St Peter


Ruddington was the Anglo-Saxon homestead (ton) of Ruddingas (Rudda’s people), but the first recorded evidence of any church is in Domesday Book 1086, when the population was about 250. It is unclear whether this reference is to a church in Ruddington or nearby Flawforth (or Flawford), but Flawforth is the more likely since it was the main church for the people of Ruddington, Edwalton, Plumtree and Bradmore. Archaeological excavations there revealing clear evidence of Saxon church building after 663AD and a church deed of 1282 referring to the Chapel of St Mary indicate that was at Flawforth. The parish church in Ruddington originated as a manorial chapel of St Mary attached to the adjacent manor house (now the Hermitage), and the instigator of its building would have been the lord of the manor.

The first reference to a chapel in Ruddington comes from a legal agreement between the then vicar and people of the village in 1292/4. It was constructed adjacent to part of a medieval manor house, although it is not known when it was built. W P W Phillimore believed that Ruddington was the last of the surrounding villages to acquire its own place of worship, partly because it was relatively close to Flawford, and because it seems at some point to have enjoyed exclusive use of the church.

In April 1299 a mandate was issued to the official of York and Sir Roger de Mar to relax the sequestration in the fruits of Rodington church, imposed for non-residence of the rector, Ralph de Barry. In November of that year de Barry was granted a licence to study for one year. On 12 June the same year a dispute arose between Barry, and Robert le Breton and Richard of Barneby, executors of Lord Thomas Coke’s will. Robert and Richard were sentenced to be excommunicated by an official of the Archbishop’s court of York, in relation to ‘losses relating to ornaments of Ruddington church and its houses’. They agreed to pay de Barry 13.5 marks without further delay.

Between 1302-3 Flawford’s patron, Sir Richard de Bingham, asked several times for the Pope to validate and unite the offices of rector and vicar of Ruddington church. Archbishop Corbridge replied that a decision had been deferred due to Bingham’s absence. In mitigation, Bingham pleaded his absence was due to carrying out the king’s business, as judge and money-raiser for military fiefs. He was then informed that his request could not be agreed to, since the Pope had neither heard nor seen a valuation of the post, the present incumbent had no wish to resign the living without adequate provision, and there were further reasons, which could not be discussed. In March 1303 Bingham replied that he was astonished at this response, because not only could the register revaluation of the vicar’s office be consulted, but the vicar’s wish for compensation could be met through agreement and acknowledgement of the validation of the union. He put in a further request, but again this was not granted.

In June 1306 the Archbishop instructed the Rural Dean of Bingham to carry out purification rites on the chapel of St Mary, Ruddington, which had been:

... defiled by the shedding of blood. We entrust this work to you on our behalf, so that divine worship should not any longer be suspended in that same chapel, which has not, as we have learned from your letters of inquiry, been consecrated. Take with you two rectors and vicars and six priests from the neighbourhood, wearing white vestments and carrying holy water…

In 1307 Archbishop Greenfield was prepared to extend special favours to Hugh Barry, then the rector of Ruddington church, even though Hugh had abandoned the church. According to local opinion, Barry was in the habit of quarrelling not only with his parishioners and neighbours, but also with his bishops, and he had tried to introduce ‘certain illegal practices’. Since ancient times there had always been two offices at Ruddington church, those of rector and vicar, and Barry was keen to hold both titles. This was contrary to canon law, but while the archbishopric of York was vacant he acted with unnamed officials and secretly forged a legal document. He mounted an attack on the legally-appointed perpetual vicar, and expelled him, ‘seizing his books, chalices, vestments and other sacred objects’. He also received, unlawfully, tithes and revenues belonging to the vicar and disposed of the income irresponsibly. It was said:

We began legal proceedings against him but Hugh refused to accept ecclesiastical punishment by obtaining prohibitions from the lay authorities. He sought to put the matter under protection of [your] influence.

The gradual growth of the village and the increased reluctance of the parishioners to walk over a mile to Flawforth for their children’s baptisms led in 1479 to the grant of a licence for a new font and for the sacraments to be administered at the chapel. The licence refers to the font being ‘where the people were’. However, there was still no graveyard and burials continued to take place at Flawforth.

The slow growth of population in Ruddington added weight to calls for a church to be built. A rough estimate of the adult population and its beliefs, carried out when the accession of the Catholic Philip of Spain seemed a possibility in 1585, showed that in Ruddington the number receiving Holy Communion was 281. There were nine dissenters.

Progress still seemed slow. By 1718 Flawforth church was in a ruined condition, and four of its bells were transferred to St Mary’s. ‘Old John’, a fifteenth-century bell, was probably one, and St Mary’s was enlarged.

Ruddington in 1743 had 100 or so families in the village, three of them dissenters, two Quakers and one Presbyterian. The six Quakers had a meeting house where they held a meeting every six weeks, with a teacher. Fifty village children were taught in an endowed charity school. There were no almshouses, and nor was there a parsonage so the vicar lived at Tollerton. The living was worth only £15 per annum. Communion was administered four times a year, and the previous Easter 35 parishioners had attended.

In 1773 it was decided that Flawforth church should be demolished. Some of the stone was taken to Ruddington to enlarge the chapel and to build walls to enclose the churchyard and form a graveyard. The spire from Flawforth was also re-erected at the chapel. The way was now open for St Mary’s to become the parish church.

The Nottingham Journal for 9 October 1773 recorded:

Thursday morning the Archbishop of York… went to Ruddington… and changed by a solemn act the chapel of Ruddington to be hereafter… the parish church in lieu of the ancient church of Flawforth.

Two years later the churchyard was consecrated.

Drawing of the
church between
1825 and 1887

Subsequently, from the late eighteenth century onwards, much more information became available in the form of account books, notebooks, parish magazines, records of business meetings and church registers recording baptisms, marriages and deaths. One useful source is a description of the church in 1819 by William Stretton. St Peter’s, as it was now called, had a brick floor, five octagonal pillars and a spacious loft at the west end bearing the royal coat of arms. The roof timbers were hidden by a ceiling described as ‘a shapeless kind of cove void of all taste and ornament’. It was meant to improve the acoustics.

Nonconformity increased in the nineteenth century and St Peter’s had to compete for churchgoers as nonconformist chapels were founded. More people came to live in Ruddington with the development of the hosiery industry. Census returns show that 868 lived in the village in 1801 and 1,017 in 1811. 40 per cent claimed to be Methodists in 1841. The Wesleyan Methodist church was built in 1799 and twice enlarged; the Primitive Methodist church followed in 1828 and was also enlarged in 1872. The General Baptist church began in 1823 as a branch of the Baptist church on Mansfield Road, and a Quaker community and meeting house also existed by 1733, probably where the War Memorial is situated on Shaw Street.

A parliament grant of 1824 allowed St Peter’s to be enlarged. Edward Selwyn, the rector, painstakingly copied eighteen letters relating to this event into a notebook, with an ‘account of proceedings since my presentation to the living in 1823’. The chancel and the nave, for example, were lengthened to 83 feet (25m), the pillars and arches separating the south aisle and the north were removed, and the south wall pushed out to make a total width of 40 feet (12m). In 1826 a large vicarage was built on Red Lion Street, which then became known as Vicarage Lane.

The interior before 1887

A religious census of 1851 would have encouraged the incumbent living by that time in ‘a vicarage in perpetuity’, a Georgian house on Vicarage Lane. The population of Ruddington was 2,181 (males 1,093, females 1,088). The congregation at the morning service, as recorded by the curate William Cheetham, totalled 120 and Sunday School scholars numbered 130. 270 came to the evening service.

A new font was placed in the church in 1884.

Piecemeal enlargement ended with the radical decision in 1884 to rebuild the church completely. This resulted from a committee formed in Frank Boykett’s incumbency which included Philo Mills of Ruddington Hall, a hosiery manufacturer and a pedigree stock breeder. He recommended rebuilding and offered £1,000 towards the construction of ‘a good and handsome building’. The existing church was described as ‘an unsightly structure in a very decayed state and inadequate for the parish’. His offer was accepted and a faculty dated 22 April 1887 was obtained.

The foundation

Apart from the tower, the old church was demolished. The south and east walls of the tower were incorporated in the new building. Its foundation stone was laid on 2 June 1887 by sisters Lucy and Ann Paget and Mrs Sarah Mills, the wife of Philo Mills. The ceremony included the burial of a bottle containing an inscription and several coins. Four hundred people attended. It had been decided that the church should be erected partly on the site of the old and partly on land ‘duly conveyed’ for that purpose.

All Saints’ Day (1 November) 1888 was a memorable day for the parishioners, and recorded in the Nottingham Evening Post. The consecration of the church of St Peter by the Bishop of Southwell, was the central event in a full day’s programme, including lunch in the schoolroom and an afternoon service conducted by Rev P H Douglas, vicar of Thrumpton.

The chancel ceiling
above the altar

The new church in Gothic style was described in the Evening Post as a ‘handsome structure with stone facings inside and out’. It consisted mainly of the nave with six bays and the chancel, south and north aisles, a muniments room reached by a spiral staircase from the south porch, a baptistry with a door leading to a spiral staircase rising to three floors, and the organ chamber. The roof was constructed of oak, as was the floor of the nave, and the chancel arch formed of a double stone rib vaulted and ribbed in stone and wood. A twelve-foot high cross of carved oak surmounted the altar, stalls and the chancel screen. The blue ceiling in the chancel represented the sky with silver stars and angelic figures. The overall length of the church was 122 feet, and seating provided for over 700 worshippers.

The chief architect was Mr A P Bell of Manchester; the total cost of £12,000 was, as usual, more than expected, and at a time of great depression in the village due to the decline of the framework knitting industry. However, as the Southwell Diocesan Magazine of 1888 reported, ‘Mr Joseph Paget, the Misses Paget and Mr Mills were liberal contributors’. Lighting consisted of elaborately designed gas pendants suspended from the roof timbers, and eleven years after the consecration, in 1899, these were supplemented by gas brackets attached to the walls of the aisles.

The generosity of individual parishioners, in particular, ensured more additions and developments in subsequent years. The choir was first robed in January 1889 through the efforts of Mrs Boykett, who, helped by local competent needlewomen, made 32 surplices and cassocks, cutting the cost by half. The Misses Paget were responsible for the four main south aisle windows of 1894, and the window over the choir door in 1897 commemorated Matthew Carnelly, the local doctor. Two bells were added in the same year. Mrs Philo Mills gave a new lectern in the shape of a brass eagle in 1895.

In 1901 the population was 2,493.

The new century saw further additions, including the installation of a new organ in 1908. In 1913 the church could accommodate 750 people; there were 418 children on the roll of the church school and 246 on the roll of the Sunday School. Over the past year the vicar had baptised 33 children and eight people had been confirmed.

In 1956, as a result of the generosity of past and present church members a Lady Chapel was dedicated.

The flood-lighting of churches is an attractive and increasingly popular feature and a faculty to allow this at St Peter’s was granted in October 1963. At the same time the clock was illuminated on the south-west side.

In 1995 the church saw further major changes. Beyond the south door a light oak vestibule has been created with two oak doors and four windows on the east side, skilfully designed so that the Faith, Hope and Charity window is not obscured. A new toilet block was constructed behind the original panelling on the west side. A small kitchen and store cupboard was added in 1996 behind light oak doors in the baptistry. A light oak floor has been laid in the nave.

In late summer 2006 Rev Andrew Axon, vicar since September 2005, moved into a new vicarage on Wilford Road between the church and the Hermitage. Work began on the Hermitage bought by the church in 1964, and now financed mainly by the sale of the Hermitage Lawn to the Diocese for £100,000, and by grant monies. Past archaeological excavations had shown that the structure of the Hermitage was mainly a medieval hall. A Tudor west wing was modernized in 1708 and extensions eastwards added during the nineteenth century. It is a Grade II listed building, originally Ruddington’s most significant secular building. The Hermitage Development project began in 2006 and the building was officially opened in March 2008, partly as a centre for church and community activities, including flats, a kitchen, a main meeting room and four smaller rooms. Income from rents and lettings should ensure that it is self-sustaining with maintenance and running costs met.

Parishioners have contributed generously with time and money to ensure its position and influence, and in 2011 improvements were made to the seating, sound system and projection technology. The sale of the Hermitage lawn to the diocese and extra grants have meant that work on the Hermitage has ensured improved facilities, including disabled toilets and a modern kitchen.