St Matthew


The Parish of St Matthew Talbot Street was located in the most north western part of the very extensive parish of St Mary’s in Nottingham town centre. As the town expanded in all directions, new densely packed houses filled with incoming economic migrants moved into the town to work in the booming textile and other industries. The housing available in the immediate area around St Mary’s Church, was already seriously over populated by the beginning of the 19th century and was woefully inadequate. Likewise the clergy of St Mary’s must have found it difficult to provide the services its parishioners wanted. An example of this is can be seen in St Mary’s Parish Registers 1799-1802 which record an average of nearly 1,000 Baptisms each year.

In 1841-2 the church and parish of the Holy Trinity, Trinity Square was opened on the lower north western side of the town. The new parish was a fairly small area of St Mary’s parish and well within the established housing and commercial part of the town. Population growth was rapidly overtaking the capacity of the Anglican provision available (and that of all the other denominations) so the incumbent of St Mary’s, the Rev JW Brookes opened a mission Sunday School on Derby Road, very close to the edge of his parish and the town boundary. This was not a new building but a former Lancastrian Schoolroom. It was very successful and in 1848 the building by now also used for adult services, with 300 free spaces, was consecrated after the vicar of St Mary’s made an application for a new church claiming it was “due to the remoteness of the population of that neighbourhood from their parish church”. At the time of the 1851 religious census the congregation averaged 100 at the morning service, 150 at the evening service with a further 80 Sunday School scholars in the morning and 200 in the evening. By 1851 other places of worship had been established within the area. On Derby Road, the Particular Baptist (1850) claimed congregations of 378 in the morning and 625 in the evenings. St Barnabas’ Roman Catholic (1844) attracted congregations of 961, 312 and 604 at its three Sunday services plus a Sunday School of 459. These figures demonstrate the population growth of the district.

Drawing of the
proposed church
(with thanks to
Picture the Past)

About 1854 the area around the building was declared a separate Anglican church district serving some 5,000 people. In the same year plans were prepared for the erection of a new church dedicated to St Matthew. The site was not on Derby Road, but on Upper Talbot Street which runs almost parallel. A lithograph published in the Ecclesiologist 1854 illustrated the new building design by Henry Roberts FSA of London. Roberts had worked in the locality previously having designed Holy Trinity Church Lenton in 1842. He was better known for his large scale work, the Fishmongers Hall London Bridge 1832. George Gilbert Scott later the architect of many Victorian Gothic churches was one of Roberts pupils at the time. The lithograph shows the proposed church set back from the road with a burial ground on the north and east sides. When built the church was situated close to the street boundary with no space for burials. There are no burial Registers for St Matthew’s. The Ecclesiologist commented that “there seems to be little merit or power in this church and the internal arrangement can scarcely be otherwise than unsatisfactory.” The main concern appears to be that the main entrance was through a door at the base of the tower set between the chancel and the north transept, giving access to the nave through the transept.

The church had a clerestoried nave, lean-to aisles which did not extend to the west wall, transepts, a chancel and a bell tower located on the north side and a western gallery, with a smaller tower at the north west end which enclosed stairs to the gallery. It was described as “a First- pointed building” by the Ecclesiologist and as “in the early English style “ by the local press at its opening in 1856. Internally there was seating for about 1,000 of which about half were free spaces mainly in the gallery. A local architect, a Mr Jalland, was appointed by Roberts to supervise the construction work which was carried out by local contractor James E Hall. Jalland later designed St Luke’s Carlton Road (1863). St Matthew’s cost £9,000 to build with nearly £7,500 being raised by the time the first fund-raising meeting was held. Donations came from the Church Building Society £4,500, Earl Manvers £500, Lady Manvers £100, Nottingham Church Building Society £300, Thomas Adams £100 and many more including the Bishop of Lincoln and the Rev Mr Brookes of St Mary’s. A detailed report of the consecration ceremony led by the Bishop of Lincoln was published in the local press, as were the details of his sermon based on the Gospel of St Matthew 25.8. Attendance at the ceremony was described as poor. It was mostly a local event with the music provided by a choir singing from the western gallery. The choristers for the dedication ceremony were from the Blind Institution based on Chaucer Street, which was part of the new parish. The status of parish was confirmed at the same time.

Collected photographs
of the first five vicars

Little else is currently known regarding St Matthew's during the rest of the 19th century but photographs survive of the first five incumbents, dating from 1856 to 1927. The second vicar Canon Ferris was likened to an Old Testament Prophet and to the image of St Matthew depicted in one of the stained glass windows of the church. Canon Ferris ended his ministry in 1926 at St Laurence’s Church, Gonalston, when he died in 1931, he was buried in St Laurence’s Churchyard.

Records in the form of the minutes of the Parochial Church Council meeting do however survive dating from 1917. These documents offer an interesting insight into the daily issues affecting St Matthew’s, the disappointments and the successes, the rise and decline of the congregation and eventually the closure and demolition.

The minutes from 1917 to the late 1920s give graphic outlines of the concerns facing the Church Council of the time. During 1917 and 1918 St Matthew’s was paying the rent and giving other financial support to a group of Belgian refugees, referred to as “the Belgians”. The Belgians were living in a house on Talbot Street, with the church paying the rent and gas accounts totalling £30 a year plus other help. It perhaps reflects the financial status of at least some of the congregation when it was recorded that the St Matthew’s War Savings Committee had a certificates to the value of £2135 in Oct 1917. This would have been a small fortune for many parishes in Nottingham at the time. The war did however change the working arrangements of the parish, in that by 1919 a curate was no longer available. At the request of the vicar a telephone was installed in the vicarage “to help him cope with the increased work load”. Happily at the same meeting it was reported that “the Belgians had returned home”. A new verger was appointed in July 1919 with a salary of £1 per week plus accommodation with free coals and light. There was a small house within the church site. It was a joint appointment, the verger’s wife was expected to assist her husband in his duties. Their wage was not increased to £2 a week until 1921. They resigned in March 1922.

Although the vicar the Rev Mr Wallace had proposed the introduction of modern technology in the form of his telephone in the vicarage in 1919, in March 1922 he vetoed a proposal to show lantern slides in the church considering it to be an act of desecration. The newly appointed verger was offered a reduced wage of only 35 shillings a week, the selection committee suggested that he could rent out the spare room within his accommodation to provide additional income. The new vergers resigned after only six months. This was perhaps not surprising — the vergers not only had responsibility for the church but also the schoolrooms and the Men’s Institute. The Rev Mr Mellifont the next incumbent actively supported the use of lantern slide shows, producing them every Saturday evening during Lent and three times during Advent. In 1923 the vicar’s stipend was increased to £350 per annum plus the Easter offering of about £50. To meet this additional cost pew rents were increased to produce a total of £140. At the same meeting the issue of the “bad behaviour of the choir boys” was raised. This was a matter that continued to be recorded and discussed regularly for several years. By 1924 the vicar voiced his concern regarding the declining number of communicants — this was part of a discussion of the previous years accounts when for the first time the church income was lower than its expenditure: income £331, expenditure £481.

A small fire in 1925, caused damage to the church that cost £150 to repair, though most of the cost was paid by the church’s insurers. In 1926 an event took place that could have had considerable effect upon the number attending St Matthew’s, possibly rebuilding the dwindling congregation and revenue. The Church of St Thomas, Park Row, was closed and the parish united with St Matthew’s. In 1873 part of St Matthew’s parish had been allocated to the newly formed St Thomas’. Not a single mention of this significant change is recorded in the minute book. However, in the same year the matter of the choir boys’ bad behaviour was dealt with by the formation of a sub–committee. The sub-committee eventually reported that after investigation they were also aware that many of the older members of the choir were at times also behaving badly, setting poor examples to the younger members (at this time St Matthew’s had 28 choir boys) and this needed to be addressed. It was thought that fining the boys would not be effective because the payments they received were so small that it would make little difference. It was agreed that the choirmaster and the vicar would speak to the boys and their parents setting out the benefits of the boys being members of the choir and require them to enter a contract of good behaviour in the future.

The minutes of the following year 1927 continued to demonstrate the decline in attendance: 35 had left the church, 30 having moved out of the area and 5 through death; 22 new members had joined. Significantly 11 of the 26 members of the PCC did not live within the parish. By 1936 this had increased to 15 out of 26. In 1936 St Matthew’s was still collecting pew rents.

In 1952 a paper by the then incumbent the Rev H Pearce confirmed that the gradual decline in the usage of the church had continued. He listed the annual numbers of communicants over 15 years, 1938 to 1952. Apart from an increase in 1945 the trend was obvious, 1505 in 1938, down to 865 in 1952. Mr Pearce also commented on the reasons for the decline, describing how much of the parish had changed from residential to shops, warehouses, offices and business premises. Many older parishioners who once resided in the Park had either died or moved away, and finally over six acres of properties located in the lower part of the parish had been, or soon would be, demolished to make way for the new Nottingham Technical College (now Nottingham Trent University). He referred to much of remaining residential property as being occupied by “birds of passage” occupants who resided mainly in small hotels and boarding houses. There were few children in the parish and baptisms were few and far between. Only fifteen marriages had been performed in the last five years. He described the church as “congregational” with the majority of its support coming from outside the parish.

On 28 April 1953 it was the Rev Mr Pearce who chaired the PCC meeting which passed the resolution put forward by the Archdeacon the Ven JHL Phillips, to close the church and transfer the title to a proposed new church and parish on the developing Bestwood Estate to the north of the city. Only one member of the meeting objected to the resolution, but the majority abstained from voting. The final service at St Matthew’s was held on 28 September 1953, the parish was united with Holy Trinity, Trinity Square.

St Matthew’s Church was demolished in August 1957. Several items of the church furniture and fittings were remove to storage for later installation to the new St Matthew’s on Padstow Road, Bestwood. The PCC requested this arrangement and the Bishop of Southwell agreed.

After many years of use as a motor car showroom the site has once more returned to use for religious purposes. The old schoolroom has been refurbished and used as a Prayer Room by the Christian Centre, who have large newly built premises on the opposite side of Talbot Street. In 2011 plans were being considered regarding the future use of the site.