Plumtree by Dr Denise Amos

Main Street, Plumtree c. 1920.
Main Street, Plumtree c. 1920 (photograph courtesy of Sheila Leeds).

Physically Plumtree village in Nottinghamshire has remained very much the same over the past two hundred years. The village lies about 6 miles south of Nottingham and lies to the west of the A606 Nottingham to Melton Mowbray road. The parish borders Tollerton to the north, Normanton on the Wolds to the east and Keyworth to the south. Other villages are also in close proximity; Clipston on the Wolds, Stanton on the Wolds, Bradmore and Bunny.

Roman coins found were found in the village around 1750 but there is no other evidence of Roman occupation in the village. Saxon and medieval remains have been found both at the church and in the surrounding area. It was originally made up of three townships, Plumtree, Normanton on the Wolds and Clipston, but in 1894 (when civil parishes were created out of the old ecclesiastical parishes) they became separate civil parishes. During the 13th and 14th centuries there are references to a wapentake of Plumtree suggesting that it was the most important village in the area. In 1987 the boundary of the civil parish was altered and small areas of the parish were transferred to other parishes and Plumtree acquired new land.

In 1674 there were 38 households but by 1743 this number had risen to 53. The population of the township during the nineteenth century grew from 209 in 1801, peaking at 338 in 1831 before declining to 230 in 1901. The next four decades saw fluctuations in the population hovering around 220. By 1951 the population had increased to 250 but dropped once again in 1961 to 210 and was 221 in 2001.

The village lies on the main route from Nottingham to Melton Mowbray. This route was turnpike under an Act of 1753 as the Trent Bridge, Nottingham to Kettering (Northants) road and remained so until 1873. The road dissected the village until 1930 when the Plumtree by-pass was built cutting through the parish to the north-east of the houses in Plumtree and the south-west of the houses in Normanton on the Wolds. In 1880 the Midland Railway opened a line between Nottingham and Melton Mowbray which passed through Plumtree. The station was built south of the village on the road to Keyworth. The last passenger service from the station was in 1949 and the last goods service in 1965 and the station closed in 1966. In 1970 part of the line, the section from Widemerpool to Edwalton, including the section which passes through Plumtree, was used as the Old Dalby test track. The railway station is now a restaurant called Perkins. There are two small streams river, one to the south formerly known as Torr and as Polser brook and the other at the north end of the village.

Very few manorial documents are known to survive for Plumtree. All three townships in the ancient parish of Plumtree were in Bingham wapentake until 1866, when Plumtree and Normanton, but not Clipston, were transferred to Rushcliffe.  After 1834 all three townships became part of Bingham poor law union and therefore in 1894 part of Bingham rural district. In 1974 they became part of the borough of Rushcliffe. In 1977 a parish council was set up for Plumtree.

The land around Plumtree is mainly flat and the village is about 150-170 feet above sea level. There are elevations around the church and Hoe Hill on the eastern edge which is about 200 feet above sea level. The village occupies around 3,600 acres which is mainly used as arable farming land with some sheep and cattle but with the number of farms decreasing in the last 30 years there is now only one active farm, Chestnut Farm on Station Road. At the beginning of the 20th century there were up to ten farms with numerous other smallholdings in the village. Plumtree House farm stood at the crossroads on the opposite side to the Griffin Inn, which had also been a farm until the 1920s; Poplar Farm owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, was later transferred, to Sycamore Farm, and has recently been closed; Hall Farm opposite to the Church which was believed to be the original Manor Hall of the village and Manor Farm, which has an impressive farmhouse consisting of four floors, with all the rooms measuring 15 feet by 15 feet. Sadly all of these have now been turned into private housing or barn conversions. Three other farms which were on the outskirts of the village; Hoe Hill, Flawford and Wolds are still working farms.

The Manor of Plumtree goes back to 1066 and the honor of Tickhill was granted to Robert de Belleme by William II, but over a period of time and with the accession of different Kings the land was back in the hands of the Crown until Edward III granted the estate to John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster and has remained part of the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster until modern times. Over the next couple of centuries the land changed hands until finally in c1200 the Fitzwilliam family inherited the land and kept it until c1500 when the manor passed to Sir William Copley through his marriage to Dorothy FitzWilliam. They managed the estate for the next 300 years but by 1800s the family had died out leaving no heir and the land was sold to William Elliott Elliott and his brother John, whose great uncle had made money from a secret recipe to dye silk and worsted black. Although both brothers were named as joint owners, William was the dominant one. He was a generous benefactor and gave money both to charitable causes in Nottingham and also Plumtree. Buildings in the village which date from William’s time include Townend Cottages, Plumtree Cottage, Japonica Cottage, the school and the Griffin Inn.

Neither brother had children so the estate passed to the eldest son of their sister, Ann, who had married John Burnside. Eventually William Elliott Burnside inherited the estate but lived in Normanton but had various buildings erected  in Plumtree bearing his initials, including Chestnut farm, the former Post office and the workshop formerly known as Edson’s, the cabinet makers. In 1909 he bought the neighbouring Tollerton estate and moved to live at Tollerton Hall. He died in 1911 and his wife Alice held the estates until her death in 1927. She had the Burnside memorial Hall built in memory of her husband.

When Mrs Burnside died in 1927 there were no close relatives to inherit and the estate was left to Edward Franklin Clements, a second cousin once removed of William Elliott Burnside. Edward had recently purchased an estate in Hampshire and only came to Plumtree occasionally. When he died in 1952, his sister, Mary Kate Meares, inherited.  She died in 1959, when the estate passed to her daughter, Iris, the wife of William B. Hestmondhalgh.

Over the following few years various pieces of land and other property were sold. In 1974 the residue of the estate was put up for sale.  It did not reach the reserve and was withdrawn.  It was later purchased by a pension fund. In 1988 what remained of the estate was bought by the Duchy of Cornwall, the main farms being Chestnut and Poplars. In 1997 Poplars farm was sold and houses built on the land where the farm buildings had stood. A new farmhouse and buildings were erected at the northern end of the village and named Sycamore farm. At the time of writing the Duchy of Cornwall remains the owner of what was left of the estate.

In 1086 there were 23 acres of meadow with a lord and 33 villains. By 1684 showed that some common arable land had been enclosed and that there were eight farms and nine smallholdings in Plumtree. Wheat and barley were grown and animals including cows, sheep, pigs and horses were pastured on the land. By 1807 a total of 1,770 acres in Plumtree and Clipstone had been enclosed; open fields extended to 1,228 acres and 132 acres of titheable old enclosure. There was also 15 acres of woodland and most farms had orchards.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the larger farms employed eight labourers, some of whom lived in. Many of the present day dwellings were labourer’s cottages, including Townend Cottages, Laundry Cottage and Old rectory Cottage. Some of these labourers would have had allotments on Mill Lane. Two of the smallholdings were connected with the Griffin and Farmer’s Arms (now a private dwelling) public houses. Mixed farming took place throughout and horses provided most of the power with only three farms possessing tractors. The Farmer’s Arms was originally a coaching inn where the horses were changed. It ceased to be a public house after the First World War but remained a small farm until c.1950. Land that had belonged to Hall and Manor farms was worked by a contractor. In more recent years the type of farming has changed with far fewer animals and the crops grown include large field of oilseed rape and smaller amounts of sugar beet and cereals.

During the nineteenth century there was a two-story post-mill to the west of the Griffin near to the railway line. It became derelict in the early twentieth century and was burnt down by two young males in 1919. Now all that remains is a small mound.

In 1891 two old quarries were worked on a small-scale probably for road mending rather than on a commercial basis. After 1920 they no longer feature on the Ordnance Survey map.

The Farmers' Arms public house in the early 20th century.
The Farmers' Arms public house in the early 20th century (photograph courtesy of Sheila Leeds).

Throughout the nineteen and early twentieth centuries Plumtree was a busy village with many carrier services passing through the village. The London mail coach passed through and changed horses at the Farmer’s Arms public house, which is now a private house. There was a village shop until 1960s situated at the Forge Stores, with its distinctive horseshoe brickwork. A Post Office was built in 1904 on the corner of the crossroads between Main Street and Church Hill. There is a plaque W.E.B. on the building referring to William Elliott Burnside. The Office was run by Jack Richmond (he had been the chauffer to W E Burnside) and then his daughter until she retired and it closed in the 1990s and is now a private dwelling.

The only public house in the village now is the Griffin Inn (which had been rebuilt and name changed from the Plough by W E Elliott in 1843). For many years a traditional public house complete with jug and bottle counter it has now been turned into a bar with restaurant.

The only ‘industry’ in the village was a cabinet making firm called T Edson which was started in 19th century. The company was still in existence as late as 1990s but has now changed names to Broadoak cabinet makers.

In 1953 a Telephone Exchange was built and continues to be a working exchange.

Plumtree school.Plumtree school (photograph courtesy of Sheila Leeds).

Until the early part of the nineteenth century there was no school recorded in Plumtree, but in the first two decades of that century there was an infant school, taught by a ‘poor woman’, a daily school, the children taught at the expense of their parents and a Church school. In 1840 a new school at the corner of Main Street and Church Hill, for 100 children was built and paid for by W E Elliott. In the beginning the children were taught under the monitorial system but by the 1860s it was organized into standards with pupil teachers to help the master.

After 1870 when the Elementary Education Act was passed it was agreed that the school should be maintained and money was given by J E Burnside and Reverend William Burnside as well as other villagers and contributions were made by the parents of a penny. The school came under some criticism from school inspectors especially for ‘indifferent attendance’. This may well have been to do with children helping their parents on farms or at the brickworks or even the construction of the railway. Bad weather and illnesses such as measles and scarlet fever were also major problems during this period. After numerous complaints by the inspectors that the school was to small it building work began in 1904 and finished in 1905.

During the Second World War the school received evacuees from Sheffield, Great Yarmouth and Littlehampton in Sussex. They did not stay for very long and returned home before the war had ended. The school took children from Tollerton and surrounding villages which did not have a school. In 1951 it became a Church of England (Voluntary Controlled) School and was given more money for improvements.

Both in 1954 and in 1959 there was a discussion about the possibility of the closure of the school. This became more likely in 1957 when a primary school was built at Tollerton and the children from that village left Plumtree School. When another school was built at Keyworth in 1974 closure became inevitable. The school was given a closure date of December 1973 but did not close until 15 February 1974 as building work at Keyworth Crossdale Drive school was delayed. 

The school remained closed for a few months, but it was reopened as an independent primary school in September 1975. Several improvements were made to the building and it remains open with 94 pupils taught by ten full-time staff plus eight peripatetic staff and six teaching assistants. The last Ofsted report rated the school as ‘good’. Plumtree children who are not at the private school attend the Keyworth primary schools.
Since 1944 Plumtree was a primary school. Children who passed the transfer examination went on to either West Bridgford grammar school or the boys’ and girls’ High Schools in Nottingham or to they went initially to West Bridgford secondary modern schools. In 1967 the South Wolds secondary school (later renamed South Wolds Comprehensive) was opened at Keyworth and non-selected children went there. Village children still attend the Keyworth schools at the time of writing

The village does not have an almshouse but there is evidence of a charity in a tablet in the church records that Richard Pritchet of Plumtree, having paid the sum of £18 5s. to the poor of the township for 19 years and nine months last past, in 1755 gave £25, the yearly interest from which was to be used to buy 20 twelvepenny loaves to be disposed of by the minister and churchwardens to five poor widows of Plumtree who received no collection from the parish.  In 1786 it was noted that in addition an unknown person had given £9 for poor not receiving parish relief. In 1923 five widows each received 10s, and in 1965 three widows were each given £1. Pritchet’s charity was registered in 1963. Between 2007 and 2010 it had no income or expenditure. Its objects remained, at the time of writing, the prevention or relief of poverty in Plumtree through grants to poor widows. 

The village has had several clubs and the oldest club is the Cricket Club which was started in 1815, when the Nottingham Journal reported a match played on Easter Monday at Bunny, between East Leake and Plumtree and Keyworth clubs.  It continues to thrive with youth teams as well as the men’s team. The club has some close associations with Nottinghamshire Cricket Club. The club ground is on Bradmore Lane, next to the railway line. A new pavilion was built in the 1990s which provided better facilities for the players and their supporters.

In 1830 the Plumtree Sick Club was formed at a meeting at the Farmer’s Arms, to help alleviate hardship experienced by families if the breadwinner fell ill and could not work. A list of 65 conditions of membership was included in the membership booklet. Members paid a set sum each month and were entitled to a small payment if it became necessary. The club had very strict rules which stated that ‘no person shall be admitted a member who is above 30 or under 15, nor who has not had the smallpox and measles, or been vaccinated.’ A rather strange condition! In 1908 the club purchased a row of six cottages in Keyworth which brought in a small rent or were used to house needy members. The club also gave £5 towards the funeral expenses of a members, or £3 for a member’s wife. The club had its own pall and a pall bearer was appointed to make sure it was returned after use, and its own money box with three locks to make it secure.  It was still in existence in 1969 but has not met since then.

In 1921 a Men’s Club was formed at a meeting in the Burnside Hall. On 7th September the meeting agreed the rules for the club. The object of the club was the spiritual, moral, intellectual and social welfare of its members; gambling was prohibited; the club was open from 6.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the season from 1 October to 31 March; and members had to be over 16. The most important activity was the billiards league for which there was an annual prize. Other games mentioned in the minutes were draughts, darts, cribbage and skittles. The club also had a library of books which were hired out for a week at a charge of 1d. and purchased  the Nottingham Evening Post for the benefit of members. The minute book records the meetings until 1937.  It is uncertain how much longer it continued but it seems likely that it was disbanded by 1940.

In October 1910 it was decided to form a branch of the Mothers’ Union for Plumtree parish. At the first enrolment service 21 new members were enrolled making a total of 32.  In 1928 the Mothers’ Union Deanery Festival was held at Plumtree.  The branch continues today.

Plumtree Women’s Institute was founded in 1918 and has flourished since that time. In 2000 members made a collage of the village which won a county prize. It has been framed and put on display in the Burnside Hall. The Women’s Institute has continued to use the Burnside Hall for meeting on Thursday evenings.

The South Bingham deanery magazines for the early 20th century indicate a variety of activities available to the villagers in this period.  In 1892 the Glee club was mentioned and in 1908 and 1912 a Choral Society. In 1914 the Handbell Ringers gave a concert to raise money for the parochial fund for the Belgians. There is still a very popular bell ringing group at the Church today. From 1910 to 1935 there are references to the Church of England Men’s Society meetings. Also in 1910 Band of Hope meetings were held at Plumtree rectory and a temperance pageant was presented in 1912. A Girls’ Friendly Society is also mentioned in the early years of the century.
There has been a church, St Mary the Virgin, at Plumtree since 1086. The church is consistently dedicated to. The first record of an institution was in 1251 when Sir Thomas FitzWilliam held the advowson.  Thereafter the advowson passed with the manor. In 1931 the advowson passed to the diocese, and which remains the position today.

St Mary’s church comprises a nave, chancel, north and south aisles, south porch and west tower.  It is built of various stones, mainly Triassic sandstone and Lincolnshire limestone. Some of the stone is from the local area and Mansfield limestone was used in the later rebuilding.

Although no longer visible, traces of Saxon stonework were found when the tower and north aisle were rebuilt in 1905. The arch between the tower and the nave, with uneven sides, is Norman. The external arch over the west door is also Norman but it surrounds a smaller doorway which may be Saxon. There are 11th-century external blank arcades on the north and south sides of the tower. The nave and chancel date from the 13thcentury. The nave is Early English, separated from the north aisle by three pointed arches with double chamfers, supported by octagonal pillars with molded caps and bases. There are similar arches on the south side, but they are supported by circular pillars. The arch between the nave and chancel rests on 13th-century corbels. On the south wall is a small 14th-century priest’s door. A corresponding doorway in the churchyard wall giving access from the parsonage was blocked up when the house was sold. 

In 1873 a faculty was obtained for a major restoration; the chancel was enlarged and its roof and walls raised; the north aisle was rebuilt using stone from the old Trent Bridge, Nottingham; the church was re-floored with Mansfield limestone and new pews installed. The gallery at the west end was removed. New English oak choir and chancel stalls, a pulpit and carved chancel screen were installed. The roof of the chancel was renewed and a paneled ceiling put in and the nave roof was also strengthened. The whole roof was decorated in colour. A new east window was inserted, the old one being reused as the north aisle east window.

The work cost £3,000, much of which was paid for by the rector, William Burnside, and the lord of the manor, John Elliott Burnside. The Burnside family also presented the chancel windows, the pulpit, the organ, the clock and the lectern in memory of various family members. The designs for much of the work were by Canon Frederick Sutton, rector of Brant Broughton (Lincs.), where Fanny Burnside, the wife of Plumtree’s rector, was born.

Restoration work on the church in 1905.

While the interior of the church had been restored, the exterior stonework had been ignored and the walls had been covered with stucco and ivy. In 1905 part of the tower collapsed and much of the north wall also had to be rebuilt. In the 1980s the rector, Stephen Oliver, instigated a project to restore the Victorian paintwork and gilding on the ceilings, organ case and screen. The oak doors to the porch were donated by T. Edson & Sons, the village joinery firm, to celebrate their centenary in 1987. In 2000 the Lady Altar, in the south aisle, was refurbished to mark the millennium. A new altar frontal was made, provided by donations from parishioners and a new silver cross was presented by Philip Johnson to mark his retirement after 33 years as churchwarden. The two antique candlesticks were re-silvered.

Most of the stained glass windows date from the 1873 restoration and were made by Burlison & Grylls, apart from the west window of the south aisle. Designed by Christine Bodicombe, this was installed in 1963 in memory of the Johnson family, whose son was a churchwarden for 27 years.

In the chancel are the oak altar table and a painted reredos which shows the instruments of the Crucifixion. On the south wall are three stone Sedalia with ogee mountings above. There is a bishop’s chair on the north side of the sanctuary. The original organ was installed in 1880 and was given by William Elliott Burnside but it was rebuilt in the 1950s and restored again in 2005.

An early inventory lists ‘iij bells of one accorde’ and ‘a lytle bell’.  These were later sold. They were replaced by three bells, dated 1609, 1620 and 1621, made by Henry and George Oldfield of the Long Row bell foundry in Nottingham. When the tower was rebuilt in 1905-6 the bells were rehung on a new frame by Taylors of Loughborough. In 1984 an appeal was launched to purchase a set of six bells. A set from Clifton was purchased and after retuning, installed in the tower. The churches at Clarborough, Scarrington and Papplewick each have one of the old bells. In 2010 two additional bells were purchased.

The church clock, in the tower, has one face and is in a blue diamond-shaped surround. It was made by William Cope of Nottingham in 1889 and given by W. E. Burnside in memory of his mother. In 1997 the clock was converted to electric winding, which was it turn replaced by an electronic system in 2009 to make space for the two new bells. This clock replaced one of 1686, made by Richard Roe of Epperstone, which is on loan to the British Horological Institute Museum at Upton (Notts.).

In addition to the memorials to the rectors, there are a number of other plaques within the church. The churchyard contains several slate headstones by Sparrow, Heywood and Charles. There are also the graves of the Revd William Burnside and his wife Fanny, and William Elliott Burnside. General Sir Henry Hopkinson, commissioner of Assam, and his wife, Jean, are also buried in the churchyard. Another memorial commemorates Reuben George Brooke, son of Sir James Brooke, the governor of Sarawak, who was lost in a shipwreck in 1874. They lived in Plumtree for a few years. Richard Pritchet, (founder of the Pritchet trust) who died in 1760, has a memorial stone.  There is one monument from the First World War in memory of Private Thomas Mitchell who died in 1918. The churchyard was extended eastwards in 1925, taking in land from the rectory grounds.

At the west end of the churchyard is the war memorial. The west face bears the names of the 18 men from Plumtree who died in the First World War. On the south face the four who died in the Second World War are recorded. The war memorial was dedicated in 1921.

The rectory, built next to the church, appears always to have been the largest house in the village, as there has never been a manor house in Plumtree. It was a spacious house but by 1816 the house must have been in need of repair as the rector, Thomas Beaumont, explained his non-residency ‘on account of the unfitness of the parsonage house for his residence therein and he being about to repair the same.’ However, he resigned later that year and it was John Burnside who began a major rebuilding of the rectory. The building recorded in 1809 formed the west wing of the house in which the Burnside rectors lived. A new square block, with the grandest rooms, was added by them. The rectory is rendered over brick and has a slate roof behind a parapet with cornice. There is a pediment over the slightly projecting central three bays. It is set on an ashlar plinth and is of two storeys and five bays. There is a central doorway with a paneled double door and over light. There are sash windows throughout. To the left of the entrance and set back, is an early 19th-century wing. The entrance hall opens to a cut-string staircase with iron balustrade and an Adam style fireplace. On the floor above were twelve bedrooms, now reduced to nine. There are cellars under the older part of the house and a well in the courtyard which used to supply the water for the house. In addition there was a two-story stable block now a garage and store. The main entrance to the rectory grounds is flanked by a red brick wall with a large central gateway. On each side the walls curve round for about eight yards.  The refurbished stable block won a design award from Rushcliffe Borough Council in 1997, an event recorded on a small plaque on the outside wall. In 1937 the rectory was sold and part of the grounds was later used to enlarge the churchyard. The garden includes a ha-ha and several specimen trees. A new rectory was built in 1938 at the corner of Bradley’s Yard and Church Hill. In 1995 the rectory was let and not used again for the minister until 2010. The last rector, John James Stafford, left in 1995 and since then the minister has been a priest-in-charge

The bishop visited Plumtree in 1914 and commented that a parish room was needed. In 1921 Mrs Alice Burnside gave money to build the Burnside Memorial Hall, in memory of her husband, opposite the church. It remains today used by a pre-school group and for village functions. The hall was administered by trustees independent of the PCC. A parochial church council had been established in 1917 and the minutes include mention of work done on the churchyard.

There has never been a purpose-built nonconformist meeting house in the parish, however in 1703 George Low’s house was certified for religious worship.  In 1790 it is recorded that a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher, ‘Dr’ Hanley, stood on a large stone near the Plough Inn (now the Griffin Inn) and preached.  The stone remains by the inn. Hanley promised that if anyone would open their house for regular preaching someone would be sent to lead the services. Isaac Hubbard offered his thatched cottage which became the first home of the new society. Thomas Tatham preached there each week until the services were transferred to the new chapel at Normanton, built in 1797.  Similarly there has never been a place of Roman Catholic worship in the village, but in 1673 Walter and Dorothy Hastings were presented as ‘for popish recusants’ and in 1743 it is recorded that there was a family of papists in the parish.