Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

A modern interpretation of the history of Woodborough

Woodborough is a long and winding village, its shape determined by the trend of a narrow, fertile valley, through which flows a tiny brook, flanked on either side by tree-clad hills. In the Domesday Book it is called Udeburg, meaning the fortress in the woods. Bronze Age people, ancient Britons and Romans all played their part in building up the hill fortifications, while the Anglo-Saxons were more concerned with making a settlement in the thickly wooded vale.

Throughout the area ‘Wood’ occurs several times in place names: Ploughman's Wood, Wood Barn Farm, Fox Wood and, Woodborough itself. At the west end is a ridge that separates the village from Calverton, its neighbour to the north, while on the other side, more hills bar the way to Lambley.

Woodborough’s early history can have something of the fairy tale flavour about it:-
“In Udeburg there lived three thanes; Ulchel, Aluric and Aldene. They lived happily in their peaceful valley, sharing it between them, each in his manor house with his demesne, and his servants around him. But one day there came a wicked king who cast greedy eyes on the idyllic scene. He was called William and he cast out the three unhappy thanes who became serfs on their own soil. The land he granted to Ralph, one of his followers, who thus became Baron of all he surveyed. Ralph de Wodeburg married Emmie, had two sons to carry on the estate and in time, the family became English”.

Soon after the 1066 Norman Conquest the whole estate passed to new overlords, the supporters of William. The Peveril family gained a lot of land in this region, William Peveril being the cause of building of the first Nottingham Castle. Woodborough was sold by them to another family who, on moving to the village, took on the surname of de Wodeburg.

Today, Woodborough Hall, the principal former Manor and now a restaurant [2005], stands at the western end of the village and is thought to occupy the site of Ulchel’s manor. The present building was erected by Philip Lacock at the Restoration. It was remodelled about 1850 to a design by the Nottinghamshire architect T.C. Hine, who added a third storey and a slate roof to replace the former tiles.

Nearby is the imposing Hall Farm House which bears a plaque with the name Lacock and the date 1710. This was the Home Farm from which the estate obtained most of its food requirements, although it may also have been a Dower House. De Wodeburg, Strelley and Lacock were the three families owning the Hall for several hundred years. Philip Lacock, son of Charles, died in 1721 but ownership continued by marriage through the Bainbridge family for most of the 18th century.

Some 200 years ago, the historian Throsby paid a visit and noted that there were then about 100 houses in the village. His comments on Miss Elizabeth Bainbridge, who had then lived for many years at The Hall, are worth recalling: “She is the most extraordinary character for benevolence that I have ever heard of − it will be an agreeable tasks for her biographer to enumerate her extensive charities when the world shall be deprived by her death of those beneficent acts which are now the praise of everyone”. Miss Bainbridge is believed to have given £1000 towards the foundation of the Nottingham General Hospital apart from her other donations and gifts of land. Her Fromety feasts at sheep-shearing time remained for long in the village lore. She lived a plain life and was a familiar sight in an old red cloak. Her grave is at Lockington, a little village near Castle Donington.

The Hall then passed to a cousin, the Rev’d. Philip Storey, but the family rarely lived at Woodborough and in 1842 the Hall and 53 acres of land were sold, only the second sale of the property since the Conquest. Smaller residences in the village were also capable of producing interesting and unusual characters. One of them, by the name of George Brown, was born in 1759 to a stocking knitter and was expected to follow that trade himself when old enough to do so. However, a desire for knowledge caused him to be sent to the Woodborough village school in an age when school attendance was still optional. His main source of knowledge was the Bible, a good deal of which he learned by heart, a great help to him during his fifty years of house to house preaching, or just door to door if he got no further than that. His willingness to impart large sections of the Bible to persons willing to listen earned him the nickname of “The Walking Concordance”. Later in life, and still preaching, George Brown fell ill in Worcester. He was brought back to Woodborough, where he died in 1833.

Had he been born a few years earlier George Brown would not easily have acquired a school education. Early in the eighteenth century Woodborough contained neither Day nor Sunday School, nor any form of religious society. It was decided that this gap must be filled. In 1736 a school was set up, founded by an endowment from the Rev’d Mountague Wood, Rector of St Michael Paternoster Royal in London, whose family had been associated with the area for several generations. (His ancestor John Wood owned Woodborough’s middle manor, Hertford Manor, and was the first Recorder of Newark in 1627)

The first school was a room and cottage where the Old Vicarage now stands, with the minister of St Swithun as both vicar and schoolmaster. This position remained in the Oldacre family for 113 years and with little financial reward. In fact those dedicated vicars-cum-school teachers often paid for school improvements with their own money.

With the coming of compulsory education in 1875, this Woodborough Free School was found not to be up to the new required standards and had to be replaced by a new building. This needed money at a time when not a lot of public funds were available. A scheme was drawn up by the Charity Commissioners for an administration of the school under Government rules, and Mr John B. Taylor, a considerable landowner and a descendent of Mountague Wood, founder of the original free school, generously gave land nearby to the new body. The land was sold to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £925. Sales of two acres of Stapleford property, a farm at Blidworth and the old schoolhouse paid for the new school.

Mansfield Parkyns who bought Woodborough Hall in 1852 is another interesting character from Woodborough’s past. At Cambridge, to quote Rev’d Walter Buckland, a local historian, “he failed to combine mathematics with the art of boxing, in which he was very efficient, as successfully as his great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Parkyns of Bunny, who had combined classics with wrestling”. (Sir Thomas was known as ‘the wrestling Squire’). After only a year, Mansfield left university and went off to explore Abyssinia. For nine years, nothing was heard of him but eventually he was discovered in a mud hut in Khartoum. Subsequently, he became an Embassy official, returning to England in 1852 and retiring to Woodborough. He was responsible for the refurbishment of the Hall and also wrote a book, ‘Life in Abyssinia’.

Mansfield Parkyns, as Squire of Woodborough, took a keen interest in the affairs of the local school. The Victorian school, now a private dwelling, is relatively unchanged in outward appearance except for the loss of the upper part of the bell tower. The Consecration stone with its embossed cross, formerly on the tower, was inserted in the wall of the present school, built nearby in 1968. The school and the Old Vicarage are on Lingwood Lane, a short distance above the Church in the heart of the village. In the Church itself, are beautiful choir stalls designed by Mansfield Parkyns and carved with the help of a local joiner and churchwarden, Richard Ward. They are a fitting tribute to him for he died shortly afterwards and was buried in the churchyard.

Yet another family to make its mark locally and much further afield had the surname of Lee. The man to take the first steps towards hosiery manufacture, and doing so at the time of Elizabeth I, was the Reverend William Lee. Historians differ as to whether he was born in Calverton or Woodborough. Certainly there were Lees living in Woodborough at the time their namesake invented the first stocking frame. Some time passed before this invention went from theory to practice, but when it did the whole business was radically transformed, and a new cottage industry came into being, especially in the East Midlands. Woodborough was one of the places where it flourished, with stockingers working their frames behind specially devised lights in single windows. This trade thrived until the Industrial Revolution created another drastic change, with factories replacing cottages as centres of manufacture. It was not until after the Second World War that the last of the frames in Woodborough became silent. Fortunately many stockingers' cottages remain in the village.

There is a strong claim that the frame knitting machine (or stocking machine) was invented in Woodborough rather than nearby Calverton. This is supported by an article in a London paper dated 1798 'The Oracle and Daily Advertiser’ entitled 'Stockings‘. However, there is no dispute that the inventor was Rev’d William Lee, and that the industry was started by him in 1589. There are still many good examples today of former frame knitter's cottages and workshops in Woodborough, as indeed there are in many other towns and villages. The debate will no doubt continue as to whether Woodborough or Calverton was the place of invention that is, until evidence is produce to substantiate those claims one way or another. 

Woodborough has one of three Nottinghamshire churches dedicated to St. Swithun. Dating mainly from the early 1300s, it stands on the site of the small Norman church erected two centuries before. Only the font and a blocked-up doorway survive from the original building. Woodborough is fortunate in that the masons who built the Church were of the school responsible for the famous Chapter House of Southwell Minster. It has a splendid Decorated Style east window and outside above this can be seen the arms of the Strelleys, of Woodborough and Strelley. Apart from a few fragments, the ancient glass is missing, the present stained glass dating mainly from late Victorian times but including Burne Jones designs.

Walking through the eastern half of the village, past the Post Office and Newsagents, most of the older properties are on the left. Some were once farms, with barns now converted to modern dwellings, but standing as many do gable end to the road, they show how the land was originally apportioned in long narrow strips. The name of many of these houses indicates their former use; Forge Cottage, Old Frame Cottage, and Punch Bowl House. Some stand on foundations of the local waterstone; some have seen uses ranging from farming to fish frying; one was a factory in which silk ties were made.

At The Nag’s Head, Main Street divides into Shelt Hill and Lowdham Lane. The fields beyond here clearly indicate an activity which had been part of the village life for centuries, market gardening, although this is an industry now in decline. This is Keuper Marl country with good deep, well drained soil. ‘Old Manor Close’ marks the site of the Nether Hall, Woodborough’s third manor, sadly now demolished.

With the coming of modern amenities, building of the new to blend with the old such as the two new estates and residences in the grounds of the Hall, the twentieth century does not seem to have changed the face of Woodborough over much. One feature of the district has been the pleasure it has given to ramblers, with Fox Wood, Dorket Head, Ploughman's Wood, and wide vistas from the hill tops across the Vale of Trent.

Throughout the village there are interpretation panels drawing attention to aspects of Woodborough’s heritage.



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