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EVOKING THE PAST IN A FOREST VILLAGE
Glapthorne, Northamptonshire by Alec Payne
Lying within a mile and a half of Oundle, some 14 miles from Stamford, and surrounded by the famous family estates of Deene, Drayton, Boughton and Burghley, is the ancient village of Glapthorne. It belongs to a group of forest villages, including Southwick, Bulwick and Nassington, which once lay within the medieval Forest of Clive or Cliffe, a sub-division of the great Royal Forest of Rockingham. To the north lies Short Wood, with its Saxon earthworks; to the east, the Cow Pastures common land allegedly sold by a drunken reeve while encircling the village are the ancient fields, with their evocative names, such as Casteepings, The Swinner, Hanging Balk, Milking Stool and Hens and Chickens.
Although Glapthorne lies on the periphery of the Cliffe Bailiwick, it did enjoy the advantages of agistment, estovers and pannage. Life was hard in these small, nucleated forest villages, with their open fields, assarts, or arable land won from the forest. Despite the presence of John Johnson, of "the staple at Calais", resident in Cromwell's Manor – as the Manor of Glapthorne was called in the 16th century – the men of Glapthorne had no great house to sustain them, unlike the retainers of Burghley and Boughton. They were free men and could look only to their own efforts for sustenance. So, to supplement their crops, taken as best they could from the ancient rhythm of the three-field system, the villagers looked to agistment for the right to admit their cattle to the forest at stipulated times; to pannage, for the right to make payment for the pasturage of swine and particularly to estovers, for the privilege to take wood from the King for necessary repairs to property.
Proximity to the forest was not all advantage though. There were temptations. The illegal killing of deer, unofficial grubbing up of trees to establish arable land, illicit building within the forest bounds, purpresture, could all involve presentment before the forest courts and fines.
No matter how laxly the laws were administered in the early 17th century there was always a threat from verderers, judicial officers of the Royal Forests, or from the regarders, responsible for the triennial inspection of the forest bounds. Such officers were even known to inflict fines on members of the prominent Brudenell and Westmoreland families. For the humble villager, an unexpected dog (a dog with claws likely to inflict harm on the royal deer), could also bring its owner to the risk of facing the swanimote, or forest court of the bailiwick, in which he resided.
Morehay, Tottenhoe and Earl's Woods were near enough to Glapthorne for its men to run this risk. If they did, they would have been in conflict with their own representatives, for each forest village sent its own officers to the swanimote. Generations of Glapthorne men must have made the five-mile trip to King's Cliffe to guard the interests of the village and, no doubt, on their return, nailed instructions to the church door of St Leonard's.
Glapthorne's church of St Leonard's is mostly 13th century. Traces of Norman work are still extant, and there are some semi-obliterated murals, reading desks with linen fold panels, together with three very interesting bells. The most important of these is the 14th century bell inscribed, INNORE SATTI MARIA JOHANNES SLEYT ME FECIT. Bells by John Sleyt are rare, and this is the largest surviving example of his work.
A walk eastwards from St Leonard's leads to Cotterstock, with its old collegiate church for a provost and 12 chaplains. Continuing the walk leads across the Nene, through demure, little Tansor, with its Norman piers, and along a straight road to Fotheringhay's truncated gloom and its memories of the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. All three of these churches are beautifully set against the green and gentle waters of the summer Nene. Glapthorne's present isolation has helped to perpetuate her history – a history embodied in her field names, which have Saxon and even Nordic associations.
In 1932 Mrs L.V.Smith, headmistress of the Glapthorne Church of England School, performed a valuable service for the community when she instructed her pupils to chart a map of the surrounding fields and to include the names of the fields, as they were then known. To supplement this information, Delapre Abbey, the County Record Office, has a copy of the list of fields owned, in Glapthorne, in 1563, by the Brudenalls, ancestor of the Earl of Cardigan, of Balaclava fame. Also in the Record Office is a map of the Manor of Glapthorne, as it was in 1635.
The most ancient of the evocative place names on these lists include Stemrowe Felde, Stockewellsyke Felde, Longe Swynhoe, Doles Croft, Carvills Stibbings and Hanging Balk; Munck Sins and the Frith are perhaps medieval; while Hens and Chickens, Gallas Acre and Milking Stool date from a more recent period. Even as I type, I can see, to the north, Gypsy Lane, leading to the Thrift, which was at one time common land, and to the south, Milking Stool and Blackmoor. Puckwell Feilde is as intriguing as it sounds, and Saxifraga spatularis is not unknown in Hens and Chickens next to Synderhill. To the west lies Wheate Wonge Lees, close to Ralph de Carvill's clearing, which was listed by Mrs Smith as Casteepings.
In the early hours of the morning, or as the evening shadows fall in an autumn sunset, the traveller can still catch a glimpse of the roving deer, descendants of those medieval deer whose presence gave rise to many customs, to the survival of so much forest and to the preservation in this area of such attractive names.