For this church:
As early as 1086 the Domesday Survey of the Conqueror records a church and a priest in Eakring. No evidence is available of when the church was first established, but it appears to have been built in stone during the Norman period with later additions in Early English and Decorated styles. The nave is without side aisles but has north and south porches. Stretton, in 1815, suggested a Tudor rebuilding, of which there is some indication for the Elizabethan period, and a considerable restoration is recorded for the early 1670s. Pevsner mentions particularly the unbuttressed western tower, which with its inner tower arch is Early English, the top of the tower being Perpendicular. A late 19th century visitor describes the external arch of the west door, where there is a north boss with a carving of a man playing bagpipes and a south boss with a woman playing a fiddle (?) Over the crown of the arch are the Virgin and Child with Mary and John. All these are decayed and broken. Pevsner also notes the early 14th century chancel with its “remarkable E. window, just one step beyond Southwell chapter house, that is with an odd, rather wilfully shaped pointed quatrefoil in an otherwise correctly c.1300 four-light window.” He suggests that the north and south lancets also appear to be of the same date.
In the medieval period the patronage of the church was divided into two moieties, of which a De Gant may have given the rights of presentation to one to the Abbot of Rufford shortly after the foundation of the Abbey in the 12th century. However it was three centuries later before there were signs that the abbot exercised his right. Until that time several local knightly families presented to both moieties. Although the earliest entry on a reasonably complete list of incumbents is not until 1236, a Rufford Abbey charter provides an earlier glimpse when it mentions ‘Adam the parson of Eakring’ in about 1150. In a similar early 13th century charter, one of the parties to an agreement is to give half a pound of incense ‘to the church of St Andrew at Eakring’, which may be taken as an indication of a continuous dedication to that saint.
The record of resident rectors is particularly incomplete for the sixteenth century, when there is a gap of about seventy years around the Reformation era. However, a board within the church listing incumbents does fail to list two such men. In 1553, the year of the accession of the Catholic Mary, the newly restored Archbishop Heath of York instituted one Thomas Hulley, hence quite likely a co-religionist. In 1585 the death of John Chollerton as rector represents the demise of one of the earliest Protestant ministers during Elizabeth’s reign. The earliest parish register, the Marriage Register of 1563, dates from this time. On the arrival of Chollerton’s successor the churchwardens were reporting the fabric of the church ‘in great decay’ and the apparent Elizabethan reconstruction may date from this period.
By the time that William Laud was translated to Canterbury and proceeded to reform the Anglican Church according to his controversial Arminian doctrine, a young Yorkshireman was in place as Eakring rector. Laud’s encouragement of ‘the beauty of holiness’ seems to have its echoes here when George Lawson donated to his church the Elizabethan silver chalice and paten, both inscribed with the maker’s mark ‘I.P.’ indicating the work of John Plummer of York (and now held securely elsewhere). Within a few months of Lawson’s arrival, the churchwardens were presenting the dilapidated condition of ‘the quire’, which was not an unusual situation on a change in incumbency. Lawson remained throughout the Civil War period, despite his obvious lack of sympathy with the turn of events and in 1652 his unenthusiastic stance on Cromwell’s republican form of government brought troubles on his head. Five of his parishioners, unimpressed by their reactionary rector, denounced him to the Commonwealth authorities with three pages of damning information. On his subsequent ejection a Presbyterian, Matthew Thompson, replaced him. Described as ‘a humble, charitable man and a celebrated preacher,’ Thompson remained until his own removal at the time of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, when Lawson returned. He remained until his death in 1670.
His successor entered the rectory in early 1671, presented by Sir George Savile of Rufford Abbey whose Domestic Chaplain he had been. This was William Mompesson, recently remarried after losing his first wife to the epidemic of bubonic plague that had devastated his previous parish of Eyam in Derbyshire. His new wife was related, through her mother, to the Saviles. He had held the neighbouring living of Bilsthorpe in plurality with Eyam and continued to hold it with Eakring.
On his arrival in his new parish he found the church in a seriously damaged condition and the parsonage house barely habitable. The church was a dangerous and uncomfortable place to be in that year. There were two breaches in the south wall of the building, which could be remedied only by rebuilding, and rain came through the roof at several points. This same roof needed to be supported in five places to compensate for its decayed timbers. The window frames were damaged, the glazing destroyed and the floor paving was broken and incomplete. It would not be possible to salvage any of the timbers in the building. As was usual, the blame for this state of affairs was placed on the shoulders of George Lawson and it was his widow who had to bear it when Mompesson sued her for the Dilapidations in the Church Court at York. Any settlement made in this cause was only a drop in the ocean and the new rector appealed for help to the Savile and Pierrepont Lords of the two Eakring Manors. Help was forthcoming and with the addition of sixty pounds or so from the rector’s own pocket the work was completed. He contributed considerably more than this to make his parsonage house habitable.
As part of the rebuilding, both north and south porches were added to the widened nave, and the installation of the font, which carries the date 1674, may have marked the completion of the work. A coat of arms of Charles II placed in the church at this time survived for two centuries, eventually succumbing to damp. A surviving tradition in the village, that Mompesson was excluded from the church and house on his arrival for fear that he was carrying the plague infection and was compelled to preach in the open air, is probably explained more accurately by the known condition of the church buildings in 1671. There is adequate evidence that he did preach al fresco at this period.
Mompesson was succeeded by his first cousin, Peter Laycock, who was responsible for the installation of a Poor Box of 1718, an item noted as missing at an Archdeacon’s Visitation many years earlier.
In the Return to Archbishop Herring’s Questions of 1743, Gilbert Michell reports a flock made up of about 70 families, only one of which was of the Quaker persuasion. Although never a hotbed of Quaker activity, there had been a handful of Friends and a family of Anabaptists in the previous century. There was no school, a situation that was to prevail until the nineteenth century, but the rector did catechise children and adults during Lent. Though attendance, initially, was good this soon declined until Michell became completely discouraged. Only twelve persons received Communion at Easter in the year of the Visitation, a not uncommon problem at this time, but in the nearby smaller village of Kneesall there had been forty communicants. This problem continued and was particularly noticeable around Easter, a fact connected with the celebration of Eakring Feast on Easter Tuesday on which Michell commented.
John Henry Browne, the energetic and philanthropic rector from 1792 until 1830, found the problem so worrying that four years after he arrived he was driven to publish a pamphlet entitled “A Serious Address to the Superior Inhabitants of the Parish of Eakring.” In this he exhorted the farmers of the parish, the employers of servants and labourers and the class that was expected to set an example to its “inferior neighbours”, to ensure that they sent their children and servants to church on a regular basis. He noted that whilst they were doing this, perhaps they could also attend themselves! Like Michell before him, he remarks on the problem of the Feast falling just after Easter and the attention given to preparations for this during Holy Week, at the expense of religious devotions. Within the pamphlet lies a sentence that suggests another reason for declining attendances: “If you acknowledge, as I have no doubt you will, that all I have been recommending is your duty as Christians; be not discouraged from it because it is not commonly practised, and that to begin, in some instances, may expose you to ridicule, and you may be called Methodists…..”
Wesleyan Methodists were certainly active in the parish by 1815, although still in small numbers. Fourteen years later they had strengthened and there were new nonconformists on the scene, the ‘Ranters’, properly known as Primitive Methodists. In 1835 and 1837 respectively the two Methodist societies had acquired chapels and the Primitives in particular grew in strength, eventually becoming the focus of the Primitive Methodist Eakring Circuit.
An indication of the growth of Methodism is obtained from the Religious Census of 1851. Only the parish church provided the opportunity for religious worship on Sunday morning, recording 126 people in its 250 seats. All three centres held afternoon services and for these the Primitive Methodists recorded an attendance of 101, just outnumbering the 97 at the church and well exceeding the 40 Wesleyan Methodists. Both chapels held an evening service when the Primitives reported 122 attending. The church Sunday School, meeting in both morning and afternoon, attracted about forty children.
In the same year of 1837 that the Primitive Methodists erected their chapel, St Andrew’s suffered a serious fire in which the roof was destroyed. It was re-roofed in slates that same year, at a total cost for the works of £168, over one third of this being provided from a parish levy.
In 1877 a rector, appeared on the scene that had a family connection with his patron, Lord Savile of Rufford Abbey. This was not the only echo of William Mompesson two centuries earlier; both served the cure for nearly forty years and both became Canons in the Chapter of Southwell Minster, William Lumley Cator’s, admittedly, only of an Honorary nature. Also like his Stuart predecessor, Cator found the parsonage house in an unfit condition and lived elsewhere, but in the village. The church also had serious shortcomings and like many of his contemporaries Cator, by 1880, had taken steps to carry out a full restoration of the building, to be directed by J P St Aubyn. He had opened a Restoration Fund and by July of that year he had raised £600. However, he had a target of £1700 and felt the need to throw open the appeal to parts away from Eakring, as the parish was purely agricultural and had no resident gentry. He hoped to put in a window to Mompesson’s memory (the Eyam story had been revived at the beginning of the century and was especially popular during the Victorian era), and to rescue the brass plate from Mompesson’s grave in the floor of the church. For all of these things he sought special contributions. The local press, in reporting the appeal, mentioned that “the whole of the church, except the tower, appears to have been rebuilt in the reign of Elizabeth in accordance with the ideas prevailing in church architecture at that era; but the building again requires restoration.” No mention here of the considerable restoration of the nave carried out by Mompesson.
The funds appear to have been raised quickly, as the work was carried out in that winter, under St Aubyn, and the newly restored church re-opened on Tuesday the 3rd of May 1881, by the Bishop of Lincoln. The offertories on the day were, however, “devoted to the Church Building Fund.” The work was substantial and included the removal of a western gallery (which had been erected fewer than fifty years earlier), new windows, the rebuilding of the chancel arch, a sedilia inserted and the south porch rebuilt. The opportunity was taken to add a vestry on the north east side. Interior stonework was of Ancaster stone with Hollington stone for the exterior work. Seating was now provided for 188, a considerable reduction from the capacity declared in 1851 as 250 places, although this reduction may be explained by the removal of the gallery.
In 1886 the old Tudor parsonage house, never occupied by Cator, was demolished and a new Queen Anne style house, in red brick with white dressings, took its place. The architect was J G Finch Noyes and the contract was for £2100.