St Michael



The Middle Ages
From the Reformation to the Mid-19th Century

The Middle Ages

There is no evidence that Laxton had either a church or a priest in 1086.

It seems likely that the church was founded in the reign of King Henry I (1100-1135). Ralph Alselin, the Norman lord of the manor, divided the estate with his relative Robert Caux, probably in the reign of Henry I. The two men founded a priory at Shelford for Austin Canons, to which they gave Laxton church as part of the endowment. The first known prior at Shelford was in office by 1173. No firm evidence can be offered for the dating of St Michael’s, but the earliest rectors to have been identified are Rich de Lexington and John de Sutton, who was presented by the Prior and Convent in 1240.

The church was remodelled and extended during the 1250s and 1260s. The north chapel was the burial place of the de Lexingtons who obtained their name from the place, and rose to great wealth and importance. Sir John de Lexington was Keeper of the Great Seal to Henry III; before his death in 1257 he founded a chantry at Laxton, dedicated to St Mary, and gave it to the Abbot and Convent of Rufford, ‘to pray for the souls of his ancestors here buried’, and those of others including King Henry III. The de Lexingtons may well have been related, perhaps through an illegitimate line, to the de Everinghams. Robert de Lexington built up an estate at Moorhouse, and by the time of his death in 1250 was on bad terms with the de Everinghams.

A chantry was an endowment for the celebration of masses at an altar in a church for the souls of the departed. Usually masses were said by a specially appointed priest who held his chantry as an independent benefice, and his altar, his stipend, and his house, if one was provided, were as fully his as the freehold as the church and rectory were of the rector. Sir John de Lexington’s wife, Margery, his father Richard and his mother Maud were buried in the north aisle of the church, and it was here that his altar to the Virgin was set up. It is thought that what is now the de Lexington tomb was originally built as an altar with a high canopy, and subsequently cut down and altered to accommodate de Everingham effigies, for which it had not originally been intended. The chantry endowment amounted to 5 marks (approximately £3 33p) yearly, from rents.

Robert de Lexington also founded and endowed the chantry of St Edmund. This was a donative, and as there are no traces of a separate chapel of St Edmund the priest probably celebrated at St Mary’s altar. The de Lexingtons died out in 1258 with the death of the last brother, Henry, bishop of Lincoln, and the lands accumulated by the brothers were divided between the husbands of their two sisters, Richard of Markham and William of Sutton.

Both chantries had chaplains. John Derman was appointed chaplain of St Mary’s chantry in 1490 and paid to pray for Sir John de Lexington and his wife Margery, Henry III, William de Vescy and a number of other people, suggesting a foundation date of 1250-60. Derman was succeeded by John Herbert. The chaplains shared the chantry house which, according to the Mark Pierce survey of 1635, still stood east of the church. The chaplain of St Edmund’s had various parcels of land in the open fields, totalling 40 acres.

The south chapel was the burial place of the chief or superior lords of the manor, the de Everinghams, who recovered the advowson in the fourteenth century. Adam de Everingham, the then lord, presented on 28 May 1329.

On the death of John Roos in 1458 the manor of Laxton passed to his son Robert, who settled it on Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York. Rotherham founded a new College of Jesus at Rotherham in 1482-3 and appropriated Laxton to the College.

In 1471 the vicar, Richard Johnson, was set in the stocks at Wellow and later gaoled in Nottingham, on the accusation of William Blyton of Wellow of having had an affair with his wife. Johnson petitioned the Archbishop of York for help and was released from custody but obliged to quit the living.

Rotherham made a number of alterations to the church. The present chancel screen was originally part of the rood screen which he put up in a similar position. Most significantly, he was also responsible for the clerestory, and externally the windows had gargoyles placed between them. For the north side of the church Rotherham commissioned an effigy of himself replete with cope and mitre, and holding his primatial cross.

From the late fifteenth century Laxton was served by a vicar with the rectory and its emoluments going to the College of Jesus, as intended by Archbishop Rotherham. In 1500 Rotherham died and he directed in his will that if his niece Anne Restwold should marry Humphrey Roos, the manor was to return to the Roos family. The marriage took place, and in 1508 the manor was returned to the Roos family.

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From the Reformation to the Mid-19th Century

After the Reformation in the 1530s the chantry lands were granted to Thomas Marshe of London, gentleman, and Roger Williams of Usk, gentleman, for £952 in 1549. By 1635 the land was divided between five individuals who may have been freeholders who had purchased the land from the original grantees or their successors.

St Michael’s was not particularly well maintained. In the seventeenth century the church was reported to be in a poor state of repair and the churchwardens were regularly brought before the church courts to answer complaints about the fabric and the churchyard. In 1603 they were presented for failing to carry out proper repairs and in 1609 the churchwardens were given six months to repair the church fence. In 1635 the aisles were reported to be ‘not paved’, the south aisle and chancel were reported to be ‘decayed’, and there was no altar rail. The south aisle was already in use as a school. William Woodrow left £3 in 1646 ‘towards the mending of the glass windows about Laxton church’, and in the 1660s it was found to have major defects in the walls, pavements, and porches.

Things were not much better in the eighteenth century as the churchwardens struggled to keep the five church bells and the clock in good working order. In 1731-2 they spent £12 ‘casting the second bell’, which had to be done twice after the first attempt was unsuccessful.

In 1743, the vicar, John Worrall, was reported to read the public service twice on each Sunday and to administer Holy Communion five times a year, which was not untypical. Around 180 people were capable of receiving Communion but only 30 or 40 normally attended with 60 at Easter. In 1764 the Rev William Walker read the service twice each Sunday and administered the Sacrament four times a year. About 50 people attended Easter communion. In relative terms, Laxton was well served.

The church continued to be a cause for concern, and in the 1790s Rev John Throsby described it as being in a state of ‘impious neglect’:

This church is dedicated to St Michael, has a fine spacious nave and side aisles; a large chancel, and a fine tower with 5 bells. The north cemetery (chapel), which was doubtless chosen as a resting place for the pious founders of, and benefactors to this place, is the foulest man ever saw. I will attempt a description of it without the smallest exaggeration. The floor and old stones are completely covered with coals, coal-slack, cinders, fire-wood, straw, lime, broken bricks and stone, hassocks & floor-mats torn in pieces, ladders, an old sieve, broken scuttles, and spades; brushes without handles, and handles without brushes, mortar boards and mortar, reeds, tiles, foot, broken glass, dog’s dung and —. Under the arch, that leads into this place of filth, stands an old tomb almost 6 feet high, on which lie three figures, seemingly a knight and his two wives; but so covered with dust, that I found it difficult to sketch them. Opposite, in the chancel, is an alabaster trunk of another figure, on an old mutilated tomb, head and armless. On the south side of the church lies a loose head, probably once belonging to the trunk above named. Near which lies part of a cross legged knight.

The cost of upkeep was shared between Earl Manvers who, as lord of the manor and impropriator, was responsible for the chancel, and the parishioners, who paid for the nave and the churchyard fence. In 1818 the second earl spent £54 on re-roofing the chancel with lead. The parishioners’ costs were met from the church rate and profits of 13 acres of church lands scattered through the open fields. In 1809 these produced about £9 per annum, but by 1844 they amounted to £28 3s 6d, and the land was occupied by John Cook. The churchwardens, acting on behalf of the parishioners, spent £43 on plumbing and glazing in the 1790s, and another £11 on repainting in 1810-11. Whitewashing the church cost £6 10s 6d in 1837-8. £17 was spent on mending the bells in 1808-9, and two stoves were introduced into the church in 1836.

It seems to have been a constant struggle to keep the church in any form of repair. When the archdeacon visited the churchwardens were ordered to have the church properly repaired and whitewashed, and also to clean up the chancel. The Rev Richard Proctor, the vicar, admitted that it was ‘extremely dirty indeed and the archdeacon said it must be done’. Manvers found himself with a bill for £25 in 1842, but when the rural Dean inspected the church in 1843 he came away with mixed feelings:

I am happy to find that, on the whole, the work done in the chancel and particularly round the basement or plinth externally, has been executed so well. At the same time I must beg to express my regret, that notwithstanding my very strict and earnest remonstrances to the contrary, the caps of the pillars and the pillars themselves should after the thorough cleansing they underwent from previous wash, have been again overlaid with another coat of the same. I also feel very sorry that certain portions of oak carving existing in the chancel on the left or north side of it have been removed. True, they were but fragments, yet as those fragments were there, they served at least to show what had been, and a pattern for future restorers of church decoration, and they ought not to have been removed. Perhaps you would be so obliging as to interest yourself so far respecting them as to ask the workmen if they are in existence and endeavour to have them replaced. Before I visit this parish again, I hope you will be so good as to supply a decent door in the door way near the altar rails. The windows in the clerestory of the chancel appear to be in by no means good condition, perhaps I am not asking too much of you to direct your attention to the same. In case you glaze the windows afresh I beg to suggest that the ancient lozenge form of pane be preserved as it is new and not made square. The same mistaking in cleansing the pillars has been made in the church as well as the chancel they have been overlaid with another coat or lime or colour wash, but on the whole the church is very much improved and much cleaner and less damp than formerly.

In 1851 the vicar, Richard Proctor, made the return for Laxton on census Sunday. He recorded that the church had 397 seats, a general congregation of 15-20 in the morning, and 97 in the afternoon, with 60 Sunday scholars at both services. These were also the average figures for the past year. In the 1890s Edith Hickson recalled that ‘most of the village children attended Church or Chapel and Sunday School, dressed in their Sunday Clothes.’

When Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church in 1854 he reported that although it was ‘a fine church full of interesting features’, with a ‘fine and solemn’ interior, it was nevertheless ‘unhappily in a state of neglect and decay ... in bad condition’. He noted that the south chapel was now ‘walled off and appropriate to some unknown purpose – possibly a school’.

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For fifty years money had been spent on the fabric without noticeable improvement, and at the end of the 1850s Earl Manvers suggested a drastic remodelling of the church and the churchyard. A special meeting of the vestry was called in February 1859 to consider the proposition that:

In consideration of the dilapidated state of the church at Laxton, Lord Manvers proposes to build ... a new church at his sole cost ... for a sum ... not exceeding £2000, besides the use and value of the old materials, a certain portion of the old church being retained.

The motion was accepted by a majority of 28 to 1, with Samuel Pinder, junior, as the lone dissentient. A faculty was obtained in which it was noted that the church was in a ‘state of extreme dilapidation and decay’, and that Manvers was ‘desirous of building in great part a new church for the more convenient use of the parishioners and the more fitting celebration of the public worship’. A faculty was issued on 2 June 1859: to take down and rebuild the church. The building was described as dilapidated, and the faculty recorded that Earl Manvers had agreed to undertake the restoration work at a cost of £2,000, all of which he would provide. The ‘new church’, the term used in the faculty, was to seat 300 adults and 75 children.

The church was largely rebuilt to designs by the Nottingham architect T C Hine. The tower was taken down, the nave was shortened by one bay, and the aisles were reduced in width. It is still possible to see in the church today where the bay originally began. The Everingham chapel and the north porch were demolished.

The south porch and the outer walls of the aisles, where they had gone out of upright, were pulled down. The Rev C B Collinson told the Thoroton Society in 1902 that ‘the whole of the south, west, north, and part of the east walls of the church are modern; also all the slated roofs. The walls on the south and north are not built on the old foundations, but within the area of the older church, with the object of contracting it in width to confirm with the smaller number of inhabitants and the diminished importance of the village.’

The tower was then rebuilt using a combination of new materials and stone from the medieval tower, on a more easterly position adjoining the shortened nave. It was capped with a pyramidal roof of slates.

Seating capacity was reduced from 397 to 295. The restored building was opened by the Bishop of Lincoln on 11 October 1860. The parishioners funded the restoration of the five bells and the cost of enclosing and levelling the churchyard.

The chancel and aisles were also covered with slates in coloured bands, which was later thought surprising in a village where red tile (pantile) roofs predominated.

The result was not to everyone’s taste. Edith Hickson suggested that the renovations ‘caused the grand old church to disappear completely – a great loss to the village and to posterity’ although it is clear from her account that some parishioners were mostly upset by the loss of the old box pews and their replacement with modern pews. In 1916 J B Firth referred to the church as having been ‘ruthlessly restored ... barbarous deeds were done’, although he accepted that it remained ‘a noble building’. Harry Gill suggested in 1924 that:

it can scarcely be termed a “restoration” for the tower was pulled down, the proportions of the nave were sadly injured by the abstraction of one of its bays; the north porch was demolished and the outer walls of the aisles, where they had gone out of upright, were also pulled down. New outer walls were built in order to reduce the aisles in width and so bring the area of the church more into conformity with the size of the village.

A new boiler and heating system were introduced into the church in 1889 at a cost of £38 17s 6d. Alterations were made in 1900 including the removal of the organ from the south to the north side of the Chancel.

In 1912 there were 57 children on the role of the church school and 45 on the Sunday School roll. There had been fourteen baptisms and twelve confirmations over the previous twelve months. Easter communicants peaked at 101 in 1912.

The Rev W J Thurston became vicar in 1932, and he set about the church with energy. In 1933 he applied successfully for a faculty for a new boiler and radiators as well as various other changes in the church and the distempering of the walls to obliterated modern texts and the erection of a new oak pulpit in memory of a former vicar, Rev Christopher Collinson. In 1935 electric lights were introduced to replace the old oil lamps, and an oak screen was erected across the rear of the church separating it from the base of the tower to commemorate King George V’s silver jubilee. An electric blower for the organ was installed in 1946.

The advowson was transferred by Earl Manvers to the Southwell Diocesan Board of Patronage in 1942.

The bells were renovated in 1956