Events and excursions, Winter 2016-17

November 2016 ‘Dr Robert Thoroton’ by Adrian Henstock

This lecture had to be re-scheduled from 2017 to accommodate the original speaker, but it is nevertheless an auspicious point in the Society’s history, partly because 2017 marks the 340th anniversary of Dr Thoroton’s publication of the ‘Antiquities of Nottinghamshire’, partly because 2017 is the 120th anniversary of the foundation of the Thoroton Society, and partly because the lecture was given by our President, Adrian Henstock.        

Adrian had prepared a very detailed and scholarly paper, outlining the life and times of the seventeenth century when Dr Thoroton lived and worked. It is difficult to know whether during his lifetime Dr Thoroton was better known as the doctor of Car Colston or as an historian. It seems that he was very keen on local history in his younger days, and especially his family history. He was certainly well respected as a doctor and records show that he was called to deal with patients especially from landed families in various villages in Nottinghamshire and even in Leicestershire. It was obviously his interest in the history and especially the churches of these villages that led Dr Thoroton to spend some significant time researching and writing about the places he visited, possibly on his doctor’s rounds. Adrian gave us well illustrated and well documented details of Dr Thoroton’s family and genealogy as well as his religious and political views. The mid-seventeenth century with the Civil War was certainly a turbulent period of English history, but Thoroton’s reputation seems to have nudged him towards caring for the supporters of the Royalist Cause who needed medical attention after battles, especially the sieges of Newark. His religious views also tended to the High Anglican opinion rather than the Puritan. His book on the ‘Antiquities of Nottinghamshire’ was first published only a year before his death, and so in many ways we are lucky that it was published at all. Adrian’ s lecture was much appreciated by a good sized audience, and his own historical enthusiasm and meticulous work shone through his presentation. 

Alan Langton

December 2016 – The Neville Hoskins Lecture ‘Nottingham Subscription Library’ by Geraldine Gray, Assistant Librarian

Bromley House

The year 2016 witnessed the 200th anniversary of the foundation of Nottingham’s Bromley House Subscription Library, a cherished and quirky institution that has frequently been described as the city’s ‘best-kept’ secret’ and a ‘time capsule’. In the last month of that year we were treated to a fascinating talk not only on its history but also on its present and future role in the 21st century.

The original speaker was to have been the long-serving Head Librarian Carol Barstow who had taken an especial interest in the history of the library and in local history in general. Unfortunately she took early retirement at short notice due to ill health but her place was expertly filled by Assistant Librarian Geraldine Gray.

It was highly appropriate that this was the Society’s annual Neville Hoskins Lecture, commemorating a much-loved and highly-respected local historian, speaker and tutor who was a prominent figure in both institutions. Indeed, the main reading room in Bromley House is named the Neville Hoskins Room in his honour. We were also reminded of the close ties between both bodies over the years. The Society rented a room there for its own Library and council meetings for some 72 years from 1909 to 1981. The room -now beautifully restored – is still called the Thoroton room.

The library was first established in 1816 on Carlton Street but moved to its present location – a fine Georgian townhouse in Angel Row built in 1752 by a member of the Smith banking family – in 1822. It is unique to Nottinghamshire and indeed is one of only half-dozen or so private subscription libraries in the country.

Geraldine began by outlining significant highs and lows in the library’s history, including the occasion in 1832 when members were reprimanded for ‘the repeated firing of guns

and pistols in the garden and billiard room’. More serious was the financial crisis of the 1920s which threatened the library’s very existence. This was only averted by two regrettable steps – many of the rarest books had to be sold and the ground floor converted into lettable shops - both to finance repairs to the fabric.

She went on to describe how the original collections were arranged under the broad subject groupings of Theology, Philosophy, History, Literature, Fine Arts and Economics. Within this idiosyncratic classification the books were – and still are - divided into three shelf sizes and then arranged in the chronological order they have been obtained over the two centuries. A modern computerised classification system has now been developed – but the original card indexes are still preserved. Geraldine then spoke about the range of activities staged during the bi-centenary year -an enormously ambitious programme of lectures, exhibitions and other events – many open to the general public. It is evident that she and the small band of talented part-timers who run the library are passionate about it and go the extra mile to ensure its smooth running.

The present century poses considerable challenges in maintaining the Georgian structure – especially when subject to the constrictions of a Grade 2* Listed Building. There is an urgent need to replace the leaking roof and to provide a lift to link all four floors, but so far the Heritage Lottery Fund has been unsympathetic.

It has also been necessary over the past ten years for the library to re-invent itself with innovative outreach programmes. It has been very successful in attracting media publicity and new members and is positioning itself in the heart of Nottingham’s cultural life; it now provides the administrative base for the recent award of UNESCO City of Literature status - one of only nine cities throughout the world - including Barcelona and Baghdad - with this title. We all wish it well for the next 200 years !

Adrian Henstock

January 2017 – the Nottinghamshire History lecture 2016 ‘Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Churches in World War One’ by the Rev Dr Stuart Bell

This year’s Nottinghamshire History Lecture was given by Rev Dr Stuart Bell, who has recently completed a Ph.D at the University of Birmingham, and is also a local Methodist minister. His theme was the role of the Church of England, and some Methodist chapels, in the East Midlands in relation to the fighting of the First World War. He emphasised three key points. The first was the way in which the war was depicted in church and chapel as a Holy War, in other words not just a conflict between two states but between good and evil. The second was the emphasis on sacrifice, notably the ideology of sacrifice with its overtones of Christ as the sacrificial lamb. Third was the moral authority conveyed by the emphasis on martyrdom as the state of the young men who died in the conflict.

Using newspaper and parish magazine material Dr Bell demonstrated how these themes were developed. In particular he emphasised the importance of religious practice, notably in the singing of appropriate hymns. These were often written in a quite different context, but were pressed into wartime service because of their militaristic language, and because congregations at home and men at the front knew them off by heart from their school days. In many ways this was a sombre lecture, given the subject matter, but the audience showed a lively interest in the subject with numerous questions and points of interest being raised at the end.

John Beckett