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

The Rev. T. C. B. Chamberlin has kindly forwarded the the following account of East Retford church.

The church of East Retford (dedicated to S. Swithin) is a cruciform structure, comprising nave with clerestory, north and south aisles, south porch, north and south transepts, with two chapels as now rebuilt, forming an east aisle to the north transept, central tower, and chancel with organ chamber and vestry on the south side.

The church occupies a site near the north-eastern boundary of the parish. Its total length from east to west is 138 feet 6 inches; The width across the transepts 85 feet, made up as follows: length of nave and aisles, 60 feet 6 inches ; width of nave, 27 feet; of aisles, each 15 feet; length of north transept and aisle, 26 feet; width of north transept, 20 feet; of chapels now forming aisle, 14 feet; length of south transept, 27 feet; width, 19 feet 4 inches ; length of chancel, 48 feet; width, 19 feet 6 inches. The tower measures internally, north to south, 26 feet; from east to west, 22 feet; about 4 feet must be added in reckoning the extreme length or breadth of the church for the central piers. The nave is 48 feet in height. It is separated from the side aisles, by four arches on each side, supported by three octagonal pillars; the east arches are supported by half pillars, part of the clustered piers which carried the tower before it fell in the seventeenth century, their caps are carved with conventional foliage, the northern cap a good deal repaired. This foliage was followed in the carved work added to the caps of the pillars in the nave in 1855. The piers themselves are octagonal, light, and plain; they were retooled, as was almost all the old stone work, in 1855. A continuous hood moulding runs over the arcading. There is a clerestory of six windows on each side of the nave; the windows are all alike, with three lights, filled with decorated tracery. These seem to have escaped without alteration at the Restoration. Between each of the windows in the south aisle inside the church is a plain bracket. There are five side windows to the south aisle of three principal lights, all of the same device. The tracery was renewed in 1855, and is probably a copy of that which existed previously. These windows are divided externally by buttresses rebuilt on the old bases, panelled, running up as far as the spring of the arch of the windows. A small projecting moulding runs up from the crocheted canopies of each buttress till it meets the moulding below the embattled parapet, with a pinnacle corresponding to each buttress, the hood moulding over the windows dies away into the buttress; the tracery in the upper part of the windows is somewhat stiff, and more of the Perpendicular type than the Decorated.

The two west windows of the aisles are of rive lights of an ordinary Perpendicular style, set in a flattened four-centred arch; the window in the north aisle is entirely new; the corresponding window in the south aisle has new tracery; the hood moulding is continued below the spring of the arch, and terminates in carved heads. The tracery of the large west window is a modern insertion, it is a good Perpendicular window of five lights, divided by two lines of transom. The doorway into the nave below the large west window is an insertion (1855) of Ancaster, in the Early English style, into the earlier wall of Roche Abbey stone. The south doorway into the nave is original, and is covered by a handsome porch built on the old foundation in 1852, the entrance into which is surmounted by a crocketed moulding terminating in a finial, and the battlemented gable bears a stone cross. On the outer wall of the south aisle, on the west side of the porch, is a sitting figure carved in stone within a pointed oval, being a copy of the older one said to represent Henry III. The church was built in his reign, and Retford was a royal borough.

There is nothing specially worthy of note externally in the south transept, it was greatly damaged by the fall of the tower, and was very much out of repair at the Restoration. The south window of five lights is of a similar character to the west window of the nave; the west window of three lights divided by a transom corresponds with it. There are two windows in the east wall; the north has three lights, the south has two, they appear to be of the seventeenth century in the Decorated style. This transept suffered so greatly from the fall of the tower that it was practically rebuilt. Part of the west wall may be old; there are mason's marks on several of the stones. There was at one time a low doorway in the south wall, it has been shifted once, and is now walled up and unseen from the outside.

Interior of East Retford church.
Interior of East Retford church.

The chancel, when rebuilt in the seventeenth century, was greatly shortened and lowered; in 1855 it was rebuilt to its former length on the old foundation, and a clerestory added. North and south windows were placed in this addition, and an organ chamber, opening into the chancel through an arch, with a vestry added on the south side. A two-light window of late Perpendicular work, on the north side of the chancel in the old wall, appears to have escaped alteration, though it is very probable that it was placed where it is in 1651, as, before that time, it would have been blocked by the chantries. Canon Ebsworth tells me that formerly these two chantries were forty-eight feet deep instead of their present fourteen feet, but of this I have seen no proof. When this quyre was pulled down, after the fire in 1528, some protection was given to the tombs of those who had been buried there. In 1683 a presentation was made to the Archdeacon of Nottingham "concerning the disgraceful pulling down of this quyre, where the corps of many gentlemen of the very ancient family of the Denmans and others were buried, and their gravestones and funeral monuments broken in pieces and carelessly thrown up and down and made away and it layd open to the nuysance and dirt of swine and such like abuse." I do not think that anything came of it, as there are no such monuments now existing, though Piercy tells us of one to Johannes Denman Armiger in the north transept in 1828.

Returning to the interior of the church we note the four low arches and the massive piers upon which the tower is erected. They were built within what was left of the earlier work when the tower fell (1651). The remains of the earlier piers may be seen to the north and south of the west arch. The piers originally consisted of eight clustered circular shafts, every other having a plain fillet mould running up its face, they are divided by semi-circular hollows, as what remains of them runs up a good height (25 feet) without any break on their interior face; the early arches which they carried must have been very different from the present low arches. However good they may be for their date (1651), the interior effect of the church is marred by their depressing effect, which was greatly increased by the lengthening and raising the height of the chancel walls.

The tower, springing from the intersection of the nave, chancel, and transepts, is divided into four stages by horizontal lines of receding moulding. There are small doors with round heads opening on to the roofs of nave, south transept, and into the chancel. In the upper stage are the fine double windows of the tower, of good proportion, the tracery divided by a transom. Above these again are the embattled parapet and pinnacles, the total height being ninety-seven feet. The tower contains a clock and a peal of ten bells. Messrs. Mears and Stainbank cast the peal of eight (tenor twenty-four cwt.) in 1835. The first and second are an addition, cast by Taylor, of Loughborough, in 1890.

The north transept has on its east side an aisle separated from it by an arcade of two fairly lofty arches. These and the pillar supporting them are as built about 1337, the date of the king's licence to the bailiffs and community of the town of Retford to endow the altars of S. Trinity and S. Mary, 16 August, 1392. The pillar is octagonal and the cap covered by boldly carved vine leaf foliage, the arches are supported north and south by corbels with similar foliage, the north corbel is original, the south new. Mr. Bodley was the architect, who is responsible for the present structure. There was nothing left on the exterior of the church to guide him as to the dimensions or style of roof of the chantries as built; he has, however, succeeded in adding a pleasant feature to this fine church, it is built of good ashlar, and has an angle buttress at the north-east corner. The two east windows are alike in design, of three lights, late Decorated; there is a square-headed window of one light in the north wall. An oak screen separates the aisle from the transept, forming choir vestry.

The north transept itself has a large north window of five lights, similar to the large west window of the nave, the tracery all new ; below it, at the west corner, there is a small low doorway with a semi-circular head devoid of mouldings. There is a three-light window in the west wall filled with flamboyant tracery.

The north aisle opens into this transept by a half arch supported on a corbel, the top of the arch butting against the north-west pier of the tower.

The exterior of the north transept is very rough, and has been a good deal pulled about. The upper part is ashlar.

The north aisle was entirely rebuilt in 1855. The bold roll mouldings carried round the rest of the church stop at the first window from the west, and are replaced by a poor angular moulding projecting only two inches.

There are four flamboyant windows of three lights each, copies of the one in the north transept, placed at regular intervals, the lower part of the second one from the west being, however, occupied by a wide low doorway with a plainly chamfered semi-circular head, now built up. There are no pinnacles on the north transept, the north side of the nave, or north aisle, though the seats were prepared for them.

A paper was read on the churches of East and West Retford at the meeting of the Lincoln Diocesan Architectural Society, held at East Retford, September 21st, 1854, by Hawksley Hall, Esq., which is valuable, as he points out how very little of the old structure remains without alteration or addition.

Piercy, in his History of Retford of 1828, gives much valuable information.

A lamentable and wanton destruction of floor stones took place at the restoration of both East and West Retford churches.

The registers date from 1573 and are continuous, they contain the following "receipt for curing the plague"—"In the time of the plague, let the person infected or fearful of the infection take a pennyworth of dragon water, a pennyworth of olive oil, a pennyworth of mithridate, and a pennyworth of treacle: then take an onion, fill it full of pepper, when you have scraped it out, then roast it, and after that put it to the liquor, and drink it in the morning. If you take the same at night, lay soap and baysalt to your feet, and sweat upon it, and with God's blessing you shall recover."

There is a good deal of plate, but all of late date.

In the deanery of Retford there is the following ancient church plate :—

Bole chalice and cover, 1571.

Saundby chalice and cover, 1571.

Gamston chalice, 1572, very beautiful, cover lost.

Grove chalice and cover, 1571, exchanged for modern plate, 1882.

Leverton North chalice and cover, ancient, sold when the new was obtained.

Leverton South chalice and cover, 1571.

Littleboro' chalice and cover, 1571.

Cottam chalice and cover, old,

Wheatley North chalice and cover, 1577.   Cover restored.

Wheatley South chalice and cover, 1576.