For this church:
Origins – 1600s
Upton lies between Newark and Southwell, on the A612 Nottingham-Newark road. The history of the area, lying close to the Fosse Way, goes back to Roman times, as is attested by the fact that a Roman urn, coins, and other relics were found buried in Upton, close to the Church, in 1709.
In Anglo-Saxon times, Upton may have lain on the boundary of the kingdoms of Mercia and Lindsey. In c956 – Upton, as a berewick of Southwell, formed part of the territory granted by King Eadwig to Oskytel, Archbishop of York (which included the land on which Southwell Minster was established). The Archbishops of York continued to be lords of the manor following the Norman Conquest.
From 1171, the village sent 3s yearly at Whitsuntide as its Pentecostal offering to Southwell Minster.
The church fabric dates to the 13th century, probably sometime around 1225-1250. The Church community has accepted 1250 as the date of its founding, using it as a basis for 700th and 750thanniversary celebrations held in 1950 and 2000 respectively, but there is no definitive evidence for this date. The earliest extant feature is the north arcade of 4 arches on Early English clustered columns, dated by the historian J C Cox to c1225. The church chest is dated to the early 14th century by Professor Jane Geddes based on the style of the ironwork.
In its early history, the church, being just a few miles from Southwell Minster, is likely to have been heavily under its influence. This link was made explicit on October 20 1291, when archbishop John le Romeyn made clear that ‘the proportions of corn and hay in the parishes of Southwell and Upton, formerly belonging to three prebendaries, be applied to the augmentation of the common fund of the canons resident at Southwell Minster.’ Probably because of this very close association with Southwell, the parish does not feature in the 1291 Taxatio records or the Nonarum Inquisitiones of 1341. Further evidence of this occurs in archbishop Melton’s Capitula, in 1337, when one Richard Frende of Upton, a poor priest, was referred to the abbot of Rufford and the prior of Thurgarton jointly, to provide him with a benefice in the gift of the chapter of Southwell, and to induct him; clearly Upton church itself was unable to support him as such.
In December 1313, Archbishop Greenfield issued a citation to the chapter of Southwell to appear before their proctor the following month to show cause for their appropriation, contrary to common law, of several local parish churches, with cures of souls, including Upton.
In 1320-50, the aisle walls and chapel on the north side of the church were rebuilt, and contain the flat-headed windows typical of that period, as does the chancel.
Also at this time the nave was enlarged to include the north aisle chantry chapel. In 1349, the chapel was endowed by Sir John Braye and his wife Isolde/Isolda. Sir John Braye would seem to have been a tax collector for Edward III’s Scottish Wars, and it is likely that the two sepulchral arches in the chapel originally held the tombs of Sir John and his wife. Prayers were to be said for their souls indefinitely by the chantry priest. In 1349, a license was granted for the Abbey of Rufford to charge its lands in Nottinghamshire for six marks for a chaplain in Upton church.
In the 14th century, the leading family in the village, and owners of the manor, were the Pakenhams. Master James John Pakenham, prebendary of Southwell, was vicar in 1379.
Early in the reign of Henry VI, a chantry was founded at the altar of St Stephen in Southwell Minster, and its income augmented by the gift of 4a. 1r. in Upton. There is no mention of Upton in the 1428 subsidy of Henry VI, again, probably due to its close association with Southwell Minster.
From the 15th century, the leading family in the village was the Oglethorp family, several of whom were buried in the chantry chapel.
During the 15th century, the present church tower was constructed. It is considered to be the glory of the church – buttressed to the top and crowned with eight pinnacles clustered around a taller central pinnacle and, unusually for Nottinghamshire, having a stone vaulted roof. Halfway up it is a square-shaped room which has a fireplace and may previously have served as a lodging for the chantry priest or for a recluse; subsequently the room was used as a dovecote, and many of the stone nesting boxes still survive (see Tower section for more details).
During the reign of Henry VIII (but prior to the Reformation) ‘the Churches of Upton, Rolleston, Edingley, Kirklington, Barnby and the 3rd part of Kelham, contributed £36. 16s. 8d to the common fund of Southwell Minster.’
The main documented effect of the Henrican Reformation on the Church was the suppression of John Braye’s chantry, based in the north aisle chapel since 1349, following the Abolition of Chantries Act of 1545. According the the Chantry Certificates of 1546, the last holder of the benefice was “John Raven, a preiste there of the age of lxxxi. yeres, without lerning or other promocion” who was living “in a mansion house which Master Bagenham [=Pakenham] hath gyven hym duringe his life and no longer.”
In 1547-8, early in the reign of Edward VI, commissioners visited the church in order to value the church goods with a view to confiscating them. They found the endowment to be a comparatively poor one, reporting that “Preacher, Scolemaster, or the poore Relieved by this chaunterie . . . none.” There were “ij vestmentis, the oon of Blake satten, the other of grene bustion, ij corporaxis, a masse boke, and a coffer of littell valewe; and as for chalis is borrowed of the wardens of the Church of Upton.” The commissioners valued the chantry was valued at £4 8s 0d.
Also during Edward’s reign, various properties of the suppressed prebends, including the chantries and Upton’s water mill, were distributed to wealthy landowners including the Earl of Warwick and later Sir Henry Sydney. Sydney’s grants included ‘carriage money’ of 23s 3½d paid by the tenants of Upton. At the accession of Mary I in 1553, the grant was cancelled and the rights surrendered. During Mary’s reign John Raven, the last chantry priest, was able to receive a pension, worth £3 19s 0d in 1555-6.
In c1578, John Collie bequeathed to a Trust lands of 20acres 2roods 17perches for the repair of the church and local highways. This was a significant bequest and managed well over subsequent centuries, to the point where by 1844 this property was known as the parish land and was bringing in £50 a year, of which £5 was being paid for the education of 8 poor children at the school erected in 1827. This trust continued (in 2013) to pay a sum of money annually to the church from rents. It is also used to support various village projects.
There is relatively little surviving evidence of religious tension in Upton prior to the reign of Charles I, as churchwardens’ presentments have not survived. However in 1608 the wife of Gervase Staveley, of Upton, was presented as a Popish recusant.
In 1609-10, the village was struck by a serious visitation of the plague – 110 people were buried in the churchyard over a 12 month period from a population of probably 300-400 people at the time. The squire, Owen Oglethorpe, fled the village, but died at Blidworth.
Like many churches in the country at this time, Upton church stood in need of repair at the beginning of the 17th century, as the fabric had been neglected since the Reformation. The church accounts for the years 1600-1640 show a constant stream of restoration activities, for example the mending of the porch in 1604, 10s paid to a glazier for mending windows in 1605, and extensive work on the roof undertaken in 1613 – it was probably at this point that the pitch of the roof was significantly lowered, and not re-raised again until the 19th century. Significant sums were also spent on ‘beautifyeing’ the church, by redecorating the walls, adding cushions and a silk fringe for the pulpit cloth, and purchasing a new pulpit.
During the incumbency of Thomas Wilson (1586-1628), a succession of visiting preachers spoke in the church (preaching was strictly controlled at this period, and Wilson may not have been licensed to do so). Among these was the celebrated preacher Tobie Matthew, Archbishop of York, who visited in 1608 and 1620 (both occasions celebrated by a party with wine and cakes in the village) and whose portrait can still be seen underneath the main south window of the nave.
Charles I and Civil War period
In 1627, Martin Ballard became vicar, and his incumbency spanned the whole Civil War and Interregnum period. Ballard was written about by F H West in his 1961 book Sparrows of the Spirit detailing the lives of Nottinghamshire priests – West was the incumbent from 1947-51. (An important source for the period is the constables’ account book from 1640-1666, which was found by West in the vicarage attic.)
According to West, ‘[Ballard’s] social status is indicated by the record in the registers that one daughter married an Upton weaver in indecent haste, and another chose a villager who could not even sign his own name’ and also by the fact that ‘there were labourers in the parish whose property was worth almost as much as his own […] after his death, his books were valued at fifteen shillings – not a very large sum, considering that only three months before a young clerk in the Admiralty Office, named Samuel Pepys, on a shopping expedition in St Paul’s Churchyard, spent four times that amount of half a dozen books.’
The churchwardens’ accounts from the 1630s allow us to trace the repercussions of William Laud’s reforms in the parish. There was a spate of church restoration and decorating including the introduction of altar rails and a new communion table. The church was paved in 1636 (at a cost of £1 2s 6d.), following Laud’s instruction to churchwardens in 1635 to enquire if their churches were paved. A pamphlet entitled ‘God and the King’ arguing the case for the Divine Right of Kings, was purchased for the vicar to read in church, and there were repeated appeals for the restoration of St Paul’s Cathedral. According to West, ‘Mr Ballard does not seem to have been the inspiration of all this activity […] one gets the impression that all these good works were imposed upon the vicar and churchwardens from above […] It is the Southwell Chapter Court and its representatives who do the chivvying.’
From 1642 onwards, the Civil War had a considerable impact on the parish, which is attested in both the churchwardens’ and the constables’ accounts for the period. Already in 1641 the constable had to provide support for various soldiers involved in the wars with Scotland and on the continent, and in 1642 the constable paid 8s for the hire of horses to transport men to be with Charles I at Nottingham. In 1643 various expenses were recorded for journeys and goods sent to the Royalist stronghold that had been established at Newark. The churchwardens’ accounts from 1643 also show entries relating to the war, particularly charity given to wives of soldiers affected by the fighting. For example, one entry shows how the wardens gave lodging to a poor woman, ‘with certificate to travel into Oxford, her husband being in the King’s army,’ and another shows charity ‘given to a woman big with child that came out of Oxfordshire having her house plundered., certificate to travel in Yorkshire for the 14th, 6d.’ An idea of the costs to the village can be gained from an undated Civil War document in the Staunton family archives which shows a Royalist levy of £55 to be collected from ‘Upton with members’.
In 1644, a foraging party from Newark under Col. Eyre captured two troops of horse in Upton and took them to Newark with their colours, horses, and arms. Four Roundheads were drowned. At this time, men from Upton were being conscripted into the Royalist army.
In 1645, with the siege of Newark, Upton remained in the thick of things and suffered from being requisitioned by the forces of both sides:
The church’s commanding position, overlooking the surrounding area, made it a point of interest – in 1645, one Thomas Kirkin was paid 8d and tobacco and ale for keeping 'watch on the steeple' for one day. Such precautions could not prevent soldiers from Newark hacking to death a well-known local man, William Robinson, probably for trying too obstinately to prevent them from stealing his horse.
The occupation of the area by Scottish troops from November 1645 brought particular hardship on the village, because these forces were expected to live off the land. In a period of three months, Upton was compelled by weekly assessments to contribute £69. 6s. 8d. to the Scottish troops stationed in the area, an enormous sum for a village of its size.
In July 1646, after Charles I surrendered at the Saracens Head in Southwell, he passed through Upton on his way to meet the Scottish commander at Newark. Following the end of hostilities a large number of wounded soldiers and refugees made destitute by the fighting at Newark passed through the village.
Following the Parliamentary victory, the church was attacked by Puritan soldiers who broke the painted windows and burnt the communion rails on a bonfire they lit at the cross. In the summer of 1646, while the windows were being repaired, Parliamentary Commissioners moved in to enforce their ecclesiastical decrees. The Book of Common Prayer was removed from the church and replaced with the new Puritan Directory of Worship, purchased in May 1646.
Ballard was not deposed as vicar, although Daniel Harding, vicar of the neighbouring parish of Rolleston, was deposed for loyalty to the old Prayer Book (one of only 28 clergy in the whole of Nottinghamshire to be ejected for this reason). According to West, Ballard ‘shared all the inconveniences suffered by his parishioners’ including having his pigs taken from the sty. We have no record of Ballard objecting to anything that the Parliamentarians enforced, but a suspicion that he was not a strong supporter of the Puritans may be evidenced by the fact that he was the subject of an adverse report, on the grounds of old age, sent to Parliament in 1654. This survey valued the living of Upton at £80 in the possession of Acton Burnell Esquire, ‘Ten pounds p.a. of the said sum issuing yearly out of the said profits unto the Church of Southwell. And there is a vicarage belonging to Upton aforesaid which is worth about twentie marks p.a. Martin Ballard Clarke the present incumbent who receives the profits thereof to his use, and hath cure of souls, but hee beinge not able to perform the cure in his own person so constantly and so ably as it ought to be by reason of his ould age there is some want of a preaching Minister there.‘
Given that Ballard was still in post after the Restoration, the report of his old age would seem to be exaggerated and may therefore indicate that the Puritans regarded Ballard as an inconvenient presence. However this cannot be proven to be the case.
According to West, when the news of the Restoration reached Upton, ‘the bells rang all day and the children danced on the green. The next Sunday, without waiting for instructions, [Ballard took] the Prayer Book from the cupboard where it had lain for fifteen years and read it in the face of the congregation.’ An indication that Puritanism had taken hold among at least some of his congregation, however, may be indicated by the fact that in 1661, six Quakers were imprisoned for attending a meeting in Upton.
In 1664, upon Ballard’s death, the vicarage consisted of six rooms and a dairy – a substantial house for the period.
In 1676, there were 189 inhabitants of age to receive the sacrament in Upton, including two ‘popish recusants’ (but only one Protestant dissenter). Thoroton paid relatively little attention to the village, noting only that the rectory was appropriated to the chapter of Southwell, and that the vicarage was valued at £4 11s 5d in the King’s books. He described the church as having ‘a decent tower, pinnacled nave and side-aisles, 4 bells.’
18th Century to the present
In comparison with the tumultuous events of the 17th century, little of note is recorded during the 18th century. In 1717, bequests allowed the church to purchase charity land of 5a 0r 17p. Archbishop Herring’s visitation of 1743 recorded 43 families in the village, of which by this point none were dissenters. (However a Robert Wilson who died in 1758, and Richard Kirk who died in 1766, were recorded as ex-communicated in the parish burial register). There was no school in the village, but the vicar noted that ‘some of the lesser children are taught by a Woman, and the Rest go for their Instruction to some neighbouring School’. The incumbent, Chappell Fowler, was a non-resident, ‘my non-residence being dispensed with by the Chapter of Southwell on account of my attendance upon the Choral Service of that Church.’ Services were held only once every Sunday, as the vicar would be at Southwell the other part of the day, or assisting at a neighbouring church. The sacrament was administered 5 times a year, and there had been 40 communicants at the previous Easter.
In 1764 Edmund Crofts reported to Archbishop Drummond that there were seventy families in the parish, all Church of England. The village had no almshouses, or school, but charitable funds existed for repairing the church and for relieving the poor. Crofts administered the Sacrament five times a year, and at the previous Easter 41 people had communicated. Unusually, he reported a penance being performed over the past twelve months, but he gave no details.
During the 18th century the church, typically for the Georgian period, had box pews. The roof was pitched much lower than it is today.
By 1796, when the historian John Throsby visited, the population had grown to 365, but with only ‘four or five freeholders’ (the village had been enclosed in 1795). Throsby recorded details of memorials he found in the church (which are no longer extant) and mentioned a bequest of land to the church, ‘which now lets for £18 and is worth more, for the repair of the Church , if necessary, next for poor soldiers passing through the village (this is now dispensed with), next at discretion of certain inhabitants. Any excess over Church repair requirements is devoted to find militia men and to ease the poor’s rate, but it is only a trifle.’
By 1800, the living was valued at £35. 14s. 0d. apart from fees and contributions. In 1808, the parsonage and lands belonging to it granted to Lord Carrington, in lieu of tithes which were set at the Enclosure in 1795.
In 1814, the church tower was considered to be in danger of falling and was repaired at a cost of £165. The money was derived from the Parish Lands Trust, but the builder had to wait a long time for payment, and received interest at 5% until 1825 when £65 was paid off, but the balance of £100 was still owing in 1828.
In 1817, the church had let the parish land – the same bequeathed by John Collie in 1578 – to one Joseph Gill for 14 years at £54.12s per annum. In consequence of this income there was no Church Rate at Upton, and part of the revenue went to provide for church repairs, bread and wine for the sacrament, and repairs to the church. By 1826 the churchwardens found themselves with a surplus balance of £31 3s 8d, and with the addition of £30 raised by subscription this sum was applied to the erection of a schoolroom and the fitting up of a cottage for a schoolmaster (who was to be paid £5 from 1827). In 1863 the school was rebuilt by public subscription was conveyed to the vicar and churchwardens as a Church of England school. This school was closed in June 1986 and children now go to Southwell. In 1824 the Thurgarton Hundred Incorporated Workhouse was built at Upton at a cost of £6,596 for the use of 49 associated parishes and townships. It became the Union Workhouse for the Southwell Poor Law Union of 60 parishes, established in 1836.
A Wesleyan Methodist chapel opened in the village in 1831. By this time the lord of the manor was Thomas Wright esq., who owned 100 acres of land in the village and who in the 1830s built Upton Hall, on the site of the old manor house. The chapel was abandoned in 1968 and its war memorial transferred to the parish church vestry. The chapel is now in private hands.
In 1840 Frederick William Naylor became vicar and undertook the restoration of the vicarage, which had been neglected since the 18th century as previous vicars had resided at Southwell. Naylor also started the village cricket team.
In 1843 a parish library was formed. By 1921 this contained 900 volumes.
By 1851 the population of the village had reached 629, close to its all-time peak. The religious census of that year showed that the church income stood at £103, and noted that the church had space to accommodate 150 adults – a typical congregation size was 100 for morning services, 70 for evening services. There were 50 Sunday School scholars. By comparison, the Wesleyan chapel also had space for 150, and counted 68 worshippers at an afternoon service, or 62 for an evening service.
In 1864, a Public Elementary School opened, built at a cost of £300, and attended by about 50 children in 1885.
The church had undergone a partial restoration in 1820, but the main 19th-century restoration took place in the period of 1863-69, at a cost of £1,350, raised by subscription. There is a plan drawn by the architect Ewan Christian dated 1867, which suggests that he had some involvement. During this restoration, the roof was raised, the chancel was rebuilt, old stones reworked, and a low-side window replaced in its old position. During the reconstruction a discovery was made of six earthenware pots found embedded in the walls of the old structure, three on each side at intervals of 6 feet, 7 or 8 feet above the floor level. These have been understood as an attempt to improve the acoustic properties of the church in medieval times. Also as part of the restoration, the old high-backed box pews and the enormous ‘squire’s pew’ in the chancel were cleared out.
The restoration significantly altered the church interior, as a painting of the pre-restoration church by F. P. Parlby in 1867 (on display in the church) makes clear. Opinions on the aesthetic merit of the changes seem to have varied. Cornelius Brown in 1889 wrote that the church ‘is restored with much care and good taste.’ However, an article in the Newark Herald from 3 September 1910 lamented ‘acts of wanton and barbarous vandalism’ carried out during the 1867 restoration:
[T]he ancient stone altar was broken up and used for re-building part of the fabric, and a hideous deal table erected in its place; the font was replaced by a more elaborate erection, a smugly respectable, inartistic, mid-Victorian font; the hagioscope was partly blocked up and the rood-screen destroyed. The piscina was torn out of the wall and left lying about on the floor of the Chapel, which is at present disfigured by pews.
Harry Gill, writing in 1913, also wrote that ‘the so-called restorations of 1863 and of subsequent years, carried out in accordance with the spirit and notions of the period have removed many interesting features, and left but a glimpse and a suggestion of its former state. There are no ancient monuments to excite our interest, no heraldic devises, no painted windows, and very little architectural detail that is worthy of study.’
By 1911, the population of the village had fallen to 490, but this figure includes 94 inmates of the Southwell Poor Law Union. Bishop Hoskyns, visiting the parish in November 1914, recorded that the Church had accommodation for 250, and that there were 54 students on the roll of the day school, plus 34 for the Sunday School. There had been 8 baptisms and 10 confirmations in the year ending 30 September 1912.
In 1920, a stained glass memorial window was unveiled in the west end of the north aisle. A further stained glass window was donated in 1932 by the Brodhurst family. The Southwell Diocesan Magazine noted that, ‘this gift is the more appreciated because Upton Church is singularly lacking in memorials. There is not even a simple tablet in memory of Mr Peacocke who was Vicar of Upton for nearly 50 years and left behind him a name greatly honoured, nor a stone in our Churchyard bearing his name.’
In 1922, Kelly’s Directory valued the living at £245, including 23 acres of glebe land and the residence.
In 1941, Upton Hall was purchased by a Catholic Order, the Holy Ghost Fathers. It is now the headquarters of the British Horological Institute.
The vicar in the 1940s, Percy Leeds, spent considerable energy and money on improving the vicarage, and converted the tithe barn into the parish room which became the village hall in the 1970s when it was handed over to the Parish Council. He was succeeded by F. H. West, who discovered and studied the 17th century documents that have added significantly to our understanding of the village’s history.
In 1951, Staythorpe power station was erected between Upton and Newark.
The church became a listed building in 1961, and by 1967 the net benefice income had grown to £1,134 and the population of the village to 522.
In the early 1990s a loop system was installed for the hard of hearing. In 1998, Susan Spencer became the parish’s first female priest.
Since 2000 modernisation works have been carried out, including installing a new heating system, levelling the floor and connecting the church to water, gas and drainage infrastructure. The old wooden bellframe was supplanted in 2006 and the old ring of four bells, which had been unringable since c.1990, expanded to a new ring of six.
In 2011 a toilet and small kitchenette were installed in the north-west corner of the nave (somewhat obscuring the stained glass window at the west end of the north aisle), and the north aisle was re-roofed.
The church along with St Denis, Morton, and Holy Trinity, Rolleston are all part of the West Trent Benefice which also includes Bleasby, Halloughton, Hoveringham, and Thurgarton. They remain separate parishes.
The period from the end of the Second World War to the present has seen the church again become the much cherished and financially supported hub of the village. Archdeacon West wrote and produced an open air play entitled ‘The Maypole’ in 1951 based on our history of the Civil War. This was followed in 2000 by a lavish pageant ‘Upton 750’ which involved the whole village, began with scenes around the village and continued in the churchyard. It told of the history from the foundation of the church to the present day, was scripted by Andy Barrett and produced by Peter Butterfield. For the celebrations cushions were stitched for the choir stalls, a new stained glass window of the church for the village hall made by a village group and village craftsmen dressed up and showed their ancient crafts.
Earlier the village had raised money with an open gardens, and sculpture sale to rebuild the pinnacles – known locally as the Nine Pins.
In the church the kneelers were re-covered in the 1970s. Caroline Jordan, a local artist and professional wrought iron worker gave the wreath of thorns and in 2013 the iron cross. Villagers contributed to the Upton wall hanging and the youth group produced the ‘Living Stones’ banner.
The parish registers date from 1585 for baptisms, and from 1586 for marriages and burials. Following the building of the workhouse, children born there were baptised at Upton. In 1861 the Rev William Peacocke expressed his concern that if and when the Union took over from the parish responsibility for all the poor in the area served by the workhouse (which happened with the 1865 Union Chargeability Act), all paupers would be buried in the parish in which the Workhouse was situated, i.e. his parish. In the event paupers continued to be buried in their own parish graveyards.