St Mary Magdalene


The origins of both Keyworth church and parish are obscure. The present church, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, was mostly built in the 14th century, but the list of incumbents goes back to 1268 implying that there was a church building in Keyworth before the present one. A century before that, between the 1130s and 1167, the Keyworth living - tithes, glebe and offerings - was given over to Thurgarton Priory, so presumably there was a church in existence then. This is the earliest reference found to a church in Keyworth. There is no mention of one in the Domesday Survey (1086), though this is not unusual of places which are known to have had a church at that time. The village name, spelt Cauord in Domesday, is thought to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, probably meaning ‘the enclosure (ord or worth) of Cau’, but we have no pre-Norman documentary references to either the name or a church.

There are no identifiable remains of a pre-14th century church. It was probably located on the site of the present building, though is unlikely to have been of identical plan. Footings of its walls may underlie the floor of the present church. The font in the present church is thought to be Norman; it may have come from an early Keyworth church, or been brought from elsewhere. There are also the remains of a building in the grounds of what is today known as The Old Rectory (built in 1859) i.e. part of a stone wall with doorway, and several shaped stones, including two cusped arches, now flanking the driveway or used in a rockery. If the building was mediaeval or earlier, the fact that it was stone-built indicates that it must have been important - perhaps a former rectory, monk’s cell, or even an early church. However, without further archaeological or documentary evidence, we can only speculate.

Two much later series of references hint at possible origins of Keyworth parish, and perhaps of its original church. First, in all extant church terriers of both Keyworth and Plumtree throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, there is note of the Rector of Keyworth making annual payments to the Rector of Plumtree of 6 shillings and eightpence (half a Mark in mediaeval currency). The payments are no longer mentioned in 19th century terriers - they probably ceased when tithes were extinguished with Enclosure in 1799 (Keyworth) and 1805 (Plumtree). One possible explanation of the payments (none is given in any terrier) is that at some point Keyworth parish was hived off from a formerly larger Plumtree parish, and the payments were made as compensation to the Plumtree Rector for the consequent loss of tithes. This would be consistent with the view that in mid-Saxon times, the area now roughly covered by Plumtree, Keyworth, Edwalton and Ruddington, was served by a minster church at Flawford (or Flawforth), a base from which friars carried out missionary work among the heathen in the surrounding ‘super-parish’ or parochia. As these people were converted and became viable communities of Christians, perhaps with landowners willing to build and endow a church, modern parishes were formed, with Plumtree being the first (it has the oldest church of the four today), and Keyworth taken out of Plumtree some time later. The first church building in Keyworth may have been a chapel-of-ease within Plumtree parish, perhaps dating from pre-Norman times.

A second series of references are to an enclave of Bunny in the parish of Keyworth. The earliest extant reference dates from the 16th century, and the last are in 19th century parish registers up to the late 1870s. By correlating the latter with census schedules it has been possible to locate the enclave as occupying the northern third of houses flanking Main Street, to within a few yards of the churchyard - i.e. the enclave was in the very heart of the village. People living in the enclave paid tithes to Bunny. They had to perform parish duties like that of churchwarden at Bunny; and, until the mid-18th century, when rules appear to have been relaxed, they had to travel to Bunny to be baptised, married and buried. Again, no explanation of the enclave is given in ancient documents so far discovered, but it probably relates to the manors which occupied the area before modern parishes were delineated. These properties (three manors associated with Keyworth are mentioned in Domesday) changed hands, were subdivided or amalgamated by sale and inheritance, as are farms today, and once-compact units may have become fragmented into two or more detached areas. At some point, possibly in the 13th century with the appointment of the first incumbent, the parish of Keyworth was formed out of one or more manors, and the boundaries of those manors, at that point, became fossilised in the newly established parish boundary, which thereafter remained unchanged until modern times.

The list of Keyworth’s incumbents starts with Hugo de Barri, in 1268 - probably a younger son of the first patron, John de Barri, of Tollerton. (The Barrys, a prominent Tollerton family through most of the middle ages, were Lords of Tollerton and Keyworth manors and holders of the advowson of Keyworth rectory for at least three centuries). He was followed within two years by another Barri, Ralph, who lasted only three days, from 29th May to 1st June 1270! The third, Nicholas de Leyton, stayed for 18 months, and it was only his successor, Hugh de Stapleford, who remained long enough to give some stability in the parish.

In architectural terms, the 14th century is the most important century in the history of Keyworth church, because it is the century during which the old church was demolished and a new one - the present building - erected in its place. The first part to be re-built, during the first half of the century, was the chancel, in decorated style. During most of this period, the rector was Ralph Rosell who, if the dates in the list of rectors are correct and complete, was the longest serving rector of Keyworth, from 1312 to 1362, which included the years of the Black Death (1348/9).

There seems to have been a period of about fifty years before the next phase of rebuilding began, during which the old nave was presumably in use, abutting onto the new chancel. Then, in the late fourteenth century, the present nave and north aisle were built in early perpendicular style - a style more usually associated with the 15th century. Delay in rebuilding may be related to the Black Death disaster, although it is remarkable how much church building took place throughout the country after the Black Death. Many of those who survived it were better off, especially those who were farm labourers, (labour was scarce, so wages rose) or who acquired land which had belonged to its victims. Perhaps they could better afford to give towards church building. They may also have thought that giving to God would prevent another visitation. On the other hand, it has been speculated that there would have been a shortage of stone masons, and only the least skilled could be employed in obscure country churches like Keyworth’s, which may account for the very basic window tracery in the nave and aisles.

The last parts of the church to be built, towards the end of the 14th, or very early 15th century, were the tower and south porch, together with aisles flanking the tower, a westward extension of the north aisle, and a south aisle west of the porch. It is recorded that the Pope granted an indulgence to all who made a pilgrimage to Keyworth in 1399, for reasons unknown, the offerings from which may have contributed to the cost of this building phase.

Important though the 14th century was in the history of the church, we can only conjecture how the building was used. The Reformation had not yet occurred. Thus, the priest and his acolytes (deacon, sub-deacon, clerk) would have had exclusive use of the chancel for saying daily mass; he congregation would have been confined to the nave, shut off from the chancel by a rood screen. Mass involving the laity (Holy Communion) would be said four times a year only, with people receiving the sacrament in front of the rood screen. The walls of the nave were probably plastered and covered with whitewash, overlaid by frescoes (paintings in vivid colours), warning of hellfire for the damned, and telling the gospel story for the saved. It is very unlikely that the floors were paved; they would have been covered with rushes, which would be replaced when they became too dirty. There was probably no pulpit or lectern, and no seating in the nave. Sermons were rare and printed Bibles in English were unknown. Confessions would be heard and weddings, baptisms and funerals would be conducted in the nave, extending into the porch or churchyard where appropriate. There would be no choir or organ - these were only found in some cathedrals and minsters. Secular meetings might take place in the nave too, being the only indoor space in the village large enough to contain a crowd.

Our knowledge of developments relating to Keyworth church before the 18th century is very scanty. The most dramatic changes were probably those associated with the Reformation and the Cromwellian period, but there are no explicit references to either in local documents. One may assume that the Reformation led to a change in forms of worship. The Book of Common Prayer replaced the missal. The rigid separation of chancel and nave would have been relaxed, with laity coming to the altar rail for Holy Communion and for weddings. Confessional boxes were removed, as were icons of the Virgin Mary and other saints. Chantries devoted to prayers for the dead, if there had been any in the church, would be put to other use. Sermons increased in frequency and length, leading to the installation of a pulpit and pews in the nave, together with an English Bible on a lectern. The Cromwellian period would have re-emphasised these changes with longer sermons and a plainer interior, with frescoes whitewashed over or replaced by the Ten Commandments. This period would have seen the removal of any remaining icons, such as an altar crucifix, and the institution of public confessionals, when those found guilty of heinous sins - particularly fornication or adultery - had to express their contrition before the whole congregation, instead of privately to the priest in the confessional box.

We have only occasional references to individual people and how they lived. We know the names of the rectors from Godfrey’s list, (though even this is incomplete) but not of most curates who acted on behalf of absentee rectors with more than one living. Generally, it was only those of some distinction, rank or wealth, or whose will has survived, together with miscreants brought before ecclesiastical or civil courts, of whom we have any knowledge. Keyworth can only boast two in the first group, Archdeacon John Lowth and Humphrey Babington.

John Lowth was archdeacon of Nottingham and also Rector of Gotham, but from about 1580, when he was 61, until his death in 1590, he lived in what he called ‘my Mansion house’ in Keyworth (later known as manor Farm). He may have retired before moving to Keyworth (probably retaining his livings and stipends, but employing others to do the work!). If not, he would have spent much of his time travelling around the county and especially to Gotham. He, presumably, worshipped from time to time in Keyworth church which was just across the road from his house, but there is no mention of him in any of its records.

Humphrey Babington was appointed Rector of Keyworth by Isham Parkyns (both were Royalists) after the death of the previous rector, William Smythe, in 1650, but was ejected by 1656, when his successor, Philip Ormeston, was appointed. Babington did not return to the living after the Restoration in 1660, when Ormeston was in turn ejected and replaced by William Goodall. Babington went on to become a Cambridge academic, gaining a DD in 1669 and being appointed Vice-Master of his college in 1690, two years before his death. Again, we know nothing of his contribution to the life of Keyworth church, though one may assume he temporised with the puritanical purges that ran through the country at large - which is perhaps why he was ejected. The extant parish registers date from 1653 - maybe he was responsible for ensuring their safe maintenance from then on.

One rector who left a will was Henry Rydyngs (1502 to 1515). As a pre-reformation priest he was celibate and had no children, so made bequests to a wide range of people, including “to every God-child I have in Keyworth xii d”, suggesting a warm relationship with his parishioners. He had at least three servants, who were beneficiaries, so he lived fairly comfortably, perhaps in the rectory of which there are remains in the present Old Rectory grounds. The most favoured received, in addition to an assortment of kitchen and tableware, “a Kow called Bowse”. This serves as a reminder that clergy in those days had to be practical men of the land, perhaps directly farming their home field, letting out and supervising cultivation on the remaining glebe, and receiving, storing and processing (threshing, winnowing and having milled in the village flour mill) his tithes, which were then normally paid in kind. Many rectories were surrounded by a virtual farmyard.

Among the miscreants, one 16th century rector deserves a mention, illustrating as it does the frailty of at least some men of the cloth, though we are not sure who this one was. The Court of the Archdeacon of Nottingham tried several cases of fornication by a Keyworth rector in 1585, the first of which was “promoted by Edward More” (himself accused of indecent behaviour in 1568) so he might have made the accusations out of malice after he had been de-frocked. The defendant was accused, successively, of fornicating with the wives of John Byngham, Henrey Skipwith and George Oldham, and pleaded not guilty. The outcome of the hearings is not recorded. He was also accused of keeping two maids in his house, whom the judge said he was to “putt away at Mychelmas next and provide an ancyent woman to keep his house.” A new rector, William Barker, was installed on June 19, 1585, which suggests that the accused found his position in the village untenable and left - unless the accused was William Barker himself, which seems unlikely as he remained rector of Keyworth for the next 34 years.

During the 17th century, four surveys of parishes were carried out, two for taxation purposes (the hearth tax returns of 1664 and 1674) and two to identify levels of religious conformity (the protestation returns of 1641 and the communicant survey of 1676). They throw some light on Keyworth and its church at those dates. The first of the two religious returns, made immediately before the outbreak of the Civil War, lists 79 men and one woman in Keyworth, of whom 76 attested their allegiance to Protestantism, while four, including the one woman, refused to do so and were branded ‘recusants’ or Catholics which was a dangerous thing to do in those days. In the majority of neighbouring parishes, there were no recusants. Except for the one woman, this survey only covered males over the age of 18. It is reasonable to assume a similar number of adult females, and at least as many children of both sexes, so that the village population must have been around 240. This number may have included those living in the enclave of Bunny parish in the centre of the village. If not, the population of the village would have been somewhat larger, perhaps nearer 300.

The second religious survey, of communicants in 1676, presents a rather different picture. “The number of persons of an age to receive communion” was given as only 106, of whom none was a recusant or dissenter (Quaker, Baptist, Presbyterian etc). If those over 18 were deemed old enough to receive communion, then Keyworth’s population appears to have decreased sharply, though some of the difference from the 1641 figure of 160 adults may be accounted for by the Bunny enclave, if its residents were included in the earlier but not in the later survey. The communicants survey also shows that Keyworth had become more conformist; more so than many of its neighbours. Of 6,782 people in the Bingham deanery of an age to receive communion, 38 were recusants (23 of whom lived in Colston Bassett), and 298 dissenters (54 in Cotgrave). We can only speculate on the reasons for Keyworth’s high conformity rate at this time. A forceful Anglican Lord of the Manor (Sir Thomas Parkyns I, father of the more famous wrestling baronet, Sir Thomas Parkyns II) or a popular Rector (William Goodall, who served Keyworth for 47 years) may have been influential.

Only the 1674 Hearth Tax returns for Keyworth have survived. They give us the number of houses in each parish and the number of hearths or chimneys in each house - a rough measure of size and the prosperity of its occupants. Keyworth had 49 houses which, at an occupation level of five per house, suggests a population of about 250. Being a non-ecclesiastical survey, this would have included the Bunny enclave. Most of the houses (29) had only one hearth; the rectory had three, and there were several houses with four or five hearths. So the rector appears to have lived comfortably but fairly modestly. There is no record of him having the income from a second living, and he is thought to have lived in Keyworth rectory throughout his long incumbency. For comparison, the parsonages at Plumtree, Ruddington and Costock had ten, six and four hearths respectively.

While the 18th century was the century of The Enlightenment, in which rational thought began to oust superstition and emotion, and a more optimistic view of human nature and destiny gradually eroded obsession with original sin and everlasting damnation, it was also a century of growing materialism within the church and upper echelons of society. It is appropriate, therefore, that one of the main themes of this section is centred on money and on land, then the chief source of a church’s income.

First, the raising of money for good causes, for the church’s interest in money was not entirely mercenary and self-serving. One way in which this was done was through a system of ‘briefs’, in which collections were made in church for a deserving cause approved under royal mandate, a system which lasted nationally from 1660 to 1828. Keyworth parish registers record over 200 such briefs being issued, with responses varying from zero for the Bradmore fire of 1705, when half the village was destroyed, to 14/7d for the Blandford Forum fire of 1732 and 7/9d for “the green spire of Copenhagen”. Clearly, charity did not always begin at home. Much must have depended on how the brief was presented and the mood of the congregation on that occasion.

During the 18th century the living conditions, social status and wealth of most clergy of the Church of England (other than curates) improved significantly, and Keyworth was no exception. The first new rector of the century, Charles Drury, built himself a new parsonage the year after his induction in 1708. Less than fifty years later another parsonage was built, after the arrival of Richard Barnard in 1751, though he appears only to have used it occasionally for himself. For, from 1751, Keyworth had no resident rector for over a hundred years; a succession of seven rectors who held other livings to increase their incomes having chosen to live in their other parishes. Pluralism, as the practice of holding more than one benefice was called, was not unique to the 18th century, but its frequency increased markedly as expectations of how a beneficed parson should live rose. The normal practice was to appoint a curate to run the parish in which the rector did not live, paying him perhaps a quarter of his income and pocketing the rest for doing next to nothing! If the rector’s two parishes were far apart (Barnard’s other one was in York until he moved to Costock in 1768), he had no other choice. However, if they were near each other, he might try to do without a curate. Barnard’s predecessor in Keyworth was Edward Moises (1728 to 1751). He lived in Keyworth but was also Vicar of Wysall, and seems to have managed without a curate, in spite of the Archdeacon of Nottingham, Robert Marsden, urging him to appoint one.

Another feature of the appointment of incumbents was nepotism. The most glaring case in the 18th century was that of the 23 year-old Sampson Parkyns, son of the patron, Sir Thomas Parkyns III, as rector of both Keyworth and Costock in 1794. This appointment first entailed the removal of the sitting tenant, Thomas Beaumont. Less well known was that of Richard Barnard, a nephew of Jane Barnard of York who became the second wife of Sir Thomas Parkyns II, the wrestling baronet, and therefore stepmother of his patron, Sir Thomas Parkyns III, who held the advowson from 1743 to 1806. Nepotism was, of course, not new in the 18th century. Some of the earliest rectors of Keyworth were related to their patrons, the Barry family.

An early 18th century rector, Thomas Wood of Derby (1715 to 1728), seems to have been a man of substance before coming to Keyworth. In his will he left land and houses in Derbyshire to future rectors of Keyworth, which were subsequently exchanged for land, first in Morton (near Fiskerton), and then in Normanton which became Firs Farm, on Nicker Hill, just over the Keyworth parish boundary. So most 18th century rectors of Keyworth received income, not only from Keyworth’s glebe, tithes and offerings, but also from renting out this additional land outside the parish, and from the proceeds of another benefice.

On the other side of the balance sheet was payment of a curate, if any; upkeep of the rectory and church chancel (the laity was responsible for the rest of the church and churchyard); annual payment of 6/8d to the rector of Plumtree. Also, half of all the tithes raised in Keyworth were payable to four tithe-holders other than the Rector of Keyworth: the lay-rector of Bunny (Parkyns) and his vicar - accounted for by the Bunny enclave in Keyworth - together with the rectors of Clifton and Gotham. These last probably originate from the fact that land and the tithes on land in Keyworth had, in mediaeval times, been given to Lenton Priory. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries these had been acquired, by gift or purchase, by the livings at Clifton and Gotham. Nevertheless, the rector of Keyworth’s tithe income was still considerable. When, at Enclosure in 1799, all tithes were extinguished, he was awarded about 130 acres of land as compensation, which, together with the 80 acres of pre-enclosure glebe, made him the biggest landowner in the parish.

Some non-financial information can be gleaned from returns (answers to a questionnaire) made in advance of visitations to the parish by Archbishop Herring in 1743 and Archbishop Drummond in 1764. (Nottinghamshire was, until 1837, in the diocese of York, so visitations to its parishes were made by an archbishop!) The earlier returns, made by Edward Moises, give the number of families in the parish as 30, while the later one, by Richard Barnard, give it as 51. This seems rather a steep rise in twenty years, but may, in part, be accounted for by Moises excluding the Bunny enclave and Barnard including it.

In Moises’ time, there was a small group (three families) of Presbyterians in the village. Twenty years later this had grown to eight families, now calling themselves Independents. Meanwhile, a list of subscribers made by the Independents in 1761 numbered twenty, but this would have included members from other villages as at that time they met in Normanton. In 1768, the Independents opened a church in Keyworth, after which membership grew. For the first time, the Church of England in Keyworth was facing a serious challenge from dissenters. This was perhaps in part due to an upward drift in the social status of its clergy and consequent alienation from many of their parishioners, exacerbated by the absence of non-resident rectors. If curates were employed, they often only stayed briefly before obtaining a more lucrative position. Luke Stephens had been curate in Keyworth for twelve years by 1764. Receiving a stipend of £30 a year plus use of the rectory, he was not much better off than many of his flock.

Attendance at Sunday services was not asked for in the returns, but of those attending Holy Communion (still only held four times a year), Moises records, “I am sorry to say how few receive it, notwithstanding my frequent endevours (sic) and exhortations.” Barnard gives the number of communicants as 60. There must have been twice that number of confirmed adults in the village in 1764, even if those living in the Bunny enclave are excluded, of whom less than half had attended the most recent Easter service. So, even of those who were nominally members of the church, many, perhaps the majority, were irregular attenders at best. The days when people were fined or worse for non-attendance were gone. Greater tolerance and a more relaxed attitude towards sin, damnation and salvation seem to have led to indifference towards matters spiritual among many.

One question put to both incumbents related to schools. Keyworth had no endowed or charity schools, but a small school met in 1743 “depending on the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants” - a precarious basis on which to run a small village school. It probably met at the back of the church, beneath the tower, as it did in the 19th century, and as was the practice in many parish churches at the time. But by 1764 the school seems to have closed down. The voluntary contributions were no longer sufficient, and neither the absentee rector nor the ill-paid curate was able or willing to keep it going.

One question in the Visitation returns is perhaps more interesting than the answer: “Do your parishioners duly send their children and servants (italics added) who have not learned their catechism to be instructed by you?” In that paternalistic age, servants were not simply employees. In the view of the church at least, their masters had the right - indeed, the duty, - to supervise their moral and spiritual development. Mr. Moises’ response to the question was “I constantly catechise in Lent.”

Three related features of 18th century church history continued well into the 19th: pluralism, nepotism and the challenge of dissent. When Sampson Parkyns died in 1801 at the age of 32, his father, Sir Thomas, appointed his friend William Beetham as rector of both Keyworth and Costock. Beetham had been vicar of Bunny for the past 16 years and was a regular visitor for Sunday afternoon tea at Bunny Hall. For his first 13 years at Keyworth and Costock he managed without a curate; thereafter he appointed a Keyworth curate while spending most of his own time in Costock, where he chose to live and where he died. His first curate was his own son, John Tidy Beetham, who held that position and lived in Keyworth rectory until he was made vicar of Bunny.

By the time of William Beetham’s death in 1833, the advowson of Keyworth (but not of Costock), which had been held by the Parkyns family for most of 200 years, was sold to a man with no obvious connection with the locality, Peter Thompson of Enfield, Middlesex. He had clearly bought it to bestow the living on his son, Edward. But Edward was only 22 years old in 1833, and was only a deacon. He could not be ordained priest, and therefore qualify as rector, until he was 23. This was a similar situation to that of Sampson Parkyns in 1794. So the new patron appointed John Champion ‘under bond of resignation after one year’ i.e., he agreed to keep the living warm for young Edward until he was 23, when he would resign. During the year that Champion was rector, Edward Thompson acted as his curate, the registers showing that he took nearly all the baptisms, marriages and burials - and probably the other services as well, though Champion or another priest would have had to conduct Holy Communion four times during the year. But as soon as Thompson became rector, his signature disappeared from the parish registers. He appointed a succession of short-stay curates who ran the parish and conducted the services while he spent most of his time in London, with curacies in Portman square and Pimlico, and also as editor of the Church of England Quarterly Review. Thompson’s last curate in Keyworth, William Nott, apparently neglected his duties and got into debt, leading to some acrimonious correspondence with the Bishop of Lincoln, (Nottinghamshire was transferred to the Lincoln diocese in 1837), the dismissal of Nott and the resignation of Thompson.

At some time during his incumbency, Thompson acquired the advowson from his father, so that when he resigned he had to appoint a successor. His choice was somewhat bizarre. John Hancock Hall, already rector of Risley Hall in Derbyshire, was 73 years old. He made it plain from the start that he had no intention of performing the duties of the benefice in person, on grounds of age and infirmity “and there being no house of residence”, though there was. It was probably thought that Hall would not last long, but he lived into his 90th year, during which time practically all his duties were carried out by one curate, Lawson Peter Balantine Dykes, who stayed until Hall’s death and then took up a fellowship at The Queen’s College, Oxford.

The two succeeding rectors, Alfred Potter (1859-1878) and Henry Ling (1878-1927), were self-appointed, having first bought the advowson for several thousand pounds. They were clearly men with a substantial inheritance. An advowson must have been seen as a good investment, enabling them to appoint themselves to a position promising a steady, comfortable income and status. They could later appoint a son or other favoured successor to the living, or sell the advowson, probably for at least as much as they paid for it. Not that they looked upon their livings exclusively in such calculating terms; both were men of strong conviction who, once in post, worked tirelessly to promote the spiritual welfare of their parishioners, as they saw it.

When Potter came to Keyworth, he determined to live in the parish. He built himself a new rectory with money which Hall, his predecessor, had put by for the purpose. He was the first resident rector since the death of Moises over a hundred years before. But pluralism, though diminished, was not dead. Both Potter and Ling also acquired the living at Stanton, though this was near enough for them to serve both parishes without neglecting either, particularly after Ling became one of Keyworth’s first car-owners in the 1920s.

The third element of carry-over from the 18th to the 19th century was the challenge of dissent. In the early 1800s, this was effectively confined to a flourishing Independent chapel, led by a minister, John Dawson who, after a ministry of 35 years, was particularly remembered for his preaching, which was “experimental, doctrinal and practical.” By the time of his death in 1821, there was already a small community of Methodists in the village, meeting in each other’s homes or outside until they built their first chapel in 1828. Their numbers increased rapidly, boosted by an influx into the village of framework knitters, who were mostly Primitive Methodists. Both Independents and Methodists offered keen competition to the somewhat complacent Parish Church, with its absentee rectors and frequent change of curates. Differences of theology and in fervour were compounded by class divisions. The Primitive Methodists, in particular, were among the poorest in the village, while the established church appealed more to the few who were comfortably off. Independents came somewhere in between.

By mid-century, well over half the village worshipped in chapel rather than in church or not at all. The 1851 Ecclesiastical Census registered a total of 481 chapel attendances, exclusive of Sunday School scholars, on the Sunday of the census (297 Congregational, formerly Independent; 160 Methodist; 24 Baptist - a small Baptist chapel had recently been opened). All three had two services on a Sunday. It is possible, however, that the number of people attending might be only half the number of attendances, in the unlikely event that they all attended both services. Even so, that meant a minimum of 240 adult chapelgoers. The population of Keyworth in 1851 was 667, of whom perhaps two-thirds, 440, were old enough to attend adult services, so clearly the chapelgoers were in a majority. Meanwhile, the parish church did not give a figure for number of attendances, but stated, haltingly and with apparent embarrassment, “Somewhat short of half the families in the village do attend Church - some few in past - and at times - or would if they had decent clothes to come in.”

When the energetic Alfred Potter became rector in 1859, he set about rectifying the situation. The number of baptisms increased from 58 in the 1850s to 165 in the 1860s, including 19 on Christmas Day 1867. Church attendances rose. He increased the frequency of Holy Communion, first to once a month and then to once a week. And in 1862 he opened Keyworth’s first purpose-built school, providing increased space and improved facilities compared with the base of the church tower, which had previously served as school for several decades. Potter thereby strengthened the virtual monopoly enjoyed by the church in the education of the village children. This caused some resentment among dissenters, so when, following the 1870 Education Act, parishes could open non-denominational schools financed out of a general rate, where it could be shown that the current provision was inadequate, there was pressure for such a school to be built in Keyworth. This led to a protracted and ever more bitter dispute between the rector, who wanted to retain his monopoly, and leading dissenters, who wanted to break it. Eventually, the dissenters won. A Board School was built with better facilities than those offered by the church school, and attendance at the latter began to decline. In his anger, Potter banned all dissenters from using the Rectory field, which had long been the parish recreation ground. The whole cricket club - church and chapel men - moved to another venue. After Potter’s death, the new rector, Henry Ling, tried to heal the rift between church and chapel - he closed the church school, joined the Management of the Board School, and was instrumental in the appointment of a church member, Henry Neate, as Headmaster in 1890. Indeed, some complained that it was a take-over, and it was many decades before the mutual suspicion and antagonism between church and chapel abated.

One of the most important developments during the 19th century was the restoration of the fabric of the church, and its refurnishing. In mid-century, the church, together with its churchyard, were described as “one of the most picturesque we have ever seen. The main portion of the church is covered with one brilliant-looking mass of ivy....:while the whole is embosomed and surrounded by groups of splendid trees, and the avenue to the south porch is a Gothic aisle in itself.” But beneath the ivy, all was not well, and a critical moment came in 1870 when, during a service conducted by Alfred Potter, a piece of masonry from the east window fell to the ground. This led to a survey which revealed the building to be in a dangerous condition and in need of comprehensive restoration. Potter’s son Sidney, who was 12 years old in 1870, recalled many years later, “Walls were stripped (of ivy) and strengthened, the whole church was re-roofed; the chancel and east window were rebuilt, the windows restored and reglazed throughout, the floors relaid. The detestable lumbering gallery......was swept away with the horse-box pews and double-deck pulpit, and the church was seated with chairs.” The whole undertaking cost £1350 - over £100,000 in today’s money. As far as structure was concerned, the only part of the church that was not renovated in the 1870s was the tower. This is curious, because Stretton had observed in 1815 that “the lantern and spire are in miserable repair to the great disgrace of the parish”, and there is no record of any work being done on them between that date and the 1870s. Presumably, the church had run out of money.

The gallery just mentioned was a common feature in country churches in the 19th century, and perhaps earlier. It was usually placed over the western part of the nave, was probably a wooden structure looking incongruous in a stone church. As village populations grew, it provided more accommodation, but equally important before the installation of an organ, it was where the minstrels led the choir and congregation in song. Hymns had become an increasingly important part of services, partly through the influence of Methodism and its great hymn writer, Charles Wesley. When Lawson Dykes came to Keyworth as curate in 1842, he “provided instruments for an orchestra, including a double bass viol, a single bass viol, a clarionet, a trombone and.... serpent.” He then trained a band of instrumentalists and a mixed choir to perform psalms, hymns and anthems. In the 1860s the church acquired a harmonium, and the village schoolmaster, Alfred Haskins, was also the church ‘organist’ (so described in White’s Directory, 1867). This made the ‘orchestra’ redundant, and as congregations were not so big as to require the extra space provided by a gallery, it was pulled down as part of the restoration. Its removal would have made the nave lighter. S P Potter, recalling the restoration he had witnessed as a boy living in the rectory, wrote of the church being transformed “from a state of darkness and decay to one of brightness and structural soundness.”

If Potter oversaw the major structural restoration, important improvements were added during the long incumbency of his successor, Henry Ling. These included the provision of choir stalls in the chancel, the re-introduction of pews in the nave, a heating system, a chancel screen, the first proper organ, and a new tower clock, which was positioned at a higher level than the one bearing the date 1796 which it replaced, all before 1900; and a thorough restoration of the tower in 1927.

Four related themes characterise much of the church’s story in the 20th century: secularisation of the community in which it operated, impoverishment of the living, democratisation and ecumenism.

At the end of the 19th century, most people not only professed a belief in God, but attended church or chapel frequently, if not every Sunday. Most had their children baptised and sent them to Sunday School. The church’s seating capacity of some 150 was equal to a quarter of the village population in 1900 and one-fortieth in 2000, but there has been little need to increase it, as the proportion of churchgoers has declined steadily throughout the intervening century. Some 30 chairs were placed under the tower when a new vestry was built in 1975, and more recently chairs have replaced pews in the north aisle.

Meanwhile, the income of clergy has generally declined. In the 19th century, most of it came from land, but with the long agricultural depression consequent on the import of cheap grain and meat from the New World after 1870, rents had to be lowered. As early as 1882, Ling complained that “it is most regrettable that the income of the clergy should be derived from a source which is worse than precarious, but should also be of such a character as to make them from dire necessity more resemble humble tillers of the soil than ordained priests.” Eventually, in 1918, Ling sold nearly all his glebe, including 57 acres in neighbouring Normanton acquired by one of his predecessors, and thereafter lived off the interest of the capital the sale yielded. It is ironic that the lane leading to much of that glebe, Lings Lane, is named after the man that sold it.

The rector’s income continued to decline in relation to the rising cost of living. In 1891 Ling had three servants, so he was still a good deal better off than a tiller of the soil! But clergy without other income sources found it increasingly difficult to maintain their large parsonages and domestic staff; Keyworth’s being no exception. In 1958 the Victorian rectory, with its spacious garden, was sold, and a new, more modest replacement was built on a small plot of land alongside. The size and site of the new rectory symbolise the democratisation of the church. The old rectory could only be approached up a long drive. It was cut off from the rest of the village by high walls and hedges, and its occupants were also socially separated, both by their higher incomes at the beginning of the century and by the prevailing deference of working people towards their ‘betters’. The children of the rectory went to private or boarding schools. Today’s rector is more accessible. The old deference has given way to respect based on what he does rather than the position he holds. The conduct of church affairs is also more dependent on lay participation, not only in humble tasks like cleaning and flower arranging, but also in conducting services (there are three lay-readers) and in decision-making. Although the rector is chairman of the parochial church council (instituted in 1920), he no longer dominates church activities in the way his Victorian predecessors did. Furthermore, the rector is no longer appointed by a wealthy personal patron. To the end of the 18th century this had, in Keyworth’s case, usually been the Lord of the Manor - either a Barry of Tollerton or a Parkyns of Bunny. Thereafter, it was often the rector himself, but he first had to have the money to purchase the advowson and appoint himself. Today, all appointments are vested in the diocese of Southwell. Power to appoint, and to influence thereafter what an appointee does, can no longer be either inherited or bought.

The unfortunate animosity between church and chapel that once existed (in which respect Keyworth was not unusual) gradually gave way during the 20th century to mutual tolerance and then to active cooperation. Churches have become more outward-looking, and spend less time splitting hairs over the finer points of theology. In so doing, they find their differences are trivial compared with what they have in common. The resulting ‘unity in diversity’ is impressively symbolised in a millennium window inserted in the south-west corner of the church in 2000. It depicts, in bright colours, all the churches in Keyworth (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and URC), together with the logo of the Baptists who have no building of their own and meet in a school. The window was paid for by a bequest from the late Bernard Coyne who, having no family, left his estate to be shared equally between Keyworth’s Anglican church, of which his wife had been a prominent member, and the Roman Catholic church just over the parish boundary in Stanton, to which he had belonged.

With one exception (P W Rushmer - 1928 to 1930), recent incumbents of Keyworth parish church have all remained in office for fairly long periods. If we look at the second half of the 20th century, we note that Jack Gibson (10 years) was succeeded in 1969 by John Ottey (16 years), who accepted promotion to the living of West Retford in 1985. He was replaced by John Hardy who served for 8 years until 1993. Both Ottey and Hardy have since retired and been made Honorary Canons of Southwell Minster.

There followed an interregnum of nearly ten months before the appointment in 1994 of Trevor Sisson - not as rector but as priest-in-charge of Keyworth and Stanton. (Keyworth and Stanton have had the same rector for most of the 20th century, but the appointments were made separately until the late sixties, since when they have been treated as a single incumbency). Trevor Sisson’s ministry was later augmented by that of a curate, Alistair Littlewood, in June 1996. A many-talented and popular young cleric, his move to become a chaplain at Birmingham University in 2000 left something of a void in the parish. During the interregnum of 1993-4, services were maintained by several local priests, most notably Canon Clive Shrimpton, the former vicar of Ruddington who had retired to live in Keyworth.

With the arrival of Trevor Sisson, the move began to amalgamate the parishes of Keyworth, Stanton, and Bunny with Bradmore into one united benefice. This was finally achieved, after much delay, in 2002, after which Father Trevor was formally installed as rector of the combined benefice. Meanwhile another Father Trevor, Trevor Kirkman, was inducted as a self-supporting associate priest to work with Trevor Sisson.

Keyworth is fortunate to have had several lay-readers to assist the clergy in the last fifty years. Recently, there have been as many as four, of whom one is currently training for full-time priesthood. Several other members of the congregation have in the past been ordained into the ministry.

Restoration and Re-ordering

The church, the churchyard, and to a lesser extent the parish hall have all undergone restoration and substantial changes. (The Parish Hall was built as a National School in 1862, but the school closed in 1879 for lack of pupils, most of whom had opted for the nearby Board School, built in 1874). These, with an ongoing maintenance programme have necessarily been financed with the assistance of loans and grants from various bodies, and by local, concerted fund-raising efforts, particularly during the 1970s.

Floodlighting of the church, aided by a Parish Council grant, was installed, and the church exterior renovated by December 1974. New vestries were added on the north side and first opened for use in June 1975. Major roof repairs, involving retiling the nave and restoration of the tower were completed the following year.

During the 1990s, further significant changes were made. In 1993/4 a new organ console was purchased and sited in the chancel (the organ’s original position), with electronic technology enabling existing pipes at the back of the church to continue in use. In 1986 a kitchenette was installed in the south-west corner, near the Norman font. More recently, the pews in the north aisle have been replaced by chairs, to give flexibility of use, as in the tower area. The church has on occasions been a target of vandals and thieves, so in 1997 the entrance porch was secured by a pair of strong wrought-iron gates.