Kirton has always puzzled the historians
Holy Trinity church, Kirton (photo: A Nicholson, 2006).
The path of the historian of Kirton is liberally bestrewn by pitfalls. In old records it repeatedly occurs as Kirketon; but there is a Kirketon in the parish of Screveton, a Keighton (now lost in Lenton) which occasionally figures as Kirketon, and a Kilton which in at least one instance is similarly spelt.
Willoughby is almost as treacherous for there are other villages of that name in the shire and entries in ancient calendars indexed as "Willoughby, co. Nottingham" are not always easy to distinguish by the text.
The hamlet of that name now under notice is within the parish of Walesby but its annals are largely interwoven with those of Kirton: Thoroton treated of them both together, and his example may conveniently be emulated.
THAT the vicinity of Kirton could show notable traces of antiquity going back for 2,000 years or so, or indeed any indications of occupation older than Saxon times, was entirely unknown until 1943 when Mr. Adrian Oswald communicated to the Local Notes and Queries column of this newspaper the results of his latest archaeological discoveries in Notts.
Lifting the veil then he described the Romano-British earthworks he had recently found, revealing remarkable but unmistakable remains of Roman and earlier date.
Writing of the proofs of the existence of hitherto unknown local settlement's of that remote period he said that "these villages take the shape of irregular enclosures surrounded by a ditch and sometimes by a rampart . . and are difficult to classify. Some are like Broxtowe (so ably described by Mr. Frank Hind), hutted villages, banked and ditched for protective purposes and placed on hill tops, possibly more for drainage purposes than any other.
POTTERY WAS FOUND.
In this class we can place some remarkable earthworks on the high clays between Kirton and Tuxford.
"Here are sunken streets, rectangular huts or houses, round foundations—perhaps dovecotes, all well preserved and clear to the eye.
These mounds and banks overlooking the Laxton valley, are the best Romano-British earthworks in the county and it is remarkable how they have escaped observation by previous antiquarians. . . . Incidentally they have yet to be surveyed."
Here within an area of about 12 acres, Mr. Oswald found "Roman pottery dating from the first to the third century Roman roof-tiles and numerous fragments of querns" for grinding corn into flour by stones, "indicating a tillage of the heavy clay. Half a mile distant on the high headland," he adds, "is a smaller site, perhaps three acres in extent, showing little surface indications except Roman pottery and querns."
SIGNIFICANCE OF DISCOVERY.
While these discoveries were being made, Prof. Stenton was writing in his great treatise on the Anglo-Saxons that "neither the heavy clays west of the lower Trent, the sandy expanse of Sherwood Forest, the wolds of Nottinghamshire, nor the broken country between the Derwent and Erewash, can have invited settlement so long as land could be obtained elsewhere."
He was in line with other authorities but "there were more things . . . than are dreamed of in their philosophy" for simultaneously Mr. Oswald was thus announcing that "during my researches into the archaeology of the county I found considerable traces of settlements on the Clays in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Roman times.
"Even in the Bunter region, the main area of Sherwood Forest, where plough land for observation is not available on a large scale, unrecorded earthworks showed the hand of man." If these earthworks near Kirton are made to disclose their secrets an important new chapter of local history may be written then.
Kirton appears to have been established by the Saxons and developed by the Danes. The second part of its name denotes a Saxon farmstead, and its forepart preserves the Danish word for a church, a fact which suggests that, when the Northmen came, in the ninth century, they found a church in being.
Whether they destroyed it or not, can only be guessed at; Domesday does not record such a structure though that does not necessarily imply that the one, whose value was too small for official notice, did not exist there then.
Willoughby is perhaps of later foundation. It was a place where willows grew; its terminal "by" is Scandinavian and experts agree that villages whose names so terminate were Danish, generally dating from about the time of Alfred the Great or possibly a little earlier.
In Domesday Book, Kirton is veiled under the name of Schridington though "Circheturi" might have been expected as its proper form, and how this strange name (with variant spellings) crept in is a problem yet unsolved.
The Normans substituted a "K" for the initial diphthong, and by the end of the 12th century, the recognisable form of "Kirketon" was reached though it required several centuries for the elimination of the middle "k." Willoughby was entered in the great survey as "Wirbegi," and two centuries later it emerged as "Wyluby." By 1087, the royal manors of Mansfield and Grimston had soc in Schridington; the last Saxon owner, Tochi, who was also Lord of Laxton, had been dispossessed and his lands granted to the Norman Geoffrey Alselin. Part of Kirton was appurtenant to his manor there; part was soc to Roger de Busli's manor at Laxton, and Ragnall, Willoughby and Walseby shared in other portions.
To Gilbert de Gand had fallen the manor and Gilbert acquired other Alselin estates. His grandson founded Rufford Abbey, which obtained no insignificant share of Kirton and Willoughby ere the Norman age was over. There was a water-mill at Willoughby of which Alselin had a moiety and also an orchard. The surviving Norman font proclaims a church of that period. The woodlands were small, the population of the two villages was probably about 60; only 12 acres of meadow are recorded and much of the land was waste.
The names of the Norman grantees quickly faded out of the local annals. During Stephen's reign, the abbey-founding Gilbert de Gand married the Countess of Lincoln, and in her right became an earl; his descendants long continuing as property owners here. Alselin's "man" (or tenant) is said to have been the founder of the family of Cauz who, in the 12th century, had a barony of which Laxton was the head. Halmer Fitz Jordan was lord of Tuxford in 1138, holding from them lands and an osier holt which he granted to the Fremunts for "half a mark of silver yearly." The Busli line ended with John about 1200 and its great fee descended to the Countess of Augi (sometimes called of Eu), the "lady" of Tickhill, where was the castle of her ancestor, the Norman, Roger de Busli.
About 1203, a Fremunt sold to Hugh Bardolph his interests in Kirketon and Walesby, Matilda de Cauz as overlord confirming the deed; but ere that time the stream of local gifts to Rufford Abbey had begun.
Its founder, Gilbert, Earl of Lincoln, had set the example when was promptly followed by various owners. Among the donors was Hugh Fitz Ralph, who courteously advised his "most beloved lady in Christ" that he had granted the monks the lands he had of her fee in Walesby and Kirton, and the lady, Oliva de Mungebun, not to be behindhand in politeness, was graciously pleased to signify to her "devoted knight" her approval of the grant.
Hugh also made an exchange of lands and rights in Kirton and Willoughby with the abbey, greatly to its advantage, but the advowson of Kirton church he reserved to himself and his heirs.
Robert de Lexington was another notable benefactor, as also was Osbert Silvein, and by gifts large and small, Rufford obtained no inconsiderable portion of the two villages, and at Kirton erected a grange.
In 1191 the future King John, then Earl of Mortain, gave the church at Kirton to the Archbishop of Rouen and in 1201 he confirmed the gift. It was a "chapel" attached to West Markham and formed part of the royal chapelry of Blyth and Tickhill, but upon the outbreak of war with France (in which Normandy was lost) the chapelry reverted to the Crown Newstead Priory also acquired an interest; in 1369 for 13s. 4d., it released to Rufford its common rights it had in Kirton Park by reason of the prior's parsonage at Tuxford.
Certain gifts of Kirton soil to Rufford Abbey in the 12th century mention the existence of meadows there and commenting upon this fact Stenton remarks that the village appears to have had no common meadow and that enclosures had already taken place. Other records of that period indicate some small ownerships. They also show that the Matterseys had already become possessed of properties which they were destined long to retain.
In some obscure way, the Knights Templar, whose Order was established in 1119, obtained lands and rents in Kirton, possibly by gift of Matilda de Cauz, who was a great benefactor to religious institutions and included the Templars among the recipients of her bounty.
Monastic lands were often dowered with chartered privileges of which one was exemption from tolls, and in 1276 Rufford Abbey had confirmation for itself and its tenants of this freedom which affected Kirton and Willoughby and must have made one section of the community envied by the others. The monks then also had confirmation of the right of free warren within their lordships.
A peppercorn rental of this time was that of Richard de Lexington who held Kirton Wood from Alan Lancelene by service of a silver penny at Candlemas.
The series of Year Books inaugurated in 1220, to preserve reports of law cases, contain a long report of the assize trial in 1309 in which the right to the Kirton advowson was determined. Willam de Ros, Richard de Foliott, Philip de Chauncy and William de Cantilupe had all claimed it through female descent, but the issue had been narrowed down to de Ros and Cantilupe who had presented to the living in 1304, and now the verdict went in his favour.
Founding his chantry in Tuxford church in 1334, Sir Thomas de Longvilers endowed it with property at Kirton towards the endowment of a chaplain to say mass daily before sunrise for "travayling men by the waye," and in 1547, it was found by the Chantry Commissioners that £2 a year was then being received from this parish for that purpose.
In 1316, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (whose wife was the Earl of Lincoln's heiress) was certified Lord of Kirton.
He headed the baronial rebellion against his nephew Edward II, and being captured in 1322, was beheaded.
Three years later the arrogant Hugh le Despenser, unworthy favourite of the King, had to obtain royal pardon for assuming possession of the Lancaster estates in Notts, &c. (which the widow had been allowed to retain) without seeking the King's licence, and in 1326, to the joy of the nation, he followed the late Lord of Kirton to the block.
BLACK DEATH VICTIM.
Domestic annals of this period tell that a man convicted of murder won his pardon by the familiar process of fighting the Scots, and that upon the manor of "Kyrketon" the labour of villeins had already been commuted to a money rental and personal service at harvest and other special times.
The Black Death of 1349 carried off the rector, and doubtless unrecorded others. Local estates were then changing hands, one of them tragically, for in 1391 Sir William Burgh was adjudged a traitor and his properties were sold to divers persons for 50 marks.