St Mary


In the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) the village of Clifton belonged to Gode the Countess (or Countess Gytha), wife of Earl Ralph of Hereford, nephew of King Edward. Although Domesday Book of 1086 registers the fact that there was ‘a priest and a church’ in the village, there is no evidence to accurately date the introduction of a church, but the entry shows that it was clearly in existence at this date. At this time the chief Clifton, Alveredus, (there are various spellings of this name) held a very responsible position as warden of Nottingham Castle and was Lord of the Manor of Wilford, but not yet of Clifton.

It is recorded by Thoroton that, after Gode the Countess, the son of William I, William Peverell had two carucates in demesne, four soke, 19 villages, eight bordar. Having nine carucates. According to Domesday in the Confessor’s time the value was £16; in the Conqueror’s time this had decreased to £9.

The land passed through the possession of Gerbode de Eschaud, Gerard de Rodes and Ralph de Rodes. His son, Gerard, Lord of Melles granted the manors of Clifton and Wilford, and the services of the freeholders and villains there and at Barton to Sir Gervase de Clifton in 1186, whose name was coupled with that of Glapton (the original name of the village was Clifton cum Glapton).

In 1241 Archbishop Walter Gray reserved the right of ordaining a vicarage at Clifton whilst instituting William de Rodes, clerk, there.

Archbishop Walter Giffard, in April 1268, issued an order to H. de Corebridge, his official, to sequestrate the fruits of the church, the custody of which and of the presentee had been assumed by Master Gregory de Hugate without the archbishop's licence, who was to answer for the fruits of the same to the archbishop. As the archbishop wished to favour the presentee, the custody was committed to the charge of John de Bocking', clerk. De Huggate was also ordered to appear before the archbishop's official at Southwell to answer for the fruits he had received. Later the same year the custody of the church was awarded to John de Bocking instead of to Henry de Branteston. Also in the same year archbishop Giffard removed the relaxation of the sequestration of Clifton church, previously made on the grounds on non-residence.

In 1281 Edward I confirmed the manors of Clifton and Wilford to Sir Gervase Clifton, Knight, who was Sheriff of Nottingham and Derby in the years 1281, 1285, and 1292, following a further acquisition made by purchase from the de Rodes family. The property remained in the hands of the Clifton family for the next 700 years.

The taxation roll of Pope Nicholas IV gives the value of the church at £30 in 1291 and in 1341, the church at Clifton was taxed in the Nonæ Rolls on a clear annual value of £30. This comprised the ninths of sheaves, lambs and their fleeces which were worth 32 marks (£21 6s. 8d.), 6 bovates and 6 acres of land yielding 4 marks (£2 13. 4d.) and 20s., the tithe of hay which was worth 20s., and altar dues worth 6 marks (£4).

The nature of any pre-Norman building has not been definitively identified but Gill postulated that, since the tower is not square, it stands on the lines of the earlier building. From this he drew the conclusion that the Saxon building [if it existed] ‘...consisted of an oblong nave, a square chancel and a low tower set in the midst, after the well-known manner of pre-Norman churches, and this primitive plan formed the nucleus around which developments were added through consecutive centuries, until the simple parallelogram grew into a cross’

Gill also suggests that in the 12th century the nave was first widened. He concludes this from the fact that the pillars on the north side bear all the hallmarks of the mid to late 12th century.

The next phase of building appears to have taken place in the mid 13th century, when the nave was lengthened.

1339 saw the raising of the tower and the installation of bells by Sir Gervase Clifton and Lady Isabella.

Cross on the
west gable

Around the time of the Black Death in 1348/9 the nave walls were raised and the clerestory installed. The Crucifixion Cross on the west gable was erected and is still in place today. It is considered to be the only original one remaining in situ in the country. At the same time the Mass sundials (later missed by Oliver Cromwell’s army) were traced on to the south transept wall.

In 1349, the Jury ‘found it not to the King’s nor any other loss, if he granted unto Gervase de Clifton Chivaler, Licence to give eleven messuages, five virgates, and one bovate of land in Stanton-on-the-Wold and Clifton, and the advowson of Stanton to three Chaplains, daily celebrating Divine Service in the Church of St. Mary of Clifton, by Nott. For the good Estate of him the said Gervase and Isabel his wife’. Following the setting up of this chantry, transepts were constructed due to the need to set up the chantry altar.

In 1428 Clifton was in Bingham deanery according to the taxation of Henry IV in that year when the subsidy (10% of value) was set at 60s. (i.e. the clear annual value was still £30). A further licence was granted by Edward IV in 1476 to Sir Robert Clifton and his son and heir, Gervase, to enlarge the original chantry and to found a college in the chapel of the Holy Trinity within the parish church of St. Mary at Clifton. This license gave permission to provide a warden and two chaplains to celebrate Mass daily ‘for the good estate of his lord King Edward and Queen Elizabeth his consort and for the souls of Sir Robert, his wife, Alice and his heir Gervase’. The annual value of this chantry, according to the Valor Ecclesiasticus, was £20 2s. 6d. This was apportioned between John Fynnes the warden, and John Hemsell and Thomas Rustyn, both chantry priests. Additionally the Prior of Lenton paid £10 annually to the warden of Clifton College, to pray for the souls of Wiliam Booth, formerly Archbishop of York, and Sir Gervase Clifton. Following the suppression of chantries by Edward VI through an Act of Parliament passed in 1547, an official review indicated that they possessed lands, tenements and other possessions in the county of Nottingham to the value of £21 6s. 10d. per annum (also the value given for Clifton rectory in the Valor Ecclesiasticus), and the proceeds were shared between the three men for their personal use. Sir Gervase Clifton, who died in 1491, left a detailed will directing that he should be buried ' ... in the parishe church of oure Lady of Clifton beside Notingham'. He made numerous bequests including that 'goodes be emploied and spended for the reparacion and wele of his [the late archbishop Laurence Booth] chauntre and chapell at Southwell by my executours...' He also required that his 'feoffes yat they make a sufficient estate unto my son Roberte, for terme of his lyve, of ye maner of Clifton wt th' appurtennance, and also ofth' advosones of the churches of Wilforde, Broghton, Claypoll; and of the hospitall of Blith: ye remayne of theyme to my heires...' He does not seem to have made any special bequests to the church at Clifton, though he does acknowledge that he owed the parson 10 marks (£6 13s. 4d.) which was to be paid by his executors, as well as bequeathing 'a white coloured pece' (a cup, especially a wine-cup; a dish or bowl (used as a drinking-vessel)).

On 8 May 1553 the Church Goods Commissioners placed in the custody of Edmund Thyrland, parson, and the churchwardens of Clifton, ‘on challes of sylver with a paten for the addmynystracon of the holy comunyon. As also too bells of on accord. And a lyttel bell hanging in the Stepyll’.

The north transept was rebuilt to house the chapel of the Holy Trinity and was used as the Clifton family’s mausoleum until 1632, at which time a great vault was built on the south side of the chancel by Sir Gervase Clifton, grandson of Sir Gervase the Gentle.

In 1503 the chancel roof was renewed by the then Rector, the Rev. Robert Yole whose name and portrait may be seen on the woodwork, facing east at the top of the chancel arch, signifying that he possibly paid for the work from his own funds. He was instituted to the Rectory of Clifton on 18 May 1479 and is credited with playing a major part in Nottingham’s public affairs.

In 1596 the churchwardens presented that: 'Mr Bacon, parson, is a preacher and observes the form and order of the Book of Common Prayer'.

Repairs were being carried out to the church in 1603 as the churchwardens admonished Jarvis Thorpe, William Cole, and Francis Wallis of Barton in the parish of Clifton, 'for not bringing stone with their carts to mend the church walls of Clyfton as the rest of the parish did, having warning by the churchwardens'. They also reported Mr Bacon (presumably their parson), 'for spoiling the revestry'.

Further repairs to the church appear to have been carried out in 1619 as, in the following year, the churchwardens presented 'Francis Wallis of Garbarthorpe in the parish of Cliftone, for denying to pay a lay made on 13 June 1619 for the repair of the parish church'.

Henry Bacon, the parson, was in trouble again in 1622 when the churchwardens reported him for: 'not preaching the word of God on some Sundays or holy days quarterly during this last year'. But Mr Bacon then had his say, presenting that: 'the Books of Common Prayer are not in prose and metre, "but the one halfe of the one doth want"; the steeple wants pointing, the bells and bell ropes are out of repair, also the church floors want paving; the revestry is ready to fall; we cannot go on the perambulation as in times past we have done; Richard James and John Kyrke are presented for neglecting their office [of churchwarden] at the visitation, for their causes going before; the churchyard fence is out of repair'.

In 1743 the Visitation return for Archbishop Herring detailed that there were 65 families in the parish of whom nine were 'reputed Papists'. The return was compiled by the curate, William Clifton, as: 'Doctor Standfast, the Rector of this Parish, resides at Bath, on account of a Stroak of the Palsey'. Public Service was performed twice on Sundays with morning prayer every Wednesday and Friday during Lent.

The Visitation return for Archbishop Drummond in 1764 was reported by the rector, Abel Collin Launder, who stated that that there were about 74 houses and no more than 6 persons who were dissenters 'who style themselves Roman Catholics'. There was an Alms House, or hospital, endowed by Dr Wells, and whose management was left to the family of Sr Gervase Clifton. The rector resided in the parsonage house and performed divine service twice on Sundays.

Sanctuary tiles

By 1846 the church had fallen into 'a state of extreme dilapidation' and there were serious structural problems with the tower and the arches which bore its weight. Messrs Cottingham & Son of London were brought in to restore the church and in addition to correcting the problems with the tower they restored the external fabric, the roofs, provided new seating and other furniture, and laid encaustic tiles (from Chamberlain & Co. in Worcester) bearing the arms and monogram of the Clifton family throughout the church. The tiles in the sanctuary represent the story of the Passion. At each side of the central area are tiles with the fleur de lis and the rose, representing the Virgin Mary.

Restoration work on the church was carried out by Charles Hodgson Fowler from 1873-4.

Further restoration work in 1884 concentrated on the chancel and was supervised by the London-based architect, W. F. Bodley. According to a contemporary newspaper report 'the work embraced the painting of the roof, the laying of the floor with tiles, and the erection of a beautiful reredos, one of the finest of the kind in the district.'

In 1965 George Pace, an architect from York, was appointed to carry out the quinquennial inspection and to prepare a scheme for the restoration of the church that was considered to be urgently required. The inspection confirmed the view that the church had been allowed to deteriorate to a very poor condition. Consequently, major restoration work commenced in the same year and continued until 1983. The work began with repairs to the church tower that was in a parlous state and continued with repairs to the gutters, parapets, gargoyles and grotesques, dismantling and restoration of the family tombs of the Clifton family, remedial work on the chancel and nave roofs, replacement of badly eroded stone in the walls of the nave and transept. A notable improvement was made by the replacement of the nave ceiling. This improvement was both attractive and functional as it vastly improved the acoustics of the church. Additionally, the ceiling of the tower bears a Cross of Thorns and a similar embellishment may be found in Chester Cathedral and is typical of the work of Ronald Sims who replaced the architect George Pace following his death in 1976 during the restoration at that time.

The old organ was replaced by a modern model, constructed by Messrs. Marcussen of Denmark. Its design is very similar to (but smaller than) the instrument in St. Mary’s Nottingham that was designed and installed by the same company. Other items receiving much needed attention included the floor of the nave, the re-siting of the font, repairs to the Clifton vault, amongst other items of a minor nature.

During this work a pre-Reformation stone altar slab was discovered under the floor near the High Altar. It is presumed that this was hidden during the Reformation to preserve it from destruction. This was placed under the altar during this time when Protestant reformers removed altars and commanded that stone altars be replaced by wooden tables for ‘The Lord’s supper’. The altar itself was found to be infested by woodworm and was replaced by the altar which is constructed of Hopton stone from Kelham chapel near Newark. All this work, together with further work found to be necessary as the work progressed, necessitated the complete redecoration of the whole of the interior of the church. At the completion of all this restoration a slate tablet bearing the following inscription was installed in March 1983:

O worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness

Praise GOD for the restoration of this Church



George G. Pace 1965-1976 * Ronald G Sims  1976-1983


John H. Jenkins; Jeffrey J. Brandon; Francis J.V. Lancashire


Wilfred B. Wilkinson

In the work of their hands is their prayer

The restoration briefly described above was extensive. It was obvious to the Rector and the architect that the seriousness of the situation had several contributory causes. The first of these, and probably most significant, was the departure of the Clifton family from the area. Their support throughout the many centuries had been vital to the upkeep of the Church in both spiritual and practical ways. This had an additional consequence in that the number of influential people who had an interest in the church diminished, thus placing an additional burden on the small number of remaining adherents. A further cause was due to the fact that, for ten years in the early years of the 20th century, the church had no incumbent to ensure that the fabric of the building remained in good condition. Added to this was the upheaval caused by World War II. Thus for thirty years no work of any note had been done.

The oldest register is a parchment book that contains 46 leaves, 11" high and 8" wide. The entries are in double columns and continuous. The first entry (a baptism) is dated 10 May 1573 although a few pages dated prior to this may have been lost. The last entry is numbered 1179, a burial, is dated 13 December 1654.

The second register, also of parchment, contains 28 leaves, 17” high and 5¼” wide. The first entry (No. 1180) is dated 8 June 1655 and the last (No. 1894) reads thus  ‘Mr. Gervase Thirlby died in fflanders ye 19 day of May 1695 he was a solger for ye king.’

The third register is a parchment book of 25 leaves, 13” high and 6½” wide. It contains births, burials and marriages from March 1695 to March 1734.

The fourth of the registers, a large parchment book, contains baptisms and burials from 1734 to November 1812, and marriages from 1734 to 1754.

A parchment book contains marriages from 1754 to 1789; and another book of paper contains marriages from 1789 to 1812.

The subsequent registers are in conformity to the Acts of 1812 and 1836, written chiefly in English and contain numerous entries for the Clifton family.