St Stephen


Holy Trinity, or, as it was more often known, Trinity Church, Nottingham, opened in 1841. It stood on the site today occupied by Trinity Square multi-storey car park. The Rev T M Macdonald became the vicar, and many years later his son recalled the 1850s as a time when the church was packed and vibrant, but it was crowded with ‘a well-dressed congregation’ while just across the road were ‘slums of the worst sort’ into which the police feared to go alone. Macdonald and his church helpers carried their work into this area, conducting open air services, and gradually they saw the need for a church. By 1859 enough money had been raised to build a chapel-of-ease, known as Trinity Free Church. It stood in a yard off Bunkers Hill, about 30-40 feet back from the road. A two-storey school was built alongside. Services in the church were taken by curates from Trinity Church. In 1864 the church was described as a large, neat brick built edifice in Frame Yard, with a reading room, library and both Day and Sunday Schools attached.

In March 1868 a meeting of the congregation of Trinity Free Church agreed that they should seek independence, because Holy Trinity parish now exceeded 10,000 people, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were willing to pay an endowment to parishes of 4,500 or more. It was also intended to enlarge the Free Church by taking in an adjoining passage to form a south aisle. Currently the church had 535 seats, all of them free because the parishioners were ‘for the most part of the Poorer class’. The church seating capacity would be increased to 760 with the additional seats yielding a pew rental income to help supplement the vicar’s salary. Both the Bishop of Lincoln, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ architect, had expressed his approval of the plans. The main drawback was that £2,500 was required to enlarge the building and to pay off a mortgage on the existing property. At the end of the meeting £400 was subscribed towards the sum of £2,500. By June 1868 the treasurer of the fund, Frederick J. Hadden, who was churchwarden of Holy Trinity, had received pledges to the value of £1,255. Subscribers included local businessmen Thomas Adams (£250), Francis Wright £100), William Windley (£100), Frederick Hadden himself (£50) and A J Mundella (£25). Other contributors included the Duke of St Albans (£25), and Nottingham’s borough engineer Marriott Ogle Tarbotton (£5).

The enlarged church was a plain conversion by T C Hine from the old Free Church. As it was hemmed in by large buildings, Hine had to put windows in the roof to let in additional light. Ewan Christian, architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, examined the church prior to its consecration. Since it had only clerestory windows together with an east and a west window, Christian decided it was not in accord with existing regulations but passed it anyway as a tribute to Hine’s ingenuity. Access was impeded by tenements standing between the church and the road. It had little to be said in its favour: according to the Evening Post it was ‘not an attractive edifice’.

The original free church had been built as a result of private enterprise, and for the new building to be consecrated and a separate parish established ‘ownership’ had to be transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The trustees of the church were:

Thomas Adams of Lenton Firs
James Roger Allen of Nottingham Park, Hosier
Francis Butcher Gill of Bath but lately of Nottingham Park
Frederick John Hadden of Nottingham Park, Esq
William Arthur Heazell of Nottingham, Architect
Robert Holden of Nuthall Temple, Esq
William Hunt of Nottingham, Solicitor
The Rev Thomas Mosse Macdonald of Nottingham, clerk
Anthony John Mundella of Nottingham, merchant
Frederick Chatfield Smith of Nottingham, Banker
Rev Thomas Wright of Standard Hill, clerk

They transferred ownership to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on 10 November 1868, leaving £500 to outstanding on mortgage.

Bishop Jackson of Lincoln consecrated St Stephen’s, Bunkers Hill, on 26 November 1868. The need for consecration was ‘in order to become a parish church’, and to procure an endowment with which to fund a vicar. In the words of the Rev Mr Macdonald:

The Church has been built in the midst of a most densely populated and poor district at the cost of great and long continued effort and in spite of unusual difficulties with the confident expectation of obtaining endowment of at least £200 a year, from the Commissioners.... The difficulty of maintaining the Church, without endowment, is almost if not wholly insurmountable.

On Macdonald’s proposal, in December 1868 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners considered the case for a separate parish, and for providing an income for the vicar. Pew rents were likely to gross no more than £154 8s, and there was no other income or a residence. Bishop Jackson supported Macdonald’s request, telling the Commissioners that:

I am well acquainted with the circumstances of the proposed district.... I think it desirable that the district should be assigned to the recently consecrated Church of St Stephen.

On the bishop’s say so, the Commissioners agreed in February 1869 to go ahead and create a separate parish, but not, initially, to provide an endowment. Until they did so, later in 1869, no vicar could be instituted. Meantime services continued to be conducted by a curate from Holy Trinity, the Rev William Vincent-Jackson. After graduating from Hertford College, Oxford, in 1862 he was ordained in 1863 by Bishop Jackson as curate of Holy Trinity, Nottingham. By 1866 he had been given responsibility for Trinity Free Church, a position he held until Bishop Christopher Wordsworth of Lincoln formally instituted him on 22nd September 1869 as perpetual curate of St Stephen’s. The fact that the Bishop of Lincoln agreed to come to Nottingham to institute Vincent-Jackson was an indication that this was a significant change in the church’s status. The appearance of the diocesan bishop was a rarity in the 1860s - vicars were usually installed by visiting him at Riseholme, his palace outside Lincoln - but it pleased the new vicar who thought that this would show ‘my people’ that the bishop took them seriously. He added, in a letter to the Bishop:

My people are nearly all of the working class and consequently would not, I am afraid, be able to attend a morning service in large numbers. I think I could promise a good evening congregation.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners awarded Vincent-Jackson £200 a year, which was to be supplemented by the income from pew rents for the new seats added to the building in 1868. Vincent-Jackson regarded this as of little consequence because ‘they are not likely to be realised in this generation’. He estimated that ‘the gross value realised is about £30 or £35 the population being very poor’, a rather less optimistic figure than the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had proposed.

The parish was formed out of Trinity parish and consisted of a triangular section bounded by the Mansfield Road, Milton Street and York Street. The parish was approximately ten and a half acres, and contained 4,678 people.

From the outset Vincent-Jackson was faced with considerable difficulties. For some time the congregations worshipping at St Mary’s, All Saints’, St Andrew’s, Holy Trinity and St Nicholas’, among other churches, ‘aided by offertories the struggling vicar in his endeavours to successfully administer his office.’ The church had an adjoining school, but the buildings were owned by the trustees of the old Free Church. Eventually the buildings were purchased and a hall was built within the parish to enable more day and Sunday scholars to be educated. The ground floor of the hall consisted of shops, with the rent from them paid to the church. Bunkers Hill had twelve numbered properties in 1879 including two shops and a Coffee Tavern. The Girls and Infant School mistress was Miss C. Moss, and she was joined by a Miss Moore around 1880. The Boys Department closed in 1881, but the girls’ and infants’ departments continued until 1895. In addition to the vicar, the church had a curate (Rev W Murray) a lay reader, two churchwardens (Mr R E Swinfen and E Denman), an organist and verger.

In 1881 alterations and renovations were planned (architect W A Heazell) with the intention of reducing the seating capacity from 760 to 684 by clearing 4 benches from the chancel to install an organ, removing the communion rail and rearranging the chancel seats, removing three or four bays of the gallery at the chapel end of the church and altering the position of the pulpit and reading desk, building two new vestries, and putting in a stained glass window at the church entrance and a screen across the chancel. (See plans and drawings relating to these proposals.) The cost was estimated at £600, of which £450 had been raised by voluntary subscription. The stained glass window was over and above the £600, and was a private donation.

The reduction in seating capacity was partly because due to the demolition of several streets the size of the parish had fallen below what for the Church of England in the nineteenth century was the minimum figure of 4,000. Vincent Jackson was so concerned about this development that he wrote to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners early in 1881 asking for details of how he might instigate a reorganisation of inner city parishes to relieve neighbouring St Mark’s (12,000) and the town gaol in order to push up its numbers. He already had the approval of the bishop, the vicar of St Mark’s, and the Nottingham Church Extension Society. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners discussed his proposal at their meeting on 17 March 1881, and after a great deal of correspondence with trustees, bishops and others, the boundary alteration was approved in August 1881.

Even this did not solve the problem, and in April 1883 Vincent Jackson asked the Ecclesiastical Commissioners if there was any possibility of moving the church:

I shall feel obliged if you will take the trouble to inform me whether it is possible under existing Acts of parliament to sell the sites and buildings of a Church and adjoining School and to utilise the proceeds for the erection of another church and school in a parish to be formed in the outskirts of the town of Nottingham away from the original parish; and in that case whether the emoluments of the benefice could be transferred with it?

The Commissioners knew of no such precedent, and nothing further was done, but by 1891 the population of the parish was just 3,416.

By 1892 the future of the church began to look uncertain. In the course of 1891 the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway Company brought forward a scheme for a new line through the centre of Nottingham. To make it possible, the Company proposed the wholesale demolition of an area bounded by Milton Street and Mansfield Road, Lower Parliament Street and York Street. On 1 January 1892 Vincent Jackson wrote to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners expressing his concern for the future. He believed that the scheme would lead to the demolition of almost his entire parish. If parishes around were to give up part of their land in order to make a viable parish for St Stephen’s, they would also lose so much population as no longer to qualify for a grant for a curate: ‘the very raison d’être of the church is thus taken away’. Although he had not yet seen all the plans ‘from the nature of the site it seems obvious that a road for cabs will run close to the School buildings which abut on the parish church. Divine service must be affected from the traffic on this road as well as from the passing of trains on the line’. In his view the only sensible policy was for the railway company to acquire the church. The precedent for such a move was, he recalled, St Luke’s, Kings Cross, which the Midland bought when it extended the station. Vincent Jackson was disturbed that at present the Company was considering curving the line round his church. In his view this was no solution since his parish would still disappear, and his church would be very noisy. Vincent Jackson asked the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to oppose the bill, at least until the railway company agreed to buy the church. The Commissioners were unmoved.

As the result of an agreement between various railway companies to form the Great Central line, in 1894-5 further legislation was pushed through Parliament allowing for a larger station and clearance of the whole Charlotte Street area. Construction involved the excavation of 600,000 cubic yards of mainly sandstone rock, and the demolition of 1,300 houses, 20 public houses, and the Nottingham Union Workhouse. About 6000 people were displaced. This time St Stephen’s and its school buildings were scheduled for compulsory purchase, with £6000 paid by the Company for the church site and £4000 for the glebe. These sums were to be vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with the money being used to build a church and parsonage on a new site. The bill received the royal assent on 6 July 1895.

By the mid-1890s work had started on clearing the Charlotte Street area to make way for the new Victoria Station and its related premises. Some 6,000 houses were demolished together with public houses and other buildings. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners accepted the proposal that the title of St Stephen’s, together with many of the furnishings - most of them relatively new because the church itself was only thirty years old - should be transferred to a new church, and in April 1896 it was agreed that this should be in Hyson Green. What housing was left in the old St Stephen’s parish was assigned to St Mark’s.

Vincent Jackson, who had been vicar for twenty-six years and curate-in-charge prior to that time, preached his last sermon in St Stephen’s on 26 May 1895, and was succeeded by Rev Charles Douglas Gordon, who transferred to Hyson Green with the church.

The final service at St Stephen’s was held on 29 July 1896, ‘there being a crowded congregation’. The sermon was preached by the Rev F R Pyper, vicar of St Andrew’s on the text ‘Devout men carried Stephen to his burial’ (Acts, viii, 2) It was announced that a new church to be dedicated to St Stephen was to be established at Hyson Green. The church was emptied within a few days and demolished in 1896.