Attenborough St Mary


Arch of 12th
Century doorway
Old oak door,
now in south porch
12th Century
incised slab

The earliest known and visible fabric in the present day church is the arch of a 12th century doorway, originally part of the chancel, and now built into the north wall of the church. There is also an old oak door with medieval iron scrollwork. This door is now on display within the south porch and possibly dates back to 1100 AD. Another example of 12th century craftsmanship is the large incised slab, which is displayed within the porch. One of the earliest examples in Nottinghamshire, it has a design of 12 circles placed on spokes radiating from the centre of the cross-head making an impressive design for a coffin lid.

Most of the building was constructed over a 300-year period. Millstone grit, probably transported via the rivers from Derbyshire, was the chosen building material for the original construction and any rebuilding over the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries.

The nave arcades are early 13th century. The nave columns are unusual in that the north side and the south side capitals were carved with a century passing between their execution. The gentle classical carving of the faces and foliage on the northern capitals is opposed by the “hideous”, “grotesque”, and “fanciful heads and monsters” on the south side. These are the descriptions offered by historians such as Barker 1835, Tregenzer 1976, and Pevsner 1979.

Construction of the church tower was begun in the 14th century but its erection was very much influenced by the lack of space at the west end, consequently, its construction intrudes into the nave engulfing part of the arches. Also during this century, the south aisle subsided and internal flying buttresses were added during the rebuilding to prevent further toppling of the south aisle.

During the 15th century, the tower was surmounted by an octagonal spire, and the Medieval building period concluded with the reconstruction of the chancel, hence it displays fine Perpendicular style windows.

It was silver coins from this period of medieval history which were hoarded by some individual and eventually deposited in a common pottery jug and buried approximately 100 yards to the north-east of the church c1420. There they lay until they were unearthed over 500 years later by a gardener in the currently named St Mary’s Close. Now known as the ‘Attenborough hoard’, these coins are in the keeping of Nottingham Castle Museum.

In 1454, 99-year-old Sir William Babington, Attorney General in 1413, Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1419 and occupier of Chilwell Hall, added to the wealth of Attenborough church by including it amongst the beneficiaries of his will.

The first parchment church register for Attenborough was begun in 1560 and bears the signature of John Mather (vicar) and Thomas Chambers and Richard Pearson (churchwardens). The following are examples of the earliest entries of baptism, marriage, and burial:

The 15th day of November 1559 was christened two twinlings, Rosamund and Rose, the children of Henry Gaskin of Toton.

The 17th day of May 1560 John Harrison and Joan Strete, both of this Parish were marryed.

On the 4th day of August 1565 was John Cooke, the infant of Anthony Cooke of Chilwell, buryed.

In 1609, records of the Archdeacon’s Court show the first signs of the Puritan Spirit in Attenborough when Jane Ireton was brought before a tribunal for refusing to be churched according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England. Later, in 1616, German Ireton her husband was cited and warned with others for not receiving the Communion whilst kneeling.

Between January 1641 and November 1653, Attenborough church registers ceased to record the ceremonies of Baptism, Marriage and Burial. This period of time includes the unrest of the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell’s troops are said to have stabled their horses within the church building. These men could have been those under the charge of Henry Ireton. He was born to German and Jane Ireton at the farm house adjacent to the West end of the church and his baptism is recorded in the parish register as 3rd November 1611. He was serious-minded and devout and was described as the kindred spirit of Colonel Hutchinson. Henry became the trusted leader of a troop of local Parliamentarians riding with the cavalry of the Earl of Essex at Edgehill. As the holder of an Oxford degree he was able to draft orders and write declarations and after 1643 he was performing his Parliamentarian duties at a national level. He eventually became one of the signatories to the warrant of execution for Charles I in 1649. During these high profile years he also married Bridget, the daughter of Oliver Cromwell. It is quite feasible that there was a great deal of Parliamentarian activity around the church at Attenborough and the family home of Henry Ireton in those volatile years thus causing the disruption of the normal procedures of the church.

On 3rd May 1641, the eve of the Civil War, Protestation oaths had been made and in Attenborough 42 males over the age of sixteen made their protestation. This number, combined with those recorded at Toton, Chilwell and Bramcote, gives an approximate total of 161 adult males within the ecclesiastical parish at that time.

The Hearth Tax records of 1664-1674 indicate that around this time there were approximately 90 residences within the ecclesiastical parish. The persons owning the largest dwellings, and probably having the most influence in Toton and Attenborough, were “Arthur Warin Esq.” whose home had six hearths and “Mr. John Foulgham” who is recorded as having seven hearths in his home.

The parish registers involved a new policy after the “Woollen Shroud Act” of 1678 when a separate register was put in use for burials and each entry was endorsed and initialled by the parish clerk.

In 1722, Attenborough church registers began to record the occupations of the persons there named. There were stocking makers, framework knitters, farmers, labourers, shoemakers, throwster, milliner, coachman, blacksmith, servingman, soldier, waterman and pinder.

In 1783, records show that the smallpox disease claimed the lives of 34 parishioners, 25 of whom were children.

The survey of Throsby c1796 stated that the church building was of “respectable appearance” but by the time Thomas Broughton Charlton, the churchwarden, came to update the Vestry Books in 1841 he recorded that in 1839 the old pewing was considered to be in a dilapidated state and “other kinds of pews were scattered irregularly through the church without any regard to the appearance of the building.” So it is recorded that the old pews were replaced by new pitch-pine pews, which cost £320.

Old rood loft stair,
formerly hidden

It was just previous to this, in 1840, that the Incorporated Church Building Society had given a grant to Attenborough church. The ancient oak horse box pew engraved with the letters I P 1623 (former pew of the Powtrell and Charlton families) was also replaced by a new pew for William Charlton Esq with his escutcheon and armorial bearings on the wall above. The engraved ends of the old pew are now incorporated along with further Jacobean carving within the choir stalls and chancel. The original pulpit was also removed from the North side of the nave to the South side. It was at this time that the old rood loft stair was uncovered by workmen.

The spire of the church was replaced in 1848 by Hall, a Nottingham stonemason, resulting in a notably slimmer and taller spire than those of the surrounding parishes. The height, including the weathercock, reached 130ft. During the same period of building the side aisles of the nave were enlarged including new windows and a roof with embattled parapet. The clerestory windows were also inserted high in the nave, and the nave roof was rebuilt with a lower pitch than the previous one. The lower pitch is witnessed by the mark of the earlier roof showing quite clearly on the east face of the tower. During this period of rebuilding at Attenborough, the religious census of 1851 recorded a population of 128 persons for the village with no return. The Methodist New Connexion chapel at Chilwell (built in 1798) enjoyed a general congregation of 40 persons in the morning and 50 in the evening, with 80 children attending Sunday school both morning and evening. The population of Toton was recorded as a total of 133, and out of Bramcote’s population of 722, 130 attended church in the morning and 110 in the afternoon.

By 1866, according to Sir Stephen Glynne’s notebook, the East end of the church had become covered with “much ivy”. This state of the church is also witnessed by the watercolour of 1867 by Joseph Seddon Tyner.

The minute book of 1867 records that a minstrel’s gallery was removed from the belfry and a new organ was placed on pedestals in front of the belfry door. A further grant was made by the I.C.B.S. in 1869. More repairs were carried out to the masonry and some joinery work and glazing was done, also, new tiling, the organ altered and new hot water apparatus was provided all at a cost of £519. Some of the money was realized by holding a bazaar. A luncheon and a service collection at the reopening of the church also raised money toward the cost.

Much of the extending and rebuilding, over time, was due to fashionable improvement but some of the rebuilding was possibly due to structural instability caused by subsidence which has occurred over the years. During the 20th century the main structure was calculated to be 22.5cms (9 ins) out of plumb on the south side.

The reconstruction of the south porch, which bears masons marks, took place in the early 18th century. Roof timbers were also replaced at this time and later, in the 1950s. Another grant had been made by the ICBS in 1949 and the church was once more completely re-roofed between 1949 and 1954. Initially, a 17cwt roof beam needed replacement due to damage by the death-watch beetle. It was upon this beam that the year 1704 and the initials R.B. and I.B. were found to be carved. The removal and replacement of this beam alone was estimated to cost £3,500. The Rev J Roberts and the 80-year-old parish clerk, Mr T M Day were overseers of this work.

In the early 19th century, Barker had described the vestry as “a filthy and wretched place more like a stable than any thing else”. This would be the same vestry described in Sir Stephen Glynne’s notebook as the “vestry on the N. of the chancel which has a plain parapet and square headed window and opens to the chancel by a segmented arch which has an earlier look”. This apparent vestry now acts as a heating chamber and part housing for the bellows and workings of the organ. During the above-mentioned post-World-War-II building phase, new vestries and a galilee were completed at the west end of the church. The architect for this major project was Mr F E Woolley and hand cut Derbyshire stone was worked by stonemason Mr N Stothard. Toilets were fitted in the oak panelled robing room, and also, a modern glazed door designed by Mr R Brown and Mr F Kirk.

Glass from bombed-out Sheffield churchIn the new galilee a small leaded window incorporating a beautiful portion of coloured glass, which was rescued from a bombed church in Sheffield, was given the central position on the West wall. The galilee extensions were financed by Col N G Pearson, a gift in memory of his parents. A bell-ringers’ gallery was also part of the new construction with a screen of ¼-inch plate glass held in an aluminium lattice. This screen was for the purpose of soundproofing. The bell-ringers’ gallery does partially obscure the original West window when viewed from the nave; however, the part described by Glynne as having “a semblance of tracery” still remains visible from this viewpoint. An anonymous benefactor donated £8,000 to this project the result of which was dedicated on 11th February 1954 by Dr Russell Barry, Bishop of Southwell.

A new appeal for a major restoration fund was launched by the Rev Frank Beech in 1980, the result of which was more repairs to the nave roof, lead replaced on the tower, the spire repointed, and the replacement of some of the above-mentioned stone tracery in the west window. The renewal of the roof copper alone cost approx. £5,500. In addition to all this work, which was completed with money raised by the parishioners, a renovation project of the porch was undertaken. The porch project was sponsored by Miss Winifred Day as a dedication to her family who had held the post of parish clerk from 1717 until that time. Her sponsorship enabled the early Medieval door to benefit from the protection of new modern, well-fitting doors on the exterior of the porch. Miss Day died in 1992 thus ending almost 300 years of her family’s service to the church of Attenborough.

As a fitting memorial to Miss Day, who was a former day school teacher and Superintendent of the Sunday school from 1939 to 1971, a new project was begun for the benefit of children and their teachers within the church. A folding dividing-screen was constructed by John Cawley Ltd at the West end of the church creating a separate room under the tower when needed. At the same time, wheelchair access to a toilet for the disabled was created by knocking a hole through the 3ft thick North West wall into the choir robing room. This was known as the ‘Miss Day Rooms Project’ and cost approx. £25,000 with the initial phase (the doors) being dedicated on the 7th May 1999 by the Rev Frank Beech, first vicar of the single parish of Attenborough. He was invited back from his current parish territory in Worksop for this event commemorating the life and work of Miss Day.

The last attribute to the external appearance of the church was the Millennium clock which was dedicated on 10th December 2000. This was the gift of the late Percy Barsby, a life-long church member and chorister, who lived to the age of 93 years and instructed in his will that £3,000 should be given for this purpose.

A change of dedication did take place during the 20th century possibly during the early 1980s. In the 1979 edition of Pevsner’s architectural descriptions of Nottinghamshire buildings he referred to the church of St Mary Magdalene but soon after this it became known as St Mary the Virgin. According to Pevsner, the most impressive aspect of the church building is the exceptionally tall, circular 13th century piers with capitals in the south aisle which, he said, had been “redone by a 14th century workman” who had portrayed the “fanciful heads, monsters and large leaves.” The church as a whole he says conveys an impression of “largeness” from the interior.

Over the church’s 942-year history it has been served by almost 60 incumbents, an average of 15 years service by each minister.

In 1631 Gervase Dodson, vicar of Attenborough, was, with others, ‘indicted for riotous affray’. This is noted against his name on the listing for the Attenborough Protestation Returns. This implies strong anti-papist feelings in the area prior to the protestations which were signed 3rd May 1641.

The longest serving minister appears to be Henry Watkins who began his service in 1664 and was not succeeded until 1711 by Benjamin Cokayne. There seems to have been a long partnership between Henry Watkins and his faithful parish clerk whose burial entry states that he was buried in 1712 and had been parish clerk “since before the Restoration” (1660) which intimates that he had held office for at least 52 years.

Ministers come and go for various reasons, but one case of unexplained dismissal from the parish was highlighted by the publication of a booklet featuring “sudden removal from the curacy of Attenborough cum Bramcote”. The subject of the booklet is correspondence of 1836 between Rev Thomas Wilkinson, Rev Joseph Shooter, patron Mr Foljambe, Bishop Wilton and Archdeacon Wilkins. It would appear that, having been in service for “nearly half a century”, Rev Wilkinson was left in charge of the parish for a short time after the death of Rev Samuel Turner the vicar of Attenborough in March 1835. Upon the appointment of a new vicar, the Rev Joseph Shooter, a row broke out about who was to have the curacy of the parish. At the first suggestion that he was to be relieved of his post Wilkinson requested Archdeacon Wilkins to allow him to continue at Bramcote. Various reasons were given as to why Mr Wilkinson should not continue his duties at Bramcote, one being the accusations of Sunday service irregularity. He was for some time responsible for services in three different churches and was said to only succeed in holding services at Bramcote at a time when the people were at their dinner tables. Accusations were refuted by Wilkinson and the blame for his dismissal was passed from the vicar, to the archdeacon, to the patron, to the congregation, until finally after his own investigative work Wilkinson discovered that it was possibly due to the general rising intolerance toward families of mixed religion. His wife of 25 years had been a Catholic since before their marriage and he had agreed that the children should be brought up in that religion. It would seem that the arrival of a new vicar was an opportune time to rid the parish of an unorthodox, maybe slightly eccentric, but well-meaning elderly curate. Whatever the reason, Rev Thomas Wilkinson felt that his 45 years of service had been under-valued and even signed one letter to the new vicar as “Your servant under persecution”. The whole episode of letter-writing lasted from May 1835 to June 1836 when it was terminated with a final letter from Archdeacon Wilkins stating that the Archbishop of York had requested that Mr Wilkinson be informed that he had “no just cause for complaint”. Because Wilkinson was never issued with a substantiated reason for his dismissal he published all of the correspondence dealing with this affair in an attempted vindication of his character, and left judgement to his former parishioners.

When a minister leaves a parish without an immediate replacement an Interregnum occurs, a period when the work of the Church continues under the direction of the laity. This was the case both before the appointment, and after the retirement of Rev Barry Dawson who was instituted on 6th April 1989. During the 1990s there was much discussion as to the suitability of the vicarage house which was then on St Mary’s Close. Also discussed was the feasibility of the plans for converting Vale Cottage to a more suitable abode for a vicar, his family and other parish needs. These were scrutinized and eventually passed. Since 1858 Vale Cottage had been the family home of Miss Day the parish clerk. The bequest of the house to the church to the benefit of the parish was made known in November 1992.

On many occasions the residence being offered to the incumbent has proved to be a major obstacle or at least a source of concern, as in 1932 when the vicarage was still situated in Bramcote. The Rev John Buchanan Fraser (1923-39) was endorsing his request for central heating when he pointed out that he had already paid out of his own pocket for various home improvements such as, electric lighting, town water and a new kitchen. His stipend was now reduced to under £400 per year net due to non-augmentation by the patron. Further to his point he added that “my wife is delicate and the proposed heating installation would make tremendous difference to her health and general comfort of the house.” Even in 1832 it is recorded in the Church Enquiry that the Glebe house was too small and that the curate was paying £40 per annum to reside elsewhere in the parish while the Glebe house was being let for £7 per annum.

The first female minister to the parish, the Rev Sue Hemsley, was appointed on 4th April 2000 to become Priest in charge of the parish of Attenborough and part-time Chaplain among the Deaf in the Diocese of Southwell. This concluded the second interregnum during which time the ordained help for the parish came from Rev Anthony Thistleton, Professor of Theology at Nottingham University. He was licensed as Honorary Assistant minister to the parish in 1993. This office had previously been held by the Rev George Carey, before he served a term as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The church at Attenborough has benefitted from many long-serving persons in the past, not only ministers but also churchwardens, parish clerks, and most recently, the church organist Ronald McCurdy Jones who retired on 21st October 2001 after 30 years service. Mr Sidney Oldham, along with Percy Barsby, was one of the longest serving choristers and when he died in 1989 at the age of 92 he had just completed 82 years service in the choir. His friend Percy used the quotation “Well done thou good and faithful servant” in his tribute to Sid. Percy also served over 80 years as a chorister before his death in the year 2000. These are impressive records of church members and similar can be said of so many more throughout the history of Attenborough church.