KEYWORTH FROM EARLIEST TIMES
When did Keyworth begin?
Until a few years ago, no evidence had been found of Keyworth's existence before the Norman Conquest, though the fact that it is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 with a population of around 80 suggests that there had been settlement here for some time before that. Recent finds going back to Roman times made in the parish suggest that the parish, but not necessarily the village, had been occupied, at least sporadically, for the 1,000years prior to Domesday.
The earliest known form of the name Keyworth is Caworde. Worth (or worde) comes from an Old English word for enclosure or homestead. Ca may have been a person’s name - so Caworde would mean ‘Ca’s enclosure’. Sadly, we have no idea who Ca was - or even whether he existed. He may have been the leader of a group which made an enclosure here to stake out their property, to protect livestock, and to keep out raiders - and marauding wolves!
We used to think of Ca as a pioneer settler moving into virgin forest a century or two before the Norman Conquest. It now seems that the area around Keyworth had been settled much earlier. In addition to the finds in Keyworth parish, Roman remains have been found at Flawforth and Bunny - and the Fosse Way with its forts at Bingham (Margidunum) and Willoughby (Vernemetum) is not far away.
Roman rural settlements were normally isolated villas surrounded by small fields, rather than villages. Probably, settlements of the ‘British’ native population during the same period were also scattered - though being semi-nomadic their buildings would have been less substantial than those of the Romans. Much of the land in our area may, therefore, have been cleared, cultivated and then abandoned - possibly several times - before Ca came on the scene.
After the Romans: the land and the Church
Historians think that after the Romans left Britain in the early fifth century the population declined drastically, as a result partly of plague, partly of the fighting associated with invasion - first by Angles and
Saxons, and later by Vikings. So it’s possible that by Ca’s time much of our locality had reverted first to scrub, then to forest.
When the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 five manors were associated with Keyworth, which suggests a scattered settlement rather than a single village. However, two developments seem to have led to these dispersed farmsteads coming together to form the nucleus of the village we now know: cooperative farming of the land, and the establishment of the church.
Cooperative farming came to be known as the Open or Common Field system. It involved cultivating two, three or more large open fields, and clearing another area for common grazing. Each of the cultivated fields was divided into narrow strips, each perhaps six yards wide and up to 200 yards long. (The ridge-and-furrow surfaces of fields like Keyworth recreation ground are a legacy of this system.) Individual farmers worked numerous strips in each field, and when the strips were not under crops they were grazed, and thereby fertilized, by livestock. So now farmers couldn’t live in the midst of their own fields: a centrally located village gave them best access to their scattered holdings.
The earliest known presence of Christianity in our locality was Flawforth church. Today it no longer exists, but it probably dated from the early ninth century. It stood at the crossing of tracks from Plumtree to Ruddington, and from Keyworth to Edwalton. At some point, when sufficient settlers in these areas had been converted, today’s parishes were created and parish churches built. Wealthy landowners (or ‘patrons’) endowed the new churches with land (known as ‘glebe’ land) to provide the priest with income. This income was supplemented by ‘tithes’, a system whereby one tenth of your land’s produce had to be paid to the priest by every landowner in the parish.
Plumtree seems to have been the first parish created in this way, and Keyworth parish was probably carved out later from Plumtree. The earliest date on the list of Keyworth rectors is 1168, and we have other documentary evidence that there was a church here in the early twelfth century, but nothing of that building is still standing. The present church
dates mainly from the fourteenth century, though the font is said to be Norman and may have come from the older building.
Whenever it was that Keyworth got its first church, its patron probably built a house nearby for himself (or for an agent), as well as a rectory. These three buildings - church, manor house and rectory - together with the adjoining Square, formed the focal point of the parish, and probably were the original nucleus of the village. (Older Keyworth residents will remember the Manor Farmhouse which stood at the corner of The Square and Bunny Lane until 1970 - presumably on the site of the original patron’s house.)
A hill-top location: The Square and Main Street
Most villages in south Nottinghamshire are located in valleys. So why did those who founded our village choose a hill-top? The area immediately around Keyworth Square had the advantages of height and nearby sloping land which facilitated drainage, but at the same time it enjoyed a reliable water supply provided by a number of springs.
So Keyworth stands high above its surroundings, with the church tower higher still. It’s said that because of its prominence in the medieval landscape the church’s octagonal lantern tower was used as a beacon to relay important messages and to guide travellers at night. Had it not been so prominent, our church would probably not have had this almost unique feature.
Until 1800, every dwelling in Keyworth was either clustered around The Square or strung out along Main Street. Main Street’s earliest buildings would have been erected at the end nearest The Square, but as population grew, more and more dwellings and other farm buildings would have been added southward, along a spur of the South Nottinghamshire Wolds. They may have reached as far as the end of the spur, some 200 yards along Lings Lane by Motley Close, where the lane slopes down steeply into the broad valley of the Fairham Brook.
The population of medieval England reached its peak just before the Black Death in 1349, after which it fell catastrophically by between a third and a half. If Keyworth suffered a similar fate, many of its dwellings would subsequently have been abandoned, particularly those
furthest from the village centre. Perhaps that’s why Main Street now finishes at Wysall Lane corner rather than Motley Close.
Main Street and St Mary Magdalene Church in mid-1920s
Industry, business, and commuting
Although the population of the village slowly recovered from the effects of The Black Death, its layout remained virtually unchanged until the end of the eighteenth century: a cluster around The Square and Main Street. Throughout this period, Keyworth, like most villages, was largely dependent upon agriculture.
In the early nineteenth century, following the enclosure of the medieval open fields - which made many who were already poor even poorer - framework knitting grew rapidly, turning Keyworth into an industrial village. Keyworth’s population grew, while that of many non-industrial villages declined.
Much of the additional population was accommodated by infilling between farm buildings on Main Street (then called Town Street), but there was also some extension along Selby Lane and Elm Avenue (then called Old Lane). In the 1840s came the first overspill outside the original village cluster: on the west side of Nottingham Road below Rose Hill, and on Bunny Lane.
In 1880, Plumtree station was opened, presaging the latest phase in Keyworth’s development: transformation into a commuters’ dormitory. In fact, only a few used the train to commute; but after World War I a regular bus service came into Keyworth from Nottingham. The resulting
modest population growth is reflected in the interwar houses along Selby Lane, Nottingham Road (with Ashley Road), and Nicker Hill (including Highview Avenue and the Twelve Apostles on Mount Pleasant) - development in a ragged doughnut-shaped ribbon with a hole of farmland in the middle.
After World War II, with the rapid increase in car ownership, commuting grew. Nottinghamshire County Council designated a Green Belt around Nottingham within which substantial housing development would only be permitted in selected areas, one of which was the northern third of Keyworth parish. Gaps in the ribbon development around the doughnut were filled in, and the hole in the middle became the Wolds Drive estate. The Manor Road and Brookview Drive estates were also developed, much of the former for miners working in the Cotgrave colliery, opened in 1964. The population of Keyworth doubled from 1330 in 1951 to 2652 in 1961; and in the next decade it more than doubled again to 5754 in 1971.
By 1975, population growth came to an end, and even reversed as young families who’d moved into the village in the 1950s and 60s grew older and children left home. However, a boundary extension in 1984 brought all of Normanton south of the railway into Keyworth, thereby boosting the population by about a third. This boundary change also brought the British Geological Survey into Keyworth. But BGS would be part of another story: a story involving the demise of many businesses - especially more traditional local ones in the retail sector - and the advent of many alien enterprises. It’s a story which is still unfolding, and will continue to do so.