For this church:
The church of St Mary is a blend of the Norman and Perpendicular styles, consisting of chancel, nave of three bays with clerestory, and a low west tower of 1766.
In Domesday Book it is noted that there was a church and two priests. They owned 1 plough and 1 ox with a meadow of 180 acres. Orston was the mother church of Scarrington, Thoroton (in which it still is) and parts of Staunton. In Domesday, the manor of Orston was held by the King, although it appears that Orston lost value following the Norman Conquest (from £30 before 1066 to £20 after).
In September 1093, King William Rufus gave the church and its property to the cathedral church of St Mary of Lincoln, its bishop, and successors in perpetual possession. Not long after, the masons from the Guild of St Mary at Lincoln started to replace pre-conquest buildings with greater ones. It was meant to symbolise the power and wealth of the new conquerors, and to awe the public. Much of St Mary’s church that stands is from this era, and shares a few similarities with St Mary’s, Edwinstowe. The stonework retains its original character, though additions have been made and areas renewed over the centuries.
At the taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 Orston had a clear annual value of £60 and was described as ‘ecclesia de Horston pertinens communie ecclesie Lincoln’; the vicarage was valued at £10 at this time. However, just 19 years earlier, in 1272, the vicarage was reported to archbishop Giffard as being worth 100s (£5) per year, so it had done well to double its value in this short space of time.
There is no valuation given in the Nonae rolls of 1341, but in 1428 it was taxed at £6 (ie 10% of £60) showing that there had been no change in value since the end of 13th century.
In 1301, notice was issued by Henry de Beningworth, subdean of Lincoln, that they had appointed their fellow canon Master William de Langwath their proctor to do obedience for their appropriated churches and on 19 January Langwath swore obedience for the churches of Orston and Edwinstowe.
On 12 January 1337 archbishop Melton issued a memoranda of a licence to the rector and parishioners of Orston to have their churchyard reconciled by a bishop due to ‘the defilement of the cemetery’; the rural dean of Bingham was to enquire about this violence. We have no further details of what occurred.
On 20 May 1441 Archbishop Kempe undertook a visitation of Orston and its dependant chapels (‘cum capellis ab eisdem dependentibus’), along with other nearby churches.
The dean and chapter of Lincoln have remained the appropriators, and also patrons of the vicarage, which was valued during the 16th century in the king’s books at £12 4s 7d.
In 1598 the churchwardens and swornmen presented that:‘'the seats and stalls of the church are decayed and broken and two bells are riven, for the repairing whereof they require a repairment day to be given them’. By 1608 they stated that: ‘our chancel is not in repair in the default of Mr Hewgh Charchifall [Kerchivall]; our bell frame is in decay and the glass windows are broken, and the paving in the church is not well lead [laid] down’; the following year they repeated the problems and in addition said that: ‘we want a pulpit in the default of the parish; we want cloth and cushions for our pulpit in default of the parish’. By 1612 little had improved and in addition to the same complaints the wardens noted that; ‘the grave of Mr Nicolas Puryfye is uncovered and has been ever since St Bartholomew's Day 12 months ago’.
The registers of Orston date from 1589.
In 1635, the seats were noted to not be uniform in design and were in need of repairs. The costs were £10 in 1636, £10 since the Easter of 1636, £3 6s 8d in 1637 and another £10 in 1639.
It appears that the church rented out its lands to residents of Orston. The Dean and Chapter of the Church of Lincoln granted ‘five Bovats of Land’ in the Territory of Horskinton early in the church’s history (under the reign of King John) to Robert, Son of William de Derebi, and his heirs, paying 10s per year. In 1677, Mr John Kerchevall held ‘the Tythes and five Bovats of Land in Lease of the Church of Lincolne’ , as his ancestors had done before him. There were also a number of small freeholders: William Maltby with six Oxgangs, John Marshall - five, John Cliff - four and a half, John Challon - four, William Clark - three (formerly Mr Kerchevall's), Mr Halford, of Weston, in Rutland (owner of part of Aslacton) - two and a Half, Henry Norman - two and a half, William Wright – two and Robert Braunfton – three (formerly Beanes, &c.). Orston, Scarrington, and Thoroton were worth, together, in 1677 around £100 per annum.
There is contrast between the virile gothic work of the pre-Reformation periods and the less impressive post-Reformation work in the tower. The date cut into the stonework is 1766, in which it was rebuilt, containing 4 bells. There is no record of the earlier tower; however, the churchwardens’ account book (1686-1789) contains item after item of expenditure of the steeple, bells, the clock and the porch. There is also an ominous entry on 23 October 1722: ‘the Towns people of Orston are not satisfied without further advice to pay all the charges of the Steeple, without the Parish’; and again in 1749 ‘[they] paid when Mr. Gamble viewed the steeple’. Externally, the effect of the church is marred by the insignificant tower with different stone used to that in the old walls of the nave and chancel.
In 1743, a visitation was made by Archbishop Herring who noted there was no meeting houses, no public or private school, nor any benefactors. The services, however, were said be regularly performed as the Act of Uniformity and canons of the Church were required twice every Sunday at Orston or the chapels. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was also said to be regularly administrated – at least 12 times in the year. The parishioners were consistent in their attendance.
The Reverend Bonham Langley was the vicar in 1764 when he certified to Archbishop Drummond that there were about 60 families in the village, and all were conforming. He was a senior vicar of Lincoln Cathedral, and left the work in the parish to his curate, the Rev Graham Chappell, who had a house in the village and was paid £30 15s. Holy Communion was administered at Easter, Christmas, and Michaelmas.
The arms of King George III were painted over the doorway, on the west wall, into the tower in 1786 at a cost of £4 11s 0d. These were painted on canvas with the initial G.III.R. and are believed to be the work of the same artist as at Bunny.
Throsby noted that ‘the body of the church is ancient; but the tower was rebuilt not more than about thirty years ago; in it are four bells’.
There were 120 present in the general morning congregation in 1851.
In 1856-7 the incumbent, Charles Bailey of Newark, erected a large, stone mansion to be used as a vicarage, near the church. In 1861, as previously noted, a lath and plaster partition was removed by order of the Archdeacon of Nottingham, as the ancient chapel was restored to the purposes for which it was originally intended.
In 1864 the ecclesiastical architectural expert Archdeacon Edward Trollope noted that:
the church has been a very fine one, and possesses ancient features of great beauty; but the whole is now in a lamentable condition, notwithstanding its dues received from other churches, which were once considerable, as the mother church of the district, and its present connection with the diocesan cathedral body. Evidently neglected for many years, its ruin was absolutely threatened by the removal of its ancient tower, which served to consolidate the whole fabric, and the erection of the present smaller and mean substitute, which utterly mars the external beauty of this old church. The mischief thus effected, actually as well as architecturally, is patent to all practical observers.
Repairs have often been necessary due to the geological formation of the site. At one time, the Vale of Belvoir was a lake which had a clay bed that shrinks and swells with changes in temperature, and, as a result, there has been movement in the foundations of the church. The billowy effect seen in the floor is evidence of this. There are also wavy lines on a horizontal scroll-moulding, running beneath the window-sills in the north aisle.
An entirely new south porch was fitted in 1888 which replace a high-pitched brick and tile one (that had also replaced another previously). The chancel was also restored with some of the old stone used. The south aisle wall was rebuilt in 1889-1890 which was when the scratch dial was reset upside down on the central buttress. There is also an old consecration cross from the same period. The church was also re-floored. The total cost of the restorations between 1888 and 1890 was £940, under the superintendence of the architect, Mr Green. Earl Manvers donated £300 of this sum and £150 was given by Mr and Mrs Fisher. Mrs Fisher also gifted the church with lights and a brass desk.
The village stocks stood outside the churchyard gate on the south side until the end of the 19th century.
Further repairs were undertaken in 1908, but it was something of a losing battle. Cox commented in 1908 that the whole of the church was overgrown with ivy and is, ‘within and without, in a somewhat neglected condition’.
In 1914 much of the window-tracery was renewed, the nave restored, and the north aisle was underpinned and restored with a grant from the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings. At the latter time, the embattled parapet was removed as it was almost in ruins. Electric lighting was installed in 1937 and further repairs were made to the chancel in 1938.
On Christmas Eve 1966, a Christmas play was performed, including the whole village, to celebrate what Christmas is really about. Many of the village people played roles in the ‘Birth of Christ pageant’. Four ministers - the Rev John Price, the Rev T Blackmore, the Rev J Pickworth Hutchinson and the Rev M Richardson – also took part. The pageant was organised by the Orston TocH groups with support from the Mothers’ Union, Women’s Institute, Youth fellowship, teachers and scholars from both the Anglican and Methodist Sunday schools in the village, the Grantham Salvation Army Band, St John’s Church choir from Grantham and the Grantham light opera singers.
The church was in need of urgent repairs to the roof and south aisle in 1984. The costs were estimated to be £17,500, of which the parish hoped to receive a Department of Environment grant, though they still had to raise another £10,500. An appeal committee was formed with Mr Barry Gibson of Orston Hall as chairman and Mrs Jean Smeeton secretary. A fund-raising committee was launched officially on Palm Sunday, 15 April, at the morning family service. In 1986, Dallas star Ken Kercheval gave £1,000 to the church – where he and his wife had their wedding blessed. He initially had his wedding in America but wanted his marriage to be blessed by his ancestral church (his family descending from medieval times). Rural Dean Canon Alan Haydock officiated at the private 15 minute ceremony which was attended by personal friends of the the Kerchevals and Orston residents. There were no hymns or music during the ceremony, only prayers. His donation raised the total to £12,000. The work included the repair or renewal of masonry and window surrounds in the south aisle, the east end of the north aisle and the main porch as well as replacing a major part of the roof tiles.
A number of pews must have been added some time in the late 19th or early 20th century as there were sittings for 300 in 1881, and sittings for 344 in 1908. The boards of the Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments also date from this time. Previously they were painted above the semi-circular chancel arch, where faint traces remain.
Over the centuries, the value of the vicarage has altered. It was first valued at £10 in 1291 and had increased to £12 4s 7d in 1677. In 1853, it was valued at £268. The joint yearly value of the vicarage with the chapelry of Thoroton annexed, in the gift of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln, was £265 in 1894/5 but decreased to £222 in 1900. The living in 1908 had a joint yearly value of £238, including 95½ acres of glebe. The value was increased to £300 in 1922 then to £315 in 1932.