News for Summer 2016

The new Harley Gallery, Welbeck

During the last four hundred years the Dukes of Portland and their families have accumulated some eleven thousand items of treasures which now amount to a very large and valuable collection – the Portland Collection. The grandson of the seventh Duke, William Parente, has now moved back into the Abbey itself since the army school has transferred to new buildings in Leicestershire. This has allowed the family not only to open the restored interior of the Abbey to guided tours, but also to promote the building of a new Gallery, the Harley Gallery, alongside the abbey premises, the garden centre and restaurant and shop. Access is off the A60 road to Worksop.

On Saturday 19th March 2016, the historian and broadcaster Lucy Worsley officially opened of the new Harley Gallery at Welbeck. This new building, costing about five million pounds, replaces the former Gallery, first opened in the 1970s. This new gallery with its state of the art lighting and show cases (and security) presents a far more spacious and professional means of looking at some of the items, which range from paintings by Van Dyck and George Stubbs to items such as the ear-ring worn by Charles I at his execution, a miniature of Mary Queen of Scots and a stunning collection of silver plate amassed by the Cavendish-Bentinck family over the years. It is a remarkable building, and is now open to the general public. A few members of the Thoroton Society a few months ago were involved in the discussion of the plans for the best way to present the description of the exhibits in the gallery. As a result, we were invited to the official opening on 19th March.

Alan Langton

[The Harley Gallery is just off the A60 between Mansfield and Worksop. The Gallery is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 5pm on Sundays. The Gallery is closed over the Christmas period and on Easter Sunday]

Stan Smith

Thoroton members may remember Stan Smith or, to use his pen name, Ztan Zmith. Stan wrote numerous booklets and pamphlets, mainly relating to the area around Underwood and Bagthorpe, as well as Bulwell. Sadly, Stan died on 13 April, and his funeral was on 27 April. He and his wife Christine attended many local history events, although they were not members of Thoroton.

John Beckett

The Castle Studies Trust – grant applications

The Castle Studies Trust is proactively seeking out grant applications for research projects on castles throughout the UK. The focus is on sites which are not in the care of major heritage organisations (eg English Heritage) but which are of some importance.

The Trust currently awards grants of up to £5,000 (although this is under review) to fund or co-fund research projects on such sites. It is intended that grants will initially be awarded for new work on castles, such as architectural and geophysical surveys, or scientific tests such as radio-carbon dating as well as projects to enhance the general public’s understanding of castles such as reconstruction drawings. You can see the type of work that has been funded so far by visiting the Trust’s website: Application forms are also on the website. The closing date for the next round of applications is December 2016.

Historical Maps

Some years ago, I came across a little-known online interactive mapping tool that turned out to be extremely useful in my research. I now want to share some information on that tool as I believe it would be valuable to anyone engaged in historical research associated with Nottinghamshire, but also because its future may be under threat.

Nottinghamshire Insight Mapping is Nottingham City Council’s external GIS system: <>. It’s built in-house and runs on their own infrastructure to “deliver spatial content to the general public” (quoting their development team). It appears to be a tool designed to be all things to all people as it contains many different features, several of which I have not investigated. For instance, tools for planning or surveying that allow custom map annotation and distance measurements. It supports different layers that may be superimposed to identify features or information related to housing, leisure, transport, crime, education, and environment. It also supports detailed street maps, street views, and bird's-eye views whose locations can be found by name, by postcode, or by grid reference.

However, the most important feature for my own work turned out to be a range of historical map layers of Nottinghamshire that could be viewed either individually or overlaid on the modern street map, and I have used this many times for locating where lost streets and buildings would be today. In the top-left corner of the map is a toolbar; one of the options reads ‘Road Map’ but this may be changed to ‘Historical’ in order to switch to an equivalent historical map layer. At the same time, a slider control appears through which the historical map can be changed to one from a different date. Another slider control allows the user to control the visibility of the modern map through the historical map, and I cannot emphasise how startling it is to explore Nottinghamshire with such a superimposed view.

There are a few problems that I have previously discussed with their development team:

Quite recently, the site started prompting users to complete an optional survey. Some of the survey was soliciting possible improvements, but much of it was trying to decide which features were used most (or least). Given that budgets are ever-decreasing, I fear that some features may be axed to cut costs, and given its limited exposure then the historical maps may find themselves on that list.

As well as making greater use of this tool, and getting its problems addressed, there are some rather exciting enhancements that would make it invaluable for research and enhancing our online content:

If a hyperlink could take you to a specific historical map layer, and also take grid-reference parameters, then it would allow Web sites to link photographic collections to their corresponding time and place, or allow someone to compile a list of historical street names and that could take you to the map and show you both ends of that street (a feature I would even consider paying for).

I strongly urge readers to investigate this tool, and to complete the survey with their own suggestions. It’s too good for us to lose.

Tony Proctor (

Fourteenth Annual Great Nottingham Inclosure Walk
1.30 pm Sunday, 3rd July 2016

The walk starts at the river end of Queens Walk, Nottingham, near to Wilford Bridge. Now accessible by tram (Clifton Line) from city centre or station. It goes through all the Recreation Grounds allotted to the townsfolk when their commonable Fields and Meadows were enclosed to give more space for desperately-needed housing. No other town in Britain has anything like it.

Queen’s Walk c.1904. Courtesy of Mr Spencer and

Much of this ground was laid out as Walks, recognising that cricket and other team games and events need catering for, and play-space, but that the regular Sunday walks of the family were just as important for the Town’s health.

Dr. Judith Mills will start the Walk and she and Dr. Jonathan Coope will accompany the walk to explain the importance of the 1845 Inclosure Act and discuss how the parks and open spaces created by that Act have been used, abused and developed over the last 171 years.

The walk finishes at the Inclosure Oaks, (yes, there are now two), on the Forest, where a certificate will be presented to those completing the route. Guides will be available to buy on the day, or from the tourist centre, for your future use. The Forest cafe will be open at the end, highly recommended. Judith Mills

The Pentrich Revolution Bicentenary, 1817 – 2017

On 9th June 1817 over 300 men set out from villages on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border to march to Nottingham. They thought that they were part of a general rising across the North and Midlands to bring down an unjust and oppressive government. They were motivated by poverty and the hunger of their families, and with all efforts to gain a hearing suppressed, they saw armed revolt as the only alternative.

Unknown to them, the Government was fully aware of their plans, and their agents had actively encouraged the rising. Rebel leaders in other areas had already been arrested. The Derbyshire men were to be used as an example to others. After a trial in Derby, with a carefully selected jury, three were executed, hanged and then beheaded, fourteen transported and others imprisoned. Their families were evicted and homes destroyed.

There was a national scandal at the time due to the role of the government agents provocateurs, but the events were soon largely forgotten. Yet they are a significant step in the long story of the fight for universal suffrage and a just society.

The significance for Nottinghamshire

While most participants came from Derbyshire communities the place of Nottinghamshire in these events is significant.

The Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Bicentenary Group has been set up to commemorate these events, supported by Derbyshire County Council, local councils along the route, the Universities of Derby and Nottingham, and many local organisations, with the active participation of descendants in England, Australia and the U.S.A. A range of events is planned through 2017. These will include:

Dr Richard Gaunt, Curator of Rebellion at Nottingham Castle, and Associate Professor in History at the University of Nottingham, is giving a presentation on Brandreth to the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire and helping to organise a trip to rebellion-related sites.

Local research into the events and into family heritage is already taking place, involving many local groups, and publication of results is being supported. The story is being told through a variety of ways, including art, music and drama. An exhibition of work, inspired by the rising, by local artists is already underway. A choirs’ workshop is planned for Saturday 15th October led by singer and song writer Lester Simpson.

We are keen to see these events publicised as widely as possible and would be happy to provide speakers to come to your organisation to talk about the Pentrich Revolution and the bicentenary. In the first instance, please contact Roger Tanner or Sylvia Mason c/o or

Roger Tanner

Grand Tourists and Others: Travelling Abroad before the Twentieth Century

Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD Friday 29 April – Sunday 7 August Admission Free

From left: From an album associated with Prince Leopold (1853-1884), 1st Duke of Albany, c.1884 MS 317 Manuscripts and Special Collections; From The world in miniature, 1825, Briggs Collection, Manuscripts and Special Collections; From C.H. Tatham’s Etchings, London (1800).

This exhibition, jointly curated by Dr Ross Balzaretti (School of Humanities) and Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham, takes the visitor on a journey through the history of travel since the sixteenth century drawing on the University of Nottingham’s rich archives.

Beginning with the elite ‘Grand Tour’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and ending with the more commercial tourism of the mid-nineteenth century, the exhibition explores the travels of local families and others throughout Europe and beyond. People travelled for education and pleasure, to buy and sell things, to escape pressures at home, and much more besides. The trips of men and women, girls and boys, servants and even pets are recorded. Many places across Europe and some beyond feature among the exhibits, with a special focus on Italy which became and remained the country most people were keen to see.

Exhibits include passports, diaries and journals, sketches, bills, prints, photographs and guide books, objects which are still familiar now when we travel abroad. Follow travellers as they walked around Rome, climbed Vesuvius, boated around Venice, and looked at art in Florence. Watch them shop for the latest fashions in Paris, and bargain in Naples. Travel with them as they try foreign food, attempt to speak the local language, and encounter both danger and excitement; just as we do today.

The exhibition will be opened on Thursday 28th April (5pm-7pm), by Levison Wood, explorer, author of Walking the Himalayas, and history graduate (Nottingham 2004).

Laxton Local History group

There will be an Exhibition of the recent research and publication of the Lottery-funded project by the Laxton Local History Group at Crosshill Farm, Laxton on Saturday June 25th from 11.00am – 3pm

400th anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys, founder of the Baptist denomination

Thomas Helwys was the founder of the Baptist church and a pioneer of religious liberty for all. He is thought to have died in about 1616, probably in Newgate Prison, London. Although the date of his death is uncertain, he was commemorated at a conference at The Well Baptist Church in Retford, the nearest Baptist church to his birthplace, on Saturday 13th March 2016. Thomas Helwys was born c.1575. His birth place is uncertain, but is believed to be at Askham, near Retford. He was from a well-to-do family, and studied law at Gray’s Inn. In 1595 he married Joan Ashmore and lived at Broxtowe Hall in Nottinghamshire. During the early 1600s Broxtowe Hall became a regular meeting place for Puritan clergy who wished to reform the Church of England. Here, Thomas met, and became a close friend of, John Smyth, a preacher in Lincoln. In 1603, a conference was held at Hampton Court Palace at which King James 1st (VIth to Scots!) enforced uniformity of Christian worship. No deviation from the structure and worship of the Church of England was permitted. At this time, John Smyth began to move from Puritanism to Separatism and in 1606 he set up a Separatist church at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Pressure from the Church authorities in 16071608 resulted in fines and imprisonment for some of the Separatists. Smyth therefore led many of his congregation to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, with Helwys providing much of the funding for the journey. Helwys travelled to Amsterdam, leaving behind his wife Joan and their seven children. Shortly afterwards, Joan was arrested and imprisoned for three months in York Castle.

Preface to Thomas Helwys’ book, reproduced by courtesy of Thomas Helwys Baptist Church, Nottingham
Preface to Thomas Helwys’ book, reproduced by courtesy of Thomas Helwys Baptist Church, Nottingham

By 1609, the Separatist congregation in Amsterdam were practising ‘believers’ baptism’ and had developed what became a Baptist ecclesiology. However, by 1611, there were serious disputes on many issues between the majority of the congregation led by Smyth and a smaller group led by Helwys. Smyth’s group eventually joined the Waterlander Mennonites in Amsterdam. Helwys wrote the first Baptist confession of faith in A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland, which was published in 1611. The following year, Helwys and his followers returned to England and set up the first English Baptist Church at Spitalfields in London. Helwys then published his tract ‘A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity’ which contained the first plea in the English language for universal religious freedom. One copy, now in the Bodleian Library, was dedicated to King James 1st and sent to him. The preface states:

Heare, O King, and dispise not the counsell of ye poor, and let their complaints come before thee. The King is a mortall man, and not god, therefore hath no power over the immortall souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spirituall Lords over them. If the King have authority to make spirituall Lords and Laws, then he is an immortall God and not a mortal man. O King, be not seduced by deceivers to sin so against God whom thou oughtest to obey, not against thy poore subjects who ought and will obey thee in all thinges with body, life and goods, or else let their lives be taken from ye earth. God Save ye King.

Spittlefeild neare London Tho: Helwys

The plea for universal religious freedom states: For our Lord the King is but an earthly king, and he only hath authority as a king in earthly causes. And if the King’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws, our lord the King can require no more. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The King shall not answer for it. Neither may the King judge between God and men. Let them be hereticks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertaineth not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.

Unsurprisingly, Thomas Helwys was arrested and imprisoned in Newgate jail, where he is believed to have died in either late 1615 or early 1616. His followers continued the Baptist tradition, and today there are some 100 million Baptists worldwide. The denomination is now the largest Christian church in the United States1 .

The Well Baptist Church, Retford

‘The Well’ Baptist Church. Photograph by Janet Wilson

In 1691 Richard Brownlow, one of the congregation of Baptists in Retford, purchased land on the edge of the town and gave it for the building of a Baptist church. It seems that there were several buildings on the site over the years but no trace of them exists. The last Baptist church, before the present building, was erected in 1871 and the foundation stone is preserved in the present church. In the early years of the 21st century, the 1871 building was deemed too small, and was demolished. The present building was erected in 2008-9. When the ground was being cleared for the new church, some large paving stones which had stood in front of the 1871 building were removed and a well, possibly mediaeval, was discovered. The well is now walled and covered for safety, but stands in front of the main entrance to the church, hence the name ‘The Well’ for the church2. The Well Baptist Church is a fine modern building which can be hired for conferences.

Following the conference, a coach tour was laid on for members of the Conference to visit a number of local churches connected with Thomas Helwys and John Smyth.


1. Information supplied by Rev Dr Tony Peck, General Secretary, European Baptist Federation

2. Information supplied by a staff member at The Well.

John Wilson

Geoffrey Oldfield MA, MBE (1920-2016)

We are sad to report the death of Geoffrey Oldfield, a well-known member of the Society for many years. Geoffrey died on Monday 18th April, and the funeral took place at St Giles’ church, West Bridgford, on Tuesday 10 May 2016.

Geoffrey Oldfield was born on 12 September 1920 at Westhoughton, Bolton, Lancashire, but when he was just three years old his parents (Frederick and Gladys) moved to Ruddington in search of work. They lodged with George and Harriett Savidge, near Camelot Street. It was here that Geoffrey’s brother Donald was born in April 1925.

In October 1925, the Oldfields, with their two boys, moved into one of the newly built council houses in Highbury Vale, Nottingham, and two years later Geoffrey moved to Albert Street Junior School. In 1929 Frederick Oldfield was made redundant, and the family moved to Old Basford where he took on a greengrocer’s shop. Geoffrey went to Southwark Street School in Old Basford, and in 1932 he won a scholarship to High Pavement School. Geoffrey attended High Pavement from 1932 until 1936, and he passed the School Certificate (predecessor of O-levels) in five subjects: History, Latin, French, elementary Mathematics and General Science.

On 12 April 1939, Geoffrey started work as a Junior Clerk at the City Treasurer’s Department. Two years later, just short of his 21st birthday, he joined the Royal Air Force as wireless mechanic 1037525, and he stayed in this post until 21 June 1946. He was stationed at RAF Little Snoring in Norfolk. He was awarded the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45.

After he was demobilised, Geoffrey returned to work at the City Treasurer’s Department in Nottingham, and he studied accountancy and book keeping. He eventually rose to become Head of the Rent Office. In November 1949 he was admitted as Associate of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants.

At the City Treasury Geoffrey met Jack Smart, and through Jack he encountered his daughter Freda. They soon found common interests in playing tennis, dancing and walking, and on 15 July 1950 they were married at St Faith’s church in the Meadows. After honeymooning in Torquay they started married life at 49 Whittingham Road, Mapperley. Subsequently, in the 1960s, they moved to 268 Musters Road, West Bridgford, where they lived for the rest of their married life.

By this time, Geoffrey was increasingly interested in local history and, perhaps most notably in the history of buildings. Although he never drove a car, Geoffrey was a keen cyclist, and an excellent amateur photographer. He used his camera to document the changing face of Nottingham, as buildings were demolished and replaced from the 1960s onwards. Fortunately, his large collection of images lives on in the Nottingham Local Studies Library, with many of them more widely available through Picture the Past.

Geoffrey joined the Thoroton Society in 1964, and by the 1960s he was attending University of Nottingham and WEA classes on local history. He was a contributor in 1971 to Helen E. Meller, ed., Nottingham in the eighteen eighties: a study in social change (Department of Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1971).

Geoffrey published his first book in 1974: A History of Basford Rural District Council, 1894-1974. In 1976 he joined the Council of the Thoroton Society. His first article in its Transactions, in 1975, was on the Basford Rural Sanitary Authority, 1874-1894. He remained on the Society’s Council until 2000, and was a regular attender (usually with Freda) at society events.

Geoffrey retired from the City Treasurer’s Department in 1980, and for the next thirty years he indulged his personal hobbies of local history, writing books, giving local history talks, researching family trees, cycling, swimming, and photography. He was a founder member of the West Bridgford Local History Society, and served as its honorary secretary until 1987. It is an indication of his productivity as a local historian that there are 59 separate entries relating to his work in the Nottinghamshire Online Bibliography. They include several books, numerous articles in the Nottinghamshire Historian, Nottinghamshire Countryside, the Sneinton Magazine, the Nottinghamshire Industrial Archaeology Society journal, the Nottinghamshire Family History Society journal, the Basford Bystander, the Nottingham Civic Society newsletter, and several others. His books were on West Bridgford, and on various aspects of the history of Nottingham and its suburbs. The books were always fully illustrated, usually with his own pictures. In 1989 he successfully completed the MA in Local and Regional History at the University of Nottingham, and in 2001 he was awarded the MBE for services to local history.

Geoffrey and Freda had two children: Valerie, born in 1954 and Paul in 1958, and two grandchildren. Freda died in 2012 after 62 years of marriage.

John Beckett