Annesley Old Church is located by Annesley Hall near Annesley Woodhouse in Nottinghamshire. It is a ruined church dating back to Saxon times.
Annesley is thought to date from the first invasions of the 'Angles' into Mercia in the fifth or sixth centuries. The name is derived from the Old English Anna's Lea or Ley; Ley meaning a clearing or hillside in the wood. Anna was probably a younger son of a minor chieftain who would establish his own manor. A clearing in the woods, with water, fuel and reasonable land for cultivation was found and the place became known as Anna's Ley. Early on in his occupation of the area he would have set up a shrine to his favourite pagan god which would have formed the basis for the first church. When Christianity reached the area a Saxon church was constructed, most likely by Lavinot the Thane of Annesley.
After the Conquest in 1066, King William I removed Lavinot and granted the Manor of Annesley to a Norman, Ralph Fitz Hubert. Under him, the Manor was held by a Breton, Richard Britto, who had also come to England with the Conqueror. Ralph Britto de Annesley also known as Le Bret or Britain, succeeded Richard and took the name of his manor as his surname. The Fitz Hubert family interests ended in 1154 when Robert Fitz Hubert was besieged and captured at Devizes Castle. He was hanged from the battlements like a common criminal for cruelties he had committed whilst fighting for King Stephen. That disastrous monarch died the same year and was succeeded by Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings.
In the twelfth century it was very fashionable for landowners to endow religious houses in an attempt to ensure their salvation and at the same time impress their neighbours. Ralph Britto de Annesley decided to set up a Priory on his land at Felley in 1156. No sooner was it completed, however, than it was given to the Priory of St Cuthbert at Worksop. In 1161 Pope Alexander III confirmed that that the Priory at Felley was under the control of Worksop, and it remained so until 1260. Ralph was also wanting to get rid of Annesley Church, the Saxon foundation, which he was maintaining and which was another drain on his resources. He was again thwarted because his father anticipated his son's plans and gave the church to Leonia, Ralph's sister, who in turn gave it to the monks of Felley. These two events resulted in years of legal wrangling, which used up most of Ralph's money and only ended when he died. Leonia also known as Leonia de Raine effigy now lies in the present Annesley All Saints church building.
Ralph Britto died in 1161 and he was succeeded by his son Reginald. Next in line of succession was his son, another Ralph de Annesley, who was one of the Barons who, in 1215, persuaded King John to affix his royal seal to Magna Carta at Runnemede. In 1356, following the traumatic period of the Black Death, a third church was built close to the ancestral home of the Annesley family, Annesley Hall. This is the beginnings of Annesley Old Church.
The Annesley line came to an end after 300 years in 1442 when Alice, the sole heir to the Manor of Annesley married George Chaworth, third son of Sir Thomas Chaworth of Wiverton. The Chaworths were an old Norman family from the Le Mans area who fought with William at Hastings and became great landowners, with many properties across Normandy, England and Wales. In 1282, a Matilda Chaworth married Henry Plantagenet and later became the great-aunt of John of Gaunt. Wiverton, the seat of Sir Thomas, also referred to as Viverton, Werton and Wareton, stood near Tythby in the Vale of Belvoir.
The Chaworths were in the habit of making profitable marriages with suitable heiresses and in 1653, Patricius, the Third Viscount Chaworth married Lady Grace Manners, daughter of John, the Eighth Earl of Rutland. After the Civil Wars, when the Chaworths were firmly royalist, the family home at Wiverton was "slighted" and made uninhabitable by the Parliamentary forces and thus Annesley Park became the new family seat. The marriage of Patricius and Grace was not a happy one and eventually Grace left her husband to live in London. Patricius, left alone, threw himself into local works. He rebuilt parts of the Hall, constructed the Terrace and the flight of steps leading up to the church and ordered the preparation of the heraldic device known as The Achievement, which was placed on one of the tower walls in the church. After worship had ceased, this splendid piece of work was badly damaged by vandals, but thanks to the efforts of some dedicated people, it was moved to the 1874 New Church, where it can be seen today. Patricius died in 1694 without a legitimate heir.
Chaworths held the estate for 343 years until 1805, when Mary Ann Chaworth married John Jack Musters of Colwick. The Musters were prominent Nottinghamshire landowners, an earlier John Musters having bought Colwick Hall in 1648. Some years later the two surnames were combined and subsequent generations became known as the Chaworth-Musters family. Mary and Jack had eight children and the Chaworth-Musters line continued with John Chaworth-Musters (1838-1887), John Patricius Chaworth-Musters (1860-1921), Colonel John N Chaworth-Musters (1890-1970) and Major Robert Patricius Chaworth-Musters, known to the village as "Major Bob". In 1973 Major Bob sold the Hall and most of the Park and moved to Felley Priory, founded by his predecessor Ralph Britto de Annesley some 817 years earlier. When the Major died, in 1992, the direct male line ended and his only remaining child, Venetia, died the following year. The executors of Major Robert Chaworth-Musters continue as patron of the living of Edwalton Holy Rood.
Because of the distance of the church from the growing colliery village, a new Church of All Saints was built in the 19th Century, consecrated in 1874. This then took over as the main centre of worship for the community and the old church eventually fell into decline. For some years after the New Church opened, the Old Church continued in use. All the children of John and Caroline Chaworth-Musters were baptized there. The Annesley Parish Magazine for 1884 had a front cover featuring sketches of the Old and the New Churches on alternate issues. Harvest Festival Services continued to be held in the old church in the Park, rather than in the new church in the colliery village. Occasional use of the old church was carried on until 1942, but thereafter the building was not conserved properly and it fell into decline, which accelerated when the Park was sold in 1973. In 1981, the Church Commissioners agreed to the sale of the church and graveyard to Ashfield District Council in the sum of £1.00. The walls were lowered to a safe height and capped and the upper portion of the tower was removed. The Old Church is now scheduled as an Ancient Monument and is Listed as a Grade II Building.
The Byron estate, Newstead Abbey lies on the eastern border of the Chaworth-Musters estate, the distance between the two houses being some two and a half miles. As a consequence, the fortunes of the two families have been, to some extent, intertwined.
The most notorious of the encounters came about in 1765, through a dispute between William Chaworth and the Fifth Lord Byron, which resulted in Byron killing chaworth in a duel. The affair was the result of a quarrel between the two men at the Star and Garter Tavern in Pall Mall, London, at what was called the Nottinghamshire Club. William Chaworth was buried in Annesley Old Church on 5 February 1765, the service being conducted by the Vicar, Robert Stanley.