I have been interested in a theme that has come up in our last few talks, the dangerous roads around Nottingham.

Tony Waltham talked about the caves at Gallows Hill, and how they acted as a hideout for thieves and robbers who attacked people crossing the Lings as they passed to or from the town of Nottingham.

01_Mansfield Road

This was also something that affected Carrington. In the late 1920’s John Holland Walker had a series of photographs and descriptions of old Nottingham published in the Nottingham Evening News as “More Links with Old Nottingham”. I quote from the item showing a picture of Carrington Market Place:

“Carrington is thus an early example of town planning. The idea that was in Mr. Wright’s mind was that it would be difficult and even dangerous for his tenants to cross the open space of Nottingham Lings which we nowadays call the Forest, for in the 18th and earlyl 9th century, roads across this district were rough and scarce, and the brambles and gorse with which it was covered were a lurking place for all sorts of undesirable folk.

Mr. Wright consequently set out a triangular market place, surrounded by dwellings and shops which were quite sufficient for their time, and he hoped that hucksters would come and set up their stalls within this area. On other than market days, the open space would form a safe playground for children.”

Ichabod Wright’s vision seems to have come to fruition, as Terry Fry says “Up to 1930 the residents could still buy almost everything they wanted in Carrington Market Place, without the need to go to Nottingham city centre or even to Sherwood. (New shops which had opened on Mansfield Road were primarily for the middle class population of Mapperley Park). In that sense Carrington was still a self-contained community…”

In her talk June explained that until the Inclosure Act, fields surrounded Nottingham. Anyone going from their village to the town and back would be walking along a road that was uninhabited for part of the way, and which had trees and hedges that robbers could hide behind, waiting to attack the unwary traveller. Of all these roads, however, the Gallows Hill area, with its caves and unmade roads on the Lings, was the ideal place for robbers, and the most frightening place for travellers.

I am hoping to learn more about these roads from this meeting, but my contribution to the evening is to tell you about something good that came out of this situation; namely, Smith’s Bank, the first provincial bank in England.

The Smith’s were yeoman farmers who had lived for generations in the area south of Bingham, in the hamlet of Cropwell Butler and the village of Tithby. Thomas Smith was born in October 1631, but his father died in 1642 when Thomas was ten. Two of Thomas’s uncles looked after the family finances, which was unfortunate for the family as this was a job they weren’t cut out to do. So instead of inheriting the family farm, Thomas came to Nottingham and became an apprentice to Laurence Collin, in order to become a mercer. Laurence Collin had been a master gunner at the Castle during the Civil War, later returning to his trade as a wool buyer and jersey comber in the town of Nottingham. He lived to be ninety years old, outliving Thomas Smith by a few years, and the two men had a close relationship all their lives, which was to benefit both Thomas Smith and his descendants.

In 1653 Thomas Smith bought a house and shop combined from William Littlefear. It was a three storied gable ended house situated at the northwest corner of Peck Lane, a narrow passage leading from the market square to St. Peter’s Church. Owing to difficulties with the title to the cellar the purchase was not completed until 1658. It was here that Thomas Smith established his linen draper’s shop, selling a wide range of merchandise.

On market day farmers and their wives would come into Nottingham to sell their goods. After the market the wives would go to Thomas’s shop to make their purchases, and would stay there until their husbands, who liked to talk to Thomas, joined them. The conversation always turned to the dangers on the roads. For these farmers the return journey was frightening, as they were very aware that they were carrying the proceeds of the sale of their goods, and that anyone watching them would know that too.

Thomas Smith was well respected, and when he offered to keep the money for these farmers, and, in time, it was returned with interest, a successful new business was underway. The bank is not considered to have started until 1658 when Thomas had purchased the caves below his shop. They were accessed via his kitchen, and were situated one upon the other, so acting as good bank vaults. These caves are not now accessible as they were filled in with concrete when a new building was erected on the site. Thomas continued with his mercer’s business and his banking, and his three sons continued both occupations, as did their descendants. If you look at the bank’s customers about a hundred years later, in the mid eighteenth century, the farmers are still there, but there are also many hosiers who make up the bulk of the customers. Customers came from Mansfield, Retford, Newark and Bingham, and from neighbouring counties such as Lincolnsh ire and Derbyshire. However, there are also some very wealthy landowners who are also customers: Lord Middleton from Wollaton to the west, Lord Howe of Langar to the east (in 1769, Sir George Savile cited Lord Howe as possessing half the county of Nottinghamshire), and the Duke of Kingston, Duke of Newcastle and Duke of Dorset to the north. It is these wealthy landowners that take my mind back again to the time Thomas was setting up his bank, and a third occupation he began.

At that time people paid taxes, such as the Land Tax and Excise Tax, but there was no civil service, as we know it to collect the money until about 1820. A Treasury Warrant of 17th August 1671 appoints Thomas Smith and two others as sub-commissioners of excise for the county of Nottingham. The amount to be collected would be agreed with the Treasury, and the collector did not normally have to reveal his profit, and was only under the necessity of producing his accounts if he claimed that the yield of the tax had fallen seriously below expectation, Thomas did what all these collectors did, he kept the money in Nottingham as long as possible before it went to London. The agent in London would then keep it for as long as possible before it went to the Treasury. It therefore complemented Thomas’s growing banking business very well. The excise balances would have enabled him to finance larger stocks of goods for the mercer’s side of the business, and to allow more extensive credit to his customers than his competitors in the banking sphere. Smith’s Bank continued to collect the excise tax until the 1840’s.

Thomas, and his descendants who ran the bank, therefore required a large stable in Nottingham in order to go out and collect these taxes throughout Nottinghamshire. You will have realised that we have now come full circle. One of the reasons the bank was needed was because of the dangerous roads, but we now have Thomas Smith travelling out on these same roads to the homes of wealthy Nottinghamshire landowners and returning to Nottingham having collected large sums of money. This is a picture of the two very old guns, seventeenth century blunderbusses, that hung on the wall of Smith’s Bank in Nottingham for centuries, a symbol of the danger Thomas faced on the roads around Nottingham.

02_blunderbuss

A blunderbuss was a type of muzzle-loading rifle (or musket), which had a flared, trumpet-like barrel that was ideal for spreading shot. The blunderbuss was the predecessor of the shotgun.

The term “blunderbuss” is of Dutch origin, from the Dutch word donderbuss, which is a combination of donder meaning “thunder”, and buss, meaning “pipe”. The transition from donder to blunder is thought by some to be deliberate; the term blunder was originally used in a transitive sense, synonymous with to confuse, and this is thought to describe the stunningly loud report of the large bore, short-barrelled blunderbuss. The term dragoon is taken from the fact that early versions were decorated with a carving in the form of a mythical dragon’s head around the muzzle; the muzzle blast would then give the impression of a fire-breathing dragon. Blunderbuss weapons were not built to the size of a regular rifle, nor were they built to be as small as pistols. They were often used for crowd control, since the blunderbuss didn’t always hit a specific target, rather multiple ones. They were introduced into England during the seventeenth century, and as Thomas Smith died in 1699, you could say he was using a modern weapon. The wide flared muzzle at the end of the barrel was often exaggerated for psychological effect, not to improve spread, and it also aided loading from a moving coach or on horseback, which would have benefited Thomas.

The myth that the blunderbuss was sometimes loaded using a handful of whatever hard debris was at hand is true, for instance pebbles could be used, but they were not standard missiles, as using them makes calculating the weight and bulk of a load difficult. Instead, blunderbusses were more likely to be loaded using a number of pistol or musket balls.

Thomas’s grandson Abel Smith is considered the great banker of the family. He established a London bank, Smith and Payne in 1758, which became the most important bank. A bank at Lincoln followed, and in 1784, one at Hull. Soon after the Hull bank was established there were two attempted robberies. Despite the purchase of a brace of pistols in October 1785, within little more than a fortnight a thief did succeed in entering and robbing the bank. The thief was caught, but an iron door was supplied, and “for better protection” blunderbusses were given to the clerks.

In 1810 the Smiths established a bank at Derby, a brace of pistols was bought in 1827 for £2 5s, and at the time of the Reform riots in Derby in 1832 these weapons were supplemented at a cost of £3 16s 6d. with a Browning carbine, powder barrels and more pistols.

In the 1850’s there were four clerks at Derby, the senior and junior of whom lived in the bank; the junior in a shuttered room full of deed boxes and embellished with six flint muskets, a pair of seaman’s cutlasses and a brace of pistols, relics of the Reform riots of 1832.

In 1902 the Smiths Banks amalgamated with the Union Bank of London. At the time sixteen members of the Smith family were partners in the London bank, five of them were partners in the country banks to. Of the twenty- three directors of the new bank, eight were from the Smith family. At least seven generations of Smiths were bankers Last week I went into the NatWest Bank on South Parade. This is partly on the site of the bank the Smiths moved into in 1754, and details of Smiths Bank are on a plaque outside the building. I seemed to remember an article in the Evening Post saying that Thomas’s blunderbusses were still there. However, no one knew anything about it, but I did spot a framed picture of the Smith Family Tree and a portrait of Abel Smith II.

Apart from being the great banker of the family, it was Abel Smith who took the family into politics. He used his wealth to ensure he had a safe seat from which to become an M.P. Many of his descendants followed him into Parliament. His eldest son, Robert, “Bob” Smith, established his career in the London Bank his father had established in 1758. He became a friend of Pitt, and sorted out Pitt’s private finances, which were in a mess. By doing so he became the first Lord Carrington. The 6th Lord Carrington, who was Foreign Secretary when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, was a direct descendant. Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, Margaret Thatcher’s longest serving Cabinet Minister, was a descendant of Thomas Smith through George Smith, the builder of Bromley House.

We will never know how much the Smith family fortunes came about because of Nottingham’s dangerous roads. .

Postscript

Newer members may not know that the area on which Carrington now stands was part of the general forest, or waste, and therefore uncultivated until under the Act of 1792 it was allotted to various persons in accordance with their holdings in the old parish, and then enclosed, the gorse and brushwood stubbed up, and the ground cleared, fenced and cultivated.

The six acres at the junction of the Mansfield and Hucknall Roads was allotted to Robert Smith, Abel Smith’s son, who was elevated to the Peerage of Ireland in 1796 as Baron Carrington of Bulcot Lodge. Only one year later, in 1797 he was made Baron Carrington of Upton in the County of Nottingham, in the Peerage of Great Britain. The six acres mentioned above, appear to have been sold to Ichobod Wright, who divided it into building lots and streets, including the triangular market place. Building began after the war with the French was settled. He named his new village after Lord Carrington.

By chance, the week I gave the talk on ‘Dangerous Roads – A History of Smiths Bank’ I went on a Thoroton Society visit to The British Horological Institute at Upton Hall. The visit began with a talk, and it was interesting to hear the similarities in the history of the Hall with Carrington.

By 1795 the land on which Upton Hall was built was owned by Robert Smith. Despite his title in 1797 being Baron Carrington of Upton, he did not live there. Thomas Wright (1773-1845), who, like Ichobod Wright, was a member of the Nottingham banking family, bought the land from Lord Carrington. Thomas employed W.H. Donthorne of London (later a founder member of the Royal Institute of British Architects) to build the Hall in the then fashionable Neo-Greek classical style. Thomas Wright was a friend of Lord Byron.

© Elizabeth Robinson