NOTES ON FINDS.
1.—Car-Colston. Dr. Thoroton's Headstone.
ON September 12th, 1901, the stone of which an illustration is given, was found at Car-Colston, and though I wrote a description of its discovery in a letter which appeared in the Nottingham Daily Guardian of September 16th last year, it seems advisable to place this discovery on more permanent record in the Transactions of the Society which has adopted as its name that of the man to whom the inscription on the stone relates.
It is well known how the fine stone coffin of Dr. Robert Thoroton was discovered near the chancel door in Car-Colston churchyard when soughing round the church in 1842, and in 1863 was again laid bare, when it was taken up and placed in its present position in the vestry.
In September last the churchyard paths at Car-Colston, being much overgrown with turf, were re-cut. I was watching this operation and noticed a large slab, which had been uncovered, and which lay lengthways of the path, close to the spot where Thoroton was buried, and which had evidently been placed in that position for the purpose of paving the pathway. Thinking from its size and appearance that it was probably the mensa of one of the pre-Reformation altars of the church (the compulsory desecration of which was frequently carried out by laying these mensae face downwards in the aisle of the church or in the path outside, thus degrading their use to the utmost and compelling the trampling of them under-foot) I had the stone raised to see if its other side bore the usual five crosses indicative of an altar stone. This I found to be the case, two of the crosses (that in the centre and one of the corner ones) still remaining. The others appear to have been lost by the shaping of the stone to its later purpose, or by the desecrators' hammers or the natural decay which has destroyed a large part of its surface. Though both are rudely cut, the centre cross is more ornate than the other, having small bulbs at the termination of its arms. The present length of the slab is exactly seven feet, and its original measurement, judging by the positions of the remaining crosses, was probably not much more, so that it is, in all likelihood, the mensa of the side altar formerly standing at the east end of the south aisle (in the south wall of which the piscina still remains) and not the high altar, the usual length for which was twelve feet. The dressed surface of the stone is twenty-six inches across, the slab is six inches thick, and along the outer edge runs a cove mould (shewn in section on the drawing). On the opposite edge are the remains of a flange, about two inches below the dressed surface and running the whole length of the slab, though at the upper end it has been for the most part hammered off. This flange has apparently been about six inches wide, and was probably built into the reredos or wall at the back of the altar, thus carrying all the weight of the slab on that side and necessitating only two pillars or "legs" in the front, instead of one at each of the four corners. About four feet from the top end of the slab is a groove cut across the dressed surface, as if at one time someone had meditated cutting off the greater portion of the "rotten" end. This groove has a somewhat recent look about it and was possibly done at the time Thoroton's coffin was dug out on the same spot, when this slab would be sure to have been seen, and the removal of the sounder portion of it perhaps contemplated.
What makes this discovery of more interest, however, to Nottinghamshire men in general, and to the members of this Society in particular, than the mere fact of its being the mensa of an altar, is the circumstance of its bearing the following inscription, cut in bold capitals:—
DIED NOV 21st
This inscription is on the upper half of the stone, the centre cross of the ancient altar being six inches below the date 1678, while the remaining corner one is about the same distance above the name "Thoroton."
The place where the stone was found, close to the burial place of the coffin, the inscription upon it, and the fact that the lettering is entirely on the upper half of the stone, while the lower half is much defaced and in a more " rotten " condition as if from long burial in the ground, seem to show that this was the original headstone of Thoroton's grave. Doubtless many of his admirers will be grieved to think that his monument should have been made the occasion of such an act of desecration. We know that he prepared his stone coffin six years before his death; let us hope that he did not at the same time set aside his church's altar-slab to be used as his headstone. At least we must bear in mind that, even in Thoroton's day, more than a century had elapsed since the stone altars were thrown out and desecrated, so that possibly the original purpose of the cross-incised slab had been forgotten.
One interesting point is cleared up by the discovery. On his coffin it states that Robert Thoroton was buried on Nov. 21st, 1678. The parish registers say he was buried on Nov. 23rd. This stone clears up the matter by telling us that the 21st was the date on which he died. Possibly when he had his coffin prepared he had the inscription cut as far as the words " sepult: fuit," leaving a space for the date to be afterwards cut in, which being done, as it needs must have been, between the day of his death and the day of his burial, the the mason, ignoring the "sepultus fuit," naturally cut the date of death, thus causing the disagreement between the coffin and the register.
It only remains to be added that this interesting slab has been removed to the interior of the church and fixed against the north wall of the chancel, the better to preserve it from harm and to give opportunity of seeing it to those interested.