The Victorian market cross, Bingham.
Nowadays Bingham is a dormitory town for Nottingham, lying as it does, just 10 miles east of the city centre on the A52 between Nottingham and Grantham.
More significant to its settlement is that it was, like several of its neighbours, one of the spinal villages just off the Fosse Way, a Roman road from the south west coast to Lincoln approximately 20 miles north. The parish is now designated Grade 1 for agricultural use, a heavy clay predominating. The spring line runs east - west along the foot of Toot Hill on approximately the course taken by the old Nottingham to Grantham road known now as ‘The Banks’. Extensive field walking has recently revealed finds from prehistoric times indicating that the locality was used by hunting parties and remains of Iron Age settlement have been discovered.
The Fosse Way, dating from the 1st century was serviced at intervals by military forts, one of which – Margidunum – was on the north- west edge of the parish, the Fosse Way providing its western boundary. This later developed into a small town which seems to have been deserted by the 4th century. The Romans had at least two domestic villas nearby as well as several burial sites.
Although the Roman period saw significant settlement in the area it remained for the Anglo-Saxons to name their village Bingham and to relocate a mile to the south east. Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and graves have been identified and the local government of the period established its hundred meeting place just off the Fosse Way to the south east of the town centre where the Toot Hill ridge rises to give an extensive view over the fertile Vale of Belvoir. A shallow depression indicates the site which was used until the 17th century when Dr.Thoroton records in his History and Antiquities of Nottinghamshire (1677) that in inclement weather the public house at Cropwell Butler was preferred. Bingham remained a local centre of administration until the 1960s when the responsibilities of Rural District Council and local courts were taken over by larger local authorities.
Early peoples had their settlement areas proscribed by the marshlands to the east and north west of the village centre. Apart from the Toot Hill ridge only Parson’s Hill, an oval island to the north of the Market Place, provided a permanently dry area. Round hut-type marks have been found here with an Anglo-Saxon burial and a henge monument to the west end which, according to oral tradition, was broken up on the orders of a Victorian rector due to sun worshipping ceremonies still conducted there. The land was gradually drained and willow beds disappeared as did a medieval watermill near the site of Margidunum.
The heart of the town is the Market Place, a large rectangular trading space with a grid- iron pattern of streets leading off it. Quite probably this planned area was laid out by the de Bingham family, lords of the manor, in an attempt to increase their revenues. Alice de Bingham and her son William were granted a charter in 1314 to hold a market on Thursdays and two fairs a year. Although the market declined in the 1890s it was revived in the 1970s and is still an essential social and business focus of the community and surrounding villages. It is possible that this development was responsible for the shift in the focus of the town from the east to the west of the church since one of the first so-called ‘deserted medieval villages’ was identified on Crow Close in 1909. Here, a few hundred yards to the east of the church, a hollow way flanked by house platforms leads due east towards Aslockton. The cause of the desertion of this part of Bingham will not be certain until further investigations have been made.
The church, which dates from the 13th century, was later supplemented by a manorial chapel dedicated to St. Helen which stood at the top of Kirk Hill. Some interments have been excavated there but the chapel was lost in the general dissolution of church lands under Henry VIII. Also lost is the guildhall which stood in the Market Place before 1586 when a survey was taken prior to the sale of the manor to the Stanhope family, Earls of Chesterfield. This family had extensive estates in Burton Joyce, Gedling, Radcliffe and Shelford in Nottinghamshire but as their seat was at Bretby in Derbyshire, these were managed by a local agent. It is as a testimony to the kindness and efficiency of one of these – John Hassall – that the townspeople paid for the erection of a new Buttercross in 1861. This has become Bingham’s symbol and is the focal point of the Market Place.
By intermarriage in the late 19th century the Earls of Carnarvon became the lords of the manor. It was after the spectacular expenditure of the 5th Earl on investigating the tomb of Tutankhamun that Bingham passed to the Crown Commissioners in the 1920s. Bingham remained a rural parish until the 1960s when pressure for housing for commuters to Nottingham and beyond was satisfied by the gradual release of large areas of the parish for building plots.
Bingham was always a richly endowed rectory. Long tenures of the office of Rector were held in the 19th century. This allowed much to be done, both good and bad.
The Revd. Robert Lowe had an impact on national policy with his ideas for coping with the problem of poor relief. These formed the basis for the 1834 Poor Law Act. A workhouse was established in Bingham in 1818 followed by a new one in 1837 which served latterly as an old people’s home cum hospital before its demolition in 1964.
The Revd. Robert Miles and his wealthy and artistic family graced the rectory from 1845 – 83. He provided allotments for the poor and built a fine church school which now, recently refurbished, is much used as meeting rooms. The rectory had illustrious company during Miles’ time, notably Oscar Wilde who commented favourably upon the lilies in the garden, and Lily Langtry. Both of these were friends of Frank Miles a son of the Rector who won the Turner silver medal in 1871, and lived with Wilde for some years. The children of the rectory decorated the restored parish church with their skills in woodwork and painting. Lily Langtry appeared in the guise of an angel but has since been erased. Miles was concerned that the old stones near Parson’s Hill were being used for pagan worship and so he had them taken down.
Bingham was a market town, but it was overshadowed by Nottingham to the west and Newark to the north. Partly as a result, it never really grew. In 1801 the population was 1,082. Numbers increased slowly to 2,054 in 1851, but then fell back again and in 1901 the population was just 1,604. In 1951 it was 1,692, but subsequent new housing developments mean that it is now approximately 10,000.