St Nicholas


The tiny village of Littleborough lies on the site of a large Roman settlement, Segelocum, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Situated on the military road between Lincoln and Doncaster, excavations have revealed altars, urns, coins, and pottery from the time of the Roman occupation. The village lies on the west bank of the Trent five miles south of Gainsborough.

The river here is tidal and the Romans constructed a causeway crossing the Trent and only useable at low tide; it was largely dismantled in 1868 as it was a hazard to shipping. In 1830 there were discussions as to the building of a bridge but the idea was abandoned and the bridge was built upriver at Dunham-on-Trent. A chain link ferry used to operate until the twentieth century.

Domesday Book records the village of Littleborough as having 14 Freemen, 2 villagers, and 4 smallholders; there is no mention of either church or priest, though this does not necessarily mean that a church did not exist. The land was under the jurisdiction of the king.

The manor of was of the King’s soke of Mansfield and the church was given by King John (while he was count of Mortain) to the monks of Welbeck Abbey in 1191; this is the earliest documented mention of the church. Together with the church came a large amount of pasture land in the Peak forest. However, no rectory was appropriated by the abbot and convent and Littleborough remained a relatively insignificant benefice. No vicarage was ordained and the cure of souls was habitually served by one of the canons.

At the taxation of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 the church was valued at 5 marks (£3 6s. 8d.) annually for tax and the return stated: 'Ecclesia de Littilburg Monasterio de Wellebek appropriata'.

Further reference is made to the church's appropriation by Welbeck in 1307 when Archbishop William Greenfield issued a licence to the abbot to let for three years the fruits of the church of Littleborough held in 'proprios usus'. The following year the abbot also appeared at Guiseborough Priory to declare the abbey's appropriations and pensions which included Littleborough; sealed letters were produced which may have included an actum of Archbishop Roger of Pont L'Eveque made between 1157 and 1164 confirming their claim. In 1314 licence was again granted to let the church and mill to a suitable person for five years.

The rector of Sturton-le-Steeple, Mr. Geoffrey Golias, was granted leave by Archbishop William Melton in 1322 to be absent for a year; he was allowed to sell two portions of the tithes of his church, of Fenton and Littleborough, thus demonstrating a direct link between the parishes.

The 1341 Nonae Rolls record that Littleborough was taxed at 5 marks and that the ninth of sheaves, lambs and their fleeces were worth 2 marks (£1 6s. 8d.) a year at true value and no more, that the tithe of hay was worth 2 marks, and that altar dues, oblations, and other small tithes were worth 1 mark (13s. 4 d.) annually.

In 1371 Richard de Stretton gave to Sir William de Fulburne and Sir John de Hayton chaplains, their heirs and assigns, all his lands, rents and services with their rights and appurtenances in the towns of 'Stretton, Fenton and Lyttelburgh'. We do not know where these two clerics ministered, or if they were associated with Welbeck; neither was head at Welbeck at this time.

Littleborough was amongst the first churches Archbishop Bowet visited in his visitation of the Retford deanery in June 1409.

At the 1428 taxation of Henry VI the church was valued at a subsidy of 6s. 8d. which equates to the 1291 clear annual valuation of £3 6s. 8d. The return confirmed that Littleborough was still appropriated to Welbeck Abbey.

After the dissolution of the monasteries, the advowson passed into the hands of lay impropriators, namely the local Quippe family who held it until the 17th century. The Valor Ecclesiasticus lists Littleborough church as belonging to Welbeck Abbey and valued at £4 3s. 4.d

The parish register dates from 1539 but no baptisms were registered until 1614 (or at least if they were the register has not survived). The communion cup formerly used in the church dates from 1571 but is no longer kept there.

In 1596, curate John Quippe was presented for preaching sermons at Rampton and, in 1602, for not saying weekday service.

In the 17th century, concerns over spiritual provision at Littleborough were reflected in presentments made to the Archdeaconry of Nottingham. In 1602, churchwardens noted that they did not have divine service on Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays and had had no perambulation in the last rogation week.

In 1603, it was recalled that there were about 60 communicants in the parish, no recusants, and none of lawful age who refused the sacrament. 1607 saw the further noting of no quarter sermons, and of the chancel being in a state of decay. The problem was still persistent the following year and was noted as being the fault of the minister Thomas Wood . The churchwardens were also in want of a tome of Homilies and a lock for the register chest. No sermons had been preached the previous year and the steeple was left in a state of decay.

However, in 1612 the parson presented the old churchwardens for failing to have their steeple chamber sufficiently boarded and for lacking a book of homilies. The curate, Thomas Wood, was presented this year for taking away glass from the chancel.

In addition to the church fabric, the behaviour of the congregation was also underwent substantial scrutiny. In May 1620, Robert Wright was presented for ‘unreverent behaviour’, coming to the church in time of prayer ‘and entering the chancel with a hat on his head, without any reformation at all’. Two years later, Robert Juniver was presented for ‘laughing and talking in the church after warning to the contrary’. William and John Robson were also presented for not coming to the church and ‘for giving evil words to the churchwardens for telling them of their defaults’.

The religious reforms of Charles I’s Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud were reflected in the 1637 presentment for a rail to place in front of the communion table, for a pulpit cloth and cushion, and for a communion table cloth.

In 1673, churchwardens noted that they only had a minister about once a month. His whole allowance was only a little over £4 per annum, and the wardens believed that he executed the office ‘more for charity than the profit he received by it’.

In 1684, churchwardens at Littleborough noted that they had neither minister nor hearse cloth. It seems that a suitable candidate was found as 1685 saw nothing to present except the want of the aforementioned cloth and a cover for the font. Still, in 1686 it was noted that prayers were only given about once a fortnight. The burden of repair continued into the next century.

By 1717, William Cottam was the impropriator of the church. The Thornhagh family of Fenton became the next impropriators by purchase from Cottam. The right of presentation then passed through the Hewetts of Shireoaks to the Foljambes by marriage.

In 1718, presentments were still being made referencing to the need for the church to be ‘beautified within’ and a book of homilies to be provided alongside a cover for the font.

The governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty gave £200 to the church in 1737, 1764, 1786, 1789, 1807, and 1815 for the ‘augmentation of the curacy’. The parish was enclosed in 1823.

Thomas Herring’s visitation in 1743 made reference to the small size of the parish incorporating just 12 families. The vicar, Thomas Edwards, resided about two miles away at South Leverton. The public service was recorded as being read once a fortnight during the summer and once a month during the winter months, about 3 o’ clock in the afternoon except for on sacrament days. By reason of the smallness of the curacy there was no custom of catechizing noted. The sacrament was administered four times a year. The number of communicants was recorded as being about 28, of which 10-15 have usually received. Edwards noted that he had never refused the sacrament to anyone.

In 1764 Archbishop Drummond made a visitation when it was reported that there were 15 families.  Divine service was performed monthly 'as customary' and the Sacraments were administered twice in the year.

Major repairs were initiated in 1831-2 which, according to White’s Directory, gave the church a ‘modern appearance’. The expense of renovating the chancel was met by the church’s patron, G. S. Foljambe. The other repairs were at the cost of the parishioners except the new vestry and Sunday School room which were built at the cost of the previous incumbent.

In 1844, the village was listed as having only 17 houses and 77 inhabitants. The church was noted as a perpetual curacy in the incumbency of the Reverend George Kirke. Writing in the same year, antiquarian John Curtis noted that the appearance of the west front of the building suggests that the church as it stood was ‘merely the choir or chancel of a much larger structure’.

In 1851 the population was assessed as comprising 45 males and 39 females making a total of 84 souls. The total space of the church accommodated 55. Just 26 parishioners attended the single afternoon service. This slight number was explained due to the existence of dissenters in the parish who had ‘incited the people to attend the chapels in unusual numbers’.

In 1860, a sexton happened upon a stone coffin in the churchyard when digging a grave for a deceased parishioner. Local legend dictates that the lid was raised revealing the perfect body of a young woman whose garment was fastened by a Roman brooch. The lady crumbled to dust ‘in the twinkling of an eye’. The coffin itself is now located in the cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral.

Sir Stephen Glynne visited the church on 31 October 1867 and made the following observations:

'A small church, much modernised, consisting merely of a nave and Chancel and over the W gable a pointed bellcot with open arches for 2 bells which have been restored. The north wall is mostly rebuilt with hideous brickwork, but there is much of ancient masonry on the S – and some herringbone courses which mark an early period. At the E. end the herringbone masonry is very good.

The West doorway appears to be very early, with rude semicircular arch on imposts and large in proportion to the Church. There is a small original single lancet on the S. of the Chancel and one on the N of the nave may perhaps be original. The other windows are modern imitations of Norman. The Chancel arch is a pure plain Norman one, with plain soffit and one cylindrical moulding, and one order of shafts which have on the W. face sculptured capitals, but on the E. only plain imposts. There is a piscina with cinquefoiled arch on impost mouldings and a bowl which has nailhead in the mouldings. The Font has a plain cylindrical bowl on a square base. The interior is neatly fitted, but the improvements were effected much too soon.'

On 24 May 1876 the parish was united with nearby Cottam, being constituted an ecclesiastical district entitled Littleborough-with-Cottam. This was in the Tuxford rural deanery, Nottingham archdeaconry, and Southwell diocese.

In 1894, the living (consolidated with Cottam) was valued at £165 including 25 acres of glebe.

In 1898 an organ was presented to the church by F. J. S. Foljambe.

In June 1899 a bazaar was held to raise funds for the church restoration. The event was opened by Lady Gertrude Foljambe. The vicar at the time, W. A. Holiday, was reported as having tried for several years to have the interior of the edifice restored. With such a small congregation, however, he realised that sufficient funds could only be raised with outside assistance. Parishioners from nearby Sturton and Cottam also helped to raise the necessary funds at the bazaar by setting out a range of stalls. A public luncheon was held and the band of the Retford Rifles played in the afternoon.

Major restoration took place in 1900. The total cost was over £300, two thirds of which was raised by the abovementioned bazaar. The roof was replaced and new oak pews, doors, and communion rails were installed. The vestry was rebuilt. The patron of the living, the Right Hon. F. J. S. Foljambe promised to pay the remainder. The church had 60 sittings.

In 1911 the net annual value of the benefice was £148.

In 1925 Littleborough was separated from the parish of Cottam and united with Sturton.

Further restoration work was completed in 1973. A festival week was held to raise the funds needed for the restoration. At this time, there were just 20 people living in the village and the church was still lit by paraffin and candle light.

The church is no longer in regular use and in 1993 it was vested into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust who continue to look after it today. It is open daily.