Bawtry is located in the metropolitan borough of Doncaster on the border with Nottinghamshire, and is situated between Bircotes and Misson at the conjunction of the A614, A631 and A638 roads. The present A638 was for centuries the Great North Road, and in the 20th century the town was a notorious bottleneck, until it was bypassed in 1965. The county boundary with Nottinghamshire runs just to the south of the town and for this reason the southernmost house on the Great North Road is named ‘Number One Yorkshire’.
The origin of the name “Bawtry” is not known for certain. However it is thought to be composed of the Old English words ball (“ball”) and trēow (“tree”), thus meaning “(place at) the ball-shaped tree”. Bawtry was not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but was recorded as Baltry in 1199 and as Bautre on a 1677 map.
Bawtry was originally a Roman settlement located on Ermine Street between Doncaster and Lincoln. In 616 AD, the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelfrith met his end in battle against Raedwald King of East Anglia, at Bawtry on the River Idle. The site lies close to the present borders of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire; in Aethelfrith’s time this area lay on the southern reaches of Northumbria, a dangerous marshy region close to the border with Lindsey and easily accessible from the East Anglian kingdom.
A small settlement developed around a wharf in the Viking era, and evidence suggests that St Nicholas’ Church was first erected in this period. While the village originally lay in Nottinghamshire, boundary changes before the Norman Conquest moved it just inside the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Around 1200, a new town was developed adjacent to the older village, by either John de Busli or Robert de Vipont. In 1213, de Vipont received a royal charter declaring an annual four-day fair at Pentecost, and a market was first recorded in 1247. The town grew as a river port, and also as a local commercial centre and a stopping point between Doncaster and Retford. By the mid-14th century, the port was exporting wool and other items overseas, and the Hospital of St Mary Magdalene was founded, which survived until the 18th century.
Trade declined, and by the 1540s, John Leland recorded it as being “very bare and pore”, but it grew again in the Elizabethan period around the export of millstones.
Bawtry has a school called Bawtry Mayflower School named after the ship Mayflower, which took William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims, to the Americas, settling the first Plymouth Colony. Bradford lived at Austerfield, close to Bawtry. In 2020 the United Kingdom, United States of America and Holland will commemorate and celebrate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.
The White Hart on Swan Street is the oldest surviving pub in Bawtry dating back to 1689 – the older Swan Inn (also on Swan Street) is still intact, though converted to other uses.
South Parade is a terrace of Georgian houses, and the Market Hill and High Street contain other buildings of that period, interspersed with more recent developments.
The Courtyard in Bawtry is a modern development hosting a variety of shops and businesses. The entire development was designed by Graham Smith Design, who went on to win the “Green Apple Awards 2005” in recognition of the efforts to preserve and enhance the heritage of Bawtry.
Bawtry Hall, a Grade II listed former country house, sits within seven acres (three hectares) of formal and informal gardens. The building is a large redbrick house in two storey’s with attics which was erected around 1785 by Pemberton Milnes, a prosperous wool-merchant from Wakefield, Yorkshire. It descended in the Milnes family for several generations before being sold to Major George Peake, a well-known amateur pilot, in 1905.
During the Second World War the RAF took it over and it became an RAF command centre. RAF Bawtry did not have its own airfield but instead took advantage of RAF Bircotes, which was located literally next-door. Here the station based a number of communications aircraft. Bawtry Hall served the Royal Air Force from 1941–1984; first as HQ for No. 1 Group, Bomber Command during and after the Second World War, then as Strike Command HQ up to and including the later stages of the Cold War. The famous bombing of the airfield at Port Stanley by Vulcan bombers from RAF Waddington during the Falklands War was co-ordinated from the operations room at Bawtry Hall. RAF Bawtry became the centre of the RAF Meteorological Service for many years and ceased military operations in 1986. In June 1987 Bawtry Hall was purchased by The Welbeck Estate Group.During the Miners’ Strike in the mid-1980s, up to 17,000 Police were based at RAF Bawtry to provide a central Operations and co-ordination point on the South Yorkshire / Nottinghamshire border. Latterly the Hall was used by Action Partners Corporation as a conference and training venue until it was sold in 2014 to a private investor who has lots of exciting plans for both the building and its superb grounds and wants it to become an integral part of the Bawtry society.