Saturday, 14 January 2017


Church of St Mary and All Saints.
On the day we visited Willoughby everyone else seemed to have left.  The streets were deserted; we passed the silent school and parked the car near the church where a large black cat was lurking amongst the old gravestones, it stopped to stare at us then wandered off.  Was this Willoughby or had we wandered into Thorpe in the Glebe?! (see footnote!).

We visited mid week .... years ago Willoughby would have been teeming with people as this used to be a self-sufficient agricultural village (prior to the First World War there were 13 farms here, a mill and a blacksmith forge): nowadays, whilst a couple of farms still exist, most of the residents are employed elsewhere as  Willoughby is very conveniently placed for transport links to Nottingham, Leicester or further afield.  In 1989 when the ladies of the WI published The Nottinghamshire Village Book they found "three full working farms .... and one public house.  There is a shop which is now a mini market, a baker and a pork butcher."

The Old School House
Well, we  passed the old post office .... now a house .... the old school house ... now a house  ....  the Old Bull's Head .... once the pub but now a house.  We found the Community Hall but no sign of a pub or a shop of any description.  The empty streets and lack of amenities made us wonder about any community spirit here.  It seemed to us there was nowhere to actually meet up and socialise.  We were wrong.  When we eventually found someone to speak to they told us there was a great community spirit.  People regularly meet up in each other's houses (they had 80 guests over New Year!); the community hall is a hive of activity with regular village breakfasts and social events; people meet at the school and there are fund raising events to improve the village (they bought playground and exercise equipment for the community park in recent years).  The photographs on the village website backs up the idea of a really friendly, supportive community.

So they don't seem to miss the pub! At one time the village had three public houses (as well as the church, a Methodist chapel, a Baptist chapel and a Primitive Methodist hall!).  The first to go was The Plough which was possibly a coaching inn and stopped trading around 1864.  The Three Horseshoes was demolished in the 1960s when a new pub was built ... also called The Three Horseshoes.  This has fallen victim to the recent decline in hostelries and new houses have been built on the site.  The Old Bull's Head we have mentioned above but the original inn had the distinction of being visited (in 1722) by William Stukeley (1687 - 1765), famous for his pioneering archaeological work on Stonehenge.  He was a close friend of Isaac Newton (1642 - 1726) and his memoir to Newton is the earliest source of the falling apple story.

The Old Post House
We were directed to the house of the church warden, Mrs Elizabeth Bryan, whose family have lived here since the 1600s.  If anyone could tell us the history of this place it was surely this lady .... 

This is an old village: The Roman town of Vernometum (meaning Spring Grove) stood close by here next to the Fosse Way   It is believed to have been a fortified town with a temple and theatre: a place where Roman soliders could rest on their long march between Lincoln and Exeter.  In the 1960s a new flyover was being built nearby and the remains of a cobbled Roman road were unearthed and we have already mentioned the urn containing 200 silver Roman coins found near here by a farmer in 1771  (Hickling).  It was interesting to discover that historians believe Emperor Hadrian spent the winter of 137 to 138 CE here!

An excavation near the village was carried out in 1964.  They discovered an Anglo-Saxon burial site.  A hundred graves were found: the archeologists found weapons, shields, amber brooches, beads and rings dating back to 600CE.

The Domesday book records the name as Wilgebi (named after willow trees) but the spelling changed over time and in the middle of the thirteenth century a wealthy resident decided to make the name his own.

This dynasty began in the late 1100s with a Nottinghamshire wool merchant, Ralph Bugge, who married a Miss Wollaton.  Nottingham University has a history of the Willoughby family here.  Over the generations the family bought 6 bovates of land (about 90 acres) and a large house in Willoughby. (Their Manor House once stood close to the church but was demolished in 1978 .... part of a wall may still be evident in the property now on that site).  Marriages brought them the Old Wollaton Hall and in later years the very large estate of Middleton in Warwickshire.  When Ralph Bugge's grandchildren inherited land they changed their names:  one became Ralph of Bingham while the other became Richard de Willoughby (this branch would go on to build Wollaton Hall).

Church of St Mary and All Saints.
Our friendly guide, Mrs Bryan, kindly gave us access to the church of St Mary and All Saints.  A number of  headstones in the graveyard bear the name of Bryan and a charity board (that dates back to the late 1700s) inside the church shows Elizabeth was not the first in her family to be a church warden here.

I was very surprised to find the old slate headstones in the churchyard are not listed.  They are very like listed ones we have seen in other graveyards.  This one commemorates John Wright, a 2 year old, who died in 1720:

1720 slate headstone

Inside the church was another surprise .... eight beautiful alabaster monuments to:
  • Two unknown ladies
  • Sir Richard Willoughby and lady (d 1325) ... he is depicted cross legged indicating he went overseas on a crusade.
  • Sir Richard Willoughby (The Lord Chief Justice who died 1362)
  • Sir Richard Willoughby (son of above ... died 1369)
  • Sir Hugh Willoughby (died 1448) and his wife Margaret Freville (died 1493) both very finely dressed indicating their great wealth and social position.
  • Isabel Foljambe (first wife of Hugh ....died 1417)
  • A priest ... possibly Hugh Willoughby Rector of Willoughby  (d 1344)
Sir Richard Willoughby (died 1362)

Lady Margaret Freville ... wife of Sir Hugh Willoughby (died 1493).  Their marriage brought the Middleton estate to the Willoughby family.

Rather old child breast feeding - panel on Sir Hugh's tomb

Panel on Sir Hugh's tomb

 They are tucked away at the side in a chapel of their own.

Memorial to Colonel Michael Stanhope

 Colonel Stanhope was only 24 years of age when he died in July 1648.  He was a Royalist and fell in the Battle of Willoughby Field during the Civil War.  The Stanhopes lived in Shelford: they were of equal rank to the Willoughbys and at various times they were connected by marriage; ex-marital affairs or rivalry!  A sketch exists of a plan for a grand house to be built at Shelford which would have put Wollaton Hall to shame ... work began apparently but the Civil War put an end to the dream.

On the day Colonel Stanhope died villagers used the church tower as a place of safety and a good observation platform across the fields to the action.  They were to witness the terrible scenes of the last battle of the Civil War in Notts. 

Colonel Rossiter commanded 150 Roundheads on horseback. The Royalists had the distinct advantage of numbering 7 or 800 men most of whom were experienced fighters as they belonged to wealthy families (Roundheads tended to be lower class not trained as swordsmen).  Rossiter's men had ridden many hours to reach the Royalist camp and without pausing to rest they charged the field.  The bean field belonging to Sir Willoughby would have been covered in the bodies of the dead and dying as the battle turned into close fighting with swords.  Colonel Rossiter was wounded in the thigh and lost his helmet because of a musket shot but continued to fight until his side was victorious and over 100 surviving Royalists were taken prisoner.  Only 30 Roundheads died.
The Royal Arms of King William IV

A large stone cross stood in the village ... made from one stone five yards in height apparently.  The Roundheads decided to pull it down and began to tie ropes around it.  The vicar had other ideas.  He served the men strong beer while he gave a long speech on the innocence of the cross.  Their drunken attempts to destroy it failed.

The cross is no longer here.

East window

Window hidden by the large organ hence the strange angle!

Eight men from the village are recorded as having died during the First World War: sadly three of them died in the final days of the war and two of those were brothers:

  • Jonathan Goodacre aged 28 died on 11th October 1918
  • Joseph Goodacre aged 24 died 18th October 1918
  • Harold Attewell aged 20 died 30th October 1918
The Second World War Memorial commemorates two deaths.  At that time though the population rose as children were evacuated from the towns. 

The Nottinghamshire Village Book by the WI tells us about an interesting resident from years gone by.  Her name was Mrs Wood:  wearing a long black cloak she would walk the eight miles into Nottingham in order to attend the Catholic Mass.  The poor woman put dried peas in each shoe before setting off as a penance for her sins!  She was convinced her house was occupied by evil spirits and complained the rats refused to say their prayers so she had the house demolished!

The peaceful atmosphere is disturbed when the Quorn Hunt meet here. In previous years Prince Charles was a frequent visitor on those days.

About a mile and a half west of the village are the sunken remains of Thorpe in the Glebe.  Pevsner describes it as "one of the best deserted medieval villages in the Midlands".  The remains of the church, which was still in use in 1743, lie in the farmyard of Churchside Farm.

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