Footpads, Kings and Highway Men

2nd October 2019

A lecture presented to the Society on 2nd October 2019 by local historian Ian Morgan, tracing the 34 miles of the old Great North Road through Nottinghamshire.

This illustrated talk opened with a look at strip maps of the medieval period and how in 1555 the first law came into being to repair roads – something that had been the responsibility of no-one until then.

The audience heard how for centuries the dangers of dark and isolated roads led to their restricted use at night when only the Royal Mail and those on urgent missions would travel on them. Most highway men were local and very few were well-known.

In the mid-18th century Retford took a novel approach to its ambitions to enhance business and income when decided to move the road so that it went through the town and across the market place.

It seems that travellers dreaded journeys across Nottinghamshire when the weather was bad and it was known to have the worst roads, due to the land consisting of clay and sand which washed away when it rained.

As the lecture continued, memorable events and places of interest were traced along the route. For example the importance of Newark during the Civil War; the terror of the Nevison Gang; the genius of Smeaton who built the road out of town with its flood-beating arches; the fire that destroyed Tuxford in 1701, and sundry murders and progressions.