Beeston: then and now

FROM what person or object does Beeston derive its name? There are other Beestons in various parts of the country. One is near to Leeds, at which a well-known coal is obtained. Other Beestons are near to Swaffham, and to Sandy. In Domesday book (1086), our Beeston appears as Bestune, and in after centuries as Beston, Biston, Beyston, Beiston, etc., but Beeston Castle, ten miles from Chester, was Buistane in Domesday book, and was Bovis in Roman times. In the "Place Names of Notts." it is suggested that the name may come from an old personal name, Be, or Bes, or from Bedestun, "the farm of Bede," or from a river in the northern part of Saxony, the Biese, which name the Anglo-Saxons may have brought with them. Curiously the Rev. T. J. Oldrini, in his little history of Beeston, called "Gleanings," makes the name to be derived from Bea, or Bees, who he says was "a female saint who flourished about the middle of the sixteenth century," (p. 8), which is evidently a misprint for "seventh century," when a nunnery was in 656 founded by St. Begga, afterwards called St. Bees, at a village with that name in Cumberland, and she is said to have seen the soul of St. Hilda being carried into heaven by angels (Bell, p. 91), St. Hilda having died in A.D. 680. The district we call Beeston would doubtless be occupied by the Britons, and probably settled by the Angles coming up the Trent, before the year named, but by what name it was then called, or from what the present name is derived, must be left in a state of uncertainty. On the seal of the Urban District Council is a bee-hive, surmounted by a crown, apparently suggesting the town of loyal bees.

Beeston was in the Wapentake or Hundred of Broxtowe, which extended from the Trent to beyond Mansfield Woodhouse, and from the Erewash to Blidworth and Arnold. For the administration of its local affairs it had its "Moot" or governing body meetings, at which representatives of Beeston attended at Broxtowe, and these were responsible to the Shire-moot.

It had in the early times the great advantage of the Trent waterway on its south, and on its north the important road from Nottingham to Derby, and persons who like to give the reins to fancy may indulge in the contemplation of the notables that have passed that way.

Geology. It is desirable the young people of the locality should know something of the dirt under their feet. Fortunately there is a record, for the owner of the Chilwell estate, the late T. B. Charlton, Esq., being desirous of ascertaining if coal existed and could be obtained from under the estate, had a boring made, which although it was deemed to be unprofitable from a commercial standpoint gives us a knowledge of the geological formations. According to the report of the British Association, 1890, p. 366, a boring was made in a field about a quarter of a mile south-west of Beeston Station, which gave the following result: "Alluvium 131/2 feet, Red Marl and White Sandstone 167 feet, Pebble Beds 250 feet, Soft Sandstone 33 feet, Coal Measures 8761/2 feet. In the Plant MS. it is stated that four seams of coals, from 5 in. to 17 in. thick, were passed through (See Concealed Coalfields, Notts., Gibson, p. 58). Now let us stand still and mentally gaze on the mighty upheavals, the enormous changes, and the vast ages that have passed as revealed in the rocks below our feet. The places where these seams of coal are in the layers of rocks called the coal measures, through which nearly 900 feet was bored, were, each of them, once upon a time, the surface of the earth where vegetation grew. Those hundreds of feet of sand tell of mighty floods through vast periods carrying the minute particles, and depositing them here for the service of man. That alluvium tells of the passage of the Trent, or some previous large river scooped out, and then deposits of earth, sand, gravel, and other materials carried by great floods from distant places. The course of the Trent must have been at a much higher level than now, for gravels in Beeston are widely distributed twenty to thirty feet above the present river level, and the gravel pits show ten feet, or more, of stratified gravel and sand.

Mr. James Shipman compiled "Notes on the Alluvial and Drift Deposits of the Trent Valley near Nottingham," and he, referring to the escarpments of the Trent Valley, says, "The first, and perhaps the most interesting of these, is at Beeston.'' He shows that the gravel deposited in the northwest of the main road is of a different age to that on the south side, the first being "a rusty colour, coarse, and mixed with red sand," and the other of a grey, or lighter colour. The village is built on an old terrace worn out of the Bunter Pebble Beds, and the Upper Keuper Marle, which are brought side by side by a considerable "fault," consisting mainly of quartzite pebbles, with many flints (Geo. Mem, 57); but Mr. Shipman says there are also pebbles and boulders of coal Measure, Sandstone, Chert, Keuper Sandstone, etc., and that the gravels are wonderfully contorted, done possibly before the close of the glacial period.

A Flint. Mr. W. T. Norris's workmen when making an excavation about twelve feet deep in the old gravel terrace to the south of Broad gate, and to the west of Tottle brook, found in the gravel a stone nearly 3 in. diameter, and weighing 1 lb. I sent that stone to Professor Swinnerton, and asked him to give me its history, and here it is: — "The stone is a remarkably round flint. Its life's history may be summed up briefly as follows: Stage 1, a sponge, living during the chalk-forming period. It lived in the bottom of the sea, and made for itself a beautiful skeleton of silica (much like glass). It died, and its skeleton was turned under the chalk deposit. Stage II, water percolating through the chalk dissolved particles of the skeletons of other sponges and deposited the silica thus obtained around the large sponge skeleton, thus making a round flint. Stage III, the chalk became land—layer by layer was dissolved away, until this flint was left with many others on the ground. Stage IV, glacial period came, and ice sheet scratched these loose flints off the ground, and brought them to the neighbourhood of Nottingham. Stage V, the ice melted, and the waters swelled all the rivers, including those which flowed into the Trent, into a considerable size ; these waters rolled the flint along to Beeston. and left it buried in a lot of gravel. Stage VI, it was dug out by your friend, brought to you, sent to me, and with your permission will be put in the College teaching collection, where it will often be shown to students."

Beeston gravels had for generations a reputation for road materials, and garden paths. Professor Blake mentions the fragments of a perforated axe head, including its cutting end, which was found at Beeston, probably more nearly related to the age of Bronze than to the Stone age (V. His. 186).

There is clay on the north-western side of the parish, where there was a brick-yard, which was closed in 1837, after Mr. Alfred Fellows had built "Beeston Fields" house on the site.

Highfield. Before leaving the geology of the district it is desirable to give the results of a boring for coal on the Highfield estate, close by the railway, and south-east of the house, showing very different formations to those given. There was 21 feet 1 in. of Alluvium, 284 feet of red Sandstone, 2 feet of Sandstone and Clay, and then the Coal Measures of Bind, with Ironstone, etc. The boring went to a depth of 616 feet, and passed through five seams of coal, the deep hard being 6 feet 2 in. thick (Concealed C. F., p. 98).

Romans. In "The History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton," p. 15, Mr. Godfrey mentions a tradition "that a fierce battle was fought between the Britons and the Romans in the valley to the south-west of Old Lenton, and that the former were victorious, although they suffered severe losses." The Tottle brook runs through the lake of Highfield House, and is the boundary of the City and County, and in 1830, when the lake was enlarged, a British bronze sword of the Roman period was found near to the remains of a human skeleton. This sword is now in the Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Normans. In Bestune, at the Conquest, Alfag, Alwine, and Ulchel, the Saxons had three manors consisting of three carucates (? 360 acres) of land assessed, which was taken from them, and given to William Peverel, the lord of Nottingham Castle, who had in his demesne, or chief manor estate, two plough teams, there being seventeen bond tenants, called villeins, who where unable to leave the estate without the lord's consent, and yet each cultivating, say, fifteen acres of arable land, and one ordinary tenant, called a sochman. who together had nine plough teams. There was twenty-four acres of meadow, and the annual value of the estate was 30/-, equal to £45 now. The population may have been seventy or eighty persons.

When later on the Peverel family fell into disgrace the estate was forfeited to the King, who gave it to a branch of the family of Bello-Campo, who are frequently called by their Norman-French name of Beauchamp, which would in English be equal to Fairfield.

A Church. We have no means of judging when a church was  first built in Beeston, but if we assume that the Angles came about A.D. 600, they were before the year 700 converted to Christianity, and would probably build a church however rude and poor in materials and design, and it may be when the Danes came, and established their authority so strongly at Nottingham, and Derby, a church at Beeston was destroyed, and rebuilt afterwards, for Beeston being situated between the waterway of the Trent, and the highway connecting the two towns where the Danish government was established, would be profoundly affected by Danish law. The fact that Domesday book does not mention a church at Beeston is not proof that there was not one. When the Normans came they brought with them a knowledge of architecture far superior to that which had previously prevailed here, and probably a more stable and ornate building would be erected as the centuries proceeded ; it may be one building would succeed another. We have, however, no definite imformation until we find a vicar appointed by Lenton Priory.

There was a grant of land in Bramcote about A.D. 1200, made to Silvester, son of Robert, the chaplain of Bestona.

The Priest and Churchwardens of Beeston went at Whitsuntide to Southwell to join in the solemn procession according to the Pope's Bull of 1171 and took as Pentecostal offerings 1s. 8d., so says Mr. Oldrini, but Dickinson says 1s, 6d. Stapleford took 1s. 5d, Wollaton 1s. 3d. The amounts would roughly mark their relative rateable values. The present value of the sums named would be about twenty-five times greater.

Priory. The Priory of Lenton, which was founded by William Peverel, 1108-8, in honour of the Holy Trinity, and for the love of divine worship, and for the common remedy of the souls of various peoples, acquired the right to present the priest at Beeston, and the Priory arms are still to be seen at the apex of the nave roof at the east end,—the arms being an angel holding a shield with a cross-calvary elevated upon three steps. In 1330, the rectory having been appropriated by the Priory, the church became a chapel subject to the mother church at Lenton. The parishioners and the poor vicar objected, but letters were produced from Popes Alexander III, and Lucius III, approving of the appropriation, which letters had doubtless been obtained by influence. The rector of Arnold, and a Lincolnshire rector were appointed commissioners to try a dispute as to the repair of the chancel by the parishioners, and as to the payment of 22/- yearly by the vicar of Beeston to the Priory, which was a pension confirmed in 1280. Thoroton does not inform us of the result, but it looks as if the Priory claimed the Rectory, and tried to evade its duty to repair the chancel, and also tried to make the poor vicar pay, although the value of the vicarage—that is the income—was only eight marks (£56s. 8d.), equal to say £106 18s. 4d. now.

Torre's MS. gives a list of the vicars from 1327, when William de Willesthorp was appointed, to 1662, when Henry Watkinson was appointed by the Earl of Devon, and of cantorists 1356—1589.

A Chantry. William de Beston seems to have been a remarkable man. He was vicar of Beeston from 1339 to 1349, the latter being the year of that scourge of God, called the Black Death, when it may be one-third or more of the inhabitants of Beeston were swept away by that plague, as was the case in other places. He, in 1355, is described as parson of Cotgrave, and is also called William de Beckeforde, having been instituted Rector of Cotgrave in 1352. He held divers lands in Beston of Roger de Bellocampo. In 1355 he founded a Chantry in the church of Beston, where prayers were to be offered for his own soul, and the souls of John, his father, of Felice, his mother; of Alice de Langeton, and of his brothers and sisters. He endowed the Chantry by giving three messuages and three bovats (? 45 acres) of land in Beston which Matilda Rotour lately held, and other property which was Hugh Manisterson's, and land held by Margaret Hereward, and by John de Strelleyes in Lenton, part of which was a meadow identified by Mr. Godfrey as below the lake on the Highfield Estate. All this was confirmed by the Archbishop of York in 1856. He appointed John de Beston. probably his brother, the first chaplain, subsequent ones to be appointed by the prior of Lenton. It is not unlikely that a part of the chaplain's duty was to instruct the boys of the free tenants. He also gave a missal, books, vestments, a chalice, oxen, horses, etc.

"All his gold and his goods hath he given
To holy church for the love of heaven,
And hath founded a chantry with stipend and stole,
That prieste and bedesmen may pray for his soul."

(See Godfrey's "Lenton," p. 151).

The prayers for the souls of the faithful departed were probably continued for nearly two hundred years, and then in 1545, there being war with France, and the treasury being empty, the king and his parliament by an act confiscated the endowments of two-thousand Chantries, leaving to God the souls he had loved, and would continue to love, with, or with out the prayers. Local commissioners were appointed to enquire into the Chantries, and Sir John Markeham, Knyhte, Wm Cowper, Nicholas Powtrell, esquyers, and John Wyseman, gentleman, who were the commyssioners gave the following description: "The Chaunterie of saynt Kateryns in Biston, founded by one William Biston for a preste to praye for his soule, his frendis soullis and all Crystian soullis, and to mayntayn godis seruice in the churche there, as the incumbent saithe by mouthe withoute anye wrytynge shewed" (Thoroton S. trans. 1914 p. 88). Traces of this chantry, with piscina, were—says Mr. Oldrini—discovered in the south aisle of the old church by Sir Gilbert Scott before its destruction in 1844, but none of the remnants were preserved.

In the translation of the records as given by Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson, in the same paper at page 116, "The Chauntery of Saint Katerins in Beiston ys worthe in landis tenementis and other possessions by yere * * Cs. viijd.,

whereof in rentis resolute xjs. vjd., and so remayneth unto Alyzander Constable, chauntery preiste there, of thage of xl yeres vnlerned and hauing none other promocion, iiijli ixs. ijd., [£4 9s. 2d.]; goodes and ornamentis remayning vnto the kingis Mjesties vse," * * iijs. ixd.

Penance. The public penances which prevailed in Roman Catholic times for offences committed were continued in later days, and the discipline of the Church to wrong doers was severe. "The last person who did open penance in the Church, wrapped in a sheet, and possibly bare footed, is said to have been one Mary (or "Moll'') Read, and that so late as the year 1782. The occasion was the birth of her illegitimate child Elizabeth, who afterwards, curious to relate, became the wife of one of our Nottinghamshire clergy. (Oldrini).

The Church expenses were in the olden time paid by a Church Rate, which in 1823-4 was 11/2d. in the £; the Poor Rate at 10d. in the £then amounted to £150 17s. 101/4d., and the Church Rate at 11/2d. to £18 16s. 0d. There were then 283 resident ratepayers, and fourteen outside ones (W. Walker). The Church Rate was signed "John Hurt, minister," who afterwards assumed the name of Wolley.