News for Spring 2014

The 1st Nottingham Local History and Archaeology Day

This event will be held at the University of Nottingham Museum on Saturday, 21 June 2014 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Attendance can be on a ‘drop - in’ or full day basis.

The event will bring together local history and archaeology societies from throughout the county along with archaeological units, museums and other regional archaeological work being undertaken throughout Nottinghamshire.  This exciting day can be enjoyed by everyone including those with a general interest in what is happening in their area, people actively taking part in archaeological work and those wanting to get involved.

11am - 12.15 pm - Short talks on local archaeological projects.
Five local societies present their work.  The session will be introduced by David Knight from Trent and Peak Archaeology who will also give a short overview of work in the region.
Recital Theatre (No. 3 entrance next to the Museum).  Free but tickets need to be booked through the box office (0115-846-7777)

12 - 4 pm - Stalls
Local history and archaeological societies and regional archaeological units and organisations will display and discuss their work.  See the wide and varied work that is being done and find out about opportunities to join in.  Practice Hall (No. 3 entrance next to the Museum).  Drop in event.

12 - 4 pm - Portable Antiquities Database and the Historic Environment Record for Nottinghamshire.
Join the Finds Liason Officer for Nottinghamshire and Nottinghamshire County Council to see what has been found in your area and bring objects for identification.
Drop in event.  Museum.

12 - 4 pm - Hands on Sessions
Archaeological material from Nottinghamshire.
Come and handle and find out more about a wide variety of archaeological material from Nottinghamshire including stone artefacts, pottery, coins, animal bones and environmental material dating from the Palaeolithic to the post medieval period.
Angear Visitor Centre, Djanogly Gallery 2, Learning Studio No. 1 entrance next to the Museum.
Drop in event.

This day event is organised by the University of Nottingham Museum and supported by The Thoroton Society and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

Archaeology Now

The University of Nottingham presents a series of free talks and handling sessions that focuses on current archaeological work.

These talks allow professional archaeologists, related specialists and community groups to share their exciting work with us as it is happening and include local, regional, national and international projects.

All talks commence at 1 p.m. in the Djanogly Theatre at the Lakeside Arts Centre.  Talks are free but seats do need to be booked through the Box Office (0115-846-7777)

Wednesday, 9 April - Anglo-Saxon and Viking-Age Societies in the Trent Valley, cAD400-1066.
Dr. Chris Loveluck, Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham.

This lecture will examine the archaeological evidence for the nature of Anglo-Saxon and Viking-Age societies in the valley of the River Trent and its adjacent region, between the fifth and mid-eleventh centuries.  Key themes discussed will be the formation of the different societies that we call “Anglo-Saxon” in the region; settlements, landscapes and lifestyles within the Kingdom of Mercia; the role of the Trent as a communication corridor for contacts and trade; the impact of the Viking Age; and the development of the towns and shires of the Trent valley in the tenth and eleventh centuries AD.

After the talk there will be the opportunity to handle and find out about Saxon artefacts from the Museum collections.

Wednesday, 14 May - War and diplomacy on Rome’s northern frontier
Dr, Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of the Iron Age and Roman Collections at the National Museum of Scotland.

There was a long and tangled relationship between Romans and locals on Britain’s northern frontier - and both sides were changed radically by the experience.  For a long time, Roman historical sources and Roman military archaeology were the main pieces of evidence used.  In recent years, however, archaeology has given voice to the local side of the story.  This talk will use the latest perspectives from archaology to rewrite history, telling tales from the edge of the empire which are complex, intricate and fascinating.

Following the talk there will be an opportunity to look at Roman artefacts from the collections of the University of Nottingham Museum.

On Our Doorstep

How well do we know our County?  Do we appreciate what gems of interest there are in our own backyard?  Are we obsessed with going further afield to satiate our hunger for knowledge and history?

This comment arises from a recent visit to the Winding Engine House at Bestwood.  It was known to me that the colliery winding house had not been demolished  along with the colliery after closure in 1967.  I also knew that  Bestwood Country Park was, at least partly, formed from the land on which the colliery and the associated iron works had stood.  In its heyday the colliery occupied about as much land as does Wollaton Park.

The only remains of the colliery are the Headstocks, Winding Engine House and the Dynamo House.

The Winding Engine House is unique in that it is a four floored vertical unit, the steam driven engine being the only one remaining in England still in its original setting.  The engine was  built by R.J. & E. Coupe of Wigan and commissioned in 1876, it is a Duplex Vertical Winding Engine with two steam driven pistons ( hence duplex) it operated under steam pressure of 80lbs per square inch developing 1,500 horse power and has pistons of 36 inches bore by 72 inches stroke.  The engine drives an 18 ft diameter drum split into two sections over which the ropes are wound at a speed of almost 30 mph.

The only other vertical winding engine to be seen is at the Beamish Museum and that one is older than Bestwood’s but is smaller in scale and only has a single cylinder.

The engine operated under steam from installation to the closure of the colliery.  It  can now be turned by electric power.

The engine and building in which it is situated have been very carefully renovated by volunteers of a group founded in the 1970s and now, with the help of a Lottery grant, this impressive engine can be seen in pristine condition.  It is well worth a visit.

Accessibility is excellent, the building now contains a glass sided lift to access all floors and health and safety issues have been carefully addressed with excellent viewing facilities.

The site is open most Saturdays but if intending to visit it is best to ring 0115-976-2422 to ensure that there will be volunteers present to conduct a tour.  There is no charge for visits.

There is a toilet in the Dynamo House - a former electricity sub-station - where there is also a cafe selling hot and cold drinks and snacks. The Dynamo House houses a display about the colliery and site.

Car parking is free in the adjacent Country Park car park and once on Park Road at Bestwood the site cannot be missed because the headstocks loom high above the tree line.

Do spare a couple of hours on a Saturday morning to visit this gem with its reminder of the rich heritage our county has had in the coal mining industry - there is precious little remaining to be seen of that once extensive industry, Bestwood’s site is helping to preserve a part of Nottinghamshire’s history and deserves our support.

Howard Fisher

Archives Update

There have recently been changes at both the Nottinghamshire Archives and at the University of Nottingham Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections.
Dorothy Johnston, Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University, retired in December 2012.  She also stepped down from the Thoroton Council, but remains in the area and is maintaining her membership of the Thoroton Society.

Mark Dorrington, Principal Archivist to Nottinghamshire County Council, left his post in October 2013.  A month later he took up the position of Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University.

The County Council appointed Ruth Imeson as Principal Archivist and we welcome Ruth both as Mark’s successor, and as a new member of the Thoroton Society.

At the end of 2013 Chris Weir, long serving Senior Archivist at Nottinghamshire Archives, retired.  Much of his work, particularly his outreach work, will be taken over in due course by Peter Lester.

Finally, as many may know, the first sod was turned in the autumn to start the extension works at Nottinghamshire Archives.  For various reasons the work has yet to start, but it will soon be underway within the next couple of months.

John Beckett

The Great Nottinghamshire Local History Fair, 11 May 2014

The County Council are holding their Great Nottinghamshire Local History Fair again this year at Mansfield Library on Sunday, 11 May from 11 am to 3 pm.

The Thoroton Society will again have a stand at the fair and it would be very good to have a few members there to help man the stand.

Please let Secretary Barbara Cast know if you are able to be there to help for an hour or so.  It was an enjoyable event last year and those attending were very interested in what we do as a Society.

Can we help children, parents and teachers by moving ...
Way Beyond School?

This is the question put in a pamphlet by a member of Keyworth & District Local History Society, John Adcock, to be published in February 2014.

Any historian will agree with the pamphlet’s first premise that the early education acts had to take children from their homes to be taught in schools because, given the social and economic conditions of those times, there was no viable alternative.

And few would argue with the claim that in 2014 those conditions have changed beyond all recognition.

But what may be contentious is the author’s idea that society has changed so much, and communication systems advanced so fast, that schools as we know them may be outdated.  Plausible alternatives - one is offered in the pamphlet - can now give support to every child, parent and teacher, and replace schools entirely.

But see what you think!

The 24 page pamphlet can be freely downloaded at:

Dame Agnes Mellers - Famous Name in 2014

by Barbara Cast

As members will be aware, your officers try to include in our annual programmes the commemoration of significant Nottinghamshire people or events which have centenaries or other anniversaries in the year in question.  Often it is a lecture, a visit or an invitation to someone to talk about the person or event in question at the lunch or Spring meeting.  Sometimes, however, it is not possible to include a major commemoration and we are then likely to give some prominence in the Newsletter.  2014 marks the death of Dame Agnes Mellers some 500 years ago.  In last year’s programme we celebrated the major achievement of Dame Agnes by a lecture on the founding of the Nottingham High School.  But what of Dame Agnes herself?

Not a great deal is known about Dame Agnes’ early life, the first reference to her being in 1488 when she was already several years married to the Nottingham bell-founder, Richard Mellers.  There are records of the Mellers’ foundry casting bells for various churches in the East Midlands - for instance he supplied a bell for St. Peter’s in Nottingham in 1499.  However, he breached the act requiring the sale of bells by weight and in 1507 had to obtain a Royal pardon.  He died the same year.

After his death Dame Agnes devoted herself to works of piety.  It appears that a major and forward-thinking interest of hers was education and it is said that she ‘ardently desired’ to establish a free grammar school in Nottingham.  To assist her in achieving her aim she managed to obtain the interest of Sir Thomas Lovell, an eminently powerful man of the time, including being Governor of Nottingham Castle.  Henry VIII issued letters patent in 1512 to our beloved councillor, Thomas Lovell, knight, treasurer of our household, and Agnes Mellers, widow which granted permission for a school’s foundation in Nottingham for the education, teaching and instruction in good manners and literature.  Thus Dame Agnes attained her ambition, also making sure that there was endowment to maintain the school into the future.

She also drew up rules for the school management, appointed guardians and a schoolmaster.  Being deeply religious herself she ensured that the schoolmaster schall dayly when he kepys scole cause the Scolers every morning in thair scole hows ... to say with an high voice the hole Credo in deum patrem, etc.   The same year as the school opened, 1513, Dame Agnes made her will and by May 1514 was dead as the proving of her will at that time attests.  As well as further providing for her school, her will provide payments to twenty of the poorest churches for which her husband had made bells, probably indicating her wish to atone for any sharp business practice he may have been involved in.

Nottingham has much to thank Dame Agnes Mellers for over the generations - her school is still going strong.

Stanford Hall Users Group

The Stanford Hall Users group was created when the estate was sold by the Co-operative College in 2001 after a continuous period of ownership since 1945.  The theatre had been available throughout the period for use by local groups, some professionals and others and developed into a much loved venue.  Unfortunately in the latter stages the electrical installation fell below standard and with new health and safety requirements other as­pects also needed attention.

The theatre closed in 2004 needing a renewal of its licence.  Two new owners did not suceed in re-establishing a new purpose for the state buildings until the proposal by the Defence Rehabilitation Centre was made in late 2012.  Planning application has been granted by Rushcliffe Borough Council and a final decision whether to proceed with the Centre is due to be made by the Government in 2014.

The Stanford Hall Users Group hopes to convince the new owners that there is a need for the theatre for performances to the public and to encourage them not to ignore its potential as a valuable resource within their scheme.  The Group has a web site where signatures of support can be placed on a petition and the more signatures the greater influence the Group can have.  Thoroton members are asked to consider lending their support to the Group. 

More information about the proposal to make the Hall into a Defence Rehabilitation Centre can be found at where there is an excellent history of the Hall and estate as well as details of the DRC itself.

On 19 November 2013 the group sent a letter to Rushcliffe BC, ARUP, Camargue, Theatres Trust, English Heritage and Rushc­liffe councillors, Kenneth Clarke MP, Philp Hammond MP, the media and supporters in which they stated:-

Stanford Hall Theatre - Decision Notice etc. 11 October 2013 12/02070/HYBRID

‘We have carefully considered the relevant document and sought appropriate advice.  We feel that the local authority and the applicant have come some way to facilitating probable restoration of theatre use.  We warm to that and offer our thanks.  We are heartened by this potentially positive outcome.

There is substantial improvement from the wording of the draft document “theatre” (sui generis) and “Theatre use” are words now used prominently throughout.  We have offered immediat­ley to participate in the feasibility study when that is called.

It is to be hoped, in the interests of our heritage, that a degree of positive cooperation can be engendered between the operators of the premises and the theatre user group.  In that regard we look forward to meeting on site, as prevously mentioned in Solihull - September 2012.  It would seem utterly appropriate for liaison in the national interest of future generations.

None of us now involved will be here in 70 years time, but the theatre will and it should be in use.  Future performers will relish the opportunity of playing on the stage just as they enjoy the Theatre Royal, Bristol, or the Haymarket in London.  Theatre is in the blood of English people.  So to do anything that would inhibit its normal operation could be seen as a challenge to its listed status.  It would be tragic if neglect were to cause decay if the theatre or organ were left uncared for.  The technical installation is unique and parts of it need to be left unharmed, oth­ers need upgrading to theatre industry standards.  Lighting and sound installations are specialised.

As a grade 2 star listed theatre, it is unique.  The theatre stands as an example to future generations of 1930s style complete with a contemporary rising Wurlitzer.  The theatre started life as a private venue for invited audiences, but its illustrious owner soon hired a professional manager, Jack Chesham who fostered public performances.  Shortly after the war the theatre was used by The Midland Theatre Company before their move to Coventry Belgrade and then by the Lincoln Repertory Company for a number of years.  After regular professional productions ceased, it was then used until its closure in 2004/5 by a number of dramatic and operatic societies within a wide area each putting on two to four productions in the year offering performances of plays and musicals, organ concerts, operas and cinema shows - some were arranged through Rushcliffe Borough Council (Arts); other productions were subsidised by Midland Arts, The All England Theatre Festival and occasional auctions shared the theatre.  Be­cause of its importance and history the local community misses this theatre.  The disappointment in the area if the theatre closes for good would be immense.  The petition wishing for the the­atre’s restoration and reinstatement currently has 525 written - 842 online - 821 other online a total of 2188 signatures.

In law the owners or lessees of listed buildings are responsible for their upkeep in the present and future.  Providing proper maintenance of the building and its contents such as the organ, theatre equipment and fittings, seating, carpeting etc. must be in their business planning as operators.

The 2003 Licensing Act covers the conduct of theatres.  They have to be licensed in order to present performances to the public.  A performance of any kind attended by a body of people ranging from lectures, cinema shows to plays etc. would likely be covered by the licensing requirements.  The law requires a ‘designated responsible person’ to be appointed who has the necessary qualifications for the job of overseeing the theatre.  These reponsibilities are in general management, risk insurance, health and safety observance, fire and hazard precautions, public liability insurance etc.

Some groups within SHUG that have regularly peformed at Stanford Hall Theatre are long established companies.  All groups have been accustomed to paying their way.  Viable planning is paramount or they would not have survived the years - some since 1954.

Any feasibility study, to be fair and realistic, will need to explore the interfaces between the owners or lessees and those pre­senting performances, performing groups expect to pay for for the use of theatres.  Because here the building’s operators are new, it is not unreasonable, to seek indications as to how much the cost of hire might be and what it covers.  Then we would be able to present our plan.

We hope this letter assists in encouraging the authorities and the applicants to pursue the optimistic objective indicated in the feasibility study if the scheme goes ahead as planned.”



Bassetlaw District Council have recently launched an interactive heritage mapping web page which shows all the heritage assets in the district aside from unscheduled archaeology although links to Nottinghamshire County Council/HER are included.  There are historic maps and the site has been made easy to use and clicking on an asset brings up basic information about it.

Festival of Archaeology

The CBA Festival of Archaeology for 2014 runs from Saturday 12 July to Sunday 27 July with over a thousand events across the UK. Details are on the web site:

At the Harley Gallery 25 May to end of 2014

The Harley Gallery at Welbeck is currently showing Edward Harley: The Great Collector. An exhibition illustrating the life of Edward Harley 2nd Earl of Oxford, glimpses his obsessive and opulent world through objects from The Portland Collection, including the Arundel Cabinet and Shakespeare’s second folio.

An opportunity not to be missed.

As the only space dedicated to exhibiting objects from the fine and decorative art collection which belonged to the Dukes of Portland at Welbeck, The Harley Gallery provides a rare opportunity to glimpse into the world of this aristocratic family.

From opulence and obsession to debt and despair, this new exhibition follows the fortunes of the 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741). Showing at The Harley Gallery from 25 May 2013, this exhibition explores Edward Harley’s background, family and marriage through his spectacular collections of fine and decorative art and books.  Edward Harley was a dedicated but extravagant collector.  He bought at inflated prices when the desire to possess overrode any sense of the value of the piece or the extent of his resources.  In 1738 he found himself in great debt and had to sell his family home and his collections.

The son of Robert Harley, one of the most powerful politicians in the country, Edward Harley married Henrietta Cavendish-Holles - the wealthiest heiress in Britain.  Harley filled his family home at Wimpole Hall with a hubbub of activity – writers, poets, artists, bibliophiles would be regular visitors. He was a dedicated collector; his collections were extensive and extravagant as he passionately sourced the rarest and most beautiful things. Harley was surrounded by the finest thinkers and the finest things.

Besides magnificent silver, curios, paintings, and other works of art, he collected English miniature portraits dating from the early 1500s to his own time. These likenesses were intended as precious, jewel-like treasures to be kept in cabinets, brought out to be admired, and then returned to safety. They could be love tokens and gifts, souvenirs between friends and family members. Being so small, they were easily portable. Some were to be designed to be worn by a loved one as a pendant or bracelet.

Many of Harley’s miniatures came from branches of his and his wife’s families; others were purchased because of the distinction of the artist or the importance of the sitter. They are the work of the greatest masters in the medium.

Harley rapidly added to the library started by his father, and his collection included pivotal works such as Shakespeare’s second folio and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  Through Harley’s dedication, the library at Wimpole Hall grew at an astonishing rate, with some 12,000 books in the collection by September 1717. 

By the beginning of the eighteenth century books and pictures were needing special accommodation in more and more houses.  They were to become an essential part of country-house life.  It was not until the second half of the seventeenth century that rooms called libraries became more common in country houses.  Informed buying of art and literature was virtually non-existent until Charles I and other members of the court circle built up their collections in the 1620s and 30s.  It required leisure, knowledge and money and house design grew to accommodate the collections with libraries, picture galleries and cabinet rooms. 

By the end of his life in 1741 Edward Harley had amassed the largest private library in Britain, but his passion for collecting ranged far beyond books and manuscripts. Edward Harley’s library contained 50,000 printed books, 7,639 manuscripts, 14,236 rolls and legal documents, 350,000 pamphlets, 41,000 prints; “the most choice and magnificent that were ever collected” (Collins). 

His wealth gradually dwindled, yet Harley continued to add to his collections, often driving up the price of objects in his lust for ownership. In this obsessive collecting, Harley bankrupted himself and spent much of his wife’s fortune, eventually selling his family home and his collections to pay his debts.

The great library, started by his father and described by Dr Johnson as excelling any offered for sale, was dispersed in 1742, but the celebrated Harleian collection of manuscripts was one of the founding collections of the British Library. Harley was also a patron of contemporary writers, including Alexander Pope and Jonathon Swift and of artists and architects.