The exterior of St Mary's looking west.
The exterior of St Mary's looking west.

THE history of Nottingham is the history of its two hills and the basin of land lying between them. Five centuries ago the little River Leen wound round the foot of the hills, and beyond it, looking southward, stretched the marshes and the broad River Trent. On one hill stood a great castle ; on the other a great church. From the unknown date in the time of the Anglo-Saxon township when a church was first built on this rock, St. Mary's stood at the very centre of Nottingham's life. The business life of the town and borough throbbed round it. The shopkeepers and artificers in their trades made and sold their wares in the low houses of the narrow streets clustered under the shadow of the great church. The administration of the law and the dispensing of justice for the county was carried on in the Shire Hall opposite. The administration of the English town was conducted in the Moot Hall, not far away. The church which we know was built largely in the fifteenth century (when our period opens) and it took almost a century to build. And not only was St. Mary's in the centre of Nottingham's life and trade: round it rolled the nation's thoroughfare from south to north. For Trent Bridge was in those days one of the most important structures in the kingdom. In Anglo-Saxon times it was the only bridge linking north and south of Britain. Throughout the Middle Ages the London Road wheeled round the foot of the rock at Plumptre Square and ascended the steep narrow passages of Malin Hill, Long Stairs and, at a later period, Hollow Stone and hence reached the top alongside St. Mary's. Drury Hill (no wider then than it is now) became the main road into Nottingham in Tudor times. In the seventeenth century the gradient was hollowed into an easier ascent on the St. Mary's end of the rock and the traffic of a kingdom came over the bridge, along the marshes, up Hollow Stone, round St. Mary's, and out towards Mansfield Road and the North.

Most readers will be familiar with eighteenth-century prints of Nottingham in which the viewpoint is from the river side. The elevation of St. Mary's is now largely obscured by the tall warehouses lying on all sides, but, until the rise of the lace industry in the Victorian era, St. Mary's, on its rock dropping almost sheer into Narrow Marsh, dominated in its stature the streets and buildings of old Nottingham.

But St. Mary's was not the only church. Very soon after the subjugation of Nottingham by the Norman invaders and the building of the formidable castle on the rival rock, which, as at Lincoln and Durham, was symbolic of the new Norman overlordship, two other churches were built to provide the religious needs of the new French town. These churches have always been smaller than St. Mary's. St. Peter's now stands on its bank alongside the turbulent congestion of modern traffic as it pours in and out of the city. Wheeler Gate was not opened out into Carrington Street until 1829 and for some time afterwards did not extend beyond the railway station. But since then St. Peter's has stood on Nottingham's main thoroughfare while St. Mary's is now quiet amid the comparative desertion ot Hollow Stone and High Pavement and Stoney Street. St. Peter's still retains traces of its original Norman stonework, but otherwise consists mostly of the simple, graceful Early English work in which the church was enlarged and refashioned in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. St. Nicholas', the other church of Norman origin, now stands in even quieter surroundings than St. Man's. The history of this little church has often been told. It was built only a stone's throw from the castle walls and was the parish and place of worship for the satellite population that huddled in the small streets below the castle walls. The present church is Stuart and its interior has touches of a seventeenth-century grace about it. Castlegate was by then becoming one of the fashionable residential streets of Nottingham, with an aristocratic opulence that is still conveyed by the fine town houses—Newdigate House and No. 19 Castlegate.

Above St. Nicholas' and across the road from the castle are the very pretty almshouses known as Jessamine Cottages—formerly called "Old Workhouse Yard ". These houses, erected in 1779, were the workhouse of St. Nicholas Parish. They remained in use until 1815. when the workhouse was moved to the bottom of Park Row. A poorhouse belonging to St. Peter's stood also in Park Row from 1724 to 1840.

And so the story of the Church in Nottingham—Roman and then Reformed—continues for three and a half of the rive centuries St. Mary's, St. Peter's, and St. Nicholas'—these comprise the parochial aspect of the story. Look again at an eighteenth-century print of Nottingham viewed from the river marshes, and you will see the castle on its bare rock on your left, St. Mary's with its tower rising as high as the castle on your right, and in the hollow ground between them, rising modestly above the house tops, the spire of St. Peter's and the small tower of St. Nicholas'. And yet these three churches do not sum up the whole story. For in our first century we are still in the monastic age, and Nottingham possessed a number of religious houses. The house of the Franciscan Grey Friars stood in Grey Friar Gate under the shelter of the castle. The house of the White Friars stood in Friar Lane. The Salutation Inn in Hounds Gate (built in the fifteenth century) is believed to have been originally connected with one or other of these Friaries. To the east of St. Mary's (on the site now occupied by the Palaise-de-Danse) stood the Hospital of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. And we must not forget Lenton Priory—lying on the low ground of the river about two miles from Nottingham on the way to Derby. This was one of the great religious houses of England. It was a Cluniac foundation, built between 1105 and 1108 by William Peveril, the Norman baron to whom William the Conqueror had entrusted the task of building Nottingham Castle. Amply endowed, Lenton Priory expanded to a position of great affluence, so much so that on several occasions during the Middle Ages the Prior entertained the reigning king of England. It came to an end in 1539 when the agents of King Henry VIII demanded its surrender. Lenton Parish Church still retains the superb Norman font, while Lenton Priory Church embodies the remains of a chapel connected with a hospital of the Priory.

Village churches lay round about the borough. Three of them are now within the city boundaries. Basford Church, dedicated to St. Leodegarius or Ledger, contains parts of its medieval stonework. Beyond it lies the parish church of Bulwell. Sneinton, the ancient Anglo-Saxon suburb of Nottingham, also possessed a church, which was through the centuries a landmark to the east of Nottingham. The present fine church was built largely in 1912.

It is not within the province of this booklet to speak of the contribution of the nonconforming bodies to the religious life of the borough, but it may be noted that the Unitarian Chapel on High Pavement has, in its origin, an interesting connection with Anglicanism, and provides a commentary on the religious and political uncertainties of the seventeenth century. It was founded by three elected Anglican clergymen, J. Barratt, John Whitlock and William Reynolds. The Text Act of 1662 made it impossible for them to remain in their livings of St. Peter's and St. Mary's, and they suffered some persecution until the passing of the Act of Toleration in 1686, when they were enabled to renew their ministry and founded a chapel on the site now occupied by the Unitarian Chapel. In 1792 William Carey preached his famous sermon ("Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God") in an Anabaptist chapel (now occupied by a building known as the Theosophical Hall) in Friar Lane. This sermon led to the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society and the beginning of the modern Missionary movement in which the Anglican Church has taken a foremost part.

In the closing years of the eighteenth century the borough began to undergo a revolutionary change—bursting out in all directions from the ancient walls. New industrial areas steadily advanced over the hills and marshes and the typical Nottingham industrial parish— parallel rows of cobblestone streets on either side of the main thoroughfare—came into being. New churches were gradually-built to meet the vast expansion. Of a total of between thirty and forty churches within the Nottingham Rural Deanery, all but the ancient three have been built since 1800. St. James' (at the top of St. James' Street and now demolished) was built in 1809, Old Radford in 1812, St. Paul's, Hyson Green, in 1854, Holy Trinity in 1841, Lenton in 1842, St. John's, Carrington, in 1843, St. John's Leenside, in 1844, and Christ Church, New Radford, in 1845. This period of the early Gothic revival has not left behind it a legacy of elegant architecture, and most of these churches are heavy and without beauty. The finest was destroyed by an enemy bomb in 1941. This was St. John's, Leenside, built by Sir Gilbert Scott at the instance of Dean Gregory of St. Paul's for the exposition of the ideals of the Tractarians. Of its type it was a beautiful church. The other fine church of this period has also disappeared. This was a large "Chapel of ease" known as St. Paul's, George Street. It was built in 1821-2, not in the Gothic bur in the Classical manner, with a very striking Doric portico surmounted by a bell turret. This single example in Nottingham of the Classical style was closed in 1924.

There was a lull in church building until the 1850's, when another busy period began. St. Mark's (now closed) was built in 1855, Cinderhill in 1856, Old Basford was largely rebuilt in 1858-60, All Saints', St. Matthew's, St. Saviour's and St. Ann's were built in the two years 1864-5, with St. Matthias' and St. Andrew's closelv following them in 1867 and 1871.

Again there was a pause till the '80's and '90's. New Basford and St. Jude's were built in 1877, St. Philip's in 1879, Emmanuel in 1885, St. Alban's in 1887, St. Michael's in 1889, St. George's in 1887 and 1897, All Souls' in 1894, Daybrook and St. Catherine's in 1896, St. Stephen's, Hyson Green, in 1898, St. Christopher's in 1902, St. Bartholomew's in 1903, and St. Aidan's in 1905. St. Stephen's, Sneinton, was rebuilt in 1912, and St. Faith was built a year later. Of these churches, St. Alban's, by the great Victorian architect G. F. Bodley, is a masterly design. His successor, T. H. Hare, created the stately Sneinton Parish Church. Daybrook, too, is an attractive church, as one would expect from its designer, J. L. Pearson.

The fifth period of building took place just before the recent war. St. Barnabas', Lenton Abbey, was built in 1932, St. Margaret's, Aspley, in 1933, St. Cyprian's in 1935, St. Martin's, Sherwood, in 1937, and St. Mary's, Wollaton Park, in 1938. These form a very creditable group of modern churches, and enhance the aggregate of beauty in Nottingham's church architecture. St. Martin's, Sherwood, and St. Margaret's, Aspley, were designed by Mr. Heazell, St. Mary's, Wollaton Park, by Mr. Cecil Howitt (architect of the Council House) and St. Cyprian's by Mr. Claude Howitt.

But the task of providing for the needs of an expanding city still remains unfinished. Nottingham is still reaching out farther and farther into its surrounding fields. The proposed City Development Plan envisages two new bridges over the Trent with large new housing estates covering what is left of the landscape beyond the river and scaling Wilford Hill from all sides. Bishop Mosley's Church Extension Appeal and the present Bishop's Forward Movement both sought to provide further churches where square miles of suburban Nottingham are scarcely as yet provided for. And the problem of providing new churches for new areas raises another parallel problem. As in other learned professions which require training, the war years have created a desparate shortage in the ranks of the ordained ministrv of the church. With the increasing expansion of housing estates most towns have increased in size and population during the last thirty years, and yet at present the church simply has not sufficient clergy to man them. For even before the war the supply of recruits for the ministry did not fully meet the need. In 1914 the total number of clergy was one-third more than it is at the present time. This means that large town parishes which cannot possibly be cared for by less than a full staff of curates and lady workers (which they possessed in Victorian and Edwardian times) are now struggling under the single leadership of an overworked vicar. This task of refilling the ranks of the ministry cannot be solved in a moment, but at the same time it is to be hoped that in the coming years the quality of life in the parishes of Nottingham will be such that the best of her sons will be drawn and moulded to fulfill their life's calling in the ministry of the church. And one further problem of the current life of the church in Nottingham must be mentioned, and that is the need for the revision of some parish boundaries. As a result of the movements of population from one area to another in the last few generations some of the parishes are no longer the centres of a community that once they were. In attempting such revision worthy conservative traditions must not be left out of account, but the reviewing of all and the revising of some of the parochial boundaries is a task which must continue to form part of a true stewardship of the life of the church.

Now as ever the task before the church is awe-inspiring and yet the resources of the infinite power of God for the fulfilling of His purpose are as ever available to those who love His Name and are jealous of the honour of the Church which Christ purchased with His own blood. Five centuries of witnesses are our invisible allies; they command us still to uphold His royal banner. It must not suffer loss.