Worksop is one of those places I have been through on the train. I have stopped and enjoyed the full English at the café on the station. Hannah did a Choral course here many years ago. We saw photos of the church at an exhibition at Nottingham University. Time to pay a visit – less than an hour’s drive. We walked up to the Priory Church of Our Lady and St Cuthbert – SK 590788. Their website – https://worksoppriory.co.uk/ – does not clearly say when the building is open, but it mentioned a Friday lunchtime communion, so today (Friday 29 July 2022) seemed as good a day as any to have a go.
Yes, they were open, and quite a lot of folk were there doing the various jobs that are required to keep a church of this size (any size for that matter) functioning. A ramp to get in, and it is quite a building. They have a very old guidebook on sale (with a forward by Donald, Archbishop of York (he has not been Archbishop of York since 1974!) and a photocopied sheet produced by nottsopenchurches.org.uk. That website is dead. It says it was The Southwell and Nottingham Diocese Church History Project, a search for which comes up with https://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/_nottsopenchurches/index.html. A project that started in 1998, finished in 2014. A search for “Worksop Priory” takes you to https://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/worksop-priory/hintro.php, and there is a whole pile of information available. Talk about hiding light under bushels – the only thing of any real tourist interest in Worksop, a glory of the Church of England, and you have to be a geek to be able to find it. The Diocesan website has nothing about “visiting churches” on its front page or as a search term – searching for “tourism” does get you here.
William de Lovetot built a castle about 1100, and then the church soon afterwards. It was originally dedicated to St Cuthbert. The foundation date is given as 1103, but the charter is later. Here is a translation of it:
‘…William Lovetot, with the consent and concurrence of his wife Emma, and of his sons, grants and confirms by this his deed the gift which he has made to God and the Holy Church, and Canons of Saint Cuthbert of Worksop, in perpetual alms. In the first place, all the chapel furniture of his whole house, with the tithes and oblations. Next, the church of Worksop, in which the Canons are, with its lands and tithes, and everything that belongs to the same Church, and the fishpond (‘vivarium’) and mill which is nigh to the Church of Worksop, and the meadow which is by the mill and fishpond. And, further, the whole tithe of money of his customary rents, both in Normandy and in England. In Worksop field one carucate of land at Inwara [Brown gives ‘inwara’ as meaning inside the town], and his meadow at Cathale. And all his Churches, which are of his lordship and of the Honour of Blyth; to whit, the Church of Gringley, and the Church of Misterton, and the Church of Walkeringham. And the Church of Normanton, and the Church of Colston, and the Church of Willoughby; the Church of Wysall, and his portion of the Church of Truswell, with all the lands, tithes, and possessions belonging to the aforesaid Churches. In like manner also the tithe of his pannage, and of honey, and of venison, and of fish, and of fowl; of malt, and of his mills, and of all his possessions from which tithe is wont or ought to be given. And he wills and firmly grants that the said Canons shall possess all these things well and peaceably, freely and honourably, with all the liberties and free customs with which he himself now holds them with unquestioned right and entire freedom.’
Even then the lawyers charged by the word!
The first eighteen Augustinian Canons came from Huntingdon. The Lovetot family morphed into the Furnivals, Talbots and Howards, one of the most powerful family dynasties in England, and the fortunes of the Priory rose with them. In 1291 it was the third wealthiest monastic house in the country.
They started building the present nave in about 1140, starting building at the east end. The subsequent nine bays of the aisle arcades, dating from c1170, have impressive carvings and alternating round and octagonal piers. The master mason was almost certainly recruited from Southwell minster, which was being built at the same time. (We asked about the significance of the red arch – and were told someone put the wrong colour light bulb in!).
One of the clergy pointed out an Anglo Saxon head, so was there an earlier church here?
Here are the effigies of Lord Thomas Furnival “The Hasty”, Treasurer of England, died 1366. He was the third Lord Furnival, and fought at the Battle of Crecy in 1341. A web search does not tell me why he was hasty. Lady Maud Neville died 1423, aged only 31. Sir Thomas Neville, Treasurer of England, died 1404 (other sources say 1406). Then you realise that The Southwell and Nottingham Diocese Church History Project has a complete database of these memorials, and every memorial in the church – a huge amount of work has been done (and is findable if you know where to look). There is a story that “Verger Billy Colton” cut the legs off them all so they could be stood up in church – quite likely!
The Abbey was huge, most of the buildings being on the north side of the church. The guide book makes mention of two illuminated manuscripts which were produced (or at least held) here – both now in the New York. The Worksop Bestiary, 1185, is now in the Morgan Library, and can be viewed online at https://www.themorgan.org/collection/worksop-bestiary. The Tickhill Psalter, dating to about 1310, is in the Public Library – https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/galleries/belief/item/5555. Apparently the church has a copy, what a shame it is not on display. Here is the Tree of Jesse.
The Abbey was dissolved in 1539 and the land given to the Fifth Earl of Shrewsbury. The Nave remained as the parish church, but many of the buildings were unroofed and the materials sold off – a lot of people got very rich out of the Reformation. The Lady Chapel survived as the burial place of the important family. The Victorians led a major restoration in 1845, then the C20 saw the building of a new East End. We stayed on for the lunchtime service, which took place at the main Nave altar, was attended by a goodly number, and took a very long time to prepare for. While they were doing High Church Preparing I didn’t feel I could wander round with my camera. The service was what one would expect. By the time we had said the Hail Mary several times, and found a service which wasn’t quite Common Worship (not that they handed out any service books – you are obviously supposed to know the words of Mass), we certainly knew which Anglican (just) tradition we were part of. But they were friendly, so I am not complaining – but it was too “high” even for me!
The East window – Madonna and Child – is 1973, by John Hayward. The West Window, St Cuthbert, by Helen Whittaker, 2003. Better photos at https://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/worksop-priory/hglass.php. Most of the Victorian stained glass in the nave is unmemorable.
Some memorials to enjoy, including one to half a Vicar.
When you go outside you see how different the East End is. The churchyard is huge, and the Gatehouse is also a substantial building. That has its own website – wpgct.org.uk – and apparently on Heritage Open Day, 17 September 2022, it will be open, along with the church, and a copy of the Tickhill Psalter will be on display. (Heritage Open Day is not advertised on the church website).
We through the lovely park and gardens back into the town centre, found a welcoming Costa, had a wander, then made our way home. A fascinating church, in a town that – like most English towns – has seen better days.