"John and Lucy Hutchinson of Owthorpe and a
Lost 17th Century Garden"

March 2007 Meeting Report

Guest Speaker - David Bate

The March 2007 meeting of The Keyworth & District Local History Society was held on 2nd March in The Centenary Lounge of The Village Hall, Keyworth. The guest speaker for the evening was David Bate and the subject of his presentation was ‘Colonel John and Lucy Hutchinson of Owthorpe, Nottinghamshire – and a lost 17th century garden’. The presentation was in the form of slide show and accompanied talk. The following report is taken from a hand-out which David made available to members when the presentation was completed.

In September 2000 Mr Peter Birkin-Tebbutt undertook the purchase of Fishpond Wood in the parish of Owthorpe, realising that hidden beneath the dense, almost impenetrable, undergrowth lay a series of old, and largely forgotten, silted-up ponds. He little appreciated, however, the full extent and significance of these ponds until Dr Chris Salisbury, a specialist in wetland archaeology, was invited to examine them and give his expert opinion on the site.

A small, local group calling itself The Friends of Fishpond Wood was subsequently formed to clear away the tangled vegetation and to organize the removal of about 700 planted poplar trees with the help of a generous grant from the Local Heritage Initiative. Soon, as well as the ponds themselves, there began to emerge an elaborate series of banks, watercourses, and even a garden vista!

This raised the pertinent question; what was the story behind these remarkable, and we now believe, unique features? The answer to this puzzle lies in the middle of the 17th century at a time when England was in the throes of a civil war. At that time John and Lucy Hutchinson occupied the old manorial Hall at Owthorpe, and it is Lucy’s famous Memoirs of her husband’s life that provides the principal account of the period.

The Hutchinsons had moved from London to the family estate at Owthorpe in 1641, but in the following year the country was plunged into civil war when Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham. John soon found himself drawn to the Parliamentary cause and in 1643 he was made Colonel of a Regiment of 1,200 foot soldiers and appointed Governor of Nottingham castle and town. The family was obliged, for security reasons, to take up residence in the Castle itself, and resided there for the duration of the war. Returning to Owthorpe in 1647, after the first cessation of hostilities, Lucy found to their dismay that the house:

……having stood uninhabited, and bene rob’d of every thing which the neighbouring (Royalist) Garrisons of Shelford and Wiverton could carrie from it, it was so ruinated that it could not be repaired to make a convenient habitation without as much charge as would almost build another.

A new house, probably on a different site to the old hall, was eventually built in about 1651 – 1652. It was presumably from this time that the gardens were laid out. Lucy tells us that her husband took great delight in ‘planting groves and walkes and fruite-trees, in opening springs and making fishponds’.

The restoration of Charles II in 1660 was a prelude to disaster for the Hutchinsons. In 1649 John had been one of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I, and as a regicide he now faced possible execution. In the event, Lucy intervened and succeeded in obtaining a Royal Pardon for her husband, though not without earning his angry disapproval to compromise his republican principles. In the years immediately following these troubles he lived ‘with all imaginable retirednesse att home……opening springs and planting trees and dressing his plantations’.

More serious trouble was to come however – with tragic consequences. In October 1663 John Hutchinson was arrested and committed to the Tower of London on suspicion of complicity in a Northern Plot against the King. He was never charged nor brought to trial, but early in 1664 was moved to Sandown Castle in Kent where he died later that year, (just a few days short of his 49th birthday). He was buried in the family vault at Owthorpe.

Over the next few years Lucy devoted herself to writing an account of her husband’s life, both in order to defend his character for the benefit of her children and for her own personal consolation. Her manuscript was guarded by members of the Hutchinson family for many years before its publication in 1806 as Memoirs of the Life of Colonel John Hutchinson. Since then the Memoirs have gone through many editions and can be read today as an important (if somewhat biased) social and political commentary on the English Civil War.

Lucy also wrote a series of elegiac poems into which she channelled her personal grief, and an epic poetic commentary on The Book of Genesis entitle Order and Disorder. Indeed, thanks to recent scholarship, Lucy Hutchinson is now emerging as one of the most important female writers of the 17th century.

Lucy inherited significant debts on the death of her husband and was obliged to sell off his estates. In about 1671 she sold Owthorpe estate to John’s half-brother Charles Hutchinson, and moved to London. The garden and grounds had fallen into decay by this time, and in one of her Elegies entitled ‘To the Gardin att O(wthorpe)’ she laments the spreading weeds and overgrown banks that had ‘lost his refreshing hand’.

The events surrounding Lucy Hutchinson’s final years are obscure. All that is known is that she was buried at Owthorpe, presumably in the Hutchinson family vault, in October 1681, although there is no memorial to her in the church. (Professor David Norbrook of Merton College, Oxford, editor of the complete edition of Order and Disorder, published in 2001, is presently working on a biography of Lucy).

In about 1775 the Reverend Julius Hutchinson, a descendant of Charles Hutchinson and eventual editor of the Memoirs, visited Owthorpe and found the house to be:

…..large, handsome, lofty, and convenient, and though but little ornamented, possessing all the grace that size and symmetry could give it. The entrance was by a flight of handsome steps into a large hall, occupying entirely the centre of the house, lighted at the entrance by two large windows, but at the further end by one much larger, in the extent of which was carried up a stair-case that seemed to be perfectly in the air. On one side of the hall was a long table, on the other a large fire-place; both suited to ancient hospitality.

Speaking of the grounds:

….the western side of the house was covered by offices, small village and church, interspersed with many trees. The south, which was the front of entrance, looked over a large extent of grass grounds which were demesne, and were bounded by hills covered with wood which Colonel Hutchinson had planted. On the eastern side the entertaining rooms opened onto a terrace, which encircled a very large bowling green or level lawn; next to this had been a flower garden, and next to that a shrubbery, now become a wood, through which vistas were cut to let in a view of Langar, the seat of Lord Howe, at two miles, and of Belvoir castle, at seven miles distance, which, as the afternoon sun was full upon it, made a glorious object: at the further end of this small wood was a spot (of about ten acres) which appeared to have been a morass, and through which ran a rivulet: this spot Col. Hutchinson had dug into a great number of canals, and had planted the ground between them, leaving room for walks, so that the whole formed at once a wilderness or bower, reservoir for fish, and a decoy for wild fowl. To the north, at some one hundred yards distance, was a lake of water, which filling the space between two quarters of wood land, appeared, as viewed from a large window of the hall, like a moderate river, and beyond this the eye rested upon the wolds or high wilds which accompany the foss-way towards Newark. The whole had been deserted for many years, but resisted the ravages of time so well as to discover the masterly hand by which it had been planned and executed.

John Throsby in his edition of Thoroton’s History of Nottinghamshire,  (1790), tells us that the estate was purchased from the Hutchinson family by Sir George Bromley of East Stoke in 1773. The Renshaw family were installed as tenants and occupied the house until 1825, by which time the building was evidently in such disrepair that it had to be demolished.

Today the site of the house is occupied by rough, unimproved pasture with traces of rubble, an irregular surface, and the occasional appearance of parchmarks that indicate the former presence of buildings. There is an old well, about seven metres deep, immediately south of the churchyard, which presumably served the house and would have been adjacent to the offices mentioned by Julius Hutchinson. A descent into the well-shaft by a group of divers a few years ago led to the recovery of some artefacts including a late 17th century pewter porringer. The gardens have disappeared, but the ponds and associated banks in Fishpond Wood remain as a visible testament to Colonel John Hutchinson’s great endeavour.

Owthorpe Church

The present church of St Margaret now stands somewhat isolated to the east of the village and dates largely from Colonel John Hutchinson’s time (1659). Robert Thoroton, writing in 16777, tell us that: ‘The old church, which was pretty large, and the Chancell, both covered with Lead, were pull’d down by Colonel John Hutchinson, and his little one built to the North Wall of the Chancel, in which he made a vault, wherein his body now lies’.

The fabric of the north wall of the church is clearly much older than the rest of the building, while a bracket above the west entrance with two angels holding a shield id certainly from the old church. Inside, the octagonal, castellated font is believed to date from the 15th century.  A wooden screen that marks the entrance to the chancel bay is reputed to have come from Owthorpe Hall. There are marble wall monuments to members of the Hutchinson family and to the Renshaws. The entrance to the Hutchinson vault has been lost, but it is said to extend across the whole width of the church. In 1859 part of the floor gave way, and on descending some steps into the vault, seventeen coffins were found, one of them, that of a lady, being chained to the wall in an upright position!