Holy Rood


For all but the last century of its 800 years existence Holy Rood, Edwalton, has been the small church of a small village. Along Edwalton Lane, running east from what is now the Nottingham to Melton Road a linear settlement grew, close to the homestead of Aedwald, the Anglo-Saxon whose name Edwalton bears. Until the 1880s, the recorded village population never exceeded 130 nor the housing 27. Edwalton was simply a small farming community.

No church is mentioned in Domesday, though its tiny population may have had a chapel-of-ease to the principal church of Flawford (or Flawforth) 1½ miles to the south. Flawforth Church, the mother church of the villages of Edwalton, Plumtree, Keyworth and Ruddington, stood on a high site which had previously housed an Iron Age camp, a Roman villa, and a Saxon church.

In about 1175 Robert FitzRanulph de Alfreton, Lord of Edwalton, granted land to God, St Mary, and St Thomas the Martyr at Beauchief, north of Chesterfield, to found a house of Premonstratensian canons. His original grant included the benefice of Edwalton, the first reference to a church there. Whether FitzRanulph, who had succeeded his father in 1166, founded the church is not known, although it is quite possible in view of his piety. As the nave of Holy Rood indicates, the church was small, some 30ft. x 18ft., probably with a small square chancel, all built of local grey waterstone sandstone. The entrance was probably at the west end. A large projection at the middle of the north wall is intriguing and it may be a buttress or a benefactors tomb. If the latter it cannot be FitzRanulph, or his eventual successors, the medieval Chaworths, as they were buried at Beauchief.

In the following century an arcade and south aisle were added to the church; the font, of magnesian limestone, measuring 2ft.7ins. x 2ft., also probably dates from 13th century, with a modern cover. So do two mass-dials on the south wall, now covered for protection.

The church was further enlarged in the 14th century with the addition of a clerestory to the nave and of a stone tower at the west end of the church. The tower was built of waterstone mixed with limestone, probably from a Leen Valley quarry. A door was also pierced in the north wall, possibly for processions, and now blocked.

The building of the clerestory, with its square-headed windows, entailed the rebuilding of the nave arcade and re-roofing of the church. The earlier, steeper-pitched, roof was pushing the side-walls out of upright due to their inadequate buttressing, as the east window of the south aisle makes plain.

There was no resident priest in Edwalton. A mud-and-stud thatched hovel in the churchyard, known as the parsonage, of unknown date, may have been used by visiting priests but certainly not in 17th and later centuries. Premonstratensian canons did service their churches, but Edwalton lay over 30 miles from Beauchief. From a dispute in 1228 it is clear that Edwalton was a chapelry of Flawforth, the Rector of Flawforth being ordered to celebrate divine service four times weekly at Edwalton chapel in return for an endowment of land and a toft by the lord of the manor. Another dispute, in 1431, showed that Edwalton men were having to hire a chaplain to celebrate divine service.

The male line of the FitzRanulphs died out towards the end of the 13th century, two co-heiresses, Alicia and Amicia, succeeding to the estates. Amicia married Robert de Latham of Lancashire and Alicia William de Cadurcis (Chaworth). The Chaworths proved even more generous to Beauchief Priory than FitzRanulph. The Taxatio of 1291 shows Edwalton contributing 12 marks annually to Beauchief, whose grants were confirmed in 1316. However Edwalton Church is not shown as a possession of Beauchief in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 and its ownership then is obscure. Beauchief Priory was dissolved in 1537 and fifty years later Edwalton’s lay rector was Sir John Byron, who was presented in 1592 to the Archdeaconry Court for allowing the chancel to fall into decay. In 1650 the Earl of Devonshire was impropriator and the vicar of Ruddington acted as curate at £5p.a.. The Parliamentary Commissioners determined that Edwalton should be combined with Ruddington for church register purposes but Edwalton parish register, which dates from 1545 (albeit in poor condition) suggests that Edwalton remained separate. Before the end of the 17th century, Patricius, 3rd Viscount Chaworth, purchased the impropriation; the Chaworths owned all Edwalton by this time. The Executors of Major Robert Chaworth-Musters are the present patrons of the church.

Ectons Thesaurus of 1763 gives the dedication of Edwalton church as to the Holy Rood, three early 16th century wills all give the dedication to St Laurence. Although there is no record or evidence of a charity chapel, the south aisle may well have contained an altar with a separate dedication; there was an altar dedicated to the Holy Rood at Beauchief Priory. But a compound dedication, to St Laurence and the Holy Rood, may perhaps be a more likely explanation.

The collapse of the church in the late 16th century may have been preceded by the replacement of the medieval tower by the present brick tower on the old stone foundations, if the tradition that it was built in Queen Mary’s reign (1552-1558), supported by some architectural evidence, is correct. The brickwork is in English bond, partly diapered.

In 1716 the church roof was replaced, requiring the building-up of one light of the east clerestory window to support the end of a tie-beam. The west clerestory window was also taken out and reset in the north wall and the opening blocked to facilitate the construction of a west gallery and access staircase. But the church, and indeed the village, was at a low ebb. In 1743 the curate, John Henson, master and resident of the Free School in Nottingham informed Archbishop Herring in reply to Visitation enquiries that there were only 12 families in Edwalton, including one of Dissenters, and only 12 communicants. £200 from Queen Anne’s Bounty had augmented the original £6 p.a. income and he now held divine service fortnightly and three Communion services annually, instead of monthly services and an annual Communion service as before his induction.

By 1772 the church fabric had deteriorated to a dangerous degree. The church rate, usually 1½d to 3d in the pound, was increased for that year to one shilling despite villagers protests. The churchwardens’ accounts show large amounts of deals (to frame pews), bricks, and lime purchased. The north wall of the church, in imminent danger of collapse, was secured by building massive buttresses at each end and the east end of the nave sealed with a brick wall lit by a round headed window in the centre and smaller windows on each side. The church was furnished with close pews. The works, ironically coinciding with the demolition of Flawforth church, revived the church. The custom of sticking (decorating) the church at Christmas was resumed and in January 1773 thirteen men of the village signed a solemn agreement to meet at the church for the art of singing psalms, hymns or anthems and subscribed for a bassoon to belong to the church. Possibly they sat in the west gallery. Although a manor-house was built in Edwalton in the mid-18th century it was very infrequently used by the Chaworths, and let throughout the 19th and 20th centuries until its sale. It was subsequently demolished in 1975.

In 1794 a south porch was added to the church at a cost (with church repairs) of £12.7s.5d, replacing an earlier porch.

Of Edwalton’s two awards from Queen Anne’s Bounty one was used to buy land and the other invested. In 1833 the Vicar of Ruddington, also curate of Edwalton, reported the benefice income as £97p.a., mainly in rents and tithes. The land was sold in 1920.

The 1851 Religious Census showed that Holy Rood possessed 120 places (25 free, 95 other), slightly more than the village population. Attendance at Sunday services (assuming some double attendance) was probably around 70% of the adult population. There was no other church or chapel in Edwalton until a Pentecostal church was built in the mid-1960s.

On a farmer’s retirement in the mid-1860s, his substantial farmhouse was permitted by the village owners, the Chaworth-Musters, to be used as a vicarage. In 1869 Sir Stephen Glynne described Holy Rood as a mere fragment of a church but the noted architect and local historian, Harry Gill, in 1918 described with great affection the church as he first knew it in 1873. On the north side after the manor pew and the four or five pews for the tenant farmers were the singing seats, and by the west wall on the south side stood two graduated pews for the men who played musical instruments. From this it appears that the west gallery and access staircase had gone. In 1874 the mud-and-stud hovel in the churchyard known as the Parsonage, the home of the parish clerk, was demolished. A decade later there was further reordering of the church interior; close pews and the graduated pews were removed, the close pews replaced by chairs and an organ acquired.

Brewill's proposal for
the restored church

Edwalton was changing. In 1880 Edwalton Station was opened on the Nottingham - London Midland railway line and the Chaworth-Musters began selling building plots. In ten years the village population doubled as Nottingham businessmen and their servants moved in. When in 1892 the state of the church fabric was again causing concern, about £1,100 was subscribed towards the church restoration and a new vicarage. Arthur Brewill, an architect and resident, produced plans at his own expense for a complete restoration of the church, including a new chancel, transepts and battlemented tower with truncated spire. In the event, problems with graves on the chancel site, and probably with funds, fortunately resulted merely in the addition of a brick chancel, a small north transept (as an organ chamber) and a small vestry. Much repair work remained to be done. The vicar resigned shortly before the new chancel was consecrated on 27 September 1894, and for several years the parish was joined temporarily with West Bridgford. Separate again, the benefice income was augmented in 1910 by £200 including £100 from the Notts Church Extension Society.

Between the Wars, electric lighting was installed in the church in 1928, and in 1932 an oak lychgate erected at the churchyard entrance. A proposal to unite the parish with Tollerton in 1929 was rejected; with the Chaworth-Musters selling off more and more of the parish it was clear that the village would expand. The ravages of Death Watch Beetle were reported in 1933: it cost £200 to have the whole of the woodwork of the roof replaced. In 1939 Col. Chaworth-Musters gave the land adjacent to the church as a site for a future vicarage. He had already, in 1929, given the old village school site, which became the Parish Rooms. In 1950 the last Chaworth-Musters land in Edwalton was sold. New housing filled the fields between Edwalton and West Bridgford; the village was becoming suburbia, and the population rapidly increasing. The church added a larger vestry, restored the already deteriorating Victorian chancel brickwork, built a new vicarage (at last) in 1955 (at a cost of £6,885) and a church hall in 1963 (at a cost of £11,890) and finally, in 1997, replaced the vestry on the north side of the chancel with a large extension, designed by West Bridgford Architect, John Severn, providing extra seating, a vestry and meeting room. An overgrown paddock south of the churchyard was transformed by the generosity and hard work of parishioners into a beautiful garden. The tower was strengthened, church bells increased in number to six (dedicated in February 1995) and, in 1999, a fine clock installed on the exterior of the new extension to remind parishioners of the time, just as the mass dials had done 700 years earlier.

Over the last 800 years Holy Rood, Edwalton, has survived many vicissitudes and dangers, from near collapse to wholesale Victorian restoration. It remains, in Thorold’s words, a well-furnished, much loved, little building.