For this church:
Elkesley village lies on the east side of Clumber Park, approximately four and a half miles south of Retford on the banks of the River Poulter. A church was mentioned here in Domesday Book. The name of the settlement was given as ‘Elkesleig’ meaning ‘Ealac’s clearing or field’. In the 11th century the community was already well-established with two manors, a mill, and about 100 acres of arable land alongside the church. The village stood surrounded by large areas of woodland from the unenclosed forest of Sherwood. The priest at this time was noted as Ernwin.
Parts of the present church building at Elkesley date from the 13th century, the earliest being the north wall of the chancel with its Early English lancet window and rough-coursed rubble which continues in part of the east wall. A particularly interesting architectural feature is the medieval niche beside the pulpit (c.1290-1350) which is noteworthy in its diagonal placement at the junction of the nave and chancel. The majority of the church as it stands today is of 14th century origin. The carved bosses and many of the roof beams are thought to date from the 15th century. The register dates from 1628.
A more recent addition is the present dedication. The church was originally given the name of All Saints or All Hallows as confirmed by the wills of parishioners from the 15th and 16th centuries. It is not known precisely when the shift to St Giles was initiated although evidence places the date at some point in the first half of the 19th century. White’s Directory cites the church’s new dedication for the first time in 1844. The choosing of this particular devotion most likely references the situation of the church lying close to the Great North Road, a rapidly expanding thoroughfare and major coaching route in the period under question. In England, churches dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of smiths, tend to be located at road junctions reflecting the presence of travellers passing through the village (and church). Still, the older dedication proved persistent and in 1912 J. C. Cox’s guide to the churches of Nottinghamshire listed the dedication as ‘All Hallows’.
The church at Elkesley has a long and interesting history stemming out of its association with nearby Welbeck Abbey, an order of Premonstratensian canons founded in 1153. In 1192, Pope Celestine committed a cause between the Abbot of Welbeck and the canons at the nearby Gilbertine priory of Mattersey over the advowson of the churches at Mattersey, Misson, Bolton in Lancashire, Gamston on Idle, and Elkesley. Mattersey gained rights over all of the above except Elkesley which remained under the authority of the monks at Welbeck. Interestingly, there had been an unfortunate fire in 1279 at Mattersey that destroyed several documents, including details of the rectors of Elkesley; the loss of these documents may have had some bearing on the later decision to allow Welbeck the advowson, though this cannot be proved. Nevertheless, an inspection of a charter by Edward II in 1323 revealed lands belonging to Mattersey Priory in the village, and at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, it was recorded that Mattersey Priory received an annual income of 22s. from lands and tenements in Elkesley, so they had clearly retained some interest in the parish.
The matter is further complicated by a charter of the early 13th century, probably not later than 1206, by Roger of Bevercotes who granted the advowson of the church to the monks of Blyth priory. This grant was with the agreement of his son Robert who later confirmed the gift. However, the church is not mentioned in the spiritualities of Blyth priory in the 1291 Taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV, not in any subsequent returns. There is no evidence to explain how the monks of Blyth came to lose the church, if indeed they ever had it. However, we do know that at the Reformation in the 16th century Blyth priory held lands in Elkesley parish which yielded an annual valuation of 26s. 8d.
The canons provided a series of non-residential rectors and also appointed chantry priests to say Mass daily in the chantry chapel located in the north aisle of the church. The date of the first installation remains unknown although records exist of a clerk, John de Humton, being presented to the church in December 1227/8. As rector of Elkesley it is presumed he appointed a vicar of his own choosing although no note exists as to the identity of this particular individual. This situation persisted until 1344/5 when the abbot and convent of Welbeck obtained full possession. Thereafter they presented a vicar and had all the income from the church except the vicar's stipend.
We can note in this period the beginning of close links with the nearby church at Bothamsall. This was part of the wider parish of Elkesley and also overseen by the monks at Welbeck. The chapel belonged to the mother church of Elkesley which collected the tithes and glebe of the rectory. It seems probable that Bothamsall church may well have originated as a chantry chapel within the larger parish of Elkesley. In 1247 the church had its own vicar, Lawrence de Raneby. Upon his resignation in 1249 however, Bothamsall seems to have returned again to its status as ‘dependant chapel of Elkesley’ in wider possession of the abbey at Welbeck.
In 1291 the vicarage at Elkesley was assessed at a value of £4 6s. 8d., the church (rectory) at £25 6s. 8d. This latter figure represented the annual income of any land and property associated with the church. Elkesley remained in possession of the monks until 1299 when it was given over to the Archbishop of York. The church was later returned to the abbey in December 1348.
Mr. John de Trikingham, priest, presented by the abbot and convent of Welbeck, was awarded the custody of the sequestration in the church until Michaelmas by Archbishop Thomas de Corbridge on the 4th July 1302, and a mandate to induct him into the church of Elkesley was issued 16 days later. The following year John of Elkesley, probably John de Trickingham's son, having received the first tonsure, was taken and imprisoned for stealing a robe from his father at Elkesley and in the court [of the king's justices] Adam de Crokeday [and Thomas de Metham] petitioned to be degraded; he was, perhaps, a reluctant recruit to the ranks of the clergy and saw this as a good way of getting himself discharged from his clerical status!
Archbishop Greenfield had cause to warn the new rector in 1313 that repairs to the chancel of the church and to the rectory house were required as the dean of Retford had recently travelled through the village and had noted certain defects. These defects had first been noted in 1308 by the archbishop's sequestrator, Thomas de Renes.
A dispute arose in 1324 as to the rightful poession of Elkesley church. Archbishop William Melton ordered the examination of 14 witnesses in St Mary's, Oxford, before the official of York. The result appears to have the deprivation of the living from Hugh Gernoun in favour of Mr. John de Lambok' of Nottingham (who was also Master of the hospital of St John the Baptist, Nottingham). Despite Gernoun appealing, the offical of York was instructed to institute de Lambok' to Elkesley on 6 March 1326; the decision may have been made by the Pope as papal letters were issued (not quoted) and the archbishop ordered that the abbot of Welbeck was to proceed in accordance with these letters. This was clearly ill received as de Lambok' complained that Hugh Gernoun, John de Scardeburgh, parson of the church of Grove, and others broke into his rectory house, damaged the doors and windows, carried away his goods, and beat his servants.
Mr. John de Lambok' was away from the parish in 1332 'going beyond the seas' and had nominated Bartholomew de Cotgrave and John de Sherwood as his attorneys for two years. de Lambok may well have travelled to Rome as in the following year Pope John XXII issued a bull stating: ' To John Lambok of Notyngham, M.A. and skilled in civil and canon law. Provision touching the canonry of Wilton and prebend of Chalke, about which there has been a suit between the late Robert de Trumpeftete and John de Wodeforde. Sentence having been given in favour of Robert, John appealed to the pope; meanwhile Robert died, and John Lambok now succeeds to his right in the said canonry and prebend; notwithstanding that he is rector of Elkesley, in the diocese of York, about which there is a suit, and in which ordinance has been made of a perpetual vicarage, and is also warden of the house of St. John Baptist, Nottingham.'
In 1341, the Nonae Rolls record that Elkesley was taxed at 44 marks (£29 6s. 8d.) and that the ninth of sheaves, lambs and their fleeces were worth 30 marks (£20) a year at true value and no more, and that the glebe and hay were worth 6 marks (£4) a year, and mortuary oblations and other small tithes were worth 8 marks (£5 6s. 8d.) a year.
In 1403 Archbishop Richard Scrope confirmed the appropriation of Elkesley to Welbeck abbey, following the examination of title.
At the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI the church was valued at 38 marks (£25 6s. 8d.) and the amount payable was 50 s. 8d. This is the same value as in 1291, so it is curious to observe that the value had risen to 44 marks in 1341 but then fallen back to the previous 1291 value; nevertheless, the sums clearly given in 1341 do add up to 44 marks indicating that it was correct and not a scribal error.
By the later 15th century, the monks at Welbeck were facing serious accusations of corruption within their ranks. At an inspection in 1478 accounts emerged of members engaging in hunting and ‘other wanton pursuits’. Bishop Redman’s visitation in 1482 saw the abbot accused of disreputable behaviour ‘ruining his own reputation and that of the abbey’. He was suspected of pawning Welbeck’s collection of fine plate to finance his gambling habit and was said to have fathered a number of children who were now being raised on the finances of the order.
Despite these concerns, Welbeck soon became the leading house of the Premonstratensians in England. Nonetheless, it remained of a modest size with only 20 to 26 canons in residence between the dates of 1475 and 1500. By the close of the 15th century the abbey had acquired ten churches and two chapels but could only offer priests for six of these. It was for these reasons that the order supplied secular priests rather than canons as vicars at Elkesley.
Evidence of the link between the church and abbey can be seen in the so-called ‘Monk’s Door’, an unused south-facing door built into the tower of the present church building. The studs and panels on the outside enclose the date of 1612 and there are a number of carved roses used as decoration. The stonework surrounding the door reveals evidence of an older doorway to the right. The entrance point is thought to have been incorporated into the tower during alterations undertaken in the 14th century when the earlier opening was presumably filled in. This timeframe suggests the naming of the entrance was most likely a literal reference to monastic associations as the monks accessed the church via the river Poulter which ran from their abbey through the site of what is now Clumber Park and into the village.
Welbeck Abbey was dissolved on 20 June 1538 bringing to an end a lengthy period of association between the monks of the Premonstratensian order and the parish church at Elkesley. After the Dissolution, the Crown retained the advowson of the vicarage. William Wynlowe and Richard Felde of London were granted the rectory and made possessors of the great tithes on 17 July 1550. Queen Mary granted patronage to the Archbishop of York on 31 October 1558. This transition however was short lived and by 1569 the church had reverted back to the Crown.
At the time of the Reformation, the Valor Ecclesiasticus puts the parsonages of Elkesley and Bothamsall together as properties of Welbeck and lists them as having a clear annual value of £12 17s. 2d. Elkesley vicarage is separately listed with a clear annual value of 76s. (£3 16s.).
As in churches across the country, the Reformation brought further changes to the experience of worship in the church. Indeed, there is evidence of a staircase that once led to a rood screen. This was most likely destroyed in 1547 or 1562 when national orders were issued for their removal.
Significantly, without its association to the wealthy abbey at Welbeck, the church at Elkesley was left particularly vulnerable to financial difficulties. As such, churchwardens presented repeated reports of dilapidation to the Archdeaconry of Nottingham throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1596 they noted that the chancel was in decay due to the vicar’s default. Two years later the issue remained unresolved. Timber work and lead in the body of the church was also ‘shaken with the wind’ and the state of the floor was cited as never being ‘anything other than an earth floor’. Similar concerns were raised in 1601 and 1602.
There were also concerns raised over the spiritual pedigree of its incumbents reflecting broader struggles in the nation at large over the particular logistics of parish worship. Indeed, in 1606, churchwardens presented their vicar Alexander Smith for ‘disturbing the corpses of the dead in the church and with taking of the Crosse in service tyme’. In 1609, it was conceded that Smith did take pains to catechise the youths of the parish and was ‘willing to teach the ignorant if they will come to the church’. The following year, however, sermons were made instead by ‘Mr Fielding, vicar of Sturton, Mr Langleye, preacher at South Leverton, and Mr Walker, son of Gyles Walker, vicar of Heaton [Hayton]’. Despite these points, Smith held onto the position until his death in 1624. This was, however, not without controversy. In 1618 he was presented on suspicion of being a ‘horemaster’ by a member of the congregation, Thomas Sharp, ‘for not observing’ the Book of Common Prayer ‘and for preaching without a license to our knowledge’. However, some degree of caution toward Smith’s negligence should be taken here. The same presentment makes reference to the misdemeanour of Sharp ‘for disturbing Mr Smith in his divine service, and for abusing our minister by foul and evil speeches’.
The animosity between the two men seems to have grumbled on over the intervening years. In December 1620 Smith himself presented Sharp (who he referred to this time as ‘lame Thomas Sharpe’) for ‘banning and cursing him on Simon and Jude’s day in the churchyard’ and for threatening ‘that he will hinder mee for doing prayer at two places’. This later inclusion suggests that parishioners may have felt concerned over the state of their spiritual provision considering their incumbent split his time between Elkesley and his other church at West Drayton. He also chose not to reside on site in the vicarage.
It seems that the conflict between the two men was a great source of anguish for Smith as he begged the Archdeaconry Court ‘to bridle him, that I maie live in peace’.
Throughout the 1630s the church continued to represent a place of friction intensified in no small part by the nationwide reforms spearheaded by Charles I and William Laud. In 1635, churchwardens were once more moved to present their vicar, Henry Bacon, for not wearing a hood and for teaching scholars in the church. In addition, the north aisle of the church was noted as being in a state of decay. In 1638, parishioners reported ‘want of a door and cover for the top of it’ alongside ‘time to pave out north aisle, to change our communion cup, to bind out church Bible, and to provide a poorman’s box’. The following year they reported the necessity of ‘decent beautifying of the chancel’ reflecting a desire to modify the interior of the building in line with the Laudian vision.
During the period of the Civil Wars the registering of occasional services was sparse and there was, from 1643, no incumbent. The last recorded vicar of this period was Henry Bacon.
The church recovered somewhat in the Commonwealth period and by 1650 a new vicar, Anthony Wilson, was appointed. Interestingly, Wilson was noted by parliamentary survey to have been ‘blind from birth’ but ‘a constant preaching minister’.
From 1660 to 1739, the incumbents at Elkesley were not instituted as vicars but, as with many other holders of crown livings, retained the benefice as curates. According to Thoroton, the patron of the church in c.1677 was the Earl of Clare. It seems more likely however that he was the impropriator.
A considerable increase in baptisms following the Restoration in 1660 infers that the congregation were supporters of the Elizabethan church settlement and may have favoured a more moderate religious outlook.
The problem of decay proved persistent throughout this period in the church’s history and there were continued appeals by churchwardens for redress. In 1684 it was noted that ‘we have no hearse cloth’, the steeple and chancel are ‘out of repair’, and the walls in want of whiting. Vicar Edward Wilson now had three livings (Elkesley, Wellow, and Eaton) and did not read prayers on Wednesdays or Fridays. Once again, the vicarage remained empty.
These difficulties continued to exert an influence as the years wore on. Samuel Whitworth, the curate in 1699, was presented for not reading divine service with sufficient frequency. Still, it is clear that there existed a strong sense of spiritual community amongst the parishioners at Elkesley. In 1694 one Mary Pitts left £14 to the parish and, according to the report from White’s Directory some two hundred years later, 14 shillings were still being given annually in her honour to the poor widows of the parish.
In 1718, much needed repairs were made to the roof, windows, pavement, and chancel. Walls were whitewashed and a new north door built. A ‘Book of Homilies’ was also provided alongside ‘a napkin to cover bread and wine’, a ‘carpet’ for the communion table, a ‘poor man’s box and pulpit cloth’. More work on the pulpit was ordered to be carried out as soon as money became available.
The earliest graves in the churchyard date from this period and are located on the south side at what we would now consider to be the back of the church. It is worth noting that our present perspective is formed by the position of the A1 which cuts through the middle of the village. The church at Elkesley would originally have been south facing with the main entrance situated at what would be considered today to be the rear of the building.
In 1743 there were 42 families in the parish, three of which were noted as ‘Anabaptists’. The majority of parishioners came from modest farming or labouring stock. Archbishop Herring’s Visitation of the same year noted that the church was limited in its ability to raise funds for repair. To the same end, the parish clerk was described as a ‘poor writer, but as good as we could get’. In accordance with previous evidence, the vicarage was described as ‘a very mean one’. Once again, the vicar was noted as living off-site at a nearby town ‘three miles of’. The oldest living villager remembered that ‘no Minister ha’ liv’d in it’ as long as he could recall. Still, the congregation at Elkesley were favourably reported as coming ‘constantly to church’ and taking care to attend the confirmations of young parishioners.
Elkesley and the Dukes of Newcastle
In 1748 the church was placed under the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle under Lynne who resided at nearby Clumber Park. This transition seems to have originated in the incumbency of Henry Stevenson (1725-1748). Stevenson’s father had been first gentleman to the Duke who also acted as godparent to his son, the future vicar of Elkesley. Newcastle promised the living of Elkesley to Stevenson at his induction to master of East Retford school in 1708.
However, as in previous years, the 17th and 18th centuries still saw repeated attempts to ensure the best provision for the congregation at Elkesley with slender financial means. Archbishop Drummond’s visitation in 1764 noted a modest increase to 44 families in the parish. Once again, the vicar William Booth chose not to live in the vicarage but resided at East Retford ‘there being no conveniency for living there’. There was no curate noted at the church and emphasis was given to the challenging financial situation with ‘nothing left for repair of church to any pious use. No augmentation to our church by Benefaction or bounty’. Still, none refused the Sacrament at Easter and there were no penances performed in the church since the time of Drummond’s appointment in 1761.
In 1779 an Act of Parliament was passed for enclosing the commons and waste lands of the parish. This formally made Thomas Pelham-Clinton (third Duke of Newcastle under Lynne) lord of the manor, entitling him to all the tithe of corn arising within the parish, and officially acknowledging his role as patron of the vicarage and church.
In 1813, architect George Gilbert Scott was contracted by the fourth Duke to make a report on the state of the churches on his estates. Elkesley was once again said to be in a state of disrepair, particularly in the chancel. Additionally, the timbers in the roof were in need to work alongside the leading in the nave. There was no proper system for bringing the water down from the roof and Scott noted how rainwater got into the walls in the west end ‘owing to the bad state of the tiled weathering over the arch on the North side of the tower’. This was recommended to be repaired as a matter of urgency to an estimated cost of £300.
Scott’s report also made reference to previous work done in the church which resulted in a mix of older and more modern features. The pillars and arches, he noted, remained ‘early English’ in style alongside the lower part of the tower. The aisle itself had recently been rebuilt and a vestry added on the south side of the chancel ‘within the last few years’. By this point, the chancel arch had disappeared and the east gable of the nave was filled in with lath and plaster. According to Scott the refit had been ‘very poor’. He was also particular irked by the recent addition of ‘a most wretched warming apparatus’ of which ‘every feature’ was ‘as vile as it is possible to conceive’! A chimney ‘of the meanest sort’ was an eyesore on the interior wall and iron pipes ‘of very large size’ ran along the pews ‘forming the most unsightly and grotesque obstruction’.
Despite these observations, it doesn’t seem as if Scott’s recommendations were fully heeded. Although we have evidence for occasional repairs in the financial papers of the Duke’s estate, major rebuilding wasn’t initiated until 1845. We do however have suggestion that money was spent improving the experience of worship for some of the parish’s younger. A small gallery between the bell-chamber and the ground was added in the early 19th century. It consisted of rows of forms and was accessible via a narrow staircase. This is thought to have been used by local children from nearby Haughton School.
The ongoing pressures of disrepair ensured that no incumbent chose to reside on site at the vicarage. This predicament lead to its own particular problems in 1832 when vicar William Hett was badly injured in an attack as he walked home from church to his residence at nearby Haughton Park. As well as being robbed of ‘what property he had upon him’ his hand was shattered by a gun shot by the assailant/s at close range. No clue was obtained as to the identity of the offenders. Hett seems to have made a good recovery however and continued on in his role until his death in 1838.
The next point of interest in the church’s history comes with the major restoration which took place in 1844-5 funded by the fourth Duke of Newcastle. Evidence suggests that locals were particularly attuned to the delicacy of the situation and had taken to attributing the disrepair here and at the nearby church at Bothamsall to ‘fire damage’ rather than gross neglect.
The record of expenses noted in the papers of the Duke’s estate reveal an extensive outlay on a range of modifications including a new doorway in the tower, additional depth in the foundation, extra pewing on the south side, and new jambs to the arch under the tower. A handrail was installed across the window in the gallery and the surface of the churchyard lowered and levelled. The wooden floor in the chancel was taken up and replaced with paving and the walls and ceiling treated to a clean coat of whitewash.
The most expensive item noted was that laid out for the repair of the old ‘monk’s door’ at a total cost of £33 5s. 6d. The price was so high due to the labour needed to fix a new stone head whilst taking pains to preserve the antiquity of the historic doorway.
Despite favourable reports of the restoration in the local and national press, we have evidence of a more lukewarm response in the personal papers of the Duke. Indeed, a surveyor of the work noted in 1845 that the pews in the chancel were of inferior material and workmanship. The staining was also reported to be substandard, sticking to those persons who chose to take a seat. The paving needed lowering on the south side as it stopped the doors from opening properly. The statement of one Mr Sugden to Newcastle noted that ‘the old Glazing was so bad that it is not possible to restore it perfectly’. The guttering was also in need of urgent attention and a cold frost had already caused defects in the new plastering weeks after its installation.
Despite these problems, worship at Elkesley continued as the century wore on. The religious census of 1851 noted that the population of the parish was 226 males and 178 females making a total of 404. The church was endowed with tithes of £80 and a glebe of £48 15s. Inside the church, there was a total capacity of 198, with 78 free spaces. The congregation on Census Sunday comprised 55 at the morning service (alongside 30 Sunday scholars) and 85 at the evening service. The Sunday scholars did not attend in the evening and were not included in this later total. No afternoon services were held.
1851 also saw the bells of the church ring out to mark to funeral of the fourth Duke of Newcastle. Peals were given here and at the nearby churches of Worksop, Retford, Bothamsall, Drayton, Gamston, East Markham, and Markham Clinton from 10am to 2pm.
Following the death of the Duke, the patronage of the church passed down to his son. The continued limitations of the 1845 restoration however were confirmed with the report of a dispute arising between Newcastle and William Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland, in the early 1860s. With the chancel noted once more as being in a state of disrepair, a disagreement arose over financial responsibility. Specifically, although the church had remained under the patronage of the Pelham-Clinton family following Act of Parliament in 1779, the sale of lands in the parish to Portland in 1858 muddied the logistics of monetary liability. Solicitors were consulted and the dispute eventually resolved on the grounds that Portland should pay one seventh of the bill and Newcastle the rest.
Despite difficulties surrounding the repair and financing of the church, we again have evidence of the strength of congregational community. In June 1873, the Nottinghamshire Guardian reported that the female parishioners had been entertained by the vicar, Justice Chapman, with tea, cake, and wine in the vicarage grounds. The revels were reported as being ‘one of the happiest days ever remembered in Elkesley’. In addition to the refreshments provided, dancing and music were enjoyed and even those ‘well advanced in years were seen tripping the light fantastic… with such a degree of grace and agility as to throw into the shade any emulation on the part of their younger sisters’!
The same year saw the installation of a stained glass window in remembrance of Justice Chapman’s father, the late Mr Chapman of Ordsall Lodge near East Retford. The window was described as a ‘three-light one’ in which St Luke formed the centre. The colouring, ‘rich and deep in tone, and pleasingly balanced and arranged’ was conceived of to emulate the ‘characteristic features, both public and private, of him to whose memory it has been erected’.
In 1877 a strong gale in the county caused ‘immense damage to property and injury to many persons’. Gusts of wind ‘shook houses to their foundations’ and carried away the lead on the roof of the church at Elkesley and nearby Blyth.
In 1892 the value of the living was between £100 and £150, one of ten churches in this income bracket in the diocese noted by the bishop, George Ridding.
In 1901 plans for restoring the church were made public. The Nottingham Evening Post of May 1901 announced that 'the restoration will include an entirely new roof for both the nave and chancel; new chancel arch; the whole of the nave and chancel will be panelled in oak; prolongation of the north aisle west to the extent of the tower; a new north and south porch; the greater part of the north aisle will be rebuilt; a window will be inserted in the east end of the north aisle; the vestry englarged and a new organ chamber built.' The architect was Mr Thompson of London and the Duke of Newcastle had designated £1400 for the work.
In 1921 three clock dials were added to the tower as a memorial to the men of the village who died in the First World War.
More recent times
On 5 July 1924 the church passed from the patronage of the Dukes of Newcastle to the Society for Maintenance of the Faith.
A second brass tablet was added to the clock tower in tribute to those that gave their lives in the global conflict from 1939-1945.
The churchyard at Elkesley closed for burials in February 1975. There is a new cemetery located up the main street around 500 yards to the west.
The church today is part of the Elkesley Group of Parishes and the Retford Area Team Ministry.