In our hectic lives, we often travel the roads of our urban conurbations without a thought for their history. Heading out of Nottingham into West Bridgford, at the set of traffic lights where the road splits off into Melton and Loughborough Roads, the road forms a large V. With its modern buildings and surfacing, it’s hard to imagine that these road layouts are hundreds of years old.
If you arrived at this junction in 1830, the scene would have been a little different. No buildings, just a large, triangular scrubland field and one of the strangest sights in the county. Standing at the point where the roads divide and looking across the field, you’d have been able to make out the figure of a one-legged man looking back at you. To the people of the time, he was a familiar sight, having stood there come rain or shine, for as long as anyone could remember.
And this mysterious figure? He was known as The Stone Man, or The Nottingham Knight, and the field in which he stood was known as Stoneman Close. If our curiosity had got the better of us and, like Captain Barker (author of Walks Round Nottingham), we ventured to take a closer look, we would have found him to be “a sculptured form of a cross-legged knight miserably mutilated, part of the shield yet remains on the left arm.”
We might have even asked a similar question to that which Edward Hind did in a poem about the Knight: “Good mister stone man, can you tell me who the Dickens you were made to represent?”
Like Hind, we would not have received an answer; that would take nearly another seventy years. Close examination revealed it to be a statue of a fourteenth-century knight in early chainmail armour. Not one-legged, as most people supposed, but rather one leg folded behind the other, indicating that he wasn’t intended to be stood upright. He was the type of stone figure that adorns the tombs of medieval lords and knights in many of our ancient churches.
The modelling of the figure tells us much about the person it represents; the cross-legged style indicating that they were a benefactor to the church. So, how did this tomb effigy end up in a field in West Bridgford? Photographs from the 1890s show that The Stone Man was not actually alone in the field, but attached to the largest of a line of stones that ran across the field. These ʻmearstonesʼ marked the southern-most boundary of the manor of Nottingham. It would seem that around 100 years earlier, a gang of workmen digging a pond near the boundary unearthed the figure and thought it proper to attach him to the ancient stone. And so it was, that he became part of the landscape and lives of the people of West Bridgford.
Experts speculated on who he might be, and they decided that he was the founder of St. Gilesʼ Church, West Bridgford. The style of his armour points to a date of around 1300, meaning that a name can be put to the statue. If he was a local knight, he’d have been Sir Robert Luteril, Lord of the Manor in around 1315. St Gilesʼ was partly remodeled between 1320 and 1350, and Luteril was probably the man who provided much of the funding, therefore deserving a place of honour in the church.
What became of the mearstones we do not know, but The Stone Man finally came home to St Giles’. When the church was remodeled, the arch of the original founderʼs tomb was re-erected in a new chancel. Curiously, this arch – said to be of the late fourteenth century – was minus its recumbent statue. Here was placed The Stone Man, where he rests to this day.
For more on Nottingham history, check out the Nottingham Hidden History website.
Nottingham Hidden Histories website