight, above the battle din,
His battle word is clearly heard, “For God and for the King.

‘They have won the bridge, those troopers ! they will keep it to the death,
And the foes are drinking hard in the crimson stream beneath;
And down the gray hillside Rupert’s Foot is marching in,
And echo high the battle-cry, “For God and for the King.”

‘They have sheathed their bloody blades, at his word, those troopers wild,
For he swore he’d shoot the first that harmed a woman or a child;
And the foe have begged for quarter, they are ready to give in,
And leave Newark and her standard to God and to the King.

‘As he entered her old gates one cry of triumph rose,
To bless and welcome him who had saved them from their foes;
The women kiss his charger, and the little children sing,
“Prince Rupert’s brought us bread to eat from God and from the King.”

Another rhyming writer took the incidents of the last siege of Newark as his theme. He was no less a personage than the judge advocate of the garrison, John Cleveland, and the title of his volume of compositions was a curious one: ‘The Muses’ Mistress: a Storehouse of Rich Fancies, written at succedaneous hours, during the action at Newark.’ Here is a specimen culled from one of his poems, which was composed for the purpose of cheering the garrison during its troubles:

‘Our braines are asleepe, then fyll vs a cupp
of capporing sacke & clarett;
here is a health to King Charles! then drinke it all op,
his cause will fare better for itt.
did not an ould arke saue Noyo in a fflood?
why may not a new arke to vs be vs good
wee dread not their forces, they are all made of wood,
then wheele & turne about againe.’

While referring to the Civil War period, one local anecdote out of many is well worth reproducing. A worthy resident, Hercules Clay, some time Mayor of Newark, resided in a house at the corner of the market-place not far from the Governor’s mansion. For three nights in succession he dreamt that the besiegers had set his place on fire, and he became so impressed with the circumstance that he and his family quitted their abode. They had no sooner done so than a bomb, fired from Beacon Hill, occupied by the Parliamentary forces, and believed to have been aimed at the Governor’s house, fell on the roof of Clay’s dwelling, and, passing through every floor, set the whole building in flames. The tradition is that a spy, blindfolded, and bearing a flag of truce, came from the army on the hill to the Governor’s house, and was able on his return so accurately to describe its situation as to make the shot all but successful. To commemorate his deliverance, Mr. Clay left a sum of money to be distributed in charity (it. is given away annually in penny loaves), and the memorial to him in the parish church testifies in a lengthy and curious inscription to the miraculous nature of his escape:

‘Being thus delivered by a strength greater than that of Hercules,
And having been drawn out of the deep Clay,
I now inhabit the stars on high.’