Broxtowe
St Martha

History

The church of St Martha the Housewife was completed in 1956.

The planning for the church dated back to the Second World War and the dedication commemorates the service of women during the conflict.

However, long before this church was built, there was a medieval chapel at Broxtowe of an unknown dedication. No traces of this building remained in 1677 when Thoroton wrote his History of Nottinghamshire, although the building was still in use in 1595.

There is no mention of a church at Broxtowe in Domesday, and the earliest evidence of the church is a grant of land by Gilbert, son of Eustace de Broculstowe in the early-eleventh century, who gave to the Cluniac monks of Lenton Priory a toft (a holding including a dwelling and pertaining land) located on the east part of Broxtowe Church.

A list of rectors contained in the Torre Manuscript runs from 1287 to 1468, with the earliest institution being Robert de Stapilford who was presented to the church by Sempringham Priory. From this and subsequent institutions it is evident that the house of Gilbertine canons at Sempringham exercised patronage over the church.

In 1291, for the purposes of ecclesiastical taxation during the pontificate of Nicholas IV, the church of Broxtowe was not assessed although a pension of 2s. to Sempingham Priory was recorded. In 1341, the inquisitions nonarum noted that the church was not taxed because sheaves, wool and lambs were valued at only 24s. yearly. In 1428, for the purposes of taxation under Henry VI, the church was recorded as ‘in decimabilis preter pensionem prioris de Sempryngham’ (‘not liable to tithes besides the pension to the priory of Sempringham’).

Further evidence of the early history of the church at Broxtowe is sparse, although the church of Broxtowe is mentioned in a court case from 1385 when a smith of Lenton sued his trade partner. The plaint recorded that the partner owed 2s. for the making of a key for the door of the church of Broxtowe. In 1427 an inquisition recorded that the parish of Broxtowe contained fewer than ten inhabitants who were householders. Owing to the small number of inhabitants, the parish was unified with Bilborough in 1458 upon the petition of Robert Strelley, Esq.

In the Valor Ecclesiasticus (1535) the rectory of Bilborough was assessed with Broxtowe, although a later source provides evidence that the church building continued to exist in the late-sixteenth century. The earliest register book for Bilborough contains a terrier (land survey) dating to 1595 where the ‘chappell and the chappellyearde’ are recorded alongside land pertaining to the chapel, which included an acre of woodland lying next to ‘Sheep Close’. The record also mentions all tithes and other church duties, suggesting that at this date the revenues of the chapel were kept administratively distinct from those of Bilborough church.

It was suggested by A Stapleton in an article entitled The Lost Church of Broxtowe (1911) that the building itself may have ceased to function as a church even before the Reformation and, in a similar way to other chapels following unification with another parish, it may have been converted to secular purposes, perhaps serving as a barn.

Stapleton also suggested that the chapel may have been demolished along with the old hall during the reign of Charles I, the chapel being situated just north of the hall wall. The author of Black’s Guide to Notts in 1885 cited a local legend that near the place where the ancient chapel formerly stood, a small mound was pointed out as the grave of two infant children of Queen Anne.

During the Second World War plans were drawn up for a new church in Broxtowe. The foundation stone was laid on 14 February 1952 by Miss Marjorie Russell in the presence of the archdeacon of Nottingham, the rural dean and the visiting clergy and congregation of Bilborough Church.

Later that year, on 13 July, the church was dedicated to St Martha by the Bishop of Southwell. The dedication was preceded by a procession of 500 people from Bilborough Church in the presence of the Lord Mayor and Mayoress of Nottingham, the town clerk, the councillors of the Broxtowe and Wollaton wards, the heads of the schools in the parish, and the architect and builders.

The first service was held on 29 July, when an address was given by Monica Hardcastle, principal of St Christopher’s College, London. On 31 January 1963 the church commissioners presented before Her Majesty in Council a proposal for the constituting of a new parish to be taken out of the parishes of Bilborough, and Christ Church, Cinderhill, in Southwell Diocese. On 20 February 1963 at the court of St James, Queen Elizabeth II effected the proposal into law, and two days later the order was published in the London Gazette.

On 26 October 1965 the Guardian Journal reported that an extension was being planned. The proposed additions to the building included a chancel with a north transept, a curved east wall, a hall over the nave, a west portico with a tower, a north porch, central heating, toilets, and a second stairway. The parish had at that stage raised £1,000 for the fund to carry out these works, and hoped to raise a further £1,000 over the course of the following year. The extension works commenced on 28 November 1966 at a contract price of £14,419. 12s. 9d.

The reason for the extension was cited in a letter from the Rev W G E Porter, priest in charge of Broxtowe, dated 4 March 1963. Porter reported that the surrounding housing estate had been occupied for 20 years, and that the church in its present state had taken 10 years to construct:

I submit it is imperative that this project be finished at the earliest possible date in order to revitalise the hearts and minds… of the faithful before it is too late. It cannot be stated too strongly that the next building of S  Martha’s must be a great effort by all concerned to complete the entire project.

On 30 July 1965, it was reported that the church had purchased a ‘bargain’ second-hand electronic organ for £400. The organ was consecrated by the Assistant Bishop of Southwell, Mark Way, who told a reportedly packed church at the concurrent patronal festival celebrations that ‘St Martha was a real human, down-to-earth person – not a stained glass window one’.

Before the service, the band of St John’s Church Lads’ Brigade (Bilborough) had led a procession through the streets of the parish. Walking behind them were Guides and Brownies of St Martha’s, followed by St John’s choirboys, clergy and congregation.

One bell, formerly at St Christopher’s, Sneinton (by Taylor, 1910), is now fixed to the wall above the rear entrance.

In 1997 St Martha’s became the first turbine-powered church in Britain. Unfortunately the turbine on the tower never worked properly.