About this image
This view showing the south aspect of the Church has been extracted from Deering's 'Nottinghamia'. There is a library stamp on the right edge. St Mary's church is not geographically, but remains spiritually the very heart of the ancient city of Nottingham. The reason for its present situation, somewhat off the beaten track, is that in the early middle ages there were two boroughs - the original Saxon borough, around St. Mary's, and the Norman-French borough, centred on the castle. Eventually the centre of the city became the Old Market Square, situated between the two. The old parish church, sitting on its dominating hill, as it can be seen in artists' 'Prospects' of the city in eighteenth century prints, was eventually hidden among the tall commercial buildings of the 'Lace Market'. Although it is no longer on a fashionable main road, so that visitors and passers-by cannot fail to notice its beauty, it is a splendid building, one of the most glorious edifices in the midlands. There has been a church on the site since Saxon times. Probably the first St. Mary's here was erected by the middle of the tenth century. Paulinus baptised men into the Christian faith in the River Trent in 627, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that some of those early Christians lived in Nottingham and that these men would have built a church in which they could worship. In the year 930, in what had been the Danish borough of Nottingham, a council was held, attended by an archbishop and sixteen bishops. Plainly the town was sufficiently important at that time for such a meeting to have been held; equally plainly these bishops must have worshipped in the parish church. After the Norman conquest, in 1066, settlement began around the new castle. Certainly Domesday Book, in 1086, stated that there was a church, with a priest named Aitard, who received a stipend of five pounds a year. There can have been little money available for the conquered Saxons to improve or to modernise the old Saxon church, which probably survived, unaltered, until 1140. In that year Nottingham was pillaged and set on fire by a raiding army commanded by the Earl of Gloucester, the half brother of Maud, who contested King Stephen's right to the throne. If the church survived this devastation, which is unlikely, it was certainly destroyed in 1171, when the town was sacked and burned again, this time by rebels fighting against Henry II. Plainly it was necessary to rebuild the parish church. Work was begun in the new style which is now called Early English. However, by this time, the responsibility was not entirely in the hands of the townsmen. William Peveril, the first governor of Nottingham Castle, had established a reformed Benedictine, or Cluniac monastery nearby, at Lenton, and had given the monks endowments which included the 'temporalities' of St. Mary's (c.1102-8). In fact, he had given them the incomes of the churches of St. Peter and St. Nicholas as well, but as these were small, the Cluniacs left their rectors in possession. The old parish church was more prosperous, however, and so the tithes were taken over and a substitute, or vicar, was appointed, with a fixed annual stipend. Probably three quarters of the church's income was diverted for the benefit of the monks. How the new church was paid for, or by whom, is unknown. Evidence exists as to its style. Built into a factory wall in Broadway is the stone frame of a two-light church window. There is no doubt that it is from the old church. Under the tower piers restored in the mid-nineteenth century are buried Norman capitals; and under the north aisle floor are the foundations and stump of a twelfth or thirteenth century pier. The end of the thirteenth century was a period of great activity in church building in the country, and a great advance in the civic life in Nottingham was marked by the grant of a Mayor and a further charter in 1283. It can be deduced that the church was considerably shorter than it is today. Its west end was probably near the existing south porch. There may have been improvements in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. If there were, nothing is known about them. (information from www.stmarysnottingham.org) The history of the church on this site goes back to A.D. I 108, when William Peverel presented the emoluments of St. Mary's Church to the Priory of Lenton, which he had founded. Formerly the vicars of this church were also bishops, but this came to an end about the time of Queen Elizabeth's accession, when it was said that there were not means enough to maintain a bishop; and since then St. Mary has only had vicars who were not bishops. The plan of this church is cruciform, and the whole is of a comparatively late date. Portions of Norman pillar capitals have been found during the reparation of the present fabric, but the whole is now of the Perpendicular style. It is remarkable for the size and number of its windows. This appears to have struck Leland, who, after visiting it in 1540, describes it as being 'excellente, newe, and unyforme yn worke, and so manie faire windows yn itt yt no artificer can imagine to set more.' The broad and lofty tower is undoubtedly the most striking feature of the fabric. Its lower portion is relieved by blank windows, and the belfry lights above are flanked by others. The whole is surrounded by an embattled parapet and eight pinnacles. The lights of the long clerestory range are so closely set together as almost to give the idea of an unbroken line. The church gives the visitor an impression of great spaciousness, as it is 210 feet long, and wide and high in proportion. The interior effect is rather chilling in winter from the extent of uncoloured glass; but this has been partially remedied, some sixteen fine painted windows having been inserted during the last twenty years, one of them in memory of the Prince Consort. 1n 1839, through the exertions of Archdeacon Wilkins, all the old galleries were removed, and a new one of stone was erected at the west end of the nave. In 1842 the tower foundations gave way, chiefly through the injurious habit of making vaults and graves close to them, and through incisions made in their thickness. The Church was again, however, reopened, after a reparation of the tower, a re-roofing of the nave, and a replacement of the clerestory window tracery, at a cost of £9000, raised by subscription, when the chancel also was re-roofed and restored at the charge of Earl Manvers. In 1866 the church was thoroughly restored under the direction of the late Sir Gilbert Scott, and the west gallery removed. By the liberality of the congregation and friends the spacious chancel has been enriched by an organ, built by Bishop and Starr of London, at a cost of £2600. The chancel is seated with oak stalls, which were special gifts, and add greatly to the beauty of the church. Nor must we omit to mention a beautiful and chastely carved pulpit, the gift of the Committee of the Church Congress which was held in Nottingham in 187I ; and a fine oak chancel screen and reredos erected as a private memorial in 1885 by T. Hill, Esq., churchwarden.