"Dr Robert Thoroton"
September 2010 Meeting Report
Speaker - Adrian Henstock
Adrian Henstock addressed the Society about Dr Robert Thoroton, a 17th Century medical practitioner in Car Colston, who wrote the first published history of Nottinghamshire. His 'Antiquities of Nottinghamshire' was published in 1677 following research of original documents. It is estimated that only 200 copies of the original publication survive. The book was re-published in the 1790's by John Thosby, who used the Thoroton manuscript and added his own subsequent history. Ever since, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' have continued to add research to our county's history.
Other documents by Thoroton have survived, including various letters from his patients. Sir Bernard Burke (of Burke's Peerage) wrote: "There is but one historian in Nottingham - Thoroton - and his written history is as dry as dust"!
In his preface Thoroton paints a poor picture of his medical powers in the form of an apology to his associates, but he was very proud of his ancestry and his Norman descent. His family were originally landowners from the village of Thoroton - hence the name - but Robert was born on 15th October 1623 in Car Colston where his father was the minister. At the age of 16 he gained a place at Cambridge as a sizar and went on to take an M. A. degree. He later qualified as a 'Doctor' (by which means is not known).
All this occurred during the period of the English Civil war. Charles II was restored in 1660 and it was then that Thoroton was granted his certificate to practice from the Archbishop of Canterbury, (Gilbert Sheldon), effectively becoming a 'consultant physician' to the nobility. By this time Thoroton had returned to Car Colston to dwell in the family home with an estate of 100 acres (later to be replaced by a Georgian house).
If his patients needed to see him, they sent servants to request a visit; some had to wait several weeks for that to happen. Letters of felicitation and advice were also exchanged. Details of the treatments he administered are few, but he was particularly noted for recommending and supplying 'Dr Thoroton's Balsam', a cure-all made in Nottingham.
Thoroton's political and religious views were right-wing, as both a Royalist and a High Churchman. Throughout his book he railed against enclosure saying it led to depopulation of the countryside, but he actually lived on the benefits of his own enclosure. He hated non-conformists, particularly Quakers, because they refused to remove headwear in church or pay tithes. He became a magistrate in the 1660's and inflicted severe fines on such people.
As an historian he was associated with his great friend William Dugdale, who encouraged his antiquarian interest sufficiently for him to write the county history in a form similar to Dugdale's 'History of Warwickshire'. He researched Southwell archives and visited most parishes in the county, though he did not travel to York. His illustrations drawn by Richard Hall were the very first such records of buildings and monuments in the county. They included Screeton church, Clifton Hall, and three prospects of the city. Thoroton also produced a road map of Nottingham.
He died in 1678 at the age of 55, a year after his book was published. He was buried in an enormous stone coffin bearing coats of arms at Car Colston. The grave was rediscovered in the 19th Century, and the coffin was transferred to the church.