Eminent Mansfield Men

MANY eminent men have owned Mansfield as their birthplace; and not the least of these was the earliest of whom we have any mention, William de Mannesfield, a Dominician friar of the thirteenth century, who was famous throughout the country for his great learning.

The Marquis of Dorchester, son of Robert Pierrepoint, first Viscount Newark and Earl of Kingston, was born in this town in the year 1606.

The celebrated Earl of Chesterfield was born at Stanhope House, in Bridge Street, Mansfield; the last remains of his birthplace having been taken down in 1866 to make room for the present Wesleyan Chapel. It was here, too, that the unfortunate Dr. Dodd, executed for forgery, resided.

Henry Ridley, M.D., the author of many learned medical treatises, which are still referred to, was born here in 1653. He was the author of "The Anatomy and Physiology of the Brain," also "A Particular Account of Animal Functions and Muscular Motion."

Dr. William Chappell, the author of "The Whole Duty of Man," was born here in the sixteenth century; and on his death, in 1649, he was buried at Bilsthorpe, near Mansfield. Dr. Chappell was bred in arts and sciences at Christ's College, Oxford; afterwards became Dean of Cassells and Provost of Holy Trinity College, Dublin. Subsequently he was appointed Bishop of Cork and Rosse in Ireland. Mr. Harrod says: "He was a very close reasoner and a very notable disputant, but favoured Mr. Perkins and his side. He got a name of killing his respondent by this accident: At the public commencement at Cambridge, solemnised in the presence of King James I., Dr. Roberts, of Trinity College, being respondent in St. Mary's, Dr. Chappell opposed him so close and subtilly, that the Doctor, not being able to solve or answer his arguments, fell into a swoon, so that the King, to hold up the commencement, undertook to maintain the thesis, which Chappell prest so home that the King thanked God the opponent was his subject and not another's, lest he should lose his throne as well as the chair. In the beginning of the late rebellion in Ireland he came into England, and, having lived a very retired life a few years, died at Derby, in 1649, and was buried at Bilsthorpe, in this county."

There is a monument to the Doctor in the chancel of Bilsthorpe Church.

Henry Sterne, Archbishop of York, who attended Archbishop Laud on the scaffold, on the 10th of January, 1645, was born here. Sterne was Archbishop of York from 1664 until his death, which took place on the 18th of June, 1683, while in residence at York. From this family descended the equally celebrated Lawrence Sterne.

Robert Dodsley, a man of distinguished literary talents and great amiability of character, was born at Mansfield in 1703, and died on the 25th of September, 1764. The author of "The Annals of Nottinghamshire" says, though Dodsley's father " is said to have been a man of some education, and even master of the Grammar School of Mansfield, he brought up all his children to servile and laborious occupations. Robert was placed as an apprentice to a stocking-maker; but, disliking this monotonous employment, he absconded from his master, and made his way to London. What situation he first obtained does not appear to be satisfactorily known. It is ascertained, however, that at an early period of his settlement in London he was footman to Mr. Dartineaf, Paymaster of the Works, whose gastronomic propensities rendered him so famous in his day as even to attract the satire of Pope. From the service of this voracious devourer of ham pies, Dodsley passed to act in the same capacity to Miss Lowther. That lady appears to have been gifted with a peculiarly amiable and condescending disposition, and, having learned that her footman was fond of reading, and was possessed of something of a literary turn, she kindly opened to him the free use of her library, and encouraged him to cultivate his talent for versification; herself reading and praising several of his pieces, besides showing them among her friends. These pieces having attracted considerable attention in the circle in which she moved, Dodsley became encouraged to publish a volume of fugitive pieces, his good and generous mistress exerting herself to procure for him a liberal and extensive list of subscribers. This collection the author modestly termed, 'The Muse in Livery.' His next attempt was 'The Toy Shop,' a theatrical satire, written under the same circumstances in respect of patronage and means of publication as the last. This is a work of real genius, and displays a knowledge of human character and a power of stripping it of its guises, at once masterly, yet playfully, which was very extraordinary in such a person, and which earned for him the support and esteem of several persons of distinction; and, amongst the rest, that of the great poet and satirist of the day, Alexander Pope, to whom the manuscript had been shown previous to publication. Pope, in a letter to the author, dated February 5th, 1733, said: 'I was very willing to read your piece, and do freely tell you I like it, as far as my particular judgment goes. Whether it has action enough to please the stage I doubt, but the morality and satire ought to be relished by the reader. I will do more than you ask me; I will recommend it to Mr. Rich. If he can join it to any play with suitable representations, to make it an entertainment, I believe he will give you a benefit night; and I sincerely wish it may be turned any way to your advantage, or that I could show you my friendship in any way.' This act of kindness and liberality on the part of Alexander Pope to our then humble, but highly gifted, countryman we have great pleasure in recording, inasmuch as it affords a direct refutation of the charge made against Pope by some writers, that he received all approaches of youthful rivals with jealousy and contempt. The return obtained by the author from these works was sufficient to enable him to quit his situation of servitude and fulfil his intention of establishing himself in business as a bookseller. His shop in Pall Mall was opened in 1735, and the conversational genius of its owner, added to the friendly attentions of Pope, soon filled it with illustrious visitors. Soon after being thus established, he published the well-known farce of 'The King and the Miller of Mansfield,' which was performed in 1737; and, being a piece of really great merit of its class, full of racy wit and broad English humour, had, in consequence, a good and prosperous run. In 1738, Dodsley produced 'Sir John Cockle,' intended as a sequel to the previous piece; but for the continuation he did not receive the same amount of praise as for the first attempt. In 1791, he brought on the stage 'The Blind Beggar of Bethnall Green,' If not a real failure, this farce, like its predecessor, failed to secure the approbation of the public. Dodsley has surprised literary men by the earliness of his literary speculations, their success, and the respectability of the authors whose works he published.

"From Dodsley's establishment issued the earliest complete work of ' Johnson's London,' purchased by the rising publisher on a conviction of its merits, after having been subjected to his notice through the instrumentality of Cave. It was disposed of by Johnson, then in great poverty, as the work of a friend 'under disadvantageous circumstances of fortune;' and Dodsley, thinking it a creditable thing to be concerned in, 'paid for it ten guineas.' In the year 1746, he was a shareholder in another periodical—' The Museum, or Literary and Historical Register;' and, in 1748, he published 'The Preceptor,' to which Johnson, Walpole, and Akenside were contributors. If Dodsley was not the original projector of 'Johnson's English Dictionary,' he was at least the first publisher to listen to the plan, and paid much practical attention to its progress. Before the vast undertaking was completed, it was the fate of the publisher, like the learned author, to be deprived of a wife, 'on whom his heart was fixed, and to whom every wish and desire turned.' In 1750 he published, anonymously, the most famous, and very certainly the most valuable, of his writings, 'The Economy of Human Life.' The deep Oriental tinge of imagination and the lofty tone of feeling and morality which pervaded the work could not fail to attract the public eye. ' Those who speculated on the subject gave,' says the editor of 'The Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen,' from whose article on the life of Dodsley many of these observations are taken, 'the authorship of the "Economy of Human Life" to the Earl of Chesterfield. Chesterfield, who had a real feeling of friendship for Dodsley, knowing the value of the sanction of his name, did not for a considerable time contradict the report.' This celebrated work had many imitations, but they have all fallen miserably short of the original. His next project was 'The World,' of which he chose the title and wrote one number (32). In 1758, he made the tour of Scotland with Mr. George Spence, one of his most early and intimate friends, and in the same year appeared his 'Melpemone; or, the reigns of Terror and Pity,' an ode; and the most striking, if not the best of his theatrical compositions — the tragedy of 'Cleone.' Within the same year, too, the 'Annual Register' made its appearance. Few literary speculations have proved so profitable as this important work, nor had the public any just cause to complain of their share of its advantages. From its commencement to the termination of its new series, which ended about 1828, it was eminently useful and eminently successful; its utility and varied excellence, being known to every one who reads, require no explanation. In 1760, Dodsley published another profitable work, 'Select Fables of AEsop and other Fabulists.' Soon after this period, he retired from the active part of his business on a considerable fortune, amassed through the most gratifying means by which a man can gather wealth—the independent exercise of his own talents and industry. During his latter days he suffered much from gout, of which disease he died whilst on a visit to his friend Spence, at Durham, on the 29th of September, 1764, in the sixty-first year of his age. He edited and published many works to which this brief sketch of his life has not afforded opportunity to make reference, but from most of which he derived both profit and fame."

The tombstone of Mr. Dodsley, in the Abbey Churchyard, Durham, bears the following inscription:—

"If you have any respect for uncommon Industry and Merit,
regard this place,
in which are deposited the remains of
who, as an author, raised himself
from one of his rank in life
and without a learned education:
and who, as a man, was scarce
exceeded by any in integrity of heart
and purity of conversation and manners.

He left this life for a better, Sept. 25, 1764,
in the 61st year of his age."

On the 9th of March, 1772, died Samuel Jebb, of Mansfield, the editor of the works of Aristides. The Jebbs were settled for several generations previous to the close of the seventeenth century at Woodborough, in this county, but afterwards removed to Mansfield. Several eminent professional and learned men have been members of this distinguished family. Mrs. Radcliffe, the distinguished novelist—authoress of "The Mysteries of Noolpho" and many other similar works—was also a descendant of the Jebbs of Nottinghamshire. Another descendant of the Mansfield side was Sir Richard Jebb, physician to King George III., and one of the most eminent practitioners of his day. He was created a baronet in 1778, but, dying without issue, the title became extinct.

Dr. Jackson, late Bishop of London, was descended from a Mansfield family; and shortly before his death, only a few years ago, he was possessed of, and sold for building purposes, certain land in Mansfield, known as "The Garden of Eden."

Roberts, the first worker of double point net lace in frames, was born and brought up in the ancient town of Mansfield.

Another distinguished son of the town was a man named James Murray (son of "Old Murray," made famous by Lord Byron), the inventor of that great labour-saving appliance, the circular saw. Encyclopaedias are silent as to the name of the inventor, but there is no doubt as to Murray being the first to devise this system of cutting wood and other materials. The factory in which he worked, and in which he ran the saw, is that now occupied by Messrs. Barringer and Brown in Bath Lane. The original saw, which is about six inches in diameter, is in the possession of Mr. J. Whitaker, J.P., of Rainworth Lodge. James Murray was the son of the faithful and favourite "Old Joe Murray," servant to Lord Byron, and lived with him for a long number of his best years. It is said the first attempt to use the saw was made upon a turnip, and, succeeding, wood was next tried with equal success.

Joseph Tootel, the inventor of the fluted or grooved rollers used in cotton spinning, now known by the name of stretchers, was born in Mansfield, and for many years was a fellow workman with James Murray, the inventor of the circular saw.

John Green, a native of the town, and an ironmonger by business, invented the incline plane movement of the spindle and also the cone movement, both used in the process of cotton spinning. In neither instance have the inventions been superseded.

Amongst those who, though not Mansfield men, have lived in the town a number of years and made "footprints in the sands of time" may be mentioned Colonel Lichfield, who gained a great reputation in the Duke of Kingston's Light Horse during the rebellion of 1745. In 1762 he retired from the army, and, settling down in Mansfield, built himself a large house which he called Ratcliffe House, from which the present Ratcliffe Gate derived its name. He lived a retired life, and died here some years later. His house is now occupied by Mr. T. Hartas.

John Scott, often called the "Wizard of the North," lived in Mansfield at one time, and married a daughter of the town. He was a trainer of race-horses, and trained first for Mr. Houldsworth, of Sherwood Hall. He brought out several celebrated horses for this patron of the turf; but at length master and servant had a quarrel. Mr. Houldsworth thought one of his horses ought to have won a St. Leger, but it failed. The owner made allegations about the treatment of the animal, which Scott would not endure, and he very quickly transferred his services to Mr. Pietre, who had a training establishment on land adjoining Bridge Street, belonging to the late Colonel Wild, of Southwell. While in this gentleman's employ he married Miss Barker, daughter of the landlord of the Eclipse Inn, Westgate. In time, Mr. Pietre removed his stables to Malton, and here Scott trained for him horses that in three successive years won him the St. Leger. This unprecedented performance gained for Scott the title of "The Wizard of the North."

One of the most notorious characters that ever lived in the town was John Darrel, who, in the latter part of the sixteenth and first part of the seventeenth century, was minister of the Puritanical sect in the town. He was concerned in the extraordinary case of William Somers, described in Blackner's "History of Nottingham" as "the distinguished imposter of Nottingham." Somers, it is stated, lived in the capacity of servant boy with Mr. Brackenbury, at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where dwelt John Darrel, who was apparently about twelve years older than Somers. Darrel undertook the study of the law; but being of a very indolent disposition, and pretending to be "called by the Spirit," he commenced as a preacher of the gospel among the Puritans. The boy Somers, while residing with Mr. Brackenbury, affected to be troubled with an odd kind of fits, which it afterwards appeared he was instructed in the exhibition of by Darrel. His master discharged him, and he very soon recovered, Darrel having gone to settle at Mansfield as a divine. The boy was sent to Nottingham, where his mother had married. He was apprenticed, but frequently ran away from his employment; and when his time of apprenticeship expired, his master demanded that he should stay until he had made up the time he had lost. Somers, however, who had now grown to man's estate, determined upon an expedient to weary his master out. He pretended to be very ill; and, by giving his face and body strange contortions, he excited the attention of the idle and superstitious, some of whom declared him to be bewitched; and he was induced to declare that his tormentor was an old woman, because he had refused to give her a hatband which he had found. By some means Darrel was brought into the case, it having been stated by his sister that he had cast out seven devils, and there was no doubt as to his ability to cure Somers. Darrel came, and declared there were fourteen distinct signs of possession through which the patient would pass. On the 7th of November he set about his task of exorcising the evil spirit, and in a very short time had accomplished a cure, nothing being said about his previous acquaintance with Somers. About a week after this, Darrel, who was regarded as a holy man, was appointed assistant minister at St. Mary's, continuing his imposture. In the end, however, after having been the means of getting a number of innocent women cast into prison as witches, the imposture was confessed by Somers; and Darrel, having been convicted of contriving, was cast into prison. He was further deprived of his position in the Church with ignominy. What became of him at the expiration of his term of imprisonment is not known.