St Anthony


The early history of the church is shared with Lenton Priory, a Cluniac house founded by William Peverel sometime before 1108 (although there is some doubt over the authenticity of the charter). There is no reference to a church in Domesday, nor in the foundation charter of Lenton Priory, and indeed, there is no reference to a parish church in Lenton found previous to the dissolution of the Priory in 1538. Although Valor Ecclesiasticus refers to a church appropriated to Lenton Priory, and Dugdale records Henry II granting 80 acres of land and a mill to the ‘church’ of Lenton, these references almost certainly relate to the conventual church which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and served a parochial function before the dissolution of the Priory in 1538. The present church, however, appears to have been originally associated with a chapel in the hospital of St Anthony at Lenton Priory – a lesser secular almshouse for men – with only the chancel surviving from this early manifestation. During restoration works in 1883-4, it was discovered that the fabric of the parish church had been formed from the walls of the old chancel of the chapel of St Anthony, with a new and wider nave being added later.

In 1291 Lenton Priory was valued at £13 6s 8d with a vicarage valued at £4 13s 4d, whilst in 1341 the church of Lenton Priory was taxed at 27 marks. In 1428 the church was valued at 20 marks and the vicarage at 7 marks. Again, these figures should probably not be associated with the chapel of the hospital of St Anthony (what would later become the Priory Church of St Anthony), but rather with the benefice attached to the parochial nave of the conventual church. Lenton Priory was dissolved in 1538, and under the Verbal Treasons Act of December 1534, the prior, along with eight of his monks and four labourers were indicted for treason and subsequently executed. Four years prior to the dissolution Valor Ecclesiasticus recorded that Lenton Priory had a value of £54 10s with a gross annual income of £387 10s 10½d derived from considerable estates and appropriations. The church of Lenton, appropriated to the priory, was valued at £9 2s 6d.

Although there are references to a number of demolition works following the priory’s dissolution, it would appear that some portion of the priory continued to be used since the parish records of Lenton note the baptism on 28 November 1601 of one Thomas, son of Andrew Bradford, who had been born in the monastery. Evidence relating to the church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is scarce. In a certificate of church goods belonging to the parish of Lenton, dated 5 September 1552, it was recorded that the church owned one ‘sanctus bell’, two vestments of ‘whyte ffustyan’, one vestment of ‘dornyxe’, one albe, one patterned silver chalice, one ‘cowpe of red sey’, and two bells ‘one callyd a hande bell and the other a sacryng bell’. The certificate was signed by the vicar, Robert Gaybone, alongside two parishioners and two church wardens.

The churchwardens' presentment bills provide information on church affairs in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1596 they reported that the roof of the parish church had recently fallen down and William Washburne, farmer of the Lenton fair, 'is presented for suffering the churchyard to be used and wares sold there in the fair time.' In 1603, when making his visitation return, the parson of Lenton Priory Church reported that there were 269 communicants in the parish including '47 within the monastery who are not of our parish yet come to our church.' Robert Ollerenshawe, the curate from 1623-1659, is mentioned in the presentment bills a number of times. In 1628 he was accused of being 'nought' [naughty] with Elizabeth Bond [wife of George Bond], or 'had the carnal knowledge of her body'. In 1642 he presented 'Christop[er] Doubleday of Lenton for laying violent hands upon me, striking me over [word missing] and making a fray and a blood upon me in the town ... I haveing beene about the kinges busines'. He clearly had problems: in 1650 the Parliamentary Commissioners declared him to be 'a drunkard and of ill conversation.'

A parochial visitation order of 1718 commands that the following work be carried out by churchwardens: 'chancel roof, windows and out walls to be repaired; walls to be repaired with lime and hair inside; walls to be whitewashed inside. The following printed items to be supplied: table of the prohibited degress of marriage. The following fittings to be supplied: napkin to cover bread and wine; three locks and keys for the poor man's box, basin for alms.'

In Archbishop Herring’s visitation in 1743 George Wayte, curate of Lenton, reported that the parish was home to about eighty families, four of which were dissenters, with three families being Presbyterians and another family was recorded as independent. Additionally there was a single woman who was an independent, one male papist, and three male Quakers. Wayte stated that he knew of nobody who attended his church but had not been baptised, and that only a few of his parishioners who were of ‘competent age’ had not been confirmed. Public service was read every Lord’s Day, but could not be performed twice on these occasions because the curate was also responsible for reading a public service in the church of Radford in the adjacent parish. Wayte reported that he catechised every other Sunday from the beginning of Lent to Michaelmas, and that most of the parishioners sent their children to be instructed. The sacrament, which had never been refused to anyone, was issued four times yearly and usually received by around twenty or thirty of the two hundred communicants. The return also noted that there was no other licensed meeting house, no public or charity school, no almshouse, hospital or other charitable endowment, or any lands or tenements left for the repair to the church. The curate also reported that he did not reside in the parish. In 1768 the vicar had 22a. 1r. 5p., with an additional 1a. 2r. 34p. awarded in 1796 in lieu of tithes, and 1a. 2r. 31p. of ancient glebe.

An account of the church building prior to 1843 has been provided by Ginever (1930):

‘The church had an open timber roof until 1775 when it was ceiled. In 1807 the floor of the church was raised on account of damp, a vestry erected, the church renewed, and a stove for warming introduced. In 1811 the churchyard wall was rebuilt, and an iron gate fixed therein; and in 1820, trees were planted round … Archdeacon Eyre visited Lenton in 1811 and prescribed various further restoration to the roof, steeple and walls, pointing and underpinning being necessary. He objected to cattle grazing in the churchyard, as they damaged the graves and stones, and ordered that only sheep were to be allowed in. The steeple was repaired in 1829, and the wall between the churchyard and Old Church Street (then called Churchill Close) and neighbouring garden plots were built of Bulwell Stone in 1841.’

Sketch of a painting
showing the church in
1843 just before the
partial demolition
of the nave
Map showing the
roofless nave in 1882
© Crown Copyright and
Database Right 2019.
Ordnance Survey
(Digimap Licence)

In 1832, White’s Trade Directory recorded that the church was a ‘small fabric’, with the vicarage valued at £9 2s 5d and in the patronage of the king. The incumbent was the Rev Edward Creswell. However, by 1844, it was recorded that the ‘ancient parish church’ was a ‘roofless ruin’ except for the chancel, which continued to be used as a vestry room, and the site had recently been planted with ivy, giving it a ‘pleasing appearance’. The reason for this dramatic change was that a new church (Holy Trinity) had been erected, whose first stone had been laid on 11 June 1841. A faculty was subsequently obtained in 1843 for the old parish church to be dismantled except for the chancel and vestry. The font of the old priory church was transferred to this new church and the fittings and furniture were taken to Hyson Green St Paul.

A newspaper advert for the sale of building materials from the partly-demolished church in July 1844 led to a derisive article in The Times:

'Church Desecration.—The old Church of Lenton, near Nottingham, the last relic of the once noble Abbey, formerly one of the richest in England, has been superseded by a smart new Church, lately built in "compo," in the early English style, with the vestry at the east end of the Chancel, and a water closet only separated by a thin wall from the holy Communion table! Well, although this new erection does not accommodate a fourth of the population (4467 according to the last Census), the authorities must needs pull the old Church down and sell it. Not content with a simple advertisement, they attempt the George Robins style, and contrive to produce the following exquisite morceau:—"Sale of building materials at Old Lenton. —The building materials of Old Lenton Church, consisting of a large quantity of bricks, tiles, stout oak beams, spars, four large windows well adapted to a brewhouse, &c.” Comment is unnecessary.'

In 1856, W W Fyfe visited the ruins of the ancient church as part of his Rambles around Nottingham and recorded his impressions:

'Entering the almost deserted churchyard by an unfastened old iron gate, placed in an angle of that enclosure on the opposite side of the way from the house of Mr Place, candour obliges us to confess that a worse or more unwholesome graveyard was, perhaps, never seen. Within it are still interred the superstitious and the poor, though since the consecration of the church at New Lenton, the very family monuments have begun rapidly to disappear from this desolate spot. It is large and open, but so wet underneath that every grace dug in it becomes a perfect well of water.'

It is perhaps just as well, then, that burials in the churchyard were discontinued on 1 April 1857. In terms of the church itself, Fyfe recorded ‘Here the roofless shell of an old parish church – said to have been built on the site and with the materials of the hospital – after the destruction of the priory. Yet, this building… is still, so far as its chancel is concerned, used as the legal parish vestry, and is said to have, once upon a time, looked well encased with ivy. Any old or ornamental stones appear to have been carried to the new church.’ In fact, Divine Service continued to be conducted in the chancel, which was fitted with plain wooden benches, with the old clerk’s desk placed under the east window doing duty for reading desk and pulpit.

Despite the success of the new church, the Rev Percy Smith, a 'zealous and energetic' curate at Holy Trinity, felt that more should be done to meet the spiritual needs of the growing population of Old Lenton and secured the agreement of the vicar, the Rev George Browne, that services should again be resumed at the old Priory Church. After a short time the services became so crowded that there were as many as 130 people in the chancel and the adjoining vestry. It became quite clear that the church should be enlarged and that more work needed to be done in that part of the parish. A committee was formed to consider what should be done with regard to the enlargement and the restoration of the old church, and it was decided that the best thing would be to restore the old fabric, it having been confirmed by the architects (Evans & Jolley of Nottingham) that the foundations were good, and that the walls could be restored.

On 22 November 1883, restoration work began with the laying of the foundation stone. The inscription states:

To the Glory of God this stone was laid by Mrs. J. Sherwin Gregory, and consecrated by Christopher, Bishop of Lincoln, November 22nd, 1883.

The Nottingham Evening Post, reporting on the re-opening of the church on 4 December 1884, provides a summary of the restoration work:

'The [restoration] was placed in the hands of Messrs. Evans and Jolley, architects, of Nottingham, and the result is that the roofless walls of the nave, the chancel, and the vestry of the old building have been transformed into a handsome church, capable of holding about 400 people. As much of the old walls as possible have been left standing, and new windows have been worked for the positions occupied by the decayed ones. In the west wall there is a three-light stained glass window, the gift of the Misses Charlotte and Ann Wright, as a token of esteem for the vicar of Lenton. The subject is the Lord healing the sick, and the representation has great significance, from the fact that the church was no doubt formerly part of the hospital of St. Anthony, which was one of the earliest buildings of its kind founded in England. The design is very beautiful, and is eminently creditable to Messrs. Heaton, Butler, and Baines, who have supplied it. New arcades have been built, surmounted by a clerestory, and there is a bell turret on the west bay of the nave roof. As the site is on a low level, and rather damp, the floor of the church, which is of wood, has been raised above the ground, leaving a well ventilated space below it. '

Shields over the west door

Some traces of the ancient church remained: ‘The three crowns on the dexter shield over the west door are the emblem of S. Ethelred, King and Martyr, and the three double fleur-de-lys on the sinister shield are the emblem of S. Thomas of Hereford… On the south-east buttress there is an ancient scratch dial, almost indistinguishable now, while under the south-west window there is a slab, inscribed with the shaft of a cross, a missal and a chalice, probably from the grave of a former vicar of Lenton.’ A medieval piscina, with a quatrefoil basin and drain was also discovered during the restoration. The piscina has been restored and built into the south wall, nearer the east end, at a height of two feet eight inches above the new altar steps.

In 1911 Bishop Edwyn Hoskyns made a visitation to the church alongside neighbouring churches, and subsequently recorded that ‘At present we are not keeping pace with the spread of the population either in Clergy or Churches. Carry your though over the districts of Carrington, Mapperley, Sherwood Rise, Porchester Estate, Hyson Green, and Lenton, and you will at once see that a large and generous forward movement is needed, and that burden ought not to fall upon individual incumbents. If buildings are needed, so are men, and today there is work undone and waiting to be done for lack of 18 clergy.’ The visitation return recorded that the curate was F J Kahn, MA 1910, and that the net annual of the benefice (shared with Holy Trinity) was £444. The population of the parish was 12,398 in 1901 and 13,205 in 1911. The church could accommodate 250 parishioners.

In October-November 1934 the church celebrated its Jubilee starting with special services of thanksgiving with the Bishop of Southwell and the Archdeacons of Nottingham and Newark which began on 28 October. One of the main highlights of Jubilee week was an indoor pageant entitled 'The Church of yesterday, to-day and to-morrow.' The pageant took place in the Church Hall under the direction of the Rev. F. Ginever was divided into three scenes: life in the days of the priory, one featuring a modern bishop and clergy and a scene with the subject of missionary work (including representatives of Africa, India, China, Japan, Palestine and other countries).

On 25 June 1950 a memorial window and plaque to Sir Albert Ball was unveiled and dedicated. Sir Albert had been a churchwarden for a number of years and the family had a close connection with the church and parish.