Retford is located eight miles east of the town of Worksop, 16 miles south-east of Doncaster, 31 miles from Nottingham, 23 miles west of Lincoln and 129 miles north of London. It nestles peacefully in the valley of the River Idle and the heritage-rich Chesterfield Canal passes through it’s centre.
The town lies seven miles west of the Lincolnshire border and falls within the district council of Bassetlaw. It offers an excellent work and residential base due to excellent links with a number of town and cities.
It’s a charming market town that showcases rich heritage in its buildings and a warm and lively market square that remains central to its community with weekly markets still very much a part of its way of life.
Retford is also surrounded by some rather quaint villages, including Babworth, with it’s historical church and Scrooby, both famous for their links to the Mayflower Pilgrims who embarked from here for their journey to America.
Walking is certainly the best way to enjoy Retford – from a leisurely stroll along The Chesterfield Canal to a wander around Kings Park. Or perhaps a wander through Retford itself looking at the Georgian buildings scattered around the town. You can easily reach the local nature reserves that I have mentioned further down in the Green Spaces part of this feature and there are plenty of opportunities to cycle around safely, perfect for family days out. There is a dedicated heritage trail and clear references to the Pilgrim’s journey at the Pilgrim Museum whilst you can find out more about Retford’s diverse and interesting history in the town centre’s Bassetlaw’s museum.
For the little ones, Sundown Adventure Land, which is not too far from Retford is worth a drive out and great for all the family. Captain Jacks is in Retford itself and is another great way to entertain kids with its popular soft play area.
The Enigma escape rooms bring some challenging fun for older kids and parents and offers something different to enjoy.
For creatives, Retford Arts Hub offers activities and fun learning all year round and is a great social way to explore new crafts and meet people. I’ve included their latest events and activities further down in this feature.
If you are walking around the town, keep an eye out for the War Memorial which is looked after by the community and a great place to reflect, and a Crimean War landmark – the Sebastopol Cannon in Cannon Square near St. Swithun’s Church.
A number of car parks (both pay and display and free) are conveniently distributed throughout the town.
Bag a Property
The average house price for a three-bedroom detached with garage has over the past year typically set at around the £230,900 mark, but Retford has a really diverse range of properties available to suit all housing needs, from larger detached properties averaging over £300,000, terraced houses often around the £150,000 mark and flats from just £92,000.
It is particularly popular with long distance commuters who see merit in value for money and enhanced quality of life and with it easily accessible to cities via rail or road.
There are a number of excellent estate and lettings agents who serve the town including William H Brown, Newton Fallowell, Hunters, Alexander Jacob, Five Sta, Brown & Co, amongst others.
I’m struggling here to pick a favourite, but I’d recommend The Duke William for seriously good portions, The Herbalist for beautifully served dishes, The Ship Inn for value for money, and the Sun Inn for the family. The Brew Shed is also popular on Sundays with good reason! I can also recommend the Gate Inn and the Hop Pole is always a delight both for socialising and for delicious food. Just up the road Ye Olde Bell ticks all the boxes with their great menu and Sunday lunches.
Cafe & Cocktails
Retford has some great established and new places to enjoy a varied and fun nightlife scene and has just anything that takes your fancy in the drinks stakes, particularly independent coffee houses and tearooms.
If It’s coffee and/or cakes you are after then head to Molly Rockers (you have to try their Biscoff white hot chocolate and melt in the middle cookie pies!), the Glasshouse for not only the best tasting (and locally sourced) coffee around, but also super friendly staff and a naturally sunny space that you could relax in for hours. Ten Green Bottles, Town Best Café and Harry’s Coffee House are also very popular, and the rather wonderful Imperial Tea Room – there is a reason this place gets so busy! The Drawing Room offers a more sophisticated venue, particularly great for work socialising, and the Bay Tree is another hotspot for locals.
There are some great places for drinks and in particular cocktails, and I go back to Glasshouse here as they really impressed with their colourful drinks menu accompanied by their tasty sharer boards. The Herbalist is another favourite with a great atmosphere and a decent choice of cocktails and alcoholic drinks. I also quite liked the Old Police station for a social meet up and a few drinks as it was very relaxed in there. For some lovely ales and fantastic food visit the Brew Shed. If you want some entertainment with your drinks the Vine Inn also has a Karaoke night.
The Apron just out of town in Gamston is a firm favourite with many too for freshly cooked food and a great cup of coffee. For certain there are too many to choose from and this list is by no means complete – so I’d say go and have a wander yourself and discover your own new favourites.
Retford is still very much a market town that has retained the charm of its thriving market on Thursdays and Saturdays, as well as an antique market on Fridays and a Farmers Market once a month in its Market Square. The town is excellently served by a number of well-known stores and boasts an abundance of independent shops that offer diversity and some interesting and unique gifts. I found it to be a really pleasant shopping experience.
Those with a sweet tooth will love the Chocolate Kitchen – it’s a terrific family run chocolate shop and I had to make a hasty retreat to protect the waistline! You can always pick up some lovely cakes and a coffee on Bridgegate from Nicole Olivia Cakes, not to be missed.
Good Health Boutique is a super health shop and a good source for clean living products.
Children will love Wonderland Bookshop – a quirky book shop for kids that has so many lovely books on offer.
There are plenty of smaller boutique shops about and also a few for more unusual finds. Mama Guisi’s Italian is also spotted along here, an authentic Italian experience for food and shopping and a real gem.
Longer established businesses include Bacons, a butcher that has become part of the fabric of the town since 1938, and Stanley Hunt Jewellers and Bridgegate Jewellers bringing some sparkle.
In the Market Square there’s Limited 2 Art, a lovely art gallery I recommend and also the Pottery On The Square if you’re looking to explore your creativity.
For clothes, I would say head to Fifth Avenue, Platinum and Escape the Ordinary but there are quite a few other lovely stores in and around the town.
And if it’s some pampering you are after then the rather lovely Butterflies Beauty Retreat is great for relaxation and feeling special. You can travel a little out of town to Ye Olde Bell Spa, for a luxurious day or stay too. Great hairdressers include Boons and Bohème, but there are quite a few others to choose from in Retford.
There’s certainly no shortage of green areas and wonderful walking routes in and around the town.
I’ve mentioned the Chesterfield Canal, which forms the backdrop for some lovely walking routes and I quite enjoyed a stroll along there. Boat trips occasionally take place too during warmer weather so worth keeping an eye out for these for a lovely day out.
The renowned Kings Park is the place for leisurely family time, a great location for picnics and just a wonderful outdoor space. Little surprise that it is a Green Flag award-winning park where the River Idle meanders through with rose gardens, community garden area, a large splash park and performance area for concerts and festivals in the summer. Pack your hampers!
Retford is also home to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve - a beautiful 375-hectare network of lakes, wetland, grassland and scrub. It is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including the newly introduced beavers and is recognised as one of the richest birding sites in the region. Its visitor centre is a great place to socialise and learn more about the local habitat, often hosting events and workshops.
Also, worth a visit is Danehill Lakes with its range of habitats, including open water, damp willow woodland, drier woodland and grassland. Like Idle Valley it is managed by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
There are lots of places to wander around in the town and plenty for all the family to enjoy as recreation.
Past In The Present
Retford is one of the oldest boroughs in England, the first documentary evidence of Retford was found in the Domesday Survey of 1086. King Henry I established the borough of East Retford in 1105 and it was granted a Royal Charter by Henry III in 1246 allowing a market to be held each Thursday. This was extended by Edward I in 1275 to hold a Saturday market, and both traditions continue today.
The origins of the town's name are unknown and have been subject to much debate, but consensus seems to conclude that it gets its name from an ancient ford crossing the River Idle. There is considerable variation in how its name has been spelt historically, although in early usage it is usually styled as Redeforde or Redforde.
There is evidence of human activity in the area stretching back to the Mesolithic period, with evidence of a Mesolithic flint tool found by archaeologists.
Placename evidence in Retford does suggest Viking settlement. Many of the streets in the centre of town are -gates, deriving from the Old Norse gata, which means street. For example, there are streets named Moorgate, Bridgegate, Chapelgate, Churchgate and Carolgate.
Findings also point to activity during the Bronze Age after a spearhead was found. Roman-era artefacts are rare in the town but the remains of a group of properties were found in the 20s in Babworth in the 80s and some Roman artefacts and pottery fragments have been found in Tiln so researchers are inclined to say that the area may have been populated by sub-Romano-British culture.
Fast forward to the 1500s and a major fire in 1528 destroyed over three quarters of the area and rebuilding only got underway in 1540. Another fire struck in 1585 and again in 1631. The conflagrations must have had a profound effect on both the economic development of the town and also the religious faith of its inhabitants. The same period saw several outbreaks of plague: an outbreak in 1558 was particularly severe with around 300 deaths in East Retford and West Retford suffered the loss of over half its population.
We then move to 1620 for other notable points in its history we discover that it played a remarkable part in the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, who fled to America in 1620 after being persecuted for their religious beliefs. It is regarded as the centre of Nonconformism due to the origins with Pilgrims, Baptists and Wesleys.
Today, this rich heritage is still very much accessible through the Mayflower Trail, a circular walking route starting at Babworth and in the excellent information available in the Mayflower Pilgrims Visitor Centre in the heart of Retford.
As we move closer to the present, we see that The Chesterfield Canal, which was opened in 1777 has also played an important role in the town’s history. It is one of the last of the canals to be designed by James Brindley, is 46 miles long and runs from the River Trent at West Stockwith in Nottinghamshire, passing through South Yorkshire and on to the centre of Chesterfield in Derbyshire. It is in fact one of the earliest to be built during the 18th century canal age and was used to export coal, limestone, and lead from Derbyshire and iron from Chesterfield along with numerous supplies of corn, timber and general groceries. Today it remains an important part of the canal network and a beautiful place to walk alongside.
The coming of the railways was another significant period in Retford’s history. They transformed the town from a small rural community into a thriving partly industrialised small town with an important railway junction. The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway arrived in 1849 and established a station in Thrumpton.
Unlike Newark and Southwell no castle or major church is associated with Retford, but it has been argued that its very ordinariness makes it ‘stand as a template for English small-town life’.
However, notable religious buildings in the town include St Swithun’s, a Grade II* listed church in that is dedicated to St Swithun and which was founded in 1258. The church is located in the centre of town between Churchgate and Chapelgate - it is well worth a visit to admire its architecture and design.
Retford also features today some fine Georgian buildings, which draw attention to its prominence during this time in market trading and commerce and as a communications hub. It also features two theatres – the Little Theatre on Wharf Road and the Majestic on Coronation Street. The Bassetlaw Museum, which today presents a wealth a local exhibit, is a fine example of Georgian architecture.
Another notable sight, the present Town Hall on the south of the Square was started in June 1866 and opened in January 1868, built on the site of an 18th century townhouse. This was one of a group of new civic buildings. It is a Grade II listed building. Substantial alterations took place in 1978 when the bar and cloakroom areas were created from part of the Old Bank building next door, purchased in 1926 for council use. Maintenance and restoration to the front stonework and other areas are periodic necessities; the latest works were in 2012.
Art deco fans will admire the great Masonic Hall in the town, once a cinema it now houses the local Mason group and is a true wonder to behold.
Rebecca Cross Is the co-owner of the Glasshouse Retford, a lively social and foodie hub. Together, with Jayne and Olivia Ralton, Rebecca works closely with the local business community to enhance the town...
Best thing about living and working in Retford?
There’s a great sense of community amongst business owners and traders, and it’s a very friendly place where people help one another.
As we all recover from the lock downs and look to the future, we have seen a renewed sense of togetherness from everyone and this is encouraging not only existing businesses to expand and try new things but also, we seeing new businesses emerging.
We have a great independent store atmosphere that should be celebrated and as a fairly new business owner (I’ve had the Glasshouse for three years now) I have along with my co-owners really benefitted from and embraced the business community.
Retford is blessed with eateries and pubs and bars so we do have a thriving nightlife that perhaps if you are not from Retford you may not know. In fact, there are so many new places emerging scattered all. Around the town that we have started to see how you could walk a loop around the Retford to enjoy them all – our own take on a pub crawl!
Describe Retford's USP
I can. Whole-heartedly say that few places equal the friendliness of the people here. It’s warm, welcoming and people help one another so there’s a great sense of community. Also, it is surrounded by amazing countryside yet is incredibly accessible, so it really is a great place to live and/or work.