The small market town of East Retford in North Nottinghamshire is one of the oldest boroughs in England and is steeped in history and local folklore, from the notorious Highwayman, Dick Turpin to the colonists who settled in America.
Retford flourished when the Great North Road was rerouted through the town in 1766, the market square became a hive of activity, with its scores of public houses and inns, attracting a bustling passing trade. The arrival of the railway and the Chesterfield canal saw many changes, and by the 20th century, the population had significantly increased. The town continues to grow and flourish and has an eclectic choice of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, and a super museum.
This delightful and interesting trail around the town begins at the Town Hall in the elegant Georgian Market Square.
This magnificent building began construction in 1866 and is a fine example of French Romanesque Style architecture. It is said, that hidden beneath the foundations is a time capsule containing the Times newspaper and a collection of coins from the era. Situated close to the Town Hall is the Broad Stone, which is likely to be the upturned base of an old market cross, used as a vessel for disinfecting coins in vinegar during the plague, to prevent the spread of disease and infection. In the centre of the Market Square stands the War Memorial which remembers those who lost their lives during the First and Second world wars. The lantern on the top connotes a medieval custom of maintaining a ‘Lantern of the Dead’ to be lit every dusk until sunrise, as a tribute and memory to those departed.
Grove Street is one of the main routes through the town and is where you will find the Bassetlaw Museum and the Methodist Church. The museum, Amcott House, is most certainly worth a visit and has to be one of the region’s finest. It is an absolute gem, which is on the site of a 17th-century country house. You will find superb displays, a beautiful garden, and a glimpse into local life gone by. Across the road from the museum is the Methodist Church. This impressive building was built in 1880 for the Wesleyan congregations. It is worth a look inside as the layout is quite unusual, with circular pews leading down to the pulpit and an impressive balcony above.
Back along Grove Street is the entrance to Dyers Court and the Clark’s of Retford Mural, a Retford Heritage mural painted by local artists. You will also see the Little Theatre mural and a painted sweetshop window; it is certainly the artistic corner of town!
Beyond Dyers Court is Chapelgate, which leads onto Cannon Square and Churchgate. Here you will notice St. Swithun’s Church, which was founded in 1258, however in 1528 there was a great fire in Retford, causing massive loss and destruction, much of the original church was destroyed, so has undergone many alterations and restorations over the centuries.
Standing proudly by the church is one of Retford’s most famous landmarks, the Sebastopol Cannon. The cannon dates from 1832 and was seized from Sebastopol in 1855 and was brought to the town to commemorate the winning of the Crimean War. In Cannon Square, you will also find the Denman Library and the town Hub, if you have the time, both are worth a visit. The square was also the site of the old medieval market and most likely the site of the original Moot Hall or Town Hall.
Moving on through the town and heading towards Bridgegate you will see the White Hart, with its stunning cobbled courtyard. It held its first licence in 1730 and was a former coaching inn. There is a beautifully restored London to York road sign up on the corner of the pub wall, and you can almost feel the history as you walk by.
On to Rectory Road passing the Church, our route takes us to Hospital Road, which is one of the major roads in and out of the town. From here you will see Trinity Hospital and Kings Park. Trinity Hospital has been established for over 350 years and was formerly on the site of the West Retford Hall, bequeathed by Dr John Darrel in 1671, for Christian widowers, poor men, and bachelors of good repute. This present building was designed by Edward Blore, the architect and designer of Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Jewel in Retford’s crown’ has to be Kings Park. It was opened in 1930 to commemorate the reign of George V and the coronation of George VI. Once voted 5th, in Britain’s favourite parks it offers something for everyone, with flower beds and displays, which are beautiful all year, and the River Idle which meanders gently through, attracting an abundance of wildlife, flora, and fauna.
The Chesterfield Canal is a delight, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as Redwing, Swans, and the occasional Heron. The vegetation is rich and ever-changing. Enjoy the peaceful beauty of the Canal as it winds through the town, passing the locks and the waterfront houses.
From the canal, the route heads back into the town centre and along Carolgate, which was once part of the Old Great North Road, from Edinburgh to London. As you walk through the pedestrianised area, look out for the Cattle Market Mural on Spa Lane, further along the lane is the original site of the old livestock and farmer’s market.
Returning to the Market Square via Coronation Street, you will see the Majestic Theatre, a beautiful theatre that was built in 1925 and opened in October 1927, with its first stage production of the musical ‘No, No Nanette. It was also used as a cinema, providing popular weekly entertainment for many years, with cinema goers queuing up from Exchange Street to get the best seats in the house.
Finally passing the Old Police Station, which is now a hotel and bar, you will see the main gates of Kings Park, another great opportunity to explore this wonderful green space, before heading back to the start of the route, where you can explore and enjoy the rest of the town at your leisure, as this trail only just touches the surface of what the historical market town of East Retford has to offer.
- Start at the Town Hall in the Market Square. With your back to the Town Hall, head to the right crossing the market square towards Grove Street. Notice the War Memorial in the centre of the square, and the Broadstone by the Town Hall.
- Walk over to Grove Street following the pavement on the right, proceed along until you reach Bassetlaw Museum. Take this opportunity to have a look around this wonderful gem, it’s free to enter.
- After exploring the museum, cross over the road, you will see the Methodist Church. Return back along Grove Street until you reach Dyers Court on the right, an alleyway which leads through to a public carpark.
- Proceed through the archway, you will see wall art and the Clarkes of Retford mural as you enter the car park.
- Continue through the carpark heading towards Chapelgate and St. Swithun’s Church ahead. Cross over the road and walk towards the Sebastopol Cannon in Cannon Square. From the square you can visit the library and the town hub.
- Leaving Cannon Square, head towards the market place, you will see the White Hart pub ahead of you. Notice the old signage on the corner of the building, this is a great spot for a pit-stop, the cobbled courtyard is lovely!
- Continue along Bridgegate, crossing the bridge over the River Idle and heading on towards the West Retford church on your left. Here turn left onto Rectory Road and follow it around until you reach the main road.
- Turn left onto Hospital Road and continue along the footpath, look out for Trinity Hospital on the opposite side of the road. Proceed along passing Kings Park on your left and follow the path until you reach the bridge at the Chesterfield Canal.
- From here take the towpath by the canal and continue along, passing the locks (if you are lucky, you might just see a boat or two passing through). Proceed along until you reach the next set of locks in the town at Retford Marina.
- To the left you will see the Bay Tree Café, a super little spot for some alfresco dining. Here, cut through the car park and cross over onto Carolgate, which becomes pedestrianised. Walk up towards the town centre and then turn left onto Coronation Street.
- Proceed along following the road round, you will see the Majestic Theatre on your right. After the theatre turn left onto Exchange Street, the Old Police Station is on your left and Kings Park is opposite. (This is a good opportunity to explore the beautiful park).
- Turn right and head towards the carpark, you will see the rear of the Town Hall ahead. Continue towards it and back to the Market Square to explore the rest of the town at your leisure.
The basics Distance: 2.5 miles (4.02 km)
Gradient: Mostly flat but there are some steps.
Approx time: Allow half a day so you have plenty of time to explore.
Maps: OS Explorer 271 or Landranger 120
Path info: Town footpaths, pedestrianised areas, canal towpath.
Start point: Town Hall, Market Square
Refreshments: There are plenty of fabulous places to choose from in Retford.