St John the Baptist


The current building of St John’s church in Clarborough dates no further back than the thirteenth century, but there is reason to believe that a place of worship was present in the parish before this date. Domesday book mentions two mills in Clarborough but does not include a church. We know that a church existed sometime soon after 1119 as some of its income was donated by William de Lovetot to his new priory in Worksop. William’s son Richard went on to donate half of the income from St John’s Clarborough to the new priory c.1160 which may explain why there was little written about the church for the next century, due to its diminished importance.

In 1223/4 a dispute arose over the advowson of St Swithin's chapel East Retford which was claimed by Retford against archbishop Walter de Gray, the archbishop arguing that it lay in Clarborough parish. It transpired that Roger of Pont L'Evique had given it to Clarborough sometime between 1154-1181 when he appointed Elias as clerk to the church, then known as 'Claverburg'.

In 1258, Sewall, Archbishop of York re-founded the church and ordained that the vicar would have the use of toft and croft lying near the churchyard, the tithes of the enclosed crofts of the town, the Bolham mills and the alterage. In return the vicar was in charge of two chaplains who served Clarborough, Welham, Bolham, and Little Gringley and the sacrist was also expected to donate five marks to the poor each year.

The 13th century saw the building of the main church which is present today. The church is on the south side of the village, on the side of a hill and is surrounded by an extensive burial ground. The grounds of the church are said to contain a yew tree which is 1,000 years old. The north arcade dates from this century, which is evident in the circular piers and thin moulded capitals but the south arcade is evidently later, with its octagonal piers. There is a chancel and aisles which are lined with square-headed windows and a nave of unusual width. There is an octagonal font which appears to be early Perpendicular, late 14th century to early 15th century with some Victorian re-tooling. The squat west tower is of the Perpendicular period in a typical style for the area with diagonal buttresses and four pinnacles.

Sewall also at this time gave the church to the Chapel of St Mary and All Angels (sometimes called St Sepulchre's) near the minster in York which had been recently built and needed endowments. At the 1291 taxation of Pope Nicholas IV Clarborough is listed as a prebendal spirituality, or church, of York Minster and William de Clere was the prebendary, no separate valuation however is given.

In 1341, the Nonarum Inquisitiones stated that Clarborough belonged to the chapel of St Sepulchre, York and was therefore not taxed, and the ninths of sheaves, fleeces and lambs of the churches of Clarborough, Welham, and Bolham were not taxed because they were parcels of the chapel of St Sepulchre York worth by true value £14 per annum and no more. Clarborough had an endowment of 60 acres of land worth 60s a year, and the tithes of hay were worth 40 s. Mortuary fees, gifts, and other small tithes were worth 60s a year.

In 1393 the church still formed one of the prebends of the Cathedral of York, at which time Roger de Weston was prebendary but when this was discontinued is unclear and not recorded. In the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI Clarborough is listed under churches that were not subject to taxation so was presumably still attached to York Minster.

At the dissolution of St Mary and All Angels chapel in York in 1550, the patronage of St John’s was passed to the crown and this continued until King James I granted it to the Lord Cavendish in 1617 after which it was passed on to the Earl of Devon in 1620.

The first register at the church was started in 1567 following legislation in the reign of Henry VIII.

In 1603 the churchwardens reported that the steeple 'was in default' (presumably requiring repair). Theer seems to have been some problem with Christenings as in 1608 the churchwardens complained that their parson, Nicholas Watkin, was not using the sign of the cross during baptism; in 1610 they went further, stating that ' Nicholas Watkin, clerk, ... refusing to sign the children with the sign of the cross when they are baptised; the said Nicholas Watkin for not wearing in divine service such a hood as by the orders of his university is agreeable to his degree, being a graduate'; in 1612 they made exactly the same complaint about not using the sign of the cross. in 1635 and 1636 the sum of £3 each year was recorded as expenditure on the church fabric.

In 1743 Archbishop Herring visited St John’s in Clarborough as part of a larger visitation of the area and while there, he recorded some useful information about the position of St John’s within the village at this time. He noted that there were one hundred and eighteen families in the village, of which five were Quakers and four were Roman Catholic and although there was no licensed Quaker meeting house, the number of assemblies and who were teachers was unknown. There was at this time no land left to the church and annually the church distributed 15s 4d to the poor. There was no vicarage; the vicar resided in his own house. Public service was read alternately every Sunday at ten in the morning & three in the afternoon and the vicar catechised every Wednesday and in Lent. The sacrament was administrated 6 times a year and there were about 100 communicants, sixty generally at Easter, but the previous Easter there were seventy received. Everyone who attended the church was baptised at this time.

In 1764 the vicar, Charles Cartwright, recorded for Archbishop Drummond’s visitation that there were about 200 families in the parish, of which one was a Quaker family. He lived in the parsonage house and celebrated Holy Communion four times a year.

Throsby commented in the 1790s that the Church had a squat tower, with three bells, and was dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

The interior of the church was renovated in 1825 with new pews being installed and a gallery erected at the west end of the church.

In the 1820s the Rev. Joshua Flint, the vicar at Clarborough, was ageing and the popular curate, the Rev. Joshua Brooks, was favoured among some to take over from Flint. Brook’s family and friends set about purchasing the advowson of Clarborough from the Duke of Devonshire for £1,800. Richard Woodhouse therefore became the patron of the church and their intention was that Brooks would take over at Clarborough once the position was vacant, which he did in 1828.

In the early 1820s a problem became apparent in Clarborough as St John’s was not easily accessible for the southern side of the parish was nearer to Retford. The decision was taken to build a chapel of ease to serve this area, and St Saviour’s Retford was opened in 1829. Also, a vicarage was built next to St Saviour’s and the vicar at Clarborough moved his residence to this house. This was a discharged vicarage, and did not have to pay first fruits.

The 1851 religious census recorded a great deal about St John’s. At this time, the population was 2,504 with 1,269 females and 1,235 males. The church had £81 of land endowed to it and £120 in tithe income. There were 100 free seats in the church and there were 100 people attending Sunday afternoon services with an additional 44 Sunday scholars attending. On average, over a 12 month period, there were 60 attending the congregation and 34 Sunday scholars. There was only one service each Sunday in the parish church (but two each Sunday at St Saviour’s, so that there were three full services a day in the parish altogether). The service in the parish church was always in the afternoon except on the last Sunday in the month where there was a service in the morning at which the sacrament was distributed. Clarborough also had at this time a small Methodist society population of 100.

In 1857 the vicar, the Rev Charles Vere Hodge, applied to the Bishop of Lincoln for a two-year leave of absence so he could join his wife who had left to stay with relatives in New Zealand. Permission was granted and Hodge travelled to New Zealand in late 1856 but by July 1859 a 'monition' had been issued requiring Hodge to appear before the Bishop to explain why he was still absent from his living after the two years had elapsed. Hodge travelled back to England on the Royal Charter which was wrecked near Moelfre, Angelsey, during a storm on 25-26 October 1859. His body was not recovered.

Sketch of the church prior
to the 1873-4 restoration

Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church in 1869 when he recorded that the church had clerestoried nave with north and south aisles, a chancel, a south porch and a western tower. He disliked the porch, ‘an ugly one of brick’, as well as the schoolroom, ‘an ugly modern building on the north side of the Chancel. The whole church is in poor condition and has a neglected look’.

Glynne’s conclusion was probably accurate because in 1873-4 the church underwent a thorough restoration (Pevsner uses the term ‘over-restoration’). The work cost £2,000, which was raised by subscription, and the architect was James Fowler of Louth. The nave and chancel were rebuilt and re-roofed and a new organ chamber and instrument on the south side of the chancel was added. It was also refitted with open benches which led to a great reduction in the number of seats. The 1851 census mentions 400 seats but in Kelly’s Directory in 1922 it states there are 259. The church was reopened by the Bishop of Nottingham on 8 October 1874.

In 1897 the entrance to the church was altered as a lych-gate was erected by Emily Garland in memory of her uncle, William Birks.

Kelly’s Directory of Nottinghamshire (1922) mentions the church plate which includes a silver chalice of ancient date, presented by the late Robert Mower esq. of Woodseats and Unstone Manor, Derbyshire.  

In 1929 the church celebrated its centenary and a cake was made which exactly resembled the church.

In 1934 the benefices of Clarborough and Hayton were united by Order-in-Council.

In 1934 a pinnacle fell through the roof of the church.

A major refurbishment of the interior took place during 2015-6 when the existing floor in the nave and aisles was replaced with a limestone flags and tiles and an underfloor heating system was installed. The work also including adding a new disabled toilet and refreshment area, new seating and exterior and interior lighting.