Oxton and its church

Oxton church from the south west.
Oxton church from the south west.

A delightful little village is Oxton. Charmingly situated and miles away from the harsh shriek of the railway engine's whistle, it has undergone little change during the ages. Much of the old rustic spirit still pervades this favoured village with its church, hall, and schools clustering together in its centre. We were there reoently on a bright winter's day. The holly and evergreens yet remained in the church to remind its worshippers that another Christmas had just passed to be numbered with the many that had been celebrated since Christ was born in Bethlehem. And it is more with the church and its history that we are concerned than that of the village, the old church that stands, in all probability on the site of its Saxon predecessor. Apart from its nearness to the main road, few country churches are more pleasantly situated, for it's "God's acre" is as pleasant a spot as one need wish for his bones to repose in, and the nearness of the residence of the Sherbrookes, whose memory is perpetuated by many a rural tabJet in the church, adds to the general picturesqueness of the scene. Curiosity marked the standard of appreciativeness in such of our ancestors who professed a fondness for the country, for the local historian of a century ago, informs his readers that Oxton was only relieved from the utter absence of the curious by the perrenial appearance on the church tower of an uncommon species of fern. There are no traces of the plant today. It has languished on its ecclesiastical nutriment. Forty years or more ago when a Nottingham writer visited Oxton, he found the ancient edifice showing scarcely any signs of wear. Its walls were uncorroded by decay, and its interior presented a cheerful appearance, and was in a good state of repair. The same can still be said of its condition. Before turning into the church we might take a peep at the hall. It is not an ancient mansion; on the other hand it is not a creation of yesterday, as its somewhat embowered exterior will testify. The hall is on a level with the main road of the village, between which and the entrance an expanse of garden, thickly studded with shrubs, intervenes, and this is separated from the roadway by a stretch of stone palisading. It is, however, only a portion of the house that can be seen from the village. The large bold bay-windows of the front are faced by a broad expanse of undulating park land, and by a lake. In the hall are two ancient cross-bows, which may or may not have belonged to that famous outlaw, Robin Hood, and there are also preserved here the heads of a pair of red deer—the last it is said that were killed among the bracken of merrie Sherwood.

Oxton used to possess two considerable halls or family seats, the property of the Sherbrooke's, who have settled here ever since about the eighth year of Elizabeth's reign. Robert Sherbrook, second son of Robt. Sherbrook, of Derbyshire, purchased lands in Oxton, of Lancelot Rolleston, of Hucknall. This Robert had a son who purchased other lands here (14 Elizabeth), of one George Purefoy, of Drayton, in the county of Leicester, and subsequent members of the family added to the estate in the reign of James I. and Charles I., and eventually it passed to Margaret, one of the daughters and co-heiress of the late Henry Sherbrook. She married Henry Porter, of Arnold, who took the name of Sherbrook, and died without issue. There were two other daughters of Henry, Elizabeth and Sarah, one of whom married William Coape, of Arnold, and the other Samuel Low, of Southwell. The elder son of the former of these marriages is now in possession of the family property. The present mansion house has been improved, and the inferior one demolished.

We read that about 1653 a member of this family, William Sherbrook, was seized as a base recusant, and committed to prison along with many other persons of consequence, by the Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord President of the North. In this connection it is interesting to note that within the Peculiar of Southwell, Oxton, in 1676, contained a population of 178, and there were no Popish recusants, but dissenters numbered eleven.

The late vicar of Blidworth, the Rev. R. H. Whitworth, said Oxton is like Mount Zion: beautiful for its situation, and pleasant to behold. Although the Dover Deck weeps smaller floods of tears, and murmurs along with voice suppressed, hills umbrageous, trees luxuriant, and green pastures, are to-day as pictures as of yore. It would be interesting to know what this little Nottinghamshire village was like in the days when Archbishop Thomas, formerly a canon of Bayeux, was chaplain holding one plough in the demense of Oxton, and one sokeman, i.e., possessor of lands and tenants, held not by knight's service nor by grand sergeantry, but by simple service to the lord. The remains of this same Thomas—this lord of much in Oxton, lie buried in York minster. He died at Ripon in the year 1100. He was distinguished by a missionary spirit, and for that purpose, so we are told, he established the two canonries of Oxton in the ancient collegiate church of Southwell. These missionary priests before a church was built would make entrance into the village chanting their litanies, and singing psalms. There was generally some convenient spot upon which the cross was erected, and by which the preacher stood. In after years this same locality was chosen as the site for a permanent church, and very possibly the church of S.S. Peter and Paul at Oxton marks such a spot, and the vicar to-day, the Rev. W. Laycock, Sunday by Sunday celebrates just where his predecessors did eight or nine hundred years ago. Walter de Gray, Archbishop of York, was at Oxton on the 7th ides of Oct., A.D., 1242, for the settlement of the most important chantry in Southwell Church, the benefactions of the Lexingtons. The Pope had demanded and obtained a right to nominate two dignitaries in every cathedral, collegiate or monastic church, in England about 1277, and he provided a canon for the first canonry of Oxton, and by virtue of such canonry he was one of two rectors of Oxton and Blidworth. The first canonry of Oxton was in 1297, and was filled by an Italian ecclesiastic, and the second was in the hands of a Frenchman John d'Ebrovicis. The emoluments were worth £20, and were the outcome of the grant of one-tenth made by Pope Nicholas IV. for the expenses of the crusade to the Holy land.

As far as is known everything points to the fact that a church existed at Oxton at the time of the Norman Conquest, although in the Domesday Survey no mention is made of one there. The absence of a record of the Church is no evidence that one did not exist, for the aim of the Domesday enquiry was to ascertain how each property was assessed to the geld and whether it was rightly assessed, but a church could not be the same source of profit to a manor as was the mill or the meadow, and for that reason its existence was not a matter for enquiry. Possibly some of the church's properties were entirely exempt from the geld, and the inclusion or omission of a church entirely depended on the view that the Commissioners took of the scope of the enquiry.

Taking these facts into consideration we see that the omission of any entry of a church at Oxton shows nothing. The Rev. Arthur Dimock, in his Cathedral church of Southwell, says:—"Hugh the Chanter of York tells us that he (Aldred) made prebends at Southwell." and further that by the time of Aldred's death (1070 or 1075) "the following at least were in existence, although it might be later on they were called by their local name." Amongst the list of the prebendaries he gives the name of Oxton. Also in this connection the Rev. W. Laycock, Oxton's present vicar, in a paper he read before the Thoroton Society in 1908, said: "A prebendary and rector of Oxton in answering questions intituled by Henry VIII., stated that the prebend of Oxton was founded by Zeeb, and King Edgar . . . . If this be so then it would be before 958, A.D."

Dr. Cox, however, in his history of the Religious Houses of Notts., places the foundation of the Prebend at a much later date. He says: "Oxton I., II. The creation of these prebends presents great difficulty. They included an endowment in the distant vill. of Cropwell Bishop, which 'St. Mary of Southwell' had held in 1066. The Archbishop's land in Oxton itself had been acquired during the Conqueror's reign, and had not apparently by 1086 been appropriated to the Church of Southwell. It is therefore possible that the Oxton prebends date between 1086 and Thurstan's time, though in their later form they may represent the addition of land in Oxton to an earlier prebend or prebends in Cropwell Bishop." This, on the whole seems the more probable explanation."

Even taking the date of 1086 or so, as the commencement of the Oxton prebends it would seem probable that a church existed at that time. The commencement of the present Church probably was due to the Archbishop of York, who at the time of the Domesday survey, had a considerable interest in Oxton.

The Domesday entry is:—"M. In Oxtone Elwd had six bovates of land (assessed) to the geld. (There is) land for 2 ploughs. There Archbishop Thomas has the plough in demesne, and one sockman, and the villein and the bordar having 2 ploughs. The King has the bovate of this land. The remainder belongs to Blideworde. In King Edward's time it was worth 40 shillings; now (it is worth) 20 (shillings)."

The one plough in demesne alludes to the land cultivated in Oxton by the archbishop himself. No mill is mentioned, but as the mill at Lowdham went with Blidworth and also belonged to the Archbishop of York no doubt the Oxton villagers used that. The grazing of cattle and pannage of swine would no doubt be in the forest of Sherwood, for Oxton was within the forest until the great perambulation of Henry II. After this the inhabitants still had the right of common in the forest (except in the hays and demesne woods of the King) until the reign of Edward III. In this reign the rights of common were arrented, the inhabitants of Oxton, paying the King 5s. per annum for licence of commoning at all times within the forest with all manner of cattle as they were wont. This decision had been arrived at because it was considered that the village being put out of the forest the villagers had been discharged from all the burdens of forest towns, and that the King's deer did not common within the bounds of Oxton.

Presuming that a church existed at Oxton at the time of the Domesday survey it would be smaller than the present one, and probably aisleless. But as we have no clue to guide us in coming to any conclusion on the point we will turn to Oxton church as it stands to-day.

Before doing so, however, we might state that the Orange was a farm on which the buildings were erected by the canons of Oxton for the reception of their tythes in kind. We find there, "fermer" John of the Grange. In 1536 the two Oxton canons were William Drageley and John FitzHerbert, and the value of the holding was glebe land xiijs., iiijd, half of the tithe of personage cvjs. viijd. half of the tithe in rents in Blidworth, Woodboro', Calverton and Crophill xxviij., xiij., iiijd. The second canonry filled by Sir John FitzHerbert carried with it a half of the rectorial revenues. Three offering days produced xvs. tithe of wood and lamb was valued at iiij. vi. viii. tithe of Hay Vs, and then there was tithe of pigges, geese, chickens, hempe, flaxe, fruyte, and eggs, xs.