For just over 90 years Nottingham Emmanuel, the 'church on the hill’ as it was often called, served the people of this little patch of the city.

The founding of the church and its surrounding parish is set into the context of the rapid expansion of the city of Nottingham and the urbanization of the outlying districts during the second half of the 19th century.

Before 1845 this area of Nottinghamshire lay just outside the boundaries of the town and consisted mostly of open common land. The area was known as the 'Clay Field’, and this soil type was to cause problems for the later houses built upon the site.

Following the Enclosure Act of 1845 this district was to develop as a spill-over from the slums of central Nottingham. With the expansion of the lace and hosiery trades more housing was required to ease overcrowding in the city centre. Over the next forty years a network of compact streets lined by small terrace houses, workshops and factories was constructed across this area of St Ann’s.  Although these new houses were a great improvement on much of the older housing stock, they were often constructed cheaply reflecting the social status of their potential tenants, with the overwhelming majority of the population of St Ann’s coming from a working poor background.

By 1877 there already existed two new parish churches to serve the 21,000 inhabitants of the district. This, however, was considered by many within the church as too great a number to be served properly, and plans were made to create new parishes with their own churches. Plans proceeded, and on 9 January 1877 ‘The Nottingham Church Extension Society’ was formed. The society’s aims were to address the perceived problem of a lack of capacity in Nottingham’s Anglican churches and fight the tide of nonconformity and the secularization of society. Emmanuel Church emerged from within this organisation.

One of the leading driving forces of the movement during this early period was the vicar of the church of St Andrew on the Mansfield Road, the Rev Henry Jemson Tebbutt. From St Andrew's a mission service was held first at Bullivant Street School and later at St Andrew's Boys School, its purpose was to build a solid base for a congregation for the proposed new church.  By 1879 a generous gift of £2,000 by the Rev Henry Wright to the Church Extension Society provided the necessary funds to allow the purchase of the site for Emmanuel to be built upon.

The original site proposed for Emmanuel was on the corner of Woodborough Road and Northville Street. However, delays in raising the funds resulted in the plot being purchased by the Catholic Church, to build St Augustine’s. The next door plot was subsequently purchased, at a cost of £1,850. The site extended from Woodborough Road in the west, east onto Westville Street.

The first proposal was to build a church, vicarage and school on this plot. These plans were later modified and the land on the east side of the site adjoining Westville Street was sold to a developer to build houses on.

The iron church in
the early 1880s
(photo courtesy of
Picture the Past)

In June 1879 a temporary iron church with a seating capacity of around 500 was purchased for the sum of £760 including fittings. This was to be used as a place of worship until the additional funds to build a permanent structure could be raised. In 1880 the Rev Elkanah Holroyde was appointed as the first curate of Emmanuel. The iron church opened on Friday 9 July 1880 at 7.30pm, and a service was held by the Rev Henry Wright to dedicate the new church. This was to mark the beginning of worship at Emmanuel and the start of a long struggle to finance the church, the collection that evening raised a creditable £19 3s. 6d.

Shortly after the opening of the iron church on Woodborough Road the Church Extension Society received an offer from the trustees of the Evangelical Miss Hyndman Trust based in London, offering to provide £2,000 towards the cost of construction of a new church on the condition that they could appoint the incumbent.

With the finance in place the plans by Nottingham architect Watson Fothergill could be put into effect. The foundation stone of Emmanuel was laid on 17 January 1884 by Mrs Henry Wright widow of the Rev Wright. The contract for building the nave with a seating capacity of around 650 was set at £4,045. The remaining parts of the church would have to wait for sufficient funds to become available.

With the completion of the nave the church could apply to the Ecclesiastical Commission for help and finally become a parish in its own right.

The construction of the church involved a wide geographical spread of tradesmen; this perhaps reflects the growing national nature of late 19th century church building. The main contractors were to be the Newark firm of Messers Smith and Lunn; the ironwork was by Mr Hodkinson of Coventry; gas fittings and plumbing by Mr T Skeritt of Nottingham; and the hot air heating was provided by Messers, Haden and Sons of Trowbridge Wiltshire. By 1883 F.W. Paul had become the curate of Emmanuel and he was to oversee the construction, and eventually become the new parish’s first vicar in 1886.

With the completion of the nave, the church was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwell in a service held on 27 January 1885. The collection raised the impressive total of £73 7s. 6¾d., possibly reflecting the grander nature of the occasion. However, this sum was offset by the large debt that the church laboured under, reported in the Nottingham Guardian in 1884 to be around £1,300.

The Rev F.W. Paul proved to be a valuable asset to the new church and with great energy and commitment he devoted himself to the parochial work of this small patch of Nottingham. In its early formative years Emmanuel was support by several outside agencies, this was until it was able to stand on its own feet. The Nottingham Spiritual Aid Society gave a £100 stipend per annum and the Church Pastoral Aid Society a further £70. Finally in March 1886 the new parish of Emmanuel was created. But the Ecclesiastical Commission took until 30th May 1890 to grant a £150 endowment to the parish, this was raised in 1903 to £185. One constant of the history of Emmanuel was the need to raise funds to build, improve, and maintain the new church. In November 1888 a grand Bazaar opened by Lady Laura Ridding was held at the Mechanical Institute lecture hall to raise funds for the church. A variety of stalls selling all manner of goods was accompanied by entertainment, including conjurers, music, displays of curiosities, waxworks, and relics of the Crimea War and the Indian Mutiny. The money raised went to pay off the debt which now stood at £130, and also raise funds to buy the land where the iron church had stood, to allow the building of a parochial hall for the parish. By 1892 Paul considered himself exhausted by the demands of his position and took the decision to take a less stressful rural parish in his native Cornwall.

The appointment by the Hyndman Trust of the next vicar marked the arrival at Emmanuel of possibly the most fascinating character in the history of the parish. In 1892 The Rev Llewellyn Henry Gwynne was appointed vicar of Nottingham Emmanuel. He was one of the breed of late-Victorian Evangelical Christians that epitomise this period. He played as a striker for Derby County and is recorded as the only man to play in a FA cup semi-final and go on to be a Bishop within the Anglican Church.

With all the enthusiasm and energy that he possessed channelled into his work, the parish of Emmanuel flourished. Sport was to provide one of the draws for the young of the district to the church. From 1893 the Emmanuel football teams were founded, one playing on a Saturday and the other on a Thursday, and in summer the Rev Gwynne led the church cricket team.

On 31 January 1893 the Emmanuel Boys Brigade was founded attracting around fifty members. The Rev L. H. Gwynne was also to become president of the Nottingham Battalion of the Boys Brigade by 1894. His interests did not stop at sport; he was an active member of the Temperance movement, with Emmanuel having its own Band of Hope.

The late-Victorian and Edwardian period appears to mark a high point in the fortunes of Emmanuel, representing a time of expansion, hope, and participation by many people of the parish. At a cost of £600, Emmanuel was able to open its own parochial hall on 18 November 1892, with seating for around 600; it became a centre for many groups and clubs linked to the church.

Work also continued on completing the church building, and in March 1893 at a cost of £900 the new chancel and organ chamber were completed. This necessitated that the fundraising had to continue under the Rev L. H. Gwynne and in 1894 and then again in 1895, a three-day bazaar was held in the newly opened hall, these raised the creditable totals of £210 and £273 after costs.

With this final event the parochial hall was to become free of all debt. But by 1899 Gwynne was drawn by a different calling, and he left Emmanuel in search of other challenges. He was to travel to the Sudan in the wake of the British invasion and by 1908 was appointed Bishop of Khartoum. He later went on to serve in the First World War as deputy chaplain-general of the army in France with the equivalent rank of major-general and following the war he returned to North Africa and in 1920 became Bishop of Egypt and the Sudan.

The next incumbent of Emmanuel, the Rev William Ives, was vicar for the next four years. By 1901 it was estimated that a further £1,400 was needed to complete the work on the church building. The year was to prove to be an extremely busy time for fund raising in the parish. Another three-day bazaar was held, this time raising £296. By the autumn of that year, work was almost complete on the church, and a final drive was launched to raise further funds.

On the 9th November 1901 a Thanksgiving Service was held at the church, the sermon was preached by the Rev C. Brooke Gwynne of Macclesfield, brother of Llewellyn.  A collection was made during the service and many of the poor of the parish gave generously, it was reported that over 2,000 pennies were collected that day, with the total raised at the service an impressive £341 8s. This brought the total funds available up to £1,060, leaving a debt of £340. On the 24th October 1901 the recently finished baptistery, clergy and choir vestries were dedicated. As with many church institutions of the time Emmanuel was always in need of additional funds, and managed to spend as fast as money could be raised. In 1903 a new organ was purchased for £650 and this was dedicated by Bishop Hamilton Baynes in a service on the 12th November, the collection this time raised the more modest sum of £18 10s.

With the post of vicar becoming available again in 1904, the trustees approached the Rev F. W. Paul to see if he would consider returning to Emmanuel. Rested by his absence from the strains of running the parish and missing his many friends the he returned as vicar serving for the next thirteen years. The church building was by now completed and had a seating capacity of around 750 and the parochial hall next door serviced the parish in a most satisfactory manner.

In 1908 this was further extended by the opening of a mission room on Lilac Street in the north-east of the parish. Along with all of Britain, the parishioners of Emmanuel were to participate and suffer during the First World War, with around 30 communicants of Emmanuel reported killed during the conflict.

The war was to prove a pivotal turning point in the parish. The expansion of the past forty years was to stop and a slow decline began to set in. Some new activities did however, take place during the 1920s; a thriving boxing club trained at the parish hall and numerous tournaments were held there. But by the 1930s the vicar, the Rev H. H. Taylor, was bemoaning the small size of the parish, the changing condition of the population and the struggle to attract a large congregation. Emmanuel along with many other areas of cheap housing attracted a number of immigrants into the city, in the inter-war period many of these came from Ireland, Scotland, and Liverpool, in search of work. Few of these were naturally inclined to join the established Anglican Church. The Christmas sale of 1930, including a mile of pennies, raised £102 19s. 10d, comparatively little when compared to earlier fund raising activities.

Following the Second World War, in common with much of the parish a lack of investment had resulted in a state of decline in the fabric of the building. A request to the church authorities for funds to repair the building was rejected in the late 1940s. This period was also to witness a new wave of immigrants into the area. The net effect was an increasing transformation of the resident community of the parish. Attracted by the low rents, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians, and later many Asian and West Indians moved into the area.

By 1957 the church was reportedly in need of some care and attention. The stonework was covered in grime, rubbish lay piled against the east end of the church, dust and dirt needed to be removed from the flat roofs, £1,100 was needed for repairs. By 1964 several broken panes of glass are reported in the windows.

The church did however, continue to attract some new worshippers, and in the 1960s the choir is reported to have been excellent, made up of around twenty young Jamaican children. But the social deprivation and neglect of the area had begun to take its toll. Even by the 1960s the vast majority of the housing of the district still possessed an outside toilet and no bathroom. The entire area was scheduled for clearance. The Victorian Gothic revival style of architecture of Emmanuel was firmly out of fashion and the church authorities needed to rationalize the parishes of St Ann’s.

On Whit Sunday 1972 a final service was held at the church and the following day demolition work commenced. The decision was taken to merge with the parish of St Ann and to take nothing from the old church to the new one. Today nothing remains of the church and its surrounding housing, although the name is combined with St Ann’s in the new church built to replace them both.