Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

Buckland’s 1896 Book - The History of Woodborough etc.

Buckland ~ CHAPTER V 


William the Conqueror did not interfere at all with the property of the Church, but each Norman who received a grant of lands belonging to the Saxon Thanes had to continue the payments of tithe or rent for which those lands were liable to the Church. Hence the lands of Southwell Minster and the Clerk and Prebend of Woodborough remained secure.

But the Norman Conquest introduced Norman architecture. Bishops and laymen rivaled each other in the magnificence of the Cathedrals and Churches which they built. To their generosity, patience, and devotion, we owe such buildings as Lincoln Cathedral, Southwell Minster, and Woodborough Church. The skill of their architects and masons has never been surpassed. There was no hurry or stint with them. Where we run up a cheap Church in a couple of years, they lavished their wealth and worked for generations. Take Southwell Minster and consider the vast sums it must have cost and the time spent in building it, and then compare it with the most costly Church of Modern times. There is no comparison, except to the disadvantage of the modern building.

The Nave of Southwell Minster was commenced by Thomas of Beverley, Archbishop of York, in 1108, as is shown by a letter in the Liber Albus at Southwell. This letter is addressed to "all his Parishioners of Nottinghamshire" and says, "We pray you, dearest sons, that in remission of your sins ye will give help from the blessing of your alms to build the Church of S. Mary of Suwell. And whosoever there, even in the least degree gives assistance, shall be to the end of this age a partaker of all the prayers and blessings which shall be done in it and in all our churches. And that you may more willingly do this we release to you that ye need, not visit every year the Church of York, as all our Parishioners do, but the Church of S. Mary of Suwell, and have there the same pardon that ye have at York." Thus the Minster was made the Cathedral of Nottinghamshire. But neither Thomas of Beverley, nor the architect, nor the masons who began lived to see the work completed. For nearly 100 years the people of Notts. went to the Minster in procession at Pentecost and poured in their offerings until the Nave stood complete in all its grandeur with rows of round and massive pillars rising to rounded Arch, Triforium and Clerestory.

Archbishop Walter, in 1235, called for contributions for the building of the Choir. But the style of architecture had changed from Norman to early English; the round arch had given way to the pointed, and the plain round pillar had been superseded by pillars with clustered pilasters of stone or Purbeck marble. We are struck with a sense of awe as we stand amid the massive grandeur of the Nave, but awe changes to admiration as we examine the beauty of the early English Church with its clustered pillars, graceful sweeping arches and pointed windows.

But the gem of Southwell is the Chapter House, built in 1293 in the Decorated Style, by Archbishop John de Romaine, who ordered that "the houses of alien canons threatening ruin shall be duly repaired within a year, to which repair we will and command that they are to be compelled by you, under heavy penalty to be assessed by you, the Chapter, according to the defects; which is to be applied to the fabric of the new Chapter House." Leach says of it, "Nothing can surpass the elegance of the windows or the rich yet chaste beauty of the carvings of the capitals of the columns of the stalls and the arcadings on the walls and elsewhere in imitation of natural foliage. But the crowning glory is the entrance arch through which the chapter house itself is seen and approached. It is simply lovely. Nothing can hope to rival the splendid symmetry of its proportions and the exquisite lightness and grace of its poise. It is the most perfect work of the most perfect style of Gothic Architecture."

Meanwhile what were the Archbishop of York and the Prebends of Southwell doing for the Prebendal Churches? As I have already shown, Woodborough probably had a Saxon, or more exactly an Anglo-Danish Church before the Conquest which was pulled down to make room for a more substantial Norman Church, which in turn made way for the present decorated building. Of this Norman Church there are three relics; the foundations, the Norman door and the font. The foundations of the North and South wall were discovered during the restoration of 1892; they run in lines exactly under the pillars of the present Nave, and show that the Norman Church was a small building standing on the site of the present Nave. The Norman door is evidently an insertion in the North wall, which is of a much later date, and was probably the West door of the Norman Church; it has a triple round arch relieved by a cord-like roll and three pillars. Previous to the restoration of 1892 the door was blocked up with brickwork, the bases of the pillars were entirely perished, there was no setting and the whole was in danger of falling out. The door was therefore taken out and reset the Worst parts were recarved on the lines of the old, and a setting was provided after careful study of similar doors at Peterborough and Southwell. The round Font is cut from a solid piece of Mansfield stone and decorated with the zig-zag and other patterns. It probably stood at first near the West door of the Norman Church, but has been shifted about from place to place. Its last position was in the Chancel, where it stood on its original base, described as "a round pillar in the form of a Stilton cheese," and whence it was removed to its present position near the South door by the late Rev. Samuel L. Oldacres. It has suffered by the loss of the pedestal base and by having its face tooled over in places by a Nottingham mason. Both door and font belong to a period of Norman architecture later than the Nave at Southwell and show that the Norman Church was built about 1150 by the Archbishop of York and the Prebend of Woodborough or by Ralf de Wodeburg. It must have been a small massive building with low walls, a West door which survives, two small round-headed windows in each of the side walls, a low roundheaded Chancel arch, and a small Chancel with a round-headed East window and two side windows.

As we have already shown, the Norman style was succeeded by the Early English and the English by the Decorated. The Decorated style is distinguished by large windows divided by mullions and the tracery runs in flowing lines, circles and other geometrical figures; the ornaments are numerous and delicately carved with faithfulness to nature. The buildings of this period have never been surpassed.

The present Chancel of Woodborough Church is a good specimen of the Decorated style and was probably built by Richard de Strelley. He was quite a young man when he inherited Woodborough from his great-uncle Paganus and lived many years, being succeeded by his youngest son in 1388. His father, Sampson Strelley, in 1356, as we have seen, was building a Church at Strelley, so that father and son were Church-builders together. Probably Richard de Strelley did not like the massive Norman Church which he found here and proceeded to build one on grander and more graceful lines. Retaining the old Norman Nave for use, he probably pulled down the Norman Chancel and built the present Decorated one. The stone which he used is taken from a particular bed in the Woodborough Water-stone. The Water-stone is a stratum of the new Red Sandstone, lying under the Keuper Marls and above the Bunter Sandstone. Tradition says that the stone was quarried in Stanley Wood on the hill overlooking the Hall, and this is confirmed by the fact that a bed of the same stone, which is lighter in colour, harder and more durable than that of the Nave and other walls in the village, was struck when Miss Parkyns was building her house on the opposite side of the valley. There was no need to dig deep for foundations as the water-stone is near the surface, and the soil above it is very firm; the surface soil was cleared away and large blocks of roughly hewn stone were laid as foundations; on these were laid the first courses of the walls which are composed of large blocks, hewn smooth and set with very fine joints; immense buttresses, six in number, projected to resist the tremendous outward thrust of the roof which has no tie beams. The external dimensions are, Length 45ft. 6in.; Breadth 23ft.; projection of buttresses 6ft.; height to top of walls 25ft. height to gable, 40ft. At a height of seven feet a moulded string course was inserted externally and internally, immediately above which the splay of the windows begins. The East window is a lovely specimen of flowing tracery and contains five lights; the North and South walls each contain two windows having reticulated tracery. The Gablet of each buttress has two quaint figures carved as gargoyles which represent the expulsion of evil spirits from the House of God, and in the East Gable are carved the arms of Strelley of Woodborough and Strelley of Strelley. The Eastern Gable is surmounted by a cross of Mansfield stone, on the Eastern face of which is the figure of Christ crucified attended by weeping angels, and on the Western face the Blessed Virgin and Child attended by St. Catharine and St. Margaret. The Western Gable has a similar cross, but without the attendant angels and saints. The former of these was so weathered and broken that it was reproduced, in 1891, by Mr. Bridgman, of Lichfield, who had both the original crosses as models and replaced the arm of the other which was missing. Such crosses with crucifixes are rare in these parts, but there is one on the East gable of Clifton Church, Notts., and they are not uncommon in Lincolnshire. For upwards of 500 years these two crosses have stood above the Church, reminders of the great doctrines of the Incarnation and Redemption. The roof itself was originally covered with tiles.

Inside the Chancel, Sedilia or Seats for the Celebrant, Deacon and Sub-Deacon, were inserted in the South wall having geometrical tracery, and a Piscina or basin with drain for washing the holy vessels. The Piscina has a round step and an arched recess above. In the North wall is an Aumbry or cupboard with an oak door in which the holy vessels were placed. On either side of the East window two pedestals project, one supported by the head and arms of a king, perhaps Edward III, the other by those of a woman, perhaps his Queen, Philippa of Hainault. The heads of this King and Queen and that of the Black Prince support the ribs of several arches in the Choir at Southwell. No figures now stand on these pedestals, but undoubtedly one once carried the figure of S. Swithun, for the Torre MSS at York says: "10 Aug., 1534, John Shirley, of Woodborowe, made his will proved 18 Sept., 1534, giving his soul to God Almighty, Saint Mary and all Saints and his body to be buried in the Chancel of Woodborowe before St. Swithun." On one pedestal, therefore, S. Swithun should again be placed, as he is at Winchester, a Bishop bearing the model of the bridge which he built over the Itchen river. It would not be unsuitable to put a statue of Paulinus or better still of St. Aidan on the other. Two nice carvings of Angels playing instruments terminate the label of the East window.

Then Richard Strelley filled all the windows with stained glass, parts of which still remain, while a screen of carved oak surmounted by a Rood parted the Chancel from the Nave, but of this not a trace remains, except the holes in the masonry of the arch into which it had been set. The other fittings can only be conjectured; probably a stone altar marked with five crosses, walls frescoed up to the string course, embroidered vestments and holy vessels of silver or gold. The roof inside was open-timbered, the ribs of the rafters being arranged to form a barrel or waggon head and showing no signs of boarding or plaster.

The building of the Nave is much more difficult to explain. Apparently after the completion of the Chancel the Norman Nave was pulled down and the present arcade of three bays was built in its place on the line of the old walls. The spring of a fourth arch is visible above the cap of the South West pillar, but I do not believe there was ever a fourth bay. I believe that Richard de Strelley died when the Chancel was finished and that the Nave was built by his successors, who were evidently less enthusiastic about Church building, for the Nave has every appearance of cheapness and haste. The masonry above the arcade is good at the East end but suddenly changes to uneven courses of smaller stones at the West; the timbers of the roof are arranged like those of the Chancel but are quite rough; tie beams of the roughest sort cross from wall to wall; the clerestory windows are devoid of decoration and constructed in the crude manner of Saxon work; three above the South arcade are balanced by two above the North arcade, and all five are inserted without reference to the arcade below. But, worst of all, the two aisles are built over the buttresses of the Chancel, and they are composed of the softer Waterstone found in the village walls, and the very timbers, removed in 1891, showed by their mortice holes that they had once been in another building, perhaps in the old Norman Nave. Probably the aisles were built with the stone and timbers of the old Norman Church, the West door of which was thrust anyhow without its setting into the North wall. The South door is of the same date as the arcade. The aisle windows were of the commonest design, square-headed, having a square hood-mould and no tracery; no two are of the same size, nor are any of them square; the present tracery was inserted in 1891. There is a Piscina in the South aisle which shows that a side altar once stood against the Eastern wall. The aisle roofs were covered with lead and the Nave with tiles.

As regards the Tower, it appears to belong to a late period of perpendicular work, which is distinguished from the Decorated by having the shafts of the tracery carried up straight to the mouldings. It is a poor specimen of its kind. The stones are soft and badly bonded and the mortar is thrown in in large quantities mixed with Trent gravel. I think it was built in the reign of Mary, A.D. to 1558.

The following are the dimensions of the Nave: Length, 37ft.; including Tower, 55ft.; including Tower buttress, 58ft.; Width, 4lft.; including buttresses, 49ft. 6in.; Height of Tower, 53ft.; including Pinnacles, 60ft.

The Porch is clearly a later addition and may be classed as "Churchwarden," but it is good of its kind and has the merit of a vaulted stone roof.

The Bells are four in number and were probably all cast at the same time by Henry Oldfield who flourished in the sixteenth century. The Treble Bell has the inscription, "God Save our Queene," and the founder's mark.

The Second Bell was originally inscribed, "God save His Church," but was recast in 1886 with the following inscription: "Percy Smith and Ethel Parkyns, married 27th February, 1886. Praise the Lord for His goodness. Recast by John Taylor & Co., Loughborough, 1886."

The Third Bell has no founder's mark but is inscribed, "I.H.S. Maria Johannes. S.T.S."

The Tenor Bell has the inscription, "Donus Santis Swithinis Carolus Lawcock, Esq. 1680."

It is evidently not of the same casting as the others, and having cracked in January, 1896, was recast by John Taylor, of Loughborough, who thinks that it has already been recast from an earlier bell.

As for the furniture of the Church a record has been made for us in a very curious way. It is well known that at the Reformation, when every ornament was regarded as an object of Papal superstition, a most shocking robbery of Church property took place. The Crown confiscated the monasteries, the patrons utilized the fabric of the Churches, the Churchwardens took the holy vessels and the parishioners took the vestments. To stop this general plunder Edward VI in 1552, caused an inventory to be made of Church goods in all Churches throughout the country, not so much with the purpose of saving them for the Church as of securing them for the enrichment of the Crown. The following is the Inventory of the Church Goods of Woodborough to be seen at the Record Office.

Exchequer. Q. R.    Church Goods 7 - 61 

"Woodborowe. The Inventorye of all the goodes ptenynge to ye church of Woodborowe made the xviii daye of septembre In ye syxt yeare of ye reynge of Edward ye syxt by ye grace of god of englonde France and Ireland kynge defendor of the fayth and in yearth of ye churche of englond and Ireland ye supreame head psentyd by Robert Vyghtrad churchwarden Thom Foster William Alvye Richard Alvye Thomas Clarke.

Imprms a challys of tyn 3 heare clothes wt 3 old alter clothes 1 corporas.......ts cope all of satyn a burgys all of schaunchalle......... Ues 4 towels 2 surplys a Rachit 2 candilstyckes 1 canopye a pyx 1 crysmatory a holy water stocke of metyll on bacyn for a lamp 2 crosys and on of them broken on cross cloth of sylke on cryyt 3 old arkes 2 handbelles and a sanctus bell 2 belles in ye steypyll 2 payre of sensers.

(Signed on the back) H. Rutland
G. Pierpount
Jo hcy Anthony Nevylle."

The inventory does not imply a very rich or beautiful lot of Church ornaments. Either there was nothing of value or the Woodborough people had stolen everything worth having before the king required inventories to be made, so that nothing but rubbish and the actual necessaries were left. Expressed in modern English the goods were:

A tin chalice, for the wine at Holy Communion. 3 hearse cloths, otherwise Pall or bier-cloths, usually black but sometimes red and black or black with a red or white cross. 3 old altar clothes. 1 Corporas, a cloth of fine white linen on which the sacred elements were consecrated, about 1 foot square. 1 Cope, the mantle of the priest; all made of "satyn I. Burgys," that is, satin from Bruges, where it was made, "all of...... schaunchalle," that is, branched or embroidered with a branch-like pattern. 4 towels, or Houselling towels, three in number which covered the altar, the upper one long and reaching to the ground, the other two shorter to prevent any of the elements from falling. 2 Surplices. 1 Rachit, or Rochet, a surplice without sleeves worn by the clerk that ministered to the priest or by the priest at baptisms. 2 Candlesticks for the Altar. 1 Canopy, a hood suspended over the altar under which the vessel containing the Host was hung. 1 Pix, a cup of gold or silver in which the Holy Eucharist was kept. It was hung over the altar draped in a sacrament cloth of semi-transparent muslin. 1 Chrismatory, a case which contained the vessels of the chrism or consecrated oil, otherwise holy oil, or chrism oil or sick men's oil. 1 holy water stock, a vessel to hold the holy water to sprinkle the people at mass. 1 bason for a lamp. 2 crosses, which were placed on the altar. 1 cross cloth of silk, a hanging before the rood drawn by a cord. 1 cruet, a vessel to hold the wine and water. 3 old arks. 2 handbells. 1 Sanctus bell, rung at the elevation of the host on the outer apex of the Eastern Nave gable. 2 bells in the steeple. 2 pairs of censers, vessels to burn incense in.


The Oldfields were a Nottingham firm, which turned out many bells for about 100 years. Four generations of them may be traced.
1. Henry Oldfield, the potter, Lister Gate, Nottingham, whose name is mentioned in two old wills, 1539 and 1558. A potter was a worker in iron and tin and a founder of large and small bells. The date of his death is unknown.
2. Henry Oldfield, probably the son of the above, began working in 1572, and cast numerous bells in this county and elsewhere. His emblem was a cross of Calvary with his initials on either side, and in the upper part a star and a crescent probably borrowed from the town seal. He lived in Bridlesmith Gate, and was buried in St. Mary's Church in 1590.
3. Henry Oldfield, his son, 1590-1620. In 1610 with Newcombe of Leicester he cast great Tom of Lincoln.
4. George Oldfield, his son, 1620, used the same stamp with G for H.

The firm became extinct in 1748 for want of males and the foundry passed to the firm of Hedderley, which came from Derby.

Our bells were probably cast by the second Henry Oldfield who was of ill repute with his neighbours in the time of Queen Elizabeth but his handiwork is excellent, and the letters, stops and borders used display high artistic feeling.

[Phillimores' Article in "Old Nottinghamshire:" by Potter Briscoe, p. 116.]



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