For this church:
The church at Elton may have been built before the Norman Conquest. Domesday Book describes the village of Elton, which was owned by Ralph, a vassal of Roger de Builli (Busli) – who had been given lands across the county. A church is mentioned as part of the village. The present church, rebuilt several times since then, has an arcade that dates back to the 12th century.
The village and church of Elton, originally under the patronage of Roger de Builli, was in 1088 transferred to the newly created priory of Blyth. The Benedictine priory’s construction had also been sponsored by Roger and on its completion he gifted the monks with some of his lands including ’Olleton’ and the advowson of the church (the right to appoint its priest).
Although granted patronage, the priory did not have complete control of the church, merely certain rights and privileges, but the monks clearly wished to change this situation. During the reign of Henry II (1154-1189) they convinced the Archbishop of York to grant them the right to impropriate the profits of Elton and Weston churches the next time these churches fell vacant. For some reason however this did not succeed as a later Archbishop, Walter Gray (1215-1255), granted to Blyth a pension of 20s (£2) per annum from Elton church, along with all its tithes of corn. By 1268 the prior and convent of Blyth were appointing priests here, as the Register of Archbishop Walter Giffard records their presentation of Martin de Welle, clerk, on 30 November that year. In 1280 they presented John de Stocwelle as priest.
An inquisition (inquiry) was taken in the chapel of Elton in 1283 by Robert de Beckingham, the priory’s steward, concerning the days-labour of Elton’s bondmen. Churches, frequently the largest building in the village except perhaps (rarely) for the Lord’s manor house, were frequently used for civil matters of importance as well as religious services.
By 1291, when Pope Nicholas ordered a taxation of English churches, Elton was worth £8 and now paid a portion to Blyth of £3 6s 8d. Elton was also listed as dedicated to either St Mary or St Michael – the Registry at York listed the church as St Mary’s but that was the only place it was called that. Another tax survey in 1428 gives the same figures. Elton church is still valued at £8 – the subsidy (10%) is given as 16s, and the subsidy on its portion to Blyth is listed as 6s 8d (half a mark) correctly recording that it was five marks ‘in antiquity’ (ie. at the 1291 taxation), and thus was the same in 1428.
In 1405 an inquiry found that the prior and convent of Blyth had presented Thomas Gernell as priest following the death on 31 December last of the previous priest, John Redmyld, and that the prior and convent of Blyth were the rightful patrons.
The Reformation brought changes to Elton’s status. Henry VIII, after declaring himself the head of the Anglican Church, targeted the monastic institutions in particular. Blyth priory was dissolved in 1536 along with many others, and its property and rights were sold off to various people. Elton church, along with the rest of the village, was sold to the York family and from thereon passed through a variety of hands as one family sold it to another who sold it on in turn. However right to the pension of 2 marks was passed on to the parish church of Blyth St Mary and St Martin, which had replaced the priory. The pension was still being paid to Blyth’s patrons in the 19th century.
In 1584, the clerk of the church, John Wright, was excommunicated ‘for not kepinge the church clean and doinge his duty as he ought to do’. The churchwardens were also cited for a similar lack of duty and were instructed to give 10s to Henry Kinder of Newark to go towards the making of a new pulpit. They were also expected to make amends by fixing many of the faults within the parish and to provide before the following Easter a bible, commission table, church windows, and other things. Given the punishments and the very fact of official intervention the church must have become severely neglected, possibly as a result of the earlier turmoil of the Reformation or the neglect of new patrons.
In 1616 the villagers of Elton were outraged when one Richard Upton, a local inhabitant, was arrested by two of the sheriff’s bailiffs while in the church one Sunday during a sermon, and there was ‘a great outrage in the churchyard there’. Churches had traditionally been places of refuge, even for fugitives from the law, and even though that tradition was fading somewhat since the Reformation there was clearly still a belief in the sanctity of the church. Despite this upset however, it appears that the arrest was not overturned.
In 1650 a parliamentary commission revealed that the parsonage at Elton was by now worth £60 per annum. Katherine Moore of Grantham was now the patron, the York family having sold it to the Lion family who in turn had sold it to the Moores by now.
Eight years later there was another local incident involving the church. A Quaker and local farmer by the name of William Clayter refused to pay the tithe on corn and cattle demanded by Elton’s priest, Dove Williamson. The Quaker movement was in its infancy, having only begun earlier in the century, and its followers tended to face persecution from the Anglican Church due to their refusal to follow the established hierarchy and church structure. William Clayter was called to appear at the Exchequer in London, but on travelling there was arrested and imprisoned due to not having an attorney. William spent several years in prison while, according to Quaker sources, Rev. Williamson ‘made spoil of his goods, and took and carried away his corn’. Then, after another trial, William was forced to pay the priest £20 and had his goods and cattle seized. Rev. Williamson continued as the priest at Elton for another sixteen years.
William Clayter wasn’t the only one facing judgement in an era that was dominated by religious division. Alice Clator and her foster daughter Susan Clator were both presented for absence from the church for one month during the reign of Charles II or James II in the seventeenth century. Given the similarity of their names it seems likely the two women were related to William, and were also Quakers. A 1676 census showed there were five non-papal dissenters in Elton at the time, very likely the Clator family.
In 1684 the church was reroofed, the new beams being marked with the date.
Elton church, and its priest, continued to be a source of local controversy into the eighteenth century. In 1708 the rector was presented on a charge of blasphemy for asking what God had done before creating the Earth. The rector, whose name is not mentioned, was clearly a man of dubious reputation. The next year he was assaulted by John Trinbury, who claimed he had taken action because the rector had been too drunk to say prayers for the dead three years earlier at the funeral of Ellen Ragsdale.
Elton was a small village. In 1743 a religious visitation report made to Archbishop Herring reported that there were only 15 families residing in the village. Its rector at the time was Matthew Bradford, who had been rector since 1720. He had also been the curate of the parish of Langford-with-Holme and in 1722 had been made the rector of South Collingham as well. Such pluralism was common in the Anglican Church. Often it was a way for senior clergy to become rich but it was also a way of supplementing the income of poorer rural clergy whose rural parishes were often too poor to support them adequately. However, by 1743 he was the only priest in the area who was not a pluralist. Elton itself may have received a donation of land or other income to assist its rector, although the visitation report does not go into the economic value of Elton.
Bradford’s successor was the Rev. Abel Colin Launder, who served as rector of Elton for an astonishingly long 53 years, from 1750 to 1803. The Rev. Launder gave the church silver plate and silver communion vessels, and founded the Launder Charity, which provided donations to church benefices within the Bingham Deanery.
Launder made the return for Archbishop Drummond’s Visitation in 1764 when he reported that there were 15 families in the village, all Church of England. Launder lived at Clifton, where he was rector, and a curate, Henry Hough, conducted the services as well as being vicar of neighbouring Granby. Hough took a service every Sunday at Elton, and administered Holy Communion four times a year. The previous Easter ‘not above half a dozen’ had communicated, the parish being ‘very small’.
In 1780 a clerk of the parish, while digging a grave in the churchyard, found a buried collection of over three hundred coins dating back to the reign of Henry II. The clerk took the coins to the church’s patron, Mrs Collin, who gave several of the coins as gifts to her friends and, presumably, kept the rest. For his honesty the clerk was given £10 by Mrs Collin.
A few years later, in 1786, a faculty was granted by the Archbishop for taking down the south aisle. It is likely the aisle had fallen into disrepair and it was felt better to take it down entirely rather than repair it – especially as Elton’s size meant it did not require a large church.
The antiquarian William Stretton provides a description of Elton church as it appeared about the year 1803:
“This church is of rubble stone and consists of one aisle 13 feet 6 inches wide, having the old oak stalls in it. It is a very miserable building, and must have had a south side aisle, which appears by the columns still inserted in the wall, the openings between the columns being walled up. The church was new roofed in the year 1684, by a date under the beams. There are no gravestones or any emblems of the deceased. The seats are of the worst kind, and the elms grow through them, spreading their foliage within the church.
There are two bells, very small ones.
The font is a single stone, made since the Reformation. It is lined with lead, and is two feet diameter for immersing. The communion table is of oak.
The parsonage house is far superior to the church.”
The parsonage might have been superior, but was apparently rather small. In 1816 John Staunton, the rector, was given licence to reside outside Elton as the parsonage was too small for him and his family.
There were still only 91 people living in Elton in 1832. By this time the church, had passed through the hands of the Launder family and the patron was William Fletcher Norton Norton, Esquire, who resided at Elton Manor House and owned the village.
In 1851 the church (returned as St Helen, Elton) had a single service, in the afternoon when, according to the Rev Robert Weatherell, 50 people attended. Given that the total population of the parish was just 79, this was an unusually high attendance.
It was William Fletcher Norton who, in 1855, sponsored the restoration of Elton church, which had remained in a poor state. However the focus of the work was the tower on the west end, which was rebuilt. The new tower, which survives today, was, according to the church historian J C Cox in 1912, a ’mean affair of stuccoed brick’. Regardless of its quality it had cost £300, entirely paid for by Mr Norton.
Gifts of land and other donations had left Elton much better off economically by this time. Its value had risen to £240 by 1851 and rose even further to £260 in 1893, by which time Mr Norton had sold the church on to the Vicomte Marc de Pulley.
Further restoration work was necessary in 1909-10 due to the poor condition of the church. The work involved replastering the walls of the nave and chancel and replacing the wooden flooring with stone flags. At the same time the church was furnished with a new pulpit, lectern and reader's desk.
The village’s earlier growth was reversed later in the 19th century and the population slowly shrunk, dwindling to 58 people by the 1911 census. The church remained an important centre for the village, with most of the village attending weekly services. In 1912 there were two baptisms and two confirmations, a sizeable number given the population figures.
In 1917 Cecil Richard Storr, the vicar of nearby Granby, was also made the rector of Elton and the two parishes were united. The two churches remained a joint benefice until March 2017 when Elton and five other ecclesiastical parishes merged to become the parish of Wiverton in the Vale.
In 1931 the architects Messrs Heazel and Sons were hired to do a survey of the church, particularly the roof. The survey found that both the nave roof and chancel roof were in a dangerous condition, its oak beams having become infested with Death Watch beetles. The repair costs were estimated at £500 to £600. To raise the money a series of garden fetes were organised and several collections took place. Of great assistance was a donation of £250 from the late Mrs Weatherall. She had been the wife of a previous rector, the Rev. Robert Weatherall, and held a great affection for the village and its church. Back in 1883 she had donated a stained glass window for the chancel and in 1895 she had given an American organ.
The repair work took place in 1934 and the church was closed for several weeks – the congregation went to Elton Manor Hall or to nearby Granby for its services in the meantime. The repairs themselves were done by Mr John Cawley of Nottingham, while the interior decorations were the work of Mr Charles Coleman of Bingham. The lead on the roof, which had deteriorated, was replaced with copper with the addition of fibre boards, which was felt to be more long lasting. The infested oak beams were replaced with new ones, made of steel enclosed in oak. The parish council also decided to take advantage of the opportunity to do other repairs - the church exterior was re-stuccoed.
Although these repairs had greatly restored the exterior of the church it was not until 1949 that the interior received similar work. At that time Mr W.G. Player of Whatton Manor (the tobacco magnate) gifted the church a set of new oak seats while Mr Noel Parr, esquire, gave the church some oak panelling. The new seats and panels were dedicated in February that year by the Archdeacon of Nottingham.
Mr Noel Parr was the church’s patron at that time. He was also the last lay patron. When he left the village in 1957 he presented the advowson of the church to the Bishop of Southwell, who has held it since that time.