Even origin 0f name 0f Averham remains a mystery


Averham church, c.1912.Averham church, c.1912.

MYSTERY and romance blend in Averham’s story. Neither the origin or meaning of its name is known, and though many have been the guesses the problem remains unsolved. Uncertainty also exists as to the correct dedication of its parish church, for while ancient deeds in the ecclesiastical archives at York give St. Wilfrid as its patron saint, it has for two centuries or more been consistently known as St. Michael’s, as it is to-day. The romantic element enters with the Trent which, as will be related presently, suddenly forsook its time-honoured way by Newark and struck out a new channel for itself in the 16th century, leaving Newark altogether in the lurch, and forcing its way from Farndon by Averham (narrowly missing the beautiful church) and on by Kelham to rejoin its former route at Crankley Point.

Until far into the 13th century the name appeared as Egrum, with variant spellings, and it was not until the time of Edward I that it made its first fugitive appearance as “Averham;" it is now, of course, locally known in its shortened form of Aram. Mutschmann suggested a derivation from a Mercian term meaning “at the waters or streams;” the Place-Name Society ignores that and, whilst rejecting any link with the “aegir” (or river bore) finds it “tempting to think the name may come from the Old English poetic 'Eagor’—at the great streams.”

Canon Isaac Taylor conceived that it might derive from “hearg,” a heathen temple, with the suffix ‘‘ham,” a home or farm; and another authority prefers some unknown personal name, while Sir Rd. Sutton, a hundred and fifty years ago, noted the rather curious fact that there were an Averheim and a Kelheim on the banks of the Danube, and the former there meant a place of meadows. Possibly he came nearest to the mark. The case for the Mutschmann and Place-Name Society’s theories appears to be weakened by the fact that there were no “great streams” or ‘ waters ” here until about 1550, nothing more, indeed, than a brook.

At the Conquest

The Geological Survey tells of Stone Age implements being found here, and some mounds are said to cover foundations of a Roman fort. When Stukeley, the antiquary, was here in 1740, he observed that “the Roman road strikes off from the Fosse way a little on this side of Balderton turnpike, going west of the common road through cornfields directly by Shoo Lane by the spring called Hagston Well.” The last pre-Conquest owner of Averham was Suain—probably of Danish extraction—a person of importance in his day, whose manor here was granted by the Norman William to one of his followers, Gilbert de Tisun. There were then in existence here a church with a priest, a mill, and a population of 51 socmen, villeins, and bordars (the last little better than slaves) who, with their families, would perhaps number about 200 inhabitants. Gilbert kept part of the soil for his own purposes, let off the rest to tenants, and the record of 1218 that “Hugh son of Swayn” was chaplain of “Egrom” suggests that the dispossessed Suain’s descendants lingered long in the district.

An Adam de Tisun of the reign of Stephen paid ten marks for a trial by combat with the champion of Hugh de Lovetot, of the famous Worksop family. It was this Adam who made the first grant of local property to a monastery, for he personally gave a bovate of land to Thurgarton Priory, and, with his son, made benefactions to Rufford Abbey. Rufford soon increased its holding—William Tisun adding 60 acres to its possessions, a gift that led to litigation. From the Tisuns the manor passed to their relatives the Hoses, and in 1211 Henry Hose, nephew and heir of the said William, was contesting this grant, but had to give way when the abbot produced an incontestable deed of gift. Upon his deathbed Henry repented that he had disquieted the monastery, and “with tears and grief of heart” implored its pardon. He gave the churches of Averham and Winkburn to the Knights Hospitallers—a gift which proved to be troublesome — and the knights established a preceptory at Winkburn.

Changes of lords

Another change of lords of Averham occurred through a lawsuit in 1324. Its heiress, Maud, was a minor in the wardship and custody of John de Gatesden, and under his influence she executed a deed making the manor over to him. Gatesden let it to Robert le Sauvage for life, but when Maud wedded Ralph de Chesneduyt they together sued Sauvage for restitution of the manor, alleging that Maud had acted under duress and was legally incapable of alienating the property when she granted it to her guardian. Meanwhile Sauvage had fallen heavily into debt with the famous Aaron the Jew of York and the usurer was pressing for payment, and in his dilemma Robert invoked the assistance of his neighbour and friend, Robert Lexington, of Laxton, who, being high in royal favour, whilst his brother was the judge appointed to try offending Jews, in one way or another caused Aaron to drop his claim. He perhaps intervened also in the Chesneduyt suit, for Sauvage had the verdict, and in reward he passed the manor to his valuable helper. Lexington died in 1250, and, being childless, left the manor to his nephew Roland de Sutton. Thus the long association of that family with Averham commenced.

The new owner was quickly involved in a dispute respecting the advowson of “St. Wilfrid’s Church." In 1268 Henry Hose presented the living to a relative, but Sutton challenged his right and an inquiry at Newark resulted in his favour. Three years later the Hospitallers bestowed the rectory upon its nominee, but next day Sutton gave it to another. It was then certified to the king that Sir Robert Sutton had recovered the presentation and the interest of the Knights therein appears thenceforth to have died. Possibly the redoubtable Robt. de Lexington had usurped the right and bequeathed to his successors the task of defending it.

Many claims

Thoroton records that in 1301 the manor belonged to James and Agnes de Sutton, but adds that “there were many claims thereto by other families." Coming changes were casting shadows before them; lack of male heirs, partition of the estates between coheiresses, and the advent of new owners caused such a division of the manor that the head of the family had to be content with but one-third of it. In 1304 Averham received a visit from Edward I, who would see the park Lexington had made and stay at the mansion, where he may have met the local rector, who had recently been fined £20 for trespass of venison in the royal forest of Sherwood. About this time Averham ceased to belong to the Fee of Mowbray and the Suttons held it directly from the Crown. Their park extended over 140 acres, they had a mansion here with a dovecote and, inter alia, 200a. of pasture. They had also a mill, at which their tenantry had to grind their corn, and a common oven, at which the villagers cooked their food—both, of course, at a price. They had free warren or the right to hunt small game oyer their lands, a gallows, with the right to hang convicted offenders upon it, and a footpath across the park, which yielded a toll from those who used it.

Nottingham complaint

Trent navigation was then of the utmost importance, and its banks were in certain places held up by piles, brushwood and other supports, both to maintain a sufficiently deep channel for boats and to prevent inundations. In the 14th century John de Sutton and others, including “fishermen,” pulled up some of these and passage of vessels was thus rendered impossible. The merchants of Nottingham made prompt and bitter complaint, and the commission appointed to deal with the matter ordered the lords of Averham to erect a weir and maintain it for ever. Two centuries later Henry VIIth empowered Sir Thomas de Sutton and his heirs to “make as many mills and weirs as they pleased” in “a course of water called a Goore, flowing from the Trent to Grymsdyke and thence in a united stream into a river called, Averham Water.” In the time of Edward VI or Mary, Wm. de Sutton, seeking more power for his mills, cut the Trent bank near Farndon, and through this gap the water poured, abandoning its former channel and making the “Averham Water” into its new course. So the Trent came to Averham. Such water as pursued the old way was insufficient to turn the mill wheels, and Nottingham and Newark rose up against it. Derbyshire joined in the emphatic protest, and in 1559 the corporation of Nottingham was spending 3s. “on bread, wine and ale given to the bailiffs of Derby and Sawley when they came to consult about putting down Master Sutton’s weir at Aram.” They spent more in sending representatives to inspect it, and presently paid £10 towards the cost of its destruction. Sutton retaliated by demanding tolls and detained goods in transit between Nottingham and Torksey. Judges were appointed to determine the quarrel, but although he was ordered to make a weir to turn some of the water of Trent into its old channel, the mischief done was irremediable. The Trent still flows along the course then made; there was not enough current to turn the mills between Farndon and Newark, and half a century later the millers and bakers of Newark were sending corn to be ground at Averham and Kelham, where new mills were erected to meet the new demand.

The human interest side of Averham's story

AVERHAM did not escape the epidemic of lawlessness and violence which prevailed throughout England in the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1327 its park was broken into and 30 oxen and 300 sheep were driven away. There were murders, and outlaws for different offences, and so late as 1455 Richard Sutton obtained pardon of his outlawry. There were property suits, too, but it was not all disorder, for in 1434 it was reported that some aliens had settled in the township, and as foreign weavers were then being encouraged to migrate to England these Flemings may have been of that craft. If so, they marked an early stage of the textile industry that has meant so much to the prosperity of the kingdom in general and that of our own county in particular.

When the enclosure of the open fields and wastes of the parish began is not known, but it is clear that it was at an early date, and by the commencement of the 16th century the Burghs and Suttons alone had laid down to grass 180 acres, and enclosed them within hedges and dykes. It was the golden age of the wool-staplers, but more pastures meant less tillage, and from 1488 onwards a series of Tudor laws sought to restrain the transformation, which was causing alarm by the “decay” of villages. At Averham the enclosings were chiefly on the Newark side, and with ploughs “put down” and less work for the peasantry, some depopulation may have occurred and cottages been left to fall into ruin or been pulled down.

A "Kilkenny Cat" duel

Monument to Sir William Sutton (d.1611) and his wife, Susannah.Monument to Sir William Sutton (d.1611) and his wife, Susanna.

The suppression of religious houses under Henry VIII made less difference here than in many other places. Sir George Pierrepoint bought the Rufford properties; those of Thurgarton had dwindled to, an insignificant rental, and the Hospitallers had long since lost their interests in the church. By 1559 knights, monks, and Romish priests were seen no more: Protestant services had superseded those of the “Old Religion,” and, save for the parson’s lot, all Averham was held by lay owners. Old inhabitants alive in that year had witnessed a truly remarkable change, and the passage from the mediaeval to the modern era, coinciding with the change of the course of the Trent, emphasised the difference in wonderful fashion.

Cornelius Brown discovered in the parish registers the following curious entry suggestive of the immortal “Kilkenny Cats”: “1618, Rd. Linley, clerk to Rd Sutton, Esq., and Matthew Bromley, Servant of Sir George Manners of Haddon, each of the other in single combat slaine, were buried the twentieth day of June.” Mr, Brown thereon remarks that “the feud between the servants did not extend to the masters, or was speedily adjusted, for Mr. Sutton shortly afterwards married Elizabeth, daughter of the said Sir George Manners.” The Chancery Proceedings (1621-25) record a suit against Lady Manners and another for property, in “Aram.” The tie between that family and Averham was destined to become very close.

At the outbreak of the Civil War its lord, Robt. Sutton, found his sympathies divided, but after a few months he threw in his lot with the King, and Parliament, which had expected his support, never forgave him. Mrs. Hutchinson narrates that “upon the melting of the snow in January, 1644, there being a great flood, the Nottingham horse went forth with the design to pull down Muscam and Kellam bridges, but it was discovered to the enemy overnight, so that the design was prevented, but they went to Aram grounds and brought away sixty fat oxen of Sir Rd. Byron’s and Mr. Sutton’s, and about 100 horse.” The Hall was sacked and burnt and Parliament seized the estates, while the king rewarded the victims by making them lords, Sutton taking the title of Lord Lexington. Almost exactly two years after this foray, when King Charles went to surrender himself at Kelham, he is said to have passed through Averham; it was his last journey as a free man, and his captors brought him back under escort to “Avetham park house” to await instructions as to his disposition. When the fighting was over, Mr Sutton―for Parliament refused to recognise his title―had to pay oppressive fines, and after nearly losing his possessions suffered imprisonment ere he could raise the instalments of his penalty. The restoration, however, brought better days. His title was officially confirmed, and Parliament ordered full repayment of the £10,000 that he and others had provided for the royalist cause. The damaged Hall had already been made habitable, and there, in 1661, the second and last Lord Lexington was born, but the old Cavalier erected a fine new mansion for himself at Kelham. In 1668 he was buried in Averham church, where his monument relates that he was “a loyal subject, a lover of his country, a good husband, father, friend, landlord, master, and neighbour.”

Title dies out

According to a return of 1676, there were then 96 inhabitants over 16 years of age, and despite the fact that other parishes were troubled with Recusants, Puritans, and Quakers, there were no Dissenters here unless they were the four who habitually absented themselves “on such days as required by law to communicate." A similar church return of 1743 reported 30 families in the parish “and no Dissenters of any kind whatever, and no meeting house.” There were no charity schools, no almshouses, hospital or other charitable endowment, or any lands or tenements left for the repair of the church. The rector, Rd. Sutton, was an absentee, “having the honour of residing as Domestick Chaplain to H.R.H. the Princess of Orange in Frizeland,” but he provided a curate at £35 a year, who conducted divine services twice every Sunday, though he was also rector of Hawton.

The second Lord Lexington died in 1723, and, having survived his only son, the barony became extinct. He had bequeathed his estates to his daughter, Bridget, Duchess of Rutland, for life, with remainder to her second son, Lord Robt. Manners, provided that he assumed the name and arms of Sutton. Vol. 2 of the “Rutland MSS.” contains an inventory of the rooms and paintings, etc., in Averham Hall at that time.

Love romances

Two love romances, one sad and the Other happy, were associated with the new owners. About, the middle of the 18th century the famous Marquis of Granby ran away with the lovely Anne Mompesson, taking her from school at Doncaster when she was a maiden of fifteen. He brought her to his brother's house here, where they reared a family, but then the lady learned to her astonishment that the marriage ceremony had been an imposture. She fled in horror to her father, the Vicar of Mansfield. He disowned her, but an aunt was more merciful and tended her lovingly. Anne found a home at Woodhouse and died in 1799 after a life devoted to the sick and needy. One of her daughters returned to the scene of her youth, as the wife of Col. John Manners Sutton, of Kelham. The happier elopement was that of Charles Manners Sutton who, when Rector of Averham and Kelham, clandestinely wedded Mary Thoroton of Screveton. He was a few years later made first Dean of Peterborough and then of Windsor, and it was whilst holding the latter office that he was one evening called upon by George III, who congratulated, him upon his elevation to the Archbishopric of Canterbury―this being the first intimation of the unexpected honour.

By that time all Averham had been acquired by the Manners-Sutton family who had established their seat in the new Hall at Kelham. Averham Park was broken up into farms, and George Sutton, sole lord of the manor, was busy forming timber plantations.

Church features

The church of St Michael and All Angels, Averham, in 2000.The church of St Michael and All Angels, Averham, in 2000.

The attractive church is one of the most beautifully situated in the shire. The lordly Trent sweeps by the elevation on which it stands, the churchyard commands an extensive view, and a cedar in the rectory grounds overtops the adjacent tower. Of the little Saxon church—merely a nave and chancel with rubble walls — nothing remains, for the herring-bone work in the south walls is considered, to be Norman. The present fabric comprises nave, chancel, aisles, south porch and west tower, mostly of the 15th century, but exhibiting Early English and Decorated work of the 13th and 14th centuries. The porch dates from 1526. The interior has many venerable monuments; the screen dates from about 1500, the font may have been a stoup, and in the north window of the chancel is some ancient glass, the lower part composed of fragments found in the cellar of Kelham Hall. In 1858 the interior was “remodelled” and eight years later the building was re-roofed. In 1875 the Sutton mausoleum was transformed into a vestry, and in 1907 the nave was finally panelled in oak to commemorate the Rev. Joseph Walker, rector from 1856 to 1907.

The recent history of the village must be briefly indicated. In 1839 the rectory was built. The Midland Railway came in 1846, necessitating the bridging of the Trent near by. Mrs. J. H. Manners-Sutton gave the school in 1860. The floods of 1875 were so high that boats were rowed across the fields to Newark, and when the Trent was frozen over in 1895 hockey and other sports were witnessed on the ice. In 1923 the Corporation of Nottingham took over the section of the Trent between Trent Bridge and Averham Weir, in accordance with the Trent Navigation Act, 1915, and now the Ministry of Agriculture and the Home Grown Sugar Company, Ltd., are the chief landowners in the parish, the fields being a great growing- ground for sugar beet. For centuries the river here has been famous for its fish, as it is today.

Staythorpe, which is within this parish, is reserved for separate treatment in these columns.