St Wilfrid’s Church, as it stands today, dates back at least as far as the 13th century. The nave and parts of the chancel arch are likely original. The church had to be re-built after severe flooding in 1346 with an enlarged nave and inclusion of north and south aisles with the tower and chancel built in the late 1400s. Fragments of walling at the east and west ends of the nave are considered to be relics of the pre-conquest church with grave covers of the 12th to 16th centuries paving the floor of the east end of the south aisle.
The church has a wide variety of locally quarried stone from such places as Gedling, Castle Donington, Trowell and Bulwell. The stone was blackened by the now demolished Wilford Power Station directly across the river. Some stones are scored with vertical grooves suspected to be from young male parishioners sharpening their arrows when assembling for archery practice on Sunday afternoons in the churchyard. Similarly present are medieval mass clocks or etched sundials, used to provide timings for gatherers.
Inside, a pig-like carving on the ridge of the south roof is said to be over 900 years old. The tower originally housed two bells which the Reformation Commissioners allowed to remain when they inspected the church in 1553. Both bells were recast in the 17th century. A third bell, which bears the inscription 'God save the King 1663', was added shortly afterwards. Two other bells were added in 1890 so that there is now a ring of five bells. In the belfry is a board bearing the Royal Coat of Arms of George I (r. 1714-1727). This would originally have been mounted in the nave to comply with regulations, introduced after the Reformation, which required churches to display such arms. Many items inside have been donated by notable Wilford families: the Forman-Hardy family, founders of the Nottingham Post, donated the Communion Table, Reredos and Rood Screen; members of the Brewill family, a local farm owner, donated the Pulpit, Communion Rails and Choir Stalls on the north side of the chancel. The organ was provided in 1878 by the Smith family of Wilford House. Rev Benjamin Carter gave Communion Plate to the church in 1717. Some of it is still in use, but several items were stolen in 1974. The graveyard contains a large number of 18th-century Swithland Slate gravestones, worked with the most beautiful calligraphy and carvings. Pevsner, in 'The Buildings of England' series, declares to be a 'magnificent' one of 1758 by J. Radcliff, sculptor, in memory of Elizabeth and Rebekah Cumberland. It is found near the south-east corner of the chancel, adjacent to the railed grave of John Deane.
Points of Interest
St Wilfrid was Bishop of York, born in 684, and died in 700, aged 75. At eighteen years of age he visited Rome, and became a warm partisan of the Roman party. The Church in Northumbria was torn with strife as to whether to follow the ecclesiastical traditions of Lindisfarne, Columba and Ireland, or of Rome. A famous Synod was held at Whitby in 664, when King Oswin was carried by Wilfrid's earnest pleas in favour of adopting the Roman time for the observance of Easter. St Wilfrid is reputed to have undertaken baptisms in this area beside the River Trent near where St Wilfrid’s Church now stands. St. Wilfrid was also a great builder of churches and is likely to have consecrated buildings on the site of the present church since his time. The finding of several Saxon remains near the church tends to confirm this view. Some of these remains have been built into the fabric of the church, including in the porch. The two most interesting ones are a stone carved with a flower or cross motif and a decorated capital.
Gervaise De Wilford:
The church was severely damaged by the flood which devastated the Trent Valley in 1346. The opportunity was taken to largely rebuild the church. The enlargement may well have been already necessary because of the growing size and importance of the agricultural community and made possible by the prosperity of the knightly family, variously known as de Wilford or de Clyfton. Gervase de Wilford, after retiring from the office of Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1361, under the reign of King Edward III, devoted his time to church building in the local area. His son was Rector of Wilford at that time. The knightly family had a strong influence on the community. Some of the stones of the arch are scored with grooves which were undoubtedly made by parishioners sharpening their arrows during Sunday afternoon archery practice in the churchyard following the guidance of the Rector. Such practice was not only encouraged but made compulsory during the Plantagenet and Tudor reigns. This period includes the Battle of Agincourt (1415), the high point of archery in battle.
Benjamin Carter was born in London in 1667, the year after the Great Fire. His family was sufficiently wealthy to send Carter to Westminster School, one of the foremost schools at the time. Upon leaving Westminster School in 1683, Carter went on to St Peter’s College and, at the age of 19 in 1686, entered Christ Church College, Oxford. He left with an MA at the age of 26 in 1693. Carter became Chaplain to the duke of Devonshire and, likely through his acquaintance with John Sharp, Archbishop of York, came to Wilford as Reverend at St Wilfred’s Church in 1694. He remained as Rector until his death in December 1732 at the age of 65, and was buried under his own strict orders, ‘in the Chancell of Wilford beneath the Steppe thereof over against the doors of the Rayles’. No stone marks his resting place. Following his death, Carter left what would have amounted to many thousands, or even millions, of pounds in today’s terms, as charity to the people of Wilford. He endowed the present church school, South Wilford CofE Primary School and convenient lodging. The Benjamin Carter Educational Foundation continues, to this day, to support the education and the social and physical development of the young people of the ancient parish of Wilford, through individual and group grants.
The Old Rectory:
The Old Rectory, adjacent to the Church, was built by Benjamin Carter around 1720 with an adjoining barn, stables, and dovecot. The stables, 'tithe' barns, and dovecote provided for both his own household and the poor of Wilford in winter. Attached at the foot of the dovecot nearest the entrance to the rectory remains the mounting block installed for the use of Rev. Benjamin Carter. After nearly 200 years in use by the Church’s rector, it was sold into private ownership in the late 20th century with the Vicarage moving further along the Rectory Paddock in-between the Dovecote and barns, and the Church hall and Benjamin Carter Hall, named in his honour.
Captain John Deane:
Captain John Deane, born 1679, grew up with a desire to be a butcher. Although he was not of the social class from which such a profession usually recruited, he was eventually apprenticed to a butcher and drover. He soon fell into bad company and took to poaching and deer-stealing including, it is suggested, from the grounds of Nottingham Castle - a former Royal Hunting Ground which had been recently restocked by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle. Such a theft was considered a very serious matter in those days and, to escape prosecution, Deane joined the Royal Navy. He rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy, commanding in the Capture of Gibraltar in 1704. He later commanded a trading vessel, the Nottingham Galley, with the assistance of his father and brother. The galley shipwrecked on Boon Island off the coast of Cape Cod in 1710. The crew were marooned without food, shelter or fire. The ship's cook died soon after wrecking on the island with his body cast to sea. The carpenter died soon after with the crew infamously resorting to the cannibalization of the carpenter's body before they were eventually saved. Deane personally took command of the situation and disposed of elements of the body distinguishing it as that of a human. Lacking fire, the crew were forced to eat the body raw. Deane went on to serve under Tsar Peter the Great, commanding a Russian naval ship. In 1719 he was accused of accepting a considerable bribe in exchange for the surrender of two captured Swedish vessels to the British and Dutch. He was soon court-martialled and, although eleven officers and under-officers from his crew testified in support of him, was found guilty and was dismissed from service with a year in prison. The Tsar later reduced the sentence to a demotion to lieutenant and an assignment to transport timber in the remote region of Kazan. In 1721, Deane was dismissed from the Russian Navy and formally expelled from the country with the warning to "never return to Russia". Before his departure from Russia, Admiral Fyodor Apraksin presented Deane with documents describing him as "Captain Deane", permitting Deane to maintain the rank of captain, a title he continued to use until his death. In 1725, following his dismissal from the Russian Navy, Deane was enlisted as consul at St Petersburg. Deane was expelled from Russia seventeen days later. He then worked in Flanders as British Consul to the Port of Ostend until 1740, when he retired to Wilford Village, building the matching pair of houses overlooking the green. His wife, Sarah, died in 1761, aged 81. He died at the age of 82 the following day. The pair are buried together in an ornate, barred tomb in the churchyard built for the Deanes, 16 years prior to their death.
Henry Kirke White:
Henry Kirke White was born in Nottingham in 1785, he came with his books to stay in the village while preparing for the university. He lived near to the crossroads, opposite Wilford House. When Henry Kirke White’s health deteriorated due to tuberculosis at the age of 14, his employers gave him leave of absence for a month. He chose to spend his time in his cherished home of Wilford, praising the healthy environment of Wilford and writing poems in the churchyard gazebo. Here he wrote:- "Here would I wish to sleep. This is the spot Which I have long marked out to lay my bones in; Tired out and wearied with the riotous world, Beneath this yew I would be sepulchred. It is a lovely spot!" Kirke White soon recovered enough to begin studying at St John’s Cambridge, however his health soon worsened and he died in his College room in 1806 at the age of 21. In his memory is a marble medallion of him and a stained glass window bearing the words “In Memoriam HKW” both in the church. He is most remembered for his poetry and hymn writing.
The gazebo, or "oratory," was built circa 1757 by Henry Tull as an elegant summer house for parishioners with a mortuary below. It became a cherished writing location for Kirke White whilst living in Wilford. Each of the four windows were once glazed and would have given a pleasant and green view towards Nottingham over the Trent and Wilford Meadows with very little built between Wilford Village and the Castle. Being in a graveyard it looks out of place, but when it was erected in 1757— the date borne on the weather vane which adorned its summit—the cemetery did not extend so far, as we may learn from dates on the headstones. The lower storey, on a level with the river, is still referred to as the "mortuary." It had been an age-long custom in England for the Coroner's inquest to be held in the porch of a parish church. With the ferry, a difficult ford nearby, and a far more dangerous ford a little higher up-stream, Coroner's inquests would have been frequent at Wilford, and probably a mortuary became a necessity at times of excessive deaths. For instance, on the 30th July, 1784, the ferry boat capsized, eleven men and women were thrown into the swollen river and six of them drowned. Such a large quantity of deaths in one night, whilst tragic for the community, would have been a logistical difficulty for the local coroner. The provision of a usable mortuary space adjacent to the church would have been very welcome. Restoration work was carried out in 1980 by a Community Industry Scheme made up of school-leavers given temporary employment.
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