For this church:
The village of Holtone (Hawton) was recorded in Domesday as having a mill, five manors, one priest and two churches. 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’s History of Newark records that in 1330 Peter de Whitelegge was a hermit of the chapel of St Wilfred, Houton. It is perhaps 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.
Records dating from July 1617 tell us 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.”
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. During the Civil War the Parliamentarian forces besieging Newark, re-used the moated area around what had been Sir Thomas Molyneaux’s 15th century mansion, opposite the church, to utilise it as a redoubt.
Archbishop Herring’s visitation return in the 1740s 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 £1300, much of which was raised by public subscription. In 1785, Sir Roger Newdigate, Patron of Hawton said:
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’.
During restoration in 1843-44 (at a cost of £1645), the chancel carvings were rediscovered. 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. Work was done by George Gordon Place, Architect of Nottingham. These plans, which are still in existence, 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 by Charles Hodgson Fowler was carried out in 1880-87.
In 1887 the south porch, which replaces an earlier one, was added at the expense of a parishioner, Mrs Hutton.
In 1912 the church was said to have 154 seats, and thirty children on the Sunday School roll. There had been three baptisms over the past year.
In 1926 the west door was repaired.
Another major restoration was carried out in 1965-66 at a cost of around £100,000, most of which was raised within the village.