I’ve been writing about Richard Nottingham for quite a few years now – he first appeared as a secondary character in an unpublished novel on mine written started in 2004 (the central character, as a curiosity, was a Leeds wool merchant named Tom Williamson).
In that time, I’ve been caught up in Richard Nottingham, the character. But he was a real person, the Constable of Leeds from 1717-1737. Now, with the seventh book about him due out later this year, I thought I was well past time I tried to find out a little about the man himself.
Sadly, there’s very little information. He became Constable and Gaoler of Leeds on May 18, 1717, and left that post on October 11, 1737. Richard took over the position from William Nottingham, who would seem to have been the first Constable to Leeds.
But the Nottingham family isn’t especially notable in the parish of Leeds. The Parish Register contains no mention of William, and Richard doesn’t come up until his marriage to Jane Wood on January 4, 1676, at Leeds Parish Church. At the point she was 21.
How old was he then? At the very least he’d be 16, which means that the latest he could have been born was 1660, the year of the Restoration of the Monarchy; very likely he was older than that, and older than his bride.
The couple, shown as living on Kirkgate, began having children the following year. Elizabeth first, born August 8, 1677, Hannah in July 1679, Richard in 1683, John in 1685, Mary in 1687, Jane in 1689 (died 1694), another Richard in 1691 (died 1694), Samuel in 1692, and finally another Jane, who apparently was born and died in a matter of days in 1694 – and that was an awful year for the family, losing several children in just a few months (a couple of decades later, two of Samuel’s children would die while still infants, something sadly common at the time). Was there an illness? Two more children seem to have followed, Jean in 1696, and Frances in 1697.
Although the family initially lived on Kirkgate, by 1692, with Samuel’s birth, they’d moved to Briggate (or Bridgegate, as it was written in the register), and they’re not listed in the assessment of July 1692 on Kirkgate to help pay for the war (records for Briggate need to be checked). Briggate would seem to be where they stayed for the rest of their lives, and he appears in the rates for 1726 on Briggate.
It’s impossible to be certain – this is in the days before real birth, marriage, and death certificates – but it appears that Jane Nottingham died in 1715, and was buried on March 28. Richard Nottingham himself died in 1740, buried at Leeds Parish Church on May 18. No cause of death listed; the only information is that he still lived on Briggate.
Given that he only left his position as Constable three years before, he must have stayed in post until he was well into his seventies. Perhaps it’s just as well that the role was ceremonial, rather than being a working man. I’ve searched the churchyard, but no gravestone remains, which is no real surprise, given the upheavals there during the 19th century.
Yet Richard is a very elusive man. It’s impossible to gain any sense of how he might have been as a person, in spite of his very public role for two decades. And William only gains one mention in the records, in 1713, when he took part in a procession to celebrate the peace signed with France in Utrecht. There’s more to dig into, of course – wills, rates, and so on. But so far it seems to be a life that left few traces.
Richard, though, appears a number of times in the Quarter Sessions records. First in 1695, when he awarded money for pointing out men who are highway robbers. The amount was £20 – in today’s terms close to £2800.
Three years later he’s there again. Interesting, this time he’s given the title of Deputy Constable, some nine years before appointed to position of Constable.
When in office, it seems that things didn’t always run smoothly. In 1723 a warrant for his arrest by the bailiffs was issued, and he’d failed to execute an arrest warrant on someone. Sir William Lowther, the first Baronet of Swillington, was the member of Parliament for Pontefract and a former High Sheriff for Yorkshire.
A year later he’s obviously back in good graces.
These are wonderful snippets. Did that first reward urge him towards becoming Deputy Constable? What was the reason he never made that arrest? We’ll never know, and an some ways, though, perhaps it good that the real Richard Nottingham remains so nebulous. It would seem that he had money: his oldest child, Elizabeth, married John Wombwell, the second son of Baron Wombwell, and one of their children became a consul. She died in 1745, at the age of 63. But the money might have drained away. In the 1760s Richard’s son Samuel lived in one of the backside houses off Briggate, in a property with low rateable value; just 20 years earlier, Samuel had occupied a house fronting on Briggate with a much higher value.
So far I haven’t managed to find a copy of the Leeds Mercury from May 1740 that might carry an obituary with more details. However, Leeds Libraries do have it on microfilm, so hopefully more details will be forthcoming next week!
Even if Richard never married a Mary or had Rose and Emily as daughters, he’s very much alive to me, at least the version who exists in my head. And as no portraits exist, he can only look the way we imagine him.
Richard Nottingham – the fictional one – will return in Free From All Danger, to be published in the UK on October 28, 2017.