Monksthorpe’s name immediately demands answers. Thorpe is a Danish word usually referring to a minor settlement but during the time of the Danelaw for two centuries before and for fifty years after the Norman conquest there were no monasteries in this part of the South Riding of Lindsey. So who were these monks? It turns out they are fourteenth century monks from Bardney Abbey which then tells us that this is a very late use of the suffix thorpe and from other documents we also know that Danish personal names continued to be used well into the thirteenth century. It also tells us the wide area of land and influence which Bardney Abbey, thirty five kilometres to the west, had at this time.
By the fourteenth century Lindsey was covered in religious houses especially in a circle which surrounded the Wolds. This however, with the exception of Bardney Abbey which had pre-conquest origins, only lasted for four hundred years from the early twelfth century to their dissolution during the 1530s. This roughly coincided with the period of the Norman oppression but was enough to disrupt a way of life which had been going on for thousands of years. A lifestyle that had managed to survive a sequence of invasions until the wholesale re-allocation of land after the Norman Conquest in which the church acquired large tracts of Lincolnshire. Yet ironically it is William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book that first allows us an insight into this lost world.
Up to this time there is much evidence which suggests that along the east coast of England and especially in Lindsey there had long existed a different and possibly more co-operative approach to land management than the rest of Britain. This mainly revolved around the exploitation of the mix of habitats, which an area like the South Riding had to offer. To optimise this the land was partitioned so that all had access to wold, wood, marsh and coast. A relic of this lasted until Tennyson’s time with all the wapentakes of the South Riding, with the exception of Hill, radiating out from the Wolds to the coast or at least what had been coast when these divisions were first established in the Bronze Age or possibly earlier.
As soon as agriculture became established in Britain access to salt became a fundamental requirement and the many shallow creeks and inlets along the east coast south of the Humber were utilised to produce this essential commodity by evaporating seawater. Thanks to the Domesday Book, as will become apparent on our journey, it is often seen that ancient soke centres, which first appear in the Dark Ages, deep in Wolds had control over salt production along the coast. This created a much more dynamic society than further west. Here sokemen were not tied to a single parish in the drive to exploit the most out of differing habitats. The almost complete absence of Iron Age hill forts in this part of Britain would suggest that this seasonal mobility of labour and also livestock from Wold to coast each summer for salt production and summer grazing is possible evidence that this practice existed well before the Romans arrived on these shores and continued to flourish during the four hundred years they ruled here.
The effect of the Norman invasion though was quite different with continental religious houses being sponsored to set up in each of the wapentakes around the Wolds. Like the later ring of castles around the mountains of north Wales it was a systematic attempt to wrest control from an independent minded native population. In time it led to a Lincolnshire disapora especially from the long established soke centres on the Wolds. Many folk moved into growing towns but others were able to move to the new growing open parishes that formed on the silt lands ringed around the Wash. This was marginal land prone to winter floods and tidal surges but by working co-operatively building flood defences through the Middle Ages they were able to establish some of the largest and richest parishes in England. Bicker, now miles inland, is surrounded by mounds produced by medieval salt workings around an inlet that has now been long reclaimed from the sea making it a large wealthy parish at the time its Norman church was built.
History is full of ironies and so it was when the early Baptists of the South Riding chose Monksthorpe to meet. Founded by John Smyth, who was born in Nottinghamshire but went to school in Gainsborough, the Baptists believed in the individual deriving inspiration directly from the bible without the need of an established church and was certainly in complete opposition to the hierarchical and institutionalised dogma preached by the monks who established themselves here three hundred years earlier. Even after so many centuries of a very centralised church and state folk in Lincolnshire and the surrounding counties, which roughly coincides with the southern Danelaw, were much more comfortable with freedom of choice and expression than following distant dictates. This is why so many chose to leave for the New World in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Before the diaspora Lincolnshire was one of the most affluent counties in the kingdom and the South Riding was one of the most densely populated areas in England. With this area then becoming a quiet backwater while the rest of England was gearing up for the industrial revolution it is the ideal place to discover a world before this turbulent time. So I have chosen a route along quiet roads and through sleepy villages that often at some point in the past had an intriguing story to tell.