For a thousand years Bolham was not part of Retford

Bolham depicted on the Ordnance Survey 1" to the mile map published in 1899.

IN the absence of direct evidence the early history of Bolham is only to be conjectured. For a thousand years or so, until it was absorbed by the Borough of Retford in 1878, it was a small hamlet on the banks of the Idle, and, as will presently become apparent, the proximity of the river was by no means an unmixed blessing to its inhabitants.

How or when it first came into existence is unknown. It may have been of Saxon creation, but its name affords the merest flicker of light upon its beginings. It may, like Bole, indicate the presence of huts of early settlers among the trunks or boles of trees, or it may indicate dwellings scooped out of the rock—a kind of habitation which continued into the Victorian age; but the Idle then flowed, as one of the drains of Sherwood Forest, through a morass, and the difficulty of restraining the waters may have accounted for its restricted size and the absence of any vestiges of remote antiquity.

Confusion With Bole.

Even Domesday Book fails to yield its usual definite information here for the Norman clerk who recorded the local details so mixed up Bolham and Bole, under the designation of “Bolun” that it is difficult to relate the facts to the two places. It would appear that at the end of the Danish era Bolham’s chief proprietors were Turvet, who held seven bovates, and the successive Archbishops of York who had here a berewick, perhaps devoted to barley culture, belonging to their great manor of Laneham. There was a mill, probably worked by the water of the Idle, with meadows and pastures, and woodlands in which the swine of the scanty population ranged for food. Whether the church mentioned in Domesday, as in “Bolun,” was here or at Bole is a matter of uncertainty. The church lands remained to the archbishops, but the Conqueror bestowed the manor upon Roger de Busli, from whose descendants it soon passed to the Lovetots of Worksop.

In 1103 William de Lovetot founded Worksop Priory, and as part of its endowment he gave 50 solidates of land here, in lieu of his rental at Worksop, Emma, his wife adding the mill to provide wine for the Mass there, and Richard de Lovetot subsequently increasing the family benefactions by giving some of the meadows. These apparently exhausted the Lovetot interests at Bolham, for when Matilda, the family heiress, married Gerard de Furnival she confirmed to the priory “all Bolum,” and the canons of Worksop retained these possessions until the Dissolution in 1539, together with some outlying land given by Arnald Fleming in the 13th century.

The “Bolun” of Domesday possessed a church which is assumed to have been at Bole, where the present church preserves a Norman font; but in Bolham there was a chapel, founded at some unknown date, of which no vestiges remain, though Chapel Yard tells where it stood. The chapel must have been in existence by the middle of the 13th century, for when Archbishop Sewell in 1258, appropriated Clarborough rectory he gave the mill-tithes here as part of the maintenance of the vicars of that parish who were to make honest provision for a chaplain to celebrate in it. The chapel itself pertained to the prebend of Bolham at York and some of the prebendaries took little interest in its welfare, being foreigners who, perhaps, never even saw it. It was during the absence of the prebendary that the chapel was transferred to St. Mary’s Abbey in York in 1258, and under Edward III at least two prebendaries (Pontius de Podio and Gasbert de Bovis Villa) were granted leave of absence for several years. The hamlet was then, and long remained, in the parish of Hayton.

Flood Troubles.

Bolham’s mediaeval records are meagre, but such as are known show, that a second mill was erected; that in 1276 the sub-dean of York enclosed a wood, and that there was a troublesome property suit between coheirs of Adam Pratt, of Retford, respecting the division of their inheritance, of which a part lay there. In some way or other the free chapel of Tilne acquired an interest at Bolham, as also did a chantry in Retford  Church. In 1232 the subdean of York was licensed to empark a wood, though the enclosure seems to have been delayed until 1276 and an outlaw was pardoned for a murder he had committed on Bolham Moor. In 1370 Walter Power, clerk, had licence to grant rents here to the vicar of Hayton and his successors, but the great events, such as the baronial wars of the 13th century and the Wars of the Roses, seem to have passed them by unharmed.

The chief concern of the inhabitants of those times was the damage caused by recurrent floodings of the Idle, the village and its fields often being submerged through failure to keep open the channel of that river. In 1252 order was given that they should take their share in “scouring” it to prevent inundations, and keep the stream free for navigation, but for generation after generation Commissioners of Sewers were trying to check the mischief. In 1363 the river was found to be choked with sand and weeds and debris and filth of various kinds, and inquiry was instituted to discover who was responsible for the consequent inundations of villages and meadows, but four years later things were as bad as ever, and order was then given that the Idle should in future be cleansed by those who would benefit thereby. The injunction produced no permanent improvement and had to be repeated in 1388.

East Retford Fire.

In 1528 a disastrous fire destroyed almost the whole of East Retford, including the chantries in the church, with much of their belongings. Their income was correspondingly diminished and the chantry rentals here were diverted, in part at least, to the rebuilding of the stricken town. So far as the chantry chaplains were concerned, this may have broken their fall for the suppression of chantries as well as monasteries was at hand. In 1539 Worksop Priory was dissolved, and a redistribution of church lands soon followed. In 1544 Robert and William Swift, who were then acquiring extensive estates, bought the manor with its two mills and two gardens, and as one of them was called Chapel-yard, and there is no mention of any building there, it would appear that the chapel had by then ceased to be. The Swifts soon acquired the Bolham possessions of the chantry at Tilne, and in 1564 they sold all these interests to the Wortleys. The population at that period must have been small, as in 1539 it was certified that it included but ten men fit to bear arms, but perhaps soon after that time the papermaking industry was established.

Under James I the Earl of Shrewsbury was deriving an income of £60 from his rentals at Bolham, and one of the effects of the Civil War may have been the sale of the manor in 1651 to the Thorolds, who retained it until the 19th century. When the village fields were enclosed is not definitely known, but it is thought probable that it was quietly done, without parliamentary sanction, at the same time as Little Gringley, during the 18th century. When Piercy wrote his “History of Retford’’ in 1828, there were only ten or twelve habitations, all, he said, formed by excavations in the sand rock. He added that “the situation is agreeably romantic,” and waxed poetic about its “light tendrils of ivy creeping along the rocks, with here and there a wild flower rearing its unassuming head, giving an air of pensive serenity to the place, with a column of curling smoke rising here and there from the grass-clad roofs of nature’s humble cots.”

By 1844 most of these dwellings had become deserted and this romantic aspect was giving place to industries. It had then a busy corn mill, and men were earning wages by sawing wood by machinery, making and glazing paper, and manufacturing “shuttlepickers in a factory." Under the East Retford Borough Act of 1878 the parishes of West Retford and Ordsall, with the hamlets or townships, of Bolham, Moorgate, and Little Gringley, together with a portion of Clarborough, were transferred to Retford, forming a new civil parish called North Retford, and thus the individual existence of Bolham came to an end.