Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

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

Buckland ~ CHAPTER VII


Authorities: Dickinson's Southwell. Leach's Visitations and Memorials of Southwell.
Liber Albus Southwell. York MSS.

The position and privileges of the Sixteen Prebends who formed the Collegiate Church at Southwell are intimately connected with the History of Woodborough Church. There is a mass of information in the manuscripts at Southwell, which has been dealt with by Dickinson and Leach, to whom I am indebted for most of this chapter.

The earliest document in the Liber Albus at Southwell is a Bull of Pope Alexander III, 1171, by which he confirmed to the Prebends of Southwell the privileges enjoyed by the Church at York, and made Southwell the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire by ordering the Clergy and Laity of the county to go to Southwell instead of York at the Pentecostal Procession, at which each Parish had to pay a fixed sum. Among others:

A dispute between York and Southwell about the Pentecostal procession, the offerings of which were no doubt of great value when they were applied to the building of the two Minsters, was settled by an appeal to Pope Innocent III, 1202. The procession continued till 1770, when it was abolished by Archbishop Hay-Drummond.

The privileges are stated in a letter from the Chapter of York to that of Southwell, which is in the Liber Albus. The power of the Chapter in the Common lands and of the Prebends in the prebendal lands was absolute; they were independent alike of Archbishop and King; neither the King's bailiff or sheriff could enter their lands without their leave; they had civil and criminal jurisdiction over  their own tenants; the King's judges sat at the Minster door or outside the Minster yard, and had to send in a record of their verdicts  and pay over the fines to the Prebends; the Prebends held assigns which granted licences and fixed the prices for the sale of bread and ale, examined weights and measures, tested provisions and fined adulterations; they and their tenants were free from tolls and taxes, and were even exempt from the obligations of bridge-building, castle-making, and attendance in war, while they levied tolls on wheat, fish, merchants, and shipping. Any homicide, or thief, or criminal, or outlaw had right of sanctuary for 30 days in the Minster Church. Marriage, adultery, slander, perjury, debts, wills, all came under the cognizance of the Prebendal Courts. Such were the privileges of the chapter and of the Woodborough Prebend as a member of the Chapter.

The internal organization of the Minster Church was unique. The head of the Chapter was nominally the Archbishop of York, who appointed the Prebends, made statutes, and had power to see that the statutes were carried out, but he could make no statute without the consent of the Prebends, and his authority was merely nominal. The Prebends in Chapter became a little republic, having power to indulge or correct themselves and their subordinates. They had no Dean at their head. True that about 1221 some deeds are signed by "Hugh, Dean," as witness, but he was probably only a passing attempt of the archbishop to impose a head over the Prebends, which failed, and the dean was heard of no more. The Senior Prebend in Residence always acted as the Head of the Chapter.

Leach gives the arrangements of the stalls of the Prebends as they were arranged before the recent insertion of New Stalls. The Prebend of Woodborough had his stall on the South side. The stall given to the Prior of Thurgarton was probably given to him out of courtesy, not as of right, as he was the chief dignitary of the Church in, the County.


Non-residence, doing duty by deputy, can be traced from the very first. The Prebends had two duties to perform, the one in the Minster, the other in the Prebendal Churches. For instance, the Prebend of Woodborough could not be in two places at once, in his stall at Southwell and in Woodborough Church, 8 miles distant. He solved the difficulty by being in neither; he paid £3 a year to his Vicar-Choral to sing and pray in the Minster and something to his Vicar-Parochial or Curate to preach and pray at Woodborough After these payments and others for the maintenance of the fabric of the Minster and his Prebendal Church and house he had something over for himself; but the balance was not large, for the Woodborough Prebend in 1221, at the taxation of Pope Nicholas, was only valued at £6.13s. 4d. Possibly the balance was on the wrong side at times, when there were no windfalls by lease, fines, etc. He himself lived elsewhere in some other Canonry or Rectory, at the University, in the Law Courts, or in the service of the King. Besides the impossibility of being in two places at once, non-residence was increased by the monotony of the work in the Minster, which gave no scope for men of ability and education, and by the enormous expense of keeping open house for the subordinates of the Minster which could be evaded by non-residence. Pope Alexander III, in 1170, gave the Prebends the right "to institute fit Vicars, whom they pleased in their prebendal Churches without interference," and though Archbishop Walter Gray, 1225, tried to stop it by increasing the pay of the residents, the practice of non-residence increased so much that in 1293 Archbishop John le Romaine accepted the fact, and ordered every absent prebend to have a properly authorized deputy, perpetual vicarages to be established in all the prebendal churches, and all the Vicars Choral to be paid 60 shillings a year; but by a later statute, in 1302, Archbishop Thomas de Corbridge ordered that "at all times of the year three, or at the least two, canons shall be resident in the Church." Another reason for non-residence was the small value of the prebends. An average prebend was worth about £20 a year, to which might be added one-sixteenth of the common fund, which was not enough to induce a man of ability and education and good birth to settle down in a remote town like Southwell.

But doubtless a remedy might have been found had it not suited the popes to treat the English Church as their lawful spoil, and to force English Kings and Bishops and Barons to appoint Italian cardinals and Italian priests, who never even came to England, an example which others were not slow to follow in their own interests. Robert de Bridlington, for instance, who was Prebend of Woodborough in 1320, was also Prebend of South Newbald, Rector of Eveley, and Rector of Chaworth; and Robert Sherard, Earl of Harborough, Prebend of Woodborough in 1761, was also Canon of Salisbury, Rector of Teigh, and Rector of Whistoe. Probably few of the Prebends ever came to Woodborough, but they were responsible for the Service, fabric, and goods of the Church, and appointed a Vicar-Parochial or Curate to do the duty. The Parishes were cared for by men of humbler birth and less education, who were quite good enough for the uneducated villagers of those times, when none could write and few could read. The income of the Prebends helped abler men to study at the Universities and to act as lawyers and statesmen in the service of the country.


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