THE Church and the Town of East Retford are alike in that they are both of ancient foundation, and yet in neither are there many remains of antiquity, nor can much light be thrown on their earlier history. The Town seems to have had self-government before the beginning of the 13th Century, the chief officials being known as Senior and Junior Bailiffs. Thus the place must early have become one of some importance, though but slight mention is made of it in Doomsday Book. In 1246, Henry III gave the Town the right to have a market for eight days annually; and in 1279, Edward I., who was Lord of the Manor, granted the Town to the Burgesses in fee farm, that is, for a perpetual fixed annual rent. He also established a market on every Saturday, and gave the Corporation the right to hold a local Court; while a few years later, in 1315, we find the Town sending two representatives to a Parliament of Edward II.

Of the Church itself there is no record till 1258, when the Vicarage was endowed by Sewell, Archbishop of York, but it is certain that a Church, possibly a wooden one, must have existed long before this date.
It had early become the custom in England to pay to the Pope yearly a tenth of the annual value of every benefice, and in 1288 Nicholas IV. granted these tenths for six years to King Edward I. to be devoted to a Crusade. For the purpose of this taxation the King held an inquiry into the exact value of all ecclesiastical livings, a record which has been preserved under the name of "Taxatio Ecclesiastica Pope Nicholai IV." From this record we learn that Retford already gave its name to a Rural Deanery which comprised about 60 parishes.

Sometime in the next century were founded the Chantries containing the altars of St. Trinity and St. Mary. It is uncertain when they were first erected, but in 1377 John atte Vykers gave certain lands to the Bailiffs of East Retford, on condition that they were to pay him £10 yearly during his life, and when he died, to use the property for the support of the Chaplains of these altars, who were to offer masses for the souls of himself and his ancestors. This document is among the town records, and it seems certain from it that the Chantries were already founded, but not adequately endowed.

John atte Vykers seems to have lived some years after this, as it was not till 1392 that a document was drawn up, formally endowing the Chantries, and giving the Bailiffs the right of presentation to the Chaplaincies. An account of this is to be found in Torre's MS. belonging to the Cathedral at York, and the document itself is in the possession of the Town of East Retford.

There were two Chaplains, or Cantarists, as they were often called; the first serving the altar of St. Trinity, and the second the altar of St. Mary. Many wills are still in existence in which the testators direct, that their bodies are to be buried in one of these chantries, or quires, within the Church of St. Swithun at East Retford. At this time, property was often left to the Church or to the different trade guilds, to enhance the splendour of the processions which were held on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and on other occasions when the miracle or mystery plays were acted, under the approbation and control of the Church. Thus in 1499, William Brokshaw of East Retford left to a guild, of which he was a brother, a jewelled necklace for the image of the Blessed Virgin, to be used during the procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and also during certain plays, special mention being made of the play of "Mankind," which would be one of the mysteries.

Even as late as 1518 Master Thomas Gunthorpe, parson of Babworth, left money to provide a gilded shrine, which was to be carried in the procession at East Retford at the above mentioned Feast.

But the time was fast coming when all the treasures and works of art with which the churches had been enriched were to be swept away and destroyed by ignorant fanatics, or worse still were to be converted into private property by those who were filled with the spirit of unholy greed.

But before this happened a great disaster befell the Church and the Town of East Retford, for in the year 1528 immense destruction was caused by one of those fires which were so common in the middle ages, when most of the houses were built of wood. It is impossible to say the exact amount of damage that was done, but judging from a few particulars given in a Corporation document, the greater part of the Town must have been affected. It is certain that the chantries suffered severely, for in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of Henry VIII., of the date 1535, it is stated that: "Where sumtyme were iiii chauntries which now er in decaye by reason they er consumed wt. fyer." It is to be noted that four chantries are here mentioned. Nothing whatever is known of the other two; possibly one may have been in Chapelgate, which may hence have obtained its name, or they  may have been all attached to the Church and have been used as the private chapels of some of the Guilds.
In the Certificates of Chantries taken by order of Henry VIII. in 1546, mention is made only of "The trynite chauntry and our ladye chauntrie." It is stated in the same certificates that the houses and land with which they had been endowed, "were for the moste part consumed and brente like as almoste the holle Burghe." What endowment was left was given to support one priest, named Charles Weste, who was also to act as schoolmaster for the "brynginge upp of youthe in Godley lernynge." Money to support a school had been left by the Thomas Gunthorpe mentioned above.

Though the present Chantry is dedicated in honour of St. Trinity and St. Mary, there is some proof that the original chantry of St. Mary was the present north transept; for John Rowley who died in 1454, directed by his will that his body was to be buried in the Chancel of St. Mary. Till 1840, when it was wilfully destroyed, there was a raised tomb in the north transept to this same John Rowley, which renders it probable that when he died that part of the Church was known as St. Mary's Chantry. Of the existence of the Chantries, there is no doubt, but of their arrangement nothing certain can be stated. They all seem to have been burned in the fire of 1528, and it is hardly likely that while they thus suffered the rest of the Church would have escaped, but unfortunately there seems no means of knowing what amount of injury was done.

Below will be found a full list of the chaplains who were appointed to either of the chantries from 1392, when they were first fully endowed, till 1524 when the last chaplain received office.

List of the First Cantarists for ST. TRINITY'S Altar.

Time of Institution. Names.
1392 John Brown de Tereswell
1407 John Masham
  John Frankysh
1422 Richard Peynter
1423 Richard Thramptor
  Richard Webster
1450 William Hall
1458 Robert Gyll
1467 Thomas Underwood
1468 William  Ricard
1486 Richard Wylis
1513 John Boys
  Robert Mowbery

List of Secondary Cantarists of the ST. MARY'S Altar.

Time of Institution Names.
1392 Stephen Maudelene
  William Tiltyngs
1400 John Fryston
1422 Robert Holme
  John Wiston
1440 William Wryght
  William Kirkeby
1464 Thomas Gedlyng
1485 Roger Wilson
1506 Henry Runder
1508 John Gedlyng
1517 Thomas Wilson
1524 Richard Beyoke

In the reign of Edward VI. the lands belonging to Chantries in any part of the Kingdom were confiscated to the King. The revenues of a few were put to good purposes. Thus the Grammar School of East Retford was endowed with the lands which had belonged to the Chantries of Sutton-in-Loundale, Tuxford, and Annesley. But the revenues of most went merely to enrich the King or his Courtiers, and this was what happened to those of the Chantries of East Retford. At first their lands came into the possession of Sir Michael Stanhope, one of the Royal Officials, and having been sold by him, they returned by purchase in 1550 into the hands of the Corporation.

About 1585, the town seems to have been visited by another disastrous fire, as in that year, according to a document belonging to the Parish of Worksop, the inhabitants of that town made a collection to relieve the inhabitants of Retford, "who had lately suffered through their town having been burnt by fire." No details of this fire are known, nor is it known whether the Church suffered in any way. But on a stone now built into the inside of the tower is the inscription:—

Ano Mundi: 5526
Ano Christi: 1582 Ano Mundi refers to the then supposed year of the creation of the world; Ano Christi to the year of Our Lord. Till 1873 this stone was in the wall which blocked up the arches which now lead into the Chantry. Now the two dates do not agree, and it has been conjectured that 1582 ought to be 1528, which would be the year of the first fire. Even then the year of the world according to Archbishop Usher's chronology ought to be 5532. But the whole question of this stone is wrapped in obscurity, in which we must be content to leave it.Nothing more is known of the history of the Church till October 1651, when a great storm of wind arose which caused the tower to fall and to destroy a great part of the east end of the building. Among the Corporation records are several documents which enable us to form a fair idea of what happened at this time. In one it is stated that: "The Church of East Retford by reason of the fall of the steeple and the five quires thereof is now become very ruinous and made a heap of stones." The use of the word steeple here has caused a suggestion to be made that at this time there was a spire to the Church. But this by no means follows, as in olden times, the word steeple was frequently used to denote what is now usually known as a tower. A well known example of this is the Bell Harry Steeple or Tower at Canterbury Cathedral; and close at home is the village of Sturton-le-Steeple, so called from the lofty tower possessed by its Church. It is also to be noted that the man having charge of any tower and its bells, is often called "the Steeple-keeper."

By the five quires are probably meant the chancel, the two transepts, and two chantries, which may have been partially repaired since the time they were burnt. Five years later, in 1656, an agreement was made between Henry Johnson and John Smeaton, Bailiffs of East Retford, and John Kitchen, by which the latter agreed to roof two quires and half a quire of the Church, which had been rebuilt as far as the stonework was concerned. These two quires would be the north and south transepts, while the half quire would be the chancel, which was made much shorter and probably lower than it had been before the tower fell. The roofs were to be made with: "Thirteen beames of good and sufficient foreign timber which shall be sixteen inches deepe at the crowne and twelve inches deepe at the points." On one of the beams in the south transept can still be read the names of the Bailiffs with whom the agreement was made.Retford seems to have found it difficult to raise the money necessary for this rebuilding, the total population being probably only about 700, and as an old document expresses it, the Town being: "Full of poore people, no wayes able to contribute towards the charge, but rather being burdensome and chargeable to the rest of the small number of inhabitants heare who are constantly assessed and taxed towards their releif and mayntenance." So the Corporation determined to be generous with the money of other people, and in 1656 sold to the Earl of Clare for £300 the lands at Kirton and West Markham which belonged to the Grammar School. But the Corporation held these lands only in trust for the School, and good intentions will not excuse a trustee from going beyond his trust deed. So in 1847, nearly 200 years later, after a Chancery suit which had lasted for twenty six years, the Corporation were condemned to pay the Grammar School the sum of £2,753 8s. 4d., as compensation for these same lands which had been alienated to the Earl of Clare in 1656. This money went towards the building of the present School in  1855. Even with this £300 received from the Earl of Clare, the Bailiffs found they could not pay for the complete restoration of the Church, so in 1658, they represented their poverty to the Justices of the Peace assembled in Quarter Sessions at Nottingham, who solicited a Brief from the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. In June of the same year the Brief was obtained. This authorized collections to be made in the counties of Nottingham, Lincoln, and York, and also in the City of London, which collections were to be devoted to the repair of East Retford Church. Oliver died on the 3rd of September, and as there was some doubt as to whether the Brief had any validity after his death, it was reissued in December of the same year by his son Richard.

The tower was re-erected in this same year 1658. It does not seem to have fallen entirely, as according to an agreement for its rebuilding made between the Bailiffs and John Boulton, of Firbeck, freemason, the latter undertook to "take down one or two courses of the wall of the steeple, and sette upp the same agayne." He also undertook to build the rest of the tower with eight pinnacles on the top. There seems to have been no regular Vicar of the Parish at this time, and it was stipulated that the work should be done according to the directions of Mr. Porter, Rector of North Wheatley.

When the tower was rebuilt, the Church had much the same appearance as it continued to have till 1855. A few alterations and repairs were done before this time. In 1752 the nave was reroofed. In 1770 the first organ was erected. In 1810 the upper part of the tower was rebuilt. At various times galleries were put up. But all the changes that took place were in matters of detail, and are noticed in describing the particular parts of the Church.

The Churchwardens' accounts and the Parish books are in existence from towards the end of the 17th century, but they contain little of general interest. One remarkable fact they bring to light is the almost incredible amount of wine that was used for the Holy Communion at that time. Thus in 1673 we find the following entries:

"Aprill the 18—The Communion wine that day 2 gal. & hlf.  10s. 0d."
"Aprill the 25—For the Communion wine that day three gallons a half gallon 14s. 0d."

There are several other entries where the amount exceeds two gallons. Very probably, however, all this was not used, and what was over went as a perquisite of the Minister, a custom which was often followed till comparatively recent times. It should also be remembered that the proportion of communicants to the whole population was much larger in those days than it is in these, not necessarily because the people were more religious, but because the Holy Sacrament was degraded to a political test. By the Corporation Act, which was passed in 1661, no one could hold municipal office who had not taken the Holy Communion according to the rites of the Church of England; and by the Test Act, which was passed only a few weeks previous to the first of the above entries, no office of any sort could be held by one who was not a communicant.

Wine seems to have been one of the chief expenses of the Churchwardens in those days, for whenever a stranger preached he seems to have had a quart of claret given him. Among the entries in 1673 are: "May 19th, Mr. Mason preached, one qu. wine 1s. 0d."

"October ye 2nd, Minister of Lanum preached, 1 qu. wine 1s. 0d."
"Decemb 28, A Minister near Newton preached, 1 qu. wine 1s. 0d."

There are many other entries similar to these. Among them is one when Mr. Wintringham preached. Now Mr. Wintringham was Vicar, and it seems to have been thought that there should be some limit as to the amount of wine the Vicar should have at the expense of the Parish, for we find the following minute of a parish meeting held on June 7th, 1706: "The Minister to have six quarts of clarett per annum and the Churchwardens a pint each per annum." There is no record that this resolution has ever been rescinded.