Blyth was a staging point on the old London to York road in Georgian days and still has three coaching inns, the Angel being the oldest. The church of Sts Mary and Martin was part of an 11th-century Benedictine Priory and its nave is a particularly interesting example of early Norman work. Facing the village green is an ancient stone building with a 700-year-old doorway; now a private residence, it was founded in the 12th century as a leper hospital.
A hilltop mining town, whose grimness and array of pit-head machinery contrast with the beauty of the surrounding farmland. This was the birthplace of D H Lawrence (1885-1930), the inspiration for much of whose work derived from this area. Lawrence was born at 8A Victoria Street, and lived at 28 Gardens Road, the ‘Bottoms’ of Sons and Lovers; the house has been restored. Eastwood is the ‘Bestwood’ of Sons and Lovers (1913), ‘Woodhouse’ in The Lost Girl (1920), and ‘Beldover’ in Women in Love (1920). Many local places feature in Lawrence’s works, and he described the view from his house in Walker Street as ‘the country of my heart’.
The village of Laxton somehow evaded the Enclosures Acts of the 18th century, and its arable land is still divided into three enormous tracts (West, South and Mill Fields) which are farmed on the three-year rotation basis, one being left fallow each year. The fields are overseen by the Court of the Manor, acting for the Lord of the Manor (now the Ministry of Agriculture). A foreman and jurors apportion strips of land to local farmers on a yearly basis and see that boundaries are respected and ditches cleared – a system of administration practised since medieval times and an almost unique survival of strip-farming.
Mansfield today is an important industrial centre. It used to be a small market town in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Indeed a plaque in Westgate marks the site of the socalled ‘centre oak’, which had to be felled in 1940. Evidence of Mansheld’s antiquity can be found in the ‘rock ,houses’, or cliff-dwellings cut in the sandstone beside the Southwell road, which were still inhabited at the end of the 19th century. The town is dominated by a vast railway viaduct and in the market place Stands the Moot Hall, erected in 1752.
The first recorded owner of Newark is that celebrated lady. Godiva, wife of Mercia‘s Earl Leofric. Remains of the 12th-century castle, notably the impressive main gateway and chapel and the west wall, overlook this attractive old town. During King John’s struggle with the barons, which concluded with the signing of the Magna Carta, the batons captured Newark, held it for a year and then lost it to the King, who later, in 1216, died there from overeating. The centre of Newark is the cobblestoned market place with its many interesting old inns. Lord Byron lodged at the Clinton Arms (formerly the Kingston Arms), while supervising publication of his first book of poems. Gladstone as an ambitious young orator gave his first political speech from one of the windows. Sir Henry Clinton, who captured Charleston in 1780, was MP for Newark. There are two museums the District Council Museum and the fascinating Millgate Museum of Social and Folk life. An interesting piece of Victorian social history is the flamboyant Ossington Coffee Palace, built to advance the cause of temperance.
Four miles south west Stoke Hall was the home of Lord Pauncefote Britain’s first ambassador to America he is buried at East Stoke. Eight miles south west is Screveton, the home of Edward Whalley, a cousin of Oliver Cromwell, who guarded Charles I when he was confined at Hampton Court, and was one of the judges who signed the King’s death warrant. After the Restoration Whalley fled to New England where records show that he lived at Hadley, Massachusetts. The parish church contains the family tomb of his grandfather Richard Whalley, who is buried with his wife and 25 Children.
Newstead Abbey, set in a wooded park nine miles north of Nottingham, was founded in 1170 by Henry II for Augustinian canons after the murder of Thomas a Becket. After the Dissolution, it was given to Sir John Byron, an ancestor of the famous poet, who could not afford to live in the ancestral home until 1808, and even then, he was heavily in debt. Some years later, when he left England for good, Byron sold the property to an old schoolfriend but the house has many items relating to the poet, including the table at which Childe Harold was written and an elaborate grave in the grounds to hisNewfoundland dog, Boatswain. Byron who died in Greece, is buried three miles away at Hucknall church. The famous 19th century explorer and missionary David Livingstone wrote his journals here.
Sherwood was the domain of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who ‘robbed the rich to feed the poor’. The forest is greatly diminished but tracts of beautiful oak woodland survive. However, Major Oak, supposed meeting place of the band in which they were all able to hide, stands one mile south of Edwinstowe, where Robin is said to have married Marion in the small church. Little John is buried at Hathersage. Thoresby Park near Ollerton and Chamber Park incorporated parts of the ancient woodland.
Charles I gave himself up to the Scottish army at the Saracen’s Head in Southwell in 1647 and they promptly – sold him to Parliament. Happier memories are recalled by Burgage Manor (not open), where Byron used to spend his holidays, and by the Bramley seedling apple, which was developed in the garden of Bramley Tree Cottage. But the most imposing feature of this Nottinghamshire town is the great Norman minster, famous for the exquisite carvings in the Chapter House.
Thoresby Hall, built 1864-75 in the heart of Sherwood Forest, is one of the great ducal mansions that gave the name ‘Dukeries’ to this part of the countryside. Descendants of its original owners, the Earls of Manvers, still live there. It was the Duke of Kingston who built the first house on the site, in the late 17th century. His daughter, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the famous letter writer, lived here. The Duke established Thoresby Park, with its splendid chestnut avenues and lovely lake, made by damming the River Meden. At one end of the lake there is a model village dating from 1807 and a castellated folly named Budby Castle.
This interesting old house in its magnificent park stands on the site of a 12th-century monastery which was granted to the Whalley Fanily after the Dissolution. They eventually sold it to Bess of Hardwick, and one of her descendants, the 1st Duke of Newcastle, built the south wing in about 1630. The house subsequently passed to the Dukes of Portland and remained their property until the 20th century when it was taken over as an Army College. The most fascinating feature of the building is the labyrinth of passages and suites of rooms that undermines it – the brainchild of the eccentric 5th Duke of Portland who became a recluse with a phobia about being seen by strangers.
Set on the edge of the Midlands coalfield, Worksop is a good base for exploring Sherwood Forest and the Dukeries – the group of neighbouring estates owned by the Dukes of Kingston, Newcastle and Portland. The twin-towered church of St Mary and St Cuthbert is part of a 12th century priory and has a fine 13th century Lady Chapel. The 14th century gatehouse once housed an elementary school, founded in 1623. The town museum numbers among its exhibits two Bronze Age beakers, found in nearby Clumber Park, once the estate of the Duke of Newcastle.
Find out more about Lord Byron and Newstead Abbey – a great day out.