Making History – Burl Bellamy

Geddington has produced many men and women who have left their mark on the history of the village, shaping its growth and adding to the understanding of its origins. One such was Burl Bellamy whose historical research and archaeological investigations brought the older history of the village and Geddington Chace/Chase, and its role within the Rockingham Forest, to a wider public. To mark Burl’s contribution to our knowledge of our history and his legacy we have re-visited some of the material he published in his book, Geddington Chase – The History of a Wood, in The Newsletter and items presented at the exhibition he, and others, ran in the village in 1992.

Burl’s main interests were in how the archaeology shaped the landscape and the lives of the communities within it. His research took him back to medieval times, the role of the woodland and the riches to be found in the limestone quarries.

In 1086, Domesday records that Geddington consisted of two manors, that of the king and a manor belonging to the Abbey of St Edmunds. In later centuries the lands of these manors were held by freeholders, copyholders and rent paying tenants even before they came into the hands of the Montagus, so Geddington was never forced into the closed village constraints as the other estate villages were. This is probably the reason for the greater diversity of buildings.

 As to be expected, Geddington, with its earlier dominance in the landscape as a royal vill, has the most imposing church. Though nothing is visible outside, inside, architectural features suggest that Geddington may have been an important settlement even before the conquest. In the north wall of the nave, the round headed Norman arch can be seen to cut through a late Saxon splayed window, this in turn disturbs earlier Saxon, ornamental, triangular headed blind arcading. The east end of the nave is also defined by long and short work. The earliest Saxon work is tentatively dated to c850 to 950 AD (Taylor & Taylor 1965).

Geddington was a small community where personal names indicated ownership or tenancy, but there are echoes of these names in the village as it is today and in the family names still within living memory. There was a Widow Bellamy to start the list, followed by Rowlets, Chapmans, Islips, Ashleys and Holdings amongst others.

Geddington was the venue for some unexpected industry.

Apart from the use of woodland for hunting, timber was used for buildings, tools and transport. Burl also refers to the site of a medieval iron smelting furnace in Geddington. ‘This is visible by the dark colour of the soil caused by burning and the waste products of the furnace, this includes the iron slag which can be seen mixed in with the soil. The furnace, which was built with limestone and clay, was fired by charcoal. Fragments of pottery, also found within the dark soil, date the furnace to around the 13th-14th centuries.’
References were also found in relation to cloth production in Geddington, in 15th and 18th century documents. ‘The cleaning and drying of cloth was carried out by the fuller ‘walker’ by treading the cloth in a trough of water to exclude grease and dirt, often with the aid of fuller’s earth, which was an earlier method of carrying out this process. Later, this same process was undertaken in a ‘fulling mill’ where water passing through the mill turned a wheel which supported large wooden blocks, these hammered the cloth which also created a denser fabric. Following this process the wet cloth was stretched on tent shaped wooden frames, called ‘tenters’, this enabled the cloth to retain its shape while drying.’

Many of the present villagers may not know that the village centre owes its existence to the market held in the village: ‘The village was also granted a market charter in 1248 attesting to its status in the 13th century, this was the high point in Geddington’s history.

 Burl continues; ‘Plainly then, Geddington was an important place in the middle ages, but with the decline of the royal house, which also reflected on the importance of the market, ceased to function in the 14th century, Geddington also fell into decline. Its earlier importance however, almost certainly had a lasting effect on the village. The central open area has remained, set around by the church to the northeast, adjoined by the old blacksmith’s shop, the Star Inn and the 19th century school and playground, which encroached upon the former market area. The remaining market area, dominated by the Cross, still remains the focal point of the village even though no market has been held here for 600 years. Other factors of earlier origin have also affected how Geddington looks today.

A little known image of the 14th Century Gatehouse to the Priory reminds us of the status of Geddington at this time and, while there is no evidence of a religious house on the site, Burl’s commentary illustrates the threads of history and language we have inherited today.

Although the property is almost certainly on the site of the manor once held by the Abbey of St Edmunds, there is no evidence that there was ever a priory or nunnery here.  Documents, of the 17th century refer to this place as Curries, or New House, an earlier document, of 1460, refers to a ‘Currys Place’, perhaps this is derived from the Latin ‘curia’ – court, and may have been the place where the St Edmunds court was held.

Burl Bellamy 23.10.1942 – 19.7.2020
Geddington Chase – The History of a Wood, published 1998.
Landscape History and Field Archaeology: Buildings in the Landscape.
The Villages of Boughton Estate: an interpretation of their buildings and building materials. How landscape history and field archaeology can identify evidence of medieval woodland clearance in the Forest of Rockingham.
Early smelting in the Rockingham Forest: a survey of evidence of Anglo Saxon dispersed sites and woodland at Geddington in the Rockingham Forest.
The Lands and Landscape of the Priory of Fineshade.
Medieval Pottery Kilns at Stanion.
History of the Deer Park at Brigstock.