For this church:
In 956 A.D King Eadwig gave land in Bleasby, along with several other nearby villages, to Oscytel, Archbishop of York to help establish a Minster at nearby Southwell. It is possible that at this time some form of early church existed in Bleasby, but its existence is not recorded, nor is the site known, although it is likely to have been on the current site. Surviving charters of the former Augustian Priory at Thurgarton dated to 1220 record that Bleasby Church was in their care and identifies strips of Bleasby land as ‘of the fabric of the church’, so we can be confident that a building was in existence by that date, and the oldest parts of the church fabric can also be dated to the 13th Century.
The church has been greatly altered since the 13th Century. The south wall of the nave and the tower are original. A Willoughby family estate map dated 1574 shows the church with a nave, chancel and a tower topped by a spire. This is confirmed by a Tapestry Map dated 1632 produced by a member of the Eyre family (although this shows a much stylized representation). If there was a spire it must have been added after the original construction and prior to the 16th Century – the south-west and north-west corners of the tower have been reinforced by the addition of corner buttress built of the same local mud-stone but not bonded into the main structure.
It was in the 19th Century that the church evolved into the building we see today. First, in 1816 the nave was completely re-roofed, and a porch was added on the south wall. In 1853 the tower was embattled, and this may have been when the spire was removed. Unfortunately church records do not contain any precise information on this matter.
In the 1851 religious census the vicar, Rev John William Marsh, reported an afternoon attendance of 103, and 54 scholars who were said to be ‘very regular’. He added that 54 was lower than the average of 60 ‘on account of the whooping cough’. The general congregation was higher than the average of 80 through the year, which he put down to it being ‘a fine day’.
Major reshaping was undertaken in the mid 19th century. Work was undertaken in 1853, funded by public subscription with a significant contribution from the Kelham family. This included the removal of the north wall of the nave, support for the upper structure with a three bay arcade, plus the addition of a small north transept which is now used as a vestry.
A few years later Ewan Christian, architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, was engaged, and in 1869 the chancel was renewed under his direction. Christian retained some existing features such as the piscina and a window.
Around the same time the musicians’ gallery was removed from the west end of the church, and the present pews and other furnishings were installed. Before 1867 a set of sedilia was recorded in the chancel. This must have been removed at that time. Also lost was an east window bequeathed in 1523 by William Statham, the local squire, in memory of, and depicting images of, his parents. From the chancel arch to the Communion rail the floor is paved with well-worn grave markers mainly of the Grundy family dating back to the 17th Century.
In 1912, it was reported that there had been only three baptism and 6 confirmations over the previous twelve months. There were 35 on the Sunday School roll, and 23 on the roll of the Church School. At 354 in 1911, the population of the village had decreased by 20 since the 1901 census.
Electric lighting was installed in 1935.
The interior of the church is well lit with natural light flooding in through the windows, which are mainly of leaded Cathedral glass with just three filled with stained glass. The window on the south wall is by the celebrated glass artist, Christopher Whall. The open timbered ceiling is comparatively low.
To the north west of the church, conveniently accessed by a footpath, is a wooden bridge over a ditch leading to the vicarage built for the incumbent in 1840. This building was sold into private ownership in 1970. The original vicarage was located in the field to the west of the building now known as the Glebe Field, the open field is still there but has recently been sold to the community as a Village Green.
A framed list of the incumbents who served at St Mary’s, dating back to 1470, hangs in the church.
A Sunday School was opened in Bleasby in 1822. The first day school was built in the village on land given by the vicar the Rev JW Marsh
In 1879 a Primitive Methodist Chapel was opened in the village. It is now a private residence.
The Baptisms, Marriages and Burials Registers date from 1575 and are lodged with Nottinghamshire Archives.