East Reford church – the nave
East Reford church – the nave.

IT was in the interior that the greatest changes were made at the Restoration of 1855. Comparatively few things of any value seem to have been destroyed, and the result of the alterations is a comfortable well-appointed church. The general effect from the west end is marred by the low arches of the tower, which were built to make it secure when it was re-erected in the 17th century. Architecture was at a low ebb at this time, and poor builders have always been accustomed to gain strength by huge masses of masonry, a strength which a more scientific knowledge enables them to gain by other less unsightly means. It is to be hoped that the day may come when these arches may be raised to their former height, the extent of which may be gauged from the clustered shafts of the ancient piers, which are still visible rising far above the springing of the 17th century arch. This would take away the depressing low appearance of the east end, and would throw the whole of the east window into view. It would also enable those in the nave to hear more clearly what is taking place in the chancel; as it is, a large part of the sound is intercepted by the heavy walls above the arches, and never reaches the nave at all.

One of the best views of the interior of the Church is from the south door. From here several vistas open out amid the interlacing arches of the east end, in a way that is seen to perfection in a great Gothic Cathedral. The architects of the 13th and 14th centuries loved those avenue-like views amidst pillars and arches, which suggested unseen and greater beauties lying beyond.

Nave and Aisles. The nave is separated from each aisle by an arcade of four arches, which are supported on three octagonal pillars. The easternmost arches are supported on half pillars, which form part of the old clustered tower piers. The carving of their capitals is ancient work of conventional foliage, but the northern one is very much repaired. The carving on the other pillars was done in 1855.

The arches of this arcade were probably at one time of a different shape from what they are now, the lower part of the eastern arches forming a segment of much less pointed ones than those which at present exist, a distinct angle being visible where the older work joins the later. They may have been altered when the clerestory was added, which was probably in the 15th century. In the best buildings the lines of the windows in the clerestory correspond with the lines of the arches of the nave, but here the windows correspond with those of the south aisle, the architect seeming to have thought more of the effect of the exterior than that of the interior of the building. Their tracery has suggestions of decorated work, but whether it is original, or whether it was put in after one of the fires, it is impossible to say. The angels, which serve as corbels for the support of the roof, were carved in 1855, as may be guessed from their general similarity one to another. In ancient times, when the handycraftsman was an artist, he brought his imagination to play on every piece of work that he did, so that there was no mechanical repetition such as we usually see in modern buildings, but every bit of carving was stamped with the individuality of the carver. We may see this in the corbels which support the half arches which separate the aisles from the transepts. That in the north aisle is particularly good. The somewhat cunning, though good natured expression on the old fellow's countenance, suggests the real interest the mason must have taken in his work. The monk's cowl and dress suggest that this corbel must have been carved not later than the 15th century.

The figure of a bishop over the south door is not intended for St. Swithun, but is said to have been brought from a dissolved monastery in Portugal. It was given to the Church, and placed in its present position about the year 1895.

Between each of the windows of the south aisle is a bracket awaiting the time when stone statues may again grace the interior, as well as the exterior of a church.

Formerly there was a gallery in the south aisle, erected in 1778. When this was taken down in 1854, and a new roof given to the aisle, on one of the main beams of the old roof was found the inscription: "Jo. Appleby & Wm. Smith Ch. Wardens, '98." These two were churchwardens in 1698, so the old roof must have been put up in their time.

The tracery of the windows in the south aisle is entirely modern, but it is a copy of that which existed before 1855.

The north aisle is also entirely new and considerably widened. The old one seems to have been without any architectural or other interest. The oldest gallery in the Church was situated here. It was partly composed of old English oak, but the date of its erection is unknown.

The following is the copy of a still existing receipt for the purchase money of a pew in this gallery:

"Received the 19th Jan., 1821, of Messrs.
Cooke, Childers & Co., Seventeen Pounds,
being the amount purchase money for a
Pew in the Church of East Retford situate
in the North Gallery of the said Church,
commonly called Kirke's Gallery, the original
Pew which I purchased of Mr. Fairfax
Moresby being divided by me into two parts,
and the part which I have sold to Messrs.
Cooke, Childers & Co., is the nearest the
landing place on the staircase, and adjoining
Pews belonging to Mesdames Wigginton
and Rawlinson.
£17. JONA. Fox."

The stone pulpit and the lectern were both given at the general restoration, the lectern being a copy of one at St. Peter's Church, Leeds. The tiles in the nave have been put in during the present year 1905.

The Baptistry and Font. It has always been customary for the font to be placed near the door of a church, as an outward sign that it is there that entrance is gained by baptism into the Church of Christ. So there is here a space to the left of the south door which serves as a baptistry. The floor is covered with tiles, which were given in  1865.

The font itself is ancient, probably the work of the 15th century, but it was restored in 1852 at the expense of Mr. Hawksley Hall in memory of the baptism of his eldest daughter. It seems to have been in a bad condition before this time. The pedestal is entirely new, and much of the carving on the font itself is modern. It is octagonal in form, with carvings of foliage in the panels of the sides of the bowl, as well as in those underneath it. In one of these under panels is now the figure of an angel, but Piercy states that it used to be the figure of a bishop. The carved oak cover was also given by Mr. Hall in 1882.

In 1904, a silver-gilt baptismal shell was given by the Mayor (Mr. H. Peake) at the baptism of his daughter, born during his term of office.

Transepts. In the space under the tower, facing one another, are the Corporation pews. It is here that the Corporation sit when they come to Church on Mayor's Sunday and other state occasions. The Mayor sits at the west end of the south pew immediately in front of the middle aisle, and far above his head in the wall of the tower is the ancient stone inscribed with the dates "Ano Mundi: 5526, Ano Christi 1582." This was moved to its present position when the chantry was re-built in 1873, and it is only when the light is very good that the dates can be deciphered. At the same period, the tower floor was raised nine feet, and the oak ceiling was put in. Before this time the ceiling was on a level with the points of the arches, and the square window in the nave served to give light into the ringers' chamber.

Eastward of the Corporation pews, which on ordinary occasions are filled by the boys of the Grammar School, stand the clergy stalls, which were dedicated on the 22nd of Sept., 1889. They are handsome and well carved in oak from designs by Mr. Hodgson Fowler. On each of them is carved a falcon, possibly suggested by the ancient arms of East Retford. Between these stalls is the Faldstool, or Litany desk, which was carved by Messrs. Swannack in 1895. It was given in memory of Mr. Archibald Butler, a native of Retford, who died while working as a schoolmaster in the Universities Mission to Central Africa.

It is absolutely certain that, when the tower fell, it destroyed the roof of the south transept, for on one of its main beams is an inscription, which can be only partially deciphered from below, and which reads:— "Bayliffs Henry Johnson, John Smeeton, 1656." We know otherwise that these men held office during that year, and entered into an agreement with John Kitchen, of East Retford, by which the said John Kitchen agreed to roof those parts of the Church which had already been re-built.

There used to be a door in the south wall of this transept, the position of which was altered on one or two occasions. Through this door admittance could be obtained to the south transept gallery, which was built in 1820. This was erected at the expense of several parishioners, and the seats in it were sold by auction at the Town Hall the same year. The total amount fetched by the 27 seats was £359 55. 0d., the prices varying between £45 for the front seats and £610s. 0d. for a back one. A Mr. Hoult bought Nos. 24 and 25, and gave £910s. 0d. for the two; the receipt for this money is still in existence, and provides that the pews are not to be transferred except to a parishioner of East Retford. Except for this restriction, the seats were absolute private property over which none but the owners had any control. This gallery was somewhat illegally, but very happily, pulled down during one night at the 1855 restoration. When its owners woke to find it gone, they grumbled long and loud, but their lamentations were useless, and we have to thank the brave men of those days who were not afraid to act in spite of the abuse they received. It was hardly possible then, any more then now, to get rid of abuses without offending those who profited by them.

On several of the stones in the south-west corner of this transept are incised masons' marks.

North Transept. Only the upper part of the walls in this transept are ashlar, the lower part being composed of rubble, which has been stripped of the plaster, and repaired and pointed during the present year. It is highly probable that this was one of the five quires partly destroyed by the fall of the tower, and that the upper part of it, made of squared stone, is the work of the Commonwealth. The tracery of the north window was new in 1855, that of the one looking west was used by the 19th century restorers as a pattern for the windows in the north aisle. This window was evidently once larger, as can be seen from the remains of the older arch which has recently been brought to light.

In the west corner is a small door fixed in a low round arch. Both this transept and the south one are divided into two parts, separated from each other by a step.

The north transept used to be known as the Bishop's choir, probably because the Bishop held his visitations there.

On the capitals of the tower piers leading into the chancel are carved some curled lines, very like the volutes which are always to be found on an Ionic pillar. These are not a Gothic ornament, and are possibly due to the Renaissance architecture which was in vogue at the time, and in which St. Paul's Cathedral and many of the London churches were shortly afterwards to be re-built.