by Rosemary Canadine

As many in the village will know, I have been working on the records of Lyddington for several years. In 2009, English Heritage started to draw on my archive of material in order to improve their presentation of their display material in Lyddington Bede House. As part of their investigation, English Heritage asked the Tree-ring Dating Laboratory at Nottingham to visit to the Bede House in October 2009 to assess its potential for a programme of dendrochronology so that the guidebook could be updated with more specific dating.

Whilst here, Robert Howard of the Tree-ring Dating Laboratory was struck by the number of old, listed buildings in the village; some of which had already been surveyed and drawn up by Nick Hill, a vernacular architecture enthusiast. Robert approached me. He wanted to know if there were any heritage, history or survey projects, etc, being conducted locally or any keen locals who might be interested in setting one up. He raised the question of funding, perhaps from some Heritage Lottery, English Heritage or Local authority combination, perhaps even from private individuals who wanted to know how old their house is. The Laboratory had recently completed such a project in the village of Norwell, in Nottinghamshire. That had gone well, and another similar project had been started in Wiltshire.

Dendrochronogy, or tree-ring dating, can show that several, indeed often, all, the trees used in a given building were felled at the same time and that they have come from a similar source (as has been repeated in building after building throughout the country), from which the likely construction date of the building may be inferred. There are innumerable cases of buildings with date plaques, where tree-ring dating has shown the timber used in them has been felled at most two years earlier than the inscribed date. The dating of reused material may indicate the date of an earlier building, possibly though not necessarily on the same site. The local availability of a considerable amount of re-usable timber from part of the medieval bishops' palace in Lyddington when it was demolished in the sixteenth century, was, according to Robert, all the more reason for undertaking a proper survey and recording of the buildings here.

The other factor which was significant was the extent of the documentary evidence of available on Lyddington. Manor court rolls and rentals for the Manor of Lyddington with Caldecott, dating from the middle of the sixteenth century, are all held at Burghley House, where I have been acting as archivist for several years. Because I had been concentrating on the medieval history of the manor, these remained largely untapped. I knew that deciphering them and collating the information they contained would be a very big task but, together with tree-ring dating, they offered a rare and exciting prospect of reconstructing the history of almost all the properties in the village. Similar projects, based on documentary evidence had been undertaken at Warwick University, with whom I proposed to co-ordinate, but none that I knew of had such extensive records as are available here.

Professor Michael and Elizabeth Jones, who had run the 'Norwell Heritage Project' in Nottinghamshire supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, provided us with many good ideas and advice on how to apply for funding for a similar scheme in Lyddington. They stressed the importance of having local support, local involvement, and a locally based organisation. Further guidance was also sought from people in other villages which have received Heritage Lottery Funding for similar heritage projects, such as in Langham in Rutland, and offers of help were generously provided. It was clear that an important part of these projects had been 'community effort and support', so I attempted to sound-out local individuals and members of groups that could be of help. Training, I knew, would be important, perhaps for tree-ring dating, though that was largely a task for the professionals, but definitely for drawing, survey, and documentary work.

It seemed obvious that a local organisation was needed to manage such a project and I proposed the formation of a Lyddington History Society with this in mind. The ancient Manor of Lyddington with Caldecott had included the villages of Snelston (which has disappeared), Stoke Dry and Thorpe by Water. All should be included; Caldecott already has its own History Society, but their members would be very welcome to join us, whilst still carrying on with their own activities.

To this end, an open meeting was called in the Lyddington Village Hall at 6pm on 25th November 2009 to discuss the possibility of forming a history society. Everyone in all the villages was invited to attend and to join. I intended it to be a local initiative, with local benefits and eventually, an opportunity for us to share the benefits of a lottery grant. It could be fun, worthwhile, and could get us all working together. We would need people to help, with IT, photography, cataloguing, drawing, documentary research, etc. The list of activities a project like this might create was almost endless and everyone would be encouraged to become involved as soon as possible.

The meeting on 25th November attracted a good turnout and was very successful. Mike Frisby told us how the Langham group had carried out two history projects for which they had received grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Robert Howard, from the Nottingham Tree-ring Dating Laboratory, explained how tree-ring dating worked and said how excited he was by the potential of dating the many old buildings here. The meeting indicated sufficient support to go ahead and create a society to act as a focal point for a major project to explore the history of the manor. Such a society would also be a meeting place for those interested in any aspect of our very rich local history.

An Inaugural Meeting was held in the Village Hall on Friday, January 15th at 7.30 p.m. to set up the society and discuss more detailed ideas for a project. Forty-four people indicated that they would be interested in joining the society and a committee was formed. At the first Committee meeting, held on 22nd January, 2010, at 22 Main Street, officers of the Society were duly elected and the name of the society was decided, Lyddington Manor History Society, to make it clear that it was not just for the village of Lyddington but included all the villages in the manor. Subscriptions were set at £10 for individuals and £12 for family membership. It was also agreed that members should receive regular Newsletters and discounted entry to meetings; admissions to meetings for members were to be £1 and for non-members £2. All committee members then paid their subscriptions. We were solvent and on our way.

 

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