old Great North Road ran along the eastern edge of the county
through the towns of Newark, Tuxford and East Retford. It
is a road that has been travelled by many colourful characters...
David Haslam, Nottinghamshire
Ghosts and Legends
road has now been bypassed by the A1.
it was the main route from London to York and beyond.
the old coaching inns still survive from those days, like
pearls on a string.
constant ebb and flow of human life, the old Great North Road
has ghosts and legends all of its own.
Wealthy travellers on the road proved a magnet for footpads
and highwaymen and many were relieved of their valuables with
the cry "Your money or your life!"
known Nottinghamshire highwayman was John " Swift Nick
" Nevison (1639-1684), so called, it is said, by King Charles
Nick, colour illustration
suggest it was Nevison, and not Turpin, who made the famous
London to York ride to establish an alibi.
gang of six outlaws met at the Talbot Inn at Newark and robbed
travellers along the Great North Road as far north as York
and as far south as Huntindon.
were betrayed in 1676 by one Elizabeth Burton after she was
arrested for stealing.
was transported to Tangiers, but returned to England in 1681
and once more took to highway robbery.
King Charles offered a reward for his recapture, Nevison remained
at large for 4 years.
Nick, black and white illustration
the trial judge showed no mercy - Nevison was sentenced to
hang at Tyburn, near London.
morning of March 15th, 1685 Nevison mounted the scaffold.
He gave a speech to the huge crowd that had gathered in which
he asked for forgiveness for his crimes and warned others
not to follow in his path.
said his piece, the hangman despatched "Swift Nick".
was buried at St. Mary Church, York, in an unmarked grave.
The menace on the roof:
tale told in coaching days has been updated and is still told
Originally the tale went like this...
A coach was
travelling along the Great North Road with a young married couple
aboard. Midway between towns the coach lost a wheel, and the
coachmen decided to walk on to the next stop to summon help.
inside the coach were quite happy at first to be left alone.
Darkness began to fall and the night grew cold.
at the long delay, and fearing his new wife would get a chill,
the husband decided to walk a little way up the road himself
and watch for the coachmen whilst there was still light to
sat alone, keeping warm as best she could. After some time
she became anxious for her husband's return, but feared the
inky darkness outside.
soon reassured when she heard voices approaching. Her relief
turned to alarm when she heard shouts and the sounds of running
jumped up on the roof of the coach and it began to sway alarmingly,
then loud thumps above threatened to bring the roof down upon
to the window she was dazzled by the light of many lamps,
and she shaded her eyes with her hand. Then a voice, from
what seemed a crowd, called to her,
Miss! You must open the door slowly and walk towards the light.
On no account look behind you!"
she opened the door and on unsteady legs walked towards the
silent lamp-bearers. When almost to them, she turned to look
back at the coach.
on the roof, caught in the lamp light, crouched a man. His
features were horribly twisted with rage and his eyes were
the wild red unseeing eyes of a raving lunatic.
watched, the snapped chains from the manacles at his wrists
began to flayed about him, as he banged her husband's severed
head on the roof of the coach.
modern version the coach has become a car that has run out
of petrol, but the story remains the same.
In bygone days Nottinghamshire folk using the road would like
to get home before dark as they might encounter the "Owd
Lad", the Devil himself in his black coach and four.
carrier is said have seen it drive past him, "all on
fire like brimstone, pulled by four skeleton horses".
legend has it that on moonlit nights a coach and six, driven
by a headless coachman, conveying a headless richly dressed
nobleman, is seen rattling down the road at a furious pace.
horses and headless phantoms then vanish as suddenly as they