Events and excursions, Autumn 2017


We returned to one of our favourite lunch venues this year on 4th November - the Olde Bell at Barnby Moor. Once again we met in the pleasant surroundings of the Neilson Suite and enjoyed a super meal together.

After lunch we raised our glasses for the toast to the Queen, proposed by John Beckett. Keith Coxon then proposed the toast to the Society in a unique way by reading the following poem to the Society written by Clare, his wife.

The Thoroton Society is a historian’s heaven,
I’m told it dates back to 1897.
We have lectures, trips and bookstalls too,
There’s so much history waiting for you.
The Society gives us all so much pleasure,
May it continue to flourish, it’s our local treasure.

Our President, Adrian Henstock, responded to the toast with his thanks and gave an interesting outline of the area around Barnby Moor and Retford, focussing on the Great North Road, formerly the main highway from London to the north and on which the Olde Bell, a former coaching inn, stood.

Following our meal Malcolm Dolby, a well-known local historian and formerly of Bassetlaw Museum, gave an illustrated talk on East Retford, a Planned Mediaeval Town. He described how the town was created, its relationship with its neighbour, its political history and its archaeology. A most intriguing talk which was greatly appreciated.

Once again we enjoyed an excellent lunch. The Chair, John Beckett, thanked Malcolm for his talk and also the staff of the Olde Bell for their very efficient and pleasant service.

Next year we are planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of T Cecil Howitt’s death by holding our lunch in Nottingham Council House of which he was the architect.

Barbara Cast, Honorary Secretary


This rather unusual excursion for the Thoroton Society attracted over thirty people, although there were four absentees because of illness. As usual for our outings, the sun shone on our journey through Leicestershire and Rutland. At Tickencote in Rutland we discovered a gem of a church which sadly may well cease to be used for worship before long. The site has some Anglo-Saxon remains, but the main attraction of the building is the extraordinary enormous arch of decorated Norman architecture, dating from the early twelfth century. The chancel is original although the nave was restored in the eighteenth century, using the original stone work. Other features include the very rare six-partite Norman vaulting in the chancel, and age-blackened wooded effigy of a knight in armour (perhaps Sir Roland le Daneys), an original font, and a pre-Reformation bell, now standing in the nave.

We made a short journey to the village of Helptston to the beautifully restored cottage where John Clare (1791 to 1864) lived, now carefully looked after by the John Clare Trust. We had a helpful explanatory talk by David Dykes before being able to spend some time exploring the house and garden in our own time: our visit was private, and there were no other people present. A delightful ploughman’s lunch was served by a team of volunteers. During the free time we were able to explore the garden, examine the detailed exhibition in the dove-cote, and enjoy the tranquillity of this peaceful place, all of which helped us to understand John Clare’s love of the natural beauty of the countryside which is apparent in his poetry. A short walk over the road took us to the churchyard where John Clare and his parents are buried. We then had a very informative talk by Chris Topper, onetime churchwarden, and a tour of the building. Our homeward journey was again through beautiful Rutland countryside.


John Cotterill was our speaker for the Maurice Barley Lecture on 14th October: he explained why 1917 was the worst year for Nottinghamshire. John is a battlefield tour guide and, until 2014, was a serving soldier for 37 years in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment and their successors, the Mercian Regiment. Since 1994 he has led tours to many battlefields including those of the American War of Independence, the Crimean War, the Great War and the Second World War. In addition John recruited and directed the volunteers who ran Nottinghamshire’s “The Trent to the Trenches” Great War Centenary Exhibition.

John explained how 1917 was a year of loss and change. A massive four thousand men from Nottinghamshire died in 2017 alone which equated to one in a hundred of the county’s population. And on top of that there were those who came back from the Great War that year who had life changing injuries of body and of mind. Every settlement in Notts. would have been affected by these losses and casualties. In 1916 conscription had been introduced, shortly applicable to married and single men up to the age of 50. About 38,000 conscripts joined the volunteers and regular military and, of all these 60,000, 12,000 did not return. In this county many miners had previously volunteered due, in all likelihood, to the terrible conditions under which they worked in the mines.

We learned of the support given to the war effort by the well-known industries such as Boots, Players, Raleigh, and Ransome and Marles in Newark which changed from pre-war manufacture to making engine bearings. The Royal Ordnance factory at Chilwell, mainly staffed by women, was key in supplying the vast number of shells needed.

After the Battle of the Somme the attitude of soldiers had changed and, where they had sung upbeat songs such as “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, fatalism had crept in and the songs had morphed into bleak renditions such as “We’re here because we’re here”.

Back at home the situation for civilians was getting worse too. Nottingham Corporation introduced rationing in 1917, made necessary by unrestricted submarine warfare (this was before its wholesale introduction by central government) and in addition available land was used for food production, including fourteen acres of the Victoria embankment dug up for allotments. On top of all this 1917 experienced terrible weather with snow in April and heavy rains in August, leading to a failed harvest. In March all schools were closed due to coal shortages.

People were more aware of the terrible events overseas - accounts were being sent back to families by their sons and these were often published for everyone to read. There were high profile deaths in the year too - Albert Ball in May, Professor Reginald Dolley (first head of history at University College) in July, and also in July the 19 year old son of Field Marshal Allenby and Philip, the second of three sons of John Chaworth-Musters to die in the Great War. Soldiers on leave came home fully equipped, including rifles, so everyone was immersed in the reality of war. Also very evident were the buildings requisitioned for hospital use, such as the former Bagthorpe workhouse which became a military hospital with a track into its grounds straight from Victoria Station. No less than twenty-four schools in the city had become hospitals and there were many other buildings, private and public in similar use. In January 1917 casualties began to be taken to the Albert Hall, mainly with trench foot.

The impact of the war on local people across the whole spectrum of society was beyond anything which could be imagined and stoicism had largely replaced the optimism of the earlier part of the war.

Meanwhile the county’s Yeomanry of the South Notts. Hussars and the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry were in Palestine, fighting their way towards Jerusalem. But most Nottinghamshire men were serving in the local infantry regiment, the Sherwood Foresters with 140,000 men passing through their ranks during the war, of whom 11,000 died. By 1917 they had expanded to 32 battalions and 17 of these were locked in combat on the Western Front. 1917 for them comprised offensive after offensive as Britain became the majority partner in the war. Arras was followed by Messines which was followed by Passchendaele which was followed by Cambrai. In these four offensives over 4,000 Foresters fell, making it the regiment’s, and therefore the county’s, worst year.

Outcomes from the Great War included great changes for women due to them taking on roles unavailable to them before the war - in factories, on the land and in uniform. The war and the suffrage movement were the main factors which led to them gaining the limited vote in 1918. Generally, the experiences of the war led to a breaking down of the class system.

A most interesting lecture from a knowledgeable speaker, full of detail and with a number of moving vignettes relating the experiences of individual people.

Barbara Cast