For this church:
The first documentary reference to Normanton on Trent derives from Domesday Book of 1086, in which the place-name is noted as Normentone. This is taken to mean ‘the farm of the Norsemen’, or Norwegians, to differentiate the settlers from the Danes, who formed the majority of the Scandinavians who settled Nottinghamshire from the ninth century. Before the Norman Conquest, the township belonged to five thanes, but by 1086 they had been dispossessed and the majority of the village had become part of the extensive landholdings of Roger de Busli, who had fought with King William at the Battle of Hastings. It comprised arable land and meadow, which supported eleven freeholders and six smallholders, indicating a population in the region of 70-75. There is no record that the settlement possessed a church at that date.
The manor of Normanton passed to William de Lovetot after Roger de Busli’s death towards the end of the eleventh century. De Lovetot founded Worksop Priory in 1103, and in c. 1130 he endowed it with, amongst other possessions ‘... all his churches of his demesne of the honour of Blith, viz. the churches of Gringelai, of Misterton, of Walcringham, of Normanton, of Coleston [Car Colston], of Wylgeby [Willoughby], of Wyshou [Wysall], and his part of the church of Tyreswalle [Treswell], with all lands, tythes, and things belonging to the said churches...’. From this it can be inferred that the church of St Matthew, Normanton on Trent, which has also been known as St Mary and St Nicholas, had been established by the late 11th or early 12th century. Emma de Lovetot, William’s wife, gave further possessions to the priory, including land at Normanton, as confirmed by her son Richard in a document of c. 1160. None of the fabric of the early church appears to survive in the present structure, but the shallow bowl of a Norman font is said to have remained as a flower pot in the graveyard, having been replaced during the 19th century restoration. A stone vessel near the porch may represent its remains, but if so it is much altered from its original form.
Lovetot’s gift of so many churches would have benefitted the priory financially, but it must have created logistical problems in terms of providing clergy to serve them, and it is probable that secular clerks performed this function, at least initially. In 1245 Normanton church was given its own clergyman, in the person of Thomas de Kneeton, a canon of Worksop, who was appointed as vicar ‘with 2 oxgangs of land and one toft and croft’. The oldest surviving parts of the present church, namely the north aisle arcade and possibly the chancel, date from approximately this period. From later alterations it can be inferred that the 13th century church was somewhat longer than the present church. The Pope Nicholas IV taxation of 1291 yielded a total of £71 6s 8d as the income of Worksop Priory, which included the substantial sum of £12 from the church of Normanton on Trent, showing the relative wealth of the Trentside parishes at this period.
It has been estimated that the population expanded by about 50% in the 200 years after Domesday and although no documentary evidence survives for Normanton on Trent, it is likely that the village was significantly bigger by the late 13th and early 14th centuries, than it was during the latter part of the medieval period. Earthworks survive to the east of the modern village which suggest that village houses or cottages may have fronted onto Brott’s Lane as well as onto South Street and Eastgate. An expanding village population was reflected in the church, where the south aisle was added during the late 13th century. The 13th century church is likely to have had narrow lancet windows, and these were replaced during the early 14th century by much larger windows, several of which survive in the aisles and chancel.
At the taxation of 1341, preserved in the Nonae Rolls, Normanton was valued at 18 marks (£12) and no more, and the ninth of sheaves, lambs and their fleeces were worth 12 marks 3s. 4d. (£8 3s. 4d.) a year at true value and no more. The arable land and meadow there were worth 4 marks (£2 13s. 4d.) a year, and the tithe of hay with altar dues was worth 26s a year.
Normanton’s population would have fallen dramatically during the mid-14th century due to famine largely brought on by a worsening of the climate, and then by the Black Death, which struck in 1348-9. The remodelling of the church in the early 15th century would have increased its visual impressiveness by creating a clerestory and a substantial tower, but it actually reduced its capacity, since the construction of the tower cut dramatically into the westernmost bay of the nave and aisles. The shortening of the nave may have been a response to the significant fall in the village’s population, or alternatively it may have resulted from structural problems in the early building such as the collapse of an earlier tower.
By the mid-15th century the church was considered to be ‘meanly endowed’ at £41 4s 4d, and in 1462 the endowment was increased and it was decreed that the ‘vicar shall be continually resident in the mansion house of the vicarage anciently ordained at Normanton, and shall have for his portion 10 marks per annum out of the tythes of garbs and hay and fruits and oblations of the church, payable ... quarterly upon the high altar of the church’. The reference to a mansion house may imply that the vicar’s circumstances had improved since his predecessor first occupied a toft and croft in the village in 1245! However it is interesting to observe that a few years earlier, at the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI, the church was valued at its 1291 level of 18 marks (£12) and consequently a subsidy of 24s. (10%) was levied.
Although the church remained a monastic possession until the mid-16th century, the manor remained in lay hands. The de Lovetot family owned both the manor of Normanton and that of Grassthorpe throughout the 12th century, until passing by marriage to Gerard de Furnivall in the early 13th century. Thereafter, both manors appear to have come into the possession of the de la Poles, later dukes of Suffolk. According to Patent Rolls Michael de la Pole is recorded as having owned land at Normanton by 1389. The dukes of Suffolk appear to have disposed of their Normanton and Grassthorpe manors and estates in the late 16th century. Although it is unclear whether they were administered separately during the medieval period, they were effectively a single manor by 1596, when they were referred to as the ‘Manor of Gristhorp and Normanton’. Despite its manorial ties to Normanton on Trent, Grassthorpe became part of the parish of Marnham. However, later documents indicate that Normanton church possessed glebe land in Grassthorpe, and that both the manor of Grassthorpe and Grassthorpe Hall paid tithes to the vicar of Normanton.
Thoroton states that ‘There was a chapel in Gristhorp, founded in the honour of St James, become ruinous and converted into a cottage and barne, which queen Elizabeth, among other things, 2 Apr. 16 Eliz. k. granted to Alexander Rigby, and Percival Gunston, gent. and their heirs; and the next year, 22 Jun. 17Eliz. l. to John Sonkey, and Percivall Gunston, gent. certain parcels of land, and meadow in Gristhorpe, called Priest land, containing sixteen acres, and one little croft called priests yard, given for the sustentation of a priest in the said free chapel of St James in Gresthorpe’. The church is noted as late as 1535 as a possession of Blyth Priory, its tithes along with those of Marnham valued at 8s per annum. Writing in 1764, Revd Leland, the then vicar at Normanton on Trent, stated that ‘at Grassthorpe...there is still standing a small part of the wall of an old chapel which seems to have been in this ruinous condition for time immemorial’. As late as 1942 the site of the church is said to have been known, but unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case.
Normanton’s population is likely to have began to grow again after 1500, and in 1535 the vicarage was valued at £4 5s. Worksop Priory was dissolved in 1538, and in 1541 its Normanton on Trent possessions were assessed at the relatively high value of £8 17s. In 1542 Henry VIII granted the priory, demesne lands etc to Francis, fifth earl of Shrewsbury, but the Crown retained the advowson of the church at Normanton until the early 17th century, when it was granted to the Cavendish family, earls and later dukes of Devonshire, who retained the right of presentation until the early 19th century. Two of the church bells date from the first half of the 16th century. However, in 1587 the churchwardens stated that the church was somewhat in decay and the tower roofless, although they assured the archdeacon that they had ‘tymber and other stuffe provided and beside that [they had] compounded with workmen for the full repayring of the same’. Many church bells were removed or silenced at the Reformation, and it is possible that the bell-frame may be Elizabethan in date, since many of those that had been removed were re-hung during this period, remounted on a complete wheel which allowed greater control of the bells; the style of frame, a Pickford Group 6.D is also slightly atypical for the area.
The vicarage was not amongst the larger houses recorded in the Hearth Tax returns, but appears to have been more modest in size, since Mr Hewes, the vicar at that time, is recorded as occupying a 3-hearth house, which indicates his social position as part of the village community rather than the gentry. Mr Hewes had become vicar in 1634, although it is possible that he had been ejected by the Puritans, and later reinstated. His chequered history may explain an outburst to the Archbishop in 1669 when he stated that Quakers were assembling at Grassthorpe Hall and described his parishioners as ‘a factious and seditious crew...the lowest and meanest of people...the spawne from which those Egyptian frogs that are creeping into every corner of the nation’. Mr Hewes died the following year. His successor, Robert Curtis, stated in 1676 that there were no nonconformists in the parish, and that the inhabitants duly attended church, as prescribed by law. He died in 1680 and is commemorated by a fine memorial tablet in the church, which states that ‘he taught his flock obedience’ – an interesting and possibly significant comment in the light of Mr Hewes’ difficulties.
The manor of Grassthorpe and Normanton, along with Benjamin Lloyd’s considerable estate, changed hands in 1695, passing to Marmaduke Machell of Alfreton, and in 1713 it was assigned to Thomas Townley of London. The assignment notes the manor of Greisthorpe and Normanton, the Manor House and Mill at Greisthorpe, and messuages, gardens and agricultural land at Greisthorpe and Normanton. The manor and Townley’s estate in Grassthorpe and Normanton were sold in 1732 to Charles Doncaster, a yeoman of Ollerton. By this date, a number of reasonably large brick-built dwellings had been built in the vicinity, including Grassthorpe Manor House, Morrison’s House at Normanton, of c. 1700, and The Grange, Normanton, which is listed as dating from 1747, but which Pevsner considers to date from c. 1700.
In 1738 the then vicar, John Dalton, wrote an account of the glebe lands and tithes appertaining to Normanton on Trent. Tithes formed a heavy and very unpopular tax on farming, oppressing the poor, offending dissenters, and affronting the farming community, who saw tithes as an obstacle to, and tax on agricultural improvement. Over much of rural Nottinghamshire the latter issue was circumvented by incorporating tithes into rentals but it seems clear that the Revd John Dalton was still collected tithes in the traditional way in Normanton, and from the following extract from his account it seems unlikely that the practice enhanced either his personal popularity or that of the church:
‘The Vicar now takes 7s for a Calf when 3 weeks old tho he is not obliged to it, but may take it in kind at 3 weeks old if he pleases yt is due at 6. Every farm pays at Easter 9d half farm 6d & Cottage 3d at Easter, every Communicant at ye age of 16 pays 2d at Easter every Dove Coat 1s 6d and every Chamber Coat 1s...2d a new bare Cow [possibly one that had recently calved] & one penny a Stropper [a dry cow]. Every Score of Sheep yt is sold between All Saints & May Day pays 2s 8d every pelt in yt pays a penny...for all Churchings & Buryings 6d weddings 2s and 6d except Licence yt is 5s. Every swarm of Bees pays a d if six swarms one is due. The Impropriator pays a Quarter of Corn to ye Vicr ie ye best price that can be found at Newark ye Wednesday before or ye Wednesday after Mich: 1 Qtr of Wheat 2 of Wheat & Rye or Rye 3 Qtrs of Beans & 3 Qtrs of Barley. It is common to have ye best price for Barley at Mansfield Market at Mich: & not at Newark. If any Sheep is kept above a Month in ye Parish full Tithe is due for ye wool, ye Lambs always pay Tithe were they fall [ie where they were born]. Ye Vicr finds ye great Bell Rope but pays no further Dues or Taxes out of ye Vicarage.’
Normanton vicarage lay to the north of the church, and from a series of late 17th and 18th century terriers it is clear that, at this date, it was of the character and scale of a modest yeoman dwelling. In 1684, mention is made of ‘ye house with a little garden and a little orchard with ye own hovel and a bakehouse, a stable for horses...a stable for cows’. In 1764 the vicarage was described in more detail as ‘thatched and almost walled about with brick; it contains four rooms below, one floored with boards and the rest with brick, and four chambers, all floored with plaister and over garret with boards...A thatched barn consisting of two bays, the walls thereof are mud-and-stud. A back kitchen and stable consisting of three small bays, thatched, the walls are part of mud and part brick and stone. The garden and yard are about half an acre, part of them is fenced with stoup, rale and pale, and part upon a high bank with a thorn hedge...There is no wainscot or ceiling in the vicarage house’.
In this context, a ‘hovel’ would have been an outbuilding, for sheltering cattle or storing grain or tools. Many timber, wattle and daub houses, including several that survive in Normanton on Trent, were converted to brick-walled structures during the late 17th and 18th centuries, retaining their timber rafters, but none or very few of their wall timbers. The ‘almost’ in the context of this terrier is interesting, suggesting that the conversion from wattle and daub to brickwork may have been carried out gradually, rather than in a single operation.
In the same year, the churchwardens were John Manuel and William Staniland, who traced their footprints and signed their names in the roof leads. In the same year, the then vicar the Revd John Leland (who was also curate of Marnham) stated in his return to Archbishop Drummond that he lived in the vicarage at Normanton. He noted that there were 43 inhabited houses in the parish, indicating considerable growth during the previous century, since Normanton and Grassthorpe together had comprised 40 dwellings in 1674. His return suggests hard times – he performed services at both parishes every Sunday ‘and tho’ often I have been afflicted with bad health, yet they have very rarely been neglected’. There was no meeting house or alms house, and no public or charity school in the parish. He stated that ‘the children here are taught by a lame woman who so far as I know is very faithful in the discharge of her duty’, and also wrote that ‘the parishioners send their young people indifferently well, considering the poverty of most of the people who have young children and the dearness of almost all the necessities of life’.
The lack of a school was remedied in 1776, when one was built by Henry Jackson, a prominent local landowner. It was a substantial brick-built structure, located almost opposite the south-eastern entrance to the church. It was repaired by his daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Hall, who also built and endowed four almshouses for poor women of the parish in 1790. These are located slightly further down South Street. In 1832 it was noted that William Stevens was the schoolmaster, and that for £9 per annum, and a house and garden, he taught 10 free scholars. A new school was built in 1871 at a cost of £473, raised by subscriptions, and thereafter the old school became the schoolmaster’s house.
Later 18th century terriers note ‘fourteen ounces of Silver plate belonging to Normanton Church viz. a Silver Communion Cup and a Cover, on one side of the Cup is inscribed Normanton upon Trent’, and ‘a Green Cushion for the Pulpit and a Cloth of the Same. There is a Folio Bible, left by Daniel Gaches Esq., a Folio Common Prayer book and a Book of Homilies’. A Terrier of 1781 notes ‘a pewter flaggon and a pewter plate’, along with a communion table and a singing loft. In 1790 Throsby recorded that ‘Normanton has a small church, with a tower, dedicated to St. Matthew, of no particular note’. Georgian lettering has been revealed between the clerestory windows of the north aisle. The excerpts are from the scriptures, and include quotation from Psalms, John and 1 Thessalonians.
Chapman’s map of 1774 shows the church with a substantial tower, and is the earliest depiction of both the church and the village. Although insufficiently detailed to show individual dwellings within the settlement, it is of interest in indicating the road system at that time. The eastern section of Tuxford Road appears to have passed to the south of the church at that date, and the outer lengths of Tuxford Road and Gracefield Lane are shown as unenclosed, indicating that they ran through open fields. Brott’s Road is not shown, its line appearing as a narrow linear common linking the village with the Holmes, adjacent to the River Trent.
William Doncaster (presumably a descendent of Thomas Doncaster) leased the manor and his estate in Normanton and Grassthorpe in 1794 to John Denison Esq. of Ossington, and appears to have sold it to him two years later. A list of the estate’s tenants survives, undated, but likely to derive from the late 18th century. It names 64 tenants, paying rents varying between 6d and £1 11s 7d per week. Interestingly, Joseph Collington paid £1 10s for the fishery, showing the importance of the River Trent in the local economy at that date. The number of tenants suggests that Denison owned most of both Normanton and Grassthorpe at that date, although several other landowners also existed.
Normanton’s population stood at 286 in 1801, indicating continued growth through the late eighteenth century. The village’s open fields were enclosed in 1802, although the Enclosure Map of that year shows a significant number of ‘old enclosures’, indicating that piecemeal, private enclosures had been taking place for some time before the Enclosure Act was passed. By 1802 the road to the north of the church existed, although the length of road that had run to the south of the church is also depicted. The church is shown rather faintly on the Enclosure map, and it is interesting to note that buildings appear to have existed adjoining and close to the northern boundary of the churchyard, in what by this time had become part of the public highway. North of the road, then known as Town Street, was the vicarage, described in a terrier of 1809 as ‘consisting of 3 rooms vis one 14x10 brick floor and whitewashed walls. One ditto 16x16 boarded floor and whitewashed walls, one scullery 15x7, one pantry 22x6’.
The Revd William Doncaster purchased the advowson from the Duke of Devonshire in the early 19th century and was installed as vicar in 1804. It is tempting to identify him with the Doncaster family who had been major landowners in the parish since the 1730s, and one of his first acts on entering the parish was to apply for a licence to reside in an adjoining parish, rather than live in the modest vicarage. By 1820 he had built Normanton Hall to the south-west of the church, a partially stuccoed, hipped-roof residence in the late-Georgian style. The Revd W. Doncaster is noted as resident at Normanton Hall in White’s Directory of 1832, which describes Normanton as ‘a pleasant village’, with 349 inhabitants. There were 2 beerhouses, a maltster, a victualler, 2 shopkeepers, 2 joiners, a tailor, a shoemaker, a smith, a wheelwright, a miller and 16 farmers. Sanderson’s map of 1835 shows Normanton Hall, its grounds extinguishing the road that had previously run to the south of the church, which is shown schematically.
The 1841 edition of White’s Directory describes the church as ‘a small edifice, with nave, chancel, side aisles, and tower, with three bells; a gallery was erected for the singers a few years ago, by subscription’. The Revd Edward Howell became vicar in 1848 and was the incumbent when a religious census was carried out in 1851. By this time the village’s population had grown to 388. The census recorded that the church could accommodate 230, but had an average congregation of 80, divided equally between morning and afternoon services. These numbers compared rather poorly with those provided by the Wesleyan Methodist chapel on South Street, which had opened in 1822, and which had an average congregation of 200 adults, plus 45 Sunday scholars. In this, however, Normanton was fairly typical: by the mid-19th century, only about 40% of the population attended church, and of those, only just over half were Anglican, the rest being nonconformist.
The Revd Robert Gamson became vicar in 1857, having purchased the impropriate lands and advowson on the death of the Revd Doncaster. Soon after his induction, Gamson embarked on a thorough restoration of the church. The extent of the work is described in the Churchwardens’ Accounts, which survive for the period 1842-1900.
Account of Receipts & Expenditure in the Restoration of the Parish Church of Normanton on Trent 1859 & 1860 by Rev Robt Gamson MA Vicar & Benjamin Selby & George Esam, Church Wardens
It may have been during the 1859-60 restoration that the Norman font was removed and put in the churchyard. Old bench ends were worked into the chancel seating. White’s Directory of 1864 confirms that ‘in 1859 the church was thoroughly restored and re-pewed with open seats’.
The vicarage does not appear to have been occupied by a vicar of the parish since the very beginning of the 19th century at the latest, but it was mentioned in a terrier as late as 1843, when it was described in much the same way as it had been in 1809. Normanton Hall had been built and used as a vicarage by the Revd W. Doncaster, but it belonged to him and passed to his descendents after his death. It is unclear whether his successors reoccupied the old vicarage, but a new vicarage had been built by 1885-6, when White’s Directory noted the Revd Robert Gamson’s ‘good vicarage house, a quarter of a mile west of the church’. It remained the vicarage until the mid-1970s, when the parish was united with Sutton-on-Trent, and it was sold into private ownership thereafter.
Sir Stephen Glynne travelled the country writing notes about churches, and on 23rd April 1874 he described St Matthew’s as follows:
‘This church is of the usual form – clerestoried nave with arched chancel, western tower & south porch – all in good --- condition. The roofs are leaded & without parapets. The arcades of the nave each of 4 pointed arches – the western on each side being not a full arch but about 3 quarters. On the S the piers are low octagonal with capitals – on the N alternates circular & octagonal & taller. Some windows have flamboyant tracery as is common in Notts, especially at the E & W side(?) of the P arch. The other windows of the aisles are generally Decd of 2 lights. Those of the clerestory are Perp of 2 lights, with flat arches. The rood steps are seen high up on the S – near the rood lofts place.
The late 19th century saw a number of decorative additions to the church, including a mosaic reredos, stained glass windows, and a clock, installed in 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. The churchwardens’ accounts show that further repair work was done on the fabric of the church, including repairing, repointing and releading the tower, repairing the belfry and the porch and vestry roofs, and further underpinning and work to the north aisle.
The Revd R. Gamson died in January 1900, and was succeeded by his son, the Revd Charles Robert Gamson MA, who had been noted as curate, occupying Normanton Hall, in White’s Directory of 1894. Alterations to the church continued during his ministry, including in 1902 the removal of the singing loft noted in the terrier of 1781, the putting in of a new reading desk, and the installation of a new heating system in 1911. A new silver flagon for sacramental wine was donated in 1906, replacing the ‘battered worn pewter flagon’ noted in the terrier of 1781.
Largely because of widespread agricultural depression, Normanton’s population declined steadily during the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, in line with that of many rural areas. From a high point of 402 in 1861, it had fallen to 240 by 1921 – a lower figure than had been recorded in 1801. However, the village still retained numerous local tradesmen. There was an inn, the Square and Compass, a further beer seller, a shopkeeper, 2 part-time carriers, a butcher, a joiner, a boot-maker, a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a threshing machine proprietor, a builder, 12 farmers, 3 market gardeners, 3 cow-keepers and – a sign of the times – a cycle repairer.
Since that date, Normanton’s population has gradually increased, to stand at 299 in 2001, although the number of village tradesmen has diminished considerably as individuals and businesses have become more mobile, and small communities have become less self-sufficient. Falling Church of England congregations have forced the amalgamation of parishes – with Marnham in the 1960s, Sutton on Trent in the 1970s, Carlton in the 1980s, and most recently with Tuxford, West Markham and Weston. Work to the church fabric comprised the demolition of the tower’s crenellated parapet in the late 1950s or 1960s, and its replacement with a concrete capping, and in 2012 a toilet block was built on the site of a lean-to building adjoining the tower.