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Southwell in 1839

Southwell is in that part of the liberty of Southwell and Scrooby which lies between the north and south divisions of Thurgarton hundred, 132½ miles from London by Newark or 137 by Nottingham, from which it is distant 13 miles. It is likely that there was a Roman station here, or perhaps a fortified outpost of the neighbouring station of Ad Pontem, which antiquaries generally fix on the Trent, not far off. The name ‘Burgage’, given to one of the districts of the town, is probably derived from the late Latin term ‘borgus’, a tower, and the remains of a fosse on ‘the Burgage Hill’ probably indicate the site of the Roman fort. Several Roman bricks have been used in ancient ecclesiastical buildings. A church was established here by Paulinus, one of the early missionaries sent over to convert the Anglo-Saxons, which became collegiate, and was richly endowed by the liberality of prelates and nobles of a subsequent age. Charles I was frequently at Southwell during the civil war, and here he surrendered himself to the Scotch commissioners. The town is on a pleasant eminence near the small river Greet, an excellent trout stream. It is a tolerably large place, with well-paved streets and well-built houses, and comprises the burgage, or burrage, the high town or prebendage (which two divisions constitute Southwell proper), and the adjacent hamlets of East Thorpe, West Thorpe, and Normanton. The whole parish has an area of 4550 acres, with a population of 3,384, a third agricultural.

The collegiate church at Southwell is a large and magnificent cruciform building, consisting of nave and aisles, choir, transepts, and eastern transepts, two western towers, and a central tower. The nave and transepts and the towers are Norman, of very bold character and well-executed details. The towers are richly ornamented ; the central tower, which is very massive, is also Norman. The extreme length of the church is 306 feet, breadth of the nave and aisles 59 feet, breadth at the transepts 121 feet. The choir and eastern transepts are of early English character, and the chapter-house decorated English, of an early period. There are some windows, of later insertion, of perpendicular character, particularly a large western window. The arch which support the centre tower, and several of the Norman doors, are fine; and the north porch is a large and much enriched specimen of Norman. The piers of the nave are round and short ; the windows of the triforium are large, and clerestory windows small, showing circles on the outside and arches with shafts within. The nave and transepts have a wooden flat ceiling ; the aisles have a stone groined roof. The early English portions are among the finest specimens of that style in the kingdom, and are in good preservation. The chapter-house is a fine specimen of early decorated : it has no centre pillar. The organ-screen and some stalls in the church are of later decorated character, and are peculiarly beautiful, Within the last fifty years two spires which crowned the western towers have been removed and pinnacles of an incongruous character substituted. This noble building is well situated, being surrounded by a fine open space sufficient to give every side full effect.

The chapter of Southwell collegiate church consists of sixteen prebendaries, who keep residence each in rotation for three months. There is a vicar-general and commissary and there are six vicars choral, five of whom have residences assigned to them, and a sixth has a house as vicar of Southwell. The gross yearly income of the church is £2211, the net income £954. The prebendaries have also separate revenues. The vicarage of Southwell is of the clear yearly value of £144, with a glebe-house.

The entrance into the ‘minster-yard’ is by ancient gateways, of which the western has a semicircular arch. In the yard are the extensive ruins of a former palace of the archbishops of York, the patrons of the church, consisting chiefly of the chapel and great hall, which have been fitted up as a modern residence : they are covered with ivy. Annual meetings of the Nottinghamshire clergy are held at Southwell, which is the mother-church of the county.

There are meeting-houses at Southwell for Methodists and Baptists, assembly-rooms and theatre, and a house of correction for the county.

The civil government of Southwell, the soke or liberty of Cum Scrooby, comprehending twenty townships, is separated from the rest of the county. The justices of the peace are appointed by the archbishop of York, but act under a commission from the crown : they hold quarter-sessions at Southwell and Scrooby. The chapter of Southwell, by their vicar, exercise all episcopal functions except confirmation and ordination, over the peculiar of Southwell which comprehends twenty-eight parishes. The soke and the peculiar are not coextensive.

There is little trade at Southwell, but the lace and hosiery manufacture employs from 100 to 200 workmen. There are several resident gentry The market is on Saturday, and there are two yearly fairs.

There were in the parish of Southwell, in 1833, three boarding-schools and nineteen day-schools, with 419 scholars ; and three Sunday-schools, with 408 children Of the day-schools, four were supported by endowment and in two others a few scholars were paid for from the proceeds of a charity. One of the boarding-schools, ‘the Collegiate Grammar-school,’ was partially supported by endowment.