Bleasby’s Early History Was “Written In Water”

By W.E.D.

Bleasby c.1905.Bleasby c.1905.

THE parish of Bleasby includes the hamlets of Goverton, Gibsmere, and Notown, and when its vicar, the Rev. H. L. Williams, wrote his entertaining sketch of its history, in 1897, he lightly pointed out that its oldest records were not written with ink but water. The “water” was that of the Trent whose “scoup and scour” have carved out the lay of the land, while its eddies left patches of gravel, peat, and heavy clay so oddly that samples of each are to be found in a single field. The Trent added an appendix by changing its course; the centre of its old bed is now the south-east boundary of the parish, and the twenty acre island called the Nabbs has been created as the result of a comparatively recent flood. Speaking of this Mr. Williams humorously observed that from a pastoral point of view it was difficult of access, but fortunately the only parishioners resident there were rabbits.

Some sixty years ago a fine golden British coin was ploughed up. It may be assumed to have been the casual dropping of a wayfarer who had just used, or was about to use, the ferry, for there is no evidence of a British settlement in this once most marshy part. The ford or ferry may well have been used in ancient times, but the earliest known permanent inhabitants appear to have been the Saxons, who bestowed upon their small colony the name of Bliseton, and in the absence of records it can only be surmised that their successors, the Danes, revived or enlarged the cluster of farms that existed at their arrival and called it Blease-by. Attempts have been made to link the name with Blaecca, the high-reeve or prefectus of Lincoln, whom Paulinus baptised, together with King Edwin—the first Saxon King of England—in the Trent at a place named Tiovulfingacester. Many places have claimed to be that historic spot. Mr. Williams encouraged his parishioners to cherish the idea that it was Bleasby, but modern opinion accords the honour to Littleborough. There is a rival Bleasby in Lincolnshire, but if Sir Charles Oman is correct the ceremony was performed in the church which ultimately became Lincoln Minster.

Early Identity.

It was not until the middle of the 10th century that Bleasby emerged from obscurity and was first mentioned by name. Then, in 956, it was one of the 12 vills granted by King Edwy to Oskytel, Archbishop of York, for the archiepiscopal manor of Southwell, of which it then came a berewick or appanage. The authenticity of this deed of grant has been questioned, but is now generally accepted as substantially correct and the record is the more interesting because in it also occurs the name of Southwell, not hitherto known. Oskytel is one of the reputed founders of the Minster there.

The village is not mentioned in Domesday Book, and Thoroton was almost certainly correct in supposing that in the great survey it and its berewicks “were involved in Southwell,” to which they owed sac and soc. The Archbishop of York, the Annesleys, lords of Annesley, and Ralph FitzHubert figure among the Norman owners, but the local records of that era are extremely sparse, and it is not known whether there was a church or not, though there probably was one. The value of the parish appears to have been unaffected by the Conquest, and if a line may be taken through the Pentecostal returns instituted in 1171 the parish was an average one, contributing 1s. 9d. yearly at Southwell.

Thurgarton Priory was founded in 1187, and to it soon came parts of Bleasby and Goverton. Among the early donors was Wm. de Blythewood, who purchased land at Goverton and gave it to the priory for the soul of his friend and neighbour, Robt. de Oxton, to "be put on the bede-roll and prayed for perpetually." Others followed suit, a meadow called Smething, a headland named Brerum, small gifts and larger of lands and rents following each other until the monks of Thurgaton acquired no small portion of the territory, and the curious bank visible from the railway between Thurgarton and Bleasby is said to have been constructed by them as a boundary of their lands. The vicars-choral and some of the prebendaries of Southwell also had lands and tithes, and with the archbishop as overlord the parish was largely in the hands of one branch or another of the Church. The founding of monasteries ceased in the reign of Edward III, and was superseded by the founding of chantries, and in 1363 Wm. de Wakebrugge (a notable benefactor to religious institutions) gave three messuages here and some land to the chantry that he and Robt. de Annesley had established in Annesley Church. When Mr. Williams wrote, in 1897, one of these Bleasby messuages was still standing with walls, a yard thick, of stone embedded in clay.

Outlaw Terrorism.

Near the end of the reign of Edward I. John de Burstall and Sir John de Annesley were doing homage to the archbiship and suite at his Southwell court for their extensive holdings in Bleasby and Goverton, and it may -be of interest to note that this prelate in 1303 granted a tenement with a parcel of land to John de Rossington, his valet. Judging from the various minor gifts of properties which found their way to the canons of Thurgarton he was but one of a number of small owners in the parish, and small proprietors have persisted here to a marked degree in subsequent ages. Early in the 14th century the district was being terrorised by the Coterel gang of outlaws, who were gradually hunted down. There were also local outlaws of a less desperate kind. Immediately after the Black Death (1349) John Alwey, a fairly large lessee of the archbishop, sublet much of his leasehold for life to Galfrid de Staunton, but he committed a trespass for which he fled to Brittany and was outlawed, and it required a verdict at the Nottingham Assizes in 1357 for Staunton to obtain possession of the estate in Bleasby, Goverton, and Gibsmere. It is also recorded that in 1386 Roger de Pykering, who had killed John Mowere, of Bleasby, in 1385, and fled, had pardon of his outlawry “out of respect for Good Friday.”

In 1302 the Burstall manor was acquired by John de Cromwell, with whose descendants it remained until 1480, when Maud, heiress of Ralph, Lord Cromwell, the last and most famous of his line, passed it to Sir Wm. Hastings. The seat of the Cromwells was at Lambley, and they figured here merely as owners, a reeve acting as their representative, nor did Hastings identify himself with the manor. A prominent Yorkist, counsellor and friend of Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses, he failed to support Richard’s cruel usurpation in 1483, and was summarily beheaded, a like fate befalling Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales and Newsells, brother of the queen of Edward IV. who had received from the same Maud certain possessions here. We read of this local owner in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI.” but more notably in his Richard III.”

Apart from these facts little is recorded of 5th century Bleasby but as the old road from Nottingham to Newark passed through the village, crossing the Trent by the ferry to Stoke, where it joined the Fosseway, there would be no lack of changeful scene and traffic. It is possible that some of the fugitives from the stricken battlefield at Stoke that ended the wars of 1487 and set the Tudors firmly on the throne, fled along this road, where the carnage would be continued.

"Church Incident."

Of local affairs in the 16th century there is no lack of information. In 1502 Ralph Long, vicar since 1470, created a scene in the church on Ascension Day by refusing the squire, John Statham, and his wife access to their accustomed seats. Rather than engage in a brawl Statham withdrew but the parishioners sided with him and refused to present their Pentecostal offerings at Southwell through their priest. In the Minster they bore their own contributions to the altar, the vicar intercepted them and a riot ensued, and the resultant investigation into the scandal resulted in the quarrelsome vicar’s ejectment from the living. Twenty-one years later Wm. Statham, described as a native of Bleasby, but then a wealthy mercer of London, bequeathed to the parish church an east window containing figures of his parents and their family; it has long since disappeared. The Tudor era ushered in the usual series of property suits but only one calls for note. In 1595 two London goldsmiths and two others claimed the manors of Lambley and Bleasby against Richard Hastings; it was perhaps tantamount to the calling-in of a mortgage and the claim shows that although Sir Wm. Hastings bad been executed as a traitor his possessions remained to the family.

Bleasby’s History from “Pilgrimage of Grace ” Rebellion

BLEASBY experienced its most exciting time in October, 1536, during the Catholic rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The safety of the realm then depended upon preventing the rebel host from crossing the Trent until King Henry could muster an army and for some hectic weeks every boat on the river hereabouts was drawn to the south side and the ferry was strongly guarded. Meanwhile the rebels were beguiled by diplomatic parleys and there was no fighting until the hastily gathered royal forces reached Ferrybridge end mercilessly crushed the rising. Bleasby then resumed its normal life, a Council of the North was established to control the northern counties, and the dissolution of the monasteries was resumed.

Thurgarton Priory was suppressed in March, 1539, and its possessions here were granted a few years later to Thomas Cooper who also had the priory. The tithes belong to the vicars- choral of Southwell were sold to two merchant-tailors of London. Other properties of the Minster were acquired by a member of the Privy Council, but upon the accession of Queen Mary this grant was revoked, and when Edward VI in 1551 founded the Free Grammar School at Retford he gave the Annesley chantry with its Bleasby properties as part of its endowment. Much ultimately came to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and that body is a principal landowner here to-day. The Retford Corporation, as trustees of the Grammar School, let its lands on leases and each tenant had to present it with two fat capons yearly.

Famed in bygone times for its jobbery that corporation distinguished itself by misapplying these funds. In 1699 it was found to be in possession of 120a. of land. Tiled House farm and a house by the churchyard, all admittedly part of the chantry property given to the school in 1551, it had by then let at nominal rents, having taken £200 as “fine” for the leases, and for 29 years had pocketed the income of £145, giving to the school but £29 per annum for the stipends of the master and assistant. It was ordered that full restitution be made, but mismanagement recurred and in 1819 the Court of Equity directed that Bleasby rentals amounting to £300 yearly be returned to the school.

The Great Plague.

The Grundys followed the Stathams as squires about 1600, and that family occupied the Hall until 1735 when, male heirs having ceased, the daughter of Mr. John Grundy married, sold the estate, and removed to London. In 1604 the great plague took its full toll at the rate of one person a day throughout the summer and carrying off a quarter of the inhabitants. As soon as that terrible time was over the bereaved survivors “began to console each other” so that “between October and January eight marriages were recorded which, as Mr. Williams pointed out, was “fair business” as one or two per annum was the average.

The Civil War must have familiarised Bleasby with the sight of Cavalier and Roundhead troops passing to and fro upon the Newark-Nottingham road but no skirmish marks the local records. If the people were of like mind with their parson their sympathies would be with Parliament, for Simon Satchell was inducted into the living in 1639 and retained it until his death in 1658. But it may have been otherwise, for the vicar was unpopular; he was an indifferent preacher and his sermons were none the more attractive because he stuttered, nor did he improve relations with his flock by uttering “threatening speeches against such as goe from him to better meanes,” though he probably earned his stipend which was not more than £10 a year.

He was succeeded by another Puritan, John Jackson, who in 1661 was indicted, for not using the Book of Common Prayer and was ejected next year for refusing to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity. After keeping schools at Morton and Kneesall he returned to private life at Bleasby where in 1696 he died. In 1676 it was recorded, that there were 114 adult inhabitants in the parish, with one popish recusant but no Protestant Dissenters. Nearly three-quarters of a century later the vicar reported that there were 58 families in Bleasby, no Nonconformists, and no school, and that “sometimes a Person comes and teaches for a Short Time, but is forced to leave for want of encouragement.”

Crossland Charity.

In 1720 the sole parochial charity, that of 20s. a year from land at Fiskerton, was provided by Ann Crossland, and that amount is, or was until recently, distributed in alms to the poor each Christmas. The chief concern of the parish at that period appears to have been to keep away paupers not born within its boundaries, and then and long afterwards labourers and servants were not engaged for a longer period than 51 weeks, lest by residence for a year they should qualify for poor relief. At that time the old Cromwell manor was in possession of the ducal house of Kingston, the Willoughbys of Wollaton having purchased it in the reign of Elizabeth from Sir Wm. Hastings and sold it to the first Earl of Kingston. Upon the death of the last duke of that line in 1773 it became the property of his bigamous duchess, Elizabeth Chadleigh, who died in 1778 when it passed to Chas. Meadows who became first Earl Manvers.

Bleasby Hall, c.1901.Bleasby Hall, c.1901.

The reign of George III was inaugurated locally by the pulling down of the old Hall, in which the Grundys had dwelt “for generations, and in 1816 a new mansion was erected by Mr. Robert Kelham Kelham, who had obtained the property by purchase from Mr. E. S. Falkner, who had it from Nathaniel Need. In 1763 a new whipping-post was erected at an expense of. 2s. 6d.; the stocks were already there, and inhabitants who were alive less than fifty years ago could remember seeing them occupied.

Until 1777 455 acres of the parish lands were open fields, but in that year the enclosure took place and the appearance of the village and its environs was greatly altered. The scattered strips were transformed into hedged fields, new roads and paths were formed, a system of drainage was instituted, inhabitants enjoying commonable rights received compensation in land or cash, and the tithes were commuted for lands. There were then no less than 45 local proprietors, the largest lay owner being the Duke of Portland, whose 500a. presently passed to Sir Richard Sutton. To the Archbishop of York as lord of the manor were granted the fishing rights in a piece of water at Gibsmere, called “Pickering Play.” It then covered several acres, but by the time of Mr. Williams’ vicariate it had shrunken into a miserable shallow pool. The vicar-historian said he had never heard of the archbishop fishing there, but if and when he came he would be happy to witness the sport.

A Water Problem.

The Enclosure Act empowered Bleasby to drain off its surplus water into the adjoining lordship of Fiskerton and into the Trent via Fiskerton Holm Dyke, and there is a story that, being dissatisfied with this outlet the men of Bleasby determined to cut a passage of their own to the river. Unfortunately, however, they miscalculated the levels and instead of passing out its floodwaters the village became more deeply inundated than before by the floods that poured in, and by way of proof of the story the course of this abortive channel is yet pointed out. Another frustrated scheme was the erection by the overseers of some cottages on a wayside waste at Notown for the occupation of the poor at low rentals: the agent of Sir Robert Sutton seized them on a plea of trespass and to avoid a lawsuit the parish surrendered them.

Bleasby parish church, c.1901.Bleasby parish church, c.1901.

Early in the 19th century a pack- horse track on Goverton Hill, which had worn into a trench, was filled up as dangerous, and in 1816 an earthquake shook the congregation in church. (There was another earthquake in 1897). The stocking frames whose rattle then broke the village quiet probably disappeared soon after the coming of the railway in 1846, but the cream-cheese industry continued to flourish. In 1840 a long sequence of absentee vicars was ended by the Rev. R. H. Wylde, who built a vicarage and resided in it, but his successor in 1848 found the church in a sad state of disrepair and the gallery at its west end was then and for long afterwards used by the orchestra. Twice since then it has been restored. The chancel has been rebuilt on a slightly reduced scale, and the lean-to aisle has been added. In 1853 Mr. Kelham supplied the tower with its battlements, and in 1869 the structure was drastically restored It retains its fine arcade of the 13th century, a low-side window of the sort commonly (and wrongly) said to have been for the use of lepers, an Elizabethan chalice and paten, a bell of the same date, and some Grundy memorials; and it may be observed that three generations of Cordens monopolised the office of parish clerk from 1777 until 1881.