Misson
St John the Baptist

History

Although Misson itself is mentioned in Domesday Book neither it nor any other records mention a church on the site. The current church of St John the Baptist was constructed during the 12th century, probably around AD 1150, though damage and restoration work has left little of the original church construction. The church was originally built of Limestone which, not being the local stone, was probably shipped in on the River Idle, which flows past the village. An old village myth says that the church was originally to be sited further north of the village but during construction, each night the stones were mysteriously moved to its present site.

After its construction the church of Misson was apparently part of the property of Welbeck Abbey, which was founded in AD 1140, and lies just outside Worksop. This did not last long, however. Around 1185 a Gilbertine Priory was founded at Mattersey and its Canons disputed with Welbeck for five ecclesiastical properties in Nottinghamshire and Lancashire, including Misson, although on what grounds is unknown. The dispute was referred all the way up to Pope Celestine III who in turn referred it back to local Church authorities. The dispute was settled at nearby Blyth in 1192 by William, the Abbot of Darley, Simon Apulia, the Chancellor of York and a master G, the Canon of Southwell and as a result Misson church became attached to Mattersey Priory.

Around 1292 the Vicar of Misson was John Clarell who was also Chaplain to the Pope and to the King (Edward I) and also the incumbent of the Parishes of Babworth, East Bridgford, Lowdham and Harworth. At the time such pluralism (holding more than one parish) was not unusual, especially amongst rural parishes such as Misson. At this time Misson was listed in Pope Nicholas I’s taxation at a value of £12.

Later in 1341 the church was taxed at a value of 18 marks (£12), but also had other listed income sources – arable land worth 14s per annum, 40s from altar dues and another 40s from tithes of hay and finally 7 marks per annum from the ninths of sheaves, lambs and fleeces. For a rural church Misson seems to have been fairly prosperous, although we do not know if the priory kept most of this income for its own needs or used it for Misson itself.

In 1349 the Church of “Misne” was appropriated to the Priory of Mattersey by William Zouche, Archbishop of York, possibly meaning the church was placed more directly under the control of the priory. However William did also reserve an annual pension of 10s for himself and 5s for his dean and Chapter from the priory’s income. He also ordered that the church must always have a perpetual vicar secular resident at it, presented by the priory, and who must be given a vicarage of ‘one competent mansion with a curtilage [land around the house]’ as well as £6 per annum. This money had to be used to pay for bread, wine, and lights for the altar but all other expenses had to be covered by the priory. By these instructions the people of Misson could expect to benefit from a priest who resided with them rather than elsewhere and who had a means of supporting himself.

At the end of the century, in 1396, the church received a donation of 20s from Robert de Morton on his death. Robert had been a sponsor of charitable works, including re-founding nearby Bawtry Hospital, and had been a friend of the vicar of Misson, to whom he also gave 20s.

In 1419 the chantry attached to the church was first founded by Beatrix Clerc. She donated a messuage (dwelling house), 3 tofts (farms), 32 acres of land and another 22 acres of meadow to Thomas Nicholson, the first chantry chaplain. In return for the donation the chaplain was to give daily prayers for the soul of her and her husband John.

Nine years later, in 1428, Henry VI taxed Misson church at 24s.

The English Reformation led to significant changes in the fortunes of Misson Church. In 1530 Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, but now stripped of his other offices and titles by the King, travelled to visit his See for the first time. On the way he stopped at Scrooby for several months and appears to have spent his Sundays visiting the local parish churches, including Misson. Soon after his departure from the area he would be accused of treason, fall ill and die. The chantry at Misson was briefly suppressed in 1547 but was soon released. More importantly Mattersey Priory was dissolved in 1538 like other monastic orders around the country, as a result of Henry VIII’s break from Rome and seizure of Church wealth. Most of the Priory’s property was later sold off but Misson church itself remained under the patronage of the King from thereon, with a value in the King’s Books of £6 4s 4.5d. This independence from monastic control does not seem to have immediately led to an improvement however. In 1595 the chancel is described in a report to the Archbishop as being in great decay, although a certain William Hill was believed to be bound to repair it. By 1603 however this was still the case as the churchwardens returned: ‘our chancel is in decay and out of repair, and we crave to be given [until] 'mehellmas' [Michaelmas] day for its repair’. Again in 1609 the chancel was ‘out of repair’, this time ‘in the default of Mr George Sampall and Mr William Hill, gent.’

During the end of the 16th century this part of Nottinghamshire was the home of the Pilgrim Fathers who would go on to found the colony of Plymouth in the New World. The key members of the group were from Scrooby and Austerfield, the latter just a mile or two from Misson. Some of the Pilgrims may have come from Misson or had family there.

James I, as patron of the church, granted the chantry to Sir John Ramsey, knight, and Thomas Emerson in 1604, paying £10 2s per annum. At the same time he granted the rectory at Misson to Lawrence Baskerville and John Styler, its yearly value at the time being £7 18s 4d.

Around 1630 there was a dispute in several parishes, Misson included, in which several churchwardens were sued for non-payment of the annual Easter offering which was meant to be sent to Southwell Minster. This offering was 10d per annum for Misson. It is not known why the offerings were not paid and whether this was an indication of an insufficient income for the wardens or simply of corruption.

There was a terrible fire in the village on the 8th August 1652, which destroyed 48 buildings. Thankfully it was a Sunday and most of the village was in the church at the time, which was untouched by the fire.

At some point during the 17th century the pulpit and tester were restored and repaired. The font dates to 1662 which may be when the restorations occurred as well, and may represent ecclesiastical rebuilding after the fall of Cromwell’s puritanical Commonwealth government.

In 1676 John Rayner was vicar at Misson. In a report on his parish he stated that of the 240 inhabitants 2 of them were papal recusants (ie Roman Catholics) but there were no other dissenters.

In 1689 Vicar Thomas Waterhouse is recorded as taking the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy. These were required by an Act of Parliament which forced all office holders, MPs and clergymen to take an oath of loyalty to the new co-monarchs, William III and his wife Mary II, in the wake of the revolution that had overthrown the last Stuart king, James II. Many other clergymen refused the oath and were stripped of their positions.

At the end of the 17th century a schoolhouse was built in the churchyard. Sponsored by Thomas Mowbray and John Pinder in 1693 it was one of the first to be founded in Nottinghamshire. As part of its creation it was given £5 annually from certain lands in the parish. In return it taught six poor children at a time to read.

John Foss became Vicar of Misson in 1715. He also served as Vicar of Everton, several miles away, and resided in the latter. He was still vicar in 1745 when in response to a Visitation by the Archbishop Herring of York he gave a report on the state of Misson parish, which at the time included seventy families. Although residing in Everton he still gave services in Misson once a week, and gave Sacrament the required four times a year, with around 50 communicants. By this time the school in the churchyard seems to have expanded, going from the original six children to over twenty. The church also sponsored charities to the poor worth £2 1s 8d per annum. John Hineley and John Drabwell served as churchwardens at the time.

Almost two decades later another report was made on the parish, this time by Vicar John Ebba MA. He had a curate serving under him for Misson, one William Hunter BA, who had become curate in 1753, and who was paid £28 per annum by the vicar. Misson was a growing village in the early 18th century, now increased to 99 families. However church attendance may have been on the decline as John Ebba reports only 25-40 communicants receiving the Sacrament. Four years before this second report, in 1760, John Ebba as Vicar had been allotted 286 acres, 2 Perch of land with all its income in lieu of receiving the small tithes – that is the tithes of everything other than grain, which remained with the church. Likely this land allotment represented a significant increase in income for the church.

In 1828 the Vicar was J Nicholason. He was succeeded by Reverend Robert Evans MA some time before 1832.

By 1832 the village itself had 841 people in it although this number fluctuated throughout the rest of the century and had dropped to 719 by 1912. Whether because of the land granted in 1760 or because of an increased prosperity since it broke free of Mattersey Priory the church had become relatively wealthy, with an income of £250 per annum, which increased to £359 per annum over the next ten years, still with Robert Evans as vicar. By 1844 his curate at Misson was the Reverend Thomas Qurston.

A more detailed breakdown of Misson’s income is given to us by a religious census of 1851, to which Reverend William Thorpe, Vicar, responded. The lands given to the church provided £245 per annum at this time. On top of this there were about £100 of tithes. At the time £32 had to be deducted for house rent due to the lack of a residence in the village. However the next year the vicarage house, just north-east of the church, was rebuilt, presumably solving this issue. From the Census we also know church attendance had risen since the previous century, with 160 people attending morning services and 140 in the afternoon (some of whom may have been the same each time), with 60 of these being Sunday scholars.

Misson was and is, by area, the second largest parish in the diocese of Southwell, and also the most northerly.

In the latter 19th century repair work was frequent at Misson. In 1882 the gallery and organ were removed and the church restored, all at a cost of £110. Clearly this wasn’t enough as four years later more extensive restorations were done, including opening out the tower arch. This time the repairs cost £400. At the same time new stained glass windows were installed on the east side. These had been commissioned by the daughters of Reverend Thorpe at their own expense.

Sadly, all this repair work was undermined a few years later when disaster hit the church. On Saturday September 23rd 1893, at 11:40am the church tower was struck by lightning during a storm. Two of the four pinnacles on the tower were hurled down through it, falling through two floors of the belfry and then smashing onto the ground within the church. As a result the tower was completely gutted and its four bells shattered into fragments. The clock machinery was described by later witnesses as having been torn and twisted, and found lying in a heap of ruins in the churchyard. Four fires were started and damaged other parts of the church, including burning the oaken roof of the nave. Wreckage had also destroyed the south transept roof and the chancel received minor damage. The organ itself and the east windows with their new stained glass survived intact however. The registers, insurance policies (the church was insured for £1500 with the Ecclesiastical Buildings Office) and other important documents were also saved, thanks to the parish clerk, Mr Robert Pinder, who bravely entered the building and carried out the chest containing them soon after the strike. In a touch of irony the vicar, Reverend F W Keene, had been absent, having been in hospital recovering from being struck by lightning himself only eleven weeks previously while in the nearby schoolroom. He was due to return later that day and did so only to find his church in ruins.

In the wake of the disaster the church had to be heavily repaired and was closed off. It was reopened in June 1894 by the Bishop of Southwell, but repair work continued until 1896. Much of the church had to be re-roofed, although parts, such as the south aisle, only needed minor repairs. Two new floors were built in the reconstructed tower and a new clock installed. The remains of the four bells were recast into a new peal of six bells. The fittings were all restored, two screens were put in to create a choir vestry and new clerestory (upper level) windows of Cathedral glass were installed. A stained glass window was also put in to the tower. It was dedicated to the memory to Mr and Mrs Law and had been paid for by their sons and daughters. Finally, the organ, although mostly undamaged, was repaired and enlarged. The repair work cost a total of £1506 7s 4d, and was raised by subscriptions, charity work and donations.

In 1906 an oak chancel screen was erected in the church.

Despite his own injuries from lightning Reverend Keene continued as vicar of the church for many more years, still serving in 1912. There were still around 60 people enrolled in the Sunday School, while the Church School itself had 81 enrolled. In the previous year there had been ten baptisms and no confirmations. At this time his reports list an income of only £260 per annum. While not specifying the nature of this income or its fall form 19th century figures we do know that by 1922 the church had only 46 acres of glebe land worth £280 per annum so at some point the church had lost a sizeable proportion of its lands and income.

After the Great War, the Lady Chapel in the church was restored by Reverend Hugh Cowell in 1920, as a memorial to those who fell in the war, and can still be seen today.

In 2007 an attempt by thieves to steal the lead from the roof of the church was foiled by an observant milkman, but not before much of the lead had been removed from the roof itself. With funding from the Nottinghamshire Historic Churches Trust and other charities the roof was restored using terne-coated stainless steel and a new lightning conductor installed. During repair work infestations of woodworm and death watch beetles were also found and cleared.

Today, in the early 21st century, Misson church is part of a United Benefice, along with the nearby churches of Bawtry and Austerfield, both of which lie across the county border in South Yorkshire. Its vicar (Reverend Jonathon Edward Tully Strickland in 2013) resides at Bawtry.