The remains of a large, opulent Roman villa were excavated beneath the minster and its churchyard in 1959. Part of a mural from the excavation is displayed in the minster. The villa is one of three examples of its type found in the territories of the Corieltauvi (or Coritani) tribes – along with Scrampton in Lincolnshire and Norfolk Street inLeicestershire. A section of the Fosse Way runs on the opposite bank of the River Trent with evidence of a Roman settlement at Ad Pontem (“to the bridge” or “at the bridge”), northwest of the village of East Stoke. There is no specific evidence of a road link between Ad Pontem and Southwell. Other evidence of a Roman settlement includes the use of Roman bricks in the prebendary buildings around the minster, remains of a fosse or ditch was discovered at BurgageHill in the 19th century and it is speculated there may be Roman remains beneath the Church Street site of the recently vacated Minster School.
The Venerable Bede records the baptism of numerous converts in the “flood of the Trent” near Tiovulginacester byPaulinus in the presence of Edwin of Northumbria whom he had converted to Christianity in 627. There is no agreement on the exact location of Tiovulginacester, but Paulinus certainly visited the locale, and possiblly founded the first church in Southwell.
The remains of Eadburh, Abbess of Repton, and daughter of Ealdwulf of East Anglia were buried in Southwell’s Saxon church. Eadburh was appointed abbess under the patronage of King Wulfhere of Mercia. She appears in the Life of Guthlac and is believed to have died around 700 AD. Her remains were buried or translated to Southwell Minster, where her relics were revered in the Middle Ages. The only reference is a Pilgrims guide to Shrines and burial places of the Saints of England supposedly was written in 1000 and records “There resteth St. Eadburh in the Minster of Southwell near the water called the Trent”.
Eadwy of England gifted land in Southwell to Oskytel the Archbishop of York, in 956. Eadwy’s charter is the first dated reference to Southwell. Evidence of a tessellatedfloor and the 11th-century tympanum over a doorway in the north transept are evidence of the construction of the minster after this time. The Domesday Book of 1086 has much detail of an Archbishop’s manor in Southwell.
A custom known as the “Gate to Southwell” originated after 1109 when the Archbishop of York, Thomas I wrote to every parish in Nottinghamshire asking for contributions to the construction of a new mother church. Annually at Whitsuntide the contributions known as the “Southwell Pence” were taken to the minster in a procession that set off from Nottingham headed by the mayor followed by clergy and lay people making a pilgrimage to Southwell’s Whitsun Fair. The Southwell Pence was paid at the north porch of the minster to the Chapter Clerk. The name of this custom – the Southwell Gate – derives from the Scandinavian word “gata” meaning street or way to. In its original form it persisted well into the 16th century. In 1981 Dolphin Morrismen revived the tradition.
Geoffrey Plantagenet was ordained as a priest at Southwell in 1189. On 4 April 1194, Richard I and the King of Scots, William I, was in Southwell, having spent Palm Sunday in Clipstone. King John visited Southwell between 1207 and 1213, ostensibly for the hunting in Sherwood Forest, but also en route to an expedition to Wales in 1212.
From 1300 to 1800
The Saracen’s Head was built in 1463 on land gifted in 1396 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Arundel, to John and Margaret Fysher. When built, the first floor overhung the roadway in the vernacular of the time.
In 1603, James VI of Scotland passed through Southwell on his way to London to be crowned King James I.
During the English Civil War, King Charles I spent his last night as a free man in May 1646 in the Saracen’s Head (then the King’s Head), before surrendering to theScottish Army stationed at nearby Kelham. The fabric of the town, the minster and Archbishop’s Palace suffered at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, as theysequestered the palace as stabling for their horses, broke down monuments, and ransacked the graves for lead and other valuables. In 1793, iron rings fastened to the walls to secure the horses were still in situ. The end of the civil war left the Archbishop’s Palace in ruins apart from its Great Hall. It is reputed that Cromwell also stayed in the King’s Head.
In 1656, a Bridewell was built on the Burgage. It was enlarged in 1787 when it became a prison for the county. There is evidence that a house of correction was built in in 1611, so the Bridewell may itself have been an enlargement. Mary Ann Brailsford was baptized at Southwell in May 1791, and Matthew Bramley in 1796 in Balderton.