Book reviews, Autumn 2021

Richard Thomas Parker : The last man to be publicly hanged in Nottingham
by Emmaline Severn (2021)

Published by Amazon and available from priced at £4.99.  ISBN 9798731765695

On the 10th of August 1864, a large crowd gathered on High Pavement in Nottingham near the County Gaol (today, the National Justice Museum) to see a public hanging. The man to be hanged was Richard Thomas Parker for the wilful murder of his mother. The public execution of any villain always proved to be a popular event attracting large crowds and this one was execution were different; however, this would turn out to be the last one to be held in public The trial and execution held at the County Gaol, as the crime had been committed at Fiskerton in Nottinghamshire. The story is one I have heard and read about when doing research on the Lace Market area of the city, but the book gives a good insight into the life of Richard Parker and his parents, Elizabeth, and Samuel Parker. Describing the early life of Elizabeth and Samuel in the early to middle 1800’s the book paints a picture of an idyllic rural life on the farm at Fiskerton which they ran and the land they held. Today, we see Fiskerton as a rural village between Nottingham and Newark easily reached by modern transport, yet in the period when the event happened it was one of many small villages dotted around the Nottinghamshire countryside. Its neighbours were Bleasby and Thurgarton and these three villages formed a close-knit community.

Richard Thomas Parker, known as Tom, was born in 1834; at 18, he was apprenticed to a butcher in Nottingham. As a butcher, his parents indulged him and purchased a butchers shop in Fiskerton opposite their house. Sadly, ‘drink’ played an important role in his life and often after drinking his temper flared and he became violent, both with his wife, Emily (whom he married in 1860) and his father. His mother often had to intervene to break up their arguments. So it was on that fateful day in March 1864, when Tom returned from Sheffield, that an argument with his father ensued, leading to Tom taking a shotgun and firing it blindly from the house into the barn where his father was. His mother stood in the yard and was struck on the head when the gun was discharged (she died four weeks later), his father being wounded in the barn. Realising what he had done, Tom attempted to flee but was arrested on the way to Newark. The author goes into great detail explaining how the evidence was gathered from witnesses, the post-mortem on his mother, and, finally, the inquest resulting in Tom being committed for trial for the crime of wilful murder.

Using the original transcripts, the author gives an insight into the procedures which led to Richard Thomas Parker standing trial for murder on the 25th of July 1864.

Kevin Powell

Collingham and East of the Trent, volume 1: Ice Age to the Romans

By Jeremy Lodge (2021) published privately ISBN 978-0-9956634-1-1

This fascinating book is concerned with the area known as the Trent Washlands and the East Nottinghamshire Sandlands. The Trent Washlands cover the area of the Trent Floodplain north of Newark, and the East Nottinghamshire Sandlands extend eastwards to the limestone escarpment on which stands the city of Lincoln. The book covers a very long period - from the end of the last Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, to the end of the Roman period, usually regarded as AD410 or a little later. The story begins with an overview of what is known of the changes in the landscape following the retreat of the ice, culminating in the submerging of Doggerland, the area of land which connected what is now the island of Britain with mainland Europe. As sea levels rose, the land was gradually submerged. A major landslip on the coast of Norway (the Storegga incident) probably finished the job and finally separated the British and Irish Isles from Europe. There is much information on the River Trent and other rivers, such as the former River Bytham, and I learned of places such as the Trent Trench, formed by the retreating ice, which includes the river cliffs near Kneeton and Syerston. The cover picture, although of a ‘braided’ river plain in the Yukon, shows how the Trent may have looked after the end of the Ice Age. The changing vegetation patterns are well described, as is the likely pattern of human encroachment into the area. The author makes much reference to Creswell Crags and the areas around Collingham and Farndon, and the archaeological investigations there.

The population increased and became relatively sophisticated, culminating in the Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples and settlements.Then came the Romans, with their very rapid takeover. The area under discussion was largely the land of the Coritani (Corieltauvi) who may have been relatively friendly towards the Romans, or at least less antagonistic. The Romans quickly built the Fosse Way with many settlements including Margidunum near Bingham (today commemorated in the large intersection on the A46). One of these settlements was at Potter Hill, near Norton Disney, just over the border in Lincolnshire.

The villa there was excavated in the 1930s by Adrian Oswald. In 1935, the Thoroton Society contributed £21 towards the costs of the excavation at Potter’s Hill and £15 to the excavation at Margidunum.

The book then has a number of case studies, including ‘Becoming an Island’ - an in-depth study of the loss of Doggerland and the gradual changes in the landscape; farming and the development of the plough; the Norton Disney Roman villa; and the settlement at Brough (Crococolana). There is then a gazetteer of archaeological finds from the area, all with their County Council Heritage Environment Register references. The book contains numerous allusions to the Thoroton Society and ends with an extensive bibliography. I have one or two minor criticisms. Some of the statements made are not well referenced. As an example, on page 54 it states ‘Fieldwalking in advance of quarrying in Collingham has produced ‘a remarkably high incidence of debris from the production of chipped stone tools’... This seems to be a quote from a paper, but who wrote the paper? And when? I would like to know. Interestingly, in the case studies, there are very adequate references.

A few typos have escaped the eagle eye of the proof-reader.

There is an error on page 105, where there is a mention of ‘small [Roman Army] forts which would have accommodated less than one cohort - 80 to 100 men’ This is very much less than a cohort, which typically would have comprised six centuries each of 80 men, i.e. 480 soldiers [1]. It would be more accurate to describe the forts as accommodating a century or so. I am surprised that the bibliography did not include Mark Patterson’s book on Roman Nottinghamshire (2011). However, these are minor points. The few criticisms certainly do not detract from the enjoyment of the book, which I am pleased to say is easily readable with good spacing of the text and a sensible font size, and is well furnished with photographs, maps and diagrams.

Volume 2 of this work is promised for the summer of 2022. It will cover the period from the departure of the Roman legions to Domesday, 1086. I am looking forward to it. Thank you, Jeremy, for a very interesting and useful book.

(1) Salway, P The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain OUP 1993

John Wilson