For this church:
The Domesday survey does not record that Willoughby (Wilgebi) possessed either a priest or a church. On 3 March 1103 an initial grant of monies and lands was made which founded the great Priory at Worksop. c.1120 the original grant to the Priory was confirmed: that William de Lovetot by grant confirms by his writ the gift which he has made to God all the churches of his demesne of the Honour of Blythe, that is, the churches of Gringley, Misterton, Walkeringham, Normanton on Trent, Car Colston, Willgebi (Willoughby) and Wyshoe (Wysall) and his part of the church at Tresswell.
A sealed letter concerning the rights of the Prior and Convent of Worksop to claim pensions of 40s from the church at Willoughby between 1154-81 confirms the existence of this early church.
Although the original dedication date of the church is obscure, a grant was made around 1190 by Richard Pité to Ralph de Ketlebi of land in Whilebi to be held of the church in that village.
In 1240 Ralph Bugge, a Nottingham wool merchant, purchased six bovates of land in Willoughby, together with the grantee’s chief messuage. He was the original ancestor of ‘divers good families’. Around 1250 his son, Richard Bugge de Willoughby, was granted the right to have a free chantry in his chapel within his court at Wilgebi, by Walter, Prior of Worksop.
There is no further reference to this Norman church and since the present building indicates a 13th Century foundation, it would appear that the original church was replaced. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that in 1279, William de Nodariis gave the advowson of Willoughby church to the Priory of Worksop, thus giving the Monastery the right to appoint a priest and also to receive the great tithes, which equalled one-tenth of the corn and hay of the parish. However, Worksop Priory was content to accept an annual pension instead of the tithes and this was valued at 20s. in 1291; the value of the church, outwith this pension, was £20. The pension arrangement appears to have pertained until 1385.
In 1298/9, the rector of Willoughby, one Hugh, was admonished for having several children with Agnes of Loughborough. He was warned by Archbishop Henry of Newark that if he offended again he would lose his church and he was ordered to pay a penalty of 40s.
The north and south arcades of the nave are the oldest parts of the extant building, dating to the early part of the 13th Century, followed by the tower with its broach spire and by the large plain chancel dating from the first half of the 14th century. The aisles were replaced and widened to allow for the erection of a mortuary chapel dedicated to St Nicholas. From its position and Decorated windows, this north-east chapel was used in the 14th century as a Chantry Chapel and retains a piscina and aumbrey.
On 23 March 1385 Alexander, Archbishop of York appropriated the church of Willoughby-on-the-Wolds to the Prior and Convent of Worksop, and in recompense of the damage done to his cathedral church of York reserved for himself and his successors an annual pension of 13s.4d., and to his Dean and Chapter 6s.8d., payable by the convent out of the fruits of the church in equal portions at Martinmas and Pentecost. He also ordained that there should be a perpetual vicar who should receive £10 per annum at Martinmas and Pentecost, with a rectory paid for by the Prior and Convent. This was confirmed by the Chapter of York on 18 March 1389. From then on the church ceased to have a rector and was governed by a vicar, until the Dissolution of the monasteries.
Thoroton noted that the testamentary burial of Hugh Willoughby, Knight, 1448, directs that he be buried 'in the Kirke before the altar of the Chantry of our Ladye'.
In the 1428 Henry VI subsidy, the values are the same as those given in the Pope Nicholas IV taxation of 1291, that is £20 (except for the pension proportion) yielding a subsidy of £2.
No further records are extant until an entry in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, (27 Henry VIII), when the church at Willoughby was valued at the yearly sum of £6.18s. 6d. Also in the Valor Ecclesiasticus and according to Godfrey, the south aisle was originally a chantry dedicated to St Mary, valued at £5.19s.4d.
On 13 July 1547 Edward VI granted the rectory and church of Willoughby to the Master and College of the Virgin Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay. The Commissioners of Church Goods on 8 May 1553 gave custody of the chalice, paten, three bells and sanctus bell to William Skottorn, curate, and to the churchwardens of Willoughby-on-the-Wolds.
At an official survey taken previous to the suppression of chantries (Certificates of Chantries, roll 37, No. 23), recorded that the church of Willoughby-on-the-Wolds retained 25s. for the maintenance of a light in the church.
After the dissolution of Fotheringhay, the rectory with the advowson of the vicarage was on 11 January 1553 granted to John and William Doddington. By 1591 it was the property of Sir Francis Willoughby. During James I’s reign Sir Percival Willoughby, a distant relative, married Bridgett, heiress of Wollaton, and disposed of his lands and manor properties in Willoughby, enabling some 19 tenant farmers to buy land. The remainder of the manor was sold in 1618 to Sir Thomas Hutchinson of Owthorpe for £1,705. For nearly 400 years, the village community had been dominated by the Willoughby family.
In 1587, the churchwardens returned that the chancel was not in good repair, and in 1601 the chancel wall was in decay, the fault of Mr Willughbie ‘who is about the mend the same’. Whether he did or not is not known, however, the following year there was more trouble as the churchwardens presented: ‘Mr Persefall Willobie for the chancel window which is out of repair; our surplice has been stolen, as we think through the chancel window, and we crave midsummer to get another.’
On 5 July 1648 Willoughby was the scene of one of the final battles of the Civil War.
The Parliamentary Commissioners of 1650 reported the impropriate rectory to be valued at £125 annually, the impropriator being the Earl of Kingston. The vicarage was then worth only £25 per annum.
The sale of the manor strengthened rather than weakened Willoughby’s economy, and a churchwarden’s report on 10 October 1735 recorded that the church roof, walls and windows and the contents were in good order, and the churchyard well maintained.
In 1743 Archbishop Herring’s Visitation Returns reveal that ‘there are between 60 to 70 families in the parish and one family of dissenters [Anabaptists]. There is no licensed meeting house, any public or charity school, not any Alms House, Hospital or any other charitable endowment. The Curate of Widmerpool serves the Cure of Willoughby. Public services are performed once every Lord’s Day and children instructed in the church Catechism in Lent. The Sacrament is administered at least three times p.a., number of communicants 15 – 25.’
A Terrier dated 1764 states that the church had four bells and a communion plate, one silver cup, a pewter flagon and two pewter plates, a large bible, two common prayer books and a book of homilies, a cushion and pulpit cloth and cloths to cover the communion table, a chest with three locks and a bier and pall cloth. £2. 2s. was allotted for repairs.
In 1781 Lord Middleton’s workmen repaired the Chantry Chapel and the Willoughby effigies.
By 1799 when the award was made under the Enclosure Act, the church patronage belonged to the Duke of Portland, who received 277 acres in exchange for his right to the parish tithes, with 87 acres allotted to the vicar.
From 1783-1811 the Overseers of the Poor accounts show that disbursements had quadrupled, but it is likely that the figures included other payments. After 1834 Willoughby came under the jurisdiction of the Loughborough Poor Law Union and was no longer responsible for administering to its own poor. A Charities Board thought to date from the late 18th to the early 19th century hangs on the south wall of the ringing chamber acknowledging persons and donations to the Churchwardens for monies to be distributed each Christmas for the poor. One entry reads:
The directories for this period show that the population was 600 with acreage 2080 and the vicarage valued at £6. 18s. 6½d. In October 1815 Mr Stretton, a Nottingham builder and antiquary, noted that the west end of the north aisle was used as a school.
On 11 September 1829 a vestry meeting proposed borrowing £100 to repair the church, and a grant was obtained from the Incorporated Society for promoting the enlargement, building and repairing of Churches and Chapels. Donations had already been received for £92.10s. By February 1830 the work was finished, with 100 additional sittings constructed by adding a gallery at the west end of the church.
Work was also done to provide spouting around the church and chancel. Brass sconces for the pulpit and a reading desk were purchased. Four new windows were installed in the south side of the church. Whilst removing the old pews a tesselated pavement was found and moved to form part of the floor at the north side. The total refurbishment cost was £201. 9s. 1¼d.
In 1842 the benefice of Willoughby was annexed to the adjoining parish of Wysall. A submission was made to the Ecclesiastical Court at Buckingham Palace on 29 January 1842, and permission to unite the two benefices was granted on 18 March.
The Religious Census of 1851 recorded a population of 600, and that ‘there was a free space in the main church for 230 with 130 “other”,’ and added that ‘the morning services in the neighbourhood are generally thinly attended. Already the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel had space for 150 free places with 46 “other”.’
Godfrey noted in the late 19th century that the church was very dilapidated and in need of restoration. Sir Stephen Glynne, visiting on 14 October 1871, recorded in his notebook: ‘An interesting church, but not in very good condition’. After a detailed description of the building, he added that the chancel was ‘in a neglected condition, the interior clumsily painted blue’. The east window was ‘entirely mutilated’. Not surprisingly, he was impressed by the ‘fine, ancient, sepulchral monuments of the Willoughbys’, but noted that they were ‘not in the best condition’. There were now five bells, those described in 1815 by Mr Stretton having been recast in 1856. Parish Registers were almost totally illegible, due to being defaced by damp.
At a vestry meeting held on 3 July 1891 it was agreed to apply for a faculty to make some alterations, since the church had been dilapidated since 1887. £500 had already been subscribed, and it was first proposed to restore the chancel and not to undertake other structural alterations unless there were sufficient funds to guarantee completion. A Faculty was granted to remove the chancel roof and raise its floor; to erect at the east end a carved stone or oak reredos and provide choir seats; to build a vestry and organ chamber on the north side of the chancel and east wall of the north aisle; to remove the debased west window and door and insert new ones in harmony with the building; to lower the floor of the nave and aisles and provide new ones at the new level; to replace the present roofs of the north and south aisles and provide parapets suitable to the style of architecture; to take down the door and rebuild the dilapidated south porch using old materials; to provide a surface drain around the walls of the church; to remove the original oak seats with fleur-de-lys ends and pulpit and to provide open benches and a new pulpit; to carefully move and refix any tombstones within three feet of the walls; and to repair and drain the church in accordance with the deposited plans. Owing to limited funds, only the fabric of the chancel, including its window tracery being altered to the perpendicular style, and the installation of a new east window were completed at a cost of £700. On a visit to Willoughby church by the Thoroton Society in 1902 the vicar of Thurgarton noted that the south porch ‘is now in a real state of ruin and the window over the West Arcade is blocked up’.
In December 1906 a structural survey was carried out by a London architect, Mr W Samuel Weatherley, who distinguished between essential and less urgent work, recommending the old roof timbers be replaced, windows be repaired and re-glazed and the tower be repaired, and around 20 feet of the spire be taken down and rebuilt. It was advised to dispense with the door in the west wall and insert a more appropriate window above. Disparaging reference was made to the 1891 chancel repairs, and it was recommended to lower the north and south walls to their original height, to lower the huge windows in the south wall but not to disturb the east window; to construct a vestry and organ chamber on the north side of the chancel; and to rebuild the entrance porch to the south aisle on a smaller scale and along the lines of the 15th Century one. Work to the nave, aisles, tower, and spire was regarded as being the most urgent and was estimated at £2,465. A faculty submitted on 17 March 1908 was granted on 29 April. During repairs to the church, the Baptist Church in Willoughby was purchased for ‘the use of the church’.
By March 1909 restoration was completed and a reopening service was led by the Bishop of Southwell. In addition to the £1,700 received or promised, donations were made of a coloured baptistery window, oak altar rail, brass altar cross, candlesticks and vases, bible, prayer book and office book, priest’s desk and sanctuary hangings, and a brass pulpit desk.
The cost of restoration work in the chantry chapel was born by Lord Middleton and the Rev. C.S. Millard, father of the Vicar, assisted towards renovating the chancel. The total refurbishment costs were £2,028. 4s. 8d.
In 1911 an organ was donated to the church by Major Robertson of Widmerpool Hall. This was later replaced in 1995 by one from the church of St Mary the Virgin in Bottesford.
In 1912 it was recorded that there were 38 children on the Sunday School roll, and that over twelve months there had been seven baptisms and twelve confirmations.
In April 1919 permission was granted to provide an oak screen, donated by Mr J Baldock, and to place a memorial tablet within the church ‘in proud and grateful remembrance of those who died in the First World War, Heroes of this parish’. A new memorial clock was installed in the tower at the same time and was paid for by village subscription.
A Second World War memorial tablet was erected in 1948. Repairs to the roof, tower and steeple were ongoing in the 1950s and 1960s and in 1962, the Rev. Ross Haywood climbed to the top of the spire to replace a weathercock. A new treble bell was installed in 1965 in memory of Canon A H Millard, vicar 1902-42.
On 27 May 1979 a service led by the Bishop of Southwell was held to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the dedication of Willoughby Church.
Restoration work to the tombs was carried out in 1984.
By the early 21st century the church tower and spire were in need of major repair, and a faculty was granted. Analysis of a stone sample showed it to be typical of the lower Jurassic Lias limestone used for most of the church’s fabric. £40,000 was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, other grants and donations amounted to £33,215, and work commenced in April 2005. The stonework to the tower and spire was repaired or replaced and the weathercock re-guilded. Repairs cost just over £100,000 and the project was successfully completed in 2006.