East Retford church from the south-west.
East Retford church from the south-west.

In spite of the troubles it has gone through, the Church still remains an object of beauty worthy the pride of the town. Its numerous windows, its central tower, its battlemented parapets, its panelled buttresses, its clerestory and transepts, though in many ways architecturally indefensible, yet give it that mingled effect of contrast, symmetry, and depth, so essential to a pleasing building.

It is a typical English Church of cruciform shape, now mainly of perpendicular architecture, but still preserving in its south and west doorways, and in the tracery of some of its windows, marks of the earlier styles in which it was first built.

Wherever is room, there is a window, those of the nave being divided by the panelled buttresses which run up to the springing of the arches, the buttresses being capped by crocketted canopies. Along the battlemented parapet are pinnacles corresponding to the buttresses; there are pinnacles also on the parapet of the clerestory corresponding to the division between each of the clerestory windows. Here too, as elsewhere, is the battlement, that ornament so dear to the architect of the 15th century.

A bold moulded string course runs round the Church below the windows, till it reaches the north aisle, where it degenerates into a feeble angular moulding projecting only two inches, the product of the restoration of 1855. All this aisle was then rebuilt, but the north transept is old and the stonework is rough and composed of rubble. In 1855 a new buttress was built at the north-east angle. There was formerly a door in the north aisle, the position and shape of which has been preserved in the rebuilt portion.

The west doorway is old but the mouldings were renewed with Ancaster stone at the time of the restoration of 1855. Owing to its decayed condition, it was largely repaired in 1905 with Ketton stone, and new shafts were added of Hopton Wood stone.

THE TOWER as it now stands was built in the year 1658, and may be considered a very satisfactory piece of architecture for that period. It springs from the intersection of the nave, the chancel, and the transepts, and is divided into four stages by horizontal weathered string courses. Its height from the ground to the top of the pinnacles is 97 ft. The part above the highest moulding, which includes the battlements and pinnacles, was rebuilt in 1810. In the stage below the battlements are some fine double windows, the tracery being divided by a transom.

In the angle between the south aisle and the south transept is part of a circular newel staircase, which is probably fourteenth century work. The upper part was perhaps destroyed by the fall of the tower. This staircase leads to the roof of the south transept, where a round-headed doorway gives entrance to the ringers' chamber. Here a deeply splayed window looks on the nave roof, while a second looks into the chancel, and a third opens on the roof of the north aisle. All these are round headed and similar in style.

On the walls are hung the old tables of benefactions, which were removed here from the body of the church at the restoration of 1855. There are also three boards with the following inscriptions:—
On Thursday, the 31st December, the Society of Change Ringers of Sheffield, rang in this tower a true and complete peal of 5024 changes, consisting of the following intricate systems, viz.:
1008 of Stedman Tripples
960 of Grandsire Major 1056 of Bob Major
992 of Treble Bob Major 1008 of Grandsire Tripples
which they accomplished at the first attempt in the short space of three hours and twelve minutes, being the only peal of this description ever rang (sic) by any set of men at one time, and was performed by the following persons:

Jonn. Sandforth, Treble   Chas. G. Bateman -    5
Thos. Whaley   -    - 2 Geo. Wilson -   - -   6
Jno. Lomas -    -   - 3 Jas. Walker  -    - -    7
Chas. Walker    -    - 4 Robt. Heald -    - Tenor

Conducted by Jno. Lomas. This tablet was placed here by consent of The REV. A. BROOK, Vicar.
H. B. W. MlLNER,
F. WHITE, Churchwardens.

North Notts. Association.
Peal of Grandsire Caters
5021  Changes
was rung
December the 31st,  1900
in 3 hours and 24 minutes
with the bells half muffled
at the Church of St. Swithun, Retford.
Tenor 24 cwt. in E flat.

E. Collingbum, Treble H. Warburton   -    -    6
C. Swannack -      -      2 T. Spurr   -    -    -    -    7
A. T. Winter -   -    3 G. R. Winter     -    -    8
T. H. Denman -    -    4 J. B. Joynes (captain) 9
F. W. Abbott -   -    5 G.W.D. Metcalf, Tenor

Composed by J. Carter and conducted by J. B. Joynes.

Rev. A. F. Ebsworth, Vicar.
T. Walker, W. Oakden } Churchwardens.

This board was presented by Mr. W. Oakden to commemorate the last peal rung in England in the 19th Century.

The Exterior
In Memoriam.
North Notts. Association.
Peal of Grandsire Caters
5003 Changes
was rung
February the 2nd,  1901
in 3 hours and 21 minutes
with the bells half muffled
at the Church of St. Swithun, Retford.
Tenor 24 cwt. in E flat.

T. Spurr  -    -     Treble R. Miles -    -    -   - 6
A. T. Winter     -    - 2 H. Warburton   -    - 7
E. Collingburn -    - 3 H. Haigh-    -    -    - 8
G. W. D. Metcalfe- 4 J. B. Joynes -    -   - 9
F. W. Abbott   -    - 5 G. R. Winter    - Tenor

Composed by J. Carter and conducted by J. B. Joynes.

Rev. A. F. Ebsworth, Vicar.
T. Walker, ) Churchwardens.
W. Oakden, )

Rung on the day of the funeral of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria as a sorrowful tribute of deepest grief, veneration, and affection.

There are numerous photographs on the walls, and various framed cards recording good peals rung by the Retford bell-ringers.

Here also is a set of 40 hand bells with a brass plate on which are the following words:—

"This ring of 40 handbells was presented to the Tower by the East Retford Ringers, Xmas, 1897. The 8 Treble and 7 Bass bells were won in the "Bell News" Competition."

Formerly the following rules were hung in this room:—
All you who come within this place to ring Mark well these rules before you touch a string. He that rings with either spur or hat Must certainly pay 4d. down for that. If he be rude or any quarrels breed His 6d. he for ale must pay with speed. He who by chance a bell doth overthrow Must 4d. pay or else he's not to go. Sept. 16th, 1773.

Similar rhymes are to be found in old churches in various parts of the country.

The general condition of the belfry is all that can be desired, and in few towns of the size of Retford is there so much enthusiasm for change-ringing.

More steps lead into a room in which is the Church Clock. It bears the date 1836, but this refers to the time it was moved into its present position after having undergone extensive repairs. It has been in the tower since at the latest 1673, for the Churchwardens accounts of that year record, that one shilling was paid "for the gudgeon and a springe for the clock hammer." Also one pound was paid "for keeping the clocke." It has no dial, but it strikes the hours on the tenor bell. Its age perhaps explains the fact that it has to be wound up every day.

Higher still are the bells. In Piercy's time there were six of these, each bearing a motto and a date. As the date of the tenor was 1590 and that of the second bell 1624, it is clear that these in some way escaped destruction when the tower fell; others bore the dates 1658, 1660, so they must have been cast when the tower was re-built.

In 1835 a new peal of 8 bells was given by the Corporation, and cast by Mears and Stainbank, of London, at a cost of £490. In 1890 this peal was re-hung by Taylor, of Loughborough, and two new bells were added, which are the smallest of the peal. These were given by the then Mayor, Mr. J. Curtis, and by the Ex-Mayor, Mr. T. Bescoby. The tenor bell weighs 24 cwt.

The ringing of the curfew was continued until 1854, when it was abolished by the Rev. Alfred Brook, who instituted in its stead the ringing of the bell for daily service. What is known as the pancake-bell is still rung in the middle of the morning of every Shrove Tuesday. This custom is common in many parts of England, but its origin is not quite clear. It is usually said to be a continuation of the bell which used to summon people on that day to confession or to be shriven, as it was called, shrive being the word from which Shrove Tuesday obtains its name. But in "Notes and Queries" of March 5th, 1892, the following explanation was given: "When Lent was kept by a strict abstinence from meat all through the 40 days, it was customary to use up all the dripping and lard in the making of pancakes. To consume all, it was usual to call in the apprentice boys and others about the house, and they were summoned by a bell which was naturally called the pancake-bell."
The passing-bell is also rung to announce a death in the parish. In olden times this was rung at the time a person was dying, and after death a "soul-bell" was rung. It is this soul-bell which is now usually known as the passing-bell; in Retford, after the bell has been tolled for a certain time, a pause is made, when three strokes are given in the case of a man, and two in the case of a woman, after which the same number of strokes are given as there were years in the life of the dead person.

A peal is rung every evening, when it is possible, from the 13th of December till Christmas Day. Now December the 13th is the day of the Feast at Gringley-on-the-Hill, and there is a tradition that a man having lost his way when returning from this feast one dark winter's night, was guided aright by the sound of East Retford bells, which happened to be ringing at the time. Ever since that time, says the tradition, the Christmas bells have been rung nightly from December the 13th. Similar stories are to be met with in many parts of the country, but in the present case there is no evidence to show that the story is founded on fact. The tradition was current fifty years ago, but how long before that time it is now impossible to say. At Blyth they begin to ring the Christmas bells on the same date, and it seems probable that the story is the outcome of the practice, rather than that the practice is the outcome of the story.

The bells are also rung after the election of the Mayor on the 9th of November, during the election of the Councillors on November the 1st, on the last night of the year, and, when a fee is paid, on the occasion of a marriage. Formerly the bells used to be rung on November the 1st, after the election of the Councillors, but as this gave rise to some party feeling, the present custom was instituted, all the candidates sharing in the expense.

In olden times, when an apprentice had completed his apprenticeship, a passing-bell was rung followed by a peal to announce that he had become a freeman of the borough. In the evening, he and his friends held high festival and at midnight marched to the late master's house where they sang:—

" Here's unto him that is now set free, That once was a 'prentice bound, I wish him health to enjoy his wealth, And so let his health go round."

Then they went to the Broad Stone in the Square, and finally to the house of the apprentice again, at each of which places they sang the same words. An account of this was given by a witness before the Municipal Corporations Commission in 1835, and complaint was made of the disturbance of the peace of the town whichwas caused by this custom.

From the bell-chamber another steep ascent leads to the top of the tower. Here is an area of 600 square feet, which is surrounded by a high embattled parapet. This parapet, and the eight pinnacles, which are 11 feet high, were erected in 1810. It is a modern custom for the clergy and choir to go to the top of the tower about half-past nine on the morning of Ascension Day, and there to sing hymns in honour of The Ascended Lord.
From the summit is an excellent bird's-eye view of Retford, the older parts of which look very picturesque with their red tiled roofs, especially in the direction of Moorgate. Modern slates may possibly have a utilitarian advantage, but on the score of beauty they cannot be compared with the older tiles. The labour of the ascent of the tower is well repaid by the view which is gained.