For this church:
Widmerpool could have existed since early Roman times, being in close proximity to the Fosse Way settlement at Vernemetum (Willoughby-on-the-Wolds) which was originally a Roman transit camp, and there is evidence to suggest a villa was built near the village brook to house the local commandant.
Following the Norman Conquest the first recorded mention of Widmerpool is in Domesday Book of 1086 as Wimarspol, suggested by Thoroton (1677) as a derivative of 'Wimars Poll' or perhaps 'Wide Mere Poole' (the brook is known to widen in flood spate). A more credent suggestion is that the name is an amalgam of languages from an Anglo-Saxon district, viz. Weimar, as a vernacular interpretation.
The Domesday Survey records neither church nor priest in Widmerpool but, almost hidden in a niche in the south pier of the tower close to the font, there exists a small stone capital from an early Norman church. This important relic dates to the late 12th century. The original structure was of timber and blue limestone and was acquired locally. It was dedicated to both St. Peter and St. Paul in the 13th century. ‘St Paul’ was removed during the Reformation.
From 1171 Widmerpool paid 1s.2d. in Pentecostal offering to Southwell and this payment continued until the late 1700s. The early church would possibly have been of stone with a roof of shingle or maybe thatch on timber beams, and some small windows, but inside no provision of pews or seating.
The list of incumbents and their patrons indicates that the first recorded rector, Ralph de Northampton, was instituted on 3 December 1272 under the patronage of Henry de Heriz. In 1291 the Taxation Roll of Pope Nicholas IV discloses the church’s value as £13 6s. 8d. and it was later taxed in the Nonae Roll (1341) at 20 marcs (the same value, £13 6s. 8d.).
In November 1306, Archbishop Greenfield issued a mandate to the dean of Bingham to enquire under what title Nicholas de Knoville held a canonry at Southwell and the church of Widmerpool; Nicholas was also accused of homicide and usury. However, in March 1310 he was found innocent and his benefice reconfirmed; this had first been conferred on him by Archbishop Wickwane before the Council of Lyon (1275); Nicholas died around January the following year.
The advowson of Widmerpool in the 13th century passed successively to the families of Belers and Swillington. Sir John Eynesford presented in 1400 and 1401. In 1429-30 a jury found that Margaret, wife of Sir John Gray, Knight, daughter of Sir Roger Swillington, Knight, died seized, inter alia, of the manor of Widmerpool and the advowson of the church (Thoroton). The advowson formed part of the great suit in 1440-1 between Ralph, Lord Cromwell and Sir Henry Pierrepont, the representative of the Heriz family (Thoroton). In 1341 the church was taxed on the Nonae Rolls at 20 marks (1 mark = 13s. 4d.). By 1465 it had a tower and possibly a bell. The east window was enlarged and mullioned in the Decorated style. The nave plaster would, in all probability, have been painted with bright biblical murals, later to be removed at the Reformation.
At the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI the church was taxed at 26s. 8d. per annum. This equates to a clear annual valuation of £13 6s. 8d., the same value as in 1291.
The church tower would perhaps have had a spire, but the remainder of the building had suffered from neglect and decay over many long periods. Edmund Fletcher (instituted 1530) and his congregation bore the brunt of those difficult years of the Reformation under Henry VIII.
The parish registers date from 24 March 1539 with the christening of Modwine, daughter of John Charnock, the son of the late Rector. Early entries of birth, marriage and death are listed haphazardly although usually in defined groupings. Burial entries include a reference to Civil War casualties from a local conflict in the year 1648, viz. ‘Two souldiers buryed that were wounded in the field – July 6’ and which refers to the battle of Willoughby Field when Col. Michael Stanhope, the Royalist, was killed.
An inventory of church goods drawn up in the reign of Edward VI shows an entry relevant to the parish:
WYDMERPOOLE, 7 Sept. 1552. – A chalice and a paten of silver ‘parcell gylt’. A cross of brass, altar cloths of linen, red velvet vestments, green crewel l cope, ‘surplesses’, three bells in the steeple, a sanctus bell, a hand bell and two ‘cruettes’ of pewter (amongst other items). The Commisioners of Church Goods handed over the chalice, paten, the 3 bells and sanctus bell on the 8th May 1553 to John Stockeley, ‘curate of Wydmerepoulle’, (Godfrey, 1887).
Richard Snoden appears to have been the first signatory rector in the register and he began to enter names about 1587. It suggests he had built a chancel by 1594 (there is a dated stone over a chancel window), and it is recorded that the chancel used to bear an inscription regarding its erection by him in that year. He died 1624 and was buried at Widmerpool.
There is a memo regarding the provision of two quarts of sacramental wine and two loaves at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide: memos. re. births, marriages, and deaths of the families of Reverends Snoden, Rustat, and Roos, etc. – successive rectors – with date and hour of birth given. A memo relating to 'John Rustat, rector Aug. 22 1624 read his articles whereunto he gave full and unfayned consent and assent'. (John Rustat was ejected from the living for his Royalist sympathies during the Usurpation and a Presbyterian Minister, one Samuel Kendall, took his place during the Commonwealth under Cromwell ). The Parliamentary Commissioners of 1650 valued the rectory at £100 per annum, which John Rusted, ‘a preaching Minister but disaffected’ received to his own use. The Earl of Kingston was patron. The Rev. J. Rustat also makes a declaration of conformity under the Act for Uniformity on 5 Oct 1662. His last written entry in the register occurred in 1670.
During the Usurpation and consequent Civil War, the benefice was sequestered and further decay ensued. On 5 July 1648 Widmerpool was closely affected by the clash of a large troop of Parliamentary soldiers with a force of Royalist Cavalry in ‘the battle of Willoughby Field’. Two soldiers who died in this ‘skirmish’ were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard.
The church suffered neglect and decay over a long period, and was subject to further decay during the Civil War years. Between 1698-1740 the establishment of a nonconformist meeting house caused a considerable loss in the parish church congregation.
At Archbishop Herring’s visitation in 1743 the incumbent recorded ‘forty odd’ families in the parish, of which two were Presbyterians. He noted that the licensed meeting house was no longer used for that purpose. He himself lived at Carlton in Lindrick, and paid a curate to take the services who lived in the parsonage house and was allowed £30 annually. Holy Communion was administered at Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide.
At Archbishop Drummond’s visitation in 1764 both the rector and the curate appeared, and reported 42 families in the village, but eight dissenting families ‘commonly called Methodist and one Independent included’. There was a licenced meeting house for Methodists ‘but has not been used for this purpose for these two years.’ The rector, Langley Gace, lived in Lincolnshire with his father ‘who, being old and very infirm, desires my continuance with him. His curate, Whaley Bugg, lived in the parsonage house, and was allowed £30 p.a. to conduct services. The only unbaptised child in the parish was the child of Methodist parents. ‘All of a competent age were confirmed at your Grace’s late confirmation at Nottingham’. Communion was administered four times a year.
In the early 19th century the wealthy Robinson family moved from Scotland to Widmerpool and began to rebuild the entire village, including a new hall on their estate on the higher slope above the church. The derelict church was restored, and in or about 1832 windows were added, the nave re-roofed, spire and porch replaced, and the chancel – a 1594 addition – was provided with a Gothic timber roof.
In 1836 during a storm, lightning struck the spire, which collapsed, demolishing the nave roof and breaking every window in the newly restored building. The Robertson family (who had changed their name from Robinson) were later, under the supervision of Major Coke Robertson and his wife Harriet, to re-order and finance yet another restoration, as a memorial to Harriet’s father Andrew Low.
In 1851 John Robinson, the rector, returned a general congregation of 50 in the morning and 44 in the afternoon, with 8 Sunday scholars at both services. He estimated the average at about 60 for the general congregation and 20-30 for Sunday scholars. The numbers were lower than usual on census Sunday because 'the measles and influenza at the present time being in the parish.'
Widmerpool also had a General Baptist chapel (1806).
According to White’s Directory of Nottinghamshire for 1853:
‘Widmerpool is a small, neat village and parish on the sides of two opposite declivities of the Wolds, nine miles south-south-east of Nottingham... The church, a neat structure, was restored in 1832, with a handsome Gothic spire, but in 1836 it was struck by the ‘electric fluid’ [lightning], which threw down half of the spire, and broke all the glass in the windows. The remaining part of the spire was taken down, and it was finished by a beautiful tower, in which are three bells. The churchyard is ornamentally planted with evergreens.’
The parish church is hidden away on the wooded slope between the old Hall and the village adjacent to ‘Rimmer’s Wood’ .
The Victorian Gothic rebuild was completed between 1888 and 1895, but still supported by its original 14th century square tower which carries three bells. The rebuild cost around £10,000. The plain ceiling was re-designed as open hammer beam. A new organ was installed and a vestry added, the chancel given a lierne ceiling, and the timber screen removed to reveal the new stained glass windows and a remarkable reredos with the Pascal Lamb at its centre. The chancel was much enriched with marble. The font is a 14th century relic of the old church.
Sadly, before the work was finished, Harriet Robertson died in 1891 aged 42. She had planted the snowdrops and primroses which are seen today in their season, and her marble effigy adorns a solid marble dais in the N.W. corner of the nave.
Charles Cox, writing in 1912, described the church as follows:
WIDMERPOOL (Sts. Peter and Paul ): ‘Chancel, Nave, aisles, South Porch and West Tower. Church stands in grounds of Hall immediately below residence of Major Robertson. Save for considerable portion of tower, with arch into nave, nothing old remains, so many have been the changes since Reformation days.’
When Bishop Hoskyns visited in 1914 he recorded that there were 26 children on the school roll, and 24 on the Sunday School roll. There had been six baptisms over the previous twelve months.