The Grate Harakan and the steel waters

Period: 1714-1748

The “very grate harakan” of 1714

In 1714 a powerful storm blew down large sections of fencing at Clipstone Park and many trees. The wind was widespread and severe enough to be noted in records from Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. While the storm was seen by some as a tragedy as it let the deer eat the grass and corn belonging to the tenants, others appear to have been more concerned with the profit made from the sale of this ‘windfall’ wood.

The situation was summarised in a blog post from the University of Nottingham which noted that: “At the time of the ‘hurricane’, the Surveyor of the King’s Wood at Sherwood (Queen Anne the reigning monarch) was Thomas Hewett. The Surveyor was responsible for general management, for the felling of timber for the Royal Navy, for repairs to property, for royal gifts to subjects, or for sale, and for dealing with claims to customary rights in the forest, for paying keeper’s wages and for providing hay for the deer in times of scarcity. In the documents at Nottinghamshire Archives, Hewett lays claim to his right to sell the valuable ‘windfalls,’ citing examples where windfall trees had apparently been considered to belong to his predecessors in the post of the Surveyor of His Majesty’s Forests, rather than the Crown. Hewett was requested to report to the Lord Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury to give an account of the damage. In presenting his case, he explained how unusually extreme the storm had been, ‘this was an extraordinary storm – for that there are few or no wind falls, but when such winds happen, the last of which was above 20 years since, in the time of my predecessor Mr Laycock who then had as many as amounted to several hundred pounds’ (Nottinghamshire Archives DD/FJ/10/9/7/30). As Bailey (1853) explains, ‘Windfalls they had in abundance; but a windfall bringing down timber in one night to the value of two thousand five hundred pounds, was indeed an event of no common occurrence.’”

The impact on Clipstone Park was noted in a letter from Charles Palmer, keeper of Clipstone Park from 1st February 1714/15 to written in a somewhat obsequious manner to Lord Edward Harley (the husband of the Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Holles who owned Clipstone Park, and presumably at least the northern portion of the Spa Ponds site):

“…May it please your Lordship I have been with her Grace [perhaps Edwards daughter Margaret Harley, later Margaret Cavendish-Bentinck?] several times to get some fence wood for the park fence and some hay for the deer but her grace will not Grant any and I fetch home a great many Dead deer that dies for poverty I had a very fine hand of stags and a very fine hand of Bucks and without a speedy remedy they will all be lost and since her grace came a way we have had a very Grate harakan by a Double wind and it has blew Down above 4 miles of the park fence flat to Ground and we are in to lose all the deer for want of hay to keep them at the feeding places in the park for they run all about the country and the country people will kill them. I humbly beg your Lordship orders what Lordship will have me. The dog kennel’s blown down and all the outhouse is blew fall to pieces…”

Source: Extract of a letter from Charles Palmer, keeper of Clipstone Park, Nottinghamshire, to Lord Edward Harley [later 2nd Earl of Oxford], St James’s Street, London detailing the impact of a hurricane; 1 Feb. 1714/15. Pl C 1/43 © University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Other mentions of the storm’s impact on Clipstone Park include:

  • 9th January 1715/16 – A letter from John Neal (tenant of Clipstone Forge) from 9th January 1715/16 notes that he “…complains about the state of the park fence and the fact that the deer are still roaming freely”.
  • 12th January 1715 – A letter from William Wenman to Lord Harley “comments on Mr Neale’s opinion as to the decay of the Clipstone Park fence; argues that Mr Colson knows how much it is going to cost to repair it; thinks this will be a good use of money when the inheritance is sorted out”.
  • 7th October 1716 – A letter from John Monk (deputy steward under William Wenman, secretary and agent to the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle and the Earl and Countess of Oxford), Mansfield, to Mr Cossens (wood agent) includes: “…reports, on Mr Wenman’s orders, that Lancaster has cut some dead trees for repairs to Clipston Park fence, over and above the agreed number, and that Ralph Wadsworth has started the work; writes that Palmer wants 20 tons of hay for the deer..”
  • 1st June 1719 – Letter from William Wenman, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire to John Morley, Richard’s Coffee House, Temple Barr “…Refers to the problem of the deer who, because the park fence is in a state of disrepair, are able to damage the tenants grass and corn; comments that many tenant’s houses are neglected and have not been repaired as wood has not been made available to the…”

Steel waters at Spa Ponds?

Lady Henrietta Cavendish Harley (née Holles), then retired and residing at Clipstone Park, wrote to her best friend Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1749, saying: “In this [Clipstone] Park is a mineral spring, which restores some persons to their health, but do’s not agree with me, nor any other steel waters”.

Spa Ponds would likely have been just outside the Park fence, so it is unclear whether she would have considered Spa Ponds to be ‘in’ the Park, but many sources speculate that she is referring to Spa Ponds in this statement so this could be one of the earliest recorded references to someone drinking from a spring at Spa Ponds.

“Steel waters” is also known as chalybeate waters, and refers to mineral spring waters containing salts of iron, typically alongside other minerals such as manganese, zinc, and calcium. They typically have a rusty colour and an iron-like (or acidic and astringent) taste. If they did have any healing properties, these would likely have related to treating iron deficiency anaemia (chlorosis).

The Forest Town Nature Conservation Group’s 2017 oral history project found many people have memories of drinking from the springs at Spa Ponds, but none have described it as being rust-coloured or having an iron-like taste. One described it as “clear water” and another described it as “very clean water”. So does that mean the quality of the water at Spa Ponds in living memory is far superior to what it was in the 1740’s, or could there have been a mineral spring elsewhere, perhaps within the park itself?

History of Spa Ponds:

Sources and further reading: