Thursday, 10 November 2011

Egmanton Way: The Virgin Mary, Priors, and Pilgrimage in Medieval Sherwood Forest

Medieval Sherwood Forest was criss-crossed by roads running through the heath and woodland joining up the many forest communities and providing passage to the wider world.

It is the presence of such roads, and the feared journeys through them that no doubt led to the many legends of hooded outlaws roaming the woods.

The King’s Highway to York ran from Nottingham up the eastern side of the forest. The other great highway ran up the western side from Nottingham to the great royal manor of Mansfield.

Along the southern edge of the forest, running along the northern bank of the Trent, hugging the bottom of the Clay ridge of the Mercia mudstones, a third highway ran from Nottingham to the Archbishop of York’s manor at Southwell- the religious heart of the county (more soon).

Alongside these major highways were a myriad of smaller roads which travelled across the forest- some of them were ‘Pack mans’ ways- little more than footpaths or causeys (causeways) as they were known, for pedestrian use (see Road Tax entry).

There were however other medium sized route ways presumably providing cart track ways between settlements.

Many of these are listed on the Belvoir map of the early 14th century.

Some of these carry descriptive names such as ‘ye ryge (ridge) way’, ye brome (broome) gate. Others carry the name of the settlement through which they pass, or are near to ‘Papulwyk (papplewick) Way’, ‘ye roide of Buluel' (Bulwell).

One road is named ‘Egmanton Way’ but this is a puzzle as it is not in the proximity of Egmanton at all.

Egmanton village lay four miles to the east of the 13th century forest boundary near to the village of Laxton.

Egmanton had a Motte and Bailey Castle, but was considerably smaller in stature as a village than its neighbour at the time.

Laxton had been the seat of the keepers of Sherwood Forest since the De Caux dynasty, who were hereditary keepers through marriage into the D’Everingham family up until the late 13th century.

Laxton had been remodelled during this time and may well have had pretensions of becoming a market town (Challis 1994), until keepership was stripped from the D’Everinghams for trespass against the Vert (more to come soon).

Any road heading in that direction at that time would most likely have been called ‘Laxton Way’ not the lesser ‘Egmanton Way’.

So what reason could there be for the name of the road? The location of Egmanton, and the relative positioning of the name on the Belvoir Map suggests it ran from the southwest to Egmanton in the northeast.

One clue could come from where it may have been heading from.

The Priors of Sherwood Forest were granted lands around Nottinghamshire for their Priory at Newstead- founded in the late 12th century by Henry II.

As time passed many more parcels of land and other offerings were granted to the priory.

 Picture: Newstead Abbey (priory) West Front

The Newstead Cartulary of 1344 contains record of the land granted to the Priory by people wishing to secure a place in heaven, and eternal peace.

One such entry is a licence to appropriate the Church of Egmanton on 31st October 1315:

‘Edward by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine, to all to whom the present letters shall come, greeting. Know ye that of our special grace we have granted and given licence on behalf of us and our heirs, as far as in us lies, to our beloved in Christ, the Prior of Newstead in Shyrewode, and the Convent of the same place, that they themselves may appropriate the church of Egmanton, in the diocese of York, which is of their own advowson, and having appropriated it, may hold it to their own use for themselves and their successors for ever, without annoyance or hindrance by us or our heirs, Justices, Escheators, Seriffs, or others our Bailiffs or Ministers whomsoever. The statute of Mortmain notwithstansding. In witness thereof we have had these our letters made patent. As witness myself at Clypston, the thirty-first day of October, in the ninth year of our reign.
(Gray (Ed.) 1940).

Notice that Edward II was staying at his favoured royal retreat at Clipstone (see King John's Palace entry for more details).

So the Priors of Newstead owned the church at Egmanton from 1315 onwards.

It would seem likely then that the name of the road reflects this land grant by King Edward II to the Priors of Sherwood- the road linked Newstead Priory to its church in Egmanton.

This is an insight into how the actions of the powers of the land could impact on even the smallest aspect of the life and landscape of the forest.


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