St Peter's, Mansfield.
St Peter's, Mansfield.

IN the entry of Mansfield in the Domesday Book we read: "Here are two churches and two priests." Undoubtedly one of these churches was St. Peter's, but all trace of this early church has gone. The oldest portion of the present fabric is Norman, belonging, at the earliest, to the end of the century in which the Domesday Book was compiled. Of this building the only really important part remaining is the lower portion of the tower, which consists of rude masonry, and contains a plain eastern door with small window over. The tower arch opening on to the nave is plain semi-circular. Above this is an opening similar to those seen in Saxon churches, leading to the bell ringers' chamber. What such an opening was intended for it is now impossible to say. Many theories have been put forward, the most likely being that the chamber was used by the sacristan, as a lodging on the first storey of the tower would keep him in touch with the bells and give him a place of vantage from which to see the altar and its treasures. That the sacristan did occupy such a place is clear from old documents, and he was sometimes bidden to "ly over nyghtes therein." This opening was probably used as a means of access to the chamber by ladder, and not merely to see into the church for such features occur with a small squint at the side as at Bosham, Sussex, and it must be remembered that in early towers staircases were the exception. In the bell ringers' chamber are three two-light Norman windows with centre columns. Just before this Norman portion was built the church, together with the churches of Chesterfield, Ashbourne, and Ossington, was presented to Lincoln. With this gift went all the chapels, that is, the daughter churches of the hamlets, and the great tithes. The parish priest was thus reduced from a rector to a vicar. The Bishop of Lincoln continued the patron of the living, reserving in lieu of rectorial tithes a composition of 8s. per acre from all the enclosed land in the parish. This shortly fell under the control of the Deans of Lincoln, and continued until 1885, when the Portland family bought them. Ere the Norman style died out a second building took place, judging from the piece of zigzag ornament now built into the wall of the south chancel chapel. In this second building all trace of the church of Domesday time disappeared, and the church was considerably enlarged. At this time it is quite possible that the terminals to the drip mold on the tower doorway, and the capitals of the belfry windows were recarved for the old builders frequently carved on older work; thus bringing it up to the style of ornament in vogue. The pitch of the old Norman roof can still plainly be seen on the eastern face of the tower—now under the present roof of the church. About this time Southwell was considered the mother and rectory church of Nottinghamshire, Pope Alexander decreeing in 1161 that all the clergy and laity of Notts, should, at the Feast of Pentecost, attend the church of St. Mary, Southwell, in solemn procession with a Pentecostal offering for every parish and hamlet in the county. The amounts paid enable us to form a comparative estimate of the importance of Mansfield in this year.

Nottingham and Newark contributed 13s. 4d. each, Southwell 5s., East Retford 2s., while Bingham and Mansfield each contributed 4s. 8d., thus ranking fourth. About the year 1200 more building took place, and the north aisle was built. To-day we have left: one lancet window in the north wall, and two jambs to be seen, one on each side of the west window. Half way through the 13th century papal envoys were busy in the country raising money for the see of Rome, and it was about this time that the papal demand for annates, or "first fruits"—that is the first year's income of an incumbent—was heard of in England. In 1291 three years after Pope Nicholas had granted the "first fruits" for six years to Edward I. towards defraying the expenses of a crusade, the rectory of Mansfield was put down at £26 13s. 4d., and the vicarage at £5. As the 13th century was closing, the Early English style of architecture was slowly giving way before the on-coming Decorated, and Mansfield resolved on further building to the church. It is to this time that the two windows with geometrical tracery now left in the north aisle belong. The Decorated style was not fairly established before the nave arcade were constructed, and the south aisle built. This naturally suggests the thought, had Mansfield a Norman north aisle and arcade? If not, the Early English arcade had barely seen a century pass before being replaced. What happened at this period is not easy to prove. We know enlargements were made in 1286, as the following extract from the Close Rolls of Edward II., quoted by White in his Dukery Records, shows:— "1286, April 23. An indulgence to those who visit the Church of Mansfield at the dedication of two altars therein, viz., one that of the Blessed Mary and S. Katherine. and that of S. William and S. Margaret. This date tallies with the windows mentioned, but is not quite reconcilable to the feeling of the nave arcades. About this time there came into prominence a family that was long associated with the church. In 1280. an era in which foreign intervention so damaging to the church, so hurtful to the State, was met by protest and improvement at home, Roger de Mauncefield was presented to the vicarage. But it is of Henry de Mauncefield that we are more concerned, for he wag a man of high ecclesiastical rank, and it is not at all unlikely that the incised slab to be seen in the south chapel was executed in his memory. He was a fellow of Merton, D.D., and Dean of Lincoln, and is remembered at Oxford for placing "at his own cost, glass into side windows of the chancel of the church, serving as the chapel of Merton College," the MS. from which this information is gleaned expressly adding ''whereas these windows were not so glazed before." Henry de Mauncefield became Dean of Lincoln on Dec. 15th, 1315. For a considerable part of his life he was a canon of the Augustinian Priory of Carlisle. The learned vicar of Blidworth (the Rev. R. H. Whitworth) says the memorial referred to can be easily conjectured by the lettering "icy git," which is carved at the top of this fine incised slab. This formula in Norman French was then almost universally applied to Royalty, nobility, and rank. Westria granted to the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln an annual rent of one hundred shillings to commemorate the life of Henrici de Mannesfeld, "nuper decani Lincolniensis," and his name would be daily pronounced at the altar. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the memory of the vicar would be perpetuated in his own church, and it is highly probable that he is here depicted, a priest in eucharistic vestments characteristically engaged in discharging the highest function of his priesthood. The various articles of ecclesiastical apparel are such as would be adopted by one who had been Don, Dean, and Chancellor. Another member of this family, Hugo de Mannesfeld, was installed warden of the chantrey in the church of Edwinstowe.

Early in the fourteenth century we find mention of the Bek family, who afterwards played a part in the history of the church. Thomas Bek (or Beck) sometime Bishop of S. David's, made '' purpesture of old, one rood of ground under the ermitage of East Thwaite in Mansfield Moore." The Prior of Lenton was tenant using the hermitage as a summer dwelling or sanatorium for his sick monks, who, it is highly probable would assist in church work in the parish. The Bek family came from Pleasley, and Anthony, younger brother of Thomas, was Bishop of Durham. Thomas was a Chancellor of Oxford University, in 1269. Keeper of Wardrobe to Edward I., Lord Treasurer 1279, and he obtained his bishopric in 1280. As showing the wealth of the Beks, we might turn aside for a moment to state that the magnificence of his enthronement could not have been borne by any other ecclesiastic, except his brother. He was consecrated by Archbishop Peckham in Lincoln Cathedral in the presence of a remarkable gathering, including Edward I., his Queen and children, 250 Knights, and many nobles. On the same day the body of the good S. Hugh was placed in a new shrine, Bek bearing the whole of the cost. The manor passed to the Comyns and Hastings, then when Queen Isabella was possessor, we find the Beks again prominent. The Queen claimed to be Lady of the Manor, carrying, of course, with it certain emoluments. Anthony Bek, now Dean of Lincoln, opposed her claim with partial success on the ground that he had divers tenant there and that he and his predecessors in the Deanery used to have assize of bread and ale. Was this same Anthony vicar of Mansfield? His name does not appear in the Torre list, but early in the reign of Edward III., at a trial at Nottingham, he claimed fines for assize of bread and ale from his tenants in Mansfield, "of which he was the parson." He claimed the right, he said, not for his parsonage of Mansfield but as Dean of Lincoln. If he were vicar, as this discovery leads us to believe he was, this fills ia a break in the Torre list, which Canon Prior thinks might have been caused by the Black Death, which made so many gaps in the ranks of the clergy. Henry de Mauncefield died in 1328, having been vicar six years, and it is not at all unlikely that Bek followed him.

There were two Anthony Beks, both of whom were Bishops, and each had a brother Thomas, likewise Bishops. Mansfield's Anthony was the second. He was Prebend of Lincoln in 1312, Chancellor in 1316, Dean 1329, and in 1336 consecrated Bishop of Norwich. Seven years later he died, and was buried in the cathedral at Norwich.

To return to the architecture of the church. About the middle of the century the tower was taken in hand, and the top storey built. This alteration, made when Curvilinear tracery was being used, greatly added to the picturesqueness of Mansfield Church, the handsome west window of the belfry being particularly noticeable. It would seem that at this time the north door was constructed, but, unfortunately, restoration has deprived us of the means of knowing. At all events, Packman stated in 1835 that the church possessed "a good north door of Decorated character." In 1387, William Spykke, hitherto not included in any list of vicars, held the living. This gentleman could not have been very wealthy, or he must have been a very bad payer, for he got behind with the payment of his accounts. We find on looking at the Patent Rolls that he was pardoned for outlawry ''for not appearing to render 28 quarters of barley, value eight marks, five shillings and fourpence, to Robert Frercosyn, of Selby." When he came into the living we cannot say, but on August 8th, 1393, he was presented, on the King's gift, to the chantrey of S. Cross in All Saints' Church, Bakewell. Then follows the additions to the church made in the Perpendicular style, the chancel walls were pierced, and chapels added, the church assuming the plan as we now know it. In addition, a window was added to the west end of each aisle, the handsome three-light one in the north aisle being particularly noticeable. England plunged into the wars of the Roses, and for some time no building was done, but the year after the dethronement of Henry VI., a notice of the church occurs, the vicar of Mansfield being presented by the jury to keep a light burning at the high altar during the time of mass, for which certain lands were left. The Gothic style was dying out before Mansfield undertook more church building. This time the fabric was raised by the addition of the clerestory, with its plain, un-cusped three-light windows, and embattled parapets were put on this and the tower. Coming to the reign of Henry VIII., the Valor Ecclesiasticus gives us the value of the living, thus being placed at £7 7s. 6d., due to be taxed, and the tax upon it, 14s. 9d. The vicarage house was rated at vjs. viiid. annually, the contemporary rent for a fairly good habitation. There were tithes of pork-lings, pees, and sheep, and flax and hemp, hay, etc., and one item occurs of Holy Bread silver vis. vijd. This is sometimes called "holy loaf," and was contributed for by the parishioners. At the end of mass this bread was brought into the chancel, and after being blessed by the priest, was cut into small pieces and distributed to the people.

Early in the sixteenth century, a lady, whose name is well known in Mansfield to-day, and after whom a street has been named, lived in the town—Dame Cicily Flogan. She was a widow imbued with the doctrines of the times, including the belief in the efficacy of masses for the souls of the departed. In 1521 she made her will, leaving certain lands, the profits of which were for 99 years, to maintain a priest to sing masses the south aisle of S. Peter's can still be seen the aumbry and piscina, belonging to the altar where the priest chanted his mass. The officiating priest was John Porter, or as he is described in some documents, "Sir John Porter." The prefix, "sir," was often accorded the clergy at that time. Lady Flogan's chantrey was not destined to run for the period she had laid down in her will, for in 1548 a survey of all chantreys was made, and their property and goods seized. We notice John Porter, the incumbent, is described in the original certificate, which we have inspected at the Public Record Office, as " being of th' age of LIII yeres unlearned," and "having none other promotion." The poor were sometimes relieved and educated by chantrey funds, but nothing from the funds appears to have been expended in this case, nor were there any goods or ornaments the Kinge's majestie could seize. This may be accounted for perhaps because the property was copyhold, and reverted back to Lady Flogan's heirs, according to the following memorandum at the foot of the certificate: "After thende and terme of LXXXXIX yeres, begynning in anno VII. Regis. Henr. VIII. Theise parcells before-mentioned being but copyholde as in Reversion to theyres off the sayd Syssley Flogan." John Porter was pensioned off, and lived in a cottage in Mansfield. Four years after the date of this certificate the feoffees of Oliver Dand made over to the churchwardens a cottage, lying by the churchyard, and land, for the purposes of a school, and the same year an inventory of the church's goods was taken preparatory to its spoliation. The original documents housed in tne Public Record Office give a valuable insight into the wealth of the churches at that time.

Coming to the reign of Philip and Mary, we find these monarchs granted in 1557 (by letters patent) to the vicar and churchwardens, Dame Flogan's estate for the unexpired period of 58 years, the estate leased from the Chapter of Southwell, and other lands given by the faithful. In 1559 the church registers were commenced, and three years subsequently Queen Elizabeth granted a charter to the vicar and churchwardens to act as a corporation to hold land for school purposes. A very interesting fact, which has escaped the notice of Groves and other local historians, is, that in 1580, Dean Wickham withdrew the tithes from Lincoln and leased them to Queen Elizabeth for 99 years. Subsequently, the Queen farmed them out to Mr. Rowland Dand. The Dand family were very prominent during the 16th century in church matters, and their name is known to most Mansfield people, who are interested in the history of the district. There were two families, one of which resided at Mansfield Woodhouse, and probably this Rowland Dand is the gentleman whose memory is kept green by the piece of stained glass fixed in one of the south aisle windows of S. Edmund's Church. The century of which we write had seen the old order of religion changed, the monastic system uprooted and churches plundered. Old methods of mediaeval parochial life, when each individual helped towards the repair of the church, were tottering. As a result many churches fell out of repair, amongst them being St. Peter's. We discovered recently a most interesting letter, appealing to the Steward of the Manor, who at that time was the Earl of Rutland, for timber, with which to repair the steeple. This letter raises the query: had S. Peter's a wooden steeple in the sixteenth century? It would almost seem so, for the amount of timber required to carry out the repairs was so large, being no less than eight trees. The communication was addressed by Lancelot Roleston and William Sterne, to the Earl of Rutland, at Newark, and was couched in the following terms:

''In most humble wyshe it maie please your honour to be advertised that accordinge to your direction given to the townsmen of Mansfield who have taken the veiue of the steple at Mansfield, and by the judgement of the workmen and of ourselves, that yt shall neede eight trees for the necessarie repair thereof. Mansfield, this 29th daye of Januarie, 1583. Your lordships, most humble, Lancelot Rolston, William Sterne."

This letter, too, is the first mention we have of the Sterne family. The register contains the entry: "1591, Sept. 22, Symon Sterne and Margery Walker maryd."Richard Sterne, son of Simon, was born in 1597 and baptised April 10th, as we gather from the registers. We have not space to devote more than a passing reference to this ecclesiastical dignitary, who was educated at the Mansfield Grammar School (the free school situated in the churchyard) passed on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a scholarship, and was elected a Fellow of Corpus in 1620. Thirteen years later he became master of Jesus College, and chaplain to Archbishop Laud, to whom he ministered on the scaffold. After spending a term in the Tower he became, at the Restoration, Bishop of Carlisle, and in 1664 Archbishop of York. He died in 1683 at the age of 87.