Wednesday, 7 December 2011

the Rufford Charters: landscape, people, trades and lives in medieval Sherwood Forest

The Cistercian Abbey of Rufford, Nottinghamshire was founded by the Norman Landholder Gilbert de Gant in 1146.

At Christmas in that year King Stephen confirmed Gilbert's grant of the lands from his estate at Rufford to the monks of Rievaulx (Holdsworth 1972). 

Rufford Abbey is located on the east side of Sherwood Forest, in the 'High Forest'. It was founded near to the King's Highway to York, and would have been a familiar and welcome stop for travellers through the Forest.

The abbey was secluded; being surrounded by the open heaths and woodland of the High Forest (more coming soon on the history of Rufford Abbey lands, Abbots and Monks)..

Picture: The undercroft at Rufford Abbey, Nottinghamshire.

The Cistercian movement of the late 12th century saw a massive re-injection of interest in monasticism, and the Cistercian order spread rapidly; receiving grants of land and money from noblemen and noblewomen wishing to buy into the new order and its promises of redemption and salvation.

The Cistercians desired a life of seclusion- which often meant the removal of the indigenous population to create a remote site.

In Sherwood Forest remoteness was available, but even here the foundation resulted in the removal of the villages of Rufford, Inkersall, Crately and Grimston- with some of the people being relocated; supposedly to the village of Wellow.

The history of the lands received by Rufford Abbey from it's foundation through the middle ages is recorded in the 'Rufford Charters'. (Published by the Thoroton Society as: Holdsworth, C.J. 1972. Rufford Charters. Thoroton Society Record Series Vol. XXIX).

The charter lists the large endowments granted by De Gant in Rufford and in nearby villages.

It also discusses at length the rights of the Abbot of Rufford in relation to the forest law (more soon).

As well as these affairs of state and actions of the great and wealthy, the Charters also show how local people donated small pieces of property to the Abbey through the 12th- 15th centuries.

Some of the records of these actions are in 'quitclaims' legal documents literally stating the quitting of any claims of ownership in order to pass the lands to the Abbey.

These 'quitclaims' not only show us how even the relatively less well off also wished to buy their way into heaven (imitating those above them), but it also gives us another glimpse into the landscape of the forest, its people, their trades and lives.

As well as quitclaims of land to the abbey, there are grants of land to rent from the abbey to people of the town.

This post will look at some of these documents relating to Nottingham and will show what we can learn about Medieval Nottingham and Sherwood Forest from examining them.

All names and entries are taken from Holdsworth 1972 and then interpreted below. Over time individual and related quitcalims will be examined through separate blog entries, but for now the following will give a flavour of the sources available:

Nottingham was divided in Medieval times into French and English Boroughs (see Medieval Nottingham entry for more details). These are listed as 'Burgo Franco' and 'Burgo Anglico' in a grant of a messuage in either borough by the Abbot of Rufford of 1236-48.

A lovely element of this grant is that part of the payment for one the messuages in question is with a pound of Cumin.

Spices were often used for payment in medieval times with 'peppercorn rent' being a literal form of payment (more coming soon).

The landscape of the town is also shown- with the street layout being mentioned on occasion:

Stoney Street (the original Saxon highstreet of Nottingham) and still in existence today is mentioned frequently in the Charters as 'Stanstrete' in 1220, 'Stanestrete' in 1230 and again as 'Stonstret' in 1245-58.

Chapel Bar (the gate by the chapel) is listed in 1230 through the name Bartholomew de Barregate (Bartholomew of the street by the gate), and as Chapelbarre in 1285-1317.

The Market Square is also mentioned in this last entry as 'forum Sabati' (the Saturday market).

These streets and features of the Nottingham landscape all still exist today and were all in place by at least the 13th century, they are shown below on John Speeds 1610 map of Nottingham for reference.

Picture: John Speeds Map of 1610 showing Chapel Bar, Market Square and Stoney Street.
A quitcalim from 1180 lists the highway from St. Mary's to the castle 'viam regiam que ducit ab ecclesia sancte Marie ad castellum'. Modern day High Pavement- also shown on Speed's map above.

A 'Snapedale' is mentioned as Snapedal' and is said in 1230-39 to be in the field of Nottingham 'Nuapdale in campo Nottingh'. Snapedale may mean 'boggy dale' from the etymology given for 'Snape wood' in Bulwell (EPSN 1940).

As well as the landscape we are introduced to the people and their trades. The entries list amongst others:


1180 Hormus the baker (more to come soon)

a late 12th century Fulk the Smith (blacksmith)

1222-23 Willelmo le Tanur (more on Tanners and tanning in medieval Sherwood Forest soon)

1230-39, Ranulfo le Tailur (the Tailor)

1234-58  Henrici le Taylur (Henry the Tailor) and a strangely named Benedictus Puffe (not a trader) 

1236 Gilbert le Spicer (perhaps the purveyor of the pound of Cumin!!)
from the mid 13th century a Thurkel le Marchuant (the merchant), Augustino le Clerico (Augustine the Clerk) and a Henrico le Talur (Henry the Tailor).

1285-1317, a William the Gaoler - Nottingham town gaoler!

1412 William Sotyll, a Chaplain and a John Maysham, Butcher.

... to name but a few.

The names also occasionally show a mixture of old English and French. 

With a Swain son of Thorald from 1299-1300- showing the conquest did not entirely crush English identity at the lower levels of society!

An earlier 'Henry son of Eyuolf' from a quitcalim of 1220-30 may reflect how interchangeable English and French names were through the generations at this level of society.

The town was farily cosmopolitan with a Willelmi de Ypres (perhaps a wool trader from Belgium) listed in 1239, and a Heliam le Aleman (sadly not a purveyor of ales, but perhaps more interestingly a German- from the French Allemande) from 1230-40.

Interestingly also mentioned is an 'Andrew Luterel' in 1222-30. The Luterel family and their links to Nottinghamshire through their famous work the Luterel Psalter will be discussed soon.

As can be seen the Rufford Charters offer a fantastic insight into the people and landscape of Nottingham in Medieval Serwood Forest and if interpreted correctly the lives and works of the these people, and the landscape of the day can be pieced together from between the lines of the documents.

(more from the Rufford charters, plus more from the inquititiones post mortem for Nottinghamshire coming soon see a Robbery in the Forest 1335)

Names and trades all taken from Holdsworth, C.J. 1972. Rufford Charters. Thoroton Record Series Vol. XXIX.

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