Friday, 9 March 2012

Article - Tragic tale of forbidden love from city history (Broxtowe)

THEIRS was a forbidden love. He was Captain Thornhalgh, a Roundhead officer and Puritan; she was Agnes Willoughby, daughter of a leading Royalist and Roman Catholic.

But when the storm of passion broke around the ill-matched couple, there was more chance of blotting out the sun than denying their feelings.
Demolished in 1938:    Romantic painting of Broxtowe Hall, which made way for a council estate.
Thornhalgh, a deeply religious man, was the Civil War officer commanding Broxtowe Hall fortress during the Civil War.

Often, he would take his Bible and walk in the woods between Broxtowe and the nearby village of Bilborough, seeking solitude and divine guidance.

But on one fateful day his peace was shattered by the desperate screams of a woman.

Agnes Willoughby was on her way home to Aspley Hall when she was attacked by three vagabonds.

Thrown to the ground, she cried out for help – and Captain Thornhalgh raced to her rescue.

He drew his pistol and shot one of the thugs. The others took to their heels.

Rather than give chase the gallant officer tended to the terrified young woman.

He was immediately struck by her natural beauty and she by his handsome, strong features.

Thornhalgh made sure Agnes got home safely and returned to his duties, but he couldn't get her out of his mind.

He called again and, despite their obvious differences, their love blossomed.
Even Agnes' parents accepted the "enemy" soldier into their home.

But the couple were troubled by their deep sense of religion – could Agnes turn her back on her life to become a "heretical Protestant"?

Could Captain Thornhalgh reject his profound faith for the love of his life?
Fate would make the decision.

In November 1645, Captain Thornhalgh received orders from Colonel Hutchinson, Parliamentary governor of Nottingham Castle.

He was to muster his troops and join a force preparing to attack Royalist-held Shelford Manor.
Before he galloped off to war, Captain Thornhalgh sent a tender message to Agnes, asking her to pray for him.

She received it with a deep sense of foreboding, retired to her bedroom and beseeched the Lord to spare her lover.

But as the Roundheads charged a fortified position at Shelford, Thornhalgh was one of the first to fall, shot through the chest by a musket ball.

The tragic news eventually filtered back to Aspley Hall.

Agnes was heartbroken and, in her grief, she vowed to preserve his memory by living "a life of holy virginhood".

She threw aside her fine clothes, turned away from the high society of her family, and spent the next 60 years of her life devoted to prayer, fasting and charity.

Broxtowe Hall was purchased in the early 16th century by Sir Henry Willoughby.

In about 1665, it was bought by William Cavendish, lst Earl of Newcastle, for Sir Francis Top and his wife Elizabeth.

Lord Middleton acquired the estate in 1765 and subsequently leased it to a number of tenants. For generations, Broxtowe Hall, with its delightful labyrinth of lanes and footpaths, and its beautiful woods, famous in late spring for their gorgeous blaze of bluebells amid the bracken, was a favourite haunt for walkers.

The last person to live at Broxtowe Hall was timber merchant Charles H V Bramley, who resided there until the 1920s.

The property was compulsorily purchased by Nottingham Corporation in 1935.

It was demolished in 1938 to enable the new Bilborough council estate to be built.

Shelford Manor, owned by Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, was taken by Hutchinson's forces after a three-day battle.

Many defenders were massacred, including Stanhope's son, with 140 taken prisoner. Shelford House was plundered for valuables and burnt to the ground.

It was rebuilt after the civil war by another son of Philip Stanhope, 1st Earl of Chesterfield.

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