The first recorded PRIEST of Whitwell appears to have been a certain Hascuil Musard who belonged to one of the prominent local families of the time. An ancestor of his, a follower of William the Conqueror, held estates in Killamarsh and in Whitwell (according to the Domesday Survey), but that is all that can be said of him. Then there is a gap to the reign of Edward I (around 1290) when a priest, known only as John, held the living. It was about this time that the Whitwell parson became a Rector, this meant he held all the tithes of the parish outright, whereas a vicar is a deputy for the patron (often a lay person) who had the right to the tithes and granted part to the vicar. The terms Rector, Vicar and patronage still survive, though the tithing system ceased around 1936. The most likely date for the inception of the Rectorship of Whitwell would have been in 1291 with the great Taxatio (taxation of the Clergy) by Pope Nicholas IV. Edward I was in on the scheme as well, by granting permission for tithe collection and so got a cut of the proceeds.

John the priest (mentioned above), may have been John de Prestwyk, the first recorded Rector of Whitwell, though he is not included in the list in the North transept, compiled in the 1930s. It is not known when he was appointed, but around 1291 is not unreasonable and thus in the reign of Edward I. His family home may well have been of Preswich, Lancashire.

James Paynel is the first Rector listed in church. He was instituted to Whitwell on 2nd February 1316. He had previously been vicar of Alton (Staffs) and would appear to have departed without giving much notice to his erstwhile parish as the diocese, amid grumbles, had to pay for a temporary chaplain to cover his duties. At Alton itself, Paynel may have been frequently absent as the next vicar was forced to swear on oath that he would keep residence in that parish. The reign of Edward II, was a particularly turbulent period both in Derbyshire and elsewhere and a villainous gang is known to have roamed the Peak district and beyond.

We next hear of John de Chesterfield, Rector for about five years (1336-41), clearly of a Chesterfield family. A likely relation of his was, at this time, a canon of Lincoln Cathedral. It was during this period that, briefly, Steetley was a separate parish. William Sutton is recorded as the next rector of Whitwell (from 1341), after which there is a gap in the bishop’s Registers to 1385. It is conceivable that Sutton lived right through the outbreaks of plague, particularly virulent in 1349 and the 1360s, or perhaps died in one of those years.

In the reign of Richard II, a certain John Bailey (or Barley) was appointed rector by Ralph de Rye, the then patron. Bailey is an obscure character and may have stayed only a few years, as did Thomas Hilton who is mentioned as rector briefly. In 1392 came John de Binkley (Hynkeley), possibly a Leicestershire man, who may have stayed for 30 years or more. He would have known of Richard II’s deposition and murder, and of Henry V’s great victory at Agincourt (1415).

John de Newerk (Newark) was appointed by a patron named Ralph Cromwell in 1429 and stayed to 1462, while a Henry Redych survived only 2 years, for in 1462 there was a patronage dispute. A certain Sir Nicholas Longford had appointed Redych though the de Ryes disputed his claim, the outcome being the bishop of Lichfield instructed the Archdeacon of Derby to resolve the matter, which the latter did in favour of the de Ryes, who then forced Redych to resign.

At this time the French Wars were concluded, while at home the Wars of the Roses began. In the 1460s the de Rye family appointed John Harrison (1464-69) and Thomas Pierpoint. The latter was still in office at the time of the battle of Bosworth (1485), the coronation of Henry VII and the period of peace which followed. The next year, with another patronage dispute, bishop Hales of Lichfield seized the opportunity to collate John Mayfield (Mafield) to the Whitwell living in a ceremony at Ashbourne church, (May 1486). His name suggests he came from Mayfield by Ashbourne (Derbys), as Mayfield (Sussex) seems too far away. He seems to have avoided   the turmoil of public life and never became a cathedral canon nor a bishop. He may have lacked ambition, preferring the life as a village priest where he could study and serve the community. Neither was he a pluralist (as many were) and served in this parish only. The year of Mayfield’s death is not known, but if he lived to 60 or more it would have been in Henry VIII’s reign, perhaps between 1510 and 1520. Hence, he was one of the last Pre-Reformation Rectors.

For the 1500s the information that has survived about some Rectors is patchy, but it is certain that Brian Sandeford, styled Dominus i.e. Master (or ‘Sir’) was the priest during Henry VIII’s great enquiry into the value of church property in 1536, complete with mention of his income. Rectors, out of respect, were often called ‘Master’ or ‘Sir’ but were not knighted. One source claims he died in 1543 and was followed by a Robert Holme, from 1543-46. After which Brian Sandeford’s name appears again. Was this the earlier Brian returning after a period elsewhere or another of that name, possibly a nephew or even his son? The latter Brian, appointed by the de Ryes, was a pluralist who also served at Hawkesworth (Notts). When he died is not known as no evidence exists for the next 60 years. During that time the Reformation was at its height and the parish’s rectors would have been confronted by religious changes, reign by reign, Edward VI (Protestant), Mary I (RC) and Elizabeth I (C of E).

If still rector in Elizabeth’s reign, Sandeford would have been the first to use her Book of Common Prayer (1559), which is still in occasional use. About 1593, Sir George Manners of Haddon Hall acquired the manor of Whitwell and passed it to his youngest son, Sir Roger (1576-1632). After legal studies at the Inner Temple and a brief spell as MP for the family pocket borough of East Retford in Elizabeth I’s parliament of 1601, Roger settled in Whitwell. He probably did not enjoy his time at Westminster as he was rather young and the family was in disgrace since his cousin, the Earl of Rutland, had joined the Essex rebellion against the queen. Later forgiven by James I he was knighted but thereafter seems to have confined his interests to local or county affairs only. It would have been he who appointed Tobias Waterhouse rector in 1612. The latter was born about 1575-80, into a family of Halifax and one of 4 brothers who attended Cambridge, where he read Divinity. For a time, he also held the living of Kirkby-in-Ashfield (Notts). Waterhouse married Elizabeth Copley of Bedfordshire and it is their youngest son, the child, seemingly of their old age, who is so poignantly commemorated in the brass plate now in the chancel (north side). Also named Tobie, he died, possibly of plague, in June 1623 when there was a severe national outbreak, being only 4½ years of age. Waterhouse may have lived to 1648 or 1650, by which time he would probably have been over 70. He would have officiated at the funeral of his patron Sir Roger Manners, buried in the wall tomb in the north transept, when the baronet died of wounds after a fracas on Whitwell Common in July 1632. If Waterhouse lived to about 1650, he would have experienced Charles I’s rule without parliament, which the puritans felt was a royal dictatorship, the Civil War and the rise of Oliver Cromwell, as well as the rule of the House of Commons and the New Model Army, after the King’s execution in 1649.

After such critical times came Joseph Rowlinson who was rector from 1648 or 50 to 1659, having been appointed by a Parliamentary committee during the Civil War. He was born about 1617 and was the son of a canon of Lichfield cathedral. On leaving Oxford he entered the church, but in 1644 he and his father were accused of seizing church property, with the result that he was sent as minister to Battle church in Sussex. Later he was appointed to Whitwell. Rowlinson was known for long puritan sermons.

In the difficult years between the end of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, a Derbyshire man, John Swetnam, was Rector for a year but soon fell out of favour and was replaced by Hugo Bonham, who stayed 3 years. The village was probably happier with Benjamin Camfield, a Londoner by birth, who stayed 10 years, but then went to Aylestone church (Leics) and afterwards to St Mary’s Nottingham. He is said to have written many theological works.

The next incumbent, John Greaves, stayed for 17 years (1673-90). These were times of uncertainty with James II, a catholic, ruling England followed by the Dutch protestant, William III, crowned jointly with his English wife Mary II, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Greaves’ successor, John Beardmore stayed through the 1690s, having moved here from Braunston (Leics).

In the 18th century, Lewis Griffin occupied the Rectory, 1698-1711, during the reign of Queen Anne, when Marlborough defeated the armies of the French King Louis XIV. Griffin was born in Carlton (Notts) and after serving at Kimpton (Leics) was appointed to Whitwell by its patron, the Duke of Rutland, though being ducal chaplain, he later moved to Bottesford, a church near to the Duke’s seat of Belvoir Castle.

The Hanoverian succession of 1714 and the reign of the four Georges to 1830 saw Henry Felton as the first of the Rectors during the period. Also a Londoner by birth, Felton was Principal of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, which was a small college so a deputy was able to cover his duties and complete with family he spend long spells in Whitwell. While the registers show this, it is also known that he spent much time in London, where he gained a reputation as a formidable preacher in fashionable city churches. There, he spoke out against the current belief in Deism and the idea that though there was a creator God, such a being was impersonal and could not be prayed to. This was opposed to the Christian belief of God the father, who could be met through prayer, be followed and obeyed. His son said he also preached his rousing sermons at Whitwell. Felton had a reputation far beyond the boundaries of this parish and county and was incumbent here from 1711-1736, before leaving for Yorkshire, where he died.

His successor, William Smith, was in office for the 16 years (to 1752) but little definite seems to be known of him. The same can be said of Richard Sutton, Rector for about 34 years (1752-86) and also appointed by the Duke of Rutland. The Suttons were a prominent Nottinghamshire family. By the end of his tenure of office, both England and Europe were beginning to see momentous changes. The American colonies had been lost and had become the USA, the French Revolution was 3 years away (1789), the population of Britain had doubled since 1700 to near 10million, while in parts of the north the factory system was gradually taking shape during the reign of George III (1760-1820).

From 1786-92, Whitwell’s Rector was Charles Manners-Sutton, grandson of a Duke of Rutland and nephew of the Marquis of Granby, a soldier whose head appears on numerous inn signs. After studying mathematics at Cambridge, he entered the church, largely due to the influence of a pious grandmother. He belonged to the High church party and though of exemplary character, he and his wife were very extravagant and frequently in debt in their youth. During his time at Whitwell he was also rector of Averham-Kelham (Notts) and divided his time between both parishes. He later became Dean of St George`s Chapel, Windsor, Bishop of Norwich and finally Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a good, reforming primate, did much to revive the C of E from its torpor during the 1700s and, as the population rose, encouraged a wide programme of church building. He promoted clergy for their ability rather than their influence and improved the stipends of poor vicars. Primary education got his support, as did help for the unemployed. He also encouraged the spread of the church in India and was a friend to Queen Caroline during the periodic bouts of madness of King George III. Whitwell can be proud of its connection with him.

Little can be said of his successor, William Thomas, rector in the 1790s, though the next incumbent, named George King, stayed over 30 years (to 1831). He too, studied mathematics at Cambridge and divided his time between this parish and Cambridge, where he was dean of a college. Consequently, curates often deputised for him in services at Whitwell during his tenure of office. By the time of George Mason (1831-51) the earliest Methodist chapels were appearing in the village (from 1837). After 1851 it seems that Mason moved to Cuckney. He was the grandfather of Canon George E. Mason. Our mid-Victorian Rector was Evelyn Boothy (1851-74). Appointed at the early age of 26, he died in office, aged 49; a church window commemorates his life. This was the era of the Oxford Movement and the revival of more elaborate (Catholic) forms of ritual in some Anglican churches. In comparison a Methodist church (seating 200) was built in the village during this time (1846).

Canon George Edward Mason (Rector 1874-1908) was remembered by villagers until comparatively recent times. A Nottinghamshire man and Cambridge product, the Duke of Portland brought him to Whitwell after a spell in Holborn church (London). He is our example of the long serving Victorian cleric and he has left his mark on the parish in many ways; he restored the church, renovated Steetley chapel after centuries of neglect and provided a new (now called the old) rectory. He was appointed a canon in the cathedral of the new diocese of Southwell (1884). In addition, he was often absent in London, or engaged in missionary work overseas, for he made a number of voyages abroad. It is no wonder that he employed and trained 2-3 curates at a time. Then, after 34 years here, he left to be principal of a theology college at Umtata (Natal) and died in Cape Town 1928. Edward Polehampton, formerly a theology lecturer at Lichfield, was rector during World War I (1908-17) as the village passed through the harrowing time when so many of its young men were killed or wounded in action. He later moved to the parish of Odiham in Hampshire.

With World War I over we now move into the Inter-War period of the 1920s and 30s. It was not a particularly happy time for village or nation, with much economic stress, poverty and political tension, though on the positive side it is probably true to say that people ‘pulled together’ more as a community. The Rev’d EF Crosse was Rector during the 1920s and later became Archdeacon of Chesterfield. He was followed shortly after by Rev’d. WE Sternberg, whose family still live in the village. Though London born, he was living as a child in Ladysmith during the famous siege of that town in the South African War and later qualified in Law at Durham, but he turned to the church for his calling. Most of this he spent at Whitwell (1929-1958), but kept in touch with his legal training as an external examiner for Durham Law Faculty. This era included all the vicissitudes of World War 2 and the austerity years in the following decade. The Rev’d Sternberg was the last Rector to train and have the support of curates.

An ex-army man, Rev’d FE Brabyn, was Rector during the ‘swinging 60s’. After him came the Rev’ds. Clayton and Hill, who stayed only a few years before moving to other parishes nearby in the archdeaconry of Chesterfield. Rev’d John Featherstone was here longer, 9 years, until, in 1986, Rev’d Chris A Rogers arrived. He was here for almost 10 years and was a very popular priest. He then returned to Yorkshire but later moved to Richmond, near London. After he left, the Rev’d Ann Smith (nee Jennings) came from Wakefield and, at a comparatively late age, married into a church going family from Steetley.

Late in the Millenium year, Rev’d Glyn Rees, Bradford born though raised in South Africa, arrived from the Brakspan parish in the Transvaal. He had studied at Umtata Theological College where Canon Mason had once been Principal. In 2005, while still in his early 40s, he left with his family for the parish of Wodonga in Victoria, Australia. Also in that year, David Hull, already vicar of Elmton with Creswell, was asked to take charge of Whitwell. A product of Lincoln Theological College, he had served in parishes in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire before joining the Derby diocese; he retired in January 2010.

We have come a long from John Prestwyck, the first known Rector about 1291, some 43 clergy in 700 years. Some were born in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire and a few in London, while many had served, or were to serve, in parishes in the Midlands but one thing is certain, they all have looked on the massive piers which are still to be seen in the nave today. So, in January 2011, Rev’d Amanda, Pike and family arrived but did not settle, leaving for a Staffordshire parish after 2½ years. Revd Liz Kirby, and husband, John, arrived in December 2014, initially as Priest in Charge.  However, from March 2018 her title changed to Rector when we legally became the United Benefice of Elmton with Creswell and Whitwell with Steetley.