RETFORD being the principal market town in the Hundred of Bassetlaw, a short account thereof will not be unacceptable at the commencement of this history.

All historians agree that King Alfred caused England to be divided into shires or counties, and thus again to be subdivided into hundreds or wapentakes: a proceeding at that period rendered necessary to the due administration of justice, as well as to reduce the inhabitants, who were fierce and licentious, to the salutary restraint of law and wholesome government.

The Hundreds in the county of Nottingham are now reduced to six*; these are Rushcliffe, Bingham Newark, Bassetlaw, Broxtow, and Thurgarton. These Hundreds are very unequal in size, (as much so as the various counties,) and are supposed to have been so called because they contained a hundred towns each; this supposition is evidently erroneous, for, as Thoroton justly observes, " Such we have none, but more likely of that number of free sureties, or frankpledges for the peace†, or else of able soldiers for the war, which number in some places, exceeded more, in others less, as we may well suppose; and in process of time (if nothing else did) made the inequality."

The Hundred of Bassetlaw (called in Nomina Villarum, about the year 1315, Bersetelowe, afterwards we find it written Bernedsetlawe, Bernedeslawe, and Bassetlawe,) is somewhat of an oval shape, and extends along the bank of the river Trent (in two instances it verges to the opposite side) from Heck Dyke, a little below West Stockwith, to the parish of Fledborough; it there joins the hundred of Thurgarton, and proceeds nearly as far as Shirewood Inn, on the Forest, where it takes the boundary line of Broxtow hundred till it joins the county of Derby, near Nettleworth; it is then limited by that county, and likewise Yorkshire, until it approaches to an apex below Finningley, where Lincolnshire again determines its extent to the entrance of the heck Dyke into the Trent. This Hundred consists of three divisions, viz. Hatfield, and North and South Clay: the first embraces all the laud on the west side of the river Idle, which as Thoroton states has ever been famous "for woods and pleasant waters insomuch that in it alone have been founded well nigh as many Monasteries as in the whole county besides." The two remaining divisions include the district between the Idle and the Trent, which, from the nature of the soil, is considered highly fertile both as arable and pasture land.

The latitude of the Hundred of Bassetlaw extends from fifty-three degrees, nine minutes, to fifty—three degrees, thirty—two minutes north; it is about twenty— seven miles long, and seventeen broad ; its circumference is estimated at upwards of eighty miles, and its superficial content at 174000 acres. It contains sixty-six parishes in which are eighty—four villages, and four market towns, viz. Retford, Tuxford, Worksop, and Ollerton, and part of Bawtry and according to the parliamentary census taken in 1821, it has a population of 36445 souls.

This Hundred has been distinguished from time immemorial for the number of seats of noblemen and gentlemen comprised within its limits, so much so as to have received the appellation of the "DUKERY". During the late discussions in Parliament, this term was not infrequently introduced to prove that the return of two members to serve in Parliament for the Hundred, would altogether rest with one or two of the said noblemen. The following list* however will prove that whatever influence those distinguished individuals do possess, there is an interest—an independent interest, paramount to the whole of their’s combined, which, in the event of a contest, would prove the truth of this assertion.

The DUKE of NEWCASTLE, Clumber Park

The DUKE of NORFOLK, Worksop Manor

The DUKE of PORTLAND, Welbeck Abbey

Earl Manvers, Thoresby Park

G. S Foljambe, Esq. Osberton

Lord Middleton, Wollaton

H. G. Knight, Esq. Langold

Earl Bathurst, Langwith

E. E. Dennison, Esq. M. P. Ossington

Lord Howard, Wellow

A. H. Eyre, Esq. Grove

Lord Galway, Serleby Hall

W. Mason, Esq. Morton

Lord Althorpe, M. P. Wiseton Hall

J. Angerstein, Esq. Ragnall

Sir T. W. White, Bart. Wallingwells

P. B. Thompson, Esq. Eskrick

Hon. J. B. Simpson, Babworth

H. Walker, Esq. Blyth

Hon. & Rev. J. L. Saville Rufford

D. Walters, Eaq. Barnwood, Gloucester


SINCE the first mention of this borough in historical records its name has undergone several changes, yet none of them seem to clash with the generally received opinion as to its derivation.

The most ancient document on which reliance can be placed, is Doomsday record, where it is written Redeford, but whether East or West we are not informed. Early in the 13th century it was commonly written Este Reddfurthe, which change from the one just quoted does not speak greatly for the advancement which learning had made during the intervening period. This pronounciation however appears to fix the date of the ancient seal belonging to the corporation, (of which a correct representation is elsewhere given,) the rude inscription which encircles it corresponding in every particular with the above. In the subsequent century it was written Est Redeforde, afterwards East Redforde, up to the middle of the last century East Redford, and finally, as at present, East Retford. Notwithstanding however, that such alterations were made at the different periods, according to the notions of the different writers, or agreeably with the taste of the times, it will be allowed that none of them tend to throw any obstacles in the way of defining the cause from whence it originated. It therefore was called East, because seated on the east bank of the river Idle, and Retford or Redford, from an ancient ford over that river, the waters of which flowing over a stratum of red clay became tinged with that colour, from the frequent passing and repassing of cattle, &c. and as this circumstance could not fail to attract attention, it was named Red-ford. The situation of this ford was about a hundred yards below the bridge which connects the two Retfords, where its present shallowness sufficiently identifies the spot, and several persons are now living who can recollect its being used in that manner.


PREVIOUS to giving the account of East Retford in its ancient state, it may seem necessary to lay before the render a concise but general description of it in the present day.

Situation.—Theborough of East Retford is situated in the North Clay Division of the Hundred of Bassetlaw, in the north-eastern part of the county of Nottingham, in latitude fifty-three degrees nineteen minutes forty-six seconds north, and fifty-one minutes forty-nine seconds of west longitude, on the eastern bank of the river Idle. Its distance from London, by the Great North Road, is 144 miles, and by way of Huntingdon something less; from Nottingham 32 miles; from Lincoln, byway of Littleborough Ferry 23 miles and from Doncaster 18 miles. It is pleasantly situated on the line of the North Road, in a central part of the country, and is entered on every side by a beautiful and gradual descent; so that let the tourist approach it from what quarter soever he may, he will be particularly struck with the neatness which is every where visible around him.

Extent.–The Borough is bounded on the east and north-east by the hamlets of Moorgate and Spittal Hill; on the west by West Retford; on the south by the parish of Ordsall; and on the south-east by the hamlet of Little Gringley. Its extent is extremely limited; the whole site, comprising the cars and commons, the market-place, the streets, buildings, &c. being only about one hundred and twenty acres.

Roads, &c.–Retford occupying a situation on the Great North Road, and in the midst of a rich and fertile tract of agricultural country, possesses numerous advantages of which many other places are destitute. Whilst accommodation is afforded to travellers to the north and south, it is far from being deficient to the east and west. The road to Gainsbro’, from the facilities which that place daily affords to the port of Hull, may be said to open the way to every part of the globe: not only the treasures of the Indies, but the riches of more southern climes here find a ready conveyance. The road to Lincoln by way of Littleborough Ferry, which until lately was almost impassable at any season of the year, is now, through the admirable system promulgated by Mr. M’Adam, equal to any other in the kingdom, so that the traveller can cross to Lincoln several miles nearer than formerly; and the farmer can conveniently deliver the produce of his labour at all seasons.

To the west likewise, the public are greatly indebted to the same gentleman for the superior manner in which he has completed the road from Retford to Worksop. The expenses attendant upon this undertaking were very great; but the road—though thirty per cent. more expensive travelling than formerly, is seventy-five per cent. better, which those will acknowledge who have once ploughed the road when journeying with any vehicle across that part of the country. Having mentioned the North Road in another place, it will here be necessary only to notice, that previous to the Act of Parliament being obtained, this road was equally bad with the rest: that part towards the White Houses, (southward) called "Farmers’ Lane," was narrow and dirty, and the causeways here and there were studded with large stones for the accommodation of foot passengers; whilst towards the north, after passing West Retford field, the traveller was frequently in danger of being immersed in the bogs and quagmires, with which Barnby Common almost every where abounded.

Now however all these difficulties are obviated, better roads not being in any part of the kingdom; and from the high state of cultivation which the land has every where attained in the neighbourhood, the inhabitants may be said to live in the midst of plenty, being completely surrounded by the beauties of spring—favoured with the smiles of an almost perennial summer—bountifully supplied from the lap of a generous autumn, and completely secured from those blasts which are the bitter fruits of a northern winter.

Soil.—Dr.Miller, in his History of Doncaster, observes, that "our ancestors seem to have been fond of building their large market towns at the extremity of two different soils; thus the town of Retford 17 miles south from Doncaster, has at one end of it, a stiff clay, and at the other, sand." This remark of the Dr.’s is certainly correct, but the reader is not to suppose that these are the only kinds of land adjacent to the town. To the north-east the soil is of a blackish nature, and a light gravel; the former having been famous for the production of good hops, and the latter in the growth of wheat, and most other kinds of grain. Towards the south, the soil differs more than towards the north. In Ordsall parish, until about the middle of the last century,) the land was completely barren, its spontaneous growth hardly any thing but rushes, and let for about three shillings per acre; but from the improvements in drainage, &c. the barren wilderness became metamorphosed into a blooming landscape, and the face of nature assumed a cast, to which she had previously been a stranger. If we journey further southward, the land, for some distance, continues to increase in goodness and in value; and the fine tracts of grazing land, as well as those appropriated to agricultural purposes, bear evident testimony of the superior character of the soil.

Trade.—Thetrade of Retford was formerly considerable in barley, for malting, but lately has suffered a considerable declension, having been superseded by Worksop. In 1788, a worsted mill was attempted here by the late Major Cartwright and others, but the plan failed, and many individuals were ruined in consequence. A mill for the manufacture of candlewick was also established, but after the demise of its respected proprietor, (Mr. Brumby,) it fell into complete decay. Here is at present a paper mill, and a sailcloth manufactory, and the other trades are in hat and shoes.

Climate.—The climate in the neighbourhood of Retford is considered to be more equal in temperature than any of the surrounding counties; and the quantity of rain which falls is somewhat below the medium of the kingdom. In 1825, the annual average amounted only to 28.31 inches, whilst at Kendal., in Westmoreland, in the same period, it was 59.973 inches. In order to account for this deficiency, Mr. Lowe conceives, that although the greatest rains come with the easterly winds from the German Ocean, yet the stir charged clouds being powerfully attracted by the mountains of Derbyshire, pass over this part too quickly to deposit much of their moisture; whilst, on the other hand, the clouds from the Western Ocean and Irish channel are attracted and broken by the Yorkshire and Derbyshire mountains, before they arrive at this level district.

* Formerly there appears to have been eight. In Doomsday book, what is now termed the North Clay Division, was then called the Soke of Oswardebec, that is a wapentake, or hundred; and so late as the 16th century the Hundred of Hatfield merged into a Division of the Hundred of Bassetlaw.
† In the 12th of Edward the second, (1318,) Robert de Perepont, Richard de Willughby, and Richard de Whatton, were created assignen justices to enquire of the transgressions made by John de Lanum, one of the Kings Bayliffs of the Wapentach of Bersetelowe.