Welcome to the website of the Muskham Vale Heritage Group. We trust you find it of interest and, if you have an interest in “The Vale”, feel encouraged to make contact and get involved. The area offers a huge range of historic interests which span every historical period, from the pre-historic landscape and archaeological features, right through to the creation of the infrastructure of the industrial revolution and beyond.
We have evidence of Iron Age enclosures, a Roman villa and a marching camp, Viking and Saxon invaders, a plague village, deserted medieval villages, the last skirmish of the Wars of the Roses nearby, guarding the crossing to block the Pilgrimage of Grace, the English Civil War, land reform and Inclosure (enclosure), the Trent Navigation, farming, rail and road. Truly, we have the lot!
The Group wishes to attract people who are interested in the area. Previous knowledge is not a requirement as every member of the group is there to learn. All that is needed is interest and a willingness to get involved in helping to discover and record the history of the area for future generations. One urgent aspect is to record the more recent history of the elders of the vale.
Group activity is based around a structure of monthly meeting when there will be a speaker, visit or training session. From these meetings stem opportunities to take part in a range of activities. These will include field visits to sites and to undertake field walking surveys to find evidence of human activity. Following site studies and archive research, some archaeological excavations may be of value. The activities undertaken will be driven by the membership, and the availability of specific projects.
If any member has a specific project in mind, this can be discussed and considered as a group activity and put into the mix of projects. At present, there is a survey of a old farmhouse believed to date from around 1680, a review of old trackways, preparation for field walking, and a conservation project of an old track and a scheduled monument. In addition, grants are being sought for the oral history project which it is hoped will link to the work already undertaken in the village by the History Group.
The Muskham Vale is being defined as the area just north of where the River Trent turns north for its final meander towards the Humber and North Sea. This is the area where, since pre-historic times, man has crossed the wide washland of one of Britain’s major rivers. Sometimes a treacherous journey. The great crossing and fertile valley brought with it settlements and services which began in pre-historic times.
From the south, the major route of the Great North Road headed toward this bend in the Trent, joined by other routes from other areas such as the ports of the Wash and East Anglia. Somewhere around Newark, the northern route was crossed by the Fosse Way, heading from Bath to Lincoln. Although now thought of as a Roman Road, the route is believed to pre-date the Romans by several millennia.
From the south, the Vale offered a narrow corridor of drier ground, east of the River Trent and west of the River Witham, taking northward travellers to the Humber estuary. This route still exists as the line of the A1133, Newark to Gainsborough road.
West of this line is theTrent, then untamed. Sometimes benign; sometimes raging. In flood it could cut new channels across the vale, shifting crossing points, changing lives and remapping the landscape. On the west bank of the Trent, the roads fan out, heading in all direction. Having forded the river in the vale, the “Great North Road” heading north to York and Scotland. Other roads fanned out to the areas of Sheffield, Mansfield, Nottingham and all points beyond. These, and many other routes, can still be seen on a modern Ordnance Survey map of this area.
For centuries, the River Trent [the Trespasser] was the major division between the north and south of England. Even today, if the A1 is blocked near the Trent crossing, this area of Eastern England rapidly grinds to a gridlocked halt.
Whilst the Great North Road (A1) crossed the River Trent in the centre of Newark, this route was only consistently passable after the great engineer, John Smeeton, built the line of flood arched to carry the elevated road north of the town in 1770. Today, Newark is bypassed and the A1 crosses the Trent to the east of the town. This is some 2 miles south of the ancient crossing within the Muskham Vale.
The heritage of the people is the history of the river. From those Iron Age settlements and enclosures on both sides of the Trent, on through the ages. The river offered an important trading route as well as bringing Viking and Saxon raiders. Following the Norman conquest, security became a major factor. Controlling the river crossing brought security and wealth. Newark castle was build from around 1127 and the town became known as the “Key to the North”. If you held Newark, you held the river crossing, and the gateway north. You also protected access to much of southern England.
If you are part of the vale population, permanent or passing, you are part of the heritage. If this has sparked some interest, come along and give us a go. We meet on the first Thursday of each month, 7.30 pm, in North Muskham Village Hall.
For further information, contact the Muskham Vale Heritage Group on 01636 640200.