For this church:
The present church of Ossington was built largely between 1782 and 1785 as a memorial to William Denison of Leeds, one of the richest merchants of his generation, who had bought the Ossington estate in 1768. It was then, and even today remains, an estate church of the manor of Ossington. The architect was John Carr of York, who closely supervised building operations. These included not only the church as it now stands, but also an impressive, domed, mausoleum at the east end. Like the church, this was in the neo-Classical Georgian style, which Carr did so much to make fashionable, but was demolished in 1838 by John Evelyn Denison, when it threatened to bring down the rest of the building. At the end of the nineteenth century a vestry was added on the south side, but other changes have mainly been confined to minor fittings and glass so that Ossington retains most of its original Georgian features. Carr’s building had however replaced an earlier church.
The rebuilding by Carr destroyed most of the structural evidence for the former church since the new one occupied the same position: as the licence of Archbishop Markham sanctioning the new church in 1784 stated it was ‘nearly on the Scite and Ground in the Church Yard of Ossington aforesaid where the old Church stood’. But some details on the earlier building’s appearance and location can be derived from the engraving of it that accompanies Thoroton’s History of Nottinghamshire first published in 1677. This engraving, in modified form, is also repeated in Throsby’s edition of Thoroton (1790). The prime purpose of the illustration was to depict the Elizabethan Hall at Ossington, but it also shows the church as a small rectangular building on the south side.
The old church had at least two round-headed windows on the west, two further flat-headed openings on the north, and was surmounted by a small tower with a hipped and tiled roof, crowned by a cross, while to the south there was a small porch (white-washed c.1730 according to the Wardens’ book). The diminutive size and the round-headed windows are suggestive of its origins as a small church or seigneurial chapel of the Anglo-Norman period. However, the wealth of surviving monuments in the present building that date back to the church depicted by Thoroton (the Peckham box tomb, 1551, and the many memorials to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century lords of the manor), suggest that by the mid eighteenth century, this building would have created the impression of being very crowded. This may have supplied a sound practical reason for its rebuilding by the Denisons. It was also by then in a very poor state of repair.
Early History: Ossington and the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem
Relatively little is known about the building of the earliest church at Ossington. It is mentioned first in the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) when it was given to the Cluniac priory of Lenton (Notts.). In the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) the manor of Ossington was held by a thegn called Osmund. He may already have possessed a small church or seigneurial chapel attached to his manor, though none is mentioned in Domesday Book (1086). Following the Conquest Ossington passed into the hands of the Norman family of Burun (ancestors of the Byrons of Newstead).
The first mention of a church at Ossington is in 1144 when Hugh de Burun granted the church of Ossington to Lenton priory by a charter drawn up in the Chapter house of the priory where he eventually expected to be buried so ‘that God might avert the scourge of his wrath from him, due to the very great multitude of his sins’. But at about the same disturbed period in the middle of King Stephen’s reign, Archbishop William FitzHerbert of York, who was himself to be deprived of his see in 1147, made a counter-grant of the church of Ossington, which then lay in his diocese, to the newly-founded knightly Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. These competing donations sparked a complicated dispute over possession of the church that continued until the early thirteenth century.
The part played by the Burun family in this dispute was ambiguous. In another charter of Hugh de Burun in favour of Lenton, drawn up before 1149, Hugh referred to land at Ossington held by the canons, by which he presumably meant the Hospitallers, to whom the Burun family were also to make several grants. These included one towards the end of his life around 1190 by Roger de Burun, Hugh’s son and successor, of ‘the whole town of Ossington’, even though Roger had also earlier issued a charter in favour of Lenton’s ownership of the church. In addition there is also a suspect charter, drawn up earlier between 1155 and 1162, claiming that Henry II (1154-89) had confirmed another alleged charter of Henry I (1100-35) for Lenton, including the grant of Ossington church. It is also clear that Lenton priory, in conjunction with the Burun family, was able to make at least one presentation of a parson, Geoffrey, to serve Ossington. This was in the time of Archbishop Roger of York (1154-81). But following Geoffrey’s death, in or before 1208, this right of presentation was challenged by the Hospitallers, who were clearly unwilling to let Ossington church slip from their grasp.
Their task was made easier by a renewed grant by Roger de Burun’s heir, William Malet, in 1204, once again confirming the donation of Ossington to the Hospital. Their possession of the manor is further indicated by a charter issued in 1206 by Brother Robert, treasurer of the Hospital of Jerusalem, in the presence of eight other brothers, dated ‘in the chapter held on St Hilary’s day (13 January) at Ossington’. So that when in 1208 the Hospitallers contested before the king’s justices at Nottingham Lenton’s right to present to the parsonage, despite the monks being able to show various charters granted to them by the Burun family, local jurors testified that it was Roger de Burun who had made the last presentation (i.e. of Geoffrey) and that since he had also granted the ‘whole town of Ossington’ to the Hospital, with a specific charter confirming that this included the church, Lenton finally agreed to renounce all its claims. From this point until the Reformation, the Order of the Hospital enjoyed peaceful possession of the church, naming its vicars, as well as drawing significant income from the lands and rights of the manor.
Priests, the Church and the Preceptory of Ossington in the Later Middle Ages
A charter of Robert de Burun, nephew of Roger de Burun (d.1194), drawn up early in the reign of Henry III (1216-72), and confirming the grants made by his family to the Hospital of the ‘township of Ossington with all its appurtenances’, was witnessed by Richard ‘the chaplain of Ossington’ and Gilbert ‘the clerk’, i.e. priest, of Winkburn, another manor that had been given to the Hospital. Such precise details are rare for medieval Ossington: records surviving for the Hospitallers’ lands in Nottinghamshire in the later Middle Ages are poor. The Hundred Rolls (1279) mention an attack in 1275 on Hugh de Napton, clerk of Ossington, almost certainly the parish priest, who was maliciously seized in Laxton wood by a gang led by Thomas de Munghow and Ralph Marischal of Laxton and only released on payment of a ransom of £20. Another cleric to be associated with the church is the former deacon of Ossington, Henry, who held lands at Widmerpool (Notts) in the late thirteenth century. Conversely, Archbishop William Melton of York (1317-40), prebendary of Norwell (1309-17) instituted a priest to Willoughby on the Wolds on 5 June 1320 whilst at Ossington, presumably enjoying the hospitality of the preceptory, which he again visited on 27 April 1325, before moving on next day to Norwell.
Edward I’s confirmation of grants by his ancestors to Lenton priory on a visit to Nottinghamshire in October 1290, which included citation of Hugh de Burun’s charter relating to the church of Ossington, does not seem to have disturbed the Hospital’s possession. In 1338 a wide-ranging investigation by the Grand Master of the Order into its possessions, resulted in a return from the Grand Prior of England, Philip de Thame. This describes the preceptory at Ossington, then in the hands of Prior Risius de Waleys, in considerable detail. It lists, for instance, a house and garden with a dovecote, over 600 acres of demesne land, 32 acres of meadow, six acres of pasture, two windmills owned by the preceptory, along with additional labour services owed by the villagers, receipts and profits of the year amounting to the respectable sum of £85 8s 8d. There is also mention of common pasture for 12 cows and 600 sheep. As the preceptory’s expenses came to less than its income, a small annual profit was recorded which was, presumably, used to support the Order’s crusading obligations. Separately the return records that the church’s appropriation was worth £8 10s but does not provide the name of any priest nor a description of the building. But since the preceptory normally only housed a handful of brothers, perhaps as few as one or two, they would have had little reason to greatly enlarge the small romanesque church that they probably inherited when they gained full possession of Ossington and which largely survived until the seventeenth century if Thoroton’s engraving is to be trusted.
Dissolution and the impact of the Reformation
On the eve of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and other religious orders, including that of the Hospital, in Henry VIII’s reign, it is clear that revenues from Ossington had fallen. The preceptory was only receiving £20 in rents in 1534 and its total income that year amounted to £44 2s, half of that two centuries earlier. Indeed it had become customary because of the increasing economic problems faced by the Order, along with all other great landlords in the later Middle Ages, for a number of the small preceptories of the Hospital to be joined together to save on administrative and other expenses. Thus Ossington was administered along with Newland (Yorkshire) from at least the beginning of the fifteenth century.
At the Dissolution, patronage of the living, passed in 1538-9 along with all other manorial rights from the Hospital to the new lay lord, Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. In 1543 he alienated the church to Richard Andrews, whose second daughter, Agnes, married Edmund Cartwright as his second wife (the first wife, Anne Cranmer being the sister of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer). The Cartwright family was to hold the manor and the right to present to the living for the next two hundred years until the estate was sold for £34,000 to William Denison in 1768.
Despite the link between Edmund Cartwright and Cranmer, little is known about how the changes brought about by the imposition of Protestantism affected Ossington although there is one tangible reminder of the turbulent changes of this period. This is the unusual palimpsest brass and memorials commemorating Reynold Peckham (d.1551), since this re-cycles parts of three earlier brasses (one only about 50 years old at the time it was re-used) which clearly came from monuments recently dismantled, perhaps once housed in a monastic church.
As for personalities, the name of one late sixteenth-century curate, Mr Alldye, is known, and it was reported in 1587 that ‘all was well’ under his curacy. At the archiepiscopal visitation in 1603, Thomas Tymble was curate; there were no recusants in the parish, 138 adult communicants and 65 children under age. After another visitation in 1634 it was found that ‘Their communion table standeth east and west and about two yards from the upper end of the Chancell’, while the visitor had to order ‘rails to be made before the Communion table and the same to be placed close up to the high end of the Church side wase (i.e. sideways)’ to conform to the norms laid down for altars by the zealous reformer, Archbishop William Laud.
Incumbents and Church life in the Early Modern Period
The death of Alexander Barlow, curate, is recorded in 1656, as is that in 1670 of Nicholas Sykes, a former vicar of Norwell (1635-59), who had become curate of Ossington at the Restoration. His successor was Richard Fletcher, in post at the visitation of 1676 when there were 107 communicants in the parish, though no recusants or dissenters were numbered. It is not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that a more comprehensive and continuous list of priests serving the church can be established.
The Cartwright family remained as lords of the manor and patrons of the living until 1768, when it passed by sale to the enterprising and extremely wealthy merchant-banker, William Denison of Leeds. Perhaps symbolically marking the end of an era, towards the end of his life in 1750 George Cartwright presented a large Book of Common Prayer, published at London in 1745, for use in the church; this prayer book still exists. On acquiring the estate, William Denison, although an infrequent visitor to Ossington from his main residence in Leeds, took a close interest in everything pertaining to his rights, including those of presentation. His first opportunity to do so came with the resignation in 1775 of the Rev Robert Clay Rousby, who had held the living since 1758. He was succeeded briefly by the Rev H Clark, who like Mr Clay Rousby received £40 p.a. from Denison for the cure. But by 21 August 1778 Mr Clark was dead since on that day his executors were paid ‘in full’ the sum £13 13s, presumably for arrears of his salary.
The search for his successor took some time, not least because Denison expected his curate to undertake other duties in addition to his spiritual ones. Writing to William Cartwright on 22 December 1778, he put matters with his usual blunt energy: ‘I yett want a clergyman if I can meet with one to my liking of the turn and disposition of Mr Clay, who used to keep the town in pretty good order, had an eye to the game and wo’d have acquainted me if anything materiall went wrong to the prejudice of the estate. I have had many offers from mere clergymen but they appeared to me to be totally ignorant of everything but their book.’ Eventually in early 1779 he offered the living to the Rev John Charlesworth of Louth.
The beginning of their relationship was marred by some misunderstanding despite Denison’s apparent goodwill. On 30 March 1779, he had written to Charlesworth,
‘I think for the satisfaction of the Tennants it wo’d not be amiss if you was to preach once or twice at Ossington for their approbation, which I make no doubt you’ll meet with, you may, if you please, apply to Mr Pate who lives near the Hall, & desire him to give me a line & whilst you are there, you may look into the dwelling house, & see what preparations are necessary for the accommodation of your family’.
But Charlesworth clearly took umbrage at the suggestion that his preaching should be assessed by his future parishioners: on 17 April 1779 Denison had to write to him again:
‘I have your favour of the 12th. I believe I have not expressed myself by letter contrary to what I did to you in person so as to have you in doubt. The tenor of Ossington Church requires only my leave, which I have given you. I think it a compliment due to the Town’s people for their pastor to give them an approbation sermon, & it must be a satisfaction for you to have it’.
A further cause of misunderstanding arose later in the year when Denison initially blamed Charlesworth for failing to supervise the correct planting of 115 fruit trees at Ossington as Clay Rousby would clearly have done. As a punitive measure Denison initially refused to carry out various improvements to the parsonage house, though he eventually graciously conceded on 25 January 1780 that ‘you certainly did right not to with your health in bad weather in superintending the planting of the orchard’, accepting that the blame lay fully with the gardener, Ancliff ‘a stupid, ignorant fellow’. He also made amends for his fit of pique by carrying out repairs at the vicarage (now incorporated in Ossington House) though he continued to display that characteristic attention to detail which had turned him into one of England’s richest businessmen. Writing again to Charlesworth on 25 March 1780, he noted, ‘Before you came to Ossington the roof of yr house wanted some repair, & I intend[ed] doing of it last summer, in order to keep it drop dry, in setting about such work, I allways order the workmen to make me an estimate, but as it is a house that I receive no rent for, my Intention was not to layout more money than was barely necessary & all future repairs I shall expect to be done by the Occupier.’ Charlesworth, beginning to get the measure of his patron, duly accepted that in future he would, unlike his predecessors, have to pay a rent (fixed in 1780 at £2 5s 3d p.a.), though in return Denison fairly discharged his responsibilities as landlord since later accounts show him carrying out repairs at the expense of the estate.
As for the church itself, by 1780 the building was also becoming increasingly dilapidated: much of the fabric must have dated back to its medieval origins and demanded constant attention. Minor expenses for repairs to various windows, laying steps, blocking leaks, mending the church wall, replacing timber in the ‘steeple’, ‘screeing ye Thatch’, lime-washing and replacing bell-ropes are all recorded in the surviving ‘Church Wardens and Overseers of Poor Book‘ that begins around 1730. It contains details of expenses down until 1781 immediately prior to the old church’s demolition, which can be usefully supplemented by a few documents found in the Denison archives. These also testify to the poor state of the building by the 1770s. In 1779 William Denison had paid for the replastering of the Choir, and a bricklayer was paid a guinea ‘for repairs at the Church’. Only a year later, however, on one of his rare visits to Ossington, Denison noted in a letter to his agent there, ‘I see the rain from the leads drops upon the plaistered wall ... which I observed have already begun to decay’, giving instructions that ‘the Plumber must raise it a little in order it may drop clear’. It is thus not surprising that it was decided in 1782 that rather than simply trying to maintain a crumbling edifice, a complete rebuilding was required on the old site (as noted in Archbishop Markham’s licence cited above). Further confirmation of this, if necessary, is also provided by the alignment of the earliest surviving graves (from 1731) close and parallel to the south wall of the current building.
The present church is traditionally stated to have been commissioned as a memorial by Robert Denison, following the death of his elder brother, William, in March 1782. This is supported by an inscription of 1784 which was recently revealed when the barrel organ at the west end of the church was taken away in June 2006 for restoration, revealing a blind semi-circular arch beneath which was inscribed:
Evidence in the Denison papers suggests that William himself had already considered the need for a new church in the last few months before his death since large quantities of stone were being freighted to Ossington in February 1782 by Breary and Co., who were certainly later paid for supplying materials for the church. In addition, on his burial in April 1782 the Leeds Intelligencer reported that William had been ‘interred with great funeral pomp in the church there [Ossington], previous to his being removed to a superb mausoleum, which it is intended to be built to perpetuate his memory’ having left ‘the immense fortune of £700,000', and implying that he had already agreed his brother’s intentions. The speed with which the plan was put into operation after William’s death points to a similar conclusion. Moreover the brothers were already familiar with their chosen architect, John Carr of York, since he had been asked by William in 1780 to prepare drawings for a secular ‘Temple’ planned (but never built) for the park at Ossington, and with whom, it can be assumed, the Denisons had no doubt discussed plans for the church.
But it was Robert who certainly pushed the scheme ahead with great rapidity after succeeding his brother. His accounts show a continual flow of materials and expenses incurred on building at Ossington down to January 1785, while his own executors’ final accounts confirmed in 1789 that ‘By the Will of the deceased certain buildings and improvements on the Ossington Estate, which were begun in his life time were to be finished at the Expence of the General subjects; in consequence of which the Executors have paid out as follows ...’. Their list begins with ‘Joseph Nollekens, Statuary ... £921' and proceeds to itemise many other payments to plasterers, masons, carpenters, bricklayers and carriers, concluding with £104 14s paid to ‘John Carr, In full for his Plans, attendance etc. at Ossington in 1782, 1783, 1784'. The accounts of 1782-5 and the Executors’ accounts complement each other, and there seems no doubt that of the £4000 and more which was expended in these years on building work at Ossington, the vast majority of this was spent on completing the church and mausoleum.
The church Carr designed was in a neo-classical Georgian style which he himself had done so much to promote: he was to use many of the same features of Ossington on a grander scale for his own mausoleum, the church of Horbury, West Yorkshire, built a few years later. Drawings and descriptions of his original design for Ossington survive, for which he was paid a first installment on 30 July 1782. They match closely with the present building. As executed, in addition to the current rectangular building with attached west tower, the church was at first extended eastwards by a large octagonal domed-mausoleum, about a third of the size of the church.
Doubts have often been expressed by even the best informed scholars over whether this work was ever executed. But enough clear documentary evidence, a survey plan of 1786 as well as a drawing have now been brought to light to show that it was. Unfortunately, however, the structure of the Mausoleum proved to be unstable, threatening to bring down the church with it, so in 1838 John Evelyn Denison, great-great nephew of William and Robert, decided on its demolition. Nevertheless the vaults remain with modern access behind the altar, and members of the Denison family continued to be buried in it until the late nineteenth century. In addition, other tombs and monuments from the old church were installed in the new building.
The most spectacular of these are Peckham’s tomb-chest and brass (1551) and the mural funerary monument to the memory of William Cartwright (d.1613) and his family, respectively flanking the present altar to right and left. Smaller ones include two further eighteenth-century mural monuments to members of the Cartwright family by T King of Bath, while set into the floor of the Nave are a number of tombstones pre-dating 1782-4. Among the bells taken from the original church to be rehung in the new one is one dated 1694 (recast in 1864) and another, the gift of George Cartwright in 1733, also recast in 1864, while two bells by Thomas Hedderly of Nottingham are dated 1784, marking the dedication of the new church.
In his licence of 1784 consecrating the church, Archbishop Markham had decreed that it was to be called ‘by the name of the Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary’, possibly reflecting its original dedication. But this was changed to The Holy Rood in the first part of the nineteenth century, probably by the strong-minded John Denison, since it appears with that name in the religious census of 1851, though as late as 1884 it still occurs on Ordnance Survey maps as ‘St Mary’s’. A pew-plan of 1802 shows an arrangement much as at present, with the Denison family and ‘Upper servants’ sitting on the north side of the Nave nearest to the Chancel, the incumbent’s family and the parish clerk’s pew, facing them on the south side. The rest of the Nave, to the left of the south doorway, was filled by ten rows of pews with a central aisle, with women servants occupying the first two rows on the north side, balanced by men servants on the south. Then came five rows of named pews occupied by families from the village, and finally three further rows of pews for ‘mix’d servants’, including those of the Rev John Charlesworth, perpetual curate from 1779-1821, who sat in the eighth row on the south side. The current Baptism, Marriage and Burial registers all date from his period of office, the earliest marriages registered, for instance, dating from 1813.
Towards the end of his life, the Rev John Charlesworth was assisted by a younger curate, the Rev Charles Drury, who also served as tutor to the talented children of the Denison family. Among them were Edward, future bishop of Salisbury (d.1854), John Evelyn (d.1873), Speaker of the House of Commons for 15 years, and Sir William (d.1871), colonial governor of Australia and Madras; while six other brothers also made their mark! Further assistant curates, some also doubling as tutors, are recorded intermittently at Ossington down to the early twentieth century.
The 1851 Religious census states that the church contained 150 places, 50 of which were free. The incumbent, John Galland, reported a general congregation of 66 at morning service, with 12 Sunday School scholars, on the Sunday of the census, while the annual average attendance for morning services was put at 80, afternoon services at 100, with 19 Sunday School scholars on each occasion, from a parish population of 235. The benefice was still worth £40 a year as it had been a hundred years earlier.
The preservation of special printed forms of prayer and thanksgiving from the mid nineteenth century from Ossington also throws light on church life in the village. There is, for example, an order of thanksgiving for an abundant harvest in 1854, and one for successes in the Crimean War, including the capture of Sebastopol in 1855. In 1866 there is a similar order for prayer for relief from cattle plague and protection against cholera. Around 1700 Snowden’s charity was established by the then vicar; rent from a parcel of land was to be used to help the poor. By 1829 the rent was no longer being used for that purpose but the Parliamentary returns for that year show that John Evelyn Denison had agreed that his agent would pass the rent to the overseers, as trustees for the poor of Ossington. It is not known when this charity ceased.
Three nineteenth-century incumbents (technically enjoying a perpetual curacy in the gift of the Denison family) had very long tenure of office, recording 112 years service in a period of 120 years: John Charlesworth (1779-1821), John Galland (1823-52) and Enoch Trees (1858-98). Tenure since 1900 has usually been much briefer: since 1898 there have been sixteen incumbents. At Bishop Hoskyn’s visitation in 1911, the benefice was worth £100 a year, 196 people were recorded as living in the parish, the church could officially seat 140 people, attendance at the day school was 47 while 40 pupils attended Sunday School.
The vestry was added on the south side in 1890, when the church was again reported as being in a poor state, and the north door built in 1893. Also in that year the altar rail was changed from semicircular to rectangular. A clock had been installed in the tower by Speaker Denison in 1864. The main additions to the church in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, however, are a series of fine stained glass windows, mostly commemorating members of the Denison family, although there is one dedicated to the Rev Enoch Trees (d.1898). That on the north side of the nave erected to the memory of Charlotte, Viscountess Ossington (d.1883), widow of Speaker Denison, is executed in the style of William Morris and Edmund Burne Jones. Though there is no direct evidence linking them with its execution, it is work of high quality. But perhaps the most distinguished is that erected by Col. Max Denison (d.1969) in memory of his aunt, Lady Elinor Denison, by George Cooper Abbs (1946).
During her long life, Lady Elinor Denison (1843-1939), daughter of the 3rd Earl Amherst, whose husband, William Evelyn Denison, was a nephew of Speaker Denison and inherited the estate from his uncle in 1873, was the major influence on developments at Ossington. Lady Elinor dedicated a large part of her life to the church, particularly after her only son was killed in the last days of the First World War. With the estate joiner William Mawson she carved the wooden frieze around the nave, the pulpit and the lectern. She was also responsible for the making of the frontals, vestments and mats around the altar rails, and for obtaining in 1911 the carved wooden Rood from Oberammergau which adorns the Chancel arch. In Lady Elinor’s time the services were high church and fully choral with Lady Elinor at the organ: if you were not in church on Sunday, you could expect a visit from her on Monday! Nowadays there is Holy Communion with hymns twice a month.
In 1962 Archdeacon Kenneth Thompson became vicar of Ossington and Kneesall; he was later created the first Bishop of Sherwood (1964-74). He and Mrs Thompson were an inspiration to all and insisted that if we wanted a church we could be proud of, we would have to work for it. The church was again very run down but with their help and leadership enough money was raised to install new heating, wiring, redecoration, and new carpets throughout. Under the guidance of Mrs Thompson the frontals and vestments were restored.
The positive organ - strictly speaking, the Casson Positif Organ - which Lady Elinor bought from a London church, and the barrel organ (built by Thomas Robson, organ maker to William IV in 1836) were restored in 1967 and again in 2006. In 1968 the Bishop of Southwell dedicated them in a special service.
In 1968 Col Max Denison, who inherited the estate from his aunt, Lady Elinor, gave the old rose garden of the hall, lying to the east of the church and partly occupying the site of the former mausoleum, to be an extension of the churchyard.
In 1974 there was a fire in the church which caused damage to the picture over the altar, to the panelling and to the carpet. These were repaired and replaced where necessary and the church entirely redecorated.
In 1978 the six bells, the earliest dating from 1694 and two from the dedication of the new church in 1784, were taken to Taylors of Loughborough to be retuned. The bell frame, which had warped and was damaging the tower, was demolished and a new one made by Alan and Robert Wilson, farmers in the parish.
The church was reroofed and treated for woodworm, greatly helped by a generous grant from the Georgian Society in 1990.
Ossington village has always been and remains an estate village. As recently as twenty years ago the cottages were all occupied by estate and farm workers. Nowadays all the farms (10), with the exception of one, are arable and no farm workers are employed, the farmers managing with modern machinery and casual labour when necessary. The cottages are now let to people who work in surrounding towns and villages, resulting in many changes for the traditional character of village community life. In the 1931 census Ossington still had 173 inhabitants; now there are approximately 80 adults and 13 children living in the village. The only amenities are the church and the village hut. The latter consisted of two First World War army billets joined together. It has been restored and is now used regularly for village events, including Harvest suppers and other church and village celebrations.
From at least the 1870s there was a church school in the village with the caretaker’s house attached, while the Head teacher and one other lived in the school house in the village. But the school was demolished at the beginning of the Second World War to make room for an airfield, now also long returned to agricultural use though a few remnants of the runway and bases of huts are visible. There is also a memorial on the south wall of the church commemorating this connection with the RAF, while Canadian and American servicemen were also stationed here, some of them, or their families, still retaining links with the village. As for the pupils of the school, they were moved to Norwell Church of England school which children of the village still attend.
Despite the demolition of the above-ground mausoleum in 1838, the vault continued to be used for burials of the Denison family for most of the rest of the nineteenth century. A plan of the vault made in 1889 shows that it is arranged on two levels with 24 spaces for coffins, twelve a side, and that it contained three burials on the side described as ‘next the House’, i.e. on the north side, and five on the side ‘next the Orchard’ on the south. Those buried there (with dates of burial rather than that of death in some instances, revealing at least one post-puerperal death, and those of several children), are:
William Denison of Leeds, 27 April 1782
Robert Denison of Leeds, 30 May 1785
John Wilkinson of Potterton, 1 June 1789
John William, son of John and Maria Charlotte Denison, 10 August 1792
John, son of John and Maria Charlotte, and on the same day, Maria Charlotte, wife of John Denison, 10 August 1794
Louisa, daughter of John and Charlotte Denison, 2 January 1806
Frederick, son of John and Charlotte Denison, 15 June 1808
Lucy Maria Charlotte, wife of Charles Manners Sutton, 24 December 1815
John Denison, esquire, 15 May 1820
Charlotte Denison, 29 January 1859
John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington, 13 March 1873
Charlotte Scott, Viscountess Ossington, 5 October 1889
Since then, members of the Denison family have been buried both in the old churchyard and in the new one.
Non-conformity in Ossington
There were no recusants (Catholics) reported in Ossington in 1603, nor were there any recusants or other dissenters in the parish in 1676. But the village, like every other place in England, was touched by the missionary work of Methodists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Before 1800 a Wesleyan Methodist congregation existed, meeting in a room in a farmhouse but very little is currently known about it. In 1851 Mary Wilson, class leader, reported a congregation of 50 for evening service, whilst there was also an active Primitive Methodist congregation of 54 who attended afternoon service according to Jonathan Ratcliffe, an itinerant preacher, who made the 1851 return. It is probably correct to assume that there was a considerable overlap between these two non-conformist congregations. Interesting light is also shed on this local pattern of attendance by Bishop Hoskyns in a letter summarising conclusions from his visitation of Norwell deanery in 1911. He comments specifically that many farms in the deanery were held by non-conformist tenants:
‘How this comes to pass I do not stay to enquire, but it adds very greatly to the task of united work in a small village and curiously affects the observance of Sunday morning. For in the great majority of cases the Nonconformists do not attempt a morning service at all, and thus a strong influence is at work which encourages our people in the neglect of the Lord’s Day except at night.’
Strong social pressure exerted by Lady Elinor Denison on villagers to attend the parish church also seems to have had some impact on non-conformity in Ossington in the earlier part of the twentieth century, since the numbers of practising non-conformists steeply declined from their nineteenth-century peak. In recent decades this decline has reached the point of extinction so that now neither physical remains nor the presence of a congregation witness to this particular form of Christian practice in Ossington.