St Lawrence


Gotham church is not recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 and there is little evidence for its structural development. At this time the most important land owner, Robert the count of Mortain, the half brother of William I, who held 792 manors elsewhere in the land was unaware of its existence apart from perhaps the 40s. of annual rent at which it was assessed together with 80 acres of meadow for his horses. Shortly after the battle of Tinchebray in Normandy 1106, when his son and heir William was taken captive by Henry I, Gotham passed into other hands and sometime between 1090 and 1150 a rudimentary church was probably constructed consisting of a nave and an apse, where the sanctuary was kept, although the latter may have been rectangular. It would have been completed before 1162 when two thirds of the tithes of sheaves ... duas partes decime garbarum de dominio Gaham ... were donated to Leicester Abbey by Hugh I de Dive and Helewisa, his wife out of her demesne lands at Gotham. The gift is recorded in a charter from Henry II to the abbey. Thomas Becket, one of the witnesses, enables the charter to be dated between 1155-62, when he was the king’s chancellor. Payments of these tithes to the abbey are recorded in the New Rental of William Charyte, prior of Leicester Abbey compiled around 1500. In the long lists of those contributing rents or tithes Gotham is the only parish or place mentioned in Nottinghamshire. However by 1477 in the list copied from the New Rental by Nichols in his history of Leicestershire, Gotham is not mentioned. At the time of the Valor Ecclesiastica, a major source for the study of church wealth initiated by an Act of 1535, there is but one payment to Leicester Abbey from the county of Nottinghamshire. It is for 6s 8d [half a mark], possibly from Gotham but in view of its absence in 1477 probably not.

The church is dedicated to St Lawrence. There are few martyrs in the church whose names are so famous as that of St Lawrence leading to numerous dedications of churches and oratories. He was a deacon in Rome and martyr of the time of Sixtus II. During the Valerian persecution the saint was commanded to reveal the treasures of the church. For answer he collected the poor and the sick and presented them as the treasures that secured heaven. For this he is said to have been roasted alive on a gridiron, AD 258. His name is celebrated in the calendar on 10 August. However, no evidence of the dedication of Gotham to Saint Lawrence has been found, and so far the earliest reference encountered is in Thesaurus Rerum Ecclesiasticarum of 1742. Perhaps it is no coincidence that an elder brother of the second recorded rector of the church, Saher de St Andrew, whose mother Maud or Matilda de St Andrew [neé Dive] had been among those who instituted Robert of Nottingham as rector, was named Lawrence.

Heads on the chancel arch corbels
It is claimed that the heads, now much defaced, placed at the base on either side of the arch that separates the nave from the chancel, and which show eyes covered and ears stopped by hands against evil epitomize the sick and maimed that St Lawrence collected as the treasures of the church. An alternative explanation given in a short article on Gotham church in the Southwell Diocesan Magazine of May 1929 states that ‘...the chancel arch is interesting as being supported on corbels carved into grotesque heads, that on the north side representing the powers of evil; while on the south side the figure is engaged in biting his thumbs, ie the ancient way of showing contempt for the Devil and all his ways.’

Construction of a south aisle took place towards the latter end of the Norman period, 1066-1200. The four rounded pillars of the south aisle are reputed to be from the late Norman Transitional period, c.1200. Each has a different capital; the one nearest the present [tower] entrance is the most rudimentary with plain round mouldings indicating that it was erected first; the next has a number of cup shaped supports [waterleaf moulding] to an octagonal plate which may have been rebuilt or reworked for the last two capitals have protruding square plates, the lower parts undercut and decorated with stylistic leaves, and on one of these there are small effigies of the Green Man at each corner.

Pillar capitals

The tower and spire were probably built next in the 13th century. In Pevsner’s opinion ‘... A remarkable west tower of the C.13, unbuttressed with a thin corbel table, no parapet, and plain splays instead of broaches to the spire (a specially early form). The spire has two tiers of the little Early English [1200-1275] lucarnes. The whole is of one period, earlier than, for example, at Normanton, that is if we can trust what we see now. The steeple was actually rebuilt ‘with the old materials’ in the later C.18, at the time when the chancel was also rebuilt (inscriptions 1789) and the aisles (like the chancel) faced with stucco. ...’ The broach spire, that is a spire springing from the tower without any intermediate parapet, is supported by the unbuttressed tower on walls up to one metre in thickness. The spire, although built in stone, takes the same form as previous timber structured spires. ‘... It is square on plan to begin with, but quickly assumes an octagonal form, the oblique faces being brought out with a plain splay above the squinches which consist of well formed pointed arches of one order. There are two tiers of lucarnes or spire lights in each cardinal face ... A peculiarity of this spire is that the stonework is left rough and irregular within ...’ a further indication of its antiquity.

The construction of the north aisle with octagonal pillars having moulded capitals, plain, except for a small carved head now almost defaced placed at the springing point of the arches above, was begun shortly after 1300, together with the north and south porches. The rector, Peter de Leyke [Leake], gave a bond to the architect for £10 pounds sterling and in return was supplied with drawings, articles and clauses [specifications] on 1 August 1299, the architect having prepared these at Nottingham in the archdeacon’s office during a current visitation.

The chancel has north and south windows in the Decorated style (1270-1350) and is coeval with the nave. The clerestory above the nave, although dated by some to the 13C, has been placed between c1425-75. It is evident that the upper part of the stonework abutting these windows was added and the lower part of the windows set into the existing stonework or that part was taken down and rebuilt when the roof over the nave was raised. The change in stonework is clearly evident. The remains of the original roof line at the end of the nave, abutting the west tower entrance, can be seen sloping down towards the mid point of the clerestory windows. From this time onwards, parts of the church have been renovated and rebuilt on numerous occasions as they have decayed and details of this renewal where available is given later. When, for example, the chancel was shortened in 1789 the original east window was lost. The replacement, rebuilt in 1920, was in the Perpendicular style.

Throsby writing about the year 1795 states that the ‘chancel has been taken down and re-built at the expense of the widow of the late rector, the Rev. John Lightfoot. But this appears to be incorrect, for Mr Stretton writing at a later date says that the chancel had only been shortened and this was probably the case.’ The chancel was shortened and in the process an original niche containing the founder in it had but lately been destroyed. However the mixture of bricks and stones used in the south wall indicate that it too was substantially rebuilt. The reason for reducing the length of the chancel is not known although it has been said that a fire was the probable cause of the problem. The rector would have been responsible for any repairs to the chancel. In the event, information about the founder or an early patron of the church was lost. Barker, in his Walks about Nottingham published in 1835 mentions a long Latin inscription to the memory of the Rev. John Lightfoot but this is no longer in the church. On the outside of the chancel above the east window is a building stone bearing the inscription: ‘Repaired in MDCCLXXXIX [1789]’ with the initials ‘J.K.’ below. It is now picked out from the surrounding cement render, recently applied [1996] to preserve the decaying stonework of the outer walls of the church.

On 19 July 1834 Rev. George Wilkins, archdeacon of Nottingham, petitioned the archbishop for a faculty for the reparation of the rectory said to be ‘in a very decayed, ruinous and dangerous condition.’ The surveyor had calculated a cost of £559 which the present incumbent was prepared to pay and the Hon. Lord St John, one of the patrons whose turn it was to present next, would give a sum of money which added to the above sum would meet the cost of rebuilding. The estimated cost of rebuilding by Messrs. Walker of Derby Road, Nottingham was £1400. Specifications and plans were included with the archdeacon’s petition and also an agreement between the builders and Sir John Vaughan of London in which the latter was to pay half the cost when the roof was finished and the rest on completion. Four months was allowed for building the rectory. The specification mentions plaster floors in the servants’ bedrooms and passage and an oven in the kitchen as used in the vicarage house at Nottingham.

In a letter dated 18 March 1835 to the Incorporated Society for promoting and modernizing of Churches for funds, the curate writes ‘... The parish ... contains above 800 people chiefly Stocking knitters and Twist-weavers. It is quite impossible by means of the Church rates to affect the necessary repairs. The Parish being now in arrears two rates for work executed in the Steeple in obedience to the Archdeacons orders ... The Church in the state found it would not hold 300, and the Congregation from better accommodation at the Dissenting Chapel and other causes seldom exceeded 20 grown persons. I deemed it necessary immediately to adopt in part the intended plan for the more decent performance of the Duties of a comfort to the people. ... The Church in its present state will hold 300 persons, the plan of intended alterations gives the number of Sittings & their situations amounting to upwards of 620 ...’

In early April the Society received a further letter with the completed application form and plans for the proposed alterations. Only the name of Lord Howe was attached to the plan as the curate had not had time to obtain the signatures of the other patrons before the Society met. In his letter he reveals that contrary to his judgment that it would be impossible to procure a church rate to meet part of the proposed alterations, a large vestry meeting unanimously voted to borrow £200 against the church rate to pay off the arrears. The proposed estimate included with his letter was now £775 as it had been ‘found upon removing some old Pews the Stone Work in the foundations of all the pillars was much perished.’ He then asks for the papers to be returned so that he might obtain the signature of the Archbishop of York and the other patrons.

The application form for ‘AID towards the increase of accommodation and repewing and repairing of the Parish Church’ is revealing. The church was last substantially repaired in 1814. After the old lead was removed from the roof [and subsequently sold for £106 13s], the roof was taken down and replaced with new timbers. It was then boarded and slated. The cost was £418 18s 6d and this enormous sum fell on a parish church rate levied at 3s 4d in the pound. The backdrop to these important parish events was the ominous news of Bonaparte’s escape from the Isle of Elba in March 1815; Waterloo followed in June. Possibly it was the general thanksgiving for this victory that loosened the purse strings. In 1833 the steeple was repaired at a cost of £40. But now the church was in a very dilapidated state owing to gradual decay and temporary and superficial repairs. The cost would be £775 of which £450 would be for a new west gallery, the re-pewing and new pews and £325 for repairs [to the column foundations etc.].

Other items of expense were the provision of a public entrance through the church tower with a further door leading into the nave. Within the porch formed, a new staircase was built to the new gallery that was supported on four cast iron columns at the west end of the church. The north porch was converted into a vestry and the decaying stonework of the columns and walls underpinned. The ceiling was lathed and plastered and set with three coats of [lime] plaster and the walls repaired, coloured and jointed in imitation of stone. The columns were painted in imitation of Gotham plaster, [a pale shade of pink]. The east window, moved during the last century when the chancel was foreshortened, was replaced with new stone. Was it rebuilt to the same design? And the octagonal font with its quatrefoil panels was reworked. Is this why it still looks new and modern today? Could it be late 14th century or a modern octagonal one of the Perpendicular style as claimed? Stretton who visited the church earlier found a plain font for immersing, without ornament. A faculty was not obtained for all this work as it was not thought necessary by the archdeacon, George Wilkins.

The interior of the church was vastly improved. The Incorporated Society for promoting the enlargement, building and repairing of Churches and Chapels had contributed £150 towards the cost and a small plaque recognising the Society’s help was placed in the nave. J J Walker, an architect student at the Royal Academy, very likely the son of one of the builders of the rectory, presented a drawing of the restored nave to the rector. It shows the new pews with the box pews before a handsome wood cancelli partitioning the nave from the choir. On the upper part of this screen are panels with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Creed on either side of a figure of Christ [or the patron saint, St Lawrence] whether an effigy or painting is not clear. William Stretton, who visited the church in 1824 was clearly impressed with this cancelli.

This has now all gone, but when it was removed is unclear. It was not in 1870 when the first organ was installed dedicated to the memory of Earl Howe. He supported the village in a number of ways not least in providing employment on his estates but also through his help in funding religious and secular education in the village and the early provision of a piped source of water to the village pump albeit inadequate during dry weather and the increasing demands of a growing population. Most villagers had to supplement this source with water from their garden wells. The screen was still there when churches in the area were visited by members of the Leicestershire Architectural Society in 1873 or 1874 when Mr. Bloxham commented that ‘... The rood screen was a very good one of the fifteenth century, and there was a good arcade on the north side. The monument to W. St. Andrew, was a rather rare instance of the old jack boots of the time of Charles I or the Commonwealth.’

The religious census undertaken on Sunday 30 March 1851, the same day as the civil census, still showed a greater number of villagers attending the two non-conformist chapels of the Wesleyan and Baptist Methodists (403), than those at church (299). The population of the village was then 792.

In the 1850s gypsum was found on the glebe land during the digging of a well. A deep seam was found, which gave the rector, John Vaughan, significant bargaining powers some years later when he agreed on 27 June 1870 with John Thomlinson and John Salkeld to process the mineral. The gypsum mine generated an income from royalties of £100 or more annually.

In 1894 severe weather caused damage to the church. ‘... On this day and night [Sunday, 11 February 1894] the wind, which had been blowing strongly for a week, culminated in a gale, described in the local papers as the strongest wind experienced in Nottingham for many years ... a violent gale amounting at times to a perfect hurricane. On Monday morning our attention was drawn to the critical state of the topmost part of the Church Steeple; the weathercock might be described as swaying to and fro like a drunken man and as though at its wits end to preserve its equilibrium. Six or seven feet of masonry apparently shared the awkward predicament. ...’ The rector appeared surprised at the high cost of £37 for taking down the upper part of the spire. A fund was set in motion for the repair of the spire and the a year later £158 2s 0d had been raised.

In 1912 Gotham had a population of just over 1,000; the church had 90 children on the Sunday School roll; and the rector undertook 22 baptisms.

The east window, last replaced c.1790 when the chancel was reduced in length, was completely rebuilt in 1920 by Miss Vaughan in memory of her family.

Plans were prepared in 1929 for the restoration of the church and part of the restoration was designed to ‘serve as a Memorial to the late Frederick Armine Wodehouse, for 33 years Rector of Gotham.’ A plaque to his memory was placed in the renovated chancel. In 1930, during the work, ‘interesting and ancient features have been disclosed including part of the founder’s tomb [Probably the tomb of a former patron or rector] and a priest’s doorway.’ The doorway on the south side of the chancel was severed when the chancel was reduced in length.

In 1931 John Joseph Shepherd of Gotham Manor, a church benefactor and director of one of the gypsum works in the village, arranged for electric lighting to be installed. The work was carried out by J Furse & Sons who placed floodlighting in the chancel and nave with pendants in side aisles, vestry and porches. Renovation of the choir vestry included new panels and cupboards for surplices and music. In December a Young Men’s Bible Class commenced. By the end of 1932 restoration had cost £3000 of which £250 had still to be raised and had taken 8 years. It had enabled the chancel and roof to be thoroughly repaired and a new heating system to be installed. Unfortunately further problems came to light as the work was in progress caused by dry rot in the floor and ceiling. Serious structural defects were found in the south aisle requiring a new buttress outside and provision of iron ties in the principal roof rafters. All the internal plaster applied a 100 years or so ago, into which water from the roof had begun to seep, was stripped from the nave walls, and the stonework after cleaning was repointed. The organ was renovated and an organ screen built with a floor inserted below.

During 1931 a new oak war memorial was commissioned. It was placed above the stone altar of the chapel in the south aisle. The memorial is to the memory of the villagers who lost their lives during the first world war. In due course the names of those who died during the second world war were added. Several new pews were installed providing accommodation for 60 additional persons. The Rev R A Bidwell presented an oak lectern and bible to the church as a memento of his ministry in the parish and Mrs W Powdrill gave an altar service book in remembrance of her late husband. A faculty was granted on 22 July 1932 for a memorial window to be placed in the south aisle near the west entrance, to the memory of Henry Maturin Finny and those baptized in the church of St Lawrence. Finny was an assistant curate who lived at the curate’s house almost opposite the church during the 1850s and had succumbed to a virulent fever on visiting a sick child. He died 17 February 1855, aged 35.

In 1952 John Joseph Shepherd donated £1222 in trust for the maintenance of the fabric of the church.

A faculty was obtained in 1974 to redecorate the ceiling and renew the pews. The latter entailed the removal of pews to create more open space at the front of the nave and four short rows of pews in the north aisle for a Sunday School teaching area. A new screen and doors were placed between the nave and tower entrance in 1979 and a new ringing floor in the tower supported on steel joists. The 800th anniversary of the church was celebrated by an all-day fair in costume with maypole and country dancing on Saturday 6 September 1980.

In 1992 excavations in connection with drainage work, carried out by members of the congregation, unearthed a stone coffin without a lid believed to be 13-14th century. The coffin, damaged at one end, has been placed in the south porch. One end is 54 cm wide internally. From head to foot it tapers to about half this width over a distance of c.160cm. The sides are between 4-6cm in thickness and the whole is made from Lincolnshire ragstone. During the excavation evidence of the outward extension of the vestry in the north porch, which exceeds that of the south porch by about one and a half a metre, was revealed. The original porch stood on sandstone footings whereas the extension had been built on brick footings sometime before the church plan of 1835. The existence of an ancient brick path over the churchyard from the porch in a north westerly direction was also found.

In the 1990s a quinquennial inspection showed serious deterioration in the external stonework. A quotation for repairing the tower stonework came to £54,285. £40,000 was for the stonework itself plus architects’ fees of £6,200 and vat at 17.5 % of £8,095. A 40% grant from English Heritage however reduced the total cost by £21,714. During Autumn 1996 the whole church was encased in scaffolding while a protective cement plaster screed was applied to the external walls and repairs made to the tower and spire.

Preparatory work in 1997 carried out on the floor of the tower, where a 30cm thick concrete base was to be laid, revealed the shallow burial of a partial skeleton in the centre of the tower. A few medieval pottery fragments were unearthed, one of which pointed to Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire kilns of 12-14th century. The presence of a body placed centrally under the tower indicates the strong possibility that the person was connected with its erection. An obvious candidate is the rector, Peter de Leyke, who died by 1302. Elsewhere in one quarter of the tower base there is a quantity of lead and coal waste that has been associated with the repairs to the steeple at the end of 19th century, however a more likely explanation is that this occurred when the lead covering to the roof was removed and melted down during church alterations in 1814 at the time that new roof timbers were erected.

In 1989 the Methodist chapel was faced with closure when it was found that repairs to their chapel would cost £18,000. The Vicar of St Lawrence’s said to them, ‘Why not worship in our church building?’ Later a covenant was made with the Methodist congregation and one of the Methodists was invited to become a member of the church council. A morning service at 10.30am is now held monthly by the Methodists in the parish church.