News for Autumn 2011


In the Autumn 2010 issue of the BALH's Local History News is an article written by Elizabeth Williamson, who is Executive Editor of the VCH, entitled What's Next at VCH? This article is reproduced with permission of the Editor of that journal.

'On 31st August [2010], we bid farewell to our Director, Professor John Beckett, who has returned to Nottingham University after a five-year secondment, having seen our HLF-funded England's Past for Everyone project through to a very successful conclusion. Not only did John oversee the publication of 15 EPE paperbacks in 10 different counties, the development of 2 websites and an education project, but he also acted as General Editor for several 'big red books' and started VCH activity in Cumbria, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Hampshire, building on the EPE model for volunteer research. And, although one might expect him to shake the VCH dust from his feet, he has taken on the role of VCH ambassador in those counties where new work has just started. John's energy and commitment are truly remarkable! Staff and supporters were able to thank him, some in person at a party held at the IHR on October 12th and others by messages in a specially crafted 'little red book'.

Now, despite fewer staff in VCH's London office and fewer full-time editors at work in the counties, there is no diminution in our ambition to keep the VCH show on the road and to make it better known and more widely used by both the academic community and general public. The most effective means of reaching existing local historians and a new audience is our completely revamped website, which will be the subject of our next bulletin in Local History News. Our national and county sites will continue to give news of all the local history events, particularly those in which the VCH is involved, and to offer draft text hot off the PC. Our VCH Explore site, which has been redeveloped on a more accessible thematic basis, and our presence on British History Online gain us new users worldwide every day; our national website now provides online training in local history. In 2011 we will hold IHR-hosted local history study days and the annual Marc Fitch lecture, to be given on 12 July by Professor Jeremy Black. Our Locality and Regional seminar in the Institute of Historical Research continues, and we hope to start a new series of our paperbacks very soon.

Our core work continues to take priority, with a steady stream of 'big red books' planned for publication from now until 2013; this week we celebrate the launch of VCH Gloucestershire's volume 12 on Newent and May Hill, and in 2011 will see the publication of volumes from VCH Essex, Somerset and Oxfordshire. To find out more about those volumes and about all the latest VCH developments nationally and locally, please go to

Ed: Although this item is a year old I felt it worth reproducing because of the tribute it pays to our Chairman and the information regarding the VCH web sites.

VERNON RADCLIFFE, 10 March 1926 -11 June 2011

Vernon Radcliffe died on 11 June 2011 aged 85 years, He was a long-standing member of the Thoroton Society, a Council member from 1968-9 and was elected a Vice-President of the society at the 1988 AGM.

Robert Howard delivered the eulogy at the funeral, Dr. Caroline Graves-Brown, Curator of The Egypt Centre, University of Swansea and Brian Loughborough former Director of Nottingham City Museums have provided memories and information about Vernon from which the following is derived.

Vernon Radcliffe was born in Rotherham and attended the grammar school in that town. He developed an interest in local history being inspired by the town's Clifton Park Museum, and whilst at school he started measuring rainfall and submitting information to British Rainfall journal; he was awarded the MBE in 1997 for his work as a voluntary rainfall observer.

On leaving school in 1944 he was immediately conscripted into the army and served with the Royal Signals in India and Malaya. He was discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1947 and returned to his home town. He worked in the local Labour Exchange and upon seeing an advertisement for a 'resident observer' at the King's Observatory, Kew, he applied for and gained the post which involved the measuring of rainfall! After three years he became a museum assistant at Sheffield City Museums but a few years later moved south to a post at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow. In the mid 1950s he moved to Gunnersby Park Museum. He was involved with the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, the Middlesex Local History Council and served on the then Standing Conference for Local History. He attended meetings of the Council for British Archaeology and was co-founder of the Acton Local History Group.

In 1959 he married Gladys having met her at the National Buildings Record Library.

In 1964 Vernon was appointed as the first curator of the Newark Museum where he remained until retirement in 1991. Robert first met him in 1973 at a meeting of the Midland Area Museum Service when Robert was a Birmingham City Councillor and at the 1976 conference he introduced Robert to the then
curator of Mansfield Museum, Susan Griffiths, and the couple have been together ever since.

From 1964 Vernon was active in the Nottinghamshire Local History Association and the Newark Archaeological and Local History Society was formed in Vernon's front room as a successor to the Newark Archaeological Research Committee which had been founded by Maurice Barley.

Caroline Graves-Brown's memories of Vernon are from working with him for five years in the 1980s when she was the assistant curator at Appletongate Museum, Newark. She remembers that he had a dry and quirky sense of humour which really required being present with him to appreciate.

Caroline says that 'Mr. Radcliffe' as they called him, had a prodigious memory and knew every detail there was to know about Newark. On one occasion the local paper wanted a photograph of a boating disaster and she was sent to find it. Anticipating having to look through hundreds or even thousands of photographs to find it, she recalls Vernon telling her the exact year and so her task was simplified. She says 'Mr. Radcliffe always stood up for values in which he believed and would not be swayed by views simply because they were fashionable, he was a truly ethical man, even willing to make himself ridiculed to do what was right ... He greatly admired loyalty. When a paid job was available in the museum he believed that it should be offered first to a youth opportunities person who had previously worked for us rather than putting the application out for all to apply. ... His enthusiasm and dedication to promoting and protecting the heritage of Newark was exemplary. He once told me how flattered he was because a researcher had assumed he was a volunteer rather than the museum curator. That showed ... he still retained the enthusiasm of a volunteer ... He was a very kind and thoughtful person. Every year he always sent me a letter around about Christmas with news from Newark, and continued to do so even though I hadn't worked for him for some 20 years.'

Caroline ends her memories with 'To summarize, Mr. Radcliffe was a very brave individual, always willing to do what he thought was right even if it didn't fit with what everyone else believed. He was also kind, farsighted, loyal, hardworking and generous with his time, he had a quirky sense of humour. I feel privileged to have worked with him'.

Brian Loughborough says; 'I remember Vernon being at Gunnersby Park Museum and also at Newark in the early days when I was at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. Both Vernon and his wife were very hospitable and helpful to me as an innocent young sprog.

Vernon was a joiner of various organisations that he thought worthwhile and he always
expected them to be well run and clear about what they were doing. His pithy comments at the Midlands Federation and the Society for Folk Life Studies would always enliven any meeting and subsequent discussion.'

The Thoroton Society sends its condolences to Vernon's wife and family.


By Pete Smith

Only days after my article Rufford Abbey and its Gardens in the 17th and 18th Centuries was published in the English Heritage Historical Review, Vol. 4 in May 2009, a group of 22 previously unknown drawings of Rufford Abbey and Ollerton Hall were offered for sale at Sothebys by Lord Savile.

These drawings have since been purchased by the Nottinghamshire County Council (with the assistance of the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries) and they have now been re-united with the remainder of the Savile drawings at Nottinghamshire County Archives.

The drawings include a mid-18th century set of survey drawings of the Abbey, which most importantly illustrate the west entrance front as it existed before Anthony Salvin's alterations, carried out between 1837 and 1841 (see picture below). They also include a number of late 18th century views of the Abbey, and a group of elevations and plans of Ollerton Hall and designs for a new church at Ollerton. Many of these drawings have been identified as the work of the well known 18th century architect, James Gibbs. All these drawings will be illustrated and their importance discussed in Richard Hewling's forthcoming article entitled Sir George Savile's Architectural Drawings which will be published in the English Heritage Historical Review, Vol. 5, 2011.

The drawings are catalogued as Nottinghamshire Archives, DP/97/1/1-13; DP/97/2/1-5; DP97/3/1 and DP97/4/1.

West Front of Rufford' by James Gibbs c1750
A survey drawing entitled 'West Front of Rufford' by James Gibbs c1750, showing the west front before it was altered by Anthony Salvin, 1837-41. It illustrates the former porch with its single Salomonic columns, an iron balcony to one of the large windows and an elaborate curved gable, flanked by oval dormer windows, crowning the central section of this fagade. Nottinghamshire Archives DP/97/1/7.


By Barbara Cast

Just one of the memorials to crashed airmen in the county - this one is on Tollerton airfield.
Just one of the memorials to crashed airmen in the county - this one is on Tollerton airfield.

Even though deep in the countryside, the villages in the area around Southwell saw a good deal of wartime action in the last war. With so many airfields in this part of Nottinghamshire just across the river and in Lincolnshire, the skies were constantly flown over and, as has been seen in recent news of memorials being erected in villages round about, such as Hoveringham, there were a significant number of aeroplane crashes.

Bleasby, my home village, did not escape these events: two Lancasters and a Wellington came down, with the loss of the crews. On 6 February 1941 a Wellington, R1014, with a crew from 304 Squadron, a

polish squadron, came down near to Station Farm shortly after taking off on a training flight from RAF Syerston. All four Polish airmen, Sergeants Cymborski, Janczyk, Lichota and Tofin, were killed.

Two Lancasters collided over Bleasby on 1 September 1943: this was recorded in the village school logbook. They were flying at night without lights, one flying from Metheringham and the other just returning from Germany and heading for Syerston. The wreckage was scattered over 40 acres of fields between Rudsey Farm and Brickyard Farm and all sixteen aircrew died.


By David Bagley

Over the last nine years a local history team in Woodborough has developed an extensive website concerning all aspects of Woodborough's heritage. In the last few months this has been overhauled, extended and improved in its presentation and ease of reference. now provides over 200 articles, equivalent in length to some 700 A4 pages, all illustrated with a wealth of photographs taken from a database of over 4,500 images.

At the time of Domesday, Woodborough was a hamlet of 200 souls on the edge of Sherwood Forest, owned by three Saxon thanes who were promptly dispossessed by William the
Conqueror. Articles on the website illustrate how the village boomed in the 19th century to be a centre of framework knitting, followed by the growth of market gardening which took advantage of the fertile soil of a sheltered valley.

Little change followed until the 1970s when two new estates doubled the village's population to the present 2,000 but the main part of Woodborough remained unchanged and is principally a Conservation Area.

All aspects of the village's heritage have been covered by the website and its contents have been carefully regrouped into main areas which can be expanded through menus to simplify retrieval.


An article on the BBC web site gave information about a book bought at a bring and buy sale held at a church in Savannah, Georgia, America for $35 which turned out to be a memorial book from Byron's family vault in Nottinghamshire.

The book records the personal tributes and several poetic laments left by over 800 people, many famous figures of the period, who travelled to the poet's final resting place in St. Mary Magdalene church in Hucknall. The book was apparently placed in the vault in 1825 and by 1834 was full. How the book went to America is not known although an 1849 report suggests that the then parish clerk gave it to a friend and another from 1890 suggests that the book was taken to the USA when a family which then owned it emigrated.

The book was bought in Savannah by Mrs. Marilyn Solana who, after online research contacted experts at the National Library of Scotland where a curator, David McClay realized what the book was and inspected it when attending a conference in the USA. Mrs. Solana later travelled to Edinburgh to present the book to the National Library of Scotland which holds the world's most extensive collection of works by Byron in its John Murray Archive. A digital copy of the book after conservation work has been carried out will be given to Mrs. Solana and the church at Hucknall.


Helen Bates wishes to promote this Heritage Lottery funded project to highlight work being done to research the history of Hyson Green through oral history interviews and archive based research, The project is also gathering material from ex-residents to deposit in archives which might otherwise be destroyed. An example is the archive of the Hyson Green Traders' Association, gained by the project after the closure of the
Association's office earlier this year. There is a web site at www.hysongreenhistory and at the end of this year a booklet will be produced to accompany an exhibition at Brewhouse Yard museum describing the story of the Hyson Green flats.

If any reader has information about the flats, Helen can be contacted at


An article in the Newark Advertiser at the end of July referred to the ongoing controversy over the Roman villa at Southwell. It would appear that English Heritage are still unwilling to schedule the site and that the developer is considering the sale of the site to an Irish consortium regardless of the outcome of the planning application for 29 homes on the site.

A recent announcement is that the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham is to have a makeover costing £5 million. This will restore the grounds and transform the Grade II listed lodge and pavilion buildings into a new visitor centre. Work possibly starting in autumn 2011