Radcliffe on Trent
St Mary


Medieval times

The Domesday survey of 1086 does not mention a church in Radcliffe-on-Trent, but the known history of St Mary’s can be traced back at least as far as the thirteenth century when references to priests appear in the records. The orientation of the early building was probably similar to that referred to by Robert Thoroton in 1677 with its north and south aisles and chancel window traditionally at the east end. In February 1824 William Stretton, the builder and antiquarian, identified a few medieval survivals including a piscina, stone seats for altar officers and a small south door in the chancel from Edward III’s time.

Patrons of the living in medieval times came from the Deyncourt and Gousell families. An early rector was Stephen de Redcliffe who on his death in 1245 left a pasture either to the ‘town’ or to the church. A chantry chapel was subsequently founded in which a priest was to say mass for Stephen’s soul for ever. His memory was additionally perpetuated by an oak effigy under an arch against the south wall of the church. (It was reputedly burnt on a celebratory bonfire in Napoleonic times, but a memorial tablet is in a similar place in the present building.)

The living was assessed in 1291 for the purpose of raising money nationally for Edward I to go on a crusade - which was never undertaken. Radcliffe’s dues amounted to 30 marks (£20), a little more than those for Shelford and Holme Pierrepont, but modest compared to Bingham’s 80 marks. The existence of a parsonage house can be confirmed by 1317 when a property transaction extended its holdings.

By the end of April 1379 the status of the Radcliffe living changed radically when approval was given by the Archbishop of York for it to be formally appropriated by Thurgarton Priory. While paying some compensation to the York diocese, the priory could collect the main Radcliffe tithes and appoint one of its canons as Radcliffe’s priest. This priest now had the reduced status of vicar, his income dependent on eight acres of arable land, two acres of meadow, along with only the lesser tithes and some fees. According to Thoroton, the Radcliffe living was worth only £8 when the prior of Thurgarton was patron.

The early Tudor period

More can be learned about St Mary’s and religious practices prior to the Reformation from wills (now in the Borthwick Institute, York) drawn up between 1516 and 1534 by two vicars and ten parishioners. They contain references to a font in the south aisle, a rood cross, an Easter sepulchre (a recess with a tomb chest to receive an effigy of Christ), and bells.

They confirm that, despite some prominent criticism of church ways, there was no overt challenge to Catholic tradition by a restless local laity. Radcliffe’s clergy and parishioners generally emphasised ceremony, good works and masses for the dead. As well as their secular bequests, they were concerned to leave money or goods to St Mary’s or to other religious institutions, both local and in neighbouring counties.

Although Henry VIII removed England from the authority of the pope in 1534, doctrinal changes along Lutheran lines were curbed during his reign. The dissolution of the monasteries, however, saw Thurgarton Priory’s rights in Radcliffe pass into the hands of lay landowners from 1536. The parish clergy therefore retained their lesser status and income as vicars. An attack on the chantries was begun in the last years of Henry’s reign and completed early in the reign of his young son, Edward VI. Radcliffe’s last chantry priest, Thomas Smythe, had died by the time of the actual suppression. His annual income from lands had recently risen from £4 to £4 2s 2d, minus a payment of 4d to Nottingham Castle. He was reported to have had accommodation within the ‘rectory’, and the chantry itself was described as being ‘within the parish church’. A document of 1607 nevertheless implies that it may have been a separate entity, referring to it as ‘one chamber called the chantry of the vicar of Radcliffe’ with ‘a garden lying in Radcliffe, lately of the chantry of Radcliffe now dissolved’.

The doctrinal changes of Edward VI’s reign imposed extreme Protestantism. Church services were soon based on Archbishop Cranmer’s new English prayer-book of 1549. As Cranmer’s sister was married to Harold Rosell, Radcliffe’s resident squire, it is unlikely that these changes provoked obvious resentment - as they did in the west country. Whether there was local opposition to the destruction of any church statues and rood screens, or to the whitewashing of painted walls is not known. The authorities also demanded inventories of all parish goods, plate, jewels, and vestments, perhaps with a view to confiscation. St Mary’s inventory taken on 3 September 1552 lists a silver chalice with a paten (a shallow dish used for bread at the Eucharist), a latten pyx (a vessel of bronze-like metal in which the consecrated bread was preserved) with a latten cross, a cross cloth of green silk, three vestments and copes in green silk, white satin, and black worsted, six altar cloths, three towels, two brass candlesticks, two brass hand bells, two ‘corpraxses’ (communion cloths) with their cases, one holy water vat of brass, a basin and lavabo of latten, one sacring bell, a sanctus bell broken in the crown with trussing, a surplice with ‘rachettes’ and three albs. Three bells in the steeple are also recorded in this inventory.

With the accession of Edward’s half-sister Mary in 1553, England briefly returned to Catholicism. A few Radcliffe wills drawn up during the two reigns (six between 1549 and 1552 and four from 1557-8) indicate some of the differences. Whereas in Edward’s time the preamble to wills emphasised the religious supremacy of the sovereign and the contents included little that could be construed as religious bequests, in Mary’s time the importance of the Virgin Mary and saints was restored, and some modest religious gifts are again found. The queen could not force the return of property, now in private hands, to religious institutions, but Radcliffe’s chantry land, after initially coming under lay control, came to the crown. Nevertheless, Mary did not restore the chantry but granted its property to the master and chaplains of the re-founded Savoy Hospital in London.

The Elizabethan age 1558-1603

Elizabeth’s reign saw a moderate Protestantism established. Evidence of the way discipline was imposed on the parish has survived in the various records of the Archdeaconry court. Villagers who transgressed were usually reported by the churchwardens and summoned to appear before the court normally held fortnightly in Nottingham or other local churches where fines or penances were imposed. Five early cases concerning a quarrelsome woman and those accused of sexual incontinence are typical. The penance for those found guilty of sexual incontinence, such as Johanne Patterson in December 1570, was to stand on a stool before the full church congregation, dressed in a white sheet, bareheaded and barefooted, carrying a white wand, while they confessed their sin. (Men could also be required to perform this penance.) Other charges included non-attendance at Easter communion, slander, contending seats in church, ‘cursing and banning’, and being ‘a chider and inconvenient talker in church’.

Even churchwardens and clergy were not immune from the court’s discipline. For example, from 1573 curate Thomas Granger was accused of failing to perform services properly, while his quarrel with John Rosell, Radcliffe’s squire, led to both men being questioned. Rumours that Granger had been in the pillory and imprisoned in Lincoln for forgery and that his wife had a previous husband who was still alive were handled by higher church authority in York. Churchwardens were regularly charged with failing to carry out repairs to the church, churchyard and vicarage fences or walls as in 1577, 1587 and 1589. In the latter year they were also summoned because of the ‘decay’ of the chancel - despite this being the responsibility of the lay holder of the former rectory lands (which passed from the Zouche to the Stanhope families in 1591).

The parish church became the focus of help for the poor, even before the Poor Law of 1598. In February 1597 - a time of particular hardship - vicar George Cotes reported that official articles concerning fasting and the relief of the poor had been read out in St Mary’s. He continued, ‘...we have done our endeavour herein. And have collected money of every husbandman for the same. And I have bestowed it as need did recognise.’

An addition to the church by this time was a clock, mentioned in a will of 1580.

The early Stuart period 1603-1638

Three Catholic families are found in Radcliffe during the last years of Elizabeth and the first decade of James I’s reign. Of these, the most persistent were the Jordans - Richard, his widow Katherine and their son Thomas. Between 1598 and 1612 one or other member of the family was reported on at least seven occasions to the authorities, mainly for failure to receive communion in St Mary’s church at Easter. By May 1614, however, the Catholic families had either moved away or conformed, for Radcliffe’s churchwardens reported that out of the 240 communicants in the village only one had not received communion at Easter, and there were no recusants. (One other Catholic briefly appears in records for 1636.)

While the church courts continued to deal with parishioners’ sexual irregularities or their disorderly behaviour in church, there was also a stricter approach to those, such as George Baylie, who breached the sabbath. He found himself summoned before the court in 1612 for yoking his horses and fetching a load of bedding in evening prayer time on the Sunday after May Day. There were also regular clashes with the Stanhopes, or their tenants, for neglecting to repair the chancel or see to its ‘glass windows’ as in 1612, 1622, 1623, and again in 1635.

Additions to the church in this period include a fourth bell and the recasting or replacing of others in 1612 and 1625 (see bells page). In May 1618 the churchwardens were instructed to provide ‘a bible of the largest volume of the new translation’ by 1 August. This was the great King James’ authorised version of 1611. The earliest surviving parish registers date from 1632, although some transcripts sent to the bishop go back to 1625. By this time, too, the secular emblems of prominent local families, noted by Thoroton in the later seventeenth century, may have been added to the church as being more acceptable than the religious imagery of pre-Reformation times. Thoroton recorded the Deyncourt arms in the chancel window, those of the Grey family in the north aisle, while in the south aisle were those of Strelley, Rosell and Basily. None has survived in the modern church. The only early memorial, also recorded by Thoroton, which can be found in St Mary’s today is the brass to Anne Ballard who died in 1626.

In the 1630s William Laud, Charles I’s Archbishop of Canterbury supported by Richard Neile, Archbishop of York, emphasised ceremony and order in churches. When St Mary’s chancel was neglected by William Pilkington and John Pare, the current tenants of the former rectory tithe lands, the church authorities were informed in December 1635 by the Radcliffe churchwardens (who were themselves reported by the vicar for not acting earlier). Although initial improvements were made by June 1636, including the provision of a cushion and a cloth for the pulpit and a covering for the communion table, in 1637 Pilkington was reported for ignoring further orders ‘to cause the seats in the chancel to be made chancelwise and to cause the floor to be paved, and other defects to be repaired’. He was subsequently excommunicated. The annual amounts spent on repairs in Radcliffe around this period are recorded as follows: 1635, £4; 1636, £7; 1637, £2; 1639, £1 10s.

The churchwardens were also at odds with the views of Paul Sherwood, the vicar of the time, who they reported for not wearing full vestments by appearing without a hood, and for neglecting his duties in 1635 and 1638. He resigned in the latter year, leaving his successor to cope at local level with the collapse of religious control.

The breakdown of religious authority 1638-1660

It was William Creswell, vicar from 1638-1661, who was in charge during the overthrow of the traditional religious system during the civil war and Commonwealth periods. From the start of his ministry, authority was being challenged. In 1639 more parishioners than usual were summoned for drinking, or allowing others to drink on a Sunday, particularly at the time of divine service. The free-thinking Robert Butler was presented for publicly doubting the truth of the word of God in December 1640. When Henry Wells was presented for fornication in August 1641 he felt safe in repeatedly failing to attend the Archdeaconry court in the increasingly crisis-ridden times. Sittings of the court in Nottingham were abandoned in April 1643 and it would be twenty years before another Radcliffe parishioner appeared before it.

Parliament’s misplaced fears that the King’s policies favoured the return of Catholicism led to all males over the age of 18 being required to affirm their support for the Protestant religion and for the King in Parliament. In March 1642 William Creswell, supported by parish officials, administered the signing of the Protestation in Radcliffe. None of the 98 men refused to sign.

From the outbreak of civil war in August 1642, when Charles I raised his standard in Nottingham, the parish register was less well-kept and transcripts for the bishop do not exist after 1641 - well before the fall of episcopacy in 1643. Despite the Barebones’ Parliament of 1653 theoretically removing the custody of registers and the solemnising of marriage to magisterial control, Creswell’s signature in the registers indicates that he remained in total charge. One unusually detailed entry for 29 September 1657 records the burial of Roger Campion at the age of 97, having served as parish clerk for eighty years.

Despite being described as ‘disaffected to the Parliamentary proceedings’, Creswell theoretically benefited from the new regime, having his meagre vicarial stipend of £5 to £10 supplemented by £50 out of the confiscated former rectorial property in 1648. In practice he, his wife and six children had to wait until 1653 before receiving any of the extra income, having to borrow money to survive in the meantime. William Creswell lived just long enough to see the old ways return.

From the Restoration to the 1730s

After the Restoration, the Radcliffe living reverted to its previous financial level, and there is evidence that in the 1660s it was difficult to attract a permanent incumbent. (It is not surprising that clergy often found that pluralism was the only way to make ends meet.) From this period too, the patronage of the living and the impropriated rectorial tithes passed to the joint ownership of the Edge and Pierrepont families - the latter eventually having total control. From 1671-1683 Peter Titley was curate, memorable for his irregular conduct of marriages, including one in a Radcliffe eating and tippling house. Nevertheless, in 1676 during a period of fierce Anglicanism, his response to three questions posed by the church authorities revealed that Radcliffe was apparently a conformist parish. He reported that there were 183 communicants, no Catholics and no Dissenters.

From the eighteenth century, details of the modest assets of Radcliffe incumbents are recorded in a series of ‘terriers’. That for 1714, when John Hagger was curate (1712-31), mentions the vicarage house containing ‘two bays of building’ with a garden and foreyard covering about a rood of ground. Easter dues brought in 2d from each communicant, 6d from each dwelling house, 5d in the £ from servants’ wages and 4d from each tradesman’s hired hand. At Lammas 2d was due for every ‘new milch’d’ cow, 1d for every strapper (dry cow), 2d for every mare and foal and 6d for every swarm of bees. The vicar was, of course, entitled to only the lesser tithes, and at this period most would still be collected in kind. They included pigs, chickens, pigeons, apples and other fruit. There were fees for conducting special services: 3s 6d for marriage after the publishing of banns, 5s for marriage by licence, 1s for a woman’s churching and 1s for a burial. Mortuaries were still paid in Radcliffe at this date on the personal estate of a dead person, so the vicar could collect 13s 4d from an estate worth £50, 10s on an estate of £40 and 6s 8d from those worth £25 or £30. (Most would be worth far less.) In addition £1 10s was received annually from the crown’s Audit Office, and Evelyn Pierrepont, now Marquis of Dorchester, paid the incumbent £5 a year. This last gratuity, however, was not an obligation and is not found in later terriers.

In May 1718 the church and its possessions were in some disorder. It was noted in the Parochial Visitation book that the ten commandments, the creed, the Lord’s prayer and George I’s coat of arms were lacking on the walls. The top of the paten was broken, and there was no napkin to cover the bread and wine. A book of homilies and a basin for the collection of alms were also required. The minister and churchwardens were instructed to sign their names at the bottom of every page in the register book. The church walls wanted pointing and a coat of whitewash applying inside. The roof, windows and pavement were all in need of repair, and there were similar inadequacies in the chancel. Matters were only a little better in 1722. A table of degrees (indicating relationships forbidden in marriage) and a new hearse cloth were required, the communion table needed mending, and the pulpit cloth and cushion were ‘bad’. The church and chancel walls were to be repaired and cleaned of weeds, and the roof and churchyard fence mended. Not until 1729, could the churchwardens assert that all was well.

An inventory of the books, vessels and vestments drawn up in that year confirms that a number of items had by then been supplied. The book of homilies and a ‘Holland napkin’ were present. A cushion, pulpit cloth and hearse cloth were all listed without comment on their state of repair. There was also a surplice, a carpet of green cloth and a Holland cloth for the communion table. The paten, mended or otherwise, is not mentioned, but there were two pewter plates, a flagon, and a cup and cover of silver. A great bible, two common prayer books and a register of parchment (presumably the parish register) completed the items. A further inventory taken by the churchwardens on 9 June 1735 and recorded in the parish register shows few changes.

Queen Anne’s Bounty and the church community 1743-1771

The 1735 inventory coincides with the start of a period of greater stability at St Mary’s with Gabriel Wayne (c. 1735-1771) serving first as curate and then as vicar. As he remained incumbent of Shelford, a position he had already held for some nine years, the valuation of the Radcliffe living in 1738 at only £10 a year would have been more of a financial bonus than a handicap for a man with an expanding family. Moreover, in 1743 his Radcliffe income was improved with a grant of £200 from the fund known as Queen Anne’s Bounty. A terrier dated 20 September of that year records that with this money twelve acres of meadow (the Hillocky Close) were purchased in Hose, Leicestershire, and rented out for £9 a year. In addition, the vicar was entitled to collect the tithe of hay and corn from this land. Shortly afterwards a further £200 from Queen Anne’s Bounty and a gift of £200 from Evelyn Pierrepont, second Duke of Kingston, brought in £10 a year in interest. (By 1777, this money was laid out on 19 acres of arable land in Wymondham in Leicestershire which was then let for £14 per year.)

The tithes and dues recorded in the 1743 terrier were largely as they had been in 1714, but with eggs, willows and other wood being additionally mentioned. The right to collect a tithe of hay from a Radcliffe close called the Swan’s nest, next to the Hesgang pasture, was also noted. The vicarage was recorded as having a ‘kitchen, parlour, pantry and two chambers in good repair’. Nevertheless, with a wife and young family, Gabriel Wayne preferred to continue living in Shelford, where there was ‘a much better house’ than the Radcliffe vicarage which he described as ‘very bad’. A terrier of 1764 provides further information about this inadequate building. Its walls were part clay and part plaster, its roof was thatched and the two upper chambers had plaster floors.

Gabriel Wayne’s responses to two sets of questions from Archbishops Drummond and Herring in 1743 and 1764 respectively throw light on the church and community in the eighteenth century. Each Sunday morning he conducted a service at Shelford and then rode over to Radcliffe for the evening service. He estimated that there were seventy-five families in the parish, and as far as he was aware all members had been baptised. He normally catechised the children during the summer months until harvest time, but having attended the burial of three of his own children at Shelford within one week in 1743, he temporarily begged to be excused from catechising as the duty ‘put me too much in mind of my loss’. He believed that all of a competent age had been confirmed. Again in 1743 he indicated that there was only a private school in Radcliffe, but implied that it had a religious basis as ‘about 40 children are commonly taught who come to church with their parents’. In 1764 he commented that there was no public or charity school in the village, but the churchwardens’ accounts for 1766 make it clear that some form of education continued in the church as 17s 6d was spent on wood for the schoolhouse ‘doorstead’ and door, and another 2s on a lock for this door.

The two surveys show that the number of communicants in the parish had declined since the seventeenth century. In 1743 Gabriel Wayne reported that there were about 100 communicants at Easter. In 1764 there were overall about 150 communicants, half of whom received at Easter. Nevertheless, in the same year he reported that only one family and a single person were actually dissenters. There were, of course, still some who flouted the church’s moral teaching. In 1764 the vicar acknowledged that men seldom did penance, adding ‘I cannot tell why they are excused or what money it cost them’. There was, however, a ‘bad woman’ in the parish who had done penance in St Mary’s several times. From other sources she can be identified as an Ann Day who performed her final public penance for fornication in January 1763, probably the last parishioner to do so.

A terrier of 1764 supplements the information found in Gabriel Wayne’s responses to the archbishop. The church still had four bells, a clock, necessary furniture for the pulpit and communion table, one silver cup and a pewter flagon. It remained the custom that parishioners were liable for repairs to the main part of the church - everyone with a seat in the church helping to repair the churchyard wall, each ‘well knowing their several parts’.

The churchwardens’ accounts, surviving from 1734, provide details of routine payments for the upkeep of the fabric and contents of the church. Of major concern from 1748 was the condition of the steeple. Some repairs were made in that year, but a fierce storm at the end of May 1767 did considerable damage according to a report in the Nottingham Journal: ‘...part of the steeple being rent, some of the spire thrown down, and one of the windows driven by the force of the lightning into the reading desk’. (The congregation had left the church ten minutes before the storm and the only loss of life was to a jackdaw in the steeple and a large frog in the churchyard.) The damage seems to have been sufficiently patched up for the steeple to survive for another twenty-five years.

The Davenport era 1777-1827

Thomas Davenport (1771-1790) who succeeded Gabriel Wayne was fortunate enough to have a new vicarage house built in 1777. A terrier of that year records its kitchen, parlour, pantry and scullery, all floored with bricks, and two chambers with boarded floors, ‘ceiled and drawn’. The materials of the whole house were brick, timber and plaster. A further terrier in 1786 adds that it had a wash house and that the buildings were roofed with pantiles (instead of the earlier thatch). This terrier also gives a full picture of the church goods at this date. In addition to the bells and clock it lists one folio Bible, two Common Prayer books (a folio and a quarto), a book of Homilies, two registers (one for christenings and burials, the other for marriages), a woollen cloth for the communion table, two linen cloths, a pewter plate for alms, another for bread, a pewter flagon, a small cup of mixed metal for wine, a bier to carry the dead, a linen surplice, a cushion for the pulpit, a chest for books and a small box with three locks and keys.

As the father of thirteen children, Thomas Davenport was in constant financial difficulties, despite the benefits provided by Queen Anne’s Bounty and his new vicarage house. He supplemented his income from 1774 by adding the parish of Wysall and the curacy of Widmerpool to his Radcliffe duties. He also used his own children as helpers in Radcliffe, three sons at various times serving as his curate. His attempt to regain the rectorial tithes from the Pierreponts in the 1780s, however, ended in failure and contributed to his financial ruin. From 1789, the enclosure process in Radcliffe meant the end not only of the open fields, but also of the tithe system. The vicar was compensated with about 41 acres of land, much of it along Cropwell Road. ( A terrier of 14 June 1809 records that the allocation comprised ten closes, including one in the centre of the village called Sherwin’s Close.) Although he resigned from Radcliffe in April 1790, he continued as vicar of Wysall until his death in 1795.

John Davenport (1790-1827) succeeded his father as Radcliffe’s vicar. According to Throsby, in 1790 the annual value of the living was now £100 a year. By 1809 it was worth still more. A terrier of that year reveals that a further £200 paid by Queen Anne’s Bounty was currently invested at 2%. (This was spent on 4 acres of land at ‘Sewerston’ or Syerston by 1819, supplementing the earlier purchases in Hose and Wymondham.) The Swan’s Nest tithe, commuted to 7s 6d, continued in 1809 and the Audit money paid at Michaelmas had risen to £1 2s 6d. Marriage, churching and ordinary burial fees remained as they were in 1714, but the charge for the burial of an outsider who died in the parish was doubled to 2s, while the charge for burying someone from another parish was at the vicar’s discretion. A headstone was 2s 6d for a resident, and for an outsider the charge was again at the vicar’s discretion, as it was for a tomb or vault. A fee of 4d was now charged for a baptism. Like many of his predecessors, John Davenport supplemented his Radcliffe income through pluralism. Over the years he held posts at Goadby, Tilton and Tugby in Leicestershire, as well as Tythby and Shelford in Nottinghamshire. The terriers of 14 June 1809 and 4 May 1819 also reveal that the vicarage built in 1777 had either been enlarged or rooms subdivided as the lower rooms now had four above. John Davenport may have survived long enough to see the start of a much larger and more substantial stone vicarage in its place.

The fall of the steeple 1792

John Davenport’s ministry, however, is remembered for far more than routine matters. From the time of his appointment, the dangerous state of the steeple was again causing concern. In November 1791 a meeting was called to decide what to do. As a result an advertisement was placed in the Nottingham Journal on 15 February 1792 for tenders to take down the spire to the square of the steeple and to make other alterations which should have ensured the structure’s safety. Despite this, no immediate action was taken. An earth tremor and heavy summer rains that same year could only have made matters worse. On 21 November part of the steeple dramatically collapsed into the main body of the church. As the Nottingham Journal reported, it ‘had a long time been in a dangerous state’ and ‘fell down, with a most tremendous crash, upon the roof of the church, which it broke in, as well as that over the south aisle; the roof together with the ponderous weight of stones totally destroyed a very good singing loft, and everything else in their way and buried a great many seats in the ruins; providentially no person was injured’. (The illustration in Godfrey p. 371 purporting to show the spire intact in 1795 is of Ratcliffe-on-the-Wreake.) On 3 December the churchwardens paid to have the clock rescued - just in time, as four days later the Pierreponts’ agent, William Sanday reported: ‘Last night the remains of the steeple of Radcliffe Church fell in by the violence of the wind...’ (The clock was mended in 1793, but routine payments for it stopped after 1802. In the meantime Charles Pierrepont had donated a sundial for the church.)

An additional problem was damage to the chancel - the Pierreponts’ responsibility - caused by fires lit against the walls when teaching had taken place there! (In 1825 the Pierreponts in the person of the Dowager Countess Manvers would found a small school opposite the church which later became known as Radcliffe-on-Trent Church of England School.) By 1799 the church had been gradually repaired and modified. The faculty specified that the tower (without a spire) should be 46 feet high to the top of the battlements. There was to be a roof of ‘good and substantial timber covered with slate’. The seats were to be repaired, as well as other damage caused by the fall of the steeple. Every part of the church was to be put into good and sufficient repair.

John Davenport’s legacy of a truncated church was not admired by William Stretton when he paid a visit in 1824: ‘The church is of ashlar stone, and has a low tower steeple, with lateral buttresses, and a slated roof... The lead roof has gone towards the modern improvements. The fine old windows are now of the meanest Gothic form... with a mullion in the centre. The walls and tower are principally cased, the [whole church] conveys the idea of a mean though neat building. There are two windows on each side and a large east one, also a two-light at the east end of the south aisle. The inside has a nave of 60 feet by 20, a south aisle of 16 feet, and a north one of 9 feet in width.’ He acknowledged that the clustered columns with foliage caps separating the aisles from the nave were of the ‘original form’. The pulpit, desk and pews were all new and ‘uniform’, and the floor was paved with stone flags or paving tiles. He continued: ‘The church is lofty and has a plaster ceiling. There is a loft across the west end for the singers which has a road through the steeple. The tower is very low and modernised like the church. The roof has a weathercock and its appendages, and a large modern south [sun]dial placed against the wall (by W.S.). There are four bells... The font is only a modern basin placed in the side angle.’ The chancel, he noted, was large and lofty and retained remnants of earlier periods (i.e. the small south door of Edward III’s time, the piscina with quatrefoil head and basin, and stone seats for altar officers noted above.) The altar table was of oak, and the railing was good and in best order. However, the king’s arms, Lord’s prayer, belief, or decalogues on the walls were absent. Only one monument existed - the brass to Anne Ballard from the 1620s then near the pulpit.

Despite short-stay incumbents between 1827 and 1837, improvements were made. A substantial stone vicarage was completed around 1827. About 1828 the insertion of a flue in the church meant that some official heating could be provided, and oil lamps replaced candles. In 1829 church repairs included attention to the gallery (which at some point housed an organ), probably with cast iron pillars, and 195 free seats ‘by subscription and a gift from the society for building and enlarging churches’. Such additions may have reflected the growing population in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the Lincoln Diocesan Church Calendar of 1880 (cited by Godfrey) was also retrospectively dismissive of the church as it existed after the fall of the steeple, describing it as ‘unpretending to the last degree, and devoid of any architectural interest’. Its figures on the size of the nave and aisles - ‘45 feet by 46 feet within the walls’ - are partially at odds (lengthwise) with those noted by Stretton.

The state of the living just before the Victorian era was further summed up in a survey of Nottinghamshire churches by the Rev. Robert Simpson. At the time Edward Denison (1830-33) was vicar, appointed by Earl Manvers, and enjoying a vicarage ‘fit for residence’. St Mary’s could accommodate 400 worshippers and served a population of 1,125. The gross value of the living, averaged over three years ending on 31 December 1831, was £198. Simpson confirmed that the living was endowed with £200 from private benefaction (i.e. the Pierreponts) and £600 from Royal Bounty.

The Methodist challenge

Well before this time, however, the Anglican church was challenged by the rise of Methodism. In 1791 Wesleyan meetings were being held in the house of Baker Beeson, and a chapel, originally for 200 people, was built adjoining his house in 1796 in the area of the village later known as Mount Pleasant. A gallery was soon added. In 1803 a list of societies in the Nottingham circuit credited the Radcliffe Wesleyans with a membership of 153. (The village population in 1801 was 761.)

Primitive Methodists, who wished to recapture the evangelical zeal of John Wesley’s time, came to Radcliffe, probably in 1816 or 1817, but disappeared around 1838. They were replaced in 1839 by an Independent Primitive group, who objected to the principle of a paid ministry. In 1843 they created a chapel on the site of three cottages on the east side of Mount Pleasant, and survived in Radcliffe until at least 1862.

Not surprisingly with this competition, by 1839 attendance at the Wesleyan chapel had apparently fallen to 80, with a Sunday school of 160. Nevertheless, in 1838 the Wesleyans had received permission to improve their facilities. In that year William Bury, the vicar of St Mary’s, launched an attack on Methodism which, it was said, only served to boost attendance at their services. An impressive new Wesleyan chapel was opened in 1839, still in the Mount Pleasant area but fronting the main road through the village.

By 1864 the Primitive Methodists were re-established and purchased the Independents’ former chapel, eventually replacing it with a new chapel on Shelford Road in 1893. In the twentieth century the main road Wesleyan chapel became redundant and was demolished in 1967. From 1953 all Methodist services have been held in the Primitives’ building, except from 1971 to 1976. During those years Radcliffe was one of three areas which took part in an experiment to unite Anglicans and Methodists, and all services were held in St Mary’s.

Radcliffe’s population in 1851 was 1273. On 30 March of that year a national religious census was taken. The vicar Robert Burgess (1845-1873) held a morning service attended by 116 adults and 168 scholars (a total of 284). His evening service was attended by 247, and he pointed out that the Sunday scholars did not attend evening services. Unfortunately he did not fill in the section for the average number of attenders during the previous months, so it is not possible to say how typical this Sunday was. Nor is it known what duplication there was between attenders at morning and evening services. The total attendance at the two Methodist chapels on that Sunday evening was 195 (including 30 Wesleyan scholars) - still a significant challenge to the Anglicans.

Church rebuilding 1858 and 1879

In 1858 came a major structural change to St Mary’s when a new chancel in the early English style, a vestry and organ gallery on the north and a south aisle Lady Chapel were completed. A stone screen with clustered shafts and open tracery was added on the north side near the new organ gallery. (The organ was formerly in the west gallery erected in 1829 - although exactly when an organ was first purchased is not known.) A stained glass triplet window by Hardman was inserted above the altar in the chancel and the floor was paved with best Staffordshire tiles. The Lady Chapel was given a two light window in the east wall. Externally, Bulwell stone was relieved with bluestone bands. The architect was Charles Bailey of Newark-on-Trent, and the builders were Messrs Denvelt of Nottingham. The new area added 120 pitch pine seats to the church, so that altogether 427 could now be seated on the ground floor and 100 in the gallery. The total cost was £1200, of which £300 had been provided by Lord Manvers and the rest by the vicar Robert Burgess, supplemented by parishioners. (In 1878 £200 was raised for a stained glass west window to his memory.)

Far more radical developments took place during the incumbency of John Cullen (1874-1914). Between 1875 and 1907 he organised at least seven evangelising missions in Radcliffe. After the first he noted that ‘many souls were added to the church’ and that the number of communicants had doubled.

In 1877, during a national period of active church restoration and increasing population in Radcliffe, Cullen led a move to enlarge St Mary’s. The design submitted by Goddard and Paget of Leicester was accepted in February 1878, and a cost of no more than £3,000 was anticipated. In practice, problems escalated. They included the effect of bad weather on the Corsham stone, and the bankruptcy of the builders, Barlow Brothers of Oakham. Even after further alterations to the chancel were abandoned, the final cost of the structural work, including two new bells, amounted to over £5,000, raised by public subscription, apart from a grant of £120 from the Church Building Society.

The main work entailed taking down the existing north and west walls of the church tower, restoring the south walls, removing the gallery and forming an entirely new nave, aisles, porch and baptistry. A new heating system was inserted, and a new organ was bought from Lloyd & Co in 1880 for £53 16s. Little information survives about the rebuilding of the tower with its unusual saddleback roof. Radcliffe tradition has it that its German-French character was due to the influence of the vicar’s German wife who wished to be reminded of home. A clock (purchased in 1844 to commemorate a visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the village) was transferred to the new tower and further fund-raising was needed to pay for the recasting of the four old bells.

The enlarged church could hold 700 people, all on the ground floor, as opposed to the 527 of Robert Burgess’s time. Its nave was now approximately 74 feet in length, 19 feet 6 inches wide and 47 feet high to the ridge of the roof. In 1881 the parish’s total population was 1704. On 1 January 1882 Radcliffe held its own religious census. Worshippers at St Mary’s were recorded as 267 in the morning and 293 in the evening. The old church would easily have accommodated either congregation. (The Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists jointly attracted 280 in the morning and 338 in the evening.)

Not everyone admired the new church. In his book on Nottinghamshire’s churches published in 1912, J. Charles Cox commented: ‘This church, most unhappily rebuilt on strange lines in 1879 at great cost, consists of chancel with south chapel, nave, aisles, west porch, and lofty tower, with gabled roof at the west end of the north aisle... For its numerous and interesting fragments, some of Norman date, search has to be made amid the considerable rockeries in adjacent vicarage and other gardens.’ Whether this last statement was justified is now impossible to know, but the intention to preserve and restore medieval survivals such as the piscina, as indicated on the proposed ground plan of the church, was ignored.

Later additions and alterations

Additions in the rest of John Cullen’s ministry include a tablet erected in 1885 to commemorate donors to a village charity, the Jeffrey Dole, and a replacement for the small organ of 1880 in 1893. A new church room for parish use was attached to the 1827 vicarage in 1890.

Twentieth century changes were more modest than those of the nineteenth century. The existing heating apparatus was replaced in 1919. (In 1985 an oil-fired boiler was replaced by a gas boiler.) Alterations were made to the Lady Chapel in 1923: two faculties were granted for the rebuilding of the eastern wall (resulting in a triple instead of a two-light window), part of the south wall and roof, and for relaying the floor of the chapel. The organ was rebuilt and repositioned, the vestry enlarged to form an organ chamber, and the position of the font adjusted in the baptistry area ‘to provide for the choir vestry in the belfry without decreasing the seating accommodation’. A new chancel screen was added in 1924, and a chapel screen in 1929. In 1935 the ‘sanctuary’ was enlarged by moving forward some fifteen inches the steps on which the communicants knelt. A new ‘Holy Table’ and communion rails were also provided. Two further bells were added after the Second World War. New stained glass windows were approved for the east end of both the chancel and Lady Chapel in 1950. In 1960 a communion rail in gate-form filled a space between existing rails, new altar rails and gates were provided for the Lady Chapel in the following year, and new oak choir stalls in 1963. The former Victorian village school opposite St Mary’s was purchased in 1967 for use as the Church Hall.

In the 1970s the nineteenth century vicarage and church room were demolished after the completion of a smaller new vicarage. A two light stained glass window to members of the Pike family was inserted in the north aisle in 1978. A faculty for re-siting the font close to the chancel was granted in 1985, another in 1987 for new doors and existing doors to be moved to the outside porch, and a third in 1988 for enclosing the baptistry for office and creche use, and for the addition of toilets in the porch area. Other modern facilities include protective screens to the windows in 1989, an inductive loop system, overhead screen and a permanent ramp in the west porch - all from 1990. By this time, too, the slate roofs had been replaced by tiles except on the tower and Lady Chapel roofs. Despite re-pointing of the tower in 1989, major repairs were needed a decade later: a crack and the amount of sway in the tower when the bells were rung caused concern. The bells were lowered 5 metres into the clock chamber, so eliminating the sway, and the works of the clock were moved up into the bell chamber by 2002. To commemorate the second millennium a stained glass two-light window was provided by public subscription in 2000. An upgraded security system came in 2001 and a new sound and loop system in 2002. 2003 saw the reinstatement of the two gable crosses, lost many years previously, on the roof of the Lady Chapel. Future plans include the building of a new church hall straddling the boundary between the churchyard and the Rectory garden.

In addition to these gradual physical adjustments, major changes have occurred in the responsibilities and organisation of the Radcliffe living. Between 1941 and 1944 Shelford became linked with Radcliffe, but with priests other than the Radcliffe vicar in day-to-day charge. After a short spell of independence, Shelford was again intermittently run jointly with the Radcliffe benefice from 1946, the two benefices being permanently ‘held in plurality’ from 25 February 1967. In 1971 the experimental scheme (referred to above) uniting Radcliffe Anglicans and Methodists began, but was abandoned in 1976. The benefice was further extended in 1985 when Radcliffe, Shelford, Holme Pierrepont and Adbolton were united and became known as the Malkin Group of churches.

Today St Mary’s serves a community of nearly 8,000. The church has witnessed the character of the village evolve from being largely agricultural, prior to the arrival of the railway in 1850, and its development into a parish still detached from suburbia, but with mainly commuting residents.

Relevant Dates

c1208Earliest known Rector

1379Impropriated by Thurgarton Priory

1538Impropriated by lay landowners on dissolution of Thurgarton Priory

1551Suppression of chantry

1767Storm damage to spire and steeple

1792Fall of steeple

1794Modified church with castellated tower

1858Chancel rebuilt and south aisle chapel added

1879Main part of church rebuilt to design of Goddard and Paget of Leicester

Church Registers

The earliest surviving Register dates from 1632, but some Bishops’ Transcripts go back to 1625. Few entries include more than the basic details of dates and names of those baptised, married or buried.