Elevation of north east nave arch and clerestory.
Elevation of north east nave arch and clerestory.

There is no clerestory, and the wide windows are very much enlarged editions of the window's in the north aisle, divided by transoms into three heights, while the great east window is made up with nine lights—two fours and a central light—and four transoms. While there is similarity in the tracery, mouldings, and buttresses, the design of the whole looks poor and spiritless in contrast with the nave and transepts; so much so, that some writers have been led to say that the chancel was not built until well on in the Elizabethan era, when Gothic architecture was decadent. But this could not have been the case, as the tower, which if we may judge by its architecture, was completed during the early years of the reign of Henry VII. (1485-1509) could not have been carried up to its full height, until the chancel walls were built so as to form abutment for its arches. The walls of the tower are 4ft. in average thickness, the square of it is 30ft. within walls, and the height from floor to battlements is 115ft. Even with the chancel walls as a stay in one direction, the effect of the thrust of such an enormous weight on the tower-arches is apparent by the crushed and distorted eastern wall of the transepts, and by the inclination of the piers in the nave-arcades by more than 3in. to westward; and this, despite the fact that a strong "relieving" or "discharging" arch was formed in each face of the tower just above the line of the roofs, with the idea of reducing the thrust and throwing the weight direct on to the four enormous tower-piers, which are no less than 7½ft. in diameter.

We have no means of telling when the weakness first began to be manifest; but if the fan-tracery vaulting above the crossing was ever actually executed in stone, it would be the last work to be undertaken; and the settlement and censequent fall of the vaulting may have occurred so soon as the props and centreing were removed.

It is quite clear, from the projecting springer stones [tas-de-charge] which still remain in situ, that a stone vault was contemplated; but whether this intention was left unrealized, or being realized, met with early disaster, is one of the questions we are not able to solve with satisfaction. The present pseudo-vaulting was executed in stucco, supported on oak timbering, in 1811-12.

The effectiveness of the tower, when viewed from within, is minimized by the fact that it is not a lantern, for the fan-tracery vault comes below the window cills, and thus excludes the admission of any light; but when seen from outside, the outline and proportions are very pleasing. A large louvred light in each face of the lower stage is identical in design with the windows in the north aisle, and the details generally are in accord with the later work in other parts of the church. The upper stage has four lights in each face; the central pairs only being louvred, and the flanking pairs "blind" with masonry. The treatment of the upper stage and the battlement follows very closely on the lines of the upper stage of the central tower at Melton Mowbray, which is known to have been added during the reign of Henry VII.

The lower lights on the east and west faces were shortened, and the string mouldings were uplifted in the centre, so as to form panels for the admission of two dials of a clock made by Thomas Hardy of Nottingham in 1807. A hundred years previously, John Rowe of Epperstone, a well-known maker of church clocks, had made a clock for the church and fixed it in the large window of the south transept; this was taken down and removed to the church at Staunton in the vale of Belvoir.

It may be of interest to note with regard to the present clock dials, that the western one is covered with lead, and the eastern one is made of mahogany.

The completion of the tower was the crowning act in the constructional work of the 15th century, but the beautifying and furnishing of the interior would necessarily occupy attention for some time thereafter. The screen and rood-loft, which stretched across nave and aisles to the westward of the tower-piers, would probably be the last items in the programme. A bequest for the images on the great rood—presumably of St. Mary and St. John—was made in 1512; and a further bequest was made in 1517 for painting the rood.

But alas! the pristine splendour of this great church was doomed to be of but short duration. If local historians may be relied upon, the "great pillage," which followed the Reformation, was preceded by a terrible storm which caused the upper part of the tower to fall on to the chancel; but whether this disaster did actually occur or not, it is now difficult to determine.

Stowe's Chronicles contain an exaggerated account of a phenomenal tempest, which wrought much destruction in the vicinity in this first year of Queen Mary (7th July, 1558). Deering and other writers mention the storm, but as the Borough Records, so far as they are accessible to us, are silent on the point, and as the church registers do not go beyond 1556, we have no authorized means of confirmation. One writer further says that the same storm blew down the wooden spire on the central tower at Lincoln; but as this latter disaster was known to occur in 1548 — i.e., ten years earlier—there is reason for thinking that the chroniclers may have fallen into error, and confounded the story of 1558 with an event which happened in 1185; when an earlier church, on the same site as this, was damaged by an earthquake that also "cleft the Minster at Lincoln from top to bottom." [Roger of Hoveden].

Two statements, however, which quickly followed each other, seem to lend some colour to the later tradition. On the one hand, we have Leland's assurance of 1534 that the church was then "excellent and uniform in work"; while only a quarter of a century later, shortly after the Act of Uniformity had been passed, we have a Report by the Queen's Commissioners of the Northern Provinces, under date 22 August 1559, which says: "the Charncell is in gret decaye and the wyndowes unglased." It should be borne in mind with regard to this latter statement, that the Reformation had brought about great changes, and many chancels were in a grievous state of neglect, in consequence of the dissolution of the monastic bodies who formerly had them in their charge. For instance, the same Report goes on to say of the churches in the adjoining parishes:—

"Notingham Sayncte Peters. The Chauncell ys in sore decaye.

Sayncte Nycolas. The personage and chauncell is far out of reparations."

Stretton accepted the fall of the tower as an historical fact, but he is somewhat ambiguous; for in his Notes (p. 133) he incidentally mentions the painting of St. Christopher on the north wall, "supposed to be done after the repair of the chancel, which had been beaten down, together with the groined ceiling of the steeple, by the fall of the tower at some former period."

It is interesting to note, by the way, that very faint traces of this painting of St. Christopher lingered on until within the memory of persons still living. It occupied the space on the north wall of the chancel above the door leading into the vestry. It was partly hidden by the King's Arms put up in the reign of Charles the First, and subsequently completely hidden and destroyed by the organ-case and swell-box, when the organ was set up in the chancel in 1872.

The mediaeval custom was to place a picture of St. Christopher on the north wall of the nave opposite to the south door, but the only suitable wall space in this church free from windows or panelling was on the north wall of the chancel. This space, which is wider than would be accounted for by the omission of one window, was left for the accommodation of the vestry beyond; but whether the painting was pre-Reformation, or post-Reformation in origin, has not been definitely determined.

The whole question of the chancel is rendered difficult by the fact that, through one cause or another, the walls have been in part rebuilt or refaced, again and again, until all the ancient landmarks are gone, the memorials of the dead are destroyed or dispersed, and the ancient piscina and sedilia are demolished or hidden from view.

So far as the work which fell to the parishioners in rebuilding the nave and transepts is concerned, it is a fair assumption that the canopy of the tomb in the south transept is a silent witness to the commencement, as the canopy of the tomb in the north transept is to its completion.

It is clear, that the former canopy is in the style of architecture which prevailed during the reign of Richard II. (I377-I399), and that it was built as an integral part of the transept wall; while it is equally clear, from the changes in the contour of the mouldings, and the advent of the "Yorkist rose" in the tracery behind the niches, now tenantless, that the later canopy is in the style which prevailed during the reign of Edward IV. (1461-1483), and that it was not set up until after the transept wall was built, since the projecting mouldings had to be cut away to receive it.