Sketch shewing nesting boxes and fireplace

An internal doorway in the south-west angle gives access to a circular stone staircase, barely two feet wide from newel to wall, and any who care to make the ascent thereof will be well repaid for their trouble. A continuous flight of thirty-six steps leads up to a chamber occupying the full dimension of the tower (about ten feet square). This was evidently intended to be permanently occupied, for it contained a fireplace and a hagioscope so arranged that the recluse could see the altar while lying on his couch. Anchorites were plentiful in the 15th century, and chambers in churches1 are not uncommon in the district. There is a Norman example over the north porch at Southwell, a room over the south porch at Holme, now known as “Nan Scot’s chamber,” and remains of a chamber on the north side of the chancel at Lambley, and at Hawton. But it is worthy of note that the chamber at Upton has also been used as a “columbarium” or dove-cote; so far as I am aware it is the only instance in this county of a church tower being used for such a purpose. The fireplace, and the hagioscope were built up and about one hundred niches,2 or nesting holes, composed chiefly of stucco were ranged round the walls in tiers twelve inches high. The vertical divisions fifteen inches from front to back, are formed of thin red bricks or tiles set on edge, and upon these divisions oak laths are laid to carry the stucco of which each succeed­ing floor and ledge is made. The front of each compartment is pierced with an arched opening five inches wide and five inches high.

In mediaeval days it was customary for the lord of the manor, and other persons of position to have a dove-cote in order to supply the table with fresh meat and thus relieve the monotony of eating salted food all through the winter; for until the cultivation of root crops was introduced from Holland early in the 17th century, it was necessary to reduce the live stock at the end of each summer when the pastures became bare, owing to the difficulty in finding provender wherewith to fatten it during the winter months. Several fine examples of ancient dove-cotes are to be found in this county, but why a church tower should come to be used for such a purpose is matter for conjecture.

I am of opinion that in this instance the chamber was made for the use of the chantry priest as part of his benefice and subsequently discarded. We learn from Chantry Certificates3 (1546) that the last holder of the office was “John Raven4 a preiste there of the age of lxxxi. yeres, without lerning or other promocion and that he was living “in a mansion house which Master Bagenham5 hath gyven hym duringe his life and no longer.” That the chamber in the tower was inhabited for a time is proved by the fact that a beam of oak beneath the hearth stone is charred by the heat from the fire; but it would appear that when the aged priest could no longer make the toilsome ascent, the squire placed a “mansion house” in the village at his disposal, when—seeing that the steeple, although consecrated with the church was not considered to be part of it but simply a place for bells—the vacant chamber was turned into a cote for the squire’s pigeons.

On leaving the chamber to continue the ascent, twenty-four steps will bring us to the “cage” which supports the bells, four in number, and thus inscribed :—

1. Founders mark of Henry Oldfield—no date—legend “Maria sped me.” This is in Lombardic capitals with beautiful ornamental stops between each word.
2. Made by Henry Oldfield. Date 1589. “Jesu be our speed.”
3. No name. Date 1611. “God save the church.”
4. The treble bell was re-cast in 1887 “In memory of Queen Victoria, Brodhurst and Gill, Churchwardens.”

Old customs die hard in the country. As an illustration of the way in which they will linger in remote places, it is interesting to note that the treble bell is still rung for five minutes at seven a.m. and nine a.m. on every Sunday and great festival throughout the year, just as in later pre-Reformation times it was rung for mattins and lauds at seven a.m. and for the parish mass at nine a.m.

A similar custom is observed at Cropwell Bishop in this county, and I know of many parishes throughout the land where bells are rung at stated times in conformity with ancient usage, although the circumstance which called them into use has long since ceased to exist.

A further ascent of twenty-three steps, and the tower roof is reached whence a splendid panorama of the surround­ing country may be obtained—Southwell, Newark, and no fewer than twenty village churches come within the view, while, if the day is clear, the towers of Lincoln Cathedral may be discerned on the eastern horizon. This commanding position was not overlooked during the Civil War, as entries in the parish constable’s accounts6 abundantly show. To quote but one instance; in 1645, the year when king Charles and his troops withdrew from Newark after nearly three years of bitter siege:— “Paid Thos. Kirkin for watching one day on the church steeple, 8d. Tobacco and ale for the watch on the steeple, 8d.”

As we stand at the summit of the tower and look around, the derivation of the name Up-ton becomes self explanatory, i.e., the A.S. settlement or “ton” on the up-lands which rise from the banks of the Greet. And if the name was a suggestive one in the far off days when Saxon strove with Dane for possession of the fertile meadow land, how much more appropriate it became in the 15th century when the new tower arose, with its bristling array of pinnacles, to be a landmark for miles around.

An inspection at close quarters will shew how the curious effect of the tower summit is produced, for it will be noticed that at each angle, and also in the centre of each cardinal face of the tower, a tall pinnacle is set, while from the centre of the roof, a huge crocketted pinnacle, set diagonally, rises like an incipient spire. The weight of this central pinnacle coming directly on to the crown of the stone vault has caused it to spread, and in consequence the pinnacle now leans considerably toward the north.

Several 15th century towers in the neighbourhood have eight pinnacles.7 Sturton-le-Steeple (c. 1480) has twelve, but this is the only instance where there are nine—colloquially “the nine-pins.”

The registers—commencing 1586—the churchwardens’ and constables’ accounts, and an ancient service of pewter, were displayed by the vicar for inspection.


Master James John Pakenham     1379
John Pakenham, Prebendary of Southwell (Oxton Secunda Pars)   Resigned 1442
Thomas Withers     1542
Thomas Wilson 1586 died 1628
  Buried at Upton, April 25th, 1628
Martin Ballard   ——
David Harding (sequestrator) 1628 died 1663
John Thorp 1663 died 1667
Richard Neile 1667 1671
Samuel Bruncell, LL.D. 1671 resigned —
Andrew Meirs, M.A. 1686   1690
Francis Chappell 1690   1701
Jeremiah Nicholson 1701 died 1707
Benjamin Cooper, MA. 1708 resigned 1726
John Barnard 1726 died 1728
William Hodgson 1728 1730
Chappell Fowler, B.D. 1730 resigned 1746
Edmund Crofts, M.A. 1746 1773
William Leybourne, A.B. 1773 Resigned 1779
Richard Barrow, B.D. 1780 1784
William Bristoe 1784 Died 1818
  Buried at Upton, Nov. 6th, 1818
James Foottit, B.A. 1819 Resigned 1834
Thomas Still Basnett, A.M. 1834 Ceded 1840
Frederic William Naylor, A.B. 1840 Died 1859
  Buried at Upton, May 28th, 1859
William James Peacocke, A.B. 1859 Resigned 1908
George Fitz-Gerald Wintour 1908    

After lunch, at the historical Saracen's Head Inn associated with King Charles, the excursion party proceeded to Rolleston.

(1) I mean chambers that were built for the purpose, and not perverted when churches were put to  “profane uses” after the Reformation. “—William Allt and Isabel his wife do inherit the Church porch,” &c., &c. Church Survey Book, 1633, Castle Donington.
(2) There are eighty-seven complete pigeon holes remaining. A number were smashed when a bell hammer fell from its position some years ago.
(3) Transcribed by A. Hamilton Thompson and printed in the Thoroton Transactions.
(4) Also spelt Revene or Ryvynge.
(5) Master Bagenham or Master Thomas Bagetham as the name is variously rendered, was Mr. Pakenham, predecessor of the Oglethorpes in the ownership of the manor. Master James John Pakenham, pre­bendary of Southwell, was vicar in 1379.
(6) Numerous extracts are given in Cornelius Brown’s History of Newark, Vol. II., p. 123.
(7) Averham. Rolleston (c. 1425). Shelford, 1485-1509 (pinnacles now removed). Hawton, 1483. St. Mary, Nottingham, 1480-1500.