(a) An ancient corporation.

EAST Retford is situated on the banks of the river Idle, a beautiful stream, one of the tributaries of the Trent. In Domesday Book the name of the town is written Redeford. At various times in its long history it has been referred to as East Reddefurthe, Est Redeforde, East Redforde, and East Redford. These variations notwithstanding, the derivation of the town's name is clear. The word East was used because the town stood on the east bank of the Idle, and Retford (or Redford) from an ancient ford the waters of which flowed over a stratum of red clay. Retford and East Retford are synonymous terms, the latter being used mainly in official documents, probably, first, because the old municipal borough was coterminous with the parish of East Retford; and secondly, because until 1885, East Retford was the designation of the parliamentary borough.

Mr. Piercy in his history, published 1828 (the only one of the town in book form), conjectures that the incorporation of the borough took place under Richard I, between 1185 and 1200. The charter is not in existence. In 1246, Henry III. granted an eight days' fair; acquitted the burgesses of "toll, pannage, and murage" throughout the kingdom, and granted them and their heirs in fee farm for 20 marks of silver yearly, the tolls of certain bridges which were formerly taken by the burgesses of Nottingham. On Nov. 27th, 1279, Edward I. granted the town in fee farm to the burgesses for £10 per annum; also the Saturday's weekly market; permitted the use of the pillory and ducking-stool; granted them "wrecks" and "waifes," and "the right to have bailiffs for the keeping of the town and its appurtenances." A confirmatory charter of Edward II., dated 1313, is the earliest in the possession of the corporation, and is excellently preserved. These privileges were confirmed by Edward III. in 1336, and others were added, including a four days' fair. These in their turn were confirmed by Henry VI., who granted a court of record. The fee farm of £10 per annum was paid to the crown, and the twenty marks of silver to the Nottingham burgesses until the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Under these charters the town was governed up to 1607. In that year James I. graciously continued the "divers liberties, franchises, custos, privileges, and other hereditaments" granted by "our forefathers and ancestors; "and further, in order that East Retford might remain" a town of peace and quietude, to the dread and terror of evil delinquents" ordained that it should be "for ever a free town of itself." He incorporated it anew under the name of The Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the Town of East Retford. Under this instrument the town was governed for 230 years.

The Earl of Rutland, who was then the Lord High Steward of the borough, was of great assistance in procuring the charter. The origin of this office is not easily determined. It has been held at times by the Right Hon. Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, Sir Gervase Clifton, Dukes of Newcastle, and others. The present holder is the Right Hon. F. J. S. Foljambe, Osberton Hall.

After the reception of "His Majestie's moste gratious letters pattente," in December, 1607, the aldermen and burgesses in the Moot Hall assembled, agreed that the common seal "heretofore used" be the two falcons. This is the present seal.

The constitution of 1607 was abolished by the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835. Under that measure the corporate body in Retford numbered sixteen members—twelve councillors, and four aldermen. Their jurisdiction was limited, being confined to the ecclesiastical parish of East Retford, a mere fraction of the whole. Subsequently they appealed to Parliament for an extension of area, and secured the passing of the East Retford Borough Act, 1878, which accomplished this purpose, and increased the municipal body from sixteen to twenty-four, its present constitution.

(b) Parliamentary Representation.

East Retford is believed to have sent representatives to Parliament for the first time in the year 1315, but in 1330 the burgesses petitioned Parliament to be excused by reason of poverty, and the right lay dormant until 1571; from which year the borough continued to exercise its privilege without interruption. The constituency consisted of the freemen. In 1624, Parliament decreed that the right of electing burgesses was "in such freemen only as have a right to their freedom by birth, as eldest sons of freemen, or by serving seven years' apprenticeship, or have it by redemption, whether inhabiting or not inhabiting at the time of their being made free." But from time to time claims and objections were so numerous that the House of Commons and the law courts were largely occupied in the determination of disputes. It is said that, within the hundred years ending in 1826, Parliamentary Committees were seven times engaged in the consideration of what constituted a freeman. Several election petitions were lodged on the same grounds.

All differences were, however, settled once and for all in the result of the memorable election of 1826. On the polling-day (June 9th), the town was terrorized by a riotous mob, whose attitude and conduct were so dangerous, that the military, together with 200 special constables, were called in to preserve the peace. Sir Henry Wilson, the defeated candidate, petitioned, and the Parliamentary Committee (under the chairmanship of Mr. Charles Callis Western) reported that Sir Robert Dundas and Mr. Wrightson were not elected; that both were guilty of treating; and that "it has been a notorious, long-continued, and general practice for the electors who voted for the successful candidates to receive the sum of 20 guineas from each of them, so that those burgesses who voted for both the members returned, have customarily received 40 guineas for such exercise of their elective franchise." The number of electors on the list was 220; of these 29 were dead, and the rights of others were disputed, so that, in addition to the most unblushing bribery and corruption, the electorate could scarcely be identified.

The Town Hall, East Retford.
The Town Hall, East Retford.

On the 11th of June, 1827, Mr. Tennyson introduced to the House of Commons a bill "for excluding the borough of East Retford from electing burgesses to serve in Parliament, and to enable the town of Birmingham to return two representatives in lieu thereof." Mr. Nicholson Calvert moved, "That it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to make provision for the prevention of bribery and corruption. . . by extending the right of voting to the forty-shilling freeholders of the Hundred of Bassetlaw." The evidence of nearly 150 witnesses was taken; prolonged debates took place, and finally on the 19th of May, 1828, Mr. Calvert's amendment was carried by a majority of 18 votes. A Bill, therefore, based upon the amendment was passed, and the Hundred of Bassetlaw was merged in the parliamentary borough of East Retford.

Subject, of course, to the electoral laws passed from time to time, and to the various alterations in the franchise, East Retford borough continued to return two members to St. Stephen's from 1828 until the passing of the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, when it was deprived of a member, returning one instead of two as before, and the title of the constituency was changed to "Bassetlaw."

Details of parliamentary representation must be left to the historian. An incident, however, referred to by Mr. Justin McCarthy, M.P., in his History of Our Own Times (chap. LXIV.), is too interesting to be omitted. It occurred in connection with the Royal Titles Bill, 1876, by which it was proposed to add to the titles of Queen Victoria, that of Empress of India. Mr. Robert Lowe, in the course of a speech which he delivered in the Retford Town Hall, made a statement (says Mr. McCarthy) "to the effect that the Queen had endeavoured to induce two former ministers to confer upon her this new title and had not succeeded." In the House of Commons on May 2nd, 1876, Mr. Disraeli "denounced Mr. Lowe, thundered at him from across the table . . . and at the very close of his speech came down on the hapless offender with the crushing announcement that he had the authority of the Queen herself to contradict the statement." On the following Thursday evening, Mr. Lowe "made an apology which assuredly did not want completeness or humility."

(c) Royal Visits.

Owing to its position on the Great North Road, and latterly its convenience of access by railway, and its contiguity to the Dukeries, visits of members of reigning houses have been numerous in the long history of the town. His Majesty the King, on his visits to Welbeck or Rufford, passes through the railway-station. In December, 1905, accompanied by the Queen, he graciously received the Mayor and Corporation, who presented an address. In September, 1907, His Majesty paid a visit to Viscount and Viscountess Galway at Serlby Hall.

Nor were royal visits unknown in the long ago. In 1503, for instance, occurred that most interesting and memorable bridal procession of Margaret Tudor, aged 14, (daughter of Henry VII. of England) from Richmond Palace, to become the wife of James IV., King of Scotland, whom she married on her arrival at Edinburgh, an event which led to the union of the two crowns, exactly a hundred years later. This procession of the fair young bride was mostly along the Great North Road. At this time that great highway (then in an execrable condition) missed Retford, and passed along the border of Sherwood Forest. But the bailiffs and aldermen met the cavalcade at Rushy Inn (a noted resting-place for travellers, two miles from the town), and hundreds of the townspeople with the waits playing before them on violins "right merrilye all the way." The queen (saith an ancient M.S.) was "myghtilye well pleased with the honour done to her." It is interesting to learn that the corporation provided four bottles of malmsey, one lagan of red wine, and four tubs of ale; that they paid "two mynstrells, 2s. 4d." and that, in the town, there was general holiday and merry-making.

In the records of the Civil War, it is distinctly affirmed that King Charles I. passed through the town in 1645 (August) with a numerous retinue, on his way to Newmarket. Some antiquaries affirm that the name of the principal thoroughfare, "Carolgate" (Carolus= Charles) was derived from this incident. In some old documents, however, the name is written "Carrhillgate," and therein lies the more probable derivation.

Again, in 1835, the Princess Victoria (our late Queen, lamented and beloved) drove through the town with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, on her way to the Musical Festival at York, staying a night at Barnby Moor.

(d) A chronological record of leading events in the development of the modern town.

1766.—The Great North Road between Markham Moor and Barnby Moor was diverted. The distance is about nine miles. Formerly it led along the borders of Sherwood Forest. From Markham Moor it passed on to Twyford (the two fords of the Maun and the Mede, which join to form the Idle), thence to a hostelry called the "Jockey House," east of Elkesley, and now a farmstead; to Rushy Inn, and forward to Barnby Moor. By a special Act of Parliament (1766), this direction of the Great North Road was changed. Leaving Markham Moor it was taken to Rockley, Gamston, and by the village of Eaton through the heart of East Retford to Barnby Moor.

1777.—The Chesterfield Canal, designed by Mr. James Brindley, was opened throughout its entire length, 46 miles. The canal is now the property of the Great Central Railway Company.

1849.—Railways were brought to Retford by the G.N. and the M.S. & L. companies.

1868.—The municipal buildings were erected— namely: the Town Hall, Court House, Corn Exchange, Shambles, and Butter Market—at a cost of about £11,000. They are now free from debt, and bring in a handsome yearly revenue.

1878.—Up to 1831 the town was lighted with oil lamps. In that year they were superseded by gas. The works were purchased for £24,000 by the Corporation under powers conferred by the Act of 1878.

1881.—Up to this year the supply of water was obtained from old-fashioned wells, many of which were impure. The town authorities bored into the red sandstone on the West Carr Hills, about a mile from the town, sank a well, put down machinery, and provided tower and reservoir at an outlay of £15,258. In 1900 they sank an additional well, adjacent to the old one, with a larger bore, and put down duplicate machinery.

1892.—A nearer route to the railway station was brought about by the erection of a new bridge over the Idle, which linked Albert Road and Victoria Road. The latter—a spacious thoroughfare—was made and formed by the Trinity Hospital authorities, to whom the land belonged. Cobwell Road was extended so as to join Victoria Road near the railway-station. The whole topography of the* district was entirely changed. The Great Northern Railway Co. contributed £500; but the cost to the municipality could scarcely have been less than £3,000.

1895.—The Corporation expended £2,000 in swimming baths, which are built by the side of the River Idle in Albert Road, three minutes' walk from the railway-station. Slipper baths were subsequently added.

1900.—£70,000 was spent on the drainage of the town, resulting in the establishment of a satisfactory system.

The Broadstone, East Retford