All Saints


The church of Eaton All Saints standing in the village today was built in 1857-8, but it replaced an earlier structure that was much older. No church is mentioned at Eaton in Domesday Book, but the original church was likely to have been built in the Norman period soon after, perhaps in the early 12th century, although the exact date is not known.

The church and the village of Eaton belonged to the Wolrington (Wlverthon or Wlvrington) family who may have sponsored its original construction. In 1228 or 1229 Thomas de Wlverthon gave the church with all its appurtenances (property) to the canons of Radford (Worksop) in response to a claim made against him. However, the transfer either was not made or was later reversed as in 1286 Robert de Wolrington was able to release the right of advowson (the right to appoint a priest) for the church. Surviving documents suggest he released it to the canons of the priory of Worksop but other documents dated to the same year show him releasing the rights to Archbishop John Romayne. Between these dates however, Archbishop Gray’s Register records that in February 1246 Richard de Leghton, Clerk, was appointed to the church of Eaton at the presentation of the prior and convent of Worksop.

Whether the priory and archbishop came to some agreement over the contested bequeathment, or whether the matter was decided in court, is not clear. However the matter was decided, the Archbishop of York came away with the rights to Eaton church and on 31 January 1290 he issued a decree making Eaton the fifteenth prebend of the college church of Southwell (which a year later became sixteen with the creation of North Leverton).

Prebends were the lands allocated to the office of prebendary. A prebendary was a religious position found within certain collegiate churches. The prebendary acted as a parish priest for the prebend he was allocated (although many appointed a vicar or curate to act on their behalf) but also had to participate in the duties of the collegiate body he belonged to, which were frequently a mix of administrative and religious affairs. In return for these additional duties he received the tithes and other income from the prebend and usually received additional income from the College itself – many were given several prebends and thus had a particularly large income. The edict that created the Eaton prebend gave the great tithes (those relating to grain and hay) to the prebendary, as well as the income from the church’s lands and meadows. The lesser tithes of wool, lambs, mortuaries and oblations, as well as the right to cut turf or peat for fuel, were given to whatever vicar was appointed to support him. The prebendary was also required to give the vicar 4 marks (£2 13s 4d) a year as further support.

Thanks to a tax survey ordered by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 we know that Eaton was at this time, as a newly made prebend, worth £6 13s 4d. This made it the poorest of all the prebends, some of which were worth over £30. Eaton church clearly owned little land and received few tithes from the village. In 1347 John de Wystowe, a chaplain, donated two messuages (dwelling houses) in Eaton to the current prebendary, Gilbert de Welton, and another third of a messuage and 1½ acres of land was given to the vicar Gilbert had appointed to Eaton, Henry de Swinstede.

Donations such as this helped to increase the church’s value and support its prebendary and vicar, although it remained a relatively poor prebend. In 1428 another tax evaluation still listed it as worth 10 marks (£6 13s 4d). The church was expected to pay 13s 4d in tax at this time.

In 1314, Archbishop Greenfield sent a mandate to the dean of Retford requiring him to relax the sequestration of the fruits of the prebend of Eaton due to the non-residence of Master Gerald de Ciriaco, the prebendary. In 1330, a commission was held to examine one James de Signa’s title to the prebend of Eaton following the death of Master Gerald de Ciriaco, canon of Southwell. The commission evidently found against him as he was removed from office and Master John de Barnby was instituted in his place.

The poverty of the church seems to have caused occasional problems for its vicars. John Porter, the vicar in the early 15th century, was for a short time outlawed for failing to pay a debt of 10 marks owed to Elizabeth Monboucher and Henry Melton.

By the time of the Reformation Eaton had increased in value. As first Henry VIII, then Edward VI and his regency council, targeted the monastic orders, chantries and college churches in England for suppression they made several intensive surveys to catalogue the churches and their inventories. The Valor Ecclesiasticus was the first, in 1534, and it listed Eaton as worth £9 6s 8d. Like the other prebendaries Eaton’s was expected to pay £4 a year to the vicars choral (another set of offices within the minister) and 2s 2½d to the chapter.

In 1540 the canons of Southwell Minister surrendered their authority to the king and the prebendaries, Eaton included, followed suit. Like over two hundred other collegiate foundations in England, the Minster was targeted by the king for suppression. Unlike most of them however, the Minster and its prebends were restored three years later, for uncertain reasons, and Eaton was restored to its former stature.

However, Eaton’s troubles were not over. At Eaton was a chantry – a specific fund which paid a priest to say prayers and Mass for deceased individuals. Usually there was a specific chapel within the church dedicated to the chantry. Originally a common feature in the medieval church they were almost entirely suppressed during the Reformation. A chantry certificate from the end of Henry VIII’s when the Eaton’s chantry was suppressed valued it at £8 13s 4d, of which £4 were paid to the vicars choral and 4s 4d to the vicar of Eaton. The certificate also stated the chantry had been founded by King Edgar, who had ruled England in the 10th century. This appears to have been an oversight on the part of the writer however, who probably assumed all the prebends of Southwell dated back to the same period. There is certainly no evidence that Eaton had a church or chapel that far back.

In 1547 the College was once again closed down and converted into an ordinary parish church. The prebendal system was ended, with the prebends themselves also becoming ordinary churches once more. This time the closure seemed to be permanent. Once again however the Minster was saved, this time by the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary. In 1557 an Act was passed restoring all the rights and privileges of the Minster and Eaton once again became a prebendal church, a situation that continued until the 19th century.

At the Court of Quarter Session in April 1658 the vicar of Eaton, John Kirk, complained that Robert Murfin, probably a local resident, was withholding several small tithes and dues amounting to 26s 10d. The Court ordered Robert to pay his dues.

During the reign of Charles II or James II John Cator was presented for absence from the church for one month. He may have been one of the two papal dissenters – Roman Catholics – who were in the village in 1676, when a religious census took place. Eaton had just 68 people old enough to receive communion according to the survey, its small size indicative of its low value. Despite this it had still been required in 1659 to contribute money to augment the income of the vicar of Mansfield, which at £20 per annum was deemed to be insufficient for the vicar of a large market town. Eaton was one of several churches ordered to aid Mansfield and was forced to pay £4 7s 2d every year to Mansfield’s vicar. How long these payments continued is unknown.

In 1688 King James II ordered that assistance be provided to poorer clergymen in England. Any clergyman whose livings were worth less than £30 per annum were remitted the payments of arrears of Tenths, i.e. were relieved of certain debts to the Crown. The vicar of Eaton benefited by £11 12s 4d as a result of meeting the requirements, the remittance undoubtedly being a welcome gesture to the vicar.

In 1743 Archbishop Herring of York visited Nottinghamshire and there received reports from his vicars and other clergymen. Eaton’s vicar was John Edward Bellinger, who had been appointed two years earlier. Unusually for a parish priest, the Rev. John Bellinger, was also the domestic chaplain to the Earl of Exeter and resided with him, possibly at their family home in Lincolnshire, rather than at Eaton. The curate he had appointed did not reside there either, instead living at the adjacent parish of Headon, for which Bellinger was also the vicar. For his services the curate was paid £40 per annum. Eaton itself remained a small village of 20 families but despite its small size and the other duties of its appointed vicar and curate services were still held in the church every Sunday and sacrament was administered five times a year.

When Archbishop Drummond visited in 1764 the vicar, Samuel Abson, reported that he lived in Eakring, and that his curate, Joshua Sampson, lived in Retford where he was the vicar of East Retford. At that time there were thirty-six families in the village, with no meeting house, school or almshouse. Services were held every Sunday in the church, and the sacrament was administered four times a year, with about half of the seventy communicants in the village attending.

Eaton remained a quiet and uneventful place during the 18th century and on into the 19th century and although it was still a prebend of Southwell it remained a poor benefice. In 1835 it was worth only £63 and by now its curate was paid only £30 a year. On the other hand its vicar was Charles Fowler, who was also a vicar choral at Southwell and therefore should have been able to pay his curate significantly more. Eaton itself, according to a census of 1851, owned lands worth £58, and received other endowments worth £19 13s 4d and fees of £1, and the Rev. C. Fowler, as a vicar choral, had other sources of income. Eaton also had no glebe house and so the curate, like the one in 1743, likely had to reside outside the village as well.

In 1841 the ecclesiastical commission decided to bring to an end the prebendal system at Southwell. As each current prebendary resigned or passed away the respective prebend came to an end, becoming just a normal parish church. By 1851 this had occurred to Eaton and since that time it has remained an ordinary parish, no longer closely associated with Southwell.

On census Sunday in 1851 the vicar, John Twells, returned an attendance of 41 in general congregation and 14 Sunday scholars at the afternoon service, but noted that the general congregation was usually 40 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon with 18 Sunday scholars at each service. The reason for the shortfall was that ‘the two largest houses in the village were shut up at present and several families not at church’.

Sketch of the church 
by the Rev Robert Evans
(early 19th century)

By the 1850s neglect had left the church in a poor state. White's Directory of Nottinghamshire observed that it was 'a very ancient structure, having some slight remains of Norman architecture, it had become much dilapidated, and its exterior, had been from time to time repaired in the most barbarous fashion.' In 1856 Henry Bridgeman-Simpson of Babworth Hall intervened. He found the church in such a poor state that repairs would be uneconomic. Instead, the church was demolished. The architect George Shaw, of Saddleworth, was contracted to design a new building in the Decorated Gothic styles of the 13th and 14th centuries.

The new church included a nave, chancel, spired tower, a porch on the north side and a vestry on the south. The church took a year to construct and cost about £1,400. It was consecrated on 17 August 1858.

The small size of Eaton parish, particularly now it no longer had the status of a prebend, was clearly an issue and in 1884 it was united with the nearby parish of Gamston, also a small rural parish. The newly united parish of Gamston-with-Eaton was in the patronage of the Bishop of Manchester.

Despite the new church building and the unification with Gamston, Eaton church remained a quiet place, not in great demand from the local community. A visitation report of 1912 shows that there had been no baptisms or confirmations in the previous year, and the church’s Sunday school only had 20 scholars. The community did also have a day school however, with 28 pupils.

The combined parish of Gamston-with-Eaton was worth £278 in 1941, and had a total of 235 acres of glebe land. By this time it had passed into the patronage of the Bishop of Southwell.

After a century of use the Victorian era church required some repairs and in 1949 restoration efforts were made. A rededication ceremony took place following the repairs, led by the Bishop of Southwell.

A nave wall and a window in the west wall were severely damaged by a storm in 1998, but funds were raised and the repairs undertaken.