Colonel Hutchinson's Last Home

OWTHORPE. Remote in a hollow of the Wolds, with the beautiful Vale of Belvoir like a fairy frontier, it is a home of quiet which has echoed to the ring of hoofs and the tramp of marching soldiers, the setting of events enshrined in an immortal story of Stuart England. It has only a few cottages and farms, and an odd little church made almost new; its great house is gone, but there are still trees here planted three centuries ago by a man who sleeps in the church and sheds a lasting lustre on the scene.

Lucy and John Hutchinson.
Lucy and John Hutchinson.

We can still picture it as it was when generations of Hutchinsons lived here, when Colonel John Hutchinson, the Puritan Governor of Nottingham who kept open the way from north to south for the Commonwealth, brought here his young wife Lucy, who was to enrich literature with her delightful Memoirs. The bride was loth to come to the place she grew to love, for the north, she wrote, "was a formidable name among the London ladies," and she was a Londoner indeed, born in the Tower itself, where her father, Sir Allen Apsley, was governor, and a good friend to his prisoner Raleigh. It was Lucy's mother who paid for Sir Walter Raleigh's chemical experiments.

Here Hutchinson and Lucy wandered in the happy days before the Civil War, guardians of the poor. Up at the big house, while he was studying divinity and the problems which were soon to rend the nation asunder, she, versed in classical languages as well as in Greek and Hebrew, was translating Lucretius into verse.

The scene changes. War has come; he has prayed to God for guidance; has decided that justice is on the side of Parliament; and has gone to fight for his faith. A little troop of horse comes here stealthily by night to carry Lucy and the children through the Royalist lines to the safety of Nottingham Castle, where she is to be the 17th century Florence Nightingale, nursing and healing wounded Puritans and Cavaliers with equal tenderness.

Again and again Cavaliers come raiding and ravaging, and the old house is made a ruin. But the Civil War ends, and Colonel Hutchinson and his wife return to rebuild and restore in blissful peace. She tells us that "the colonel lived with all imaginable retiredness at home, and, because his active spirit could not be idle nor sordidly employed, took up his time in opening springs and planting trees and dressing his plantations. These were his recreations, wherein he relieved many poor labourers when they wanted work, which was a very comfortable charity to them and to their families. With these he entertained himself, giving them much encouragement in their honest labours, so that they were delighted to be employed by him."

Here still are some of his trees growing; here is the church in which he sleeps. They brought him here from Sandown Castle, where he died, in a hearse drawn by six horses in mourning, with a mourning coach and six horses to wait on it, having crossed England and returned after redeeming the body from an unworthy castle governor who held it to ransom, and fighting with broken heads through hostile villages.

So he came home, in peace at last, to lie with his kindred, and with the inscription (the bold indictment of his accusers and judges) that "he died after harsh and strict imprisonment without crime or accusation." On his memorial (which gives his death as in 1663 instead of 1664) are the lines believed to be written by his widow, from which we take these:

This monument doth not commemorate
Vaine ayrie glorious titles, birth, and state ;
But sacred is to free, illustrious grace,
Conducting happily a mortal's race,
To end in triumph over death and hell,
When, like the prophet's cloake, the fraile flesh fell
Forsaken as a dull impediment,
Whilst love's swift fiery chariot climbed the ascent.
Nor are the reliques lost, but only torn,
To be made new, and in more lustre worn.
Full of this joy he mounted, he lay downe,
Threw off his ashes, and tooke up his crowne.

Owthorpe church in 2003.

The church is smaller now than then. In the middle of the 18th century it was rebuilt with the old stone, but part of the old north wall and some original windows are still here. The nave and chancel are under one roof supported by great beams and king-posts, and between them is an ugly painted screen. There is a fine Jacobean pulpit with a canopy, and the 15th century font has an embattled edge. The low west tower serves as a porch, and over the entrance is a finely carved medieval corbel with two angels holding a shield. A memorial to Colonel Richard Norton tells us that he entertained four kings of England at his house.

The Puritan Colonel

COLONEL HUTCHINSON was born at Nottingham in 1615, and passed from Cambridge University to the study of the law; but he preferred music and the arts, and followed no profession.

With all the graces of the age, he was a favourite in London Society, but his fine character preserved him from pitfalls, and at 23 his romantic love affair with Lucy Apsley ended in a marriage of unclouded happiness. He was, like his father, a member of the Long Parliament, but it was not without heart-searching that he denied the king's right to seize the county's store of gunpowder, and became Governor of Nottingham. There he played a heroic part, sustaining sieges and combating dissension in his own ranks, but remaining throughout triumphant. One of Charles Stuart's judges, he signed the death warrant.

He lived quietly here between the expulsion of the Long Parliament and its restoration six years later. He drifted apart from Cromwell, extended hospitality to oppressed Royalist relatives, and, becoming a member of the Convention which welcomed the return of Charles the Second, he was spared under the Act of Oblivion.

His enemies, however, falsely charged him with complicity in a petty plot, and in 1663 he was imprisoned in his wife's birthplace, the Tower of London, where he was subjected to cruelty and extortion. After six months he was transferred to certain death in a veritable pest-house, the ruinous and insanitary Sandown Castle, where he died.

When, following the Restoration, there was first a possibility of his falling prey to his foes, he had faltered, urged by his devoted wife to excuse his earlier actions, but on danger actually threatening him he longed to die with the victims of the cause for which he had fought; it is said that he submitted to his wife's pleadings and so saved his life. He lives rather as a serene character in literature than for his own courage in action.

Lucy Hutchinson's famous Memoirs were written for their children, to vindicate the memory of the husband she had idolised. The book is a unique record of the life of a happy Puritan family, a classic carrying to the ends of the earth the fame of this village that was their home, and of the Puritan squire whose figure, says John Richard Green, stands out from his wife's canvas with the tenderness of a portrait by Van Dyck. The manuscript (now in Nottingham Castle Museum) long lay unpublished, perhaps because it fell into Royalist hands; but since it was first published in 1806 it has had a high place among English biographies.