Nottinghamshire Villages: Small Places, Far Horizons

The latest volume from the much-loved Buildings of England series to be revised and refreshed is Nottinghamshire—an oft-overlooked county that is nevertheless brimming with architectural delights, including Southwell Minster, Wollaton Hall, and Newstead Abbey.

In this blog, rather than sing the praises of famous buildings that many already know and love, revising author Clare Hartwell explores the smaller villages and hamlets in Nottinghamshire; where some of the most interesting and surprising experiences can be found by those willing to look a little harder for them.

The Typical Nottinghamshire Village

When the delights of Nottingham (including the high-spirited Victorian architecture of Fothergill Watson and T. C. Hine and recent work by Michael Hopkins and Caruso St John), Newark (a castle, a Georgian market place, one of the most beautiful of medieval parish churches) and Southwell have been savoured, some of the most interesting, surprising, and contrasting experiences on offer can be found in the villages and hamlets. They are often set in rolling farmland, with views in the east of the county of the huge, doomed cooling towers of the power stations along the Trent (known locally as Megawatt Alley) and a windmill here and there.

The Trent Valley with North Leverton windmill, 1812-15, and West Burton Power Station by the Architects Design Group, 1967-9.

The typical Nottinghamshire village has red-brick-and-tile buildings clustered around a stone-built medieval church. Laxton, famously, is still farmed on the medieval open-field system, and many others keep pre-enclosure plans, with farmsteads within the village.  A local speciality is the dovecote, free-standing or integrated into the farmyard layout, sometimes with crowstepped gables and raised brick decoration.

The shaped gables and tumbled-in brickwork of the 17th century vernacular have kinship with East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and more distantly, with the Low Countries. Direct links were via the River Trent, and settlements such as West Stockwith. It is difficult to imagine that such a small, out-of-the-way place could have been the starting point for long sea journeys, yet it was an active port with a 17th century shipbuilding industry. The reminder today is the charming early 18th century brick church, erected through the munificence of a local shipwright, whose monument shows him proudly displaying a scroll with designs for a ship upon it.  

Holme, St Giles, late c15, interior; monuments to John Barton (d. 1491) and wife.

International Connections

At the other end of the county, the tiny hamlet of Holme is another place with far-reaching connections. Here the church was rebuilt in the late 15th century by a local man, John Barton, who frankly acknowledged: ‘I thanke God and ever shall/it is the sheepe hath payed for all’.  He was a member of the Calais Merchant Staple, which had a monopoly over the English wool trade to France. The chapel furnishings, carved arms of the Calais Staple and some of the stained glass survive, with his cadaver tomb prominently positioned between the chapel and chancel.

Parish Churches

It is hard to choose between the treasures to be found in the parish churches; Hawton is well-known for the richness and detail of the early 14th century Easter sepulchre (or sacrament house) and for mesmerising window tracery, while Langar boasts the wonderful early 17th century Scrope monument, with figures beneath a canopy crowned by armorials and heraldic choughs. Highlights from later ages include Hickling’s quaint early C18 ‘Belvoir angel’ headstones and G. F. Bodley’s 19th century scheme at Coddington, where his original furnishings are set off by exquisite Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. glass. The 20th century contribution includes notable work by women artists, such as Clayworth’s early 20th century murals by Phoebe Traquair and striking 1960s dalle-de-verre glass by Margaret Traherne at Eastwood.

From Baroque and Gothic to Garden City style

Bunny Hall, by Sir Thomas Parkyns, dated 1723, from the west

Bunny is not to be missed. It was home to one of the county’s greatest eccentrics, Sir Thomas Parkyns. A keen amateur wrestler, who wrote a book about Cornish ‘Hugg’ wrestling, he designed Bunny Hall for himself in the early 18th century. The result belongs, according to Colvin, to the ‘lunatic fringe of the baroque’ with a great tower rearing up over the village as a monument to Parkyns’s exuberant self-confidence. The village is peppered with his other architectural efforts, including a combined school and almshouse. Another estate village not far away belonged to the early 17th century Thrumpton Hall, with its exceptional Restoration stair and a cluster of unspoiled early 18th century brick cottages, while the early 19th Thoresby estate village of Budby is populated by pretty Gothick houses finished in dusty pink render, overlooked by a castellated folly by John Carr.

There are ways in which the county’s planned industrial settlements can be seen as the successors to traditional estate villages. Several were built in the ‘Dukeries’, as the cluster of aristocratic seats around Sherwood Forest became known, when the owners of Rufford, Welbeck and Thoresby leased mineral rights to colliery companies in the early 20th century. Closures in recent decades brought change and economic hardship to many places, and almost all the pithead buildings have now gone. This leaves villages such as New Ollerton, Langold and Bilsthorpe, which were purpose-built on plans influenced by Garden City principles. Instead of the regimented miners’ terraces of earlier collieries in Forest Town and Annesley, houses of varied design were laid out on curving streets, with generous open spaces and recreational facilities. Clipstone is a good example, but here the village is still dominated by a pair of colliery headstocks more than 200 feet tall, surely the most impressive surviving monument of the Nottinghamshire coalfield.

All photographs in this blog were specially taken for the revised Pevsner guide to Nottinghamshire by Martine Hamilton Knight.

Clare Hartwell is is an independent architectural historian based in Derbyshire and the author of the Pevsner Architectural Guides Derbyshire and Lancashire: North.

Featuring exquisite medieval churches, bizarre Baroque houses, haunting monastic ruins, and first-rate Modernist architecture, the revised Pevsner Architectural Guide to Nottinghamshire is the ideal guide to one of England’s most architecturally fascinating counties.

Building on a revision of 1979 by Elizabeth Williamson, as well as Elain Harwood’s Nottingham: Pevsner City Guide, Nottinghamshire is also lavishly illustrated with photography by Martine Hamilton Knight and includes further maps and illustrations throughout.

Order online via our website or at your favourite local bookshop.

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