For this church:
Domesday Book records that in 1086 there was a priest and two churches in Holtone (Hawton). The main landowner was Raph de Limesi at that period and his manors were held by Alured. There is no surviving physical evidence today of the churches mentioned in Domesday.
Richard de Houton succeeded to the land probably in the reign of Henry II. It is later recorded that ‘Sir Roger de Howton, son of William de Houton, Knight, gave with his Body seven Bovats in Houton, to the Priory of Iburgarton (Thurgarton), for the Sustenation of a Canon, to celebrate Mass daily in that Church, where he intended to be buried, for the Health of his Soul, and of Agnes his Wife, and all his Ancestors and Successors’.
In the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, there was a fine levied at Nottingham between Richard, Prior of Thurgarton, and Robert de Houton, by which the prior passed the advowson of the church of Houlton to Robert and his heirs, who then gave the monastery three bovats of land in Houton. In the Taxatio of 1291-2, the ‘Ecclesia de Houton’ was valued at £16 13s 4d.
Towards the end of the 13th century the manor passed from the Houtons (by then Hooton) to the de Comptons. By 1302 the lord of Hawton was Robert de Compton, Knight, who it is believed built the chancel of the church about 1320 and whose tomb and effigy can be seen there. However, it almost certain that this effigy has been moved here from elsewhere, perhaps substantiating the theory that the de Compton family may not have commissioned the remarkable work in the chancel.
Brown (1904) quotes a document dated 1330 that refers to 'Peter de Whitelegge, hermit of the chapel of St Wilfrid, Houton [Hawton].' It is possible that the squint in the north wall would allow the hermit to see the high altar, although more probably this was a conventional hagioscope that allowed a priest in the former north chapel to view the progress of the mass in the chancel.
The manor was sold to John Packenham in 1444 who then sold it to Sir Thomas Molyneux. In 1482 Sir Thomas rebuilt parts of the church including the clerestory windows and the tower. Folk memory says that during the War of the Roses, Henry VII watched the battle of East Stoke in 1487 from the newly built tower.
The parish registers, containing entries of baptisms, marriages and burials, date from 1564 to 1706.
In the reign of Elizabeth I, there was a legal dispute over ownership of the land, which was held by Thurgarton Priory. It then became crown property.
In April 1584 churchwardens and swornmen presented the following: 'Brian the glazier of Newark for not keeping in repair the church and chancel windows according to a bargain made with him; they lack one of the tomes of the Homilies, detained by Mr Ja. Babington; Mr Andrewe Reynes, his wife and his "faukkner" are presented for not coming to church and not receiving communion.'
In 1603 a series of questions were sent out to parishes on the orders of King James I. They were intended to gather statistics on the clergy, recusants and communicants. The churchwardens of Hawton replied that Frances Clarke was their preacher and that he only had one benefice, valued at £17 13s 4d in the King's Books. There were no recusants in the parish and there were '124 communicants or thereabouts, and no non-communicants except children and infants, 69 people.'
Records of the Archdeconry of Nottingham court dating from July 1617 report that Thomas Tailer of Hawton was accused of 'misbehavinge him selfe with his dogge in the church in tyme of devine service'. He said: 'His dogge beinge fightinge or quarellinge in the church with an other dogge he this respondent did take his dogge into his armes.' Tailer was again in trouble in 1621 when he was presented by the churchwardens 'for absenting himself from divine service on Sundays and holy days within the last six weeks, having no lawful cause to their knowledge; the said Thomas Tayler for answering the questions of the churchwardens as to the reason of his absence "with unseemly and unreverent words", viz. "Soe looke, Turde in yor teeth, I will goe when I liste & come when I liste" with divers other unseemly and reproachful words, "tending to the great discredit of him to whom he spake", being William Leake, one of the churchwardens.'
Three years later the vicar, Edmund Mason, presented Jervase Cusworth of Hawton for carrying himself 'sawcely at the funte' when he was godfather to Bothumleys child; he was required by the minister to name the child and answered 'sawcyly and contemptuously - Jeuase wth a G'; both the minister and people were scandalised and the sacrament disgraced.
In 1638 a return said that: 'the churchyard wantes a gate and the strong Chist wantes lockes and keyes, there wantes a poor man’s box, the uppere end of the North side of the church is unpaved.' In 1641, 37 parishioners signed the Oath of Protestation, attested by two churchwardens.
In 1672 Isabell Fisher was causing problems for the village community and publicly criticised the rector, Dr Joseph Rhodes. The churchwarden presentment to the Archdeaconry of Nottingham court reads:
'Isabell Fisher, wife of Thomas Fisher of the parish of Hawton, for not receiving the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for several times in the year, and still refuses to come to the same according to the law; the said Isable Fisher for that by her railing and giving out scandalous and unchristian speeches, she makes much disturbance amongst her neighbours, and especially against Dr Roades, his wife and family; speaking to his maid servant [she said] that "his wife and family was all base lyers", and his said servant, going to Newark, [replied that she] "wished she [Fisher] might breake her neck", and the said Isable said in a railing manner that her husband, meaning Tho. Fisher, "was an honest man and did not kisse his maides nor other married weomen", meaning as the said Dr Roades did; Tho. Fisher said to James Blounfeild, Dr Roades' servant, that "Dr Roades should be a peace maker but he was rather a peace breaker" and that he was "unhappie that he lived by such a neigh[bour] as the Dr was"; Isable Fisher, speaking to Dr Roades' manservant, [said] "that she could wish him and all his family hanged his daughter Elizabeth excepted"; Thomas Fisher for calling his neighbour John Dune "dog" and "sonne of a whoare" and when he was reproved by Dr Roades for speaking vile words, he said that "he and all the towne was scrub dogs."
Archbishop Herring’s visitation return of 1743 tells us that there were nine families attending the church and no dissenters; that the incumbent resided at Kelham and services were held every Sunday either morning or evening.
In 1779-80 the church underwent extensive restoration at a cost of £1,300, much of which was raised by public subscription.
In his revised edition of Robert Thoroton's Antiquities of Nottinghamshire (published in 1796) John Throsby made the following comments about the gargoyles at the church:
'I have seen many strange figures and forms without churches, originally intended to convey water from the roofs; some with horrid mouths, and many in the position of vomiting; but here is one too indelicate for either representation or description. It serves vulgar boys and men, the neighbourhood, to show women as a great curiosity, I am told, where the former fail not to laugh at the credulity of the latter.'
Maybe 21st century sensibilities are more robust, but no carving can be found now that could be described as ‘too indelicate to describe’.
The life of the Rev William Helps, rector of Hawton from 1798 to 1848, was one blighted by 'hopeless financial chaos.' In around 1807 he had opened a school in Hadley, a village to the north of London, that was 'used as a means of chiselling money out of wealthy parents'. It was not a success. Twenty years later, on 22 October 1828, he appeared before the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors at Shire Hall, Nottingham, after having spent 'some months under confinement.' Although a beneficed clergyman with an income of £1,200 per annum his debts amounted to between £3,000 and £4,000 and he had 80 creditors. The Insolvent Debtors Act (1826) provided for the sequestration of livings and an application was ordered to be made to the Bishop of the Diocese. On 9 May 1830 a solicitor, representing the assignees appointed by the Insolvent Debtors' Court, appeared in Hawton church during the Sunday service and attempted to hand a sequestration document to Helps. The Stamford Mercury described the scene that ensued:
'LAW AND GOSPEL AT VARIANCE, or a Scene in Hawton Church, near Newark.—On Sunday morning last, Mr. G. Hopkinson, jun., of Nottingham, solicitor to the assignees appointed by the Insolvent Debtors’ Court, proceeded to the parish church of Hawton, to put into the hands of the Rev. W. Helps the sequestration, which the law requires "to be published in the church during the time of divine service." To the request of Mr. Hopkinson that Mr. Helps would read the same, the following answer was returned, "No, Sir, I shall not read it, neither shall I suffer the service to be interrupted by your reading it." At the end of the second lesson, Mr. Hopkinson proceeded to read the sequestration, while Mr. Helps commenced "O be joyful, &c." instead of "O be sorrowful." At the end of the service, Mr. Hopkinson, in further discharge of his duty, read the paper a second time, and afterwards affixed it to the church door, whence it was very speedily removed. The congregation consisted of eight persons, who left the church highly edified and instructed by the novelty of a lawyer turning parson, and the parson turned out by a lawyer.'
During restoration work in 1843-4 (at a cost of £1,645), the chancel was 'thoroughly repaired and a new roof added; and the whitewash, which for many years had obscured and disgraced the rich decorations and beautiful carvings, was taken away.' Perhaps to protect them from the Puritans, or because they were no longer considered to be suitable, they had been covered with many layers of plaster and whitewash. A reproduction in plaster of the whole Easter Sepulchre carving (including the tomb and door) appeared in the medieval court at Crystal Palace in the 1851 Great Exhibition.
The unoccupied tomb recess on the south side of the nave was walled up in 1845 and in the same year the Cambridge Camden Society produced plans, sections and elevations of the church and its ornaments. The work was done by the architect George Gordon Place of Nottingham. These plans contain an error in that two of the carved features on the sedilia have been transposed.
In 1851, the church had 160 free spaces and twenty others. No return was made of numbers attending the church services.
The church was reported in 1879 to be 'seriously dilapidated both inside and out, being neither wind nor water-tight, looking shabby and neglected'.
Restoration of the church was undertaken in 1879-80 by the Louth architect, James Fowler. Reporting on the reopening ceremony on 27 April 1880, the Nottinghamshire Guardian provides a comprehensive summary of the work:
'The alterations and restorations are complete and substantial. The whole of the interior of the building, which was formerly covered with plaster, has been completely re-chipped and the bare plaster removed. The outside has been pointed, and gives the church the appearance of having been newly built. Four doors, a new pulpit, reading desk, and seven pews in the body of the church of solid oak have been supplied. The floor of the church has also been re-flagged. The centre beam in the roof is new, but the roof itself has not been rebuilt, simply covered and releaded. All the arches on the church have been redressed, the whitewash with which they were formerly covered being removed. A recess on the left hand side of the chancel that was formerly bricked up has been reopened, a monument that stood there being removed farther up the left wall. The floor of the belfry is new, and the bells have been cleaned and rehung. The chancel has been greatly improved. The floor has been laid with Minton tiles, and new seats for the choir, and communion rails and table and chair, all of oak, give it a very pleasing appearance. The old sepulchre in the chancel has been renovated, and that without damage to its antiquity. The old rod [sic] screen still stands as a monument of by-gone ages, and looks with sombre aspect at the new decorations that surround it. The church stands in a pleasant position near to the road. The total cost of the alterations amounts to £1,154, and there still remains £250 to be collected for the purpose of building a new porch and vestry. The architect employed was Mr. Fowler, of Louth, and the builder Mr. Charles Baines, of Newark, and both gentlemen appear to have done their utmost to render this ancient place of worship comfortable.'
In 1887 the south porch, which replaces an earlier one, was added at the expense of a former parishioner.
In 1912 the church was said to have 154 seats, and 30 children on the Sunday School roll. There had been three baptisms over the past year.
In 1925 the west door was restored.
Another major restoration was carried out in 1965-66 at a cost of around £100,000, most of which was raised within the village.
The tower was restored in 2018-19 and a new steel bellframe for 10 bells installed. At the same time the bells were augmented to eight.