Newstead Abbey
St Mary


Newstead Abbey was originally an Augustinian Priory founded during the reign of Henry II. It has been claimed that the founding of the Priory at Newstead occurred in the aftermath of one of the most momentous events in the history of the Church in England – the murder of Thomas Becket.

Thomas Becket had been appointed by Henry II to the post of Lord Chancellor in 1155 and became a close friend of the King and his trusted adviser. When Archbishop Theobald died, it was natural for Henry to appoint Becket as the next Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Gradually, however, relations soured and the King began to voice his frustrations to his courtiers. Eventually, in 1170, Henry II uttered the fateful words: 'Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?' whereupon four of his knights promptly did just that, forcing their way into his Cathedral and killing Becket as he prayed. Becket became a saint and King Henry a distraught penitent, performing several acts of public atonement for his part in the murder. One of them, according to tradition, was the founding of Newstead Priory. Several accounts, however, give a date in the 1160s, prior to the Archbishop’s murder, as the date of foundation. It may be, however, that the penitent King was moved to give an additional grant to a recently founded Priory.

Thus the Priory of St. Mary of Newstead (De Novo Loco) in the Forest of Sherwood, came into being. The first witness to the foundation charter was Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Canterbury, who was later translated to the See of Ely. This charter, executed at Clarendon, conferred on the Prior and Canons a site near the centre of the forest; and Papplewick, with its church and mill and all things pertaining to the town in wood and plain, together with the meadow of Bestwood by the side of the water; and rent in Shapwick and Walkeringham. At the same time the king confirmed to them a gift of other lands in Nottinghamshire. The great forest wastes around the monastery granted to the canons by their founder were known in the old charter as Kygell and Ravenshede – and their updated names (Kighill and Ravenshead) are familiar ones in the vicinity today.

A small religious community existed on the site until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. The Priory was surrendered on 21 July 1539 and immediately handed over to the custody of Sir John Byron of Colwick. In May 1540 Sir John bought the estate of Newstead for £840, converted the Priory into a manor house and lived there with his family. It seems that it was after this time that the Priory buildings became known as Newstead Abbey. It remained in the possession of successive Byrons, up to and including George Gordon, the Sixth Lord Byron of Rochdale (the poet), who inherited it in 1798 at the age of 10. He lived with his mother in Southwell, but after schooling and college, he lived briefly at Newstead but travelled extensively. In 1817 Byron sold Newstead Abbey to Colonel Thomas Wildman for £94,500. The property was then in a very poor state, but Wildman spend an equal amount of money in repairing and restoring it.

Thomas Wildman had been a schoolfellow of the poet at Harrow, had served as an aide-de-camp to Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo and was afterwards equerry to the Duke of Sussex. He is an important figure in the history of Newstead and he lived there until his death in 1859.

A significant part of Wildman's restoration involved the conversion of the monastic chapter house into a private chapel. The Priory's Chapter House was never a place of worship, since its purpose was administrative: it was the place in which all the business of the monastery was transacted, where confessions were heard and where the Prior would pronounce disciplinary sentences upon monks who had transgressed against the strict rules of the Order.

From 1540, when he bought the property, Sir John Byron had used the Chapter House as a form of chapel, but with a minimum of alteration. A drawing of the interior of the Chapter House by Samuel Hironymous Grimm dated 1773 shows a view from the east and reveals a stout door and box pews at the rear and sides. Whether these furnishings date from Sir John Byron's time or were provided later is not known.

Colonel Wildman commissioned major alterations, however, including the provision of a side-gallery (fashioned from an adjoining room), to form a private chapel. A chaplain was appointed in 1864 and worship on the site could then be facilitated after an interval of three centuries. The Revd Curtis Jackson was the first chaplain and he lived just outside the Abbey Gates in The Hutt, an inn which belonged to the Estate and which had its licence revoked before the clergyman could live there. Succeeding chaplains lived at The Hutt until 1895, when it reverted to its former use as a hostelry.

After worship at the Abbey Chapel became possible, estate workers and their families from the scattered 'village' of Newstead attended, although strict segregation was in force. The Colonel with his wife and their guests would take their places in the gallery, then the butler would sit on one side of the aisle with all the men behind him, whilst the housekeeper sat on the other side of the aisle with all the women behind her.

In 1860 the Abbey was bought by William Frederick Webb and then, when he died in 1899 his estates at Newstead and at Cowton (North Yorkshire) passed to his daughter Lady Chermside, who died without issue in 1910. They then passed to another daughter, Miss Ethel Webb, who died in 1915 and then to trustees for the benefit of his son, Captain Roderick Webb who died on active service in 1916. Upon Ethel Webb’s death the Estate was leased to Sir Arthur Markham, who also died in 1916. His widow Lady Markham stayed in residence until the lease ran out in 1920.

The next owner was W F Webb’s daughter Mrs Augusta Fraser of Reelig, Invernesshire who took up residence in 1920 as soon as Lady Markham left. Her son, Charles Ian Fraser, attended the University of Oxford in 1918 and then, when he came of age in 1924, took full control of the Estate, which at that point became disentailed.

When W F Webb bought the estate in 1860, the slow and unchanging rural life of Newstead was coming to an end as it fell victim to the massive expansion of industrial activity occurring across England. There was an insatiable demand for coal and the rolling fields in the vicinity of the Estate hid some rich seams. Soon the locality was transformed, as two mines were sunk by separate companies within half a mile of one another and the size and character of the population changed dramatically.

One of these pits (sunk in 1874) was Newstead, on the fringe of the Abbey Estate where the colliery company built a village to house its workers. The other was Annesley, opened slightly earlier, in 1865 and a little further away from the Estate.

Whilst the two collieries were located cheek by jowl, there was no common community. There remained two pits, two villages and two groups of men working for two different companies. This separatism led inevitably to two different churches. Initially, Annesley people walked over to Annesley Old Church, beside Annesley Hall. By 1874, however, the new church of Annesley All Saints had been opened.

When Newstead Colliery was being developed in that same year, its new workforce did not wish to go 'up the hill' to Annesley All Saints: they looked across the level ground of the Newstead Estate to its Abbey Chapel and its chaplain for worship.

One report says that it was not until 1889 that 'services began to be held in the colliery buildings by the Abbey Chaplain’, but it may have been earlier than that. Later they were held in the Newstead Cemetery Chapel, before being transferred to the schoolroom.

The Parish of Newstead then had two places of worship and a chaplain. Services were held in the two locations: in the Newstead Abbey Chapel and in what the Service Book refers to as Newstead Colliery. In the early entries in the book, which start on 1 December 1912 (Advent Sunday), services in the different locations are indicated by A for Abbey and C for Colliery. After a while this practice ceases, presumably because the services follow a set sequence, with 8.00 am Holy Communion at the Colliery Chapel, 11.15 Matins at the Abbey Chapel and 6.00 Evening Prayer at the Colliery Chapel. A very similar pattern has continued to the present day.

Worship in the schoolroom continued for many years, but in the 1920s, an expansion of the colliery meant that more miners were needed and the ‘New Village’ was built in the period 1923-1925. A permanent church building was now an urgent requirement and the Colliery Company gave some land for its construction. A Building Committee was formed and Trustees representing both Newstead Colliery and Newstead Abbey worked to finance and build the church.

After some problems, difficulties and disagreements, the construction of the simple structure proceeded rapidly. The Foundation Stone of the Church was laid in August 1928 and the Dedication took place on 15 December the same year.

During his remarks the Bishop rejoiced that ‘the people of Newstead have been provided with a sanctuary by the munificence of the Colliery and the Abbey Estate’ and thanked the worshippers ‘for their indefatigable labours over a course of years.’

The Liberty of Newstead was extra-parochial for ecclesiastical purposes when discussions were taking place about building a new church. The Building Committee minutes state that ‘the Colliery Company and Mr C I Fraser (Abbey Owner) are favourably disposed to convey, with the consent of the parishioners, the land and church when completed, to the Bishop of the Diocese or other trustees of the Established Church of England, for the use of the people for ever.’

A later note advises: ‘At the present time, Newstead is extra-parochial and would have to be brought into the Diocese.' An application was made to the Church Extension Society for assistance with funds, which, if granted, would of itself have brought the new church into the Diocese. At the time, however, the arrival of a newly-appointed Bishop of Southwell (The Right Revd Dr H Mosley) was awaited and the Church Extension Society could not give approval without his endorsement. There was delay and the Committee became impatient. It decided that it had enough money (‘we have sufficient funds to put up a decent church without waiting for their help’) and went ahead with the building without word from the Bishop or the Diocese.

The Liberty of Newstead therefore continued for some years with its two church buildings (Newstead St Mary the Virgin and the Chapel of Newstead St Mary) standing within three-quarters of a mile of each other. In 1963 they were brought together with Annesley All Saints when the Diocese of Southwell created the new Parish of Annesley with Newstead. The first incumbent was the Revd Frank Lyons and he was appointed after Newstead had been vacant for four years and Annesley for three.

In October 2015, a Pastoral Scheme was brought into being whereby part of the Parish of Annesley with Newstead was transferred to the Parish of Ravenshead, and as a consequence, responsibility for the Abbey Chapel was assumed by the Vicar of Ravenshead. 

Charles Ian Fraser had sold the Newstead Estate to the Nottinghamshire philanthropist Sir Julien Cahn in 1931. Later in the same year, Sir Julien presented it to Nottingham Corporation, whose successor Nottingham City Council owns it today.