Monday, 8 July 2013

Rufford Abbey and the White Monks of Sherwood Forest

Rufford Abbey was founded by Gilbert de Gant in 1146.

Picture: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Groin-vaulted Rufford Abbey Undercroft
The charter confirming the foundation was granted by King Stephen on Christmas day of that year.

Rufford was a Cisterican Monastery, a daughter house of Riveaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.

The abbey was situated just to the West of the King's Highway to York which passed from Nottingham northwards through Sherwood Forest, and the Abbey was an attractive stop-over for weary travellers on the long road through the forest.

The Abbey sat towards the northern edge of a vast tract of heathland, meadow, woodland and farmland consolidated from the possessions of the villages of Rufford, Crately, and Inkersall, granted to the Abbey. Rufford village had 8 families when the monks arrived, but was abandoned by the end of the Thirteenth Century. Crately was slower to become deserted, but villagers eventually moved to settle in nearby Edwinstowe and the village of Wellow (see Rufford Charters entry for information about the grants of lands and the Charters recording them).

The Church of the Abbey was dedicated to St Mary, and was built in the remote wastes and woods of Sherwood by the Cistercians, who favoured the isolation and separation from the world provided by the forest.

The Abbey complex included the Church, Cellar, Lay Brothers Frater, Cloister, Kitchens, Monks Frater, Warming House, Undercroft and Dormitory above, Inner Parlour, Chapter House, and Sacristy.

The surrounding landscape included areas of Woodland: 'ye abote wode', 'Abott Ymmslow', and 'burne abotote wode'. There were also large areas of heather lyngges, or wastes known as 'the Forest'. The valley of the Rainworth Water to the south of the Abbey was managed as Meadows to provide winter fodder for large numbers of sheep. The Cistercians were prolific sheep farmers.

The Abbey organised much of these land-holdings into 'Granges'- most of them within a days walk of the Abbey- the best know being Inkersall Grange which sat on Rainworth Water on the southern-most extent of the home estates.

As well as the demense farming which provided income for the Abbey, the Monks also possessed large parts of the town of Rotherham in Yorkshire which provided a vast amount of taxable income for the Abbey.

The Abbey was a popular over night resting place on the great road through the Forest and would have provided welcome accommodation as night fell over the desolate heaths and remote woodland of the High Forest (see A Journey through Sherwood Forest: Rufford Abbey to Nottingham post). 

Accommodation was provided for free by the monks- so it was essential that the monastery could provide for itself and visitors. The large amounts of farmland kept by the Abbey was therefore of great importance to ensure they could provide for all these travelers.

These could include Royalty, and in 1290 Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I stayed here while Edward held Parliament at his nearby Royal Palace and Hunting lodge at Clipstone (see Parliament Oak: Icon of Sherwood Forest entry for more details ). In fact the Abbey was among her final resting places as she was ill during her stay there, and died during an attempt to move to Lincoln for Spiritual and Medical help.

Rufford was a part of the fabric of life in Sherwood Forest for 400 hundred years.

It would sadly come to an end in the 1530 under King Henry VIII along with all other monasteries in the Kingdom.

At the Dissolution of the Monastery the Abbot was accused of being incontinent with two married women and 4 single women- six of the monks were said to be desirous of exemption from their duties- and the monastery was dissolved in 1536 (it is quite likely that these charges were trumped up as they were very convenient for the crown- however Priests were often badly behaved at times in Medieval Sherwood Forest).

Despite this inglorious ending, Rufford Abbey passed into the hands of rich landowners and eventually emerged to become a Country Park in the present Day with parts of the Medieval Abbey surviving within the later house. These  include the Lay Brothers Frater and the Undercroft which can still be visited to this day.

Photograph: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Rufford Abbey Country Park

Thursday, 4 July 2013

3,000 Facebook Likes for Sherwood Forest Heritage

The Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest Facebook page now has over 3,000 followers!
Mercian Archaeological Services CIC would like to thank everyone for the amazing support they have shown to their Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest project. ,

Reaching 3,000 Facebook likes is a fabulous landmark that just goes to show how interested people are in the heritage of this wonderful area, and how close the subject is to so many peoples hearts.

This project is ran by Mercian Archaeological Services as part of their Community Archaeology outreach and is all about promoting Sherwood Forest and its fantastic heritage to as wide an audience as possible around the world. 

This support helps to give a platform for the work undertaken by ourselves and many others in Sherwood Forest, and helps to promote the forest as a whole- reflecting its changing medieval boundaries, which stretch far beyond those in the modern landsape.

The community in Sherwood Forest is a strong and vibrant one, and there is a healthy  network of groups, landowners, charities, volunteers and companies who give blood sweat and tears everyday to promote this forest 

This collective work hopefully goes someway to helping to protect Sherwood Forest for future generations to know and love too.

The work goes on...

Please spread the word and help promote this marvelous story as far as we can. - please like the page.  - please like the page.

Thank you,

St Nicholas' Church, Nottingham. Medieval Church and Sniper's Hideout...

St Nicholas' Church is one of Nottingham's three medieval religious foundations that survive to this day. 

The building which stands today however was built in the 17th century.

Picture: St Nicholas Church Nottingham by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC
The Church of St Nicholas' is first mentioned in the foundation charter of Lenton Priory from 1103-8 where an annual pension was confirmed to the prior and convent of 15 shillings annually.

It is therefore believed to have been founded before the Norman conquest, probably in the eleventh century.

The medieval church contained a Chantry dedicated to St Mary- possibly situated in the Lady chapel which is also mentioned in the records.

There was also a Guild or fraternity of St Mary associated with the church.

With the Norman conquest the church found itself in the French quarter of Nottingham outside the walls of the castle- this location would eventually lead to its downfall.

Speeds 1610 map suggests the medieval church had a nave and possibly one or two isles, along with a west tower complete with a spire. Stapleton in his 1903 book 'churches and monasteries of Old Nottingham' suggest the tower and spire were of Decorated Gothic architecture.

This medieval building has sadly been destroyed, but the story of its downfall is fantastic in itself.

It is well documented that Colonel Hutchinson Governor of Nottingham Castle ordered its destruction in 1643 during the English Civil Wars.

The church was garrisoned by Royalists who used it to fire on the Parliamentarians in the castle. 

The diary of Colonel Hutchinson's wife, Lucy states ' There was an old church called St Nicholas' Church, whose steeple so commanded the platform that the men could not play the ordnance without woolsacks before them. From this church the bullets played so thick into the outward Castle Yard that they could not pass from one gate to another, nor relieve the guards, but with great hazard' (Stapleton 1903).

Picutre: Lucy Hutchinson courtesy of

After the town was cleared of Royalists the Colonel had the church taken down so theat it could not be used against them again.

A fabulous tale rich in the history of Olde Nottingham Towne...

In 1678 a new church was erected in brick which exists to this day, and is the subject of the photograph above by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC.