Bleasby church, c.1901.
Bleasby church, c.1901.

In giving some account of the parish of Bleasby, I am indebted for many of the older details to the Rev. R. H. Whitworth, who is a great authority on the ancient records of this neighbourhood, and to Mr. John Holmes, a resident in Bleasby at the beginning of this century, who has left two books containing a careful account of the parish, as it then was, and a statement of his own observations from 1810 to 1824.

The oldest record, however, concerning this parish, which may be read to-day, is written not with ink but with water. There is no doubt that the original level of the land is marked on the one hand by the hills south of the Trent, and on the other by those between this place and Southwell; and that the low, flat land exhibits the effect of the scoup and scour of the River Trent, which has cut its way through, and that the gravels, peaty and heavy soils, in the valley are due to the varying eddies of the Trent in very ancient times, the nature of the soil varying in character—there being two or three different sorts—even within the limits of a single field. So the great river has written the first extant record. The river was also the great highway of ancient times, and the names of the Trent side villages ending in "by" and "ton" and "ham" show the Saxon, and even more the Danish origin of the population, who penetrated to the centre of England from the sea, and made their conquests by means of the water.

From Roman times there was a great land highway also parallel to the Trent—the foss-road on the south side of the river—but on this side there was no great road by the Trent side, the marshy ground forbidding it.

Bleasby claims its first connection with recognised history as being possibly the scene of the great baptism of Saxons by Paulinus, about Ad. 600, when King Edwin was present. Bede, in relating this event, tells first of the conversion of Bloecca, the prefect of Lincoln, and the name has suggested that Bloecca's home was Bloeccasby, or Bleasby, and that the baptism took place at Hazleford. I know that many other places on the Trent contest this claim, and that we have against us the great authority of Canon Bright, who conjectures that it was at Littleborough; but certainly the shallow water at Bleasby would be suitable to such a ceremony, and till it is actually proved to the contrary we shall not cease to think of this interesting event of the early Christian history being connected with our little village.

Certainly Hazleford was anciently one of the most important crossing places of the River Trent. A hollow track through the hill on the south side of the of the river marks the wear of centuries of the feet of pack horses and mules, and is continued in a straight line as far as Bottesford; and on this side a similar mule track had worn a trench up Goverton-hill by the side of the present road towards Southwell. This was levelled early in this century. The ordinary approach to Southwell from the south was by this way. Mr. Whitworth thinks it was also the usual way from Nottingham, the people preferring the Foss-road as far as Syerston, and the track across the Trent, to the discomfort of the more direct but difficult and perhaps dangerous way through the Forest. The river suggests the thought of the bloody battle of Stoke, where Lambert Simnel's following was destroyed by Henry VII., and 7,000 men, many of them wild Irishmen, "who did not know their right hand from their left," perished. The battle took place at Stoke Field, but I cannot help thinking that the fugitives fled along the river side towards Bleasby, for they are described in the "Annals of Nottinghamshire" as having been caught between the river and the hill, "where the hill was so precipitious that it could only be climed on hands and knees." This applies to no part of the river so well as to that immediately opposite Bleasby.

There are some places evidently levelled by spade work for cannon on the top of the hill side opposite Bleasby, which would command the river and the ferry. I don't know whether these belong to the Stoke Field battle or to the period of the Commonwealth.

When on the subject of war, I ought to mention that Sir Marmaduke Langdale, the famous Cavalry officer, second in command to Prince Rupert, who cleverly effected the relief of Newark when it was in great extremity, is an ancestor of Mr. Kelham, of Bleasby, whose family name was Langdale till the grandfather of the present Squire took the name and arms of Kelham. The centre of the old bed of the river is the boundary of the parish on the south-east side, but as the course of the river became altered by one of the great floods, the greater part of the island now on the other side of the principal current belongs to Bleasby; but the pastoral care of it involves no great responsibilities to the parson, as the only parishioners there are the rabbits. The Halloughton Dumble is the boundary on the N.W., Fiskerton and Morton on the N.E., and Thurgarton S.W. There is a curious raised bank, which must have been constructed at considerable labour, which may be seen from the railway, separating Bleasby from Thnrgarton, no doubt made by the authority of the Canons of Thurgarton Priory as their boundary, who would have abundant labour at their disposal. The parish contains 1,461 acres of land, 455 of which were open field and common till the enclosure in 1777. Much of the old enclosed laud was at some time Church property, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are still the largest landowners. Before the dissolution of the monasteries a considerable part of Bleasby and Goverton belonged to Thurgarton Priory. About 1220 William de Blythewood bought land at Bleasby of Alan de Goverton, which he made over to the Priory of Thurgarton, in order that the soul of his friend and neighbour, Robert de Oxton, might be "put on the bede roll and praied for ppetuallie." William de Wakebrugge and Robert de Annesley, parson of Rodington founded a chantry at Annesley for a secular priest to make special mention of them two and John de Annesley in his mass whilst they should live and for their souls when dead, as also for the souls of John de Annesley and Annora his wife and their parents, endowed with eight mess and ten bovats of land, whereof three mess and four bovats were in Bleseby, Gourton, and Gippesmere in this parish. This land was transferred by Edward VI. to the Bailifs of East Retford for the support of the Grammar School there, and is still held by them. One of these houses still stands, with walls a yard thick of stone bedded in clay. The Prebends of Normanton, Norwell Overall, and Norwell Pallishall (or palace hall), had estates in Bleasby, and the Prebend of Sacrista the minute tithes, all which at the dissolution of the Chapter of Southwell were transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There are four ancient hamlets in the parish—Gippesmire or Gibbsmen, Bleasby, Notown, and Govrton or Goverton, where the road begins to "go over" the hill towards Southwell. The Vicar and Churchwardens beat the bounds of the parish in Rogation week, 1889. The Inclosure Act of 1777 was very carefully done. There were then 45 proprietors, the largest being the Duke of Portland, who owned 500 acres, which subsequently passed to Sir R. Sutton. The small scattered holdings were consolidated by exchange, and 455 acres of unenclosed land assigned to the various parishioners in proportion to their common rights. New roads and drains and footpaths were laid out, and certain lands assigned to the Vicar in lieu of all tithes, "except the accustomed Easter offerings and surplus dues." One curious provision of the Act may be noticed in favour of the Arch-Bishop of York, who, as Lord of the Manor of Southwell, of which Bleasby was parcel, had rights here. To him were assigned the sporting and fishing privileges of the piece of water called "the Pickrell Play," in Gibbs mere, which at that time covered several acres of ground. It is now diminished in size to the dimensions of a small and shallow pool, and we have never heard that His Grace has exercised the fishing rights there, but we shall be very glad to see him if he ever does come.

The Act confirmed to Bleasby the right of draining its surface water into the Fiskerton lordship, through the Fiskerton Holme Dyke, and so to the Trent, and there is an old story against Bleasby, 150 years old, that the men of Bleasby were dissatisfied with the facilities of outlet, which this drain provided, and determined to cut a passage of their own to the Trent. But there was some mistake in their levels, and the result was that instead of discharging their waters they let in the flood waters of the Trent upon their land, and had to return to the old method of discharge, and are still credited with disposition to an occasional grumble, that the water does not go away fast enough through Fiskerton Holme Dyke. The course of the trench they made is still visible, in the direction of the river. Sir Richard Sutton's property in Bleasby was dispersed by sale in small lots, and many of the purchasers are now the occupiers of their own land, aud some of the small holdings are quite models of good cultivation.


The vicarage of Bleasby was till lately in the patronage of the Chapter of Southwell, and was of small value, being valued in the King's Books (King Henry VIII. Valuation 1535) at £4. There was only a small cottage house at Bleasby, and the Vicars being non-resident, and generally acting in some other capacity at Southwell, usually rode over to Bleasby to fulfil their duty. It is called a discharged vicarage; all benefices below the value of £10 being discharged from paying the first year's income of a new Vicar to the Crown.

A list of the Vicars of Bleasby from before 1470 is here presented:—

1470 William Bagster 1461 Edward IV.
1470 — Ralf Long 1483 Edward V.
  " 1483 Richard III.
1502 William Wood 1485 Henry VII.
1530 Richard Chapman 1509 Henry VIII.
  " 1547 Edward VI.
  " 1553 Mary
1558 William Bullen (Vicar of    
  Farnsfield 1560-62) 1558 Elizabeth
1565 George Charlton   "
1568 Roger Martin   "
1572 Robt. Sheepshank (Reg-    
  ister 1573)   "
1599 " " 1603 James I.
1622 John Sheepshanke (Bur.    
  Sept. 2, 1639) 1625 Charles I.
1639 Simon Sachell (Bur. 1658) 1649 Common-
  "   wealth
1658 John Jackson 1660 Charles II.
1661 Henry Moore (aptd.) 1685 James II.
1689 William Benit 1689 William III.
      and Mary
1703 Henry Roper 1702 Queen Anne
1712 W. Neep (Buried 1717.    
  "God Bless Queen    
  Anne")   "
1717 I Barnard 1714 George I.
1720 Samuel Bird 1727 George II.
1729 William Fowler   "
1736 Henry Bugg   "
1761 Davies Pennell (D. 1774) 1760 George III.
1774 Richard Barrow   "
1779 Whalley Bugg   "
1783 Charles Fowler   "
1785 Henry Houson 1820 George IV.
1831 Charles Boothby 1830 William IV.
1838 Morgan Watkins 1837 Victoria
1840 R. H. Wylde   "
1848 J. W. Marsh   "
1875 Nathaniel Midwinter   "
1888 Henry Lewis Williams   "

Of the first name on the list, William Bagster, we know nothing, except that he fulfilled his duty quietly and peacefully.

The next Vicar, Ralf Long, was unfortunately of a turbulent and quarrelsome disposition. He took offence at the Squire, Mr. John Statham, and resented his claim to a seat or "pue" in the chancel of the Church. On Ascension Day, in the year 1502, he resisted the entrance of Mr. John Statham and his wife to their accustomed seat in the chancel, and rather than create a disturbance in the House of God, the Squire retired, and attended service at a neighbouring church. On the Whit Monday following, the parishioners, who according to custom attended at S. Mary's, Southwell (the mother church of the county), to present their offerings from the daughter church, taking side with the Squire, refused to present their alms to their Vicar to be offered by him at the High Altar, but advanced themselves and laid their offerings on the altar. The Vicar stepped forward to intercept them, and an unseemly riot ensued. The matter was ultimately brought before the Southwell Chapter, and Master William Fitz-herbert, Canon in residence, gave judgment that Ralf Long was no longer fit to retain the chaplaincy of Bleasby, and he was forthwith deprived of the same, with the emoluments thereto attached.

We know nothing of his immediate successor, but it is to be noticed that Richard Chapman, who came next, retained his office through all the disquieting times of the later years of Henry VIII., continued through those of Edward VI., when the Prayer Book in English was set forth, and still was Vicar, in spite of the revival of the old learning, till the end of the reign of Queen Mary. He seems to have somewhat resembled the famous Vicar of Bray, whose declaration is still echoed in song.

"And this is law I will maintain until my dying day, sir.
That whatsoever king doth reign, I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir."

In the sixth year of Edward VI., when the king was feeble and near his death, the injunctions were carried out by which the Parish Churches were despoiled of their old ornaments and impliments of service, and the pockets of a host of greedy followers enriched with the spoils of the churches. At that time the following ornaments were surrendered by the Church at Bleasby.

i corporas.
i pyx of copyr.
iii bells in ye stepull.
ii hand belles and a lytell bell.
A cope of white damask.
A crosse of copper with the staffe and a clothe of sylke.
A vestment of yalow damask.
A vestment of redde sylke with a cross of greene.
A vestment of greene.
An old tawnay vestment.
iii albes and two challys.
iii to wells.
An altar clothe.
A payre of sensars.
ii bannar clothes of sylke.
An old surplus and a rochett.

N.B.—The rochett was for the Parish Clerk, the sleeves tight at the wrist being convenient for his office.

Of William Bullen we only know that he was also Vicar of Farnsfield from 1560 to 1562, and that if his scruples led him to surrender Farnsfield on the changes in Queen Elizabeth's reign, he still retained Bleasby for several years.

The Vicariate of Robert Sheepshank is remarkable, because in it was commenced the Parish Register of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, which dates from 1573. At that time also was acquired an interesting Communion Chalice with a cover, used as a Paten, which bears the date of 1571, and is still in use in the Church. One of the bells in the Church tower also bears the same date, which is marked by the impression of four Queen Elizabeth sixpences of 1570. The writing in the Parish Registers changes in 1599, and it seems hardly likely that R. Sheepshanke continued Vicar from 1572 to 1622, but the name Robert Sheepshank occurs in the list of burials in 1622, so that it is possible that he lived to a very great age.

We gather from the registers that a terrible plague must have visited Bleasby in 1604, for between April and October in that year there were 87 burials, often two in one day, and sometimes three. Our register does not record anything but the bare fact of the deaths; but at the neighbouring parish of Rolleston the Vicar of that period has left a paper book, relating matters more freely, and then we find the entry accompanying a sudden death at Fiskerton "Pestis suspecta," and on the following day when another death occurred in the same household "Pestis confessa." Still this outbreak must have been very local, for we find nothing corresponding to it in the other neighbouring parishes. How severe it was in Bleasby we discover when the register tells us it carried off 87 out of a population of probably less than 300. It is interesting to know that as soon as this plague was over in October the bereaved inhabitants began to console each other, and to fill up the places of the lost ones, so that between October and the January following there are eight marriages recorded (one or two in the year is usually considered fair business), and in the few years following the plague the population began to increase again in a very healthy and satisfactory manner.

John Sheepshanke succeeded to the Vicarage in 1622, and was followed in 1639 by Simon Sachell. Simon Sachell continued through the Civil Wars of Charles I., and when the Commonwealth was established was complained against, at a Court held at Nottingham in 1650, "That he preached very inefficiently, having a natural imperfection in his speech, and gave out threatening speeches against them that go from him to better means." Still he was able to defend his position as Vicar, though his powers were circumscribed. The use of the Prayer Book in public worship was forbidden, and marriages were made civil acts. In 1654, April 30th, he was, however, "ellected and sworne parish Register to the towne and Parish of Bleyseby, according to the tenor of the Act of Parliament in yt case provided." Several marriages occur during the period of his registry, contracted in the presence of Wm. Wight-man, Justice of the Peace.

Simon Sachell died in 1658, and the stone covering his grave and that of his predecessor, John Sheepshanke, has the following inscription:— Here was interred ye Body of John Sheepshanke, Vicar of Bleasby, Sept. 2, 1639, and Simon Sachell, Vicar of ye same, Aug. 24, 1658. One Church . One Office And One Work we had One Death we dyed And in One grave were layd. One was our Faith—our Onely hope was this By Christ alone Obtaine Eternall Blisse.

Is it too far fetched to suppose that in this touching epitaph the connection between Bleasby and Blisse may be just hinted at—

Bleasby now. Blisse by and bye.

Simon Sachell was succeeded by John Jackson, the son of a well-known and holy man, William Jackson, of Oxton—of Puritan sympathies—who had however, conformed to the service of the Church of England. John Jackson, however, good man as he was, apparently had not conformed, and was intruded into the office of Vicar without Episcopal ordination, and no doubt did not use the services of the Church of England. It is curious to notice that within a few days of the Restoration of Charles II. whilst the air must have been full of the rumours of a change, and he must have been expecting the time to come when the services of the Prayer Book would be restored, and the unordained ministers ejected, a child was born at the Vicarage, and the following entry made in the register:—"Wait-still, the son of John Jackson and Reforme, his wife, was borne the 1st day of June, 1660." He meant that though he discerned the cloud of coming danger, he would wait still upon God." His fears were indeed fulfilled. The old order was restored without delay, and on April 4th, 1661, Jackson having been ejected, "Henry Moore took possession of Bleasby-cum-membris."

Mr. Whitworth tells me that John Jackson retired to the village of Morton, where he opened a school for boys, from whence he removed to Kneeton where he died.

We notice nothing special in the registers for some years—except two burials—in 1604, "A creature of Wyllom Whitman." In 1605, "A creature of John Butterworth." Does this mean a stillborn or unbaptised child ?

On September 6th, 1678, is recorded the burial of Jane Wilson, and it is added, "The first which was buried in woollen—certified." This has reference to an Act of Parliament for the encouragement of woollen manufacture, which was then in a depresssed condition. The supposed repugnance of some to this enactment is alluded to in the well-known lines of Pope:—

"Odious! in woollen. 'Twould a saint provoke. (Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke) No. Let a charming chitz and Brussels lace Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face. One would not, sure, be frightful when one's dead. And, Betty, give my cheeks a little red."

In 1707 all livings of less than £50 were freed by Queen Anne from paying the yearly tenths to the Crown, and those above that value were to pay this to Queen Anne's Bounty for the increase of small livings, and the gratitude of William Neep, Vicar of Bleasby, for this favour is recorded in the register by the words, "God bless Queen Anne."

Richard Barrow, who became Vicar in 1774, had been Vicar in turn of almost all the benefices in the patronage of the Chapter of Southwell. His son (Rev. James Barrow) left a sum of money which provides a scholarship of the value of £40 a year at St. John's College, Cambridge; first, for the benefit of any claimant born and educated at Southwell, and then for a son of a Vicar of any of the parishes of which his father had been incumbent.

Henry Houson, was Vicar from 1785 to 1830. During his incumbency his son, also Henry Houson, and who was afterwards Rector of Brant Broughton, officiated for many years at Bleasby. He was a noted horseman, and his old grey horse is still remembered.

Charles Boothby, who succeeded, was Prebendary of Southwell. He had been in the army, and, leaving a leg at Talavera, retired, and took Holy Orders, and united Bleasby to his other preferments in 1831. His name never occurs in the Bleasby registers, showing that he was represented here by a substitute, except when he took an occasional service during his residence at Southwell. When the topic of war came up he used to show that he had not forgotten that he was a soldier. The Rev. Morgan Watkins, who succeeded, was also Vicar of Southwell.

In 1840 the Commissioners assumed the property of the Chapter of Southwell, and endowed the Vicarage of Bleasby with £250 in all, and the first resident Vicar, at any rate for some time, was R. H. Wylde, who built the vicarage house. Mr. Marsh followed, in 1848, and the patronage was vested in the newly-formed Bishopric of Ripon. During his incumbency Mr. Marsh did excellent work, and was much beloved. He enlarged the vicarage house and the church, and gave the sweet-toned organ which still leads the music in the church.

He was succeeded, in 1875, by Nathaniel Midwinter, who was highly regarded, till his death in 1888, when the present Vicar succeeded. The patronage has now been transferred by exchange to the Lord Chancellor, and Halloughton is joined to Bleasby.