St Paul


Today Carlton is a suburb on the eastern edge of Nottingham, but for centuries it was a separate settlement, a small village near the River Trent. The village was mentioned in Domesday Book (as “Carentune”) and so has had a long history. From an ecclesiastical perspective however it was of little interest. No local lord or bishop is known to have built a church in the village and its inhabitants relied instead on the surrounding settlements, particularly the church of All Hallows in Gedling.

The church of St Paul’s was built near the end of the 19th century. By this time the Industrial Revolution had occurred, population levels had increased and Nottingham had expanded as far out as Carlton, which was itself growing rapidly. It was clear that the current situation of sharing a church with Gedling was not only becoming unfeasible but was also disrespectful of Carlton’s new status.

In 1879 it is recorded that a bell was provided for Carlton, but this was evidently for a church that preceded the present building, about which nothing is known.

The result was the creation of a new parish in 1883, named Carlton-in-the-Willows to distinguish it from the other parishes of the same name in the county.

The new parish was carved entirely out of the parish of Gedling and contained all the land that had historically belonged to Carlton, making the new benefice worth £350 per annum at its creation.

The Reverend Allan George Munro Meugens was instituted as the first rector in the same year. However, the new parish lacked a church of its own. The man who was instrumental in remedying this was Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, fourth Earl of Carnarvon. A leading Conservative politician, the Earl of Carnarvon was the patron of Gedling parish and so became Carlton’s patron as well when the two were split apart. A devout man, he was quick to offer to fund the construction of a new parish church for Carlton. He would eventually spend £10,000 on the new church, while the local parishioners donated a further £700-800. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, while not helping to pay for the church, did give £1,500 for the construction of a rectory to go with it.

The Earl of Carnarvon was a firm Anglo-Catholic – a group that favours the Roman Catholic aspects of the Church of England over its Protestant influences – as well as a frequent traveller to Europe, and this clearly influenced the design of the new church. Rather than a more traditional building of gothic architecture the new church was to be a large Romanesque Basilica in the Lombardic style.

The architect who designed the church was W A Combs of London while the building work was begun by Parkinsons of London in 1884. They constructed the chancel and two bays of the nave before work had to cease.

Many of the locals assumed or feared that money for the church had run out. In fact, however, the money simply could not be accessed as the Earl of Carnarvon was out of the country and had not made provision for this eventuality. The result was that the church remained incomplete for several years – why it took so long for the Earl to correct his error is unknown. The first portions were consecrated by the Bishop of Southwell on 5 May, 1885 and were usable as a functional place of worship with the addition of some corrugated iron sheets to fill the gaps.

The church remained partially built for several years until finally the Earl returned to England and work began again early in 1890. The builder was Thomas Fish of Nottingham. Although the church was completed by the end of the year this proved tragically too late for the man who had brought about its construction, as the Earl died in June 1890. A memorial chapel to the Earl was included on one side of the nave.

The church was consecrated as a complete structure on 24 February 1891 at a dedication ceremony. The Earl had wished to dedicate the new church to the memory of his first wife, Lady Evelyn Stanhope, who died in 1875, and a memorial plaque was unveiled by their daughter Lady Winifred Gardner (wife of MP Mr Herbert Gardner) with the dedication to Lady Evelyn on it. A second memorial tablet, this time to the Earl himself, was erected in the south aisle. It had been given by the parishioners of Carlton.

The church’s congregation had also donated the oak choir stalls, marble steps and a marble lectern-stand to help furnish the church. The Earl’s second wife, Elizabeth Catherine Howard, placed a massive wrought-iron hanging cross in the chancel, and a statue of St Paul in the west gable, in memory of the Earl. One of the western turrets contained a bell, given by the late Reverend Kirke Swann.

More unusually, a carved oak doorway was given to the church by the vicar and churchwardens of St Giles in Cripplegate, London. The doorway itself had come from the church of St Bartholemew, situated near the London Exchange. Why this door was donated and why it did not come directly from the rector of St Bartholemew are interesting questions, but unfortunately the answers are not known.

The new church proved popular from the beginning and services were well attended. The parishioners also continued to support their church with donations, which proved useful.

At Bishop Ridding's visitation in 1892 he mentions Carlton-in-the-Willows as one of eleven churches that had been new built, or substantially altered, in the four years since his last Visitation, as to need consecration.

The choir stalls built during the original construction were inadequate – too small for the size of the choir. So in 1904 with the help of the parishioners, who raised £150, new and larger oak stalls were installed in the church. A Holy Table, also of oak, was added at the same time. It had been made for the church by local craftsmen. Both were dedicated in a ceremony led by the Bishop of Southwell again.

In 1907 the new district church of St Michael and All Angels was built in Carlton. It was attached to St Paul’s and no doubt allowed more of the large population of the parish to attend services.

The Rev Lewis Verey MA became rector of St Paul’s in 1911.

The next year a visitation by the Bishop of Southwell meant he had to report on the status of his parish. His report tells us that there were 8,276 people living in the parish at the time, while the church itself could only seat 650. The church schools were well attended – 374 in the day school and 436 in the Sunday school, and church duties were in similar demand – in the past year 145 baptisms and 40 confirmations had been performed. The rectory of Carlton was worth £450 by then, and the Reverend L Verey was assisted in his duties by a curate, A W Macmichael.

As was the case in other churches the Great War, 1914-1918, prompted a memorial to be set up in the church. Two marble slabs, which were placed inside the church, and a memorial listing all those parishioners who died during the war.

By 1928 the church seems to have begun to deteriorate as it had to put in a request for funds to pay for restoration. An application was made for the Living Agent grant for 1928 but Carlton was not one of those chosen to receive assistance – there were a lot of churches making applications at the time and too little money to spread between them. Soon after fundraising efforts began including a request for donations in the diocesan magazine, which said the church hoped to raise £100.

During the early 1930s the patronage of the church, which had remained in the hands of the Earl of Carnarvon’s successors, now passed into other hands. The church was offered the chance to buy the patronage themselves for £300, but it was deemed beyond the power of the church to raise the money by the rector, the Reverend H. R. Yeo. Instead, therefore, it became administered by the Martyrs Memorial Trust of the Church Pastoral Aid Society.

The Reverend Fisher Ferguson became rector of Carlton St Paul’s in 1933, moving there from Hyson Green. He was much loved by the parish during his tenure, which continued through the dark years of World War II, and he oversaw many efforts on behalf of the church in this period.

In 1935 the church celebrated its Golden Jubilee with a special service. The Bishop of Southwell visited the church and attended an early Eucharist. Later he preached at Matins. Around this time the Reverend Fisher Ferguson also made a plea in the parish magazine for the creation of a Fabric Fund of £100. He believed the time was approaching when various parts of the church would need repairing and restoring and wished to have the funds to do so in preparation. No doubt the previous incumbent’s efforts in 1928 will have been at the front of his mind when Ferguson began his own attempts to restore the church.

The need for such a fund apparently soon became clear, as only a couple of years later attempts were being made to repair the organ. In May 1937 efforts were being made to raise £850, the expected cost for the repair work. A friend of the rector’s had kindly given a cheque for £500 thus covering most of the costs but only another £100 had been raised at that point. Thankfully the rest of the money must have been raised as later that year a new organ was dedicated on 30 September by the Bishop of Southwell, visiting the church again. The new organ included parts of the old but had been heavily rebuilt by E Wragg and Son of Nottingham. The rebuilt organ remains in use in the church in the early 21st century.

That same year also saw celebrations in the village, and across the land, for the coronation of King George VI. A united service was held at the church, led by both Ferguson and the Methodist ministers, C. Garrett Udy and Iram Wall. These latter two read the lesson and preached the sermon respectively for the service. Amongst the large congregation attending the church was the Urban Council and members of other public bodies.

In 1940 the Mother’s Union donated a woven carpet to the church, to be used to cover the chancel and sanctuary. It was dedicated to the Reverend F Ferguson, who called it an act of love and said that such gifts were a driving force in the Christian Church.

During the Reverend Fisher Ferguson’s time as rector the church was given several more modern additions as technological advances began to be used more and more. In 1938 the lighting within the church was converted from gas to electricity. At the same time microphones and loudspeakers began to be used to help. Then, after World War II, a broadcasting system with amplifiers and speakers was installed in the church in 1945, paid for by the people of Carlton, especially Mrs Coutts-Woods and also Mr J.D. Player, as a memorial to those who had died in the war.

The system could be used to broadcast the sound of the bells across the village and the rector soon began to use the system for that for five minutes every day. Unfortunately this did not prove popular with everyone – local railwaymen working along the Carlton stretch of the line complained about the noise keeping them awake (the bells were rung in early evening but the railwaymen’s shift work meant their hours of sleep were often different).

The broadcast of the bells was soon declared illegal under a local by-law. However Ferguson refused to back down and appealed against the verdict. He won his appeal after bringing in other villagers as witnesses and making it clear that the sound of the bells was not disrupting life across the village and that only a tiny proportion of people had found the sound to be a problem. Although he won the appeal he did compromise by reducing the time for which the bells were broadcast each day.

Ferguson resigned in 1948. However, his successor the Reverend E. Morris Jones quickly continued the modernisation of the church, putting much effort into improving the lighting. Fundraising efforts raised the £640 needed, through a mix of donations and social events, and work began. The upgrades to the lights were completed in 1954. Ferguson did not forget the church and parish he had spent so many years with and in 1959 he donated a silver chalice and paten to St Paul’s in memory of his wife.

Until the 1950s it was customary for the church to have a curate assisting the rector but this practice appears to have ceased during this decade. The size of the parish, which by then had a population of over 13,000, meant the absence of a curate was sorely felt, and several requests were made to have a new curate appointed. None of these requests seem to have been heeded. The house used as a residence by previous curates, which had been given by Mrs Blackburn of Gedling, eventually had to be sold off and the proceeds were put into a trust fund for any future curate to use.

In 1977 the old rectory, a large structure next to the church, was taken down and replaced with a more modern building. The original rectory had been too old and was no longer practical as a family home for the rectors of Carlton. The extensive grounds it used to possess had also been sold off to be converted into housing. Around this time the northern side of the church was also cleared and stone chippings were laid to create a car park.

A few years later it was the church’s turn to have work done on it, after a diocesan report revealed several deficiencies in its state of repair. The work to correct these began in 1981 and included new guttering on the roof, made of aluminium to replace the cast iron ones the church had originally been built with. The replacements cost £1,700. A further £5,000 was spent on the materials to renew much of the interior decorations, although rising costs meant the uppermost reaches of the interior had to be left alone. Soon after work was complete, the church witnessed celebrations in 1983 as the 4th Carlton St Paul’s Own Scout Group celebrated its Golden Jubilee.

However, to an increasing number of parishioners the church needed more than just restoration work. The huge interior space of the church was considered underused. Meanwhile with church attendance in the decline an increasing emphasis was being placed on parish churches to be community centres as well. Plans for a redesign of St Paul’s were first drawn up in 1987. The nave was to be split in two using a moveable screen, allowing one half to be used for other things. The altar would also swap ends of the church to assist the redesign. The extra space would be used for a lounge and coffee room and a mezzanine second floor was to be added with more meeting rooms.

The scheme was ambitious but as a result also very expensive, much more so than any other work that St Paul’s had ever had done. It wouldn’t be until the 21st century that work finally began. In the meantime extensive and continuous fund raising efforts were made. By 1999, over a decade later, £240,000 had been raised from selling the church hall to developers to be turned into a supermarket, while local fundraisers had gathered another £30,000. Unfortunately this was still far short from the estimated £2.4 million needed. The rector at the time, the Reverend Jack Mcginley, was not discouraged however, saying that 'I am confident we will raise this cash. After all, God’s got all the money; it’s just in other people’s pockets.' A proposal to seek lottery funding had been made but was declined, as the church felt it was associated too heavily with gambling.

By 2001 the total raised had gone up to £500,000 and by 2004 the decision was made to begin the rebuilding. The work took over two years to complete, with a lot of the work done by volunteers from the parish as well as by professional builders. Since the first design proposals in 1987 some changes to the plans had occurred, but the basic idea was still reflected in the final design. During the redevelopment work regular services were held at Carlton’s Methodist church instead.

The redesigned church of St Paul’s still had the nave split into two, although rather than a moveable screen it was a more permanent division of glass windows between the pillars. The main area of the nave was still to be used for services and so kept the pews. The other part contains a kitchen and other facilities, along with a social area, and is now called the Carnarvon Centre. It is used as a community centre, for parties, social events and church gatherings, and can seat about 40 people. The front door of St Paul’s was also redesigned. Previously a large doorway in the same grand Romanesque style as the rest of the church it was deemed a bit too imposing, especially for new visitors, and was replaced with a new entrance intended to appear more welcoming. The planned upper floor was not built however due to lack of funds and remains on the drawing board for the church in 2014.

In 2015 the church remains an important part of the local community. Its rector, the Rev Brian Hall, holds services every week. For several years his sermons were recorded and made available to the public on the church website and on CDs available from St Paul’s itself, and in 2011 the church started its own Facebook page, both a demonstration of religion and technology working together.

The Carnarvon Centre continues to be heavily used, with parties, group meetings and other events occurring regularly. Unfortunately during 2013 the big west window had to be boarded up for safety reasons. Fundraising is continuing to raise the £10,000 needed to repair it.