On Saturday (April 8, 2017) I arose early to leave London and make my way to the next points on the map. I said my goodbyes to the lovely streets of Notting Hill, then made my way to Kings Cross train station.
This was my first time travelling by train and I was a bit unsure of just how it was to work, but in following everyone else’s example, it turned out to be a fairly easy process. I had pre-ordered a BritRail Pass which gave me 8 days of travel for any train in the UK. I loved the flexibility and it reduced the stress of worrying I was going to miss a particular train. Leaving London to the northeast, we had a bit of fog but it soon burned off and I was able to enjoy the pretty countryside flowing by. I was to change trains in Retford in order to head for the small town of Gainsborough but there was a strike so they had arranged for a bus to shuttle people around, which gave me a chance to see more of the local towns. Arriving in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, I walked from the station to the Old Hall, enjoying a walk along the River Trent.
My destination was the Gainsborough Old Hall, one of the best-preserved medieval manors in the country, the current house being built in 1460 with later additions in the 1480s. It has a rich history of everything from visits from kings to associations to the Puritan movement. It was originally owned by the Burgh family who entertained Richard III, and later Henry VIII and his 5th wife, Catherine Howard. In 1596 the Hickman family bought the manor and lived there until 1720. The Hall saw other uses after that – a theatre, pub, and a Masonic temple. In 1970 the descendants of the Hickmans gave it to English Heritage.
It was the Puritan connection that caught my interest, as my mother’s family were Pilgrims that came to the shores of the New World on the Mayflower. The Hickmans were Protestants when it was not a popular thing, and helped to shelter them during the reign of Catholic Mary I, including John Knox of Scotland. The Hickmans fled for awhile to Holland until Protestant Elizabeth I was on the throne. They, along with many others, felt the reform happening within the English church was not enough, that it still carried many traditions that were not found in the Bible. This began the Separatist movement. They had to meet in secret or risk fines, loss of job, imprisonment, or worse. Meeting to discuss the Bible outside of the church without an approved clergyman to define the scriptures could be considered treason. There were secret meetings held in the Gainsborough Hall by John Smyth for some of the nearby followers. Later much of the congregation fled the country in hopes to find a place to worship in freedom as they felt led to. The Hickmans were some of the ones who remained in England.
With my mind brimming with facts and dates, and imagining what life what was like during the late medieval period, not to mention what my own ancestors went through to stand for truth, I walked back to the train station feeling a bit overwhelmed. I then went on to Doncaster where I would be staying at The Red Lion Inn for the next 2 nights, left my things in my room (I was just travelling with a backpack, but it was always a welcome relief to be able to tour without it), and headed back to the train station. It was market day in Doncaster, and the inn was in the market place. I didn’t have time to explore, but enjoyed listening to the sounds of people hawking their wares in a sing-song sort of voice as I went by to catch a train to York.
York is a fascinating old city: originally the area was inhabited by the Brigantes tribe, then under Roman rule it became a walled city in 71 AD housing 6000 soldiers. The Angles took the area over in the 400’s. The Minster was originally built in 627. The Danes took the city over in 866, then the Normans in the 11th century. It has served as a major trading centre in times of peace, and a base for attacks in times of war.
Back in Doncaster I had a bite to eat from a few things I had picked up in the grocery store, soaked my tired feet, and pondered all that I had seen that day.