For this church:
The village of Gonalston is listed in the 1086 Domesday Book as Gunnvestune. By 1205 it was called Gonalvestune and by 1280 Gunolston. William Peveril and Ralph of Limesy are listed as landowners. Erwin the priest is also listed as a landowner, but there is no evidence that he actually lived or served the village in a religious capacity. He also had lands in other parts of the county. Parts of the church date from the Norman period, but possibly only the south and north walls of the chancel. The windows set in those walls are attributed to the late 13th Century, perhaps the result of a directive dated 1289 from John Romaine, Archbishop of York ‘to make the church repaired’. This would confirm that the building on the site was well established by that date. At some unknown date the north aisle was added but in 1785 the eastern part of it, which extended part way alongside the chancel forming a narrow chapel, was demolished when Sir Phillip Monoux reduced the size of the church. Most of the present church dates from 1853 when it was rebuilt by local architect Thomas Chambers Hine.
The armourial insignia of the de-Heriz family (three hedgehogs - 13th Century) can be seen in the upper part of a window tracery on the north aisle. The de-Heriz family were Lords of the Manor and also patrons of the church from at least that time until the family name died out in the 14th Century on the death of the last male heir. The surviving female, Matilda de-Heriz, married Richard de la Riviere. By the 18th Century the lordship and the advowson of the church was in the hands of the Monoux family. The present Lords of the Manor, the Francklins are direct descendants of the Monoux’s. However the advowdon of the church has changed ownership on many occasions. It was the subject of litigation in 1199 when the Archbishop of Rouen claimed ownership, stating that he had been gifted the church by King John in 1191-1193 when the latter was Earl of Mortain. Iv de Heriz successfully contested the claim and recovered the church in 1200. In 1619 the advowson was sold by Lewis Monoux to Hugh Bagguley, the then Rector of the church. During the first half of the 19th century the ownership changed hands several times. The Francklin family are the current patrons of the church.
On the east border of the parish is the village of Thurgarton which, until the dissolution of the Monasteries, was the location of Thurgarton Priory, founded in the late 12th Century by the black canons of the Augustinian order. The order also owned much of the parish of Hoveringham, which forms the southern boundary of Gonalston. Following the visitation of 1536 the priory was dissolved in 1538. Although Gonalston was almost surrounded by the Priory lands there seems to be little evidence of any religious or social interaction between the Priors and the parish church. One document, which has survived, states that an agreement was made in 1235 between Sir John de Heriz and the Prior of Thurgarton allowing the Prior “pasture for 50 head of cattle and 50 swine”. Thurgarton priory was used as a small Royalist garrison during the English Civil war. Its main task then was to harass Parliamentary troops on their way to attack the Royalist stronghold of Newark. The garrison was eventually surrendered to Colonel Thornhaugh with little resistance.
In the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) William de Heriz founded a ‘Spital’ on land now about half a mile along the A612 road to the south of the church. No trace of this building now remains. A local farmhouse is however called Spital farm, and it is said that masonry from the Spital is incorporated into it. Joannes, daughter of John de Heriz, added a Chantry chapel to the Spital in 1326. Throsby in 1797 described the building as being “a cold building in poor condition with no glass in the windows”. He did not record whether it was still in use and it is known to have been demolished in 1820, with the altar slab from the chapel being placed in the church. Westmacott in 1848, confirmed that there was at that time three old altar slabs with incised crosses within St Laurence’s, but none are now visible. In the early 1930s the Nottingham to Southwell Road (A612), which ran a winding route through the village passing the church on its south side, was ‘straightened’ cutting out the need for travellers or traffic to pass through. The new road cut through the south side of the church burial ground isolating it from the former Spital site and leaving the church on the north side of the new road. The Ordnance Survey map of 1921 shows a footpath leading from the church southwards towards the old Spital. This footpath is no longer evident in the church grounds but on the opposite side of the new road there is a narrow road leading to the village of Hoveringham.
In 1768 the Gonalston Enclosure Act allocated 155 acres of land to the church in lieu of tithes. The village acreage in 1851 was recorded as 950, so it was a sizeable award. The boundaries of the village have been changed several times since then; from 1879 it is usually given as about 1330 acres, but the western boundary with Lowdham has changed in the last sixty years
The first major renovation work recorded at St Laurence’s took place in 1787 when Sir Phillip Monoux carried out a ‘diminution’. This involved demolishing the part of the north aisle that extended alongside the chancel, which housed a small chapel, and filling the open end with a new window. A piscina originally inside the side chapel can be seen built into the exterior face of the north wall along with the infilled arch from the chancel.
During this building operation the three stone coffin covers with carved effigies of the de-Heriz family were removed and thrown under the floor of the nave where they remained until recovered by Richard Westmacott RA in 1848. Westmacott wrote a graphic account of his work, detailing the search and recovery of the effigies. He believed that the recovered effigies would be allocated a prominent position within the rebuilt church. Today they are rather ignominiously stored in the corner of the north aisle close to the chancel arch.
In 1851 the morning service on census Sunday was attended by 23 people and the afternoon service by 54, from a population of only 100. Edmund Footitt, the Rector, noted that “the few children there are attend school in a neighbouring parish under an efficient master”.
Like many Anglican churches in the 19th century St Laurence’s was subject to major renovation and rebuilding. The work was undertaken in 1853 directed by Nottingham architect Thomas Chambers Hine. The entire nave was rebuilt including the north aisle and arcade; previously the bell tower was a wooden structure attached to the west end of the church, housing just two bells. The new tower was not sited centrally but over the northwest corner of the church and built in stone. Two new bells were added to make a ring of four.
A rectory with spacious grounds was sited on the north side of the church screening it from the village road. Pevsner dates it from 1785 and suggests that evidence of an earlier dwelling is incorporated within it. It is built of brick with stone decoration, and is now a privately owned residence aptly named the Old Rectory
Access to the church is down a grassed track at the side of the rectory. There is no hard surfaced vehicular access to the church. With the trees and vegetation on the southern boundary of the churchyard, St Laurence’s is not a very visible building, and many travellers along the both the A612 road and the village road are probably unaware that it exists. This makes the churchyard a very quiet retreat, surprisingly undisturbed by traffic noise or passers by.
From the early part of the 19th Century the population of Gonalston was always less than 140 people. In 1851 it was just 100, in 1901 it was 128 and in 1911 was 113. In 1912 the church had 26 children on the Sunday School roll, and in the twelve months to September of that years there had been five baptisms and four confirmations. In 1921 the population peaked at 134. It had again fallen to only 100 in 2001. Given these figures it is perhaps not surprising that in the 1930s the parish of St Laurence’s Gonalston was united with that of its larger neighbour Epperstone. The incumbent at the time of the merger chose to reside in the latter village.