Discovering Southwell with Albus

Brackenhurst to Halloughton: Walking in the steps of ancestors to the hamlet that Southwell forgot.

Halloughton Village

Over my time with the Discovering Southwell project I have again and again been bowled over by the warmth and openness that I, as an ‘outsider’ have been privileged to encounter as people have shared their time, thoughts and stories about the Southwell area.

Today demonstrated yet again that generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for the area and its heritage that I have typically encountered. Braving the showers, Teresa and Tony had arranged to meet Albus and I at the cricket ground on the Brackenhurst Campus. The meeting place was significant. Tony’s Great, Great Grandfather Christopher Wombwell had lived in a cottage that once stood on the edge of the ground. Address given on the 1901 census as just ‘Cricket Ground’. Today we traced the path of Christopher’s life.

Christopher Wombwell's cottage on the Cricket Ground at Brackenhurst shortly befor demolition

The cottage site today

We strike out due south under brooding skies and a lively wind. Swallows skim the sward and flurries of pied wagtails lift and land a little further on as we walk. Brackenhurst today is home to Nottingham Trent University’s 200-hectare ‘open air classroom’. Students of agriculture, environmental, animal and rural sciences are taught here. We pass an intriguing complex of old farmsteads and newer buildings that dot the array of crop fields and pasture. The names of the fields echo topographical features, uses and enclosures. Some are named for Individuals; Big Dickholme, Green’s Close, Orwin’s Field. The names still resonant with descendants who live locally still.

The path was new to all of us and at a junction a helpful passer-by pointed the way to the evocatively named Gypsy Lane as it curves southwest. A beautiful old lane with high hedges full of native species, blackthorn, hawthorn and maples.

Teresa, Albus and Tony on Gypsy Lane

Great Crested Newts are increasing in the carefully managed habitats on the NTU Brackenhurst Estate.

Numbered information boards throughout the estate telling you about the flora and fauna and history around you. (A corresponding ‘Brackenhurst Walks’ leaflet is available on campus from NTU and online). From one board we learn that the ponds at this point are home the protected Great Crested Newts. We couldn’t spot any from the path today though.

We followed the Lane down to where it crossed an arm of the Halloughton Dumble and followed it to the right towards High Cross Hill, now the A612 Nottingham-Southwell road. Mysteries and secrets seem to dwell in the deep green calm of the Dumble; maybe some fairy brethren of the Halam little folk too 😊

Halloughton Dumble

On reaching the main road we had to walk up the road to the right a while to reach the turning for Halloughton village about 125m on the left. The traffic is fast and fairly common along here so do be careful.

Grateful to get of the road, we turned into the lane to the village. Its so surprising what amazing places lie just of the main roads we all go whizzing by on every day, unexplored and unknown by most people. In fact, we were told a little further on in our walk, Halloughton is known as ‘the hamlet that Southwell forgot’!

The lane leading to Halloughton

Herb Robert growing on the ancient walls

A magnificent Beech growing outside the Church of St James

Ancient stone walks flank the lane to the left and we can glimpse ponds and a small lake (possible an ancient manorial fish pond) through the trees. A little further on and the first building that we reach is the parish church St James with its distinctive wooden sign. Tony points out it seems disproportionately large for such a small settlement. We decide to investigate it later.

13th Century Halloughton Manor Tower

Grade II listed Manor Farm House with Medieval Tower

To our right the first house of the village is the mot ancient. The 18th century Manor Farm house incorporates a impressive medieval tower. This is the remains of the 13th century prebendal manor house. Halloughton was one of the sixteen prebends attached to the colligate church at Southwell, the Minster. The parish itself with its farms and properties (save for a small amount of freehold) was owned by the Church Commissioners until 1952 when it was sold to the sitting tenants. White’s 1853 Directory of Nottinghamshire recounts strange tales of long lost tunnels reaching from the Manor house to Thurgaton and even stranger, the discovery in the house of a hidden large recess “in which were found many human skeletons, principally those of children.”

Halloughton still maintains the footprint of its original nucleated medieval farming settlement. The various farm houses along with their barns, stables, cart-sheds set around courtyards all lining the single road. The arrangement is reminiscent of Laxton, and like Laxton, it reflects the practice of a medieval ‘open field’ farming system. Before the enclosure acts the farmers would have worked strips of land allocated to each of them within three (sometimes 4) larger fields. We had already seen evidence of the enclosures in the field names that we past, but to find such an unspoilt village system still surviving was very exciting.

The farm buildings all lay along the road, the farm land streching out behind. Note the older (medieval?) stone work in the brick building on the left.

An 18th century combined stable, hayloft and threshing barn with Victorian post box

A warning that 'All Vagrants will be apprehended by the Order of the Justice of the Peace J. Nicholson Chief Constable'

18th Century Treshing Barn

Dove Cote built into farm building

The buildings are, again like Laxton, largely 18th and fantastic. Virtually undeveloped, huge threshing barn doors, dovecotes and rick-yards are everywhere. Bell’s hang on the main farmhouses to ring in the labourers from the fields. Smaller workers cottages nestle next to paddocks and old orchards along the road.

"What are you looking at?" Bull in an orchard.

Old workers cottages

Tony’s great, great grandfather Christopher had worked on a farm owned by William Brett. Here as a ‘farm servant indoors’ he met Mary Eliza ‘general servant’. They subsequently married on Christmas even 1871 in Southwell parish church and went on to have 8 children (not all surviving).

Tony hasn’t yet been able to identify which farm his family worked on but we had fun wondering if it was this one or that as we walked around. Imagining Mary Eliza looking out of the small attic windows in the main houses where a maid’s room may have been.

Early 18th century County Fire Insurance Mark

Teresa spotted a small square of lead high up on a barn wall and thought it might have been old fire insurance mark. These embossed badges that home owners would put onto the exterior of their buildings so that the private fire brigades of the time knew they had insurance and would then put out any building fires that occurred. It was deeply corroded and very high up so we couldn’t see it properly but sure enough when the photograph we took was enlarged it was clear that she was right! It was an early 19th century County Fire Insurance Company mark depicting Britannia with a shield, spear and lion.

As we walked back along the village road towards the church, we met a lovely couple out tending their beautiful garden. Their house had been one of the cottages for the workers of Manor Farm, the oldest part over 200 years old. Ann showed us the well in her garden that they had found beneath a stone slab after they had moved in some 20 plus years ago. Research has shown that it dates back at least 200 years. It was Ann who told us of Halloughton’s ‘forgotten’ sobriquet.

Another old worker's cottage

200+ year old well

We went back to the church of St James to explore. The church as it stands now was mostly dates to 1879-82. All that remains of the smaller medieval church is the rough stone work wall of the east end with two 13th century lancet windows and the reused south doorway. Incorporated into the 19th century walls are four larger blocks of stone. These are incised with patterns and are thought to the remains of mediaeval cross slabs. The grave yard is vast and strangely sparsely populated with graves. Huge yews grow here amongst other vast beeches and limes. Taphophile* Nottingham poet Henry Kirke White, is said to have loved to sit here drawing down the muses.                                                                                                

"Earthly things

Are but the transient pageants of an hour

And earthly pride is like the passing flower."                    (Henry Kirke White)                                                                                                                                                                         *a person who loves cemeteries


South door of the Church of St James

An ancient Yew in the church yard

Part of medieval cross slab reused in 19th century rebuild of the church

C13th east with C19th added regular block stone work. The two C13th lancet windows have carved stone head corbels.

Feeling suitably inspired we left Halloughton with the conviction of returning again soon. Having survived traversing the A612 again back to the same footpath to Brackenhurst, we crossed the footbridge over the Dumble and up the field path towards the main Hall and gardens. A journey that Christopher and Mary Eliza made at some point when they relocated to work on the Brackenhurst estate.

Crossing the bridge over the dumble

Walking in the steps of ancestors up to Brackenhurst Hall

The Rose Garden

We entered into the Edwardian rose garden’s laid out in the 1920’s in the style of Edwin Lutyen. The hall itself was built in 1828 for the Rev. Thomas Coats Cane. His great grandson, the distinguished WWI Field Marshall Lord Allenby, was born here in 1861. The Hall was used as a military hospital during WWI too, though the Allenby’s didn’t live here then.

The grounds at Brackenhurst

Brackenhurst Hall

Today campus of Nottingham Trent University

The estate was sold to a successful Lace manufacturing family the Hicking’s in 1899. Christopher and Mary Eliza were living on the estate at this time. Christopher was a horticultural worker so it was particularly interesting to wander the gardens where he would have worked. One place he certainly would have been familiar with would have been the Victorian walled kitchen gardens. The lovely heated stove ranges and peach cages are still there in use today.

Gates to the Victorian Walled Garden

Victorian glass house

"Do I get a biscuit yet?"

White-tailed bumble bee on Echinacea

Bug Hotel to encourage natural insect predators and pollinators

Touching the handle of the doors and walking the same paths as somebody who is no longer a vague shadow from the past but a known individual creates a depth of connection. We pondered this connection; to the landscape, to the buildings, to nature, to each other, that shared stories help to forge. We walked back past the extensive new buildings going up to accommodate more new students, new stories and connections waiting to be made, and across the cricket pitch again, past where Christopher and Mary Eliza’s cottage had once stood.

Thank you Teresa and Tony :)