This extra-parochial manor extends southward from the vicinity of Ollerton, along the banks of the Rainworth water, more than six miles to the junction of the Bassetlaw, Thurgarton and Broxtow hundreds. It contains 63 scattered dwellings, about 370 inhabitants, and 9,827 acres of good forest land, of which about 40 acres are appropriated to the cultivation of hops, 1,090 acres were planted with oaks and ash by the late Sir George Savile, who also enclosed and brought into cultivation 1,960 acres of the open forest, after the year 1776.
This fine rural liberty was anciently caled Rugforde or Rumford, and, before the Conquest, was held by Ulf the Saxon, but was afterwards of the fee of Gilbert de Gaunt, who was nephew to the Conqueror, and was succeeded by his son Walter, whose eldest son, Gilbert de Gaunt, married the Countess of Lincoln, and was himself created Earl of Lincoln, after which, in 1148, he founded here a Cistercian Abbey for a colony of monks, whom he brought from Rivaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire, in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary. He endowed it with the manor of Rufford and several estates. At the dissolution it was found to contain 15 of this holy brotherhood, whose revenues amounted to £254 per annum. Its site and possessions, with many other manors in Nottinghamshire, and the adjacent counties, were granted to George, Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford, in exchange for many large estates in Ireland, which he had given up to Henry VIII. The Rufford estate passed in marriage with the heiress and grand-daughter of the said Earl of Shrewsbury to Sir George Savile, of Barrowby in Lincolnshire, whose descendant of the same name was created Marquis of Halifax in 1682, but that title became extinct on the death of his son William in 1700. The last Sir George Savile, who was highly esteemed both as "an upright senator and an honest man" died in 1784, and left his estate to Richard, the second son of his sister (the wife of the Right Hon. Richard Lumley Saunderson, Earl of Scarborough), who consequently assumed the surname of Savile, but on the death of his eldest brother, in 1807, he succeeded to the Scarborough title and estate, and the more valuable estate of Rufford passed to his younger brother, the Honourable and Rev. John Lumley Savile, for to a younger branch of whose family it must always belong, agreeable to the will of the late Sir George Savile, during whose life Rufford Abbey was in all its splendour. However, in 1832 the Hon. and Rev. John Lumley Savile succeeded his eldest brother as Earl of Scarborough, and it appears the entail had been cut off, for he held both the Sandbeck and Rufford estates till his death in 1835, and they are now held by his son and successor, the Right Hon. John Savile Lumley Savile, 8th Earl of Scarborough, Viscount and Baron Lumley, and also Viscount Lumley in Ireland, and Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, who makes Rufford his principal seat, and has repaired and completely restored this noble mansion, and greatly improved the estate.
Rufford Abbey stands in a beautiful and well wooded park of about 600 acres, within 2 miles south of Ollerton. It is an immense edifice erected upon, and engrafted into, the remains of the ancient monastic building. Its situation is extremely sequestered, and the entrance front is so completely embowered in a grove of elm and beech, as to preserve much of the original character of the fabric, though it has been so much altered by several of the Savile family. Thoroton, speaking of it in his time, says that it had often been the residence of King James I, and his son Charles, who found it very commodious for hunting in Sherwood Forest, and were hospitably entertained there.
The entrance front is approached by a flight of steps over an area which surrounds the house, and gives light to the offices in the underground storey. The spacious entrance hall was altered to its present state in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and with its lofty ceiling, high raised screen and brick floor, marks the taste of that period. Here are some ancient portraits, but the most valuable collection of paintings is in the Long Gallery, which is 114 feet long and 36 broad, and contains a rich feast for the connoisseur. An apartment called "The Prince of Wales' Bedroom" is hung with very handsome tapestry, and has its name from his late Majesty George IV, who slept in it on one of his visits to the North, when Prince of Wales. The attic storey has an immense number of rooms, in which there are also many good paintings. There are no less than three-and-twenty staircases in the house, one of which leads to the great drawing room, in which is a fine portrait of the late Sir George Savile, and three views of Roche Abbey. But the greatest curiosities amongst the paintings in this mansion are two exquisite little pieces which Laird says (1811) the housekeeper has been directed to lock up in one of her presses below.
"One of them is a Dutch painting of a 'fiddler and groupe' and the other an 'old woman with flowers'. The painter we believe is unknown, but the execution done in the most exquisite style of high finishing. In short, as pictures they may almost be considered as invaluable, and we could not help expressing our astonishment, that two cabinet bijoux of such exquisite taste whould be thus suffered to lie unseen amidst table cloths and napkins".
This noble mansion, neglected for some years, is again, under its present noble possessor, approaching its former spendour, who in 1841 commenced the erection of a beautiful Lodge, which was not completed till 1843. The principal pillars are crowned with the arms of the family, having splendid gates and forms. The principal entrance from the west, from which the Abbey is approached in a direct line by a spacious carriage road, having on each side rows of fine and venerable trees, through which the house can only be partially seen from the Lodge. A full service according to the Church of England is performed at the Abbey by the Chaplain, every Sunday morning at 12 o'clock, and an evening service is added on the last Sunday in every month.
Besides the beautiful lake in Rufford Park, the Rainworth water did fill a large dam of 50 about acres at Inkersall, near the south end of the liberty, three miles south-west of the Abbey, but the bank burst about twelve years ago, and it is now cultivated.
Ley Fields, an extensive farm and pleasantly situated mansion, two miles east by south of the Abbey, has been (lately) considerably enlarged and improved, and is the seat of John Parkinson Esq. North Laiths, a farm one mile east of the Abbey; Lodge Farm, near the south-east corner of the Park, one and a half miles south of the Abbey; Savile Row, a number of cottages near the north-west corner of the Park, with several other scattered farms, all of which are in a high state of cultivation.
White's "Directory of Nottinghamshire," 1853