Events and excursions, Summer 2017


Disaster Recovery, Archaeological Evidence for the Impact of the Black Death in England

Professor Carenza Lewis, University of Lincoln
The State Chamber, Southwell 22 June 2017

Plague pit excavated by Professor Lewis.

The Black Death was a defining moment in our history. In the space of a few months during 1348 and 1349 something like half of the population died from plague. In some parishes it was more, perhaps 80 per cent. Whole families were wiped out. Communities were decimated. There is some (limited) documentary evidence, but for some years now Carenza Lewis has been collecting pottery evidence via the technique of Test Pitting - made famous by Michael Wood’s television series ‘The Story of England’. In the Society’s bi-annual Special Lecture, held this year in the newly refurbished State Chamber at Southwell, 120 members and their guests were treated to a superb lecture which demonstrated how the technique of Test Pitting works, and what evidence it reveals that helps us to understand just how severely individual communities were affected by the plague in these years.

Carenza Lewis had a traditional academic background, with a Cambridge degree in Archaeology and Anthropology, but she came into the public eye when in 1993 she joined Time Team, with Tony Robinson, Mick Aston, and several other archaeologists who became familiar faces on our television screens. She left the programme in 2005, and after a number of years at Cambridge, where she set up ‘Access Cambridge Archaeology’, she moved in 2015 to the University of Lincoln as Professor of Public Understanding of Research. In that role, not only does she continue to involve individuals and community groups in archaeology, particularly in relation to her work on the Black Death, but she puts her message across in such an engaging way that the State Chamber audience was spellbound for an hour, with barely a cough to disturb the collective concentration.

I am grateful to our Special Lecture team (Barbara Cast, David Hoskins, John Wilson and Alan Langton) for their hard work in preparing the lecture and the reception which followed. The only sad note was that our Honorary Secretary suffered an accident in moving some chairs, and had to be rushed to Newark hospital by her husband to have the wound stitched. ‘Very irritated to have missed the talk’, she texted - once she had been bound up!

It was a special evening, informative and entertaining, and it showed us just how much fun, as well as how serious, archaeology can be when delivered with Carenza’s panache and verve.

John Beckett



We had a glorious summer day for this excursion, which was so well supported that the coach was full, and eight people had to be disappointed. We were most ably led by Richard and Roger, who had prepared a very informative and interesting programme, with a nice mixture of talking and walking. We travelled to South Wingfield first where coffee was served in the Social Club and where an excellent exhibition has been prepared especially to mark this two hundredth anniversary of the Rebellion. Richard gave a talk about the possible causes of the rebellion. Making it clear that a combination at industrial problems, political unrest and social imbalance, together with the growth of Primitive Methodism, all combined to provide cause for public disaffection. After coffee we chose either to make a walking tour of some sites of the rebellion in South Wingfield, or the coach took us to look around the inside of South Wingfield church and the graveyard where evidence of names associated with the rebellion can be seen.

To cater for the large numbers, lunch had to be served in two venues - both local hostelries which provided enjoyable meals and a welcome break for members. We next went by coach to Saint Matthew’s Church at Pentrich, where we saw evidence of its Norman origin in the circular piers and font, and the lower part of the tower. We then had the chance to walk through some delightful fields to view the wide and dramatic expanse of the Amber Valley, through which the rebels had marched on their proposed journey to Nottingham. The whole ambitious enterprise had wrongly assumed that they would be joined by thousands of marchers from all over the country on their way to London. Sadly for them, the march came to an abrupt end at the Butterley Iron Works when they were met by troops. Our drive back to Nottingham followed part of the route of the marchers as they dwindled away to nothing by the time they had got to Kimberley. The subsequent trial of the leaders resulted in three of them being hanged, fourteen transported abroad, and six imprisoned. Altogether an excellent day, thanks to the sunshine and to Roger and Richard.

Alan Langton


Fortunately, by the time we arrived at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire, the heavy rain which gave us a very wet journey had eased. The coach could not have squeezed through the pillars at the gate entrance without causing damage, and so the large group of 43 members and friends had to walk up the drive which enabled them to admire the imposing Hall facade and the ten acres of grounds as they walked. We were greeted with delicious coffee and home-made biscuits before being divided into groups to be taken on a tour of the building by three very excellent, knowledgeable and entertaining guides. Until 1976 Lamport was owned by succeeding generations of the Isham family, but when the renowned actor Sir Gyles Isham died without heirs, he bequeathed the property to a Preservation Trust. The present noble building replaced a manor house and was originally designed by John Webb in 1655, when Sir Charles Isham was rewarded with a baronetcy for his loyalty during the Civil War. The interior is in splendid condition, and is being maintained immaculately by the Trust. It has magnificent ceilings and fittings, with many portraits of members of the family, especially the ladies. The Library is a stunning room, full of books, some dating back many years. Most rooms have delightful furniture. The garden is extensive, and is famous for the rockery designed by the tenth baronet, a Victorian eccentric who introduced the garden gnome to England. Sadly. the ground was too wet for us to go into the garden.

A good buffet lunch was enjoyed in lovely sunshine at an inn in Brixworth, a village with a church with Saxon evidence. Our final stop was at the Leicestershire Village of Hallaton, where we were given a very informative illustrated talk by John Morison. This fine church dates back to Norman times, with a Norman font and tympanum of Saint Michael slaying the dragon, Norman arches, some Kempe windows, and a thirteenth century tower and spire. Altogether another excellent excursion.

Alan Langton


At the Thoroton Society AGM on the 29th April 2017, the following presentation was made on the history of the village of Kingston on Soar, followed by a visit to the church where the historic Babington Monument was examined by the members.

Kingston on Soar lies in the westernmost extremes of the county of Nottinghamshire and is one of a string of Soar Valley villages dominated by the River Soar. It has had a chequered history, being administered by the nearby village of Ratcliffe on Soar until it achieved independence circa 1536.

Not much is known about its early history but the Celts built a shrine at the junction of the Soar and Trent, leaving behind votive offerings. The Romans were in the area circa 49AD and remained in the vicinity until circa 410, leaving behind evidence of metalworking until the source of iron and coal gave out. The first true residents were the Angles, with a cremation site dating from circa 550AD containing 200 funeral urns being found in the grounds of Kingston Hall in 1842.

Domesday records three Saxon owners in 1066 who were quickly dispossessed, the manor falling to William I. There followed 500 years of amalgamation with nearby Ratcliffe on Soar in which Saewin, a King’s Thane, administered the holding. The church at Ratcliffe was the mother church, no church or chapel being recorded at Kingston in Domesday.

By the time of William II the area was held by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, who obtained the lands by dubious means associated with the accession of, firstly, William II and then Henry I.

A chapel existed at Kingston by 1100 but this together with Ratcliffe and Thrumpton was vested in the priory of Norton by 1135. Transferred to the priory at Burscough circa 1354-1380, it was subject to two disputes with the Pope over the appointment of a priest, leading to the church being attacked on the 9th October 1381 by the Bishop of Exeter. The attack was instigated by a disaffected member of the Picot family who was at that time advisor to the Bishop.

Whilst the church was in ecclesiastical hands the manor remained in the procession of the Picot family who held it until 1313. The Picots were violent but the residents of Kingston were unruly, being accused of harbouring outlaws and not obeying their lord. Peter Picot was accused of not implementing his View of Frankpledge, which was his vow to keep order, and was fined for the activities of the residents at Kingston. This may have had an effect as, shortly after, Peter was accused of murdering one William Bon and persecuting Simon le Cook but he went with Edward I to Scotland and achieved a pardon due to services there. The Picots disappeared in the mid to late 14th century, to be replaced by the Bassets and Shirleys as lords.

The Manor at Kingston, located in the fields opposite the church, is not mentioned before 1422 when it was reported as being in the possession of the Babington family. It was to have a short life as the Babington family were embroiled in the Babington plot of 1586 and the manor was attaindered, coming to first into the possession of the Earl of Shrewsbury and various other owners before being restored to the Babingtons. However, the manor house was not occupied and was reported as being dilapidated in 1593 and in ruins by 1610. In 1812 it was stated that nothing remained but a stone gateway.

The Babington family were Catholic but with Kingston only having a chapel, all burials were at Ratcliffe. However, at the dissolution in 1536 and with their cousins the Sacheveralls enthusiastically embracing the Protestant faith in that place, the Babington family built the first church at Kingston between 1536 and 1538, where they could celebrate the mass in peace. Kingston then became a parish in its own right. The Babingtons’ church was odd in that it effectively faced north-south with the gap between the chancel and the Babington chapel filled with the Babington monument. This limestone monument was intended to be the resting place of the Babingtons but no evidence is forthcoming of any burials. Nor is there any evidence for a tomb despite Katherine Babington specifying in her will that one should be installed. The monument is huge, with a canopy on four columns richly carved and originally painted. It contains no less than 30 coats of arms embracing all the noble families of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire in what is clearly an attempt to garner intercession for the Babington souls. The columns carry the rebus of the Babington family which is a child holding a barrel (Bab{e}-n-tun).

The church was rebuilt in 1832, retaining the largely north-south aspect and again in 1900 when it was formed into the conventional east-west alignment. The church contains some alabaster furniture in the form of a font and reredos made from alabaster from mines at Fauld, Staffordshire and Kingston. These two mines were in the possession of Lord Belper, then the occupant of Kingston Hall.

The manor lands were owned by a variety of absentee landlords until 1842 when they came to the Strutt family who later became the Lords Belper. They built a new hall on the rising ground opposite the old manor site. This was constructed between 1842 and 1846 and was made from Derbyshire limestone carried by canal down to a wharf on the Soar. The 1881 census records 17 servants and 4 gardeners. The hall is now private apartments.

After the Second World War the Belpers instigated Kingston Show, a country fair which was popular until it was discontinued in the mid-1960s.

As stated above, the Belpers were involved in all the gypsum mining activities in the area, Lord Belper being the chairman of British Gypsum. He opened Kingston mine in 1880 which had its own railway to the wharf on the Soar and later was connected to the Midland Railway at Kegworth Station. The line was steeply graded and several horses were killed when wagons ran away. This line and the mine closed in 1971. In 1926 he created the Kingston Fine Arts company, making alabaster ornaments and tablets for churches. This company closed in 1936. However, the principal industry was farming. The Nottingham Agricultural College occupied the southern part of the village having a “bull-farm” in the field close to the railway. The rest of the parish was farmed by the Beeby family who still retain the farm next to church. In 1990 the college withdrew from the village to re-establish further south and the college farm and lands were put over to housing. The Lady Belper School was created in 1815 from lands donated by the Belpers. The school closed in 1966.

Kingston retains its rural setting largely because in it in the Soar flood plain. The village was severely flooded in the winter of 1946/7 and the road to Kegworth has been frequently closed when the Soar is running. In the 19th century a boarded high level path was created down Station Road to permit Kingston residents to reach Kegworth dry-footed. This deteriorated and was removed in the 1990s despite much protest.

Ray State, Ratcliffe on Soar