For this church:
The first chapel was built sometime in the medieval period. The exact date of its construction is not known, nor who sponsored its construction. Domesday Book, compiled in the late 11th century, lists several lords owning land in Aslockton: Walkelin of Aslockton, Robert of Armentieres, Wulfric of Aslockton, and King William. Any of these, or their descendants, may have decided to have a chapel built on their lands – such was a common occurrence in the wake of the Norman Conquest.
The first mention of the chapel, at that time a free chapel and dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was in 1147, when there was a dispute between Henry the Clerk, the chaplain of Aslockton, and William FitzWalter, who was the parson of the parish church of Whatton, the adjacent village. The dispute was regarding the nature of the relationship between the two churches and prompted a papal bull to be issued by Pope Clement II in 1147. As a result the chapel was tied to Whatton Church. Although Henry was allowed to keep the tithes due to the chapel he was expected to pay 20s per annum to the rector of Whatton, as well as pay one-third of the burdens of Whatton church.
Worse was to follow, thanks to the efforts of Whatton’s own patrons, the Premonstratensian monks of Welbeck Abbey. Henry was forced to resign as chaplain and was then re-granted the position but only as a gift, not as a right. He also had to concede to the monks the oblations of the chapel and was refused the right to celebrate baptisms and hold burials there. As a result Aslockton’s chapel was, along with Whatton church, firmly tied to Welbeck Abbey who remained its patrons until the Reformation. Interestingly, one of Aslockton’s own appears to have achieved the status of abbot of Welbeck as, in December 1335, William de Aslacketon was presented by the Premonstratensian abbots for blessing as abbot of Welbeck.
Interests in the village were also held by the prior of Belvoir and by the collegiate church at Sibthorpe.
There is no record of the chapel in the taxation of Pope Nicholas IV, nor in the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI, most probably as it was a poor, subsidiary chapel, annexed to Whatton and appropriated by Welbeck Abbey during this period.
According to the historian Everard L Guilford, a local legend states that a child was found abandoned on the church stile in the 14th century. Christened Aslac (after the village, called Aslackton at the time) he went on to become the standard bearer to Edward III. However Francis Blomefield in his history of Norfolk claims the same tale for the church of St Michael in Aslacton, a few miles away from Norwich, where a stained glass window used to commemorate the story.
Although only a small chapelry, Aslockton was considered sufficiently important to warrant a visitation by Archbishop Melton on Friday 6 July 1330, during his third visitation to the Deanery of Bingham.
Aslockton has a particular connection with the Reformation, as it was the birthplace of Thomas Cranmer, who rose to become the first protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cranmer family had been local landowners for centuries and married into the Aslockton family around the same time. As a child Cranmer was educated by a local priest, either the parish priest at Whatton or the chaplain at Aslockton. Much later, he became a key advisor to King Henry VIII and was one of the chief architects of the English Reformation. His father, also Thomas, whose will was proved in 1501, left the sum of 6s 8d for the fabric of the chapel of the Holy Trinity of Aslockton.
As the English reformers attempted to sweep away the old papal institutions the orders of monks were particularly targeted, thanks in part to their great wealth that King Henry hoped to seize for the Crown. Welbeck Abbey was closed down and its properties passed to the Crown, to be sold on to nobles and gentry at great expense. Whatton church and Aslockton chapel, which at the time of the Dissolution was paying £2 10s per annum to the abbey, were both sold to Thomas Cranmer himself in 1547 for £429 13s, likely as a gift from the King for his service. The two properties passed to his brother John and then to John’s son, also called Thomas. He in turn sold it on to Nicholas Rosell and Robert Brookesby. However it subsequently reverted to the Crown. At some point the chapel in Aslockton ceased to be a religious building and was converted into a dwelling house. In this state it was resold, either in 1571 or 1576, to John and William Mershe of London, who were also granted three acres of meadow land called Chapel Heades, which had previously been glebe land attached to the chapel.
In the 1530s, John Leland, the King’s Antiquary, passed by Aslockton and commented: ‘And cumming nere toward Mite brooke, I lefte about a mile on the lifte honde [Aslacton] village in Notinghamshire, wher Thomas Cranmere, Archebisshop of Cantorbyri, was born, and where the heire of the Cranmers a man scant of xl. mark-lande by the yeres [now dwellith]’.
Parts of the old chapel building, which became known as Cranmer’s Chapel, remained and were incorporated into newer constructions. A 15th century doorway survived, as well as a section of the south wall containing a 13th century moulding. The building was used mainly as a dwelling house although in 1792 it was apparently an alehouse, probably part of the Cranmer’s Arms inn, which still exists in the 21st century next door to the chapel building. Its status as a place for the consumption of alcohol clearly upset those antiquaries aware of its religious history. However it did not remain a drinking house and became once more a dwelling house, divided into several tenements. It also contained a mission room, where the villagers could come for worship if they wished.
For full services however, the villagers of Aslockton had to go to Whatton, where the parish church had remained, under the patronage of various individuals. The villagers were responsible for paying for one-third of the maintenance of the church, a legacy of the original ruling from the monks of Welbeck Abbey. However as they had no curate or chaplain of their own, they instead had the right to appoint a churchwarden to maintain their own interests, another traditional right dating back to the 12th century.