Members should have received the papers for the Spring Meeting which had to be postponed due to the current pandemic. These list the nominations for the Society’s Council and the change of officer roles following the retirement of Barbara Cast and John Beckett. Barbara is continuing as Hon. Secretary of the Society, but Rosemary Muge has been nominated as Honorary Administration Secretary in order to take on the day-to-day work of administration associated with the Society’s Council. Much of the work of organizing the Spring Meeting, the Annual Lunch, and Special Events, which Barbara used to carry, will be arranged through an enlarged Events Committee, formed from officers and members of Council. These changes will be approved at the rescheduled AGM. John’s retirement as Chair of Council will take effect from the first meeting of Council following the AGM when his successor will be appointed. As Vice Chair, Richard Gaunt has indicated his willingness to succeed John, subject to the approval of Council. We hope that members will bear with us as we make the transition through the current crisis. Anyone who would like to offer assistance or help with the practical work of the Society, in terms of helping at meetings or events, is encouraged to get in touch with John Wilson, who is co-ordinating the Events Committee at present.


Although it was not possible to hold a Society AGM this year, Barbara Cast, our long serving Honorary Secretary, stepped down after 26 years in post at what would have been her last AGM/Spring meeting.

Barbara’s background was in archaeology, for which she was awarded a degree by the University of Nottingham. She also had a lifelong interest in history.

She first joined Council in 1994 as Minutes Secretary, and two years later she succeeded Rev E Patrick Rowley as Honorary Secretary of the Society. She held the position until the 2020 AGM and was a regular attender at Society lectures -she acted as chauffeur for many years to our past president Rosalys Coope, after Rosalys gave up driving. Barbara has taken a particular interest in buildings, and for some years has led the Response Group, which reacts when historically significant buildings are in danger of demolition and plans for new buildings are considered inappropriate.

As Honorary Secretary Barbara took responsibility for the Annual Lunch and the Spring Meeting/AGM. She always looked to find a different venue and menu for the lunch, as well as a speaker, and for the AGM it was on her initiative that we traversed the county stopping off in village halls and the occasional church, to learn more about places which we might not necessarily have visited otherwise.

In her early days as Hon. Sec. Barbara was still in the employment of Nottingham City Council at the Guildhall, and her links there were helpful to the Society because she knew who to approach on any particular issue. Barbara is also active in the local history society at Bleasby, where she has lived for many years.

In 2015 she published Harry’s Story: the memoirs of a Nottingham Childhood, of life as a young miner and of the privations and horrors of the Great War (2015). Adrian Henstock, the Thoroton Society’s president, wrote a sympathetic review of Harry’s remarkable story (Thoroton Society Newsletter, 80, Summer 2015)

Sadly we were not able to thank Barbara for her work as honorary secretary at an AGM, but we know she is not going away. We expect to continue to see Barbara at Society events! But for now the best we can do is to offer our appreciation for the many years of keeping the Society on the straight and narrow.

John Beckett


Had we been able to meet at our AGM in April, we would all have had opportunity to pay tribute to Professor John Beckett who was to tell us at that meeting that he was stepping down as Chair of Thoroton Council. As it was, with all events and meetings having to be postponed because of coronavirus, it behoves me to try and express our appreciation of all John has done for the Society over his many years of membership and of leadership.

Much could, and will be said of John’s academic career, his involvement in many aspects of history, his writings etc - but this will not be the place. Here we will concentrate on John’s involvement with the Thoroton Society. However, just to set John in context - John Vincent Beckett FSA FRHistS; son of William and Kathleen Beckett; born in London but educated at Nottingham schools; attended the University of Lancaster and, four years after graduating, was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He came to the University of Nottingham in 1979 and achieved a readership in English regional history in 1987 - three years after that he gained his current professorship. After a distinguished academic career John retires from the University this summer - a neat year in view of his birthdate!

But to turn to JVB and Thoroton. Having made his mark as a member of the Society, John was elected on to our Council on 26th May 1988 and “Dr John Beckett” was welcomed by the then Chair of Council, Dr Rosalys Coope. It was on 25th October 1990 that the first mention of John as “Professor Beckett” was recorded in Council minutes. Soon after we read that Professor Beckett was to be editor in chief of the proposed centenary history of the City of Nottingham. At the council meeting held on 17th October1991, Rosalys announced her retirement as Chair of Council and said that JVB " would be a most suitable replacement". The following Council meeting in February ‘92 was Rosalys’ last as Chair (and incidentally my first attendance in preparation for taking on the role of Assistant Secretary Minutes). John was duly elected Chair following the 1992 AGM. At that first meeting the Editorial and Record Series committees were combined into the Publications Committee, John having previously been a member of the Editorial Committee since1989. John gave his first Chair’s address at the 1993 AGM - incidentally it seems not to have been the custom for the Chair of Council to address AGMs - this has happened ever since that year. One of the memorable matters approved at this meeting was to hold lectures at the YMCA premises on Shakespeare Street - a move from the Cathedral Hall on Derby Road due to it being somewhat cold and in need of restoration. Shortly after the move the Society screen disappeared from the YMCA premises! It was in 2006 that lectures moved to the New Mechanics on North Sherwood Street and, apart from early problems with sound, it has proved very successful.

He was Chair during the Society’s centenary in 1997 and was a leading light at most of its events, including the Centenary Dinner held at County Hall. He was also at the helm during the time when the Society’s contribution to the Nottinghamshire Millennium activities was being planned: a very enjoyable and memorable programme was delivered, comprising visitations to each of the six wapentakes and a popular roving roadshow.

JVB has proved himself a strong campaigner and champion of the county’s history. One of the constant areas of active involvement for John has been, and continues to be, Laxton, the last remaining village in Europe still working the open field farming system. At the 1989 AGM the meeting concluded with a talk by Dr John Beckett entitled “What future for the past in Laxton?” and, at the next AGM in 1990, Professor Barley told members about a paper he and Dr Beckett had prepared on concerns about Laxton’s future at that time. The members were asked if they would agree to the Society’s “support to safeguard the village and its landscape”. As a result of the unanimous agreement of members a resolution was passed endorsing the concerns “about current threats to Laxton and strongly urges the District Council and English Heritage to adopt, as a matter of urgency, the recommendations in the statement”. Matters have progressed since those days and John will remain closely involved with Laxton under its new owners as a member of Laxton Manor Trust and advisor on heritage.

He has spearheaded campaigns supported by Thoroton and likeminded bodies on several occasions over the years. Such as, from 1997 (and intermittently since), when the reorganisation (or dismantling) of the City’s museum and archaeology sections was underway. This was painful and slow to be resolved; some museums were lost, never to be replaced; talented and knowledgeable staff were redeployed in lesser jobs or left. The Museum Service lost its registration during this period, to later regain it - with the support of the Society. Council minutes continued to illustrate ongoing concerns with the City Council’s attitude to conservation, archaeology and museums. We are only recently beginning to see a more positive attitude from the City Council towards Nottingham’s historic legacy and its archaeology - there are professional officers in post for conservation matters and archaeology and the Castle project is set to provide new and hopefully more profound understandings of this most important of Nottingham’s landmarks. John has been one of those in the forefront of efforts to encourage and direct a greater emphasis on the safeguarding, interpretation and enhancement of the City’s significant history and archaeology.

Also in 1997, opposition to mining under Newstead Abbey was growing, not only by Thoroton but also by the City Council and the Byron Society. The campaign was still ongoing in 1998 when John addressed two public meetings - a petition was handed to Culture Minister, Chris Smith, when he visited the Abbey that year. By the end of 1998 the campaign was still underway but by now the mining industry was facing difficulties and the Newstead extensions were in doubt. By early 1999 the mining company was bankrupt which finally brought to an end the peril of subsidence. Newstead Abbey was subsequently the focus of a restoration programme and it continues to be a place of great interest and, sometimes, concern to the Society.

There have been major contributions to the County’s historic resources during the period of John’s tenure. One of them is the Society’s own website which includes a wealth of resources and links and, especially, the Bibliography and the Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway. These latter resources are used by a wide variety of people, local and from wider areas. Writing for the Heritage Gateway is yet another outlet for members’ research work. As John himself said in 2007 “the Society’s electronic resources do provide a more public and active role, including for our schools.” Also developed in recent years is the Geoffrey Bond and Thoroton Research Award which has supported a number of worthwhile projects over the years. Another great success supported by Thoroton and with much direct involvement by John is the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project which brings together information on all churches within the Diocese - another superb resource. Also, the Society sponsored the free journal East Midlands History and Heritage which provides interesting articles on our part of the country and offers opportunities to contribute. Resurrecting the

Nottinghamshire Victoria County History, supporting the special lecture programme, taking up the cudgels when local history and archaeology teaching was disappearing, accelerating the digitisation of Throsby’s Thoroton in the programme of British History Online (his own admitted minor triumph) -there is so much more to be added to this remarkable list of achievements.

Another major initiative - it was in October 2000 that Council received a paper by the Chair and Hon Sec setting out proposals for a Standing Committee of officers which would meet several times a year with a mandate to direct policy, to generally oversee the management of the Society’s business and ensure it is carried out in a timely fashion, and to coordinate the programme. This has worked extremely well over the years and made the running of the Society much more efficient and coordinated.

Despite a busy schedule at the University (and extra responsibilities such as those five years as Director of Victoria County History which required being in London most of the week) John has always been fully involved in the Society and supportive of new initiatives, of the publication of many excellent volumes, of Society involvement in conservation and heritage matters, of research and writing. I think we would all agree that he has mostly achieved his aims for the Society, as stated in Newsletter No 1 of July 1992 “to make the Society truly a County society, to maintain the scholarly standards of the Transactions, to improve communications with members and to try to attract some younger members”. Even the last hope has been somewhat fulfilled by the growing number of active archaeologists in our ranks! Many accolades have been made to John over the years - as the late John Fox said “thank you for putting Thoroton so squarely on the local history map”. And as so many of us would say - thank you John for being a great Chair, an inspiring leader and a friend to so many of us.

Barbara Cast


A very long-serving member who joined the Thoroton Society in 1947 has died. 73 years a member of the Thoroton Society must be a record. Bernard William Beilby passed away on 27 April at Annesley Lodge Residential Home, Hucknall, where he had lived for the last few years of his life.

When I first joined the Society Bernard and his wife Joyce were the ‘lanternists’, a term which was dated even in those days. They lived on Western Boulevard. Joyce died some years ago, and Bernard moved into a residential home in Hucknall to be closer to his daughter. For some years he came to winter lectures with Jean Nicholson, and then for a while his daughter brought him. He last attended a couple of years ago.

Bernard was described in the death notice as ‘local historian’. He could equally have been described as local archaeologist, since I believe he was in the Peveril Group in the 1950s. From those days he always had an anecdote or two to share with us, notably about some of the hair-raising moments from his ‘digging’ days!

John Beckett


Geoffrey Bond, a long-standing member of the Thoroton Society, has generously provided funds for several years now to support research into the history and archaeology of the county of Nottinghamshire. The Society also makes an equal contribution to support this important part of our remit, making a total of £2000 available.

In 2019 we again received six submissions and it was decided that three of them should be awarded grants; one receiving £792 towards an analysis of Nottingham horn cores associated with the city's industrial activity; another of £746 for bio-archaeological research at St Nicholas Church graveyard, in use from at latest the 18th century, together with documentary research on local residents; and the third of £732 to support research on nursing in the County with a view to publication of the findings. We look forward to reading more of their work in the Newsletter in due course and then fuller accounts, subject to editorial processes, in future editions of the Transactions.

The terms and conditions of the award can be found on the Society's website. The closing date for submissions for an award this year is the 1st September 2020

Barbara Cast


Entrance to Mortimer's Hole on the south side of Castle Rock.
Entrance to Mortimer's Hole on the south side of Castle Rock.

Nottingham’s caves are increasingly being more widely known and appreciated, in part thanks to projects such as the Nottingham Caves Regeneration project as well as ongoing work from Nottingham City Council. In the past year or so there has been major publicity, with coverage on television programmes including Songs of Praise. And perhaps in a first for radio, I gave an audio tour of Nottingham’s largest cave system (the Peel Street cave/sand mine), which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Promoting caves is an important part of my job because I believe the best way to ensure their protection is to ensure they are more widely appreciated and used. No other city in Europe has as many caves (approximately 870 at the time of writing, with this figure frequently rising), with such heritage (having been created from the medieval period well into the 20th century) and with as many uses as those which lie beneath the streets of Nottingham. Within the city centre every street has at least one cave and they can be found in the more outlying areas, particularly following the major roads leading into the city centre, such as Mansfield Road, Derby Road, Ilkeston Road and Alfreton Road.

In addition to promoting the caves, and trying to better understand them through research, it is important to be proactive in identifying sites where they exist. To this end I have been consulting archive resources, in particular 18th and 19th century auction advertisements and other sales records. More than 3,000 of these contain references to caves, although there are multiple records for the same property. Through this method I have identified the locations of more than 200 caves and have more than a further 100 to accurately pinpoint. The tally of Nottingham’s caves is likely to exceed 1,000 before very long. The property records also help date some of the caves as well as establishing some of their early uses.

There are still likely to be many caves I do not have records of, particularly those under people’s homes and beneath shops. If you have a cave beneath your property, please send me an email at

Once a cave is identified it is added to the Nottingham City Historic Environment Record, which records all known archaeology in the city. Caves can then be considered within the planning process and efforts made to ensure their preservation should sites with caves be developed.

In January 2020, Nottingham City Council adopted the Land and Planning Policy Document (Part 2 Local Plan). This new document, which governs the planning process within the city, gives new protection to Nottingham’s caves through the city’s first dedicated caves policy. A Supplementary Planning Document gives further detailed information regarding requirements. The policy states:

‘Proposals will be expected to recognise, conserve and enhance caves as a nationally unique feature and assess the impact of proposals upon the significance of the Nottingham Caves resource’

This is achieved through:

The policy also states, ‘Planning permission will not be granted for developments which destroy, damage or block access to caves unless it is adequately demonstrated that no reasonable alternative is possible and they represent the best sustainable use of the site, and/or the merits of the proposals for the site bring substantial social, environmental or regeneration benefits, which outweigh the harm to the significance of the caves and cannot be delivered by other means.’ This emphasis on protection is a far cry from decades past where caves were considered an inconvenience to be destroyed or filled with concrete. I am proud that in a little over four years of holding the position of City Archaeologist, no caves have been destroyed despite major redevelopment within the city.

The recording of caves through historic sources, and ground investigations in advance of granting planning permission, aims to ensure that caves are not found during groundworks when it is often too late to prevent harm. Caves are, however, still being found by chance. Shortly before the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, an engineer contacted me to investigate the discovery of a possible new cave. Heavy rain had caused a large sinkhole to appear in the rear garden of a property just a stone’s throw from the castle. Looking into the hole it was clear that there was a deep rock-cut shaft, with tool marks visible showing it had been hewn by hand. The substantial quantity of made ground that had disappeared into the shaft suggests a sizeable chamber below. The current restrictions mean that its investigation and protection are on hold for now.

A cave under Peel Street, used as an air raid shelter.
A cave under Peel Street, used as an air raid shelter.

In addition to protecting caves, the City Council is trying to encourage cave owners to make use of their caves. There has been some recent success, with an 18th/19th century former wine cellar beneath a property on St Mary’s Gate being brought back into use after nearly four decades. The cave was once part of a large system which extended beyond the property’s plot boundary and so when the adjacent multi-storey car park was built most of the cave system was destroyed. Now the two surviving chambers have been sensitively adapted, with the cave now serving as a tv/cinema room. Historic features have all been conserved and the residents of the property can now appreciate this piece of the city’s heritage.

Scott Lomax


120 years ago

There were severe snowfalls across most of Britain between 26th January and 16th February 1900. At Hodsock Priory, February was very cold, with deep snow followed by heavy rain. The autumn was mild with unusually little frost, and December was exceptionally warm. Harvest was early but the corn crops were light. Source - British Rainfall 1900 160 years ago

16th May 1860 Lady Noel Byron, widow of the poet, died at her residence, 11 St George’s Terrace, Regent’s Park, London. Her estate was left to her grandson, Ralph Gordon Noel King, the son of her daughter and the Earl of Lovelace, who was and had for some considerable time been working at weekly wages as an artizan (sic) in the Smiths’ Department of Woolwich Arsenal.

140 years ago

14th May 1880. The Water Committee of the Nottingham Town Council met with the directors of the Waterworks Company at their offices in St Peter’s Gate, for the formal transfer to the Corporation of the keys and books of the Company, in return for a cheque for £30,000. The Committee of the Corporation were then given a tour of the whole of the works designed or carried on for the supply of water to the district.

14th May 1880. Steam power was used on the Nottingham and Basford Tramway.

22nd June 1880 There was a heavy thunderstorm, doing immense damage, during which three platelayers were struck near Radford Station. One of them, named Hillery, was killed. A boy named Derrick, aged 8 years, was killed on the Trentside. There were also heavy thunderstorms on the 23rd and 24th.

22nd July 1880 There was a great Demonstration in the Market Place to celebrate the Centenary of Sunday Schools. Upwards of 20,000 Sunday Scholars were present.

23rd August 1880 William Thompson, better known as ‘Bendigo’ the bare-knuckle boxer, died at his home at Beeston, as a result of falling downstairs. He was aged 69. He was interred in the same grave as his mother at St Mary’s Cemetery, St Anne’s Well Road, Nottingham, on the 26th.

The funeral cortege was headed by Richard Weaver, the great Revivalist, and was followed by thousands of people, such a sight not having been seen since the funeral of Tom Sayers, in London, 19 years previously.

29th December 1880 Dr Hoffman, from the Burials Department, inspected the Churchyards of St Mary, St Peter and St Nicholas, and reported in favour of them being closed. - Nottingham Date Book

John Wilson

Lecturing in the Virtual World!

The conditions under which we have been living in recent times, since the appearance of Coronavirus, have called for some lateral thinking! And so it came to pass that on 23 April 2020 I found myself sitting in my study at home, surrounded by computer screens, and ready to start a Zoom session! Professor John Holford, Professor of Adult Education in the School of Education, together with several colleagues at the University of Nottingham, had conceived of the idea of providing some adult education style classes, some linked to the virus and its impact, and others more general in style and content, with the intention of providing background and learning rather than leaving us all to sit at home wondering what to do next.

I was one of those invited to share the responsibility, and that meant sitting in my house, linked by Zoom to 20 or more other people, who were all sitting in their houses, but who were ready and willing to learn. My subject was the Green Spaces (see photograph on the back cover) of post-1845 Nottingham, and I took the audience on a quick gallop through the walks and parks around the city.

It was all a bit hairy. Zoom, one of the many new packages designed to bring people together -Face Time, WhatsApp and Teams are others - proved more than a match for facilitator and audience alike! I could not see the audience - all of whom could have switched off and poured themselves a strong drink, of which I would have been blissfully unaware - and I struggled to match my PowerPoint presentation to the words of my delicately crafted text. Finally, the questions and audience participation were all channelled through the facilitator, so I still did not know who was out there! And they were all virtual anyway, so I could not ask James Dymond (parks supremo for Nottingham) to hang on for a couple of minutes afterwards for a quick chat, and so on.

So here I am. The days of the great lecture theatre with 400 seats (Coates Auditorium, Keighton Auditorium, both on University Park) are surely numbered when all you need is a speaker in his or her kitchen, and an audience of however many turned up - sorry, logged in - to listen more or less intently. For students what a breakthrough. Now they don’t even need to get dressed and go to the University to hear the lecture! They can eat their Cornflakes with one hand and tap a few notes into their laptops with the other!

For me, mixed feelings. I am sure the technological problems can be resolved, but virtual people are in a different world from real people. No doubt I could get used to it in time, but for now I shall cling to the hope that it will not be long before I can once again address an audience and ‘feel’ the feedback even if it is negative!

John Beckett

EDITOR’S NOTE. East Midland History and Heritage Issue 5 (August 2017) carries an article on the Nottingham Green Spaces 3013-2016 project on pages 27, 28 and 29.