For this church:
The Saxon church consisted of a nave (9m x 5.4m) and chancel (3.9m x 4.2m), and a western tower with a small sanctuary (3.3m square). It was built on a site which had previously been an Iron Age camp and subsequently a Roman-British villa occupied from the late 1st century AD until possibly the 3rd century. The tessellated floor of the villa was reused as part of the floor of the nave. It stood in the north-eastern corner of an enclosure of about 1.5 acres, surrounded by elm trees.
The Saxon church builders were probably attracted to the site by the ruins of the villa, as well as the suitability of its central and elevated position; and it was not uncommon for Saxon churches to be built on Romano-British sites, making use of existing building materials. During excavations carried out 1967-84 by the Ruddington Local History Society, the discovery of coins within the church site indicated that the building was in use in the late 9th century. It is believed to have been built between the mid-seventh and eighth centuries during King Offa’s reign, when Mercia was at the height of its power and prosperity, and at a time when many churches were built, although there is no direct evidence for its construction at this time.
It is not clear whether or not there was ever a medieval village in the area of the church, and it is possible that ruins of the Roman villa, with its attendant outbuildings, was mistakenly identified as a later settlement. Torre records that Ruddington ‘hath herein a Chappel or parish church which stands in the field, and is called Flawforth church’. Other sources refer to ‘the church in the waste’. It seems likely that in the Saxon period the neighbouring villages would have been unable to support their own churches, and Flawford, possessing the only burial ground for miles around, would have enjoyed a special status.
The earliest known reference to Flawford is during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), when a grant of title was made of Flaufore to Lenton Priory by Hornius, who is believed to have been the original Lord of the Manor and an ancestor of the de Rutington and Martell families.
In 1228 Archbishop Gray of York’s register records a dispute between the rector of Fauflur, a Mr G, and the Lord of Edwalton. The controversy was settled by the Chancellor and Dean of Oxford, when the rector was ordered to celebrate divine service four days a week in Edwalton chapel, in return for an endowment of land with a meadow and a toft.
The misuse of church patronage was demonstrated by a papal indult of 1257 which was granted to ‘Thomas Kok, rector of Flaflue, in the diocese of York, to hold two additional benefices with cure of souls’. In 1267 Thomas Cok, rector of the church of Flayeflor, presented Sir William de Workesworth to the vicarage of the same church.
In 1266 Henry de Rudington was guilty of serious misconduct against John, son of Stephen, vicar of Ruddington, but was pardoned by the Bishop of Dunblane. In 1276 the Bishop, in the king’s presence, empowered William, son of Walter de Rotington and Robert Roberty to appoint attorneys for him for life.
The church was considerably altered in the late 13th century. From 1280 the chancel and sanctuary were replaced by a large early medieval chancel, the tower complete with a spire, probably a broach type, and the south aisle was added. The north aisle was probably added in the 14th century. The floor of the church was laid only 12 to 15cm above the tessellated pavement of the Romano-British villa. A small vestry was added, probably in the 16th century.
The 13th century developments were probably linked to a grant made on 24 November 1280 by Archbishop Wickwane to Robert de Prebenda, a member of the de Rutington family (born c1215-20), permitting him to dedicate an altar in a new chapel which he had built at Flawford to enclose the graves of his ancestors:
...freely grant that our reverend brother R[obert] Bishop of Dumblane, who was born in our diocese, may, when he sees fit, dedicate a certain altar in honour of God and of his most holy mother Mary, and also of St Andrew the Apostle and of all the saints, erected in a certain new chapel which our said brother has built at Flawford.
At the same time Prebenda was asked to reconsecrate Bunny church as blood had been spilt there. Thoroton notes that Flawford had a south quire (chapel), known as Dumlaws quire, which he supposed was corrupted from Dunblane. Throsby writes that Dunblain chapel was named after Robert’s parents, and was a cemetery to Flawford church.
In November 1301 Archbishop Corbridge’s register recorded the induction and institution of ‘Sir Ralph Barry, priest, to the church of Flaufor, the mother church of the villages of Rodington and Edwalton’. Also in 1301 a mandate was issued to Master Alan de Neusom, sequestrator in the Archdeanery of Nottingham, to relax the sequestration in Rotington church, when Master Ralph Barry should have paid 20li.
On 8 May 1345 Richard Martell of Ruddington Manor and Hugh Martell of Chilwell, descendants of the de Rutington family, were granted licence to found a chantry in the chapel of St Andrew, which was situated in the large south aisle of St Peter’s church, Flawford; but this appears not to have been fulfilled until a century later. Chantry chapels were popular in this period, when people believed in hell and purgatory, and gave willingly for masses to be sung or said by the chantry priests for their loved ones and for their own souls.
In August 1387 Flawford church was formally appropriated by Archbishop Alexander to the newly-formed College of the Prior and Convent of Durham at Oxford, reserving to the Archbishop and his successors an annual pension of 13s 4d. The ancient rectory was reduced to the status of a vicarage, and the vicar, Roger Saxton, resigned. Allegations appear to have been made that Durham College did not come into actual existence until sixteen years after the date of its nominal foundation, intimating that the College authorities were collecting the revenue from their endowments but neglecting appointments to the cures under their patronage.
A regular permanent vicar was not appointed until 1401, due to a local scandal which eventually came to the Pope’s notice. He issued a severe penance to the priest and parishioners of Ruddington because Mass was not being celebrated in the church. However, once it was learned that the newly appointed patrons had failed to appoint an incumbent, ‘the people in the towns’ – presumably Edwalton and Ruddington – were looked upon more leniently, and were encouraged to attend the parish church. On the appointment in 1401 of Ralph Dalby, the Pope issued:
...an indulgence of a hundred days of enjoined penance to the rector, for the time being, and to any other priest who shall celebrate mass, and to the parishioners, and other penitents, who hear mass, or are present at its celebration, each time they do so, in St Peter’s, Flauflore, the parish church of Rittington, in the diocese of York, in which church divine offices are rarely celebrated, because its parishioners for the most part dwell in distant towns.
Ralph Dalby was instituted in March 1401, but he too resigned, and over the following century several of the thirteen vicars appointed to Flawford resigned quite quickly, perhaps due to the stringent conditions laid down by the Prior and Convent of Durham and the necessity of delivering collections and tithes several times each year to Durham College in Oxford.
A dispute in 1431 resulted in parishioners of Edwalton having to hire a chaplain to celebrate divine service.
Richard and Hugh Martell did not see the fulfilment of the licence granted them to found a chantry at Flawford, but this was taken up by Sir William Babington, knight, of East Bridgford, who married into the Martell family, and his wife Margery gave 600 marks towards the foundation. It was finally fulfilled by his son William on 7 November 1458, by royal letters patent. This was to found a college at Ruddington for a warden and four chaplains, two to officiate daily in St Andrew’s chapel, within the church of Flawforth, and two in the chapel of Chilwell manor; and to pray for, amongst others, King Henry VI, Margaret his queen and Edward Prince of Wales, the founder William Babington and his wife Elizabeth, and for the souls of his parents Sir William and his wife Margery (who was buried in Flawford in 1422); also for Robert Prebenda (Bishop of Dunblane 1258-84), and for Richard, Hugh, and Robert Martell. It was to be called Babington’s chantry. The rectory was appropriated to the College of Durham in Oxford and rated at the yearly value of £26 (24?) 13s 4d. The College of chantry priests was not strictly collegiate, as the actual incumbency of the church was distinct from the mastership of the college, and the foundation was almost abortive.
Sir Hugh Annesley’s will, made at Rodington, and proved at York on 13 October 1400 stated that he desired to be buried in the chancel of St Peter at Flowarth. William Babington’s sister Sidonia, who died in 1448, and he himself, who died in 1474, were buried in Dunblane’s aisle.
On 17 April 1479, just twenty years after the founding of the Babbington chantry, licence was granted to ‘the vicar of the parish of Flawforth, and the parishioners thereof, to erect a new font in the town of Ruddington, where the said parishioners dwell, and to administer sacraments in the same chapel’. The acquisition of plenary powers at the chapel in Ruddington marked a further decline in Flawford’s status in relation to its parishioners. It is unlikely that funds would be devoted to maintaining the church, which had now been superseded, and was virtually disused except for burials. But as long as the chantry priests continued to pray at Flawford for the souls of the dead, some degree of care or protection must have taken place, and monuments continued to be erected. Throsby quotes a manuscript record testifying that a marble or alabaster tomb in the chancel bore the date 1540.
Even before the Reformation and subsequent dissolution of the monasteries, some chantries had fallen into decay and others had their revenues diverted and misappropriated. In 1530 it was reported that the ‘College of Priests in Ruddington who officiated at Flawford and Chilwell amounted to a warden and two priests’. The College was ‘largely in abeyance’, and much of its revenues were going into lay pockets. Strict rules had been laid down regarding the behaviour and duties of the chantry priests. They had to be ‘learned in plain-song and grammar’, attend in the choir of the parish church each Sunday and Festival, at matins, mass, vespers and compline; wear a surplice and read and sing as the rector appointed, and not absent themselves without the rector’s permission.
In the Valor Ecclesiasticus (27 Henry VIII, 1536) the church of Rodyngton was valued at the yearly sum of £6 13s 4d. It was stated to be appropriated to Durham College, Oxford, and Richard Cale was the vicar. The Chantry and College Commissioners under Henry VIII in 1545-6 reported ‘diverse chantries at Rodyngton’ which were founded by the ancestors of Lord Edmunde Sheffield, but the Commissioners were not told to what purpose or intent, and no foundation was shown to them. The value was declared at £24 13s 4d annually.
The demise of the Durham college had a direct effect on Ruddington. No longer did tithes have to be taken twice yearly to Durham College, Oxford. In 1540 the advowson of Ruddington, which had been held by the monks, was bought by John Biron of Colwick. This included entitlement to the tithes and the right to appoint the vicar.
William Lawe and Hughe Harelowe, chuchwardens of Ruddington, presented that there was a chantry in Ruddington with a yearly value of £14 18s 4d, and said that the warden Henry Scott had not been resident there for over two years, having absconded from the town in 1542 and taking ‘all the goods, ornaments, jewels and plate and other treasures belonging to the chantry in Flawford, within the said town of Ruddington’. The rural dean of Bingham and vicar of Ruddington, William Sarcey, complained that the warden, who had an annual stipend of £5 6s 8d, (Shrimpton says £4 13s 4d) did nothing to earn his salary, but the warden himself insisted that he did duty at Chilwell, and said Scott had absconded and the mansion house in the village was partly in decay and neglected. Sarcey himself is recorded as ‘aged 48, unlearned, and without any other promotion.’ In 1549 the Commissioners recorded that the College of Chantry Priests in Ruddington consisted of ‘a mansion house in the village’, where the warden and priests lived, and as being in a state of decay and disrepair.
In 1543 Lord Sheffield, now owner of the chantries, had refused to pay one of the priests, presumably for failing to carry out his duties; and the remaining priest had since died.
Some colleges and chantries had already surrendered before the 1545 act that empowered appropriation by the king. The act had barely come into operation, though, before Henry died, and under the new act of Edward VI (1547) the aims and value of the entire chantry system, which existed almost exclusively for the singing or saying of masses for the souls of the dead, became questionable. Edward’s commissioners’ main criticism against the chantry priests was that most appeared to be ‘unlearned’. Thus the chantries were finally suppressed. In all over fifty chantries, guilds, free chapels and stipendiary services disappeared in Nottinghamshire, and 58 priests who had served them were given pensions between £2 and £6. The endowments then passed to the government.
After the dissolution of the chantries it is doubtful that any further memorials were placed in Flawford church, and although the occasional marriage ceremony was performed there, and burials continued to take place in the churchyard, the building fell into decline. After the Reformation its disuse would become more emphasized, and therefore its decay more marked. No attempt appears to have been made (as happened in villages such as Rempstone) to obtain papal sanction to discontinue the use of the ancient but distant churchyard, and to lay out new ones in the surrounding villages.
In 1552-3 the Commissioners for Church Goods referred to Ruddington church, but made no mention of Flawford, so presumably by then the church furniture could have been transferred to the chapel in Ruddington village. According to Godfrey, the commissioners on 8 May 1553 handed over to Alexander Constable, Curate of the ‘parryshe church of Ryddington’ a chalice, paten and four bells; and Phillimore refers to ‘four belles in the stepulls’, which suggests that Flawford and Ruddington were included collectively in the returns.
In 1650 the Parliamentary Commissioners reported that the impropriate parsonage of Ruddington was valued at £200 per annum, and the vicarage worth £10 per annum; and that ‘the parishe Church of Ruddington stands in the feild remote from the said Towne, and that there is a Chappell belongeinge to the said Church standinge in the Towne more fitt to be made a parishe Church in respect of the scituacon thereof’.
In 1654, after holding the office for sixteen years, the vicar Francis Carrington was turned out of his benefice, and replaced by Joseph Truman.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century the church was seriously dilapidated. In 1701 Brian Bacon and Gillbert Wagstaff, farmers of the impropriate rectory of the parish church of Ruddington, were presented before the Nottingham Archdeaconry Court for ‘not repairing their chancel belonging to Flawworth church’, and for not keeping ‘their register booke in ye chest belonging to theire church or chappell’.
Cox noted in the 1720s that the church was neglected, filthy and in ruins, with the windows ‘stoped up or removed’. He added that the church:
...though an handsome building, lies neglected and is full of filthy rubbish. The Bishop of the Diocese and Archdeacons would do well to look into the abuses of such holy places and restore them to their proper uses and see that they be kept decently. The Mother Church is turned into a burial place.
Thus Flawford had ceased to be used, except for burials, and with the enlarging and partial rebuilding in 1718 of the chapelry at Ruddington, Flawford’s bells and windows were removed and re-used there, and Ruddington became the Parish Church in 1775. Reports that Flawford’s font was also taken to Ruddington are unproven.
The last marriage recorded at Flawford was in 1750, when the Rt Hon Henry Barry Esq, late Lord Santry of St Peter’s, Nottingham married Elizabeth Shore of St Nicholas’s parish by licence on 7 November. ‘Lord Santry’ was the fourth Lord Barry of Santry in Ireland. He died a few months after the marriage.
In 1770 ‘eighteen or twenty feet of its spire fell down’, and in 1772 a petition to the Archbishop of York by the Rev Luke Stephenson, vicar of Ruddington, churchwardens, landowners and inhabitants stated:
That the parish church of R[uddington] commonly called Flaworth Church is a very ancient building and so ruinous that for fifty years past it has not been used and is incapable of being repaired without such expense as the parishioners cannot bear. That there is in Ruddington a spacious and good Chapel where the Minister usually performs Divine Service – sufficiently large and in substantial repair. That there are no inhabitants of the parish but what live within Township of Ruddington. That there is a large piece of Ground in which the Chapel stands which, if enclosed and fenced with wall and consecrated would be a more commodious Burial Ground than the present one which is more than a mile from Ruddington.
A faculty was obtained to ‘take down the ruinous church and use the materials or their value towards the compleat repairs of said Chapel which they for the future design to use as the Parish church of Ruddington. And for fencing said area for burial ground.’ The Archbishop of York appointed commissioners to enquire as to how the church had come to be in such an advanced state of dilapidation. The commissioners, who included Sir Gervas Clifton of Clifton Hall, recommended approval of request, and the archbishop gave full approval on 12 February 1773.
The Nottingham Journal (1 May 1773) carried the following advertisement:
To be sold by Auction on Wednesday 12 May (if not disposed of before by Private Contract, of which timely Notice will be given in this Paper). At four in the afternoon, in the church yard of Ruddington in the county of Nottingham. The steeple of Flawford Church in the Parish of Ruddington aforesaid, consisting of a large quantity of stone, proper for building conditions to be produced at the time of sale.
The advertisement appeared again on 8 May, but there appear not to have been any takers.
Throsby’s additions to Thoroton’s Antiquities, written in the 1790s, noted that ‘an old schoolmaster recorded in his memorandum book: “June 12th, 1773, Flawford Church was demolished by colliers”’. The demolition party had consisted of a group of Lord Middleton’s (of Wollaton Hall) miners, who tackled the job expertly since ‘after the first day of labour in undermining the walls it fell in the succeeding night.’
Villagers with wagons and carts cleared the rubble. Stones and gravestones were later discovered being used as cistern covers, well covers and as paving. Stone was used for pig sties and to build a bridge between Ruddington and Gotham, as well as much for the churchyard wall of St Peter’s, Ruddington. The chancel, which belonged to the Duke of Devonshire as lay rector, was temporarily spared.
The Nottingham Journal (9 October 1773) reported that ‘on Thursday the Archbishop of York, who was staying with Abel Smith, changed the chapel of Ruddington to be the parish church in lieu of Flawford’. It was dedicated to St Peter, and on 30 December of that year the first burial took place in Ruddington churchyard – although burials continued to take place at Flawford amongst families who, either by tradition or superstition, wished to continue the practice. Thus some still made the long journey to the ‘church in the waste’, stopping half-way at the ‘resting bush’ where coffins were placed through the bole of a tree. The last burial was probably in 1787.
The chancel was initially left intact and may have been used as a mortuary chapel, but it was demolished in 1779. When the floor was being dug up three alabaster effigies were discovered under the site of the high altar. They were believed to have been buried at some point during the Reformation, and were in a good state of preservation and retained some of their former colour. They were rescued by a Mr Breedon who lived at the rectory farm. The sculptures changed hands several times and were used at one time as garden ornaments. In 1908 they were given to the City of Nottingham, and they are now in the Castle Museum.
Some of the fittings from Flawford were moved to Ruddington. Godfrey maintains that ‘the bells and font were removed to the church at Ruddington’. Phillimore, slightly more guardedly, noted ‘the font at Ruddington and two of the bells were taken, it is said, from Flawford church’.