The tower of St Lawrence Church, unbuttressed until 1924, contains typical Norman features, the West doorway being ornamented with chevron pattern and windows. The upper storey of the tower and bell chambers are 14th century perpendicular additions. In 1929 the Canon Mason Memorial Screen was erected in the east arch of the tower.
The tower contains three bells, one is inscribed “Will Rowbotham and B Starkey, Churchwardens” and a second “Gloria in Excelsis”. The bell is used in conjunction with the church clock, striking the hours of the day. The bells became unsafe for ringing and their function was replaced by a ‘synthetic system’ following the installation of electric lighting in 1945. The third bell is known locally as “Deacon Lawrence”. During 1987 provision was made to re-site the organ at the base of the tower, removing it from its original site in the Chancel.
The ‘Parish Clock’ or ‘Workmans Clock’ is a popular feature within the village. Many people pause and look up at the clock as they pass the church. It was provided by public subscription and was commissioned on 27th October 1890.
The Nave, with its fully preserved clerestory (the upper part of the side walls in which the windows are fitted) has changed little since the church was first built. It retains its Norman simplicity of style with rounded arches supported by plain capitals with clerestory windows above. For many years a piece of stone protruded from the West wall of the North aisle, about 18 inches above floor level. This was all that remained of the stone seat which ran around the perimeter of the Nave; this being the only seating accommodation provided in the Nave and was especially for the use of the old, weak and infirm.
In the North transept is the tomb of Sir Roger Manners, who died in 1632 and was the son of John Manners and Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. At the end of the transept is an ogee shaped recess, possibly intended as the tomb of the donors of the transept. The North transept was used as a Children’s Chapel during the 1930s. Banners of former village organisations are housed in a banner loft in the North transept.
The stained glass windows in the North transept contain fragments of old glass, some of which has been identified as being of the medieval period, which may have originally been used in heraldic display. One is familiarly known as The Monkey Window because of the ape/monkey like creatures incorporated in the design and probably dates from the early 14th century.
Apes were kept as pets by the wealthy and were an ostentatious sign of influence. In medieval symbolism the ape typified fraud indecorum and was used by glass painters to satirise contemporary abuse. The inspection of urine was one of the few diagnostic procedures available to doctors at the time, so an image of an ape holding a urine flask in the window was a jibe directed at medical practise. We can best describe the images as satirical cartoons which, unlike the short-lived nature of their modern newspaper counterparts, have survived for over 650 years.
Near the monkey window, at the top of the pillar, are the remains of the stairway which formerly gave access to the old rood loft. A list of the names of former Rectors is on display in the North transept, beginning with the name of James Paynell, 1315, and includes the name of Charles Manners-Sutton who later served the high office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1805 to 1825. For further information on the history of the church’s Rectors please CLICK HERE
In the South transept is the statue of St Lawrence (bearing the gridiron), the Font, the Cherubs and the Lady Chapel. The oak screen at the entrance to the Lady Chapel was placed by Canon Mason in memory of his parents. The Lady Chapel is a place of peace and tranquillity.
The Books of Remembrance, containing the names of those who have departed this earthly life, are placed in the Lady Chapel. The books will always be found open for the particular month of the year and day of the week.
The Font is made from only one piece of stone and may well have come from the earlier Saxon church, mentioned in the Domesday Book, which served both Barlborough and Whitwell and which, very probably, stood on the site of St Lawrence Church or in the nearby Church Field (some Saxon stones can be seen in the North West wall of the building). The Font was moved to its present location, from the more traditional location at the West end of the church, during the restoration work of 1969/70. The re-siting of the font did not receive universal approval, so much so that if the carpet is turned back at the original site the words “The Font stood here – removed in August 1969” can clearly be seen scratched in the concrete floor.
Within the area of the North and South transepts are some treasured items from the Mission Church of Saint Martin, Hodthorpe, which closed in 1991.
The well-proportioned chancel arch, completely restored in 1969, is classed as one of the finest Norman arches in existence. For many years, from 1872 to 1987, the north side of the chancel housed the organ. The removal of the organ from this site to its present site at the base of the tower enabled the previously small Vestry to be developed into a much larger Vestry / Parish meeting room.
In 1950 the chancel roof was raised a few feet to allow an unrestricted view of the lovely East window, noted for its beautiful tracery. It is possible that the window may well have come from another church at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, possibly Worksop Priory.
Members of the Cheshire Yeomanry were stationed in the village from September 1939 to January 1940. As a way As a way of saying ‘Thank-you’ to the village for the hospitality they received during their stay, they very generously donated a carpet for the sanctuary and the chancel. Along the step of the Communion rail are a set of tapestry kneelers, bearing the badge of the Cheshire Yeomanry and the gridiron upon which St Lawrence was allegedly put to death.
The original sanctuary was apsidal, until it was rebuilt in its present form in the 14th century. On the north side of the sanctuary is a door leading to the sacrament chapel, which was incorporated in the rebuilding of the 14th century. Dedicated in 1942 and completely restored in 1969, it is once more the Priest’s Vestry.
The altar was placed in 1894. On the south side of the sanctuary is a 14th century piscina, where the communion vessels were cleaned after use. Also on the south side is the Boothby Memorial Window, in memory of the Rev. Evelyn Boothby (1851-1874).
The first Patron of the Church of St Lawrence would have been Ralph de Rye (also identified as Ralph FitzHubert). He was the first Lord of the Manor of Whitwell, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, and would have been responsible for the building of the church.
For the next 500 or so years of the church’s history it is impossible to say, with any accuracy, who were its Patrons. During this period there were many families involved in the ownership, or part-ownership, of the manor of Whitwell. However, all this came to an end in 1595 when John Manners, second son of the 1st Earl of Rutland, purchased the manor from the owners, the Whalley and Pypes (or Pipes) families. As such John Manners (Sir John Manners from 1603) became Lord of the Manor of Whitwell and Patron of the Church of St Lawrence.
Following the death of Sir John in 1611, the Lordship of Whitwell, and Patronage of the church, passed to his son, Sir Roger Manners. Sir Roger remained a bachelor and following his death in 1632 the Lordship and Patronage passed to his kinsman, the 7th Earl of Rutland. Thus, Whitwell became part of the Rutland Estate and remained so for the next 180 years.
In 1813, the 5th Duke of Rutland and the 4th Duke of Portland exchanged areas of land by private treaty. This land deal made the Manor of Whitwell part of the Welbeck Estate of the Duke of Portland. Therefore, from around 1813 until 1977 the Dukes of Portland were the Patrons of the Church of St Lawrence.
Following the death of the 7th Duke of Portland in 1977 the Patronage of the church became vested in the Bishop of Derby and his successors.