Sutton-in-Ashfield church.
Sutton-in-Ashfield church.

In the Vicarage garden are to be seen the oldest remnants of Sutton's Norman Church —a truly strange place for such archaeological treasures. There one may see a circular font of Norman date, and several pieces of stone carving of the same period. That they have been lying there for some years is proved by mention of the font being in the garden, by the Rev. Charles Bellairs, in the little pamphlet he wrote on the history of Sutton during his incumbency of the place. The present vicar (the Rev. F. J. Adams) will not, we anticipate, from opinions he expressed to the writers, permit these memorials of the ancient church to long remain in their present resting place. Some bits of Norman zig-zag ornament might, had it been thought of at the time, have been built into the new vestry, which has just been completed. However, something should be done with them to preserve them.

The Church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, is situated on rising ground at the west end of the town and from the churchyard, when the conditions of weather are favourable, the towers of Lincoln Cathedral, close upon 40 miles away, may be seen, so it is averred. Thoroton tells us that: "Sutton, together with Skegby and 'Hockenale Houthweit' were berues of the sok of Mansfield. Gerard, son of Walter de Sutton gave to God and the Church of St. Peter, at Thurgarton, two bovates of land, with his mother (when she took the habit of religion) and the church of the same town." From the family of De Sutton the manor appears to have passed into the family of Greenhalgh, of Teversal, and from thence to the Moleyneux of the same place, from them to the Hardwick's, of Hardwick, thence to the noble family of Cavendish, who exchanged it away for other estates to the Dukes of Portland, in whose hands it still remains, the whole parish with few exceptions being copyhold under the court of Mansfield. The first mention we have so far found of the history of this church is in the register of Thurgarton, which must have been early in the thirteenth century; for Ranulph, Sheriff of Nottingham, confirmed this grant of the Church, for the soul of his Lord King Edward II., and Jordan, the son of Gerard de Sutton added some parcels of land to the aforesaid priory. In the year 1328 the Church of Sutton-in-Ashfield yielded twenty marks yearly rent to the Priory of Thurgarton, the register of which informs us that there was then half a carucate, which was a mark rent, and the tyth of the water mill was 5s., and John Frauncey paid for a toft 2s., which made the whole £14 7s. 0d. per annum. The great tithes probably at the time of the Reformation, says Mr. Bellairs, were conveyed to the family of Hardwicks, from whom the famous Bess of Hardwick passed them on to the Cavendishes, Earls, and afterwards Dukes of Devonshire, from whom they passed in exchange to the Bentincks for accepted lands at the time of the Forest enclosure, to the amount of 1,706 acres, since called the church lands. The right of presentation to the church remains with the Duke of Devonshire, the patronage thereof not having been included in the exchange effected by the two families. A portion of the vicar's income is realised from the rent of 23 acres of land at Edingley.

In regard to the building itself, the plan consists of nave, chancel, north and south aisles, south porch, and tower, and a modern vestry has been added on the north side of the chancel. The chancel was thoroughly restored in 1868, with the result that the history of its different periods of building activity is difficult to trace, but from about 1170 to 1180 its plan must have been pretty much the same as it is to day.

The oldest portions now remaining are the nave arcade, and the chancel arch, and these would be built in the reign of Henry II. At the time of their building, the Norman style was in a state of transition, plainly shown in the moldings, etc., of Sutton. The nave arcade consists of four pointed arches on each side; each arch is of two orders, plainly champhered. The columns are round, and the capitals varied; those on the north being earlier in style than the south, two of them having very large square abaci and scalloped ornament underneath.

The bases also vary, those on the south having almost Early English moldings, and are small compared with the girth of the columns, while some on the north are plain.

The chancel arch has the pointed bowtell mold below, and the roll above, the columns likewise are pointed bowtell shape, and have well cut caps and bases. The next style has left little impression on Sutton, for if anything was done, it has since been obliterated, with the exception of the east abutment of the north nave arcade, which would probably belong to the reign of John. This consists of a cluster of three engaged columns or rolls, each one having a good cap and base. The caps are decorated with the Early English type of foliage with heads between, and although posessing some of the grace of this beautiful style, are rather rudely executed.

Sutton church seems then to have remained unchanged until Edward the Third's reign, when the tower would be taken in hand, and to this time the belfry windows belong. They have triangular heads, and are each of two lights. In addition to the tower there is a piscina in the south aisle, belonging to a chantry altar, put in at this period, and it is a good specimen of the Decorated style. It is possible that then considerable alterations would be made to the chancel, where on the south side is another piscina much plainer than the one in the south aisle.

Probably the reigns of Henry V. or VI., saw the west door of the tower inserted, and shortly after, the clerestory windows added. What else was done it is impossible to say, but certainly a style like the Perpendicular, lasting as it did about 169 years, must have left traces on Sutton, but the rebuilding has done away with the history of this time. We discovered an old drawing which gives a view of Sutton from the north-east in the middle of the eighteenth century. The east window then was a three-light Perpendicular with a transom. The east end of the north aisle was lighted by an Early English window, probably once similar in style to the east window in the Digby chapel at Woodhouse, but the mullions had gone, and in their place a wooden mullion and transom had been inserted. The clerestory had two Perpendicular windows, square-headed, and of two lights each. In the aisle were three two-light Perpendicular windows with square heads and label molds. The north door had a pointed head, the lower half having been blocked up, and the upper used as a window. Leaden roofs covered the north aisle and nave, the pitch of the latter roof being extremely low, leaving the line of the ancient weathering fully in view. The chancel roof was of the old pitch, but tiled. In the chancel is an interesting slab with a bow and arrow incised on it belonging to some forester of ancient Sherwood.

Perhaps this was one of the chief foresters, as a bow was the symbol, whereas an ordinary forester was known by the symbol of a horn. In the porch paving are to be seen two incised slabs bearing floriated crosses, and portions of similar slabs are noticed in the walling. At the east end of the south aisle on either side of the window, will be observed a small stone bracket, formerly used, probably, for images over the chantry altar. At the west end of the north aisle the creeds, commandments, Lord's prayer, and a copy of benefactions are posted. These, with the exception of the latter, would formerly hang on the east wall of the chancel by the altar. On the columns of the nave arcade can still be distinguished the marks of the old gallery beams removed in 1868. The centre head in the capital of the east respond, on the north side, is a new one, the old one having actually been destroyed to make room for the gallery beam. The old carved roof, says the vicar, was given to the builder. Underneath the tower is a modern font presented by Dr. Jephson, of Leamington, a native of Sutton, at the time of the restoration mentioned. It is highly probable that the Norman font was thrown into the Vicarage garden at this time. The pews were removed and open seats placed in the church; the side aisles made longer and wider; an organ chamber erected; the windows and doors restored to their original size and shape; stained windows placed by the Earl of Strafford and the Rev. C. Bellairs, Mr. Kinder, Mr. Bonser, and Mrs. Kirk; the pulpit given by members of the congregation as a memorial to the Rev. Brooke Stevens; church plate by the Rev. C. H. Prance, Miss Bellairs and Mrs. Lancaster; a reredos by Mrs. Prance; the fittings for the chancel by Lady Charlotte Denison, Lady Frederick Cavendish, Lady Littleton  and  others.

The following extract is from Laird's Nottinghamshire (1813): "Sutton-in-Ashfield . . . is, we believe, the same parish of which the facetious and sentimental Lawrence Sterne was vicar. It is a long village with a church dedicated to St. Mary, erected on a good scale with respect to size, yet actually so unequal to the population that several meeting houses have been built, in

a great measure to supply the deficiency. Here is a considerable pottery of red ware of a coarse kind for garden pots, etc. Amongst the old tenures of this place we find that Jordan de Sutton, holding his lands of the crown, paid 14s. per annum acknowledgment, and besides did homage, suit, and service to Mansfield court, from three weeks to three weeks, and attendance upon the King's army in Wales, with one man and horse and habergeon, cap of iron, lance and sword."

Laid's supposition that the author of "Tristram Shandy," was curate at Sutton-in-Ashfield, is an erroneous one. Lawrence Sterne was never vicar of Sutton-in-Ashfield. William de Button's seal was dug up in the churchyard by the sexton, Edward Allin, in December, 1870. The Ven. Archdeacon Trollope believed it to have been the private seal of William de Sutton, a monk of the 14th century learned in the solving of difficult questions. The figure of a squirrel cracking nuts was an emblem, in those days, of a learned person, and the cresent and stars probably intimate that he was learned in astronomy. The church plate consists of a beautiful silver chalice, the top of which forms a paten, dated 1571; a silver flagon, a silver spoon, two silver patens, a couple of chalices engraved with the Makenzie arms, and motto: "Luceo non uro," presented 1872, by Nono Bellairs in memory of her father and mother, and a plated flagon, the gift of the parishioners.

In 1818 the Sunday school in connection with the church was started in a malt-house, but was afterwards removed to the tithe barn which stood on land now occupied by the vicarage. When the barn was removed for the purpose of providing a site for the vicar's residence in 1857, the school was subsequently held in the present buildings, the National Schools.

The Rev. Charles Bellairs, who became vicar of Sutton in 1867, and was Rural Dean, stated that there was a well-founded tradition that Cardinal Wolsey was at Sutton, not long before his death, and that he sojourned at Kirkby Hardwick, now a farmstead, but in those days a religious house. At the entrance into Sutton from the Hardwick fields is a street which until lately was called Wolsey-street, and near the Vicarage are two roads which to this day are called Priestsic-lane and Carsic-lane, the latter, it is assumed, being a contraction for Cardinal sick. These lanes branch out from an ancient residence called "The Priest's Croft," and where the clergyman of the parish used to reside. Mr. Bellair's successor, the Rev. F. Brodhurst, now vicar of Heath, once printed the following list of perpetual curates and vicars as far as known—

1555 Robert Clarke.
1597 Robert  Grace.
1611 Thos. Osborne.
1650 Nicholas Hazard.
1662 Lemuel Tuke.
1735 John Green.
1767 Thomas Cursham.
1781 Thomas Hurt.
1829 William Goodacre.
1859 William Brooke Stevens.
1866 Charles Bellairs.
1875 Frederick Brodhurst.

The name of Robert Clarke appears in a list of Corrodies and Pensions for the term of life, paid on the Festival of St. Michael the Archangel in the second and third year of Phillip and Mary, A.D., 1554—1555, and which is preserved in the British Museum. His name is thus mentioned: '' Robert Clarke cantarist in ecclia de Suttone in Ashfelde per ann iiij. LI. xiij.s. iiij.d." This may mean that Robert Clarke was only a chantry priest here and not vicar, and when the chantry chapel, which was formerly in the south aisle, was destroyed in Edward the Sixth's reign, that he had a pension assigned to him of seven marks, or £4 13s. 4d., which was equal to about £50 of our money.

All that appears to be known about the second name on the list is what the burial register reveals, i.e., 1597, Robert Grace was buried the IXth of August, in the year above written. There is no direct evidence that Thos. Osborne was vicar, but we suppose him to have been so, because in Elizaeth's reign there was an injunction that all church registers, which had been written on paper, should be copied on parchment, and each page verified by the vicar and churchwardens, and Thos. Osborne's name appears frequently at the bottom of the pages, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that he was the first vicar who verified the copies, and signed his name. The name of Nicholas Hazard appears in the 1650 Inquisition, viz.: "An Inquisition indented taken at the Shire Hall, Nottingham . . . 14th day of August . . . 1650 . . . before John Hutchinson . . . who say as followeth that in the Wapentake of Broxtowe, the Impropriate Rectory of Sutton-in-Ashfeild, is worth fowre score and tenne poundes per annum, the Earl of Devonshire Impropriator receives proffites of the same to his owne use. The viccarage of Sutton is worth fower poundes, thirteen shillings, and fower pence per annum (exactly what had been allowed to Robt. Clarke one hundred years before), Nicholas Hazard, clerke, being now viccar there hath the proffit of ye said viccarage for his sallary, and is a Preachinge Minister. And wee conceive that Skegby may well be united to Sutton in respect that it is very near, and it had not of itself a competent  maintenance  for a  minister."

Other references to Sutton in the augmentation surveys are:—

1656. Sutton and Skegby to be united as suggested six years before.

1657. £20 yearly augmentation    .    .    " bee from time to time paid unto such godly and able preachers of the gospel as shall from time to time bee appointed." The maintenance of the minister is not here mentioned, so it is very likely the living was vacant.

1658. £20  yearly  granted  for increase and maintenance of  minister and  to  be paid to Lemuel Tuke. Lawrence Steele, treasurer, to pay the same from 24th of June last. From this we get at the actual date of Mr. Tuke's  appointment.  Between  the  date of Mr. Hazard's leaving and the appearance of

Mr. Lemuel Tuke, we find this entry on the survey: "Mr. John Lynn disoner the rectory and tithes of Sutton-in-Ashfield in the County of Nottingham, to be parcel of the possessions of the late Dean and Chapter of Lincoln leased out by them by a long lease which is now expired, ordered that the said Mr. Lynn be admitted a dissonery, he giving security according to the rules of dissonery— Jo Thorogood, Edw. Crossett, Jo Pecock, Ralph Hall, Rich. Sydenham. From this it will be seen that the living and Rectory were in the hands of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln, which fact scarcely agrees with the statement of the Rev. C. Bellairs that the right of presentation to the church etc., was conveyed to the Hardwick family at the time of the Reformation. If so it would probably be leased to them. Sutton as one of the bereuits of Mansfield passed into the hands of Lincoln in the days of William Rufus, the deed expressly stating that the chapels in the bereuits were to go with Mansfield. Before 1240 the church had passed from the bishop into the hands of the Dean and Chapter and appears to have remained so up to this date.

"On January 20th, 1657, Mr. Crossit was asked to consider how the funds of £20 per yeare may be advanced unto the Minister of Sutton on the 27th inst." Later we read that Lemuel Tuke drew half a year's augmentation money, £10.

It is not at all improbable that Hazard was sent out of the Vicarage of Sutton by the Commonwealth Commissioners, says Mr. Brodhurst, and Lemuel Tuke put in his place. At all events, as the latter was appointed to Sutton after the year 1650, he must have been friendly to the Presbyterian form of government then sanctioned by Parliament, the rev. gentleman is wrong as to the date of Mr. Tuke's appointment. Calamy describes him thus: "Mr. Tuke, an ancient blind man, congregational in his judgment." lie died 1670, and his burial is thus entered in the Church register: " Lemuel Tuke, presbiter sepultus fuit decima nona die mensis Junii Anno Domini 1670." So we get from this the actual date of his burial, June 19th. Little appears to have been known of John Green and James Brown. The inclusion of the name of the Rev. Thos. Cursham is surely a mistake. He lived in the parish and occasionally took service, but he was never vicar of Sutton. The next two—the Rev. Thos Hurt and the Rev. Wm. Goodacre—were together incumbents for the long space of 85 years. One of the chief events during Mr. Hurt's vicariate was the establishment of the National Schools.

There is little of interest to be found in the parish registers, the oldest entry dating back to the middle of the sixteenth century, the baptismal entries beginning anterior to the burials (1577), and marriages 1592. These have recently been rebound, but the old leaves are torn and many are missing. But the churchwardens' papers reveal many interesting transactions which throw considerable light upon the history of the town. There is indeed a touch of pathos about a paragraph like this referring to a pauper: July 12th, 1757, burials—a woman found dead on the Forest and buried here on the 12th of July, was inquired after by the parish of Southwell, and was owned by her face—the grave being opened on the 7th of August— and by her clothes which were in the constable's hands, to be a parishioner of Southwell, who had eloped out of their Workhouse. Her name was Alice Stenton."

It would appear from an entry under the year 1777 that amongst the parish officers chosen was a woodward, for we read that churchwardens, overseer of the poor, constable, head borough, and woodward were elected.

The parish was evidently getting into debt towards the end of the 18th century, for at a vestry meeting held March 27th, 1780, some consideration was given to the question of paying those persons " to whom the town stands indebted." It was wisely decided to begin by discharging the oldest debt and taking the others in turn, " until the whole be paid and the Town's Book be cleared," It was agreed at a meeting held at the Workhouse in 1780, " that every person having a stackyard or sheep-pen upon the Forest, to pay for each stackyard or sheep-pen 2d. per year."

By no logical deduction could the post of Workhouse master be regarded as a very remunerative one, even when we remember the value of a sovereign 125 years ago, as compared to the coin of to-day. In 1781 John Boler, of Mansfield Woodhouse, was engaged to overlook the poor at the public Workhouse for £2 12s. 6d. for three months. But later in 1790 the services of Samuel Wilson and his wife were secured to do the work for £10 a year.