The desolation of Clipstone Park

Period: 1642-1660

The arrival of the aristocratic era of ownership

The last known visit of a Plantagenet king to Clipstone Park was Richard II on the 16th of March 1396. While work had been carried out on the King’s Houses in the 1440s, by 1525 a survey reported that parts of the stonework were in “great decay and ruin”.

Clipstone Park, however, remained, and fully entered into its aristocrat era when it left royal possession in 1603 and was granted to Charles Blount, 8th Baron of Mountjoy. After a few mores changes of ownership the site was bought by William Cavendish, Viscount of Mansfield (and later 1st Duke of Newcastle) in 1630.

The People’s waste

We’d love to show you the map for Clipstone Park and Spa Ponds which was produced by Richard Banks for his Crown Survey of Sherwood Forest in 1609 which was commissioned by King James I, but that part of the map has been lost to history.

Fortunately the accompanying written key to the entries survives. While interpreting it is difficult without the accompanying map, at least some of Spa Ponds may have been included in entry 377 which is listed as: “[common to Mansfield Woodhouse] All the woods and waste (next) adjoining to Clipstone Park called by the several names of the Farr Wood, the Myddle Wood and the Narr Wood, with part of the waste belonging to Maunsfeild Woodhouse”.

The acknowledgment that the wood and part of the waste (i.e. land such as heathland that did not provide revenue to a landowner) in Mansfield Woodhouse next to Clipstone Park was land “belonging to Mansfield Woodhouse” might have been an acknowledgment that the south of what is now Spa Ponds (perhaps from the top of the Chestnut walk and south of it) the rest of Mansfield Woodhouse Wood was recognised as common land, some of it potentially having been returned to common land following complaints about the Clipstone Peel expanding Clipstone Park.

The impact of the First English Civil War on Clipstone Park

The First English Civil War began in 1642, and William Cavendish was on the Royalist side rather than the Parliamentarian side. And he wasn’t just any Royalist, he was Captain-General of the Forces and financed much of the war effort himself, later claiming this totalled in excess of £1,000,000.

As a result, William was a target of the Parliamentarians and after the Royalists were roundly defeated at the the Battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 he fled to Paris and went into exile in Europe.

A match with Madge

Margaret and William Cavendish, by Gonzales Coques, 1662

In France William met Margaret Lucas who had accompanied King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria when the queen had been exiled to France due to the English Civil War. William married Margaret in 1645, and they remained in exile until the reformation in 1660.

Margaret became a prolific author and the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society. William was a patron of the arts and supportive of her endeavours. He helped fund the publication of her works, which unusual for women of the time was published under her own name. Unfortunately, not all were as supportive and Margaret was dubbed by some as ‘Mad Madge’.

This memorable nickname is conventionally attributed to her “unusual fashions and outrageous behaviour”. Her uniqueness is something she herself acknowledged, for example in her 1656 statement that: “I did dislike any should follow my fashions, for I always took delight in a singularity, even in accoutrements of habits”.

However, the nickname might say more about those who used it than about Margaret herself. Science history blogger Thony Christie has argued that Margaret’s contemporaries included a number of eccentric men and they were not given such derogatory nicknames, concluding that: “Margaret Cavendish gets called Mad Madge for daring to compete in a man’s world. She gets denigrated not because of her outlandish behaviour or her passion for science but simply because she was a woman who had these attribute. I think we should no longer call her Mad Madge but respect and honour Margaret Cavendish as an intelligent and able woman who was a pioneering female philosopher of science at a time when this was an exclusively male occupation”.

Margaret’s account of the destruction and restoration of Clipstone Park

Margaret’s evocative account of William’s experience on returning to his Clipstone Estate when he returned from exile is recorded in her book ‘The Life of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle’ which was published in 1667. The 1906 version of the book conveys Margaret’s words with modernised spelling as follows:

“The rest of the parks were totally defaced and destroyed, both wood, pales, and deer; amongst which was also Clipston Park, of seven miles’ compass, wherein my Lord had taken much delight formerly, it being rich of wood, and containing the greatest and tallest timber-trees of all the woods he had insomuch, that only the pale-row was valued at £2000. It was watered by a pleasant river that runs through it, full of fish and otters ; was well-stocked with deer, full of hares, and had great store of partridges, poots [likely blackcock or red grouse, probably the former] pheasants, &c., besides all sorts of water-fowl ; so that this park afforded all manner of sports, for hunting, hawking, coursing, fishing, etc., for which my Lord esteemed it very much. And although his patience and wisdom is such, that I never perceived him sad or discontented for his own losses and misfortunes, yet when he beheld the ruins of that park, I observed him troubled, though he did little express it, only saying, he had been in hopes it would not have been so much defaced as he found it, there being not one timber-tree in it left for shelter. However, he patiently bore what could not be helped, and gave present order for the cutting down of some wood that was left him in a place near adjoining, to repale it, and got from several friends deer to stock it.

“Thus, though his lawsuits and other unavoidable expenses were very chargeable to him, yet he ordered his affairs so prudently, that by degrees he stocked and manured those lands he keeps for his own use…he hath stocked and paled a little park belonging to it. Nor is it possible for him to repair all the ruins of the estate that is left him, in so short a time, they being so great, and his losses so considerable, that I cannot without grief and trouble remember them ; for before the wars my Lord had as great an estate as any subject in the kingdom, descended upon him most by women, viz. by his grandmother of his father’s side, his own mother, and his first wife.”

Official record

Issues regarding timber from Clipston Woods being felled to be sold for timber was recorded within the official Calendar of State Papers entry for 22nd of April 1655.

Official Calendar of State Papers (Domestic Series) for 1655-6 published by the Public Record Office in 1881

What this might tell us about the trees at Spa Ponds

Map of the southern half of Spa Ponds site hand drawn by FTNCG’s Tree Officer Mark Fretwell

The accounts refer to what happened in Clipstone Park, but Spa Ponds at the time may have been considered outside of the Park. The northern part of Spa Ponds may have been seen as part of the Cavendish estate with the southern part of Spa Ponds (shown in the map above) considered part of the common of Mansfield Woodhouse Wood.

The old coppiced sweet chestnuts found on Spa Ponds appear to date to around the 1600s and 1700s, so around the time of the English Civil War. The fact that they appear coppiced means that at one or more points in the past they were cut back to ground level in a manner that stimulated their (re)growth. These sweet chestnuts might be present at Spa Ponds despite the general destruction of the ponds because:

  • timber was extracted from them at the time, but in a way which allowed them to regrow;
  • they were too small at the time of the Civil War (or the subsequent restoration of the Park) to be worth felling;
  • they were located outside Clipstone Park or outside of the “grant from the Committee for sale of Traitors’ Estates”;
  • they were located inside the common of Woodhouse Wood; and/or
  • they were planted soon after the felling at Clipstone Park as a replacement source of timber for paling.

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