A look back at days long gone 
Mystery whereabouts
This week's illustration, a fine 19th Century engraving of a brick and pantile manor house, is taken from William Dickinson's History and Antiquities of the town of Newark on Trent first published in 1806.

The illustration is labelled Willoughby House, although little clue as to its whereabouts is supplied by Dickinson in the text, and for many years the identity of the house has remained something of a mystery.

The name Willoughby, of course, is well known in Nottinghamshire being not only the family name of the owners of Wollaton Hall, but, at one time or another the name of at least four separate villages across the county.

Willoughby House as pictured is now thought to have belonged to one of these villages that no longer survives, a small hamlet of medieval origin known was Willoughby by Norwell.

Situated 3/4 mile or so to the west of Carlton-on-Trent, Willoughby by Norwell is now described as a lost village and is numbered among more than 60 such sites identified in Nottinghamshire by Maurice Beresford and John Hurst in two books, The Lost Villages of England (1954) and Deserted Medieval Villages (1971).

Beresford and Hurst's research covers an amazingly broad spectrum of village desertions, highlighting the many causes which could lead to their disappearance.

Elsewhere in Nottinghamshire, for instance, they cite the case of two villages to the west of Newark, Rufford and Cratley which both ceased to exist in about 1140 when they were pulled down to make way for Rufford Abbey.

The abbott is said to have bought out the peasants who lived there, either with money or an offer of land elsewhere.

In later centuries, when secular landowners wished to extend the bounds of their private parks and gardens, villages which stood in their way could be similarly displaced.

Sutton Passeys which once stood in the grounds of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham falls into this category as does the original settlement of Annesley.

On a more bizarre note Beresford records the local legend that the former village of Danethope near Brough was destroyed by an earthquake.

The desertion of Willoughby by Norwell, however, would appear to be attributable to none of these things, it being linked, it has been suggested, to a shift in the local economy which occurred in the late 15th and early 16th Centuries.

Today, the site of Willoughby - located on private land with no public access - is protected as a scheduled ancient monument.

And while there is little to see on the ground, something of the settlement's layout may still be discerned from aerial photographs and features recorded on large scale Ordnance Survey maps.

There are the remains of a large rectangular moat which once surrounded the manor house (pictured) together with the remains of a number of stew or fishponds for food.

Elsewhere on the site archaeologists have identified the remains of a number of building platforms of cottages and a chapel, while further out may be discerned the tell-tale ridge and furrow of the large medieval open fields.

It is now thought that the manor house and its moat were not part of the original village, but replaced an original medieval manor house complex which had become outdated.

It was presumably this earlier manor house in which King Edward I stayed in April 1303 during a brief stopover in the village while on one of his northern excursion attempting to secure unity with Scotland.

Such instances suggest that Willoughby was a rather thriving community and makes the manner of its disappearance all the more perplexing.

Disappear, however, it did, and by 1797 when John Throsby published his additions to Robert Thoroton's pioneering Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, the manor house was already being described as a ruin, while the village and its chapel were "decayed and gone".

The real process of abandonment at Willoughby, however, is believed to have begun much earlier, possibly as far back as the 15th and 16th Centuries.

At that time the greatest source of wealth in England lay in wool, particularly for those merchants who organised its export to France and Flanders where it was woven into cloth.

Newark, with access to the North Sea along the Trent, became a major trading centre for the buying and selling of wool with many foreign merchants settling in the town to act as agents for customers abroad.

Local landowners were quick to cash in on the markets thus opened up and began to create large expanses of pasture upon which flocks of sheep could be grazed.

Nationwide, hundreds of villages perished through the creation of these enclosures (as they were called) and there is a degree of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Willoughby by Norwell was a local casualty.

One of the lords of the manor was named Hatfield who is known to have been a merchant of the staple in Calais, i.e. one of those who bought the raw wool for export.

His father, Stephen Hatfield, at a Royal Commission on Enclosure in 1517, was said to have "been responsible for throwing down two houses, and six persons had departed their holdings and were brought to idleness".

As Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (a native of Aslockton) was later to describe it, it was a case of "sheep devouring man".

The village of Willoughby by Norwell is no more, but today its name lives on. It attaches itself to two farmsteads in Norwell, one on Carlton Lane and the other on Main Street.

In compiling this article I have drawn upon research originally conducted for the Advertiser in 1954 by Peter Lord.

ABOVE: Willoughby House from the lost village of Willoughby by Norwell. This fine engraving originally appeared in William Dickinson's History and Antiquities of the town of Newark on Trent first published in 1806.

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