Woodborough’s Heritage

Woodborough, a Sherwood Forest Village, recorded in Domesday

History of Woodborough by Joseph Marriott 1892

I now propose to give a brief history of the Parish Church, and, as its history is so intimately associated with that of the Village, the principal inhabitants, and the free school, I shall have something to say about each of these subjects. I have long been interested in all that concerns the welfare of the village, especially its moral and spiritual welfare. It is my Parish, and there is nothing in the end that contributes so much to the welfare of the community as the House where God is worshipped, the Scriptures read, the Gospel preached, and a living Church assembles for Christian work and service. It is generally the forerunner of better government, education, Christian charity, and civilization. A great man once said, “The Lords Prayer, so frequently read and uttered, and taught our children, contains the cradle of our civilization, teaching as it does, the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man.” Such a house ought to be made comfortable for the poor as well as rich, and not only comfortable, but if the community can afford it, beautiful. God ought to have the best: the best architecture, the best music, the brightest genius, the best of our life and service. And now that the old Church is being extensively renovated, and something like £2000 spent in improvements and repairs it is a very fitting opportunity for giving, as far as our limited information will allow us, a history of the building, and the village and school associated with it.

The Village is small and poor, and evidently has not been considered of much importance, but the vale in which it lies is beautiful, especially when viewed from the hill-side on the south in the early spring, when the new verdure appears, and the orchards are in bloom. The soil is very fruitful. Its history can be traced back for nearly a thousand years, for there are records of persons who held property here before the Norman Conquest. It was called Udeburgh, afterwards Wodeburg, then Woodburg, and Woodborough. “Burgh” in the old Saxon meant “a fort”; “Ude” meant “Wood.” So the name might mean a “Fort in a wood.” Possibly it may have been the residence of some Saxon chieftain of the name of “Ude,” and so the name may mean “Ude’s Fort.” Anyhow, there is evidence of its having once being a place of defence, for the remains of trenches and ramparts are now to be found in Foxwood.

Woodborough was formerly in a dense forest called Sherwood Forest, which extended south as far as Colwick and the Leen, west as far as Bulwell, north as far as Welbeck, and east as far as Caythorpe and Gunthorpe, comprising nearly 100,000 acres. It remained open forest till nearly the close of the last century when it was enclosed, A.D. 1797. Some used to run a cow or two, others a donkey, and the poor used to run droves of pigs which fed upon the acorns fallen from the innumerable fine oaks that abounded in the forest. In the days of our great-grandfathers people could walk to Nottingham under the oak trees. The forest abounded with wild deer and game, and badgers or “brocks,” whence came such names as “Brockwood Hills” and “Brockdale Fields.”

We now come to the principal owners and occupiers. William, the Norman Conqueror, subdued England, A.D. 1066, and established an absolute Monarchy. Having established himself, he ordered a general survey of the country, and distributed the principle Manorial Estates among his principle supporters, apportioning the tax they should pay to the King and the Church, and the soldiers they should find in time of war, according to the value of the estate they occupied. A record of these settlements and even of earlier ones made in the time of Edward the Confessor, was compiled and entered in a book called Domesday Book, which is still preserved in the Record Office, London. From that book we have the earliest account of Udeburgh or Woodborough. At that time the Archbishop of York, and a clergyman had land here, and there was land belonging to Southwell Minster. Other owners were Ulchel, Aldene, and Alvric. There was also a mill, which may have stood where the mill stands today; and possibly there was a Saxon church dating from the 7th century. But the principle resident owners were a family which took the name of the place “de Woodboro,” of Woodborough; they inherited in part from the Peverills and were probably of Norman origin. There was a settlement of property on one Raph, of Woodboro, Knight; others were William, and the ladies, Maud and Clementina, the latter the mother of distinguished family named Sampson, of Epperstone. Henry de Woodboro was the last of the family, and from him, about A.D. 1316, the property passed to the Strelley family.

Robert Strelley, of Strelley, a village beyond Nottingham, first owned the property; from him it passed to his younger son, Sampson Strelley, and then to Richard Strelley of Woodborough, who was Lord of the Manor, and lived at the Hall. He was a Knight of the Shire, and represented the County in Parliament from A.D. 1331 till 1336. It was probably this Strelley who built the beautiful chancel, as the arms of the Strelley are found in the east gable of the chancel, and were also in the chancel windows for 300 years and in the windows of the old Hall in the Strelley's time until it was pulled down by Lacock. The shield on the north side is that of Strelley of Woodborough, the other, that of Strelley of Strelley. There were about fourteen generations of them according to Thoroton's History, and they had considerable property at Calverton, Oxton, Linby and Strelley. They owned the largest part of Woodborough for about 300 years. An old history published A.D. 1677, says that the principal owners of property in 1612 were Christopher Strelley, John Wood, of Lambley, William Owldney, John Clarke, Thomas Wyer, Henry Alvie and Nicholas Lee.

The Wood family flourished during the 17th century. There were several generations of them, two of the same name of Robert, three of the name of John, and two of the name of Montague. To the last, who was a clergyman in London; we owe the endowment of the School in 1736. They were owners of the estate that was afterwards owned successively by Mr Edge, Mr J.B. Taylor and Mr R. Howett. Mr Edge left 40/- to be distributed on St. Thomas’ Day, one-half to the singers at the Church, the other half to the widows and widowers of the place. The stocking-frame was invented by a member of the Lee family in 1509. Calverton claims to be his birthplace as well as Woodborough and three historians of the period record the event. Thoroton says he was born at Calverton, and had a freehold there. Blackner, who is far more elaborate and enters into details, says he was born and invented the frame at Woodborough, claiming to have this information direct from the family as handed down from father to son. Both historians say he was a Cambridge scholar, educated at St. John’s College, and presented his invention to Queen Elizabeth, but not meeting with success, went beyond the seas. Blackner, however, says he went to Normandy and was favourably received by Henry IV, of France, taking with him nine frames; but, Henry IV, falling by the hand of an assassin, his hopes were blighted. Having returned to England, one of the name of Aston, a miller, who had some knowledge of the trade, improved a little on Lee's machine. It was then tried in Venice, £500 being given for the invention, but it failed. It was then set up in Holland, but the plague carried the promoters off. Disappointed and neglected at home, and failing abroad, Lee gave up his mind to grief, which soon ended his days.

It may be interesting to give particulars as to the circumstance of the invention, and the character of the first machine. Blackner says that Lee was smitten with the charms of a young lady of this village, but whenever he waited upon her she was engaged in knitting and could not give him the attention he desired. As he watched her knit he conceived the idea of inventing a machine to do the work much quicker, so that she might be able to give more attention to himself. Tradition informs us that the first frame was made almost entirely of wood, except the needles and sinkers; that it was a 12 gauge, and had no lead sinkers, the needles being stuck in bits of wood. Lee's greatest difficulty was the formation of the needle-eye, in order to get the loop, which he ultimately accomplished by a small three-square file. It was not till late in the 17th century that one man could manage a machine, for at first a labourer had to be employed to draw the slur, and work the presser motion. The progress of the invention was very slow. Deering says only two machines existed in 1641—that was 52 years after the invention—and only 50 machines at the end of another century. But in 1812 there were 2,600 frames in Nottingham and 9,285 in the county and 42,768 in other places.

Soon after this in 1612 the vast property held by the Strelley family was dispersed. Christopher Strelley, the last of his branch of the family, having no children, settled the estate on his wife's relations, name Bold, whose heir one Strelley Bold, sold it to George Lacock, whose son Philip pulled down the Hall, where the Strelleys had so long lived, and built the present Hall after the pattern of the Hall Farm-house, which was built by another Philip Lacock in 1710. They occupied the Hall for 100 years. Some of them were buried in the chancel. The brass plates show that Charles, who gave the tenor bell, died in 1688 and young Philip in 1707, at the age of 21.

The next owners were the Bainbridge family, who occupied the Hall another 100 years, nearly the whole of the 18th century. An inscription in the chancel states that the death of William Bainbridge, 3rd son of William Bainbridge, took place in 1737, at the age of 16. Mrs Bainbridge, possibly the mother of this youth, occupied in 1797, and was a principle owner at Calverton. She was a lady of remarkable benevolence, and gave £1,000 to the Nottingham General Hospital. She gave the poor-houses and gardens, and the Foxwood gardens, and also a field on the Moor. She left each of her servants a legacy of £30. Her Fromety Feast at Sheep-shearing is spoken of to this day. Fromety was a mixture of wheat, milk, currants and raisins. The people were requested to take their wooden spoons, and four of them used to eat from each bowl, while the old lady watched with delight from one of the windows. She lived a plain life, was known by her old red cloak, and delighted to make people happy. A grand-mother of the Orme family was servant of hers, and a pair of shoes and some of her wardrobe are still in the family.

The Story family next inherited the estate. They came about 1810, and very much altered the Hall. An accident on board ship brought Mr Story’s life to a premature end, one of the masts falling on him and killing him on the spot. He was kind and generous, especially to the tenants who mourned his loss.

The Hall was then tenanted successively by Messrs Fenwick, Worth, and Colonel Hancock. Then the Hall was purchased by Mr Werg, who held it till 1852. It was then purchased by the present owner, Mr Mansfield Parkyns, who has kept up the general character of the owners of the estate and the resident of the Hall.

The Church

The Church is dedicated to St Swithun. St Swithun was born early in the 9th century, was educated at the Monastery of Winchester, and was ordained Priest by Helmstan, Bishop of Winchester. He was very learned, pious and laborious, travelling great distances on foot, building and consecrating churches, working day and night for the good of his flock with great simplicity and humility. He became Provost of the Chapter, and was consecrated Bishop of Winchester on the death of Helmstan. He afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the friend and chief advisor of Egbert, first King of all England, and educated his son Ethelwolf, to whom he suggested to bestow on the Church tithes on all his estates. He died July 2nd, 862, and was buried outside the Church. More than one hundred years afterwards an attempt was made by the Bishops and Monks of Winchester to remove his remains and place them inside the Cathedral, but it rained so hard for forty days that the attempt was given up. Hence the origin of the legend about forty days of rain. But the removal was accomplished in 1093. He is represented in Winchester Cathedral holding a model of the bridge which he built over the River Itchen.

Of the date of the first Church built on this site we have no certain information. There may have been a Saxon Church; if so, it was built of wood, having a small chancel, latticed windows, and no tower. Thoroton says that Southwell Minster, the Mother Church of this district, was founded by Paulinus, first Archbishop of York, in 627, in which year he baptized Edwin, one of the seven Saxon Kings. This was about 30 years after the mission of St Augustine by Pope Gregory, who with 40 other monks won the Saxons from Paganism to Christianity. A deed at York dated 1106 confirmed and established the customs and charters of Southwell and Churches of the district which were granted by Athelstan in the years 924 to 941. Another deed dated 1171 states the many and great privileges granted to Southwell and the Churches of the Prebends, of which Woodborough is one, by several Kings and Archbishops, and the chapters were confirmed by Pope Alexander III. Hence many of the Churches in this Diocese have been founded in the eighth or ninth centuries, and there may have been a Church in Woodborough for nearly one thousand years.

There was certainly a Norman Church here in the twelfth century, the only remains of which are some foundations laid bare during the present repairs, which extend from the tower beneath the pillars of the arcade, and the Norman door built into the north wall. The Norman Church was probably long and narrow, and the walls stood where the pillars of the present arcade now stand; the existing Norman door may have been the west door of the Norman Church and have been inserted, with parts missing, in its present position. This Norman Church was probably pulled down when the present chancel was built by the Strelley family about 1360, and the Strelley arms are now to be seen in the east gable carved in stone, and were once in the glass of the windows. Gothic architecture was at its best during the reign of Edward III in the 14th century, and the chancel is considered one of the finest specimens of 14th century or ‘decorated’ work in this county. There is a combination of strength, durability, proportion and beauty in the massive buttresses and beautiful tracery of the windows. The original stained glass was removed about 1872 when the present glass was put in; it was, however, in a very dilapidated condition. The terminals of the gables of chancel and nave are worthy of mention: both are in the form of a cross; that on the chancel has on the eastern face the figure of our Lord, with weeping figures on each side, and on the western face the Virgin and Child with attendant saints, probably St Catherine and St Margaret. (This has been reproduced from the original by Mr R. Bridgman, of Lichfield). The nave cross has on its eastern face the Virgin and Child, and on the western face the figure of our Lord, stretched on the cross in lonely majesty. The nave was probably built by the Strelley family about 1500 or earlier, but the architecture, material and workmanship are not so good as in the chancel. The aisles are actually built against the buttresses of the chancel. The arcade was probably shortened when the perpendicular tower was built, as the spring of another arch is visible. Inscriptions on the bells show that the tower was built in the reign in Mary about 1556, when the last of the Strelleys was at the Hall. The tenor bell was given by Charles Lacock in 1680. The inscription on the treble bell reads “God save the Queen”; that on the second “I.H.S. Maria. S.T.S.” which means “Jesus the Saviour of Men; dedicated to Mary by Samson Strelley.” The third bell was inscribed “God save His Church.” but being cracked, was recast by General Percy Smith on the occasion of his marriage with Miss Ethel Parkyns, February 27th, 1886. The work was executed by Taylor of Loughborough. The inscription on the tenor bell reads “Sanctus Swithinus Lacock Carolus Donus,” which means, “A gift by Charles Lacock to St Swithun.” The Communion Plate is of silver, and the Hall marks show it was made in 1675 in London. The Communion Table was given by one of the Wood family, and has a long Latin inscription which means, “Given for holy use by John Wood, son of Robert Wood, Knight, Recorder of Newark, one of the Justices of Peace for the County, the Verderer of the Forest of Sherwood.

From 1612 till 1627 the Church was without a Minister, the clear yearly value being only £12 0s 0d. Calverton was unsupplied at the same time. Thoroton says, “A populous village like Woodborough with an empty Church and living only £4 0s 0d.” Until 1736 there was neither Day nor Sunday School, nor any other religious society. The Rev’d Thomas Allen was then minister, Rev’d Henry Wood was Rector of Lambley and Rev’d C R Seaton Rector of Epperstone.

In 1736 our present School was founded by Rev’d Montague Wood, Rector of St Michael's, London, who bequeathed certain lands in Woodborough, Blidworth and Stapleford. A School and Cottage were built; the former was 18ft. 6in. long by 14ft. 6in. wide, and 8ft. high, and accommodated 27 scholars; the cottage was of the same dimensions, and stood on the site of the present vicarage. The three ministers named above and their successors were the three trustees. The teacher's income at first was about £12, and the minister's £32. The two were held by Thomas Allen for 27 years. He was succeeded by Rev’d. Richard Oldacres in 1763, when the minister's income was £32, but half was retained by the non-resident incumbent. The school income had risen to £30 making the whole worth £46. Richard Oldacres occupied for 22 years till 1785, and spent about two-thirds of his small income in improvements, enlarging the school 5ft. each way, so as to accommodate 48 scholars. His son, Rev’d Samuel Oldacres, succeeded in 1785 and occupied till 1812, the total salary being £125. He then removed to the Rectory of Gonalstone. In 1812 James Hughes, who married the former minister's sister, became curate and master. Some of the old men to-day remember him, and have felt his rule on their hands. He was rather severe, but turned out some capital scholars. During his ministry the first Baptists and Methodists visited the place. He held the position for 25 years. During his time the flat tiles were taken off the Church and replaced with slates, and some time after the ceiling in the chancel was put up. He died in 1837. Then came Rev’d Samuel Lealand Oldacres, grandson of Richard, and son of Samuel Oldacres, and nephew of James Hughes. I knew him for nearly 40 years, and received my education from him. He was a genial, pleasant man, and thoroughly in sympathy with children, and would show off his scholars to a gentlemen. He was a strong Protestant, but tolerant of the opinions of others. His income averaged £112 out of which he spent £560 on improvements of the school premises. In his time the old loft in Church was taken down and a rising gallery placed at the west end; the Church was entirely renewed, and at the latter part of his life the organ was put in. He came in the year of the accession of Queen Victoria, and was in undisturbed possession for nearly 40 years. In 1871, Mr Forester's Education Act was passed, which required a healthy and efficient school, with a certified teacher, to be brought within reach of every child in the kingdom and compelled every child to attend some efficient school. In 1865 a government inspector condemned the school as not meeting government requirements. A scheme was drawn up by the Charity Commissioners for the administration of the school under Government, with 6 Governors: the Vicar ex-officio three co-operative, and two representatives, elected by rate payers. Mr Mansfield Parkyns and myself were the first representative governors. The whole of the Charity was retained for the benefit of the school, and the governors decided to build a new school. Mr John B Taylor, a considerable landowner, and a descendent of the former Montague Wood, generously gave land adjoining the school premises, which the governors then sold to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £925. Two acres of the Stapleford property having valuable frontages were sold for over £1000, and with the proceeds new schools and a school house were built, without any cost to the rate payers, and very little reduction in the income of the Charity which is now about £90 a year. Since the fee grant has been given, the school is in a better position than at any previous time.

It must have been wearying to those five ministers to have done the drudgery work of a day school, and ministerial duties besides. Mr Oldacres did not long enjoy his release from school duties. The new scheme came into operation in 1875 and he finished his course in 1876, almost immediately after the ministerial income had been raised by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by a grant of £187 a year. The minister's salary had risen from £16 to £112, and the teacher's from £12 to £109. He spent £560 of his own income upon improvements, and may well challenge the country to produce another instance where the duties of minister and schoolmaster had been performed by one family for 113 years, for so small an amount. He still lives in the affections of those who attended his ministrations.

The next change was the appointment of the Rev’d F G Slight, by the Bishop of Manchester and not by the Chapter of Southwell. He introduced several alterations, and it fell to his lot to carry out the building of the new school. He continued his ministry for 15 years, and expired at Bournemouth in January, 1891, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, shortly after the death of his wife. The Rev’d E Weight officiated during his illness.

After his death a numerously signed petition was sent from the village to the Bishop of Manchester, for the appointment of Rev’d W E  Buckland who had occasionally officiated, and who was the more respected because of his marriage with Miss Ada Parkyns, who many of us have known and loved from her childhood. The Bishop of Southwell favoured the appointment, and the institution and induction took place of Easter Thursday, 1891. On the following Sunday he commenced his ministrations. May his appointment among us be honoured, happy and prosperous.

I have finished my brief history. I have not critically examined the Church, but have simply given a statement of fact. I am here in a friendly spirit. Though I am a Non-conformist, and have held my convictions for more than forty years, there are some things about the Church which I admire: the reverence of her worship, the beauty of her architecture and music, the sublimity of her Liturgy, the reading of the Scriptures in regular order, her antiquity and continuity. She has survived everything else. The Strelleys, Lacocks, Bainbridges and others have gone, but the Church remains. Nine or ten reigning dynasties have risen, flourished, and gone. More than fifty kings and queens, and about thirty generations of human beings have risen into life, and sunk back again into death, but the old Church remains. But we must never forget the great mission of Christianity, so beautifully expressed, in the close of your general confession: “That we may hereafter live a Godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of God's holy name.”

March 22nd, 1892.


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