Peverel Prison and yard before demolition, White Hart Inn - Lenton (The old Lenton Coffee House)
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The White Hart Inn has an interesting history and served the public in a variety of ways. Originally a farmhouse constructed during the reign of William and Mary, the buildings had been converted at some unknown date into a coffee house. Supplied with gardens, bowling greens, and various other means of diversion, it became a popular resort for many in Nottingham who could stroll out and sample its delights, via a perambulation through the Park. It remained a coffee house until 1804 when George Wombwell added substantial extensions to the buildings, concentrated on selling beers and spirits and renamed the premises 'The White Hart Inn'. It had also served as a local court and Prison. Known as Peverel Prison (sometimes spelt Peveril), this court was a relic from feudal times and was to remain in existence until the middle of the nineteenth century. The 'Honour', a form of manorial lordship, had supposedly been created by William the Conqueror, and granted to his son William Peverel. It subsequently passed through many different hands. Details of most of those entitled to be addressed as the Balliwick or High Steward of Peverel can be found in John T. Godfrey's 'History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton' (1884). To begin with the Court attached to the Honour was very important and the inhabitants of a large number of villages in both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire came under its jurisdiction. It dealt with all felonies, other than murder or manslaughter. Gradually though the Court diminished in importance and in its later years confined itself with relatively minor matters such as actions for debt or trespass. After being housed in a variety of locations in and around Nottingham, from 1790 the Court was convened in Lenton. The chosen site was the Lenton Coffee House. The Court was held each Tuesday in the White Hart. Usually the High Steward's deputy presided, assisted by a chief clerk or prothonotary. Twice a year the High Steward himself was supposed to attend at a general court called 'The Court of Trials'. All who were required to do jury service at this court had to live within the 'Honour'. A newspaper report of Court proceedings at the White Hart in 1848 stated that three of the jurymen came from Nottingham, four from Basford, two from Nuthall, two from Sneinton and one from Radford, and indication that in this instance at least the choice was made from men living locally. If the judge deemed a custodial sentence necessary, the unfortunate person was taken to the prison cells situated alongside the Inn. It is not clear whether these were specially constructed or converted for the purpose from an outbuilding. The prison was a small two-storey building, 48 feet long and 15 feet wide; each floor was divided into three individual cells. At some time after Mr. Blackner's visit, a small courtyard was created alongside the prison building and used by those confined there for recreation and exercise. As it was surrounded by a high brick wall visitors to the White Hart ought to have had little opportunity to glimpse the prisoners. We say 'ought' as it seems their confinement was not always very rigorous. The prisoners would often wait upon patrons of the Inn who sat in the gardens or played on the bowling green. Presumably the landlord felt it was such a waste to have them sitting in the prison idling their time away. It is said that the innkeeper was responsible solely for the custody of the prisoners, and food, clothing and heating had to be brought in by friends, relatives or well-wishers. It seems, however, that if the families were too poor to provide adequate maintenance the overseers of Lenton would step in and pay for it and then try to recover the money from the parish to which the prisoner belonged. By the mid 19th century there were plans to do away with such minor courts. In 1849 the Attorney General presented a bill in the House of Commons that would 'amend the Act for more easy recovery of small debts and demands in England, and to abolish certain inferior Courts of Record'. The final sitting of the Peverel Court took place the previous month, but no cases were heard. The Court was formally adjourned, never to sit again. Thereafter the prison buildings remained empty except for use as general storage space for the innkeeper. The Inn also has a history of serving as a meeting place for local social and political groups, such as the Amicable Society; one of the earliest Friendly Societies. It was also to this house, (according to an extraordinary and improbable story), that the 'executioners' of Thomas Paine, together with their friends, retired after hanging that unfortunate man on the arm of a tree in the village on 12 February, 1793. Paine, by his republican views and by his book, 'The Rights of Man,' had made himself very unpopular at that critical period when the controlling classes of the population were devoted to the prevention of a repetition of the scenes of the French Revolution in England. It is recorded in Godfrey's 'History of Lenton' that Paine was captured by an exasperated mob at Lenton and, after a mockery of a trial in the prison behind this inn, was condemned and executed. (As Paine was at that time in France, however, and died many years later in America, the trial and execution recorded doubtless had an effigy as the victim.) By the 20th century the inn gardens were just used for recreational purposes, and drawings show arbours, trees, tables and chairs. At the front of the inn on Gregory Street are the remains of the mounting blocks, used to assist visitors in getting back on there horses. In 1927 many outbuildings and much of the ground belonging to the inn were removed on the construction of Abbey Bridge. The gardens, bowling green and remaining outbuildings on the Abbey Bridge side disappeared in August 1958 to make way for the car park and petrol station. At some unknown time a skittle alley was erected in the prison courtyard and the whole area roofed over for the convenience of the players. More recently a staff toilet has been situated in one of the cells and in another, the large oil tank that holds the fuel for the pub's central heating system. The covered courtyard is no longer a skittle alley and is presently used for storage. Only bar staff and the occasional group of visitors interested in the Inn's history venture into this rear portion of the White Hart. But now Hardys and Hansons, the Kimberley brewery, have major plans for its conversion into a lounge bar. Information extracted from: 'The Lenton listener' May 1980, 'Links with old Nottingham' 1928, and the excellent 'Lenton Times' web site.