IN the days of the Roman occupation of Britain, a great Roman Road, or "Strada"— Street—ran from Southampton to Derby, Little Chester, Chesterfield, Castleford, Pontefract, to Eboracum, or York: and from it, at Chesterfield, branched out a "Street" to the Roman Station of Lindum, or Lincoln, which crossed the River Trent at Agelocum, now Littleborough, and the River Idle by a Ford, still used as a watering place for horses, near West Retford Bridge; hence the place would be known as the Street-Ford, or Streteford. On this Via, or Roman Street across then open country, have been found Roman coins—at Osberton 940 bronze coins in one pot in 1855, mostly of Emperor Constantine and Sons; at Morton, by Retford, in 1802, 82 bronze and 20 silver Denarii, from Emperor Domitian, A.D. 81, to Antoninus, A.D. 161; at Babworth, about 1860, 3 coins of Probus and Aurelian, A.D. 270; and in 1899, in digging a hole for telephone posts in Retford, three very fine Sestertia; of Hadrian, Vespatian and Constantine (now in the writer's possession, as well as others from Littleboro'). But, when in flood, the red clay, washed down, gives to the river a dull red tint, a natural and common designation would be "The Red Ford," or Redeford, and so the two designations of the Ford over the Idle, have merged into one name—RETFORD. The earliest occurrence mentioned in history connected with this ancient Borough is "The Battle of the Idle," fought in A.D. 617, about a mile south of the Ford, between the Pagan Usurper of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, Ethelfrith, and Redwald, King of East Anglia; friend and champion of the rightful heir—Edwin (aged about 27). The Usurper was slain, and the reign of Edwin, greatest of all Saxon Monarchs after Alfred the Great (who married his wife at Gainsborough), lasted 17 years. He built or restored Edwins-Burg (Edinburgh), and the South of his territory is marked by his Manor of Edwinstowe, 10 miles from Retford. He built the Saxon Minster at York. His Bishop, Paulinus, founded Southwell Cathedral, whose Deacon Iacobus, or James, baptised 10,000 converts in the Trent, at Newark, and died in the Village in Yorkshire still called after him, Akeborough, i.e., Iaco-Borough.
It is recorded in the Doomsday Book, that in the days of The Conqueror, A.D. 1066-1087, a Mill was already erected on the Idle, by the Red-Ford over that River, around which, on both sides, were clustered the rude dwellings of the Saxon villagers of East and West Redeford, or Stretford; and it is also recorded that among the possessions, extending from Tickell Castle, to the great Castle of Snottinghame, was the Barony of Grove, Retford, and the Manor of West Retford, all granted to the Conqueror's follower, the Norman Roger de Busli; from whom they passed to Gilbert-de-Arches (in the early years of the reign of Henry II. A.D. 1154 to 1189), and his great-grand-daughter, Theophania, by marriage, carried them to Malvesinus de Hercy, tempo King Henry III. A.D. 1216 to 1272. The Barony and Manor long remained in the possession of "That grate and Aunciente Familie of Hercye," who added land to land, and field to field, until it culminated in the days of The Worshippfull Maister Humphrey Hercye of Grove, Armiger, who was owner of many fat acres, and was blessed with eight blooming and unmarried daughters, but whose only Son, Sir John Hercy, had no issue, and was the last of his name. Now Maister Humphrey, from his much land, and his many daughters, was a man of exceeding great repute with the young bucks and bloods of the County, who went up to Grove on Sundays, and Week-a-days, and helped him to hunt his foxes, and to shoot his game: and they drank of his sack and his claret, and they married his daughters and multiplied exceedingly, so that all North Notts, was filled with their progeny.
Now, when the Worshippfull Maister of Grove waxed old and was gathered unto his forefathers, he devised his Manors of Grove and West Retford to his only son Sir John Hercy, who flourished in the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and who, having no issue, at his own decease, devised the Manor of Grove with rights in Netylworth, Weston, Willoughby, Carlton, Warsope, and Morton, to his eldest sister Barbara, who had married unto George Nevile, of Ragnal, whose descendant sold it to William Levins, M.P. for the ancient Borough of East Retford, whose son, in 1782, sold it to Anthony Eyre, of Rampton Manor, whose descendant, Archdeacon Eyre, of Grove, had no son, but three daughters, one of whom married the Earl Manvers, of Thoresby Park; another married Gally Knight, Esq., of Firbeck Hall; and another carried the Estate by marriage, to Granvile Harcourt Vernon, Esq., M.P. for East Retford, in the possession of whose grandson it still remains, and with whose descendants may it long continue.
THE OLDE HALL OF THE MANOR OF WEST RETFORD. Tempo Queen Elizabeth: but shewing the additional Wings added in A.D. 1795.
Besides the Hercys of Grove, two other ancient families are intimately connected with the Manor of West Retford, which is now the Trinity Hospital Estate, viz.:—
In the reign of King Edward I. (1292-1307), a Knighted family of Denman, bore, as arms, "Three Lions Heads, erased Gules," and about that date Thomas Denman, and William Wentworth, of Wentworth-Woodhouse (relatives), each held a moiety of Land and Tenements at Tinslow (now Tinsley, near Sheffield), which they both inherited from "William of Tynneslowe," whose great-great-grand-daughter Joane Bolynbrook, was also grand-daughter of "That Great Man of Retford" John Atte Vicars, who, about 1434, gave lands to the Bailiffs of East Retford, for the endowment of the Chantries in the Church of S. Swithun; and this Joane married unto William Denman, Armiger, of Retford, by whom she had one son, "John of Tinslowe." He, also, had one son, Thomas Denman, who married Isabella, daughter of Hugh Hercy, of Grove, whose son, John, in 1584, at "Glover's Visitation at York," proved his descent, and his right to the arms " Three Lions Heads, erased Gules." He was buried in East Retford Church, and his stone is recorded by Piercy, as "much defaced." He was succeeded by his son, also John of Retford, who was the father of Nicholas, "of Est Retforde, Esquyer," whose first wife was Isabella, daughter of Roger Eyre; and whose second wife was Anne, seventh daughter of Humphrey Hercy, of Grove, and sister of Sir John Hercy, who brought unto the Denman's the Manor of West Retford. Now this Nicholas and Anne Denman, nee Hercy, had four sons—
1—William, Rector of Ordsal, who for his attachment to the Reformation was ejected from his Rectory by Queen Mary (1553-1358); restored to it on the accession of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603), he died in 1568; no issue.
2—Francis, who had several sons who predeceased him, and daughters Barbara and Anne who were his co-heiresses, and of whom more hereafter. He was not only the Squire, but also the Rector of West Retford from 1578 to 1595; but he resigned the living, and resided at the Old Hall—now Trinity Hospital—until his decease in 1599; and in the "Inquisition" or Probate of his Will—dated 1600— his two daughters are named as co-heiresses: Barbara being 17 years of age, and Anne 13 years 2 months and 17 days, in reign of Queen Elizabeth A.D. 1600.
3—Thomas, who was of Ordsal, and had male issue, one of whom, a grandson, was Humphrey Denman, resident in Amsterdam in 1634.
4—Edmund, of Hollywell, Co. Lincoln, who died there without issue. His Will, proved 1561, in which he devised to that village "A Bull, for the use of the town for ever"—a remarkable instance of faith in the longevity of a bull.
In the muniment chest at Trinity Hospital is preserved a Document—dated 3rd October, 1st of Mary (A.D. 1553)— Indenture of Feofeement, whereby Sir John Hercy, of Grove Knight (having no issue), conveyed the Manor of West Retford, and Appurts, with Lands of Byggyns, and Gringley Parva .... to seven Trustees .... to the use of Himself for life, in tail general .... Remainder to the use of Ann Dalyson, seventh sister of Sir John, for her life; remainder to the use of William Denman—son and heir of the said Ann—in tail general, &c., &c., &c.; and also the Advowson of the Rectory of West Retford. From this, it appears that Ann lost her husband Nicholas Denman. His Will was proved October 3rd, 1557, by his Supervisor (Executor) Sir John Hercy, his brother-in-law; after which his widow re-married, and is mentioned in above deed as "Ann Dalyson." She seems to have survived her eldest "son and heir" William Denman, Parson of Ordsal (who had no surviving children at his decease), and consequently the Manor of West Retford passed to her second son Francis, who was both the Squire and Rector of West Retford, at whose decease the Manor descended to his two daughters and co-heiresses Barbara and Anne.
The Family of Darell, Darrel, or Darewell, was one of the oldest county families in Sussex. In Chichester Cathedral, the writer, as a boy, has often looked at a marble "Busto," in oval frame, of "Ivo Darell, Canon Residentiary of this Cathedral," who died (tempo Henry VII.) in 1491 — (which is now removed to the cloisters). Near Goudhurst, Sussex, is Scotney Castle, and a (later) Moated Manor House, both in ruins, old residences of the Darells (sic)— "who, tempo—Queen Elizabeth, harboured Popish Priests in a secret chamber entered by a revolving stone, they being Roman Catholics," and a Rev. Darell was also chaplain to King Henry VIII., 1509-1547. (See London Magazine on Moated Granges )
Some of the family, however, were "Reformers," for Sir Thomas Darell resided at Chichester in 1582 (tempo Queen Elizabeth), and held the Manor of Mytimber at Pagham by the sea, near Chichester; he died in 1618, his monument is in Pagham Church; he was possessed also, conjointly with William Darrel, of Lewes (probable an uncle or cousin), each of a moiety of the Manor of Horkstowe, in the County of Lincoln, where in 1614 resided his brother, Christopher; while another brother, George Darell, D.D., was Prebendary of Westminster, 1607, and of Lincoln. 1618, and this connection with Lincoln explains how the young brothers, Darrel, had opportunity of knowing the young Denman co-heiresses of West Retford, in days when county families did not go up to London for the season, but to their county towns.
Edward, eldest son of Sir Thos. Darell, married Barbara Denman, the eldest of the two sisters. He was born about 1582, and in 1618 succeeded his father and other relative, as "seized of the Manor of Horkstowe, Co. Lincoln," and died at about age of 45. William Darell, his half brother, married Anne Denman, then about in her 20th year, and he died soon after marriage in 1610, leaving her a young childless widow of about 23. And so the Manor of West Retford passed from the Denmans to the Darrels, Barbara and her husband residing at the Old Hall (now Trinity Hospital) when not at Horkstowe, Lincolnshire.
We will first record the romantic fortune of Anne, the youngest sister, left a widow at 23. Some trouble, or loss of fortune, appears to have been the cause of her leaving Retford, for she proceeded up to London by the waggon-coach of the period, which is said to have halted at the hostel called the "Goat and Compasses," where she rested before looking out for such occupation as a country lady of good birth and family could accept; it was about A.D. 1610 in the reign of King James I. The owner (not the landlord) of the hostel was Mr. Thomas Aylesbury, a rich brewer of the Parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn, and he, happening to be making an inspection of his "Houses," a widower of about 34 with family, and requiring a lady house-keeper for his household, saw the young country widow, engaged her, and a year after made her an offer of marriage, and she became Mrs. Aylesbury. The marriage allegation in the Bishop of London's Registry, dated October 3rd, 1611, gives his address as of St. Andrew's, Holborn, and also as "having the consent of his father, William Aylesbury, Esquire." She is described as "Anne Darell, of the City of London, widow, whose husband died a year before."
I follow the strong local tradition and numerous allusions in old writings to this account of Anne Darrel's fortune, and believe it in the main correct. Be it noted, however, that William Darrel is described as "of London," and died there, and in probability resided there from the time of his marriage with Anne Denman, who then may have become acquainted with Mr. Thos. Aylesbury before she became so young a widow—and he a widower.
The issue of this marriage (so far as known) was William, eldest, baptised in 1612; Thomas, Frances, Anne; and Barbara, who was baptised at St. Margaret's, Westminster, May 9th, 1627.
It is probable that the wealthy brewer rendered some service (perhaps pecuniary) to King Charles I., for in the same year as the birth of his youngest daughter "Bab," 1627, he was created a Baronet, "Master of the Mint," and "Master of the Requests," and so Anne Denman, of West Retford, became Lady Aylesbury.
During the reign of King Charles, Sir Thomas, a Royalist, maintained his position in those troublous times up to the last year (1649) of the reign, but in the year of the judicial murder of his Sovereign, with other Royalists, he passed over to Antwerp, probably accompanied by his wife and younger members of his family, because his daughter Barbara died unmarried at Antwerp in 1652, which date is noted by her neice, Lady Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, in her pocket book, quoted by Lady Teresa Lewis, viz.: "My dear Aunt Bab was, when she died, 24 years of age, and as much ("more) as from April to August." This lady, Barbara, when in exile in Holland, was attached to the then Princess of Orange, as a lady in waiting at the Hague.
Sir Thomas himself died in exile at Breda, in Holland, in 1657(3 years before the restoration), aged 81. His wife surviving him, and she probably soon returned to London, for the Will of Sir Thomas, in favour of herself and daughter, was disputed (possibly by the first family), and Lady Aylesbury had the legal protection of that eminent lawyer, Sir Edward Hyde. Born February 18th, 1608-9, Edward Hyde had risen rapidly in his profession. When King Charles was at Oxford, he was Knighted on February 22nd, 1642-3, and was then made Lord Chancellor and Privy Councillor at the age of 34. At King Charles death, he had to flee from Puritan vengeance, and towards the end of Cromwell's usurpation and life, when the country was sickening of Puritan rule, and schemes for the restoration of monarchy were already prevalent, we find that he was with King Charles II. in exile in Flanders, and at Bruges on January 29th, 1657-8, he was again appointed Lord Chancellor, in prospectu, after having been ejected from the woolsack, and from office, for about 9 years.
The Registers of Westminster Abbey record that Edward Hyde (before knighthood) was married to Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, Bart., at the Church of St. Margaret's, Westminster (in which Parish Sir Thomas then resided), on July 10th, 1634, under a Licence from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, issued the same day; he being 26 years of age in the ninth year of King Charles I., and already a widower.
His wife, Frances (who was about 21), by the deaths of her brothers and sister, became eventually the sole heiress of her wealthy father, so that his disputed Will, possibly thrown into Chancery, would come under the cognizance of the (now) great Lawyer and Lord Chancellor: certain it is that the law-suit terminated in favour of Lady Aylesbury and her daughter Frances (Hyde).
As Royalists who had suffered exile for the King's cause, Sir Edward and Lady Hyde were now high in court favour, and for his long services to the King, and for his steady fidelity to the Crown, he was created in 1660 Baron Hyde of Hindon, Co. Wilts; and in 1661 he was raised to be Viscount Cornberry (in which year his wife died), and in 1662 he was created Earl of Clarendon, taking his title from the Estate and Park of Clarendon, near Salisbury (a Royal Desmene), where King Henry II. had summoned that great Court of Peers and Prelates in 1164, at which were enacted the celebrated " Constitutions of Clarendon."
At the request of the King he undertook to write his great work "The History of the Great Rebellion," and with the profits of that semi-royal tome, he munificently founded, at his University of Oxford, the world-renowned Clarendon Press.
In 1667, his political enemies "impeached" him (then the usual way of changing a minister), and for some time he was a state prisoner at Carisbrooke Castle, Isle of Wight; from whence, probably with ready connivance, he was allowed to "escape," when he crossed over to Rouen—capital of Normandy, where he died, December 19th, 1674, aged about 67 years. His residence on the Thames was granted to him by the Crown, and is still one of the most historic houses in historic Twickenham, and, as "York House," it was, until 1905, the residence of the French Royalist Duke of Orleans.
Thus the daughter of Anne Denman, of West Retford, became Viscountess Cornberry, and did not live to be Countess of Clarendon, but her children were respectively— Henry, 2nd Earl; Lawrence, Master of the Robes to King Charles II., and created Earl of Rochester; Edward, a Barrister (died young); James, drowned in the Gloucester Frigate, in the suite of the Duke of York; Lady Anne Hyde, of whom more after; and Lady Frances, married Sir T. Knightly, of Hartingfordbury, Co. Herts.
Lord Clarendon was succeeded, as Lord Chancellor, by Sir Orlando Bridgeman, progenitor of the Earls of Bradford; pne of whose descendants the Hon. John Bridgeman, on succeeding to the Babworth Estate, Retford, further assumed the name of Simpson; whose grandson, born at Babworth Rectory, was the late Mr. Orlando Bridgeman-Simpson, who for years managed the estates of his maternal grandfather The Earl Fitzwilliam; while another is now Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman, Commander of the Home Fleet.