West front of Worksop PrioryWest front of Worksop Priory (A. Nicholson, 2000).

Before passing into [Sherwood Forest], of which so much has been said and sung, it will be interesting to refer to Worksop, which is on the verge of the forest, and at which so many of those who pay a pilgrimage to Sherwood are wont to stay. The town has many attractions for the antiquary and a constant source of delight in its abbey church and the ruins of the monastic buildings, which arose there in the twelfth century. When Archbishop Thurstan arrived in the Midlands, religious houses in this diocese were comparatively few and far between, but under his auspices a new impetus was given to the diffusion of the monastic principle. Between the years 1120 and 1125 six houses of Austin Canons were established in Yorkshire, and for institutions already in existence he succeeded in securing additional grants and privileges. One of the monasteries that was undoubtedly enriched in his lifetime was that at Worksop, founded by William de Lovetot, the son of a Norman baron who had come over with the Conqueror, and who had succeeded the powerful Roger de Builli in the possession of the Worksop property. The date at which Lovetot introduced the Austin Canons to this locality is given by Thoroton as A.D. 1103, a date which is confirmed by the documents quoted in Dugdale’s ‘Monasticon.’

Archbishop Gerard was at this time guiding the destinies of the see of York, and though he was not always popular with the monks, he set an example of munificence which was followed by liberal gifts to religious institutions. The Priory of Lenton was founded during his episcopacy, by William Peverel, and Worksop received its first endowment by William de Lovetot at a similar period. Gerard, who died at Southwell, was succeeded by Thomas II., the nephew of the first Norman Archbishop, who also took much interest in the progress of the Church in this county.

Interior of Worksop Priory in 1900.Norman interior of Worksop Priory in 1900.

To ‘T. Archbishop of York’ Lovetot directed a document making liberal grants to the Priory which he had founded, and in Thurstan’s time, when a wave of enthusiasm in behalf of the monastic orders was spreading over the diocese, the Worksop Canons had confirmed to them the rich gifts which Lovetot had made, including churches, lands, tithes, mills, and fishponds, amongst others the fishpond and mill then existing ‘nigh the church.’ The confirmation of the grant was made by Henry I., and joyfully witnessed by Thurstan, who had himself swayed the hearts of so many of the laity in the same direction.

The example of the father was followed by the son. Richard de Lovetot, temp. Henry II., gave to God and the church of St. Cuthbert ‘the whole site of the town of Worksop near the church, as it was shut in by the great ditch unto the meadow of Bersebrigg,’ and other valuable possessions which we need not specify. Other members of the family added to the benefactions, and it was not to be wondered at that the Abbey of Worksop should have become in course of time a flourishing and an extensive place.

Before referring to its progress and importance, let us glance at the family which gave to Worksop the institution that made it a centre of monastic influence. The first of the Lovetots had, as we have said, come over with the Conqueror, and the assistance he had rendered that eminent warrior had been rewarded with extensive grants of land. William de Lovetot, the son of this worthy, found himself the owner of property in Yorkshire and Huntingdon, and succeeded ‘Roger, the man of Roger de Builli,’ in the possession of several manors in this county. On his death he was buried in Worksop Church, on the north side, near the high altar. After him came Richard de Lovetot, Lord of Sheffield, who was buried beneath his father, under a white stone. William de Lovetot succeeded Richard, and died without male issue, so that the family became extinct in the direct line. They are said to have occupied a castle on a rock of red sandstone on the northwest side of the town, at a place still known as Castle Hill.

14th century gatehouse to Worksop Priory as seen in the 1900s.

Leland, who visited the place in the sixteenth century, mentions this tradition. He says, ‘There is a place now environyd with trees, caulyd the Castelle Hill, where the Lovetofts had sumtime a castel. The stones of the castel were fetched, as sum say, to make the faire lodge in Wyrksoppe Park, not yet fynished. But I am of opinion that the chanons had the ruins of the castel stones to make the closure of their large waulls.’

During their residence at Worksop the Lovetots rendered continual service to the State, and members of the family who had settled in other parts were equally active and influential.

From Nigel de Lovetot, a younger son of the founder of Worksop Priory, sprang Lovetots who were Lords of Car Colston and of Wysall in this county, one of whom (Richard) served as a crusader, and formed one of the great army commanded by Richard I., in 1191.

Sir John de Lovetot, of Wysall, became a Justice of the Common Pleas in 1275, and in 1278 was made one of the Justices of the Bench at Westminster at an annual salary of 50 marks. He did not win a very enviable reputation, except for his legal learning. Charges of extortion were made against him, and he was imprisoned in the Tower, from which he was not released until he had paid a heavy fine amounting to 3,000 marks. He died November 5, 1294.

Another Sir John de Lovetot was employed by royalty in important missions, while Roger de Lovetot, brother of the Judge, was Governor of Bolsover Castle and thrice Sheriff of Notts.

Of the three grandsons of the Judge, only one had issue, viz., John, who died unmarried, and Margaret, who married Sir John Cheyne. William de Lovetot, of Worksop, had only one child, a daughter, Matilda, and with her marriage to Gerard de Furnival, Worksop passed from one great family into the possession of another.

The Furnivals, who succeeded the Lovetots, were certainly a family of equal if not greater distinction. According to the rhyming pedigree in Dugdale they ‘came out of Normandie streight as we rede,’ and were landowners in that country, for at Gerard’s death he was entombed at Ebrard in his own demesne ‘which is called Furnival.’ He had three sons—Thomas, Gerard, and William. The two former became Crusaders. Thomas was slain by the Saracens, and his body left in the Holy Land, but his mother caused Gerard to return to recover the remains, which were subsequently entombed at Worksop. The rhyming chronicler quaintly writes:

‘Then tumulate here in Nottinghamshire,
At Wyrksoppe, the north syde of this Mynster,
With his helm on his hede will enquere
With precious stones sometyme, that were sett sere,
And a noble charbuncle on him doth he bere
On his hede to see they may who so will
Of my writing witness for to fulfill.’

Thomas was succeeded by his son Gerard, and Gerard by another Thomas—the latter being evidently the favourite family Christian name. There was a Thomas de Furnival who was the commander of the levies raised from the counties of Notts and Derby in 1298, and was a commissioner appointed in the following year to summon the knights of these counties to meet the King for the purpose of performing military service against the Scots.

During his war with Scotland Edward I. frequently sojourned at Nottingham Castle, and Furnival was again employed in 1301 to raise forces for him in this locality. The year previously he had joined in a letter addressed to the Pope, and had been styled ‘Dominus de Sheffield.’ He was often summoned to Parliament, and his name appears in this capacity in 1307, when he attended the Parliament held at Carlisle for the purpose of treating on the affairs of the kingdom with the Papal Legate.

During the reigns of the Edwards there were two Thomas de Furnivals, who were busily employed in important missions. In the ‘Parliamentary Writs,’ the mandates addressed to Thomas Furnival, the elder, occupy no less than two large folio pages. He was entered as Joint Lord of Bingham, Saxondale, Sutton, Colston, Ossington, Normanton, and Worksop in Notts, and Lord of Sheffield, and other manors in the adjoining county. He was returned as a Baron to Parliament, and employed in military services in Scotland, Aquitaine, and Gascony, down to 1332. His lordship’s son, Thomas de Furnival, junior, sat in Parliament at the same time, and also served in the Scotch wars. He died in 1339, having added greatly to the family possessions by his marriage with a heiress, and was succeeded by his son Thomas, another warrior, who shared in the glories of Cressy.

William de Furnival, the fourth Baron, was summoned to Parliament from 1366 to 1383. ‘This nobleman permitted the pale of his park at Worksop to be so defective that divers of the King’s deer out of the forest of Sherwood came freely into it and were destroyed. In consequence of this, William de Latimer, Warden of the Forests beyond Trent, seized the park for the King; but it was soon after released, and Lord Furnival pardoned on payment of a fine of £20.’ His lordship died in 1353, and having no children except a daughter, Joan, the famous family of Furnival became extinct, as the Lovetots had done before them.

During the residence at Worksop of the two great families we have described the abbey and church had been enriched by continuous grants, and within the precincts of the sacred edifice many stalwart warriors had been buried. The abbey covered a large area, and the church, which had been erected, was (as it still is) one of the finest in the county.

With the demise of the last of the Furnivals, the barony was conveyed by the heiress to Thomas Nevill, her husband, one of another ancient and lordly line. Strange to say, this ‘Lord Furnival,’ as he was styled, had no son, and the property again passed into another great family by the marriage of his eldest daughter to Sir John Talbot.