From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 31
November - December 1984
John Thomas Godfrey
John Thomas Godfrey
Those interested in the history of Lenton owe a great debt of gratitude to John Thomas Godfrey. In 1880 he began to gather material on Lenton Priory for a talk to a newly formed society in Nottingham. Before he could complete his self appointed task, the society had become defunct, but he decided to continue with his studies and eventually in 1884 produced The History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton. It is still the most impressive work on Lenton and, one hundred years after its publication, it seems timely to recall both the book and its author.
There may be some who have read Godfrey's book from cover to cover, but they are probably few in number, especially as a dense third of the book is devoted to the history of the Priory. Most readers must prefer to use it as a reference work, dipping into it for information on topics such as local churches, industries, enclosure acts etc. While most of the material for the work must have come from written records, his own family may have been able to provide some useful information. His father, Thomas Godfrey, who lived on Gregory Street, was described in White's Directory for 1864, as the assessor and collector of taxes for Lenton and Radford, the clerk to the Board of Highways in Lenton, as well as house and estate agent for County Fire and for the County Friendly Society. His grandfather, John Godfrey, had been the landlord of the White Hart Inn, keeper of the Peverel Gaol, an overseer of both the highways and of the poor laws. Grandfather wasn't a ready source of material as he had died in 1860, when the author was only two, but his wife Jane Godfrey who survived until 1883, may have been able to provide recollections for her young grandson.
The name of Godfrey's father can still be seen at
the edge of the Lenton parish. By 1869 Thomas
Godfrey had also become an assistant overseer to
the adjoining parish of Standard Hill. This position
of responsibility is there for all to see on the cast
iron boundary markers placed on the Ropewalk
and beside Castle Lock.
Educated at the Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School in York, John T. Godfrey developed a strong interest in matters historical. He was already a fellow of the Royal Historical Society at the time of his first publication, a pamphlet on the Peverel Court, which appeared in 1882 when he was twenty four. Apart from his book on Lenton, the list of publications includes several major works on Nottinghamshire churches and a number of pamphlets on various aspects of the County's history.
He was supported in his efforts by the sponsorship of James Ward, a local collector of antiquities, who paid the publishing costs of some of these works. Newspaper obituaries mention that Godfrey spent 'some portion of his life' in the Nottingham estate office of the Duke of Newcastle and for a period during Cecil Beryl's management of the Nottingham Theatre Royal he was its secretary and acting manager. For a number of years he was also editor of the Nottingham Red Books, which were almanacs and registers of local information including a chronicle of the principle events occurring in Nottingham in the previous years.
Godfrey died at the comparatively early age of fifty three. The obituaries recalled that in later years he largely confined his efforts to genealogical investigations. Whether this merely reflected a change of interests or the need to generate a little income is not clear. His last place of residence was given as 19 Willowtree Lane, Nottingham which was just off Castle Road, but most of his adult life, after leaving the parental home in Old Lenton, appears to have been spent in Radcliffe on Trent. Although both his parents and grandparents had been buried in the graveyard of Holy Trinity, Godfrey's own resting place was elsewhere and he was interred in the General Cemetery off Canning Circus.
Godfrey's publications can still be examined in the Local Studies collection at Angel Row. Both there and at the Lenton Boulevard Branch Library, copies of his History of Lenton are available for loan. The work occasionally turns up on the shelves of antiquarian bookshops. Those who might relish the opportunity of owning a copy will have to be prepared to part with about £40, as the book is quite a rarity; the print run only consisted of two hundred and fifty copies, and how many of those are still in existence is anyone's guess.
Click here to access/return to the Nottingham Daily Express's original review of Godfrey's 'History of Lenton'