St Mary


The church building in Newstead Village was completed in 1928 and therefore, strictly speaking, its history can only begin then. Prior to that date, however, a church, with a congregation, worship and all the activities which characterise parish life, had existed in the village, albeit without the benefit of a specialised building. It is important to give a summary of this “pre-history” and it is useful also to place the work of Newstead Saint Mary the Virgin in the context of the adjacent churches and of the estate of Newstead Abbey.

Newstead Abbey, perhaps best known as the former home of the poet Byron, was originally an Augustinian Priory founded during the reign of Henry II (possibly in about 1179). It has been claimed that the King founded it to assuage the guilt he felt after the murder of Thomas Becket, his “turbulent” Archbishop of Canterbury.

A small religious community existed there until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. In the following year, Henry VIII granted the estate of Newstead to Sir John Byron, who converted the priory into a house and lived there with his family. It remained in the possession of successive Byrons, up to and including George Gordon, the Fifth Lord Byron (the poet), who sold it to Colonel Thomas Wildman in 1818. The property was then in a very poor state, but Wildman spend a great deal of money in repairing and restoring it.

The monastic chapter house was altered and a gallery added to form a private chapel. Colonel Wildman appointed a chaplain in 1864 and restored worship to the abbey after three centuries. The Revd Curtis Jackson was the first chaplain and he lived just outside the Abbey Gates in The Hutt, an inn which belonged to the Estate and which had its licence withdrawn before the clergyman could live there. Succeeding chaplains lived at The Hutt until 1895, when it reverted to its former use as a hostelry.

In 1861 the Abbey was bought by William Frederick Webb and then, when he died in 1899 it passed to his family. The owner at the time of the building of the new church in 1928 was Charles Ian Fraser. Shortly afterwards, Mr Fraser sold Newstead to the Nottinghamshire philanthropist Sir Julien Cahn, who presented it to Nottingham Corporation in 1931.

After worship was resumed at the Abbey Chapel, estate workers and their families from the scattered “village” of Newstead attended, although strict segregation was in force. The Colonel with his wife and their guests would take their places in the gallery, then the butler would sit on one side of the aisle with all the men behind him, whilst the housekeeper sat on the other side of the aisle with all the women behind her.

The slow and unchanging rural life of Newstead continued until the arrival of the Victorian Age, with its massive expansion of industrial activity, as Britain became “the workshop of the world”. There was an insatiable demand for coal and the rolling fields of Newstead hid some rich seams. Soon the locality was transformed, as two mines were sunk by separate companies within half a mile of one another and the size and character of the population changed dramatically.

Annesley Pit was developed to exploit the coal seams under the Annesley Hills, to the west of the pit-head, whilst Newstead worked the coal to the south and to the east (towards the Abbey). The whole of the space between the two pits was occupied by an ugly conglomeration of colliery buildings, rail tracks, sidings and storage heaps. It was difficult to distinguish where one pit began and the other ended.

Two separate villages were built, owned and controlled by the two companies to house the miners and their families. These villages reflected the different ideas and policies of the companies concerned. The Annesley company built two straight rows, in blocks of eight, with ten blocks to a row, making 160 houses in all, forming the core of New Annesley. The properties were spacious, with adjacent land which could be worked for vegetable-gardens, but initially without bathrooms. Management houses were built a little above, on the slope of the hill.

The Newstead Company, by contrast, had the management houses in the pit yard and the miners’ houses very close to the pit gate. Everything in this, the “old” Newstead Colliery Village, was on a smaller and meaner scale than at Annesley, with cramped living quarters and no gardens. Later, in the nineteen-twenties, the “new” Newstead Colliery Village was built, featuring better houses, better gardens, a better layout and a more attention to attractive design.

So by 1926, there were two pits, two villages and two groups of men working for two different companies. The Annesley men had come from Leicestershire, whilst the Newstead men had come from the north. The villages had so much in common, but they never became one community. Separate provision was made: for schools, for recreation, for shops and for social life. Ultimately, this tradition of separate development meant, inevitably, separate churches.

Annesley was the slightly older pit (work began in 1865) and by 1873 an existing building in New Annesley was licenced for worship. The following year the fine new church of Annesley All Saints was consecrated. That same year (1874) Newstead Colliery was sunk and its village began to be developed. Rather than go “up the hill” to Annesley All Saints, the Newstead villagers looked across the level ground of the Newstead Estate to its Abbey Chapel and its chaplain for worship.

One report says that it was not until 1889 that “services began to be held in the colliery buildings by the Abbey Chaplain”, but it may have been earlier than that. Later they were held in the Newstead Cemetery Chapel, before being transferred to the schoolroom.

The Parish of Newstead then had two places of worship and a Chaplain. Services were held in the two locations: in the Newstead Abbey Chapel and in what the Service Book refers to as Newstead Colliery. In the early entries in the book, which start on 1 December 1912 (Advent Sunday), services in the different locations are indicated by A for Abbey and C for Colliery. After a while this practice ceases, presumably because the services follow a set sequence, with 8.00 am Holy Communion at the Colliery Chapel, 11.15 Matins at the Abbey Chapel and 6.00 Evening Prayer at the Colliery Chapel. A very similar pattern has continued to the present day.

Worship in the schoolroom continued for many years, but in the nineteen twenties, an expansion of the colliery meant that more miners were needed and the “New Village” was built in the period 1923-1925. A permanent church building was now an urgent requirement and the Colliery Company gave some land for its construction. A Building Committee was formed and Trustees representing both Newstead Colliery and Newstead Abbey worked to finance and build the church.

After some problems, difficulties and disagreements, the construction of the simple structure proceeded rapidly. The Foundation Stone of the Church was laid in August 1928 and the Dedication took place on 15 December the same year, with The Bishop of Southwell, the Rt Rev H Mosley officiating. On the same occasion, 24 candidates were presented for confirmation.

During his remarks the Bishop rejoiced that “the people of Newstead have been provided with a sanctuary by the munificence of the Colliery and the Abbey Estate” and thanked the worshippers “for their indefatigable labours over a course of years.”

The Liberty of Newstead was extra-parochial for ecclesiastical purposes when discussions were taking place about building a new church. The Building Committee minutes state that “the Colliery Company and Mr C I Fraser (Abbey Owner) are favourably disposed to convey, with the consent of the parishioners, the land and church when completed, to the Bishop of the Diocese or other trustees of the Established Church of England, for the use of the people for ever.”

A later note advises: “At the present time, Newstead is extra-parochial and would have to be brought into the Diocese.” An application was made to the Church Extension Society for assistance with funds, which, if granted, would of itself have brought the new church into the Diocese. At the time, however, the arrival of a newly-appointed Bishop of Southwell (The Right Revd Dr H Mosley) was awaited and the Church Extension Society could not give approval without his endorsement. There was delay and the Committee became impatient. It decided that it had enough money (”we have sufficient funds to put up a decent church without waiting for their help”) and went ahead with the building without word from the Bishop or the Diocese.

The Liberty of Newstead therefore continued for some years with its two church buildings: Newstead St May the Virgin and the Chapel of Newstead St Mary. Eventually the status of these two church buildings was regularised by the Diocese when the Parish of Annesley with Newstead was created in 1963.

So it is that for these industrial and social reasons, we see the two church buildings of Annesley All Saints and Newstead Saint Mary the Virgin located within three-quarters of a mile of each other. From their erection in 1874 (Annesley) and 1928 (Newstead) they represented independent communities, but in 1963 they were brought together when the Diocese of Southwell created the new Parish of Annesley with Newstead. The first incumbent was the Revd Frank Lyons and he was appointed after Newstead had been vacant for four years and Annesley for three.