St Denis


The present church was built in the mid eighteenth century, replacing another building that stood on the same site, but nothing is known about the origins of this earlier church. Morton was, however, one of the villages given by King Edwy, along with Southwell itself, to Oscytel, Archbishop of York in 956, and which consequently came under the authority of the Chapter of Southwell, the whole being known as the Southwell Peculiar.

There is no mention of a church in Morton at the time of the Norman Conquest, but there is reference to a Chapel of Ease, dedicated to St Denis, being established in Morton, possibly in the reign of King Stephen (1096-1154). This chapel of ease was founded by the inhabitants so they could have divine service in Morton, their parish church of Southwell being “farre from them”. During the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) permission was granted for a graveyard to be added.

The chapel of ease in Morton was administered from Southwell and the ministers were generally Vicars Choral, attached to the Minster and appointed by the Chapter. Three names are mentioned in connection with St Denis in early records, but otherwise there is no information about the curates until the 16th century when Thomas Dunne was incumbent (c1520-1540). He was the chantry priest of Richard Sutton of Southwell and served the chapel of Morton, saying mass twice every week and taking divine service every holy day, for which he was paid 31s 8d. He was in place in 1521 when he witnessed the will of John Arnall of Morton and was still vicar in 1539 when he is mentioned in the will of William Pepper, dated 9th May that year. William Pepper left Dunne 3s 4d, plus an additional payment to pray for his soul and that of his wife.

By the late 16th century, Morton appears to have been served by the vicar of the neighbouring parish of Bleasby. Robert Sheepshank, who is mentioned in Southwell Records as curate of Morton in 1583, was vicar of Bleasby from 1573 until about 1599, John Sheepshank, who submitted the Bishop’s Transcriptions for Morton for the year 1623, was at Bleasby from 1622-1639 and Simon Sachell, who is mentioned in Morton Protestation Returns for 1641, was vicar from 1639 until his death in 1658. Sachell, who is buried at Bleasby, was briefly succeeded by John Jackson, a non-juror, who was ejected from the church after the Restoration and came to live in Morton. His replacement was Henry Moore, who “took possession of Bleasby-cum-membris” on 4th April 1661, according to an entry in the Bleasby register, and “entered the Morton vicarage in April 1661” according to a note in St Denis church register.

Parish registers were not maintained during the 1640s and 1650s. No records were kept of births, marriages and deaths, so Moore wrote up the previous twenty years from evidence collected from the villagers and the parish register therefore starts at 1640.

Henry Moore died in April 1669 and was buried at Morton, but the association with Bleasby continued for some years through William Benet (1689-1703) and Henry Roper (1703-1712). It was, of course, common for clergy to hold several benefices at the same time in order to make ends meet, but the practice led to absenteeism and neglect. In 1736, legal proceedings were actually taken against one curate of Morton, Talbot Leybourne, for failing to carry out his duties in the parish and in his other parish of Edingley.

At no time did any curate reside in Morton. Thomas Fellows, who was admitted when Archbishop Herring made his visitation in 1743, declared his intention not to reside “upon my Cure nor in my Parsonage House”, but in his vicarage house at Southwell, and he informed the archbishop that he would be unable to conduct Sunday service in the afternoons as he was required to lecture at the Minster.

Around the middle of the eighteenth century, the church building was demolished, though there are no records as to exactly why this was necessary nor at whose expense the new church was built. The date 1756 is often taken as the foundation year, but this date is quoted only by Pevsner and there are no other records which confirm this. There is, however, some evidence that building took place a couple of years later than Pevsner states. Several marriages took place at St Denis during the year 1756, but in 1759, Richard Woofit and Elizabeth Spray, both from Morton, were married at Southwell Minster on May 6th “Morton Church being rebuilding”. Furthermore, no transcriptions of the parish register were submitted to the Bishop for the years 1757-59. A century later, a piece in the Parish Magazine following the death of Rev Mr Marsh in 1878 mentioned that he used to speak about an “aged parishioner who worshipped in the old timber-framed and thatched Church at Morton, which was taken down in 1758”.

A new church building did not, however, bring with it improved pastoral care. William Leybourne, who was appointed curate shortly after the new church opened, was also appointed to several other parishes and earned himself a reputation for absenteeism.

By the 19th Century, there were signs of reform and in 1841, St Denis was officially united with St Mary the Virgin, Bleasby and remained so until 1886. The three incumbents who served during these years, Robert Henry Wylde, John William Marsh and Nathaniel Midwinter all lived at Bleasby in the house the Rev Mr Wylde had built for himself on taking office.

The census of religion held in 1851 gives a picture of the church and community at this time. The benefice was valued at about £80, making it one of the poorest in the county. Morton had a population of 140 and the church had accommodation for 101 people with only 8 seats free, the remaining 93 being rented. Attendance averaged 40 at morning service, 60 in the afternoon and 45 in the evening, with 30 children attending Sunday school. The picture was much the same 5 years later when John Murray Wilkins, rural dean of Southwell, made his visitation in May 1855, though the number of children at Sunday school had increased by five. By this time too, a school had been built at a cost of £40 on glebe land near the church.

The interior

In 1886, St Denis was joined in a United Benefice with Holy Trinity, Rolleston-with-Fiskerton and, shortly after this, extensive alterations were done to the interior of the church. In 1890, the old high back pews were removed and replaced with open benches, the west gallery was taken down and a small vestry built at the west end under the Tower. New windows were inserted in 1893 and in 1895 the interior of the church was painted and decorated and bird gates installed in the porch, all these alterations being paid for out of public subscription.

In 1912 the church was said to have 100 seats, 55 children on the roll of the church school, and 14 in the Sunday School. It had four baptisms in twelve months.

The church was again re-decorated and other improvements made in 1934 as reported in an October edition of the Newark Advertiser. It is stated that the church

has just been redecorated by Mr Wilson of Southwell. Friends, who desire to remain anonymous, have contributed towards beautifying it by defraying the cost of painting the ceiling of the apse a pale blue studded with stars; another by giving matting for the aisle; while others have provided funds for replacing the hangings by the Reredos and a new altar frontal, thus greatly improving the appearance of this simple Georgian building.

The interior in 2011

Redecoration took place again in 1953 and then in 1967, major alterations to the internal arrangements were carried out under the direction of James Tadman FRIBA of Morton. These involved bringing the apse forward of the arch at the East end, installing new lighting and a new heating system, and locating a new organ to the rear of the church. This work required the removal of several pews and there is now seating for around 65 people. The heating system was again replaced in 2008 and at the same time the vestry was extended.

In March 1983, the benefice was enlarged by the inclusion of St Peter and St Paul, Upton, and in 2010 discussions were in progress concerning future pastoral reorganisation following the retirement of the Rev Susan Spencer, who was the very first woman to be appointed as priest-in-charge of this parish.

Since 1886 there have been 12 incumbents. Until 1990, incumbents were housed in Rolleston Vicarage, but this has been sold and today (2011) the vicarage is a modern house in Fiskerton.