St Peter


The village of Awsworth sits near the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, to the west of Nottingham. It has a population of over 2,000 people and a history dating back many centuries. The village was likely founded by the Saxons, under the name Ealdeswyrthe, but remained a small rural settlement until the 17th century, when it became involved in the glassmaking industry. A century later and the coal mines began to be sunk and the population increased. No church is known before the 18th century in Awsworth; local people had to travel to Nuthall, to worship in the parish church of St Patrick. However, Lenton Priory held interests in the village, and in 1317 an inspeximus of earlier charters noted several additional benefactions including land at Awsworth which by the time of the Dissolution under Henry VIII was yielding a clear annual value of 13s 4d.

The first church of St Peter was built in 1746. It had been commissioned by Richard Smedley of Risley, who owned collieries at Awsworth. Smedley was known for his charity work. This included setting up a charity of £5 per annum for the teaching of poor children in Awsworth, as well as several almshouses, and it seems likely that his sponsorship of a new church was out of genuine concern for the needs of the villagers (though perhaps avoiding having his miners exhausted by walks to Nuthall on their rest day was also in his thoughts). Smedley also appointed the first vicar, a man named William Wright, and provided two of his own estates – at Osmaston, Derbyshire, and Whitwick, Leicestershire – for the maintenance of the vicar. He also set up a fund to pay 40s per annum for the repair of the church when needed. Not long after its creation, the patronage of the church passed to Harry, the 4th Earl of Stamford, who owned much of the land around the village.

The original church was a squat, plain, oblong construction of brick, with a tiled roof and a small wood cupola containing a single bell. It was built on the site of an old tithe barn (where the village’s tithes were stored). It had a chancel and nave and could seat around 200 people. As a chapel-of-ease, it was subordinate to the parish church at Nuthall. Soon after its construction, in 1749, the church received £300 from Queen Anne’s Bounty – a fund set up to support poorer churches – to help maintain its curacy. Many years later, in 1793, the Bounty granted it another £200 by lot for its augmentation.

The chapel continued to serve the village for the next 150 years, even as the village itself grew from around two hundred people in the early 19th century to around 1,500 inhabitants by the end of the century. The chapel’s curacy also grew in value to match this, from being worth around £50 to around £200 in value. The Earls of Stamford continued as patrons of the church until 1883, when the 7th Earl died and the rights passed to his niece Mrs Arthur Duncombe (the earldom itself went to his third cousin once removed).

On 7 February 1890 a new vicar was inducted. The Reverend Vincent Joseph Higgins was to prove one of the most influential vicars on the history of Awsworth and its church, thanks to his great enthusiasm and dedication to improving the lot of the villagers. He spent much of his time as vicar involved in fund raising efforts and using the money raised on several projects. His initial efforts during the final decade of the century resulted in the construction of a new mission room and Sunday School. In 1892 the Bishop of Southwell visited the village to consecrate an addition to the churchyard and to watch the laying of the foundation stone for the joint mission room and Sunday School by Mr Robert Holden of Nuthall Temple. The additional land added to the churchyard, about one acre, and the land on which the mission room had been purchased, another one and a half acres, were both purchased from a Mrs Martha Lund, widow of the Reverend Samuel Lund, vicar of Awsworth 1842-66. Around the same time the vicar began to charge 10s for people to secure particular burial plots, presumably as a way of raising funds.

However, in the vicar’s eyes there was a much more important matter to attend to, namely the replacement of the church itself. The growth in the population of the village had left the small church completely inadequate to meet the needs of its parishioners, and the building of the mission room and parish hall, while a help, had not completely solved the problem. At some point in the late 1890s the vicar began to plan a new church, as well as to raise the money to sponsor its construction. He also purchased a plot of land adjacent to the current churchyard, at a cost of £250, on which to build.

The planned new church building was to be built partly over the site of the old one, with a new nave and chancel to replace the old ones. A square tower was to be built on the west side as well. However when construction began in 1901 it was on a much more reduced scale because the vicar had been unable to raise sufficient funds for the entire construction. The tower had to be omitted and the revised plans made use of one end of the existing structure to act as a temporary chancel, with the intention of returning to build a new chancel when more money could be raised. As it turned out a ‘few years’ became closer to sixty years.

Nonetheless the new building was much larger than the original, and able to seat about 250 people. This was perhaps half of the vicar’s original vision, but was still significantly more than the old church had been able to seat. The new church of St Peter was built in Gothic style, in brick with a stone dressing (as all stone would have been too expensive), the architects being Naylor and Sale of Derby. The new nave connected to the old chancel, and was designed so a tower and side aisle could be added at a later date. Meanwhile the church’s bell was contained, not in the planned tower, but in a small bell turret. Part of the old schoolroom contained in the old church was converted into a vestry and an organ chamber was built on the north side.

The interior of the church was also refurnished, with many new pieces being given by local residents and other benefactors. A chalice and paten was given by a former vicar, the Reverend Michael Terry. Another chalice and a flagon were given by the Reverend Vincent Higgin’s wife and her sisters. A brass bookstand was given by the vicar of nearby Ilkeston, a brass pulpit by the architects themselves and a brass lectern from some of the vicar’s relatives. The choir stalls and the pulpit were decorated by the vicar’s sister-in-law, Frideswide Worthington, who was a skilled woodcarver.

The rebuilding efforts were expensive, costing £2,000 in total, and various efforts were made to raise the money. Some was given by the local parishioners, and the church received support from the Bishop of Southwell. However, Awsworth at this time lacked a wealthy landowner who could provide a sizeable donation. By the time church construction had finished and the Bishop of Southwell visited the village once again to consecrate the new building, only £1,165 had been raised.

During the consecration ceremony the donation plate was passed around and, when it was returned to the Reverend Vincent Higgins, he was astonished to see that the collection plate contained an amazing £859 6s 4d. £59 6s 4d had been given by the parishioners and visitors and an anonymous donor had given £800 in bank notes, enough to complete the building. The anonymous donation was the talk of the village for some time and there was unsurprisingly much speculation over who the mysterious donor was. It is now believed however that it was none other than Frideswide Worthington, the vicar’s sister-in-law, the woman who had carved the decorations into the pulpit.

Higgins, who had fought so hard to improve the church, retired a couple of years later in 1904, ‘owing to the broken down condition of the house I live in’. He had been hoping to raise the money for a new vicarage too but had realised he would never manage it. It is likely too that he had been aware, or had later realised, where the £800 donation had come from and was somewhat disappointed that so much had had to be raised by him and his family’s efforts. He died seven years after retiring.

In 1910 the old bell turret was dismantled and replaced with a new one built at the other (east) end of the church, and a new bell was added. The new bell was given by the Towson family and donated in memory of their parents. The old bell, which may have been the original bell from 1746, seems to have disappeared at some point during the building works. It may have been melted down and used to help produce the new bell. The new bell was rung for the first time to mark the death of King Edward VII.

In 1912 the Bishop of Southwell, Edwyn Hoskyns, made a parochial visit to the various deaconries in his diocese. The Reverend Larret Pearson Sayles, the vicar of Awsworth, sent in a report on the state of his living, which was worth £200 per annum at this time. There were 320 people enrolled in the Sunday School, and the vicar had performed 26 baptisms and 8 confirmations in the previous year.

During the First World War the mission room was used as a venue for the Comfort Fund Dances. These were intended to raise money to send parcels of food and woollen clothing to the troops in France. Like most churches Awsworth St Peter had a war memorial constructed. Sponsored and built by the parishioners it was constructed in the churchyard and lists all the men of Awsworth who gave their lives during the course of the war. It was unveiled in 1920 by Lieutenant Colonel Terry, the son of the former vicar, the Reverend Michael Terry.

By 1922 the church’s value had gone up to £298 per annum, some of which came from the 40 acres of glebe land that were attached to the vicarage. The church was by this time patronised by Mrs Katherine Grey, with the Reverend L. P. Sayles still as the vicar.

Sayles served as vicar for over thirty years until 1942. However his departure resulted in a period where Awsworth had no vicar, likely because of the disruptions of the Second World War. It wasn’t until 1947 that a replacement was found, the Reverend Herbert Hobson. In the intervening five years the village services were taken by M R Womack of Nuthall.

Hobson continued as vicar until 1958. One particular story from his time, often told by his son Philip, tells of an old lady who lived in the village in a cottage next to the churchyard. Whenever there was a funeral the bell was rung and the lady had the habit of peering over the churchyard wall to watch the funeral, an activity that rather concerned the vicar who felt it might be disturbing to the bereaved families. After attempts to reason with the lady failed he rang the bell one time, as though for a funeral, then hid behind the churchyard wall, waited for her to look over and popped up in front of her, no doubt giving her a bit of a fright. It apparently worked as no further mention is made of the lady continuing to watch the funerals.

It was also the Reverend Herbert Hobson who managed to raise the money needed to rebuild the chancel. Earlier efforts by the vicar and local villagers had seen the church renovated in 1950, with a series of eight new windows added to the building, and a new vicarage was finally built in 1953. £4,713 was raised from coffee mornings, donations, gift days and similar community events for the new chancel. The new chancel was built in 1957; the old structure that had only meant to be a temporary structure at the beginning of the century was taken down. A copy of both the Ilkeston Advertiser and Ilkeston Pioneer were buried in the foundations of the new chancel, as a kind of time capsule.

By this time Awsworth, which had previously been attached to Nuthall parish, had been joined to Cossall instead in 1953. These two churches have continued together since and at the beginning of the 21st century were both joined with Trowell to form a joint benefice.

In the 1970s the old choir stalls were removed and the pulpit was taken down and reconstructed as a mobile one. In 1995 the church hall, built in 1894, was demolished. It had become expensive to maintain and was very damp. The same year the back of the church and the side rooms were rearranged and some of the events that had been held in the church hall – such as community meetings – were now moved to the refurbished rooms.

The church has continued to be improved or renovated in the past few years. A new ‘Prayer’ section was created on one side of the church in 2011, providing an additional area parishioners could visit for quiet prayer sessions. The room included a painting by the artist Shuna George, depicting a rising eagle. In 2012 the old organ, which had originally been made for Gotham Methodist Church before being relocated to Awsworth, was found to be in too poor a condition to be maintained without great expense. The organ was removed.