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The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

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Bradcroft - Our Latest Discoveries


One of the ecclesiastical stone fragments found in the gardens.

If you're a regular reader of The Plot Thickens you'll know Waterfurlong lies near the lost hamlet of Bradcroft or Breadcroft. Very little is understood about the settlement and we have been working with historians Professor Alan Rogers and Professor David Roffe to try and piece the jigsaw together.

Domesday expert David Roffe believes Bradcroft can be traced back to Saxon times and may even have pre-dated neighbouring Stamford. Bradcroft formed part of the ancient royal estate of Roteland, from which the shire of Rutland later emerged. This vast estate once belonged to Edward the Confessor's Queen, Edith of Wessex (after whom Edith Weston was named), and included Oakham and many other important manors. Confusingly, St Peter's parish in Stamford also fell in Roteland and paid different taxes to the rest of the town.

BRADCROFT'S ORIGINS

Alan Rogers suggests we imagine two busy roads intersecting half a mile west of Stamford. Running north to south was Ermine Street, still in use centuries after the Romans had departed. Running east to west was an ancient route from Stamford to Tinwell and on to Hambleton near Oakham. This could well have been the footpath that nowadays forms the top lane of Waterfurlong gardens. At some point the

crossroads became known as Bradcroft, from the Old English 'brad', meaning broad and 'croft', meaning clearing - so a broad clearing around a crossroads in what was then Rockingham forest.

Today Hambleton is tiny and comparatively remote, but in medieval times it was one of the most prominent places in Rutland, with an estimated population of 750. Divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower or Nether Hambleton, it had three churches, 45 ploughs at work, a busy weekly market and an annual fair. The ruins of Nether Hambleton now lie deep beneath Rutland Water.

Since time immemorial crossroads have been natural gathering places - sites for meetings, markets and law courts. Rutland established its most easterly law court at Bradcroft and it was an important one, hearing cases from as far away as Greetham, Whissendine and Ashwell. Felons who received the death-sentence were dragged to the gallows at Tinwell; those meted out lighter punishment were often gaoled in Oakham Castle.

THE CHAPEL

Medieval court-houses needed two things on their doorstep - a church or chapel where oaths could be sworn on holy relics and a reliable supply of freemen to act as jurors.