Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Stanford on Soar

Stanford on Soar sits near the Leicestershire border in the southern-most tip of Nottinghamshire.  Most of the buildings here appear to date back to the nineteenth century but the village is considerably older. William the Conqueror granted the manor to Roger de Busli of Normandy soon after the Conquest.  The Notts historian Dr. Robert Thoroton (1623 - 1678) described de Busli as "the greatest Man of Lands in this County by many Degrees; ... in this small Shire, he had one Hundred seventy-four Manors, being the best Part of ninety Townships."

By the sixteenth century the manor had passed to the Knifton family but they lost it when Thomas Knifton lost his head to High Treason and his property was claimed by the Crown: in 1558  Queen Mary gave the manor and the advowson of Stanford Church to her Goldsmith, Robert Raynes.  The village appears to have been about the same size then as it is today.  It was described as comprising of "11 messuages, 14 cottages, 1 horse mill, 50 acres land, 100 of meadow, 300 of pasture, 3 of wood, 1,000 of furz and heath with all their appurtenances in Stanford, the whole of the fishing and liberty of fishing in the waters of the Sore ..."

In 1641 Robert Raynes's grandson decided to have a new manor house built on top of a hill near the village. He wanted to move the whole village eventually but the English Civil War interrupted his plans. Unfortunately the grandson had financially overstretched himself and had to sell up in 1661 when the property was acquired by a London Alderman, Thomas Lewes.  It would remain with his family for four generations.  Here is an illustration of the Hall from 1739.

By 1771 the manor passed to the Dashwoods through marriage and Charles Vere Dashwood had Stanford Hall completely rebuilt.  Although extra wings would be added by subsequent owners, Dashwood's Hall forms the centre of the present day building.  The 1851 census reveals a comfortable lifestyle at the Hall as the family had 13 live-in servants with other employees housed around the grounds.

Richard Ratcliff acquired the Estate in 1887.  The Ratcliffs had made a fortune in beer as part of the Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton brewing company.  In 1877 Bass was the largest brewery in the world, producing a million barrels a year.  Bass Pale Ale was exported throughout the British Empire.  Richard Ratcliff was therefore a VERY wealthy man and used his money well.  His initials appear on the water-pump and the houses around Stanford village as he set about improving living conditions in the village.  He also built a new village school ... now converted into a house .....

 .... and renovated the church.  Apparently one of Ratcliff's five daughters died before she married so her doting father spent her dowry on the chancel.

On Ratcliff's death in 1898 his son wrote, “Richard Ratcliffe of Stanford Hall and owner of 1682 acres of the Stanford Estate spent upwards of £11000 in embellishing and beautifying the church ....”

Unfortunately we could not get inside the church on this visit so we failed to see the beautiful stained glass windows in their full glory or to admire the brass figure of a priest in full robes set into the floor of the chancel (thought to be of Adam de Rothley, Rector from 1354 to 1361), or to photograph the tomb of  Sir Ambrose Cave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and member of Queen Elizabeth I's Privy Council.

Fortunately The Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project can give you more details about the church here).

We spent a few minutes wandering around under the yew trees in the graveyard.  King Charles I had stood with Sir Henry Skipwith under one such tree right here in 1645 discussing tactics on their way to the Siege of Leicester.  It was easy to feel eerily close! Sadly the old tree they stood under was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1987.  Close examination of its rings showed it had been 1200 years old.

Stanford churchyard hosts a large collection of  slate gravestones that date back to the 1700s.  These slate headstones are works of real skill and craftmanship.  At least one here was sculpted by William Charles of Wymswold.

Here are three headstones belonging to the Lacey family.  Robert Lacey was a Stanford Yeoman.  There is a lovely example of a Belvoir Angel in the top left hand corner of the headstone below which records the death of 16 year old Henry Lacey on 13th May 1753.

While Ratcliff was making changes to the village the Great Cenral Railway arrived and the Stanford Viaduct was built. 

The Viaduct opened in 1899 as part of the GCR London extension.  Its arrival led to the River Soar being diverted in order to make way for the embankment.  The line was closed in the 1960s but this section remains in use to carry gypsum trains to British Gypsum at East Leake and it forms part of the GCRN line ... a heritage railway, staffed by volunteers, that re-creates the experience of steam train transport through ten miles of Notts and Leicestershire countryside.

In 1928 another wealthy philanthropist took possession of Stanford Hall.  Sir Julien Cahn paid £70,000 (equivalent to just under £4 million at today's prices) but he then spent a small fortune on the renovations.  He employed Sir Charles Allom as his interior designer .... Allom had previously worked on the redecoration of Buckingham Palace and had designed the interior of the American multi-millionaire Henry Clay Frick's Fifth Avenue town house.  

A theatre was added to the house at a cost of £73,000 (yes that was more than he paid for the Hall and grounds!).  The walls were covered in art by Beatrice MacDermott, it could seat 352 people and had an orchestra pit with a self-playing Whirlitzer organ specially imported from Paris.  This instrument added to the atmosphere when Cahn was performing his magic shows.  He was the President of the Leicester Magic Circle and organised events to raise money for local charities.

Cahn had tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a bowling green built in the grounds.  He installed an enormous heated swimming pool with beautiful coral decorations and artificial caves added, together with a large trout lake and a sea-lion pool!  The sport he was most passionate about was cricket.  He not only had his own cricket pitch but a top ranking team to go with it.  Writing in 1938 the historian Arthur Mee noted Sir Julien Cahn's "cricket team is the delight of thousands who come here to see it play." Apparently the Sir Julien Cahn XI toured the world and lost only 19 of their 621 matches!

As President of the Notts County Cricket Club in 1935 he not only helped fund the players he also paid the membership subscriptions for 800 people who otherwise would not have had the means to pay.  

Present-day residents of Nottinghamshire owe this man a vote of thanks too.  He rescued Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron, by purchasing the building then he gave it to Notts County Council.

During the Second World War Cahn opened his home to convalescing soldiers.  Initially he offered space for 22 men but within a year he had made room for 70. 
Sir Julien Cahn died in his library at Stanford Hall in 1944.  He is buried at Wilford Hill Cemetery.

Sir Cahn's legacy lives on at the Hall because it has recently been acquired by the Duke of Westminster and the DNRC (Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre) for the treatment of seriously injured service personnel.  The Hall grounds have been completely transformed to create the modern facilities required for the medical treatment and rehabilitation of  those brave members of our military.  (video link here). The facility will open this year (2018).

Stanford on Soar: link to map here.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017


The busy A60 and A6006 meet at Rempstone ... the place could be twinned with the M25! ...... but it is still quite an attractive place as it has a number of old listed buildings .... 15 in fact!

The Cottage dates to mid 17th century

It may be plagued by cars but it is blessed with steam engines. 

The second weekend in July is the date for The Great Rempstone Steam and Country Show. 

This annual steam rally has been running since 1956 making it the oldest one in the country: they have only missing 3 events in all that time due to an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease and adverse weather conditions. It began life as a small event behind Beeby Farm where the Beeby Brothers had started a Contracted Ploughing and Cultivating business in 1907.  They owned 7 pairs of single cylinder engines each weighing 17 tonnes.  The fair now plays host to about 50 steam engines and 600 exhibits so it has moved to a larger location near Wymeswold.  Worth a visit.

Village Hall

Rempstone was the ancestral home of the Rempstone family who played an important part in English history.  Those of you who know Shakespeare will remember the tale of Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, who was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire. In 1398 he was somewhat critical of  his cousin King Richard II and was promptly exiled.  The following year John of Gaunt died and Richard decided to also confiscated Henry's inheritance.  Henry was a popular figure and an experienced soldier so he did not take Richard's actions lightly. Disregarding the exile Henry returned to England and set about reclaiming his lands and fortune.  Sir Thomas Rempstone (or Sir John Ramston as Shakespeare chose to rename him in Richard II)  was Henry's closest ally.  Rempstone had served as Knight for the Shire of Nottingham and as Sheriff of Nottingham before taking up Henry's cause.  Having captured King Richard Henry appointed Sir Thomas Rempstone as Constable of the Tower of London so he was incharge of the royal prisoner: he was also a witness when Richard abdicated in favour of Bolingbroke 

The new King Henry IV was very generous to his friend.  Rempstone became a Knight of the Garter, Steward of the King's household and a member of the Privy Council.  These positions gave him considerable wealth and extensive lands in Nottinghamshire including the Manor of Bingham but it didn't do much to improve his personality.   He died in rather an arrogant fashion in October 1406.  There had been exceptionally heavy rainfall that month.  The Thames ferryman taking Rempstone across the river refused to go under a bridge and set course for the safety of the nearest bank.  Rempstone drew his sword and threatened the poor ferryman forcing him to continue under the bridge.  They hit the bridge post, the boat capsized and Rempstone drowned. No blame was placed on the ferryman thankfully.

Fine example of an early 17th century thatched cottage

Rempstone's son was also called Thomas.  Like his father he recognised the benefits of staying close

to the King. In his case it was King Henry V (Shakespeare's Hal). The young Rempstone had his first taste of real warfare at Agincourt with Henry in 1415. He had a personal retinue of eight men-at-arms and 24 archers.  He would go on to be recognised as one of the leading military commanders of his
time.  He was present at the triumphal enrty into Paris in 1420.  Each success brought him greater wealth and following a very lucrative marriage he helds extensive lands in both England and France.  Every thing went well until 1428 when he was involved in an attempt to take Orleans ... unfortunately
Joan of Arc had other ideas.  The English troops were forced to retreat with the French in pursuit.  Rempstone was taken prison in 1429 and they demanded a ranson of about £5000 for his release.  Despite his wealth his family found it difficult to find the cash! He would not return to England until July 1436.

His brother William did make a serious attempt to gain his freedom in 1432 when he was organising part payment and a prisoner exchange.  Unfortunately the French prisoner they chose to exchange was already being used as hostage for a ransom due on the Duke of Orlean so the deal fell through.  After seven years as a hostage Rempstone returned to Nottingham almost bankrupt.  He settled for the quiet life of a country gentleman for just a couple of years before returning to campaigning in France ... and being captured a second time.  He died in 1458 and was buried in the chancel of Bingham Church.

All Saints'Church
Rempstone All Saint's Church dates back to 1771 but some of the building material was taken from a much older church that had fallen into disrepair.  The earlier church was a Saxon building named St Peter in the Rushes. It was situated about three quarters of a mile away from the present church ... some old grave stones mark the spot .... and had served three communities.  When the village was enclosed in 1768 it was decided to move the church closer to Rempstone.

We could not gain access to the inside of the building but we could glimpse some beautiful carved panels decorating the raised singing gallery through the windows.  It all looked very Victorian which is quite apt as one of the memorials inside is a richly engraved brass plate on the floor commemorating George Davys, Bishop of Peterborough, who was tutor to Queen Victoria.


The Old Rectory has obviously changed over the years ... In 1770 it was described as having "two parlours, hall and kitchen with four chambers above.  There was ... a small thatched barn, stables and a cow house."  This place has had a couple of interesting visitors in its time.  A young Oliver Cromwell slept under this roof as did Florence Nightingale.

White Lion pub

It was a nice surprise to find the pub was still in business.  The White Lion was recently purchased by four village residents to save it for the community.  There has been a pub on this site for many years ....just round the corner is a property called the Coach House with a large opening for the carriages to gain entry.  We missed opening time by 30 minutes on this visit but it looks good so we plan to return.  The new owners sell traditional ales and there was talk of a food menu so we will let you know what we think in due course ......

White Lion pub

Across the road from the pub but out of sight from the road stands the Grade II listed Rempstone Hall.  It was recently up for sale with a guide price of £2.5 million for the Hall and 22 acres of garden, woodlands and pastures.  It had been home to an order of nuns since 1978 (when they paid £110,000 for it) but they now have a new purpose built convent at Costock. 

During the 1800s the Hall was home to John Smith Wright (of the Smith banking family) and his wife Lady Sarah Caroline Sitwell.  Lady Sarah was described as a blue stocking and moved in artistic/literary circles .... Edith Sitwell probably learnt a lot from her.  Lady Sarah's first husband had been Sitwell Sitwell (yes, his humorous father named him twice!) who was hailed a hero by the people of Sheffield when a tiger escaped from a circus visiting the town.  Sitwell Sitwell took his pack of hounds into the streets and hunted the tiger down. *

Lord Byron was a guest at one of Lady Sarah's gatherings when he was enthralled by the sight of Anne Beatrix Wilmont walking across the room wearing a black sequinned dress.  One of his most famous poems was the result:

She walks in beauty like the night,
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright,
Are in her aspect and her eyes. 

The GuestHouse of Rempstone
There used to be a second pub in the village ..... this was a coaching inn known as The Ship Inn.  Today it has been converted into a comfortable looking B and B Guesthouse with 14 rooms.

Lady Sarah Caroline Sitwell and her husband Sitwell Sitwell had a young daughter named Caroline.  Unfortunately the child died at the age of 10 months.  There is a memorial stone to her at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire which reads "She sparkled, was exhaled, and went to Heaven."

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


The Generous Briton
The pub is a good place to start in Costock.  The staff in The Generous Briton gave us a warm welcome and a tasty lunch .... the beer was good too.  Worth a visit.

The present pub sign shows a corpulent John Brown type figure wearing a Union Jack waistcoat and holding out a flagon of frothy ale. The name comes from a poem written in 1780 by Phillip Freneau.  Entitled A British Prison Ship it describes the appalling conditions American prisoners endured on these death ships.  The American War of Independence raged from 1775 until 1783.  The British viewed their prisoners of war as terrorists and confined them in sweltering ships with little food or fresh weater.  The death tolls were around the 70% mark.  The poem details the awful treatment the "generous Britons" meted out.

"Here generous Briton, generous, as you say,
To my parched tongue one cooling drop convey,
Hell has no miscief like a thirsty throat,
Nor one tormentor like your David Sproat." 

[David Sproat was a British supervisor on the prison ship].

An appropriate quotation for a pub name I suppose even if the original source is a bit grim!

Street view

Well, we left the pub and wandered up a lane that was a perfect setting for a Miss Marple TV set.  We turned right at the end of the lane and that took us passed a small graveyard and on to Hall Farm, a lovely old farm house that is no longer a farm.  Obviously we couldn't go in but according to the WI Nottinghamshire Village Book it has 3 feet thick walls, stone mullioned windows and a ten feet long fireplace very similar to the one in Hampton Court kitchen.  It did look idyllic.

We retraced our steps back to the graves, passed  Dead End Cottage (!) and found the church yard.

St Giles Church
The tiny window underneath the middle one in the photo above has been described as a Leper Window but the altar can not be seen from that angle: an alternative explanation suggests it was a Confessional Window dating back to its Roman Catholic years.

Towards the back of the church was this gravestone on the right.  I take it to be two brothers as they share the name of Chapman and were born four years apart.  Edward, the youngest, died in Calcutta, India in 1875 at the age of 21 but is remembered here. A silver 16th century Indian coin was found in the church yard ... perhaps it was buried with this young man.

In prime position at the front of the church is a large plot with a row of stones belonging to one family.  Many generations of the Woodroffe or Woodruff family are buried here.  Interestingly the older grave stones show different spellings of the name. One stone tells us that Solomon Woodroffe died in 1735 and next to him is his 14 year old son.  Solomon's wife, Mary, died in 1741 leaving three other children.  Elizabeth Woodroffe, the youngest was only 10 when she was orphaned.  She also died young at the age of 29. There are about 19 stones in memory of this family ... so many they have their own web page

 Descendents of the family still live in the Woodroffe family home ... right across the road from the church.  The building has SW 1778 designed into the old brickwork (Solomon Woodroffe II).

St Giles Church
  This is the 14th century Church of St Giles but it is mainly 19th century now after the rebuilds. 

Part of a Norman pillar found in 1978

 There is some beautiful stonework inside ...


 ... and the pews have been carved with poppy heads depicting plants and animals.


Six of these carving date to the 13th century but over 60 of them were created by Rev Charles Sutton Millard the Victorian vicar.

Memorial to 9 men who fought and died in the World War 1

Window designed by Burleston & Gryllis

Outside there is a tomb to another incumbent of the church. 

The effigy is minus a head having been badly damaged by soldiers in the Civil War.  The marks in the sandstone at the back look like fingernail scatchings but we were told they were made by the same soldiers as they sharpened their arrowheads in preparation for a battle.

Bailey's Annals of Nottinghamshire tells us: 'At the latter end of the summer the Royalists having placed an ambuscade on the road near Costock, to intercept a convoy, passing under protection of a body of Leicester troops, were defeated with the loss of eight men killed and sixty taken prisoners.' The loss of the Parliamentary forces is not mentioned.

A document from the Thoroton Society states: "We know from information given by Mr. Carver, farmer, of Costock, that in 1857, on a road being made outside the churchyard, five skulls, together with other bones, were found buried at the depth only of 2½ feet from the surface, and that in Dr. Chapman's opinion, they were the bones of men, and that one skull had a round hole, which might have been caused by a bullet."  

At the back of the church they have almost copied the tomb design from the church front for another respected vicar ... Edward Wilson Clerk MA who died in 1859.

St Giles Church
Continuing down the lane we passed the large Rectory but it is hardly visible from the road.  There is a real feeling of being back in time down this lane.  Round the corner and behind a huge brick wall is the old Manor House.  Apparently the land and money for this place was given to Queen Elizabeth I's chef when he retired!  He must have been the Alain Passard of his day!

Manor House
It is still standing and has been converted into a fabulous modern home with  immaculate gardens, a heated swimming pool, six bedrooms, four bathrooms, stable block, garage block and at least three additional buildings to use as holiday lets. It was up for sale recently for £1.8 million.  I'd buy it!

We explored Mill Lane but the mill was long gone ... There was a miller recorded as living in Costock in 1609 and the last mill was built in 1774 but it was pulled down in 1937 when it became too dangerous.  The old mill barn, where the wheat was threshed, dates back to 1763 but it is now a house.

At one time the village had three shops (including a butcher and a sub-post office) and two pubs.  There were two blacksmiths and a saddler supporting the local agricultural community; a small brick yard; a bake house; a shoemaker; a taylor and dressmakers. This was also the centre of a stocking framework knitting industry with finished products being taken to Nottingham by horse and cart.  In 1871 there were 29 machines giving employment to about 40 people but by 1901 all production had ceased.

Street view
In 2011 the Community of the Holy Cross built a small convent for nuns on a 26 acre site just outside the village. It is a place where people can go for a quiet religious retreat.  There is another business with a church connection ... Ellis Ropes Ltd makes colourful chime ropes for church bells under the Ellis and Pritchard brand name.

There seems to be a trend connected to 'higher things' here because another modern day establishment in the area is East Midlands Helicopters.

old water pump
Eglantine Vineyard covers 4 acres of land on Ash Lane and produces award winning wines and meads. 
Ornamental pump from Glenfield & Kennedy of Kilmarnock designed to disapence exactly 1 gallon of water.