Averham St Michael and All Angels

History

Herringbone work
in the masonry

The first documentary reference to Averham church occurs in Domesday, where Averham, then in the Wapentake of Lythe, is listed under “The land of Gilbert Tison” and has a church and a priest. Domesday also indicates this was a large and affluent settlement. The occurrence of herringbone work in the masonry could indicate a pre-Conquest date for this church. Certainly the tower appears to be pre-Conquest, but it is not possible to be sure how much earlier.

The Lexington family acquired the manor of Averham when Robert le Sauvage granted it to Robert de Lexington in the thirteenth century in return for being let off a debt to Aaron the Jew, of York. This Robert had powerful brothers – John de Lexington, Lord Keeper to King Henry III in 1237-8, 1241-2 and 1247-8, and Henry de Lexington who was Dean (1245-53) then Bishop (1253-8) of Lincoln.

After Robert de Lexington’s death, since neither he nor his brothers had heirs, the manor of Averham passed to Robert’s sister’s son, Robert de Sutton. Thus for a while the Lexington name was no longer attached to the manor of Averham. A few centuries later another Robert Sutton supported Charles I in his conflicts with Parliament, including paying for the defence of Newark, and was created Lord Lexington in 1645. Although he lost his land and titles during the Commonwealth they were restored to him by Charles II in 1660.

The chancel has Early English windows, probably dating from mid to late thirteenth century. The tower arch appears to be fourteenth century, probably replacing a narrower opening. Sometime around 1400 the chancel was lengthened. A new consecration cross can be seen on the north-eastern corner. This was necessary as the altar was moved within the previous limit of the church building. The windows appears to have been inserted in the chancel at the same time.

The screen dividing the chancel from the nave is of late fourteenth or very early fifteenth century. However there is evidence of much later restoration and it is probable that the ornamentation was carried out in the Hodgson Fowler restoration of 1907.

The upper part of the tower is from the fifteenth century. The Perpendicular nave windows and the eastern window in the south wall of the chancel date from the late fifteenth century. The porch was built by Sir Thomas Sutton sometime before the early 1520s.

A Jacobean altar table is now in the vestry. In 1676 there were ninety-six people in the parish of the age to receive communion. There were no recusants, but four other dissenters. During the seventeenth century the font cover was ordered. The font itself is thought to be of the time of Charles II.

In 1755 the parishes of Averham and Kelham were amalgamated.

In 1840 three bells of 1599, 1604 and 1613 were replaced by six.

No return for the church appears to have been made in the 1851 religious census.

The Sutton family provided several incumbents for the church, but in 1856 the Rev Joseph Walker was presented as Rector of the parish. In 1858 the church was re-pewed and the interior remodelled at a cost of £600. At the same time the monument commemorating the first Lord Lexington was moved, the north door of the nave was blocked and a number of corbels, from various parts of the building, were inserted in the nave walls. Further repairs were carried out in 1865 and the church was re-roofed at the expense of the Rector. A new organ, paid for by subscription, was installed in 1866. At the same time the church was re-seated, providing seats, all free, for 200 worshippers. Some time before 1869 a new oak roof was put in the porch and a new nave door put in place. In 1875 the vestry was built. It was created from the mausoleum in the chancel, belonging to Sir Richard Sutton, Bt. The coffins in the upper recesses of the vault were lowered to the same level as the rest and lie under the vestry floor. A new doorway was opened into the chancel from the vestry.

Walker’s son, Joseph Cyril Walker, became his curate in 1897. When Joseph Walker died in 1907, his son Joseph Cyril, succeeded him as Rector and remained at Averham until his death in 1942. Thus father and son held the living from 1856 to 1942, 86 years.

In 1902 the Rev Joseph Cyril Walker presented a new organ to the church to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria.

In 1907 the nave walls were panelled in honour of his father, and the church was re-pewed. Plans in Nottinghamshire Archives, attributed to local architect Hodgson Fowler, appear to be of this restoration. It is likely that he was also responsible for the repair of the rood screen, as there are diagrams of the screen with the plans for the restoration. The chancel was redecorated and reconditioned in 1924.

In 1912 the church was said to seat 150, and to have had 8 baptisms and 10 confirmations during the previous year.

Joseph Cyril Walker was a theatre enthusiast and had a tiny theatre, which he named the Robin Hood Opera House, built in his rectory grounds in about 1913. He formed a company of amateur actors called “The Country Bumpkins”; he directed plays and painted scenery. The Robin Hood Theatre, now detached from the rectory gardens, had to be closed temporarily in 2009 because of issues of disabled access, but has been re-opened in 2014.