A History of the County of Rutland: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.
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The little parish of Whitwell, of which the population is only 84 persons, covers an area of 629 acres, chiefly grassland. The land falls from about 400 ft. above the Ordnance datum in the north-west to about 200 ft. along the stream which forms the boundary between Whitwell and Hambleton on the south-east, and is crossed at Bull Bridge. The soil is clay and limestone on a subsoil of Inferior Oolite.
The pretty little village lies in a hollow along the road from Oakham to Stamford, which is crossed at the west end of the village by a road from Edith Weston to Exton. On the north side of the road are the cottages, mostly of stone with thatched, tiled or stone roofs, while on the south, at the bottom of the hollow, are a large stone-built farm and the Rectory. Through the garden of the latter runs a small stream having its source probably from the 'White Well,' flowing from the side of the hill on which the church stands.
In the time of Edward the Confessor WHITWELL belonged to Besy, but by 1086 it had passed to the Countess Judith, (fn. 1) and, with her other lands, followed the descent of the Earldom and Honour of Huntingdon. It was granted with Whissendine (q.v.) by David, Earl of Huntingdon, to Richard son of Hugh de Moreville, constable of Scotland. (fn. 2) Richard (d. 1189) was succeeded by his son William (d. 1196), and he by his sister Helen, wife of Roland, son of Ughtred de Galloway. Richard granted lands in Whissendine to the Templars, which were confirmed to them by Helen in 1213, (fn. 3) and it seems probable that the overlordship of Whitwell passed about the same time to the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem, who presented to the living in 1227 (fn. 4) and in whose hands the overlordship appears in 1286. (fn. 5) The rectory and advowson were held by the prior with the overlordship of the manor and probably with them a manor of the rectory. The prior's possessions here were attached to the Preceptory of Dingley, the prior of which held his courts with view of frankpledge at Whitwell. (fn. 6) The overlordship and the rectory with the other possessions here of the Hospitallers were confiscated by Henry VIII in 1540. (fn. 7) In 1543 they were granted to Thomas Grey, who within six weeks sold them to Sir John Harington. (fn. 8) From that date they followed the descent of Exton (q.v.).
In 1086 a certain Herbert was sub-tenant of the Countess Judith in Whitwell. (fn. 9) We do not know his descendants, but in 1317 we have a reference to John son of Henry Byron of Whitwell, (fn. 10) and to John Byron of Whitwell in 1333. (fn. 11) Joan widow of John Byron and Sir William Burton were holding lands in 1348 in Little Hambleton (q.v.), which for a long time passed with Whitwell, (fn. 12) and in 1382 Sir Thomas, son of Sir William Burton, died seised jointly with his wife Margery of the manors of Whitwell and Little Hambleton, held of the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem by the service of 6s. and a pound of pepper. Sir Thomas left a widow Margery and a son and heir Thomas, aged fourteen, (fn. 13) who in 1412 conveyed both manors to Roger Flower (Flore) and Cecily, his second wife. (fn. 14) Roger, son of Thomas Flower, and grandson of Roger and Catherine, daughter of William Dalby of Exton, Roger's first wife, had a son Richard, who in 1523 died seised of lands and a watermill in Whitwell which he held of the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem. (fn. 15) His son and heir, Roger, settled the property in the same year on the marriage of his son Richard with Alice, daughter of John Harington of Exton. (fn. 16) Roger was sued by Elizabeth, his father's widow, for a capital messuage, lands and a watermill here, (fn. 17) and was succeeded in 1527 by his son Richard. Richard died in 1540, (fn. 18) leaving a son John, aged five years at the time of his father's death. John married Margery, daughter of Anthony Colley of Glaston, (fn. 19) and by her he had two sons, Roger and John. Roger died young. John son of Richard settled the manors of Little Hambleton and Whitwell in 1588. (fn. 20) He died in 1612 according to his inquisition taken in 1621, when his son John was 50 years of age. (fn. 21) This John married Jane, daughter of Ralph Sheldon, and they were both returned as recusants. (fn. 22) He conveyed the manor in 1618 to Edward and William Sheldon, (fn. 23) probably on behalf of Sir Baptist Hicks, to whom it was conveyed in 1620. (fn. 24) From this date the descent has followed that of Exton (q.v.), and the trustees of the ninth Earl of Gainsborough, a minor, are lords of the manor.
The church of ST. MICHAEL stands on an elevated site at the west end of the village, and consists of chancel 23 ft. 6 in. by 14 ft., nave 40 ft. 3 in. by 15 ft. 9 in., with double bell-cote over the west gable, south aisle 9 ft. wide, and south porch. These measurements are all internal. The width across nave and aisle is 27 ft. 4 in.
The building is of rubble throughout, with highpitched roofs to the chancel, nave and porch, covered with modern red tiles. The aisle has a leaded lean-to roof. The walls are plastered internally and all the roofs are modern.
Although a church existed here at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086), the evidence of a Saxon origin for the present building, in the long-and-short work in the quoins at the south-east angle of the nave, is far from certain; (fn. 25) the south-west angle is of normal construction. The nave probably represents an aisleless 12th-century church. About the middle of the 13th century the south wall was pierced by an arcade of three bays, and an aisle added on that side. The bell-cote is also of this period and the chancel may have been rebuilt on its present plan at this time, though it was considerably altered in the 14th century, when new windows were inserted and a new roof erected. New windows were also made in the aisle, and the north wall of the nave was heightened and provided with new windows, doorway and buttresses. There was a general restoration of the church in 1881, and in 1930 the chapel of Our Lady (fn. 26) at the east end of the aisle was restored to its proper use. (fn. 27)
The chancel is without buttresses, and at the west end the lower part of the north and south walls for a length of about 6 ft. appears to belong to the first building. The east window is modern, of three lights with reticulated tracery. In the south wall are two pointed 14th-century windows of two trefoiled lights, the easternmost being rather earlier in character; its hood-mould has notch-stops, while those of the other window are carved heads. Further west is a smaller much-restored pointed window of two trefoiled lights and large quatrefoil in the head, which, though its sill ranges with those of the other openings, (fn. 28) may have served the purpose of a low-side window. Internally the opening has a wide rear arch, the moulding of which is carried down the jambs, and a hood-mould with headstops. A squint from the chapel in the aisle, directed towards the high altar, cuts through the western jamb of this window. At the west end of the north wall is a widely splayed singlelight trefoil-headed low-side window (fn. 29) with rebated sill and chamfered rear arch, but the rest of the wall is blank. In the usual position on the south side is a trefoil-headed piscina recess with fluted bowl, and adjoining it a single sedile with rounded trefoiled head and wave-moulded jambs. In the wall above are indications of a blocked window. (fn. 30) On the north side of the chancel, level with the floor of the sanctuary, is a small plain rectangular recess. (fn. 31) Along the top of the side walls inside are moulded stone cornices, the upper member of which is enriched on the north side with alternate ball-flower and large dog-tooth, and on the south with ball-flower and other ornament, including heads, four-leaved flowers, and a single dog-tooth. The pointed chancel arch is of two chamfered orders, the inner continuous and the outer dying out, with hood-mould on the nave side only. The mortice holes for the lower rails of a screen, two on each side, remain in the inner faces of the jambs. (fn. 32)
The nave arcade consists of three pointed arches of two chamfered orders, without hood-moulds, springing from octagonal pillars with moulded capitals and bases and from filleted keel-shaped responds. At the foot of the eastern respond is a floor drain with two large holes, apparently communicating with a stream from the well which gives its name to the village. (fn. 33) The nave is lighted at the west end by a widely splayed uncusped lancet window, and on the north side by two 14th-century pointed windows of two trefoiled lights and quatrefoil in the head, one in each end bay. The blocked doorway has a continuous moulding. Above the easternmost window, high in the wall, is a blocked rectangular opening.
The aisle has pairs of angle buttresses with triangular mould heads and is lighted on the south side by three pointed windows, each of two trefoiled lights, two of which are east of the porch. Of these the easternmost has plate tracery and soffit cusping and the next is very little later in style, but that west of the porch is of more fully developed 14thcentury type. The 14th-century east window is a single-light cinquefoiled opening set high in the wall above the aisle altar, the piscina of which has a trefoil-headed recess and sexfoil bowl. (fn. 34) Adjoining it is a small pointed aumbry, and on either side of the window is an image bracket. (fn. 35) There was also an altar at the east end of the nave north of the chancel arch, the piscina of which, with trefoiled head, fluted bowl and wooden shelf, remains in the north wall. Another piscina, about 4 ft. west of the south doorway, with plain pointed recess and mutilated bowl, if in its original position, would indicate a former chapel at the west end of the aisle. (fn. 36)
The south doorway is apparently of early 13thcentury date, with semicircular arch of two orders, the inner with a roll and fillet continued down the jambs as attached shafts below moulded imposts, and the outer widely chamfered on banded shafts with moulded bases and capitals enriched with nail-head. The doorway may have been originally an insertion in the 12th-century nave and moved outward when the aisle was added, but it is possible that, notwithstanding its earlier appearance, it is not chronologically anterior to the arcade. This is rendered the less unlikely from the fact that nail-head ornament also occurs in the outer doorway of the porch, which has a pointed arch of two chamfered orders, the outer continuous and the inner on half-round responds. On the western capital the nail-head is carried all round, but on the east side the capital proper is carved with small leaves, the nail-head ornament being confined to the outer portion of the same stone above the jambs. In the east wall of the porch is a roughly shaped loop cut in a single stone, and on the west side of the doorway two scratch dials. (fn. 37) Over the east gable of the nave is a well preserved wheel-cross. The bell-cote is of simple design with separate coped gables and pointed openings of two chamfered orders with plain imposts, the whole on a square unbuttressed base. There are smaller arched openings facing north and south. Of the two bells the smaller is by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1749, and the second is a medieval bell, probably of the early 15th century, inscribed In honore Sancti Eiudii.' (fn. 38)
The bowl of the late 12th-century font was originally square, the sides ornamented with rudely incised patterns (crosses, arches, etc.), but the angles have been cut away, reducing the bowl to an irregular octagon. It stands on a modern circular stem and base and has a flat 17th-century cover.
The Jacobean oak pulpit has been restored and stands on a modern stone base; four of its six sides are panelled, but the cornice is new. The altar rails are also of the 17th century, but the contemporary altar table is now in the restored chapel.
On the north wall of the nave, to the east of the doorway, a small portion of old plaster with coloured decoration (fn. 39) has been retained.
The quatrefoil of the south-west window of the chancel is filled with 14th-century glass depicting a Crucifixion beneath a canopy, upon a grisaille background of fructed oak, (fn. 40) and there is also some old glass in the easternmost window of the south wall of the aisle. (fn. 41) In the vestry is a dug-out chest, with modern lid.
The medieval altar slab is now in the floor of the chancel, used as a gravestone for Daniel Nailer, rector (d. March 1689–90), (fn. 42) and in the nave are three large floor slabs, one apparently that of Richard Whitwell, the founder of the chantry, (fn. 43) another with incised cross and bold Gothic lettering to one of the Flore family, (fn. 44) and the third with a fragment of a 15th-century inscription. There is also a smaller slab with the indent of a half-length brass figure. In the chancel, before the altar, are the gravestones of Thomas Frere, rector (d. 1667), and two of his wives, and of John Isaac, rector (d. 1743), and, west of the rails, of Alexander Noel, esquire (d. 1667), and his wife. There is a wall tablet to Charles Spencer Ellicott, rector for sixty years (d. 1880), placed by his son, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.
The plate consists of a cup and cover paten, the cup with only the maker's mark I.G., the paten with the London date-letter for 1570–71, and a breadholder of 1718–19. (fn. 45) There are also a pewter paten and flagon.
The registers before 1812 are as follows: (i) baptisms and burials 1716–84; (fn. 46) marriages 1716–54; (ii) baptisms and burials 1786–1812; (iii) marriages 1754– 1812.
There were a priest and church at Whitwell in 1086, which then belonged to the Countess Judith. (fn. 47) With the overlordship of the manor (q.v.) the rectory and advowson were conveyed to the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem before 1227. (fn. 48) From this date until the seizure of the lands of the Hospitallers in 1540 the rectory and advowson were in their hands. (fn. 49) Henry VIII presented to the church in June 1543, (fn. 50) but the rectory and advowson seem to have passed with the grant of the possessions of the preceptory of Dingley in Whitwell in that year to Thomas Grey, who conveyed them to Sir John Harington two months later. (fn. 51) Sir James Harington, son of Sir John, presented in 1555; and in 1560 presentation was made by John Flower, (fn. 52) possibly as farmer, as the Haringtons again presented at the next vacancy. The advowson passed to Sir Baptist Hicks, who had acquired the manor, (fn. 53) and since that date the patronage has descended with the manor (q.v.).
In 1345 Richard de Whitwell, prebendary of the prebend of Empyngham in the cathedral church of Lincoln, obtained licence to alienate two messuages and lands in Great and Little Hambleton and Whitwell to a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the church of Whitwell on behalf of Richard, his parents and all faithful dead. (fn. 54) The chantry thus founded almost equalled the rectory in value at the Dissolution. (fn. 55) Its existence was ended by the Chantry Act of 1547, when the Commissioners found Sir Robert Suckling, a priest 'of honest conversation and good report,' singing daily 'within Our Lady Chapel in the parish church' of Whitwell for the souls of Richard de Whitwell and other faithful departed. (fn. 56) Within five years the capital messuage, land and other tenements in Whitwell which had belonged to this chantry were acquired by John and William Dodyngton of London. (fn. 57) Its possessions in other parishes included a messuage called 'le Chanterie House of Whightwell' and lands in Hambleton and a messuage and lands in Owersby (co. Linc.). (fn. 58)
From the 14th to the 16th century the hospital of Burton St. Lazarus owned lands in Whitwell with, in 1345, a messuage held of the master by Richard de Whitwell. (fn. 59) Another religious house, St. Mary of Broke, once possessed land in this parish. (fn. 60)