Strawberry Hill is a Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT) nature reserve, and up until recently, records within the nature reserve and surrounding area were scarce, with no recorded archaeological work having been carried out on site before. The scarcity of records is likely a result of the extensive mineral extraction activities which were carried out before archaeological considerations were drawn into the planning process. There is a wealth of documentary evidence that indicates Strawberry Hill was once a significant landscape feature and way-marker.

Strawberry Hill has been a significant feature in the landscape since Medieval times and it appears, under different names, on numerous historic maps as well as Medieval perambulation documents. It sits on the historic boundary between the land of the abbots of Rufford and the land of the King’s manor of Mansfield. 

Recently, as part of the Miner 2 Major Veiled Landscape project, the area was subject to an archaeological survey, where NWT volunteers and a Nottinghamshire County Council archaeologist used lidar data to help guide the on-the-ground recording of previously unrecorded archaeological features. This survey enhanced our knowledge of the presence and significance of archaeological features and resources within the woodland.

LiDAR image showing earthworks within Strawberry Hill Nature Reserve

Above: LiDAR model showing earthworks within Strawberry Hill Nature reserve.

Several hollow ways survive within the woodland, one set of which is a well-used Medieval routeway that went out of use some time in the post-Medieval period. These are sections of deeply eroded ‘U’ shaped hollow ways that almost certainly represent a Medieval routeway between Mansfield and Bilsthorpe, which passes by Inkersall on the north side of the dam. This appears on the 1637 map of the Rufford Estate drawn by Bunting. Given the significance of the hill here in the landscape, historically it is possible that some of the other recorded hollow-ways may have significant age to them.

NWT volunteers and Nottinghamshire County Council archaeologist Emily Gillott standing in the contours of the Medieval hollow way

Above: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust volunteers and Nottinghamshire County Council archaeologist Emily Gillott standing in the contours of the Medieval hollow way.

There is also a well-preserved set of practice trenches from army training activities from the earlier 20th century This is part of a wider landscape that is characteristic of this part of Nottinghamshire, as many of the large estates turned over some of their land to military usage.  Many classic features of the trench warfare system are apparent including the classic zig-zag plan and communication lines dug to connect parallel trench sets. 

You can explore these records and the lidar survey data by searching in the database for the records below:

You can learn more information about the Veiled Landscape Project and the application of lidar here: The Veiled Landscape: Sherwood Lidar Project - Nottinghamshire Historic Environment Record

Gallows and gibbets are popular imagery in historical fiction for portraying the brutal horror of justice in bygone eras (though people of my age and younger may be shocked to learn that the last hangings in the UK were carried out as late as 1964). Gallows frequently appear in film and media, but gibbets are less-commonly depicted and popularly understood.

Hanging, along with beheading, were common methods of carrying out capital punishment for centuries in Europe. In certain cases where crime was considered especially heinous (murder, treason, robbing a mail cart), the body may be left to hang on the gallows, or the punishment may extend to the body being ‘hung in chains’ and transferred to a gibbet.

A gibbet was a tall wooden post set into the ground, with a crossbar at the top from which hung a cage made of iron. Often the wooden parts would be reinforced with metal bands or nails to prevent vandalism. The cage itself may have looked a bit like a large bird cage, but in the post-Medieval period it was more likely to be a custom-made thing, designed to fit the body of the deceased and keep them looking human-shaped as long as possible. The body of the accused may be left for days, months or years. A grisly trade grew up around collecting parts of the decaying corpse for use in medicine and charms.

The aim of gibbeting was to display a kind of macabre earthly purgatory; the body was kept suspended between the Earth and God, occupying a liminal boundary between life and death. In order to serve their ghastly purposes as deterrents they were often erected in highly visible locations, such as by main highways, on prominent hills, or at crossroads. Sometimes they were located close to the scene of the associated crime, or (more brutally) close to the residence of the condemned person’s family. Accessibility had to be a consideration too as the gibbet would draw visitors for months or years after their placement.

In 1752, the Murder Act codified the treatment that the bodies of murderers legally had to undergo before they could be buried; anatomical dissection or hanging in chains. By far the most common treatment was dissection as the ‘enlightened’ minds of the Age of Reason made use of the corpses for study. By comparison, hanging in chains happened only a small handful of times a year nationally by this time but drew huge crowds whenever it did.

Gibbeting was meant as a gruesome warning against disobedience; an authoritarian attempt to coerce compliance. The reality in many cases, however, was that gibbeting secured the fame, or rather infamy, of the condemned especially where it was perceived that there had been a miscarriage of justice or where the extreme punishment outweighed the crime.

Photo of the Church of St Wilfred in Scrooby

Above: The Church of St Wilfred in Scrooby. The Church resides close to reported gallows in the area.

The Historic Environment Record contains a few references to gallows and gibbets for Nottinghamshire. Gallows Nooking is found where the A46 Fosse Way leaves/enters Nottinghamshire on the east. According to the antiquarian William Stukeley, the gallows were situated atop a mound built into the middle of the roadway. Similarly,‘Galow tre hyl’ in Thieves Wood off the A60 approaching Mansfield, depicted on a late 14th/early 15th century map, was raised on a mound with the old road curving around it to afford the traveller panoramic view. Gibbets are recorded at Scrooby on the Great North Road, and at Shelford on a high eminence above the Trent, both atop custom built mounds.

There was no missing the message if you were a traveller on these roads; behave or be hung.

In 2015, a curious bronze object was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). The PAS is managed by the British Museum and records artefacts found by members of the public. In this case, it was a coin-like token around 2.7cm in diameter and weighing 30g and found in the hinterland of a Roman town in North Nottinghamshire. It is described as having "an erotic scene depicted in relief on one side. This involves two naked figures: a young man to the left and another party of indeterminate gender to the right", while the other side is blank. It resembles a type of Roman artefact that frequently gets called a ‘brothel token’, but has the more accurate name of ‘spintria’, and may actually have little to do with brothels.

Photo of the Roman weight found in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire

Above: Roman weight found in Bassetlaw. Image rights holder: North Lincolnshire Museum. Image taken from: Portable Antiquities Scheme ( (Record ID: NLM-45C09D).

Spintriae are found across the Roman Empire and though they are remarkably similar in style and themes wherever they are found, their exact function is still unknown. One of the more reasonable interpretations is that they were tokens that were given out in return for use of a locker in public bath houses, much like lockers at the swimming baths today. This is supported by frescoes on the walls of the Suburban Baths in Pompeii that show strikingly similar scenes. The public baths at any decent-sized town in Nottinghamshire, such as at Segelocum, would likely have featured similar imagery and perhaps a locker system that used tokens.

This find from Nottinghamshire is similar to the brothel tokens but is larger and has no numerals on the reverse, so it has been interpreted as possibly being a weight. Either way, it is a glimpse into the Roman views on sexuality in the province of Britannia.

Suitability of a sexual partner in Roman times doesn’t appear to have been based on gender, but rather on a complex set of largely unwritten social factors, such as social standing of the individuals and the nature of the companionship. It is difficult to apply modern concepts of sexual orientation to the context of Rome, and Latin had no equivalent words for ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ for example. But homosexual and bisexual themes feature frequently in literature and art, and on objects such as the token above. Indeed, perception of an individual’s masculinity or virility could be enhanced considerably depending on the range of relationships and sexual interactions he involved himself in.

As with so many aspects of history, we know much more about how the social framework for homosexuality related to men than to women (not surprising wherever record-making and writing is primarily the reserve of men). Famed Roman poet, Ovid, claimed that women never long for other women, romantically or sexually. However, charms and poetic graffiti written by women would suggest this is a long way from reality.

When we see the vibrant explicit frescoes in the baths of Pompeii, and the intriguing snippets of graffiti from the town’s streets, it is not hard to imagine some of the same scenes at towns like Margidunum and Segelocum in Nottinghamshire, and tokens such as the one above represent a direct link between the Roman heartland and Britannia.

This coming week will be very exciting for heritage lovers in Nottinghamshire with the return of Heritage Open Days’ annual community festival!

Photograph of Newark Castle

The festival, which has been running for over 25 years in the UK, provides individuals with the chance to get involved in heritage through exclusive local events. This festival contributes to the European Heritage Days in which 50 signatory states celebrate diversity, culture, and heritage every September.

Heritage Open Days aims to celebrate heritage and community by organising talks, workshops, and tours of historical sites. All the events in this festival are free. This includes rare visits to selected sites that normally ask for an entry fee. For example, usually closed on Sundays, the DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum will be opening its doors to the public, for free, on Sunday 10th September. Other sites included in this festival are Newstead Abbey, Bromley House Library, and The Workhouse and Infirmary. Visit the Heritage Open Days website for the full list.

Running from Friday 8th September until Sunday 17th September, there are over 70 exciting events happening in the Nottinghamshire area.

A member of our Historic Buildings team, Jason, will be running behind the scenes tours of the Walks of Life Museum in Newark. Come and say hello to him on Friday 15th September! Visit the event page for information here: Walks of Life Museum - Carts Inspire Creativity

Here are some of the other events we’re excited about:

  • Focusing on ten amazing artefacts, join the Manuscripts and Special Collections team at the University of Nottingham for a talk on how their amazing items reflect the significant people, places, and events in Nottingham’s history. There will be 2 identical talks on Friday 15th September (booking required). See the event and booking information here: University of Nottingham - Archives Unwrapped Talk: Nottinghamshire's History in Ten Treasures
  • In partnership with Polish Village, Newark Castle has organised a fun day of activities for the family on the castle grounds. Enjoy exploring the castle towers, making Polish eco-friendly crafts, face-painting, and listening to fantastic tales by a storyteller. This Creativity Unwrapped event is due to take place on Saturday 9th September (no booking required). See the event information here: Newark Castle - Creativity Unwrapped
  • Take a behind the scenes tour of the Nottinghamshire Archives’ storage areas and conservation studio. Learn about the archives and how to maintain them like an expert on Tuesday 12th and Thursday 14th September (booking required). See the event and booking information here: Inspire -  Nottinghamshire Archive Behind the Scenes Tours
  • Exploring the rich history and heritage secrets of Nottingham, two guided tours have been organised by local experts of Mansfield and Beeston town centres. A member of the Mansfield Townscape Project will be leading a guided tour Mansfield town centre on Wednesday 13th September (no booking required) and on Sunday 10th September, Professor John Beckett will be performing a tour around central Beeston (booking preferred). See event information for the Mansfield town tour here: Mansfield Town Centre Heritage Walk. See event and booking information for the Beeston tour here: Walk with an Expert: Heritage Beeston
  • Come and enjoy author Sally Mitchell’s exciting presentation on the dangers women faced when riding side saddle and some of the famous ladies who experienced them. Sally will also be showing many interesting costumes and items alongside a tour of the collection at the Museum of the Horse in Tuxford on Thursday 14th September (booking required). See the event and booking information here: Museum of the Horse - The Dangers of Side Saddle!

To find out about all the events being offered in Nottinghamshire, including dates and booking information, please visit: Heritage Open Days

Please be aware that free entry to some sites is only on specific set days and some events may require booking.