St Paul


The foundation stone for St Paul’s Church was laid on 19 July 1821, the day of the coronation of King George IV. The ceremony was performed by the Rev George Wilkins, Vicar of St Mary’s, High Pavement, and the Right Rev Edward Venables, Archbishop of York. St Paul’s was designated a chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s, located only a few minutes’ walk to the north of its mother church.

In 1821 the site was mainly open land, largely undeveloped, but soon to be filled with both housing and factories for the expanding lace industry. Prior to the building of St Paul’s the site had formed part of the garden of Thurland Hall a large house once the residence of the Earls of Clare. The recently constructed George Street was built on the eastern boundary of the Hall. The church therefore had its main entrance at the east end leading directly from the street.

The site did however have a much older history. During the excavation work needed for the building foundations, evidence of the land being used previously for the production of monastic tiles and supporting buildings was discovered. Similar evidence had been unearthed during other building work in George Street, including the 1815 Baptist church and 1816 Methodist chapel. The finds were dated by broken tiles bearing the impressed insignia of several monarchs from King Henry I to King Edward III, and including King Stephen. Parts of the original carved wooden stamps used for making the impressions were found at one of the sites. They were carved to give an impression of about one tenth of an inch deep.

Only four feet below the surface, part of a medieval structure (thought to be a water storage tank) and the remains of two kilns, plus examples of monastic tiles were discovered. Stretton, who recorded the finds, suggested that other evidence uncovered at the time pointed to part of the land being used for housing and places of worship, and part for the manufacture of monastic tiles. He also dated the tiles to “not long after the Conquest and before the dissolution of the monasteries”.

Stretton had witnessed and recorded the excavation of the foundations of the new Methodist church at the north end of George Street in 1816 and recorded the exposure of large quantities of similar material five to six feet below the surface. Several of the tiles were stamped with the arms of the early Norman kings. Predating that was the discovery of a complete Saxon alphabet and several monastic devices, plus large quantities of mainly unglazed domestic ware, jugs and vases damaged during burning and rejected.

Following the demolition of St Paul’s in 1925 excavation for a commercial building on the extended church site revealed an almost complete medieval kiln, and excavations in 1994 uncovered a kiln and a virtually intact stoke hole.

Funding for the building of St Paul’s was obtained under the government’s 1818 Church Building Act. The grant received totalled £15,748, but the building costs were only £13,964. William Wilkins, brother of the Vicar of St Mary’s, was the architect and the building contractor was Spicer Cowen.

The church, built in the classical Palladian style, was consecrated by the Archbishop of York on 24 October 1822. No original plans have survived.

The rectangular site fronting onto George Street dictated the layout of the building. It had its entrance at the eastern end and the altar at the west. At a time when most churches enjoyed the income from pew rents and local church rates, the funding obtained under the Church Building Act meant that most if not all the seating should be free, although it is clear that some pew rents were collected. Soon after the church was opened the Vicar of St Mary’s complained that, although congregations often exceeded 1,200, many pews remained empty and he had difficulty collecting pew rents. Because of this he was obliged to pay part of the curate’s stipend from his own pocket. In 1851 pew rents amounted to £240.

In the 1851 census of religion, the church returned congregations of 452 in the morning, plus 251 Sunday School scholars, and 576 in the evening. The afternoon Sunday School had 269 attendees, and the Sunday School register had 250 boys and 286 girls.

The Parish population stated in the same document was 12,640.

On the west side of George Street. almost opposite St Paul’s, was a Particular Baptist Church, built in 1815, with 920 seats, and St John’s Roman Catholic church (closed when St Barnabas’s opened in 1844, but still used as a convent and school).

Other churches and chapels included a Methodist New Connexion chapel at the north end of George Street (opened in 1816) seating 982 attenders, Broad Street Wesleyan Methodist (1839) with seats and standing for 2,900, a General Baptist (1817) with 580 seats, a Hephzibah Chapel of 1802, and Hockley Primitive Methodist chapel of 1839 with 800 seats.

In 1894 St Paul’s was remodelled internally at a cost of £700. The seating was reduced to 700.

A new organ was installed in the chancel joined by the choir, both previously having been located at the east end near the main entrance. Electric light was also installed, the first church in the town to be lit in this manner.

In 1912 the parish had declined to 3,931, partly because other new parishes had been carved out of St Mary’s under the terms of the 1850s parochial sub-division legislation. There were 260 children on the Sunday School roll, and over the previous twelve months 42 baptisms and 5 confirmations had taken place.

With little ceremony St Paul’s was closed in 1923, part of the parish reunited with St Mary’s and part allocated to St Catharine’s, St Ann’s Well Road, another daughter church St Mary’s opened in 1894. The site was subsequently sold, and the funds raised used towards the building of St Cyprian’s, Sneinton, opened in 1935.

The baptism and marriage registers are in Nottinghamshire Archives.