The manorial history of Lenton may be said to commence with the Domesday Book. From this survey, completed in the year 1086, we find that certain lands were in the hands of the King, while the greater portion had been granted to and formed part of the vast possessions of William Peverel. The origin of this William Peverel, the first Norman Lord of Lenton, is enveloped in mystery. He is commonly reputed to have been a natural son of Duke William of Normandy. It was in 1068 that William Peverel was in charge of Nottingham Castle, and when the Domesday Book was compiled, he was Lord of many manors and houses in the county and also the Churches of S. Mary, S. Peter and S. Nicholas, all of which he gave to Lenton Priory. He was the ancestor of the Peverils of the Peak of Derbyshire. He built and endowed a monastery at Northampton and another in Lenton in 1104, about nine years before his death.

The first local family case that we hear of in Nottingham, is that of William Peverel, son of the first William de Peverel, the Norman Lord of Nottingham Castle, who is charged with compassing the death of Ranulph, Earl of Chester, for which he met with the King's displeasure, and is reported to have fled for sanctuary to Lenton Priory. Henry II came to the throne in 1154, and, casting longing eyes on the Castle, the life of Peverel (a supporter of King Stephen who had just died) became distinctly dangerous and insecure. So on a gloomy winter's night that year, Peverel, once amongst the powerful, accompanied by an old manservant, stole away from his castle, while Henry's men sought his blood in the subterranean passages beneath. They missed him. Disguised as mendicant monks, the two men gained temporary shelter at the Priory of Lenton. Peverel shortly afterwards reached the Lincolnshire coast and escaped to France, where he died.

"William de Peverel died in peace and full of days," as appears from the register of the monastery at Northampton, "in the 17th year of Henry the Second, leaving a grandson, William Peverel, as his successor in all his estates and honours."

Upon the Priory of Lenton, this William Peverel bestowed practically his whole manor of Lenton, and it came into the hands of the Prior and Monks of Lenton, and continued in the possession of the confraternity until the final suppression of religious houses in the time of King Henry VIII. After the dissolution of Lenton Priory, the site passed to the Crown; two years later, the Priory, together with certain other lands that had belonged to the monastery, was granted by Henry VIII to Sir Michael Stanhope for the term of 40 years. In 1563 the reversion of the same was granted to Sir John Harrington on a lease for three lives. In 1604 the site and demesne of Lenton Priory came into the possession of Sir Michael Hicks, to whom the same was granted in fee-farm. In 1684 "the site, circuit and precincts of the dissolved Priory of Lenton, with two messuages, three cottages, two tofts, a water-mill, 400 acres of arable land, 200 acres of meadow, 100 acres of pasture, 200 acres of firs and heath, with all appurtenances in the parishes of Lenton and Radford were purchased from Sir William Hicks, the grandson of Sir Michael, by Thomas Winford, Esq., for £9,650. Thomas Winford was succeeded by his nephew, Sir Thomas Cookes Winford; his widow bequeathed the property to her niece, the daughter of whom first mortgaged and subsequently sold the same for £36,000 to Thomas Pares and Thomas Paget, bankers of Leicester. Almost immediately after the last named purchase, that portion of the property lying on the southern side of the Parish of Lenton was re-sold to Joseph Lowe, Alderman and Mayor; other portions were afterwards purchased by John Wright (later Osmaston) of Osmaston Manor, near Ashbourne, Matthew Needham, Thomas Wright Watson, and William Stretton.

These gentlemen seem to have become joint Lords of the Manor of the Priory demesne, in proportion to their several purchases, as is usual in such cases, but it does not appear that any manorial rights have been claimed in respect of this manor for many years past. The site of the Priory and Monastery demesne appears to have constituted a distinct manor of Lenton.

The manor of Lenton, as distinct from the Priory demesne, was retained by the crown until about the commencement of the reign of King Charles I, when it was granted to the Corporation of the City of London. In 1628, the Manor of Lenton, together with the ancient fair, and all royalties, privileges, rents and services thereunto belonging, was granted in fee-farm by letters patent to certain citizens of London, who were constituted commissioners and duly authorised and empowered by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and commoners of the said city, to sell and dispose of such manors, lordships, lands and tenements as had been granted to them by King Charles the First. Accordingly, they sold to William Gregory, gentleman, one of the Aldermen of Nottingham, the manor of Lenton, the land of which is now mostly in the possession of the Sherwin-Gregorys of Harlaxton Manor, Grantham, who retain their manorial rights.

T. S. Pearson-Gregory, Esq., D.L., J.P., is the lord of the manor of Lenton, but not of the Priory demesne, which constituted a separate manor of which the Trustees of John Osmaston, Esq. (died 1901) and others are joint lords. The half-yearly Rent Audit of the Manor of Lenton and the Court Leet met until quite recently at the White Hart and The Three Wheatsheaves Inns.


The debtor's prison at the White Hart Inn (interior).

The debtor's prison at the White Hart Inn (interior).

The Honour or Manor of Peverel is supposed to have been created by William the Conqueror, and granted by him to William Peverel. To this Honour was attached a Court of some description, but there is now no way of ascertaining correctly what was its nature or jurisdiction. It seems, however, to have comprised both a Tourn and a View of Frankpledge. The Tourn had jurisdiction to hear and determine all felonies (death of man excepted) and common nuisances. The View of Frankpledge had jurisdiction over those matters which were exempt from Tourn, and the tenants of the Manor who owed suit and service were bound to appear before it. The Manor and Court of Peverel passed into the King's hands on the flight of William Peverel, the grandson, in 1155, and in succeeding years passed into many different hands, and the court was held in various places. There is little in the pleasant and secluded garden of the White Hart Inn, Lenton, to remind us of the ghastly happenings which have taken place within the building overlooking its greensward, in which building was situated the prison of the Court of the Honour of Peverel, a place of awful reputation. The Court of the Honour of Peverel took cognisance amongst other matters of small debts, and took no trouble to find out whether it was possible for a debtor to discharge his liabilities or not. In its eyes, if a man was proved to be in debt, he must discharge his liabilities or go to prison. No provision whatever was made for clothing or food for the unfortunate prisoner. He was simply locked up and left destitute to beg from chance passers-by for means to keep body and soul together. Until 1316 the court, which in those days was almost a royal court, and took into its purview very serious matters indeed, was held in the mysterious chapel of S. James, in Nottingham, which may have been situated where Dorothy Vernon's house stood until recently. Then, as if to mark the degradation of the powers of the Court, it was moved first to the Shire Hall, and then to Basford, and last of all to the White Hart Inn in 1790, where it survived until 1849. Some authorities state that when the Court was first removed to Lenton, it was held in a room over the Priory Gateway, and afterwards removed thence to the White Hart Inn which was erected in 1804 by Mr. Wombwell, who afterwards had charge of the prisoners, special apartments in the rear being set apart as a prison. This prison still remains. The White Hart was originally a coffee house, which in the early 19th century was extremely popular. Probably the mounting blocks outside the door of the Inn have something to do with this period of its history. The old grey stones of its walls are, unfortunately, hidden by plaster now. Blackner, in his history of Nottingham, tells a dismal story of a prisoner confined within the prison dungeon of this inn, and probably the story had something to do with the closing of the prison.