The church is situated close to the centre of Wellow village, two miles south-east of Ollerton and a mile and a half from Rufford Abbey, with which its history is linked. Over the centuries the name of the village has been spelt ‘Welley’, ‘Welhay,’ ‘Wellough’, ‘Wellhagh’, ‘Wellhaugh’,’Welhawe’, ’Wello,’ ‘Welhagh,’ ‘Willehagh’ and doubtless other variants. The village is approximately 1,000 acres in size and is known locally for its maypole and tradition of maypole dancing.
Neither the church nor the village was present at the time of Domesday Book. However, the now abandoned village of Grimston/Grymston, located in the same area but a little to the south-east of present-day Wellow, is mentioned in Domesday Book. Wellow (and its church) were created in the 12th century, shortly after the creation of the Cistercian abbey at Rufford in c.1147, by peasants displaced by the foundation of the Abbey, and – somewhat unusually for a village – protected by a moat. The village continued to have close ties to Rufford Abbey until its dissolution under Henry VIII, but this relationship was not an easy one. One attestation of this is that in 1208 the monks of Rufford paid ten marks to the king for a license to build houses and hedges on their land near Welbeck, for the purpose of defending their wood against poachers. The men of Wellow considered this an affront and demolished the houses, for which they were fined twenty marks by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Various other incidents of poaching and punishment from the 13th and 14th centuries are documented.
The earliest extant parts of the church date from the late 12th century. In the time of Henry III, according to records of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln, two charters were signed ‘whereby four townsmen and the whole community of the village of Wellow […] undertake for themselves, their heirs and successors […] to maintain a chaplain in the chapel of Wellow, which belongs to the mother church of Edwinstowe; and they, as a community, bind themselves by an oath, and affix to the charters the seal of their community.'
In the 13th century, the leading family of the area was the Foliot/Foliat/Ffoliat family of knights, who constructed the earthwork fortifications known as Jordan Castle a mile and a half from the village. In 1268, Jordan Foliat obtained permission to hold a weekly market on the village green and an annual fair which was held on St. Swithin’s Day – a possible source of the dedication of the Church to St Swithin.
In medieval times the church may traditionally have been called a free chapel. Evidence from archaeology suggests however that the church was considerably expanded in the 14th and 15th centuries. The nave, south aisle, and tower are all 14th century constructions.
After Rufford Abbey was dissolved in the 1530s, its property in Wellow and other neighbouring villages was made over to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, possibly as recompense for taking a leading part in repressing the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, possibly in exchange for lands in Ireland that were made over to the King. At this time the property of Rufford Abbey at Wellow was valued at 11s.4d per year.
There is no record of incumbents prior to 1535, and some sources refer to a ‘chapel’ rather than a church prior to this date. Its status became an important issue during the Reformation. It had been scheduled as a chantry in the survey of 1535 and thus in 1545-7, in the context of the Abolition of Chantries Acts, the parishioners found themselves obliged to assert its claim to be a parish church exempt from the scope of the first act. This was done on the grounds that ‘there is nor never was anye foundacion of anye chaunterie there, neyther is ther anye landis, tenementis or possessions belonginge to the same, butt oonlie tithes.’ This would seem to be an attempt, apparently successful, to prevent the Church’s incomes from being appropriated by the Crown.
From the mid-16th century onwards, substantial parts of the village were owned by the Savile family, who occupied Rufford Abbey and retained the advowson of the church until 1898, when it was transferred to the Bishop of Southwell.
In 1592 the incumbent of the church, Rev. Richard Annables, curate, was in trouble at the court of the archdeacon for conducting marriages in private houses without licences or banns. It would seem that he was excommunicated for this, and not replaced for some time – churchwardens’ presentments record that in c.1596 the villagers ‘have no preacher forsermons’ and in 1602 ‘they have had only one sermon this twelvemonth.’ No replacement incumbent is recorded until 1603, at which time the living was recorded at £6 and the population of the village at 112 adults.
In c.1618 the churchwardens presented that ‘we have beautified our church, and have set up our King's arms, and have bought the communion book.’ In 1622, they presented ‘the church for being somewhat ruinous 'in the leades'; they entreat to be given until next Michaelmas to mend it.’ In 1637, the presentments noted ‘the want of a rail before the Communion Table’ and recorded that £10 was ‘bestowed this year upon our Church.’
The presentments from 1663 give a good idea as to the state and contents of the church at this time. The presentments recorded that ‘there are decays about the church which were presented last year at the Archbishop's visitation, and time was given by the Chancellor until the latter end of June’, and went on to note that ‘we have a communion table in good repair and conveniently placed, but not a decent carpet, but we will shortly provide one; we have a fair linen cloth and a handsome cup of silver with a cover, but we have no flagons of pewter for it is the custom of our parish that the churchwardens for the year provide such [flagons] for the communion; we have a decent reading desk and pulpit and a comely cushion and cloth for it; we have a large common prayer book, but we want a Bible, Homilies and a book of canons, and the last churchwardens have presented the want of them; we have a table of degrees wherein marriage is forbidden, and a decent surplice, but we have no hood because we know not of whose charge it was to be provided; our surplice is worn at all time of our minister's ministration; we have a register book and christenings, marriages and burials are recorded; we have a book to record the names and licences of such strangers as are admitted to preach in our church; we have a strong chest with three locks and a box for alms; the north and west sides of our church are well fenced with pales, and part of the south side, the other side being fenced with a sufficient hedge; it is not known if any offensive cattle have used to molest the churchyard; the east side is neither walled, railed or paled, but the great part of it is quick set, and a large ditch defends it; it belongs to the parish to maintain, and we confess it is defective; a terrier of our glebe we have promised to deliver to the Archbishop's Registrar [by] 17 June 1663; our vicarage house is in very good repair.’
Regarding the church finances, the 1663 presentments state that ‘our vicar is episcopally ordained and his orders were approved at the last visitation; our vicarage being not endowed, he has no institution and induction, but he has Sr George Savile's donation which was approved at the last visitation.’
Wellow does not seem to have suffered unduly from the turmoils of the Civil War and there were few dissenters in the village. County records and presentments show that prior to the Civil War there was one Catholic household in the village, with George Elliot and his daughter Maria presented as ‘Popish recusants.’ Under Charles II, two Quaker households – the Brailsford and Hinds families – were presented for absence from Church and excommunication. Following the Titus Oates plot of 1678, 'warrants under the hand and seal of Dr.Thoroton for action against Quakers, [were] addressed to the constables, Churchwardens and overseers of Wellow.’ William Brailsford would appear to have left the village for London, and some of his lands were granted to Sir John Molyneux, scion of a family that was influential in the village for the next century.
Dukery Records show that in 1680 Edwinstowe church owned various lands in Wellow yielding tithes. The largest was a plot of 250 acres, producing £31 5s annually.
In 1684, the churchwardens presented that ‘we have no hearse cloth, nor any bill indented [by previous churchwardens, transferring the church goods]; our church is out of repair in the steeple, wanting pointing; the chancel […] is out of repair in the roof, walls, windows, pavement and […] the walls want whiting; our seats in the church are out of repair, but we have wood provided to repair them.’ The presentments stated that the Lord of Clare was to repair the chancel. However in 1685 things were still not well, as the churchwardens presented ‘the whole parish, for not repairing the chancel’ and noted that the chancel was still ‘out of repair in the leads.’ The repairs would appear to have been completed in 1685 however, insofar as there is no mention of them in subsequent years’ presentments.
The church had an early clock, by Richard Roe of Epperstone, which was installed in 1699.
In 1718, repairs were commissioned for the Church as follows: ‘walls to be repaired; walls to be whitewashed inside; roof to be repaired; windows to be repaired; pavement to be repaired.The following printed items to be supplied: the Creed; the Lord's Prayer; the Ten Commandments; the King's Arms; the Book of Common Prayer. The following fittings to be supplied: basin for alms.’
Thomas Herring, Archbishop of York, visited the church in August 1743, and recorded that there were 60 families in the village, including ‘only one Dissenter, who is a Papist.’ There were 140 communications in the parish, but an average Church attendance of 30 or fewer communicants (60 at Easter.) The curate did not know of any unbaptized people, but ‘several’ people who were of confirmation age had not been confirmed. There was no meeting house, school, alms house, hospital or charitable endowment; no lands were assigned for repairs of the church or ‘to any other pious use’. £31 however had ‘at several times’ been given to the parish for the teaching of poor children under the direction of the minister and churchwardens. The curate, Richard Jackson lived at Walesby, where he also served as incumbent. Services were held once a week on Sunday. Herring also noted that in 1743 a man did penance in the church for fornication.
In 1764, Rev Richard Lloyd, instituted on 15 October 1760, made the return. The parish had 62 families, two of which were Anabaptists. As in 1743 there was no meeting house or almshouse, the vicar did not live in the parish but paid a curate Francis Holliday £25 a year to conduct services. Holy Communion was administered five times a year. The annual interest on £30 was used to pay for the schooling of five poor children, who were ‘instructed in the Christian religion and brought to church as required by the canons.’
In c.1790 Sir Francis Molyneux, was visited by a Lady Waldren, who became lost during a walk in the local woods. After using the sound of the bells of Wellow church to guide her safe return, she donated a sum of £14 to be invested, and the interest paid to the bell-ringer, with the direction that the bells be rung on the same date (19 September) every year.
By 1793, the population of the village had reached 350 inhabitants, and was still increasing, with 66 births and 48 burials recorded in the five years to 1793.
By the late 18th century, the church had become somewhat in need of restoration. In 1795, Throsby described the church as ‘but indifferent’ noting only that ‘it has a tower.’ He gave the value of the church as £11 which he stated as belonging to Rufford Abbey. In 1804, the parson, George Holt, was licensed to reside elsewhere on account of ‘the unfitness of the parsonage houses in his parishes for his occupation.’ In 1813, Laird described it as 'a poor looking chapel' and said the village 'consists principally of poor cottagers, who find employment in the numerous hop gardens in the neighbourhood.' Some sources refer to partial repairs being carried out around 1814-15.
A board in the church records that in 1827, £31, 5s 3d was bestowed on the parish, ‘the interest to be applied for teaching six poor children.’ In 1827 this interest, at 4%, was paid to a schoolmaster for teaching three children to read.
In the 1840s, a small hospital and dispensary were created in part of Wellow Hall. In 1847, the Primitive Methodists erected a chapel in the village, more or less on the village green itself. A Wesleyan chapel had been built in the village in about 1835, but was replaced in 1854.
In the 1850s, the village population reached a peak of 597 inhabitants. The 1851 religious census shows that the church had 107 free spaces and a total of 199. The weekly Sunday service alternated between morning and afternoon, with average attendances given at 50 and 80 respectively. This compares to an average congregation of 40 in the Wesleyan chapel, but 110 for afternoon and 225 for evening services claimed by the Primitive Methodist chapel.
In terms of endowments, the church had tithes of £42, glebe of £32 10s, and £13 from Queen Anne's bounty.
Up until the 1860s, it was a custom in the church that a person selected by the parish clerk rose in his place whenever banns of marriage were published: ’God speed them well!’ he would then say aloud, and the clerk and congregation would respond, ‘Amen.’
In 1865, White’s Directory valued the living of the church at £66.
By the 1870s, the church had lapsed to a state of considerable disrepair. Extensive restoration, especially of the chancel, was carried out under the direction of Ewan Christian at a cost of a little under £2,000. (The Savile family contributed significantly to this sum.) After several years without services, the church reopened on 17 May 1878.
In 1898, the advowson was relinquished by Lord Savile to the Bishop of Southwell, in exchange for an annual grant of £50 being made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to augment the income.
The vicar at this time was Rev W. Becher, whose generosity with his significant independent wealth contributed to the upkeep and possessions of the church. In particular, in 1903 he donated a fine organ to the church at a cost of around £500. Other gifts by Becher included new chancel gates, reredos, vases and ornaments on the altar, case for bell ropes, porch gates, and beautifully hand-bound hymn and service books.
In 1903-4 a new chancel screen was erected, donated by Mr. J. A. Bell of Wellow House.
In 1911, the glebe land was sold to Lord Savile.
Bishop Hoskyns visited the church in April 1911 as part of his report on Worksop Deanery. The population of the village had by this time fallen to 251, down from 290 in 1901. There was still church accommodation for 200 worshippers, and 36 on the Sunday School roll, but there were just 9 baptisms and 4 confirmations in the year prior to 30 September 1912.
In 1931, the unification of the parishes of Wellow, Boughton and Ollerton was mooted, but dropped after the proposal provoked outspoken protests at a heavily attended public meeting in Ollerton.
Following a Visitation in 1934, further restoration and improvements to the church were carried out at a cost of approximately £500. The works conducted were as follows:
- Central heating of nave, chancel and vestry
- Electric lighting of chancel, nave , vestry and stoke house
- New roof of nave in slating, felting, boarding, painting and plumbing
- Repairs to chancel, roof and masonry
- Painting of the clock
- New boiler house
- Cementing of church paths and gravelling church walk
- New fence for churchyard, wood gifted by Lord Savile.
A thanksgiving service given for the restoration, led by the Bishop, was held on 5 November 1939. A year earlier, Lord Savile had sold his estates in the area, and many farmers and cottagers in Wellow bought their own properties.
In 1961 the church was designated a listed building, and in 1963 the diocese purchased for £3,000 ‘The Grange’ for use as a parsonage house.
In 1973, alterations were proposed to the parishes of Wellow, Eakring, Bilsthorpe and Rainworth, involving the creation of the extra parochial district of Rufford Abbey. In 1974, the Queen signed an Order in Council making the Abbey and the larger part of inhabited Rufford part of the ecclesiastical parish of Wellow.
In 1981, restoration work was carried out, under the supervision of the church architect, to the pointing, coping stones in the roof, and new stones in the north wall and vestry. New stones were added to the porch and the pointing completed. The gutters were renewed and a new heating system installed at a cost of £1,500 – the total cost of the 1981 restoration was £8,000.
In 1985, the parish was unified with that of Kneesall (it is now part of a group of parishes comprising St Bartholomew's Church, Kneesall, St Michael the Archangel's Church, Laxton, and Moorhouse Chapel).
In 2000 a ‘millennium window’ was installed in the west wall of the nave, at a cost of £11,700. It depicts the village’s famous maypole celebrations using Christian symbols.
From 2001, Wellow PCC raised £20,000 to relocate two of the existing three bells into a new chamber in the tower and to renovate the church clock, using the third and oldest bell to chime the hours. Between 2005 and 2007, three new bells were added, completing a ring of six.