IN the early ages of Christianity, all the tithes and offerings of the people were paid into a common fund, which was controlled by the Bishop, and by means of which he provided for the spiritual needs of his diocese As time went on many churches were built by Lords of the Manor and other private individuals, to whom the advowson or right of presentation belonged, and by the end of the twelfth century at the latest, these churches were, as a rule, endowed with the tithes arising from lands within the limits of the parish. But, in many cases, the right of presentation remained with the Bishop of the Diocese, and this was the case with the advowson of East Retford which belonged to the Archbishop of York, as also did the advowsons of Sutton, Hayton, Everton, and Clarborough. It is not known who first built the Church of East Retford, but the Manor seems to have been one of ancient demesne, that is, one belonging to the King himself, as in 1279 it was granted by Edward I. in fee farm to the Burgesses of the town.

Now if a patron presented to a living an incumbent who received all the tithes arising out of the lands of a parish, this incumbent was known as the parson (persona), or rector of a parish; but in many cases a benefice was granted to a monastery or other religious body to whom it was said to be appropriated. The monastery used to keep the chief of the tithes for its own use, and appointed a deputy to look after the spiritual needs of the parish. This deputy was called a vicar, and to him were allotted only the lesser tithes such as those of pigs, geese, and chickens. This is what happened in the case of East Retford, and thus is explained the fact that its incumbent is called a vicar, while the incumbents of the neighbouring parishes of West Retford and Ordsall are called rectors.

Roger, Archbishop of York, * a contemporary of Thomas Becket, built between his palace and the cathedral at York, a chapel, which he dedicated to St. Mary and the Holy Angels, but which was usually known as St Sepulchre's. To this chapel he appointed four priests, four deacons, four sub-deacons, and a sacrist, who seems to have been a kind of bursar who looked after all necessary business matters. Roger endowed this chapel with the revenues of various churches, among others, those of Everton, Sutton, Hayton, Clarborough, and East Retford.

At first no regular vicars were appointed to these churches, but nearly a century later, in 1258, Sewall, then Archbishop, ordained or appointed vicars at these places, and set aside special tithes for their endowment. He also re-organized the government of the chapel at York, and gave the Ministers the title of Prebendaries or Canons, of whom the Vicar of East Retford seems to have been always one.

The exact words of the endowment of the Vicarage of East Retford are in the Register Book of Archbishop Greenfield, which is in the Consistory Court at York.

The Vicar was to have 100 shillings out of the Altarage, the small tithes, viz., those of chickens, pigs, and geese, and the bread and wine which should happen to be brought to the altar.

The word "altarage" has varied in meaning at different times, often including the small tithes, but here it probably refers to what are now known as "surplice fees," which are fees paid to the Minister for performing certain offices of the Church for private individuals, of which the most common are marriages and burials.
Till tithes were commuted for a fixed money payment by a series of Acts of Parliament beginning in 1836, the vicar used to collect in kind the tenths of such things as apples, potatoes, doves, honey, pigs, ducks, eggs. As he would often go round with a basket and gather them himself, the system must have been as unpleasant for him as it was annoying for his parishioners, and there is little wonder that constant friction was the result.
It was also ordered in the original endowment that the Sacrist of St. Sepulchre's was to give the tithes of the mills to the poor of the town. These were the mills which were worked by the Idle. The stones which mark the place where the old water-wheel used to revolve, can still be seen from West Retford bridge.

Till the Reformation the chapel of St. Sepulchre's continued to take the greater tithes from East Retford, and the living was in the patronage of the Sacrist. But when the monasteries were dissolved under Henry VIII, all the churches which had been appropriated to them, along with their revenues, were vested in the hands of the King, who kept some for himself and granted others to his courtiers. It thus came about that a very large amount of the tithes was alienated from religious purposes, and got into the hands of private individuals who gave no public services in return for what they received.

The last appointment by the Sacrist was John Thackbarrow, who became vicar in 1521. The next vicar was appointed by Queen Mary in 1556. Between these dates the Reformation had taken place, and it is to be noticed that here, as elsewhere, there was no change of vicar, as there would have been if the churches had been violently taken from one body and given to another. The authority of the Pope was thrown off, but the Catholic Church continued, served by the same priests, administering the same sacraments to the same congregations. Many good things were unfortunately swept away with the bad, but the essentials remained unaltered.

The advowson was kept in the hands of the Sovereign till the reign of James I, when it was obtained by William Cavendish, who became Earl of  Devonshire.

From 1645 to 1656 the registers are signed by John Noble, minister, who would very possibly be a presbyterian appointed by authority of the Long Parliament. The following is an extract from the "Surveys of Church Lands" made in 1649, which are now in the Library at Lambeth:—"The Viccariage of East Retford worth tenne pounds per annum, John Noble, clerke, the present incumbent, haveing cure of soules, and receives only for his salary the said ten pounds per annum (beinge a preaching minister) and no other tythes or profittes belonginge to the same. Moregate and Spittlehill, in the parish of Clarebrough, adjoining to the towne and parishe of East Retford, and about a myle distant from the said parish of Clarebrough, wee conceive fitt to bee united to the parish Church of East Retford." After the death of John Noble there seems to have been no regular minister till the Restoration.

The registrar during this time was Robert Pinchbeck, master of the Grammar School, and he may have conducted the services as well.

It was the time of the rule of Oliver Cromwell when the Independents were all powerful, and it is not impossible that the services should have been carried on by the civil magistrates. It is certain from the registers that marriages during this period were solemnized by them, but whether in the Church or not, it is impossible to say. It is noticeable that the banns were asked, not only on Sundays in the Church, but on Saturdays in the Market Place.

In 1701, Thomas Gylby was appointed to the living, which he held for 50 years. He had been made rector of West Retford in 1678, and from 1701 he held the two livings conjointly till his death. He had thus been rector of West Retford for 73 years, and when he died his age is said to have been 104 years.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the advowson came into the hands of Sir R. Sutton, one of the richest men in England and a great sportsman, who for several years carried on the Quorn Hunt at his sole expense. It was he, who in 1821 appointed to the living the Rev. T. F. Beckwith, who held it for 32 years. When he first came, there was only one service on a Sunday, as had been the case for many years. Jonathan Minnitt used regularly to lament the few opportunities he had of attending public worship, and when he died he left money to provide for an evening sermon. This was in 1815, but there was no second service till Mr. Beckwith commenced it in 1824.

Many improvements were made in the Church during his time, but he could never be brought to consent to a general restoration. He was a gentle retiring man, and shrank from the storm he knew would arise if an attempt were made to sweep away the rights of the pew-owners. Soon after he came to Retford, he had as his curate the Rev. Joshua William Brooks, a powerful preacher who somewhat overawed his feeble-willed vicar. Possibly Mr. Beckwith was not sorry, when in 1830, Mr. Brooks was transferred to the newly-erected St. Saviour's Church in Moorgate, where he remained till 1844, when he was preferred to the living of St. Mary's, Nottingham.

In 1839, the Archdeaconry of Nottingham was taken from the diocese of York and given to that of Lincoln, so that the next vicar, the Rev. R. Aldridge, was appointed by the Bishop of Lincoln by arrangement with the patron. Mr. Aldridge remained vicar only a fewmonths, but it was he who did much of the hard fighting which was necessary to bring about the restoration of the Church, which took place under his successor, the Rev. Alfred Brook.

About this time the then Sir R. Sutton became a Roman Catholic, so that the right of presentation became vested in the University of Cambridge, which has the right of presenting to all livings in the eastern and northern counties of which the patron is a Roman Catholic, while livings in the other counties are, in like case, in the gift of the University of Oxford.

The University appointed the Rev. Arthur Brook, who had already been his brother's curate for two years.
It is to the brothers Brook that East Retford owes those traditions of thorough churchmanship, which have since been so worthily maintained. As has been said above, when Mr. Beckwith became vicar, there was but one service on a Sunday, now, not only are there the daily services ordered by the Prayer Book, but there is also a daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

When the Rev. Arthur Brook went to Holbeach in 1866, the Rev. Charles Gray, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was appointed by the University to the living, which he held till he became vicar of Blyth in 1875. It was during his vicariate that the chantry was re-built. He also commenced the Parish Magazine, and the Parochial Tea and Concert.

The present vicar, the Rev. Canon Ebsworth, was appointed by Bishop Wordsworth, of Lincoln, by arrangement with the patron.

Up to this time, the gross value of the living had been only about £120 a year, so a determined effort was made to increase the endowment. The churchmen of East Retford have always been liberal in subscribing to church purposes, and a sum of £2,000 was soon obtained, which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were willing to double on condition that the right of presentation was taken out of private hands. This was accomplished in 1877, when the Bishop of Lincoln gave Sir R. Sutton another advowson in exchange for that of East Retford.
In 1884, when the Bishopric of Southwell was founded, the Bishop of that place became patron of all livings in his diocese which had formerly been in the gift of the Bishop of Lincoln.

Though the value of the living was increased in 1877, it is still such that it is difficult for anyone without private means to hold it. Its total gross value is about £263 6s. 8d., made up as follows:—


£ s. d.
Interest of £4,000 in hands of Ecclesiastical Commissioners 133 6 8
Queen Anne's Bounty 21 0 0
Rent of Glebe (about) 56 0 0
Tithe rent charge (about) 25 0 0
Fees (about) 15 0 0
Easter Offerings (about) 13 0 0
Total £263 6 8

This is not a handsome sum for one of the most important livings in the county; when a curate has been paid for, when the expenses incidental to a vicarage and a large garden have been discharged, and when the various subscriptions which fall to the lot of the vicar of a parish have been given, but little remains for his personal expenses.

In 1884 was built St. Catherine's Mission Room which is served by the East Retford clergy. The room is licensed for Divine Service, and for the administration of Baptism and the Holy Communion.

Various changes and continual improvements have taken place in the Church and parish during the thirty years Canon Ebsworth has been vicar, and in church work, as in all else, where is change and development, there is life and well being; where is stagnation, there is dulness and death.

THE LAST FOUR VICARS. Clockwise: Rev. Alfred Brook, 1853-1857; Rev. Arthur Brook, 1857-1866; Rev. Canon A. F. Ebsworth, 1875; Rev. Canon Charles Gray, 1866-1875.
THE LAST FOUR VICARS. Top row: Rev. Alfred Brook, 1853-1857; Rev. Arthur Brook, 1857-1866; Bottom row: Rev. Canon A. F. Ebsworth, 1875; Rev. Canon Charles Gray, 1866-1875.

A List of the Vicars of East Retford.

Year of Institution. Names.
1317 John de Sutton
1318 Richard de Shirbum
? Roger de Dale
1349 William Fulburn
1358 Roger de Waddeworth
1361 John Gelle
? John de Eaton
1364 Robert de Hay
1365 Thomas de Claworth
? Thomas de Southerp
? Robert Cave
1415 Robert Castleleyn
1421 Robert Holme
1422 Richard Westeby
? John Luffday
1463 Thomas Margery
1464 William Billingley
1464 John Gegge
1467 Robert Gill
1483 Edmund Pershay
1485 Thomas Karlille
1486 Adam Nicholson
1490 Hugo Bawgy
1497 John Helwes
1506 John Helwys
1512 John Coltman
1521 John Thackbarrow
1556 Nicholas Holwell
1565 Alvered Tempest
1573 Christopher Say
1588 George Turwyn
1617 James Colley, B.A.
1618 John Watt, M.A.
1640 Henry Bate,  B.A.
1645 John Noble
1661 Timothy Luddington
1674 William Wintringham,  B.A.
1701 Thomas Gylby, M.A.
1751 Joshua Sampson
1772 Richard Morton,  M.A.
1821 Thomas Francis Beckwith, B.D.
1853 Robert Aldridge
1853 Alfred Brook, M.A.
1857 Arthur Brook, M.A.
1866 Canon Charles Gray, M.A.
1875 Canon A. F. Ebsworth, M.A.

* See Torre's MS. of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, deposited in the archives of the Dean and Chapter at York.