Wollaton Antiphonal

The Wollaton Antiphonal

St Leonard's Church is the owner of a fantastic legacy from the 15th century. A 412 page handwritten and sumptuously illustrated service book, the Wollaton Antiphonal was rescued from the church by members of the Willoughby family around the time of the Reformation and then spent several hundred years in the library of Wollaton Hall before being returned to the church by the 10th Baron Middleton in 1924.

This rare gem from a bygone age has attracted considerable attention from those knowledgeable in the field of medieval church history and music. The book itself has recently had a great deal of conservation work done on it to try to halt its deterioration. The restored document is now being cared for and maintained within the University of Nottingham Library Manuscripts and Special Collections at King's Meadow Campus. University researchers have done a great deal to help develop an understanding of this unique treasure and have made it accessible to the public by digitising much of the original manuscript and making that available for public viewing at both St Leonard's Church and the Lakeside Pavilion on University Park. Sections of the manuscript can also be viewed on the University website.

The turning-the-pages technology

Turning the Pages™ is an interactive application developed as a joint initiative between the British Library and Armadillo Systems. It allows users to 'turn' pages of virtual books, zoom in on high-quality digitised images, read explanatory notes, and listen to related audio content.

Online access to this resource depends on both the user's equipment and the bandwidth available. Three versions are therefore offered, to suit different circumstances.

Easy Viewing of the Antiphonal

Virtual Antiphonal In order to preserve the fragile and precious Antiphonal it is now stored in an environmentally controlled and monitored secure store, which is part of Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham. However, easy public access to it is available at St Leonard's Church through an ingenious digital touch-screen monitor, which allows you to browse through a selection of the pages of this amazing manuscript, Virtual Antiphonal magnifying sections which you want to look at more closely, and even listening to music from the Antiphonal, while you enjoy viewing it. The University of Nottingham obtained funding for this Antiphonal viewing 'kiosk', and there are similar ones located in the Lakeside Pavilion and Centre for Advanced Studies on University Park.

Further details about the Antiphonal
The University website includes further detailed information including:

Antiphonals (also called antiphoners or antiphonaries) are books of music for Catholic religious services. They contain the words and music to the sung portions of the Divine Office, which is the cycle of daily services celebrated in churches and religious houses throughout the year. Antiphonals are usually very large to allow them to be seen by members of a choir. They are just one of a series of service books required by a church or religious house.

The 'Wollaton Antiphonal' was created in around 1430, probably in East Anglia, for the rich book collector Sir Thomas Chaworth and his wife Isabella. It spent its first thirty years in Sir Thomas's private chapel at his home, Wiverton Manor in Nottinghamshire.

It is an extremely rare survival of an antiphonal illustrated with beautiful miniatures and borders. Its size is remarkable. The parchment leaves on their own (without binding) are estimated to weigh 7 stones (45 kilograms)!

The Antiphonal was purchased for St Leonard's Church in Wollaton after Sir Thomas Chaworth's death in 1459. At the Reformation, it was taken to Wollaton Hall by the Willoughby family, later Barons Middleton. It remained in the Wollaton Hall Library until it was given back to the church by the 10th Baron Middleton in 1924. 

The Wollaton Antiphonal has been the subject of a ten-year conservation project, involving the removal of its early-19th century binding, the conservation of decayed leaf edges, the consolidation of its delicate pigments, and its rebinding in two volumes.

In 2009-2010 it was one of the manuscripts studied as part of the Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers' research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

In 2011 a further project began, to create a virtual publication of selected pages of the Antiphonal. This again was funded by the AHRC.

Further Reading

  • W.H. Stevenson, Report on the Manuscripts of Lord Middleton Historical Manuscripts Commission (1911), 236-237.
  • A. du B. Hill, 'The Wollaton Antiphonal', Transactions of the Thoroton Society vol. 36 (1932).
  • N.R. Ker and A.J. Piper, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries vol IV (Oxford, 1992).
  • Kathleen L Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490 (London, 1996), 204-206.
  • Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (eds), The Wollaton Medieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers (Boydell and Brewer, 2010).

Decorated page, MS 250 f. 155r

Many thanks to Nottingham University for the information above.