THOUGH the popular Midland Shire, whose county town has a world-wide fame for its textile fabrics, is perhaps better known to-day in the busy world of commerce than in any other sphere, it must not be supposed that it is deficient in the elements of literary interest or historic dignity. On the contrary, its life-story is one of the most absorbing that can possibly be presented.
Since the Norman Conqueror set foot upon Nottingham-shire soil, leaving here in undisturbed possession a larger number of Kings Thegns than had been permitted to remain in most localities, the county has been the home of powerful people, and the scene of many memorable and stirring events which have had an important influence on the countrys welfare.
Within the stout gray walls of Newark Castle, the ruined remains of which still bid defiance to Times destroying hand, King John ended his troublous and unworthy days; from the equally strong fortress which dominated the county town, Richard III. sallied forth to the fatal field of Bosworth; on the broad acres of Stoke the troops of Henry VII. struck down the adherents of Lambert Simnel until their blood flowed through 1the red gutters in a crimson stream to the Trent; on Standard Hill, hard by that Castle of Nottingham which is now a Palace of Art for the Midlands, Charles I. raised the standard of war; and a few miles away, hopelessly defeated and disheartened after an arduous struggle, the ill-fated monarch gave himself up to the Scotch Commissioners, whose forces were vainly striving to compel Newark to yield.
In the great church-building erasalike in the days of Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular architecturethe sound of the hammer and the chisel was familiar in the county, and there uprose a noble series of town and village churches to bring to the people the consolations of religion and to remind successive generations of struggling humanity of their highest hopes and destinies. At a very early period in the history of the English Church there was built the glorious Minster of Southwell, now raised to the dignity of the cathedral of the diocese, and by degrees the county became adorned with the great parish churches of St. Mary, Nottingham, and St. Mary Magdalene, Newark, the priory churches of Worksop and Blyth, and many another noble monument of Christian piety and faith.
The coming of the friars gave an additional impetus to the erection of stately buildings. The Benedictines, one of the largest and wealthiest of the monastic orders, built for themselves houses at Blyth and Wallingwells; the Cluniacs erected their great house at Lenton; the Carthusians settled at Beauvale; the Cistercians at Rufford; the Austin Canons founded noble houses at Thurgarton, Shelford, Newstead, Worksop, Newark, and Felley; the Praemonstratensians were located at Welbeck and Broadholme; while the Gilbertines, whose founder, Gilbert of Sempringham, lived and laboured in a Lincoln-shire village a few miles away, made a home amid the green fields of Mattersey.
While the county thus became possessed of an abundant share of abbeys and churches, and formidable castles, it grew rich also in the large houses of powerful and prominent families. The Everinghams, stalwart warriors in their day, had a home at Laxton or Lexington, where also resided a distinguished family taking their surname from the place; the Molyneuxs had a mansion at Hawton, and subsequently at Kneveton; while the Markhams were located at Cotham, the Whalleys at Screveton, the Cantilupe family at Greasley Castle, the Bysets at East Bridgeford, the Lowdhams at Lowdham, the Heriz family at Gonalston, the Goushills at Hoveringham, the Sacheverells at Barton and Radciiffe-on-Soar, the Babingtons at Kingston and Chilwell, the Binghams at Bingham, the Rempstones at Rempstone, the Hutchinsons at Owthorpe, the Stanhopes at Rampton and Shelford, the Tibetots and Scropes at Langar, the Cranmers at Aslockton, the Joyces and Stapletons at Burton Joyce, the Strelleys at Strelley, the Cuckneys at Cuckney, the Lovetots and Furnivals at Worksop, the Deincourts at Granby, the DEivills at Egmanton, the Bartons and subsequently the Lords Bellasis at Holme near Newark, the Holles family at Haughton, the Wastneys at Headon, the Hercys at Grove, the Cressys at Oldcotes, and the Fentons at Fenton. While these families (mostly unfamiliar names here now), and many more of equal dignity, had dwellings in the county, there were others intimately associated with it in whom and whose life-work deep interest would be felt. As at Lambley, within the sacred walls of the ancient church, lay the remains of the Cromwell kindredthe Cromwells who derive a name which will live for ever in English history from a little Nottinghamshire village could the county do otherwise than watch with pleasure the proud position attained by Lord Treasurer Cromwell, himself the owner of many of its broad acres? Then there were the Bassets, the great lords who have left the impress of their name on one of our villages, and the Bardolphs, who will ever remain linked by name to the county through the village of Stoke Bardolph on the banks of the silvery Trentthe Bardolphs, who once occupied a prominent place in the front ranks of English nobility, as all readers of Shakespeares Henry IV. will well remember.
The Nottinghamshire of these early days, with its abbeys, fortresses, county seats, and powerful families, was pre-eminently an interesting and prominent county, and it possessed an almost unrivalled source of attraction to sport-loving kings in its noble Forest of Sherwood, then in the heyday of its glory, well stocked with deer and surrounded by the halo of tradition and romance attending the exploits of Robin Hood and his merry men. As time rolled on in its resistless course the changes and transformations with which every locality is familiar followed in its train. Old families died outsufficient in number and in merit to deserve a chapter to themselves did space permitand the mansions which had known them for generations crumbled and fell. Over the site the green grass grows, and in some cases
Mighty trees rise high and fair,
As if it had aye been woodland there.
But the continuity of our history has been well preserved in the noble and ancient families which still remain, in the many stately and lovely homes which have since arisen, and by those who, taking up their abode here from other scenes, have worthily and manfully upheld the best and fairest traditions of the county. To ecclesiastical architecture many beautiful additions have been made within the last two centuries, and happily continue to be made; while the mansions of the county have never been more numerous or substantial than now. Those who take an interest in the stately homes of England, will find in the great houses of the Dukeries and other seats of the nobility and gentry, and most of all in wondrous Welbeck, palatial abodes that can vie in beauty and magnificence with any in the land.
Nor must the worthies of the county since the close of the Middle Ages, and a century after, remain unnoticed, seeing that they include an unusually long list of distinguished names. The county of Byron, Kirke White, and Festus; of Crannier, Seeker and Warburton; of Gervase Markham, Francis Willoughby and Erasmus Darwin; of Fenton, Ireton, Hutchinson, Howe and Warren; of Bonington, Hilton, Dawson and Sandby; of Elder Brewster, the leader of the. Pilgrim Fathers, and a host of others too numerous to recount here, must ever be a county of special and peculiar interest, alike to readers in the old world and the new.
With so many attractive features to present, it must be a matter of surprise to lovers of topography that comparatively little has been hitherto written respecting the stirring story of this historic shire. But what our local literature lacks in quantity it may well be said to make up for in quality. The Antiquities of Notts, published by Dr. Thoroton in 1677, in one thick volume folio, copiously illustrated, is a monument of industry that for more than two centuries has constituted the standard authority, and is likely to hold the leading place for many years to come. It does not deal to any extent with historical events and personageswhich is somewhat unfortunate, seeing that the writer lived through the troublous period of the Caroline Civil War, and could have told us a great deal from personal knowledgebut it is replete with precise particulars of the devolution of property, and of the ancient county families whose memories are perpetuated in storied urn and animated bust in our village churches. Throsby, in a three-volume edition in 1797, amplified the genealogical details in Thorotons book, and a more copious account of historical movements was given in Dickinsons histories of Newark and Southwell, in Deerings and Blackners histories of the county town, and in Baileys Annals of Notts, published in 1853. Since that time separate portions of the county have been more elaborately dealt with, notably Nottingham in the volumes of Borough Records, ably edited by my friend Mr. W. H. Stevenson; Blyth, by the Rev. John Raine; Worksop and the Dukery by Mr. Robert White; Lenton, by my friend Mr. John T. Godfrey, whohas also published an excellent account of the churches of the Hundred of Rushcliffe; and the ancient historic town of Newark-on-Trent by myself. In these works a mass of information, inaccessible to Thoroton, Throsby, Dickinson or Bailey, has been carefully garnered, and the lives of the worthies of the county have been dealt with in a portly quarto but the villages of Notts, with one or two exceptions referred to in the course of this book, have remained well-nigh untouched, and I believe I may venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that no oneat least in this eventful century of our annalshas gone from one end of the county to the other in search of material, as it has been my pleasurable duty to do in the last three or four years.
There is this much further to be said, that the times are infinitely more favourable for the writing of local history than they have ever been before. The Calendars of State Papers, the Reports of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, the volumes in the Rolls series, and the learned works of modern historians and biographers, have made accessible abundant details which heretofore were hidden. Of these modern sources I have gladly availed myself, and I have also drawn largely from the stores of information contained in a series of illustrated articles About Notts, which, at the instigation of Mr. Jesse R. Forman, M.A., I contributed in 1888-9-90 to the popular newspaper which he so ably directsthe Notts Guardian. I have to thank Mr. Godfrey for some useful notes on church architecture, and Mr. J.Whitaker, J.P., F.Z.S., for his reliable list of our feathered fauna. Mr. A.T. Metcalfe, F.G.S., has kindly contributed a valuable chapter on the geology of the county; and I am much indebted to Mr. R. A. Rolfe, of Ferndale, Lawn Crescent, Kew Gardens, for his interesting article on Nottinghamshire Flora.
With these acknowledgments gratefully tendered, and with a feeling that many others are justly due for courtesies received, I bring these introductory remarks to a close, and offer the volume for public acceptation. At best it can, in such a compass, be but a summary of county historyit does not claim to be morebut I trust it may be found to touch so far upon the salient points in its life. story as to do justice to my native shire a shire on whose soil national movements of deepest significance have been enacted, and from whose honoured homes heroic men have gone forth (and will continue to go forth) to influence the deliberations of the senate, share in the triumphs of the camp, and enrich the ever-growing treasures of literature and art.