For this church:
North Wheatley is situated on slightly rising ground and has benefited by being surrounded by rich clay soil that has and continues to support an agricultural community. The village lies on the route of the Roman military road from Doncaster to Lincoln, the course of the road can be traced on the map.
Although there is no evidence of Roman settlements in the village there is a relic of Roman times, a large stone with a shell-shaped recess, weighing about half a tonne. The stone was authenticated in 1931 as the top of a Roman tombstone. This stone was removed from under the church tower when the foundations were being prepared for the underpinning of the tower in 1928. It is now mounted on a metal frame on the north wall of the nave.
Domesday Book records North Wheatley as ‘Watelaie’ in Oswaldbec Wappentake. The entry may be translated as:
2 b. of land taxable. Land for 2 ploughs. 6 Freemen and 1 have 2 ploughs.
Roger de Bully, (Busli) held the responsibility of the village on behalf of the king.
There is no mention of a church, however, in Domesday. The first evidence of a church is in 1191-93. John, Count of Mortain (later King John), for the souls of his father (Henry II) and of his brother (Henry - called ‘rex junior’) who was buried in the church of Rouen, granted to the canons and Archbishop Walter and his successors, in Frank Almoign for ever, and the capellaria of Blyth with all appurtenances. [Frank Almoign was a means for a lay person to grant land for the benefit of an ecclesiastical body.] This grant included the church in North Wheatley.
On 3 July 1231-32, Archbishop Walter Gray confirmed the tithe of the rectory given by the dean and chapter of Rothom (Rouen) to Richard, son of Robert, clerk of the church of Watele (Wheatley), for life, for 6 marks annually.
There is a mention of a vicar of Wheatley on 5 December 1279. In the return of Pope Nicholas’ Taxatio (1291-92), a portico of £2 in the church of Wheatley was included in the assessment for Blyth priory. This was described as a portico of tithe sheaves (garbarum decimalium) on 11 July 1308. The amount of £2 was repeated in the Nonae Rolls of 1341. It does not occur in subsequent returns.
Eleanor, queen of King Henry II, is said to have held Tickhill castle in dower and to have founded within its walls a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas for a warden and four chaplains, granting to the chapel the tithes of Wheatley along with other villages in Nottinghamshire. At an inquest in Blyth on 4 May 1342, it was stated that William de Ki(de)sby held the chapelry of Blyth by the king’s gift, with all appurtenances and portions of the rectories which included Wheatley.
On the death of Queen Philippa (consort of Edward III) in 1369, who had held Tickhill castle, the king assigned these properties to John of Gaunt. It is interesting to note that as in the case of John of Gaunt where he was given the manor of Wheatley on behalf of the king in 1369, the patron of the church was the warden of Tickhill. It was not until 1501 that the lordship of the manor and patron of the church were the same person.
Much of the present church dates from the 15th century, but it must have replaced an older building, and was itself largely restored and rebuilt around 1824.
Like the other churches in Nottinghamshire belonging to Rouen it was in the hands of the warden of Tickhill chapel and the abbot of Westminster until 10 July 1552, when the advowson was granted to the Earls of Shrewsbury.
The patronage passed to the Willoughby family early in the 18th century and is still in the hands of Lord Middleton.
In April 1598 the churchwardens reported that ‘the register of weddings, buryings and christenings is well kept but the copy of buryings only is presented to the Ordinary’, and in 1603 they returned that there were ‘192 communicants and no non-communicants that are of age to receive communion’.
At the time of the Protestation Returns in 1641/2 there were said to be about 100 males in the parish and none refused to take the oath. At that time the vicar was Thomas Beane, and the churchwardens were William Booth and William Collson.
The return for North Wheatley in the Compton Census (1676) showed that an ‘official form’ was circulated in a few parishes and that most incumbents took trouble with their answers. The editing was careful, but it was noted William Greaves, the archdeacon’s registrar excluded three persons of North Wheatley excommunicated for moral offences from the total of non-communicants, and in giving a figure for non-conformists excluded those who had only recently failed to communicate.
At Archbishop Herring’s visitation in 1743 eighty-three families lived in the village, of which one was a Presbyterian family. There was a parish school, and charitable funds for the relief of the poor. The vicar was Dr William Standfast but he lived at his other living, Clifton, and in 1743 was at Bath ‘for the recovery of his health’, leaving the running of North Wheatley to his curate. The sacrament was administered five times a year, but from 197 people of 16 years or more in the village, only 70-80 communicated at Easter.
Further information about the parish is to be found in Archbishop Drummond’s Visitation 1764. At that time North Wheatley had 73 families, of whom some were Methodist adherents: ‘These Methodists usually assemble twice a week in our Parish, in varying numbers, and have various teachers, but have no licens’d or fix’d Meeting-House.’
John Brailsford, incumbent for 10 years, lived at Middleton, Warwickshire, where he was chaplain to Lord Middleton.
For the previous 25 years Thomas Mottershaw, resident in Retford, had acted as curate. He was paid £20 per annum.
In 1764 one service was held each Sunday, alternating between morning and afternoon. Holy Communion was administered five times a year, and 203 people in the parish were of age to communicate, although the average attendance was only 30, and just 28 had attended the previous Easter.
The 1851 religious census return was undertaken by the vicar, the Rev Charles W Hudson. He noted that the value of the living was £281, and that the church had 101 free and 104 rented seats (including 50 rented seats in the gallery). He reported afternoon attendance on Census Sunday as 150 + 50 children, but that the average was 160 + 50. Afternoon attendance on census Sunday was 158 + 50 children.
Stephen Glynne visited North Wheatley twice, on 17 April 1866 and 17 September 1869 and made the following observations:
This church has only a nave and chancel with western tower and south porch. The chancel is said to have been rebuilt in 1824, is in rather a better Gothic style than might have been expected for the period. The tower and nave are perpendicular of a rather plain kind, and of excellent stone masonry. The tower has embattled parapet and 4 crocheted pinnacles, the belfry window of 2 lights with string below them, battlements to the lower part only, base moulding and west window of 3 lights. The porch is partly of wood, partly of brick, within is a good doorway with arch mouldings, rather straight sided. The nave has a good moulded parapet and 3 light windows which have heads on corbels, the centre light is cinque formed the others trefoiled with arches slightly ogeed. The chancel arch pointed on octagonal shafts. In the nave are several good ancient benches with carved poppy heads. There is in the north side of the chancel a square headed window of 2 lights in decorated character, procured from the original work.
On the 6th February 1896, the Bishop of Southwell granted a faculty ‘for substantial restoration of the parish church according to the plans of Charles Hodgson Fowler Esquire F.S.A. of Durham’. The estimated cost was £1,110, of which £500 was in hand and £670 promised by Lord Middleton as patron of the Benefice; the vicar was Revd Thomas Chamberlin Bigsby Chamberlin.
The report and drawings submitted by Mr Hodgson Fowler make interesting reading; he gives his opinion on the age of the church stating:
That a church existed on the same site for some hundreds of years before the present one was built, there is little reason to doubt, though with the exception of a small fragment of Norman work built into one of the walls, and the plain almost crude, turnpike font there is nothing in the building earlier than the latter half of the 15th century.
Mr Hodgson Fowler also commented that in his view the tower was older than the nave.
Hodgson Fowler then described the works he believed were necessary for the different parts of the church. For that purpose he divided the church into its areas and described the present state and the work required externally and internally. The detail of the report helps us to reconstruct the building in 1894.
In the chancel and vestry he recommended some rearrangement of the levels with new steps paving, new seats and desks for the boys and seats and desks for the clergy at the west end. He proposed removing the north wall between the chancel and vestry, and replacing it with two arches for the siting of an organ. He also proposed to rebuild the chancel arch with stone, replacing the brick arch which in places is only half a brick thick.
In the nave he proposed to close the old north door, and the small modern window over the porch, which had been inserted to lighten the western galley. He suggested a new oak roof to replace the ‘barn like one of deal.’ The seats in the nave he thought should be re-fixed on old cills and the present bricks on which they are currently raised. Some new seats were needed and these should be copies of the old ones. New floors of wood block laid on concrete throughout to replace the old one of gravestones, rough flags and bricks. Also in the nave he proposed new window glazing, ironwork and ventilators.
For the tower he proposed externally cleaning out cracks, filling with stone and grouting. Pointing should take place on pinnacles and battlements, and all walls. New corbels were needed for the bell floor, and he also proposed to renew all floors, to provide a new bell frame and new wheels and fittings for the bells. He proposed also to lower the tower floor.
The porch he believed to be beyond repair, and in need of a complete replacement.
Hodgson Fowler ended his report:
These suggested works would make the building thoroughly sound and in good order. I estimate the cost at about the following sums:
The restoration work as suggested by Mr Hodgson Fowler was carried out by H and S W Close, Builders, of Lincoln.
At the beginning of November 1898 the church was re-opened by the Bishop of Southwell. The local paper the Retford and Gainsborough Times gave an account of the event, the clergy and notables present, a brief history of the parish, the patronage, and the afternoon tea.
In 1912 the church had accommodation for 165 people. There were 81 children in the church school, 37 in the Sunday School, and over the previous year the clergyman had baptised seven infants. There had also been ten confirmations over the previous year.
Further restoration work was needed in 1927. According to the architect Mr R S Godfrey CBE the church was ‘disintegrating in every direction’. Part of a Roman tombstone was discovered during these works. It is now attached to the north nave wall.
The vicar, the Reverend F W J Daniels appealed for funds to save the church. A sum of £3000 was needed. The faculty for the work was granted on 5th August 1932 although it appears that work had already commenced before that date as money was raised and funding for the restoration of the chancel was given by Lord Middleton.
The repairs included underpinning the nave buttresses, and constructing a reinforced concrete raft underneath and attached to the nave walls. It was necessary also thoroughly to grout the north and south walls of the nave and the chancel arch. The east wall of the chancel needed to be underpinned, and decayed stonework needed replacing. The vestry walls needed re-plastering, and the architect proposed as well to re-bond and grout the arches to the organ chamber and vestry.
General repairs were needed to the tower, to the stonework and grouting of the wall of the tower and necessary roof repairs.
By the end of 1932 a major part of the work had been achieved in the nave and chancel including the removal of the plaster from the walls of the nave revealing the original stonework. During the renovations the medieval rood screen with cross and six candle sticks were removed from the chancel arch. On Advent Sunday 1932 there was a full church to hear the Bishop of Southwell, Dr Mosely give thanks for what had been accomplished.
In 1947, the Rev’d T B Jehu made a final appeal to finish the work and to enable the bells to be rung. A concrete raft was floated under the tower with the final redecoration, and the bells rehung.
The work took 30 years and on 10th February 1956 there was a ‘Service of Thanksgiving for the Completion of the Work of the Restoration of the Church 1926-1956’. The address at the service was given by the Rural Dean of Retford, the Rev’d C H B Watson.
It was, however, a further two years before the bells were ready to be rung, and a re-dedication service was held on 6th June 1958. They were still being rung in 2012, under the leadership of Mr P Garner, tower captain.