Mansfield (continued)

The following is culled from the registers under date March 31st, 1603: "Anne Newman was buried the 31st March, upon which daie James ye first, Kinge of Scotts, was solemnly, at the Market crosse in Mansfield proclaimed King of England by Sir John Byron Knight, Mr. Ayscough, high sherife, Mr. Gryffithe Markham, Mr. Henry Chaworth, Esquior, Mr. John Byron, Esq., Mr. Gabriel Armstrong, and Mr. George Chaworth and divers other gent, and caused ye Belles for joy to be rung, and gave ye ringers two shillings and sixpence."

"Ye ringers" seemed to do very well in the old days. Money or beer was always provided for the bell ringers on festive occasions.

Canon Prior states that this Mr. Markham was the eldest son of Mr. Thomas Markham, of Ollerton, and was born 1564; served under Essex in Ireland, convicted of conspiracy in the Rye Plot 1603; tried and sentenced at Winchester, reprieved on the scaffold, and was banished.

Simon Sterne, whose marriage we have noticed with Margery Walker, one of the leading county families, was buried on the first day of the year 1606. As early as 1615 there was trouble and differences over Dame Flogan's will, for we find: "James Colly, a chaplain under the charter of Philip and Mary, in his bill in chancery, complains that he was deprived of his office and its emoluments. In a letter to one of the churchwardens he lays this to the vicar, the Rev. Bryan Britton, and warns the warden not to be p'swaded by the p'swasions of the vicare, who will not care what the towne doth spend so he may have his humour for a time satisfied."  A compromise was made with Colly, but whether any chaplain was afterwards appointed is doubtful. Britton was succeeded on his death in 1628 by the Rev. John Price, who, a year after his induction, married Mrs. Isabel Dand, at Leicester.  What became of Price is unknown. He may have been one of the ejected in 1642. Mansfield suffered as other places in  the district did from the Plague in 1631, but as only three entries are recorded in the register, it is likely that no effort was made to chronicle all the burials. In a centre margin in the register we read: "1631,  July  17th,  The Plague began." "August 4th. A heavy time." "August 21st. The Plague stayed through God's Mercy."

"On September 22nd, the market was restored, and on the first of November, Mr. Cotes, of —, and Mr. Langley, of Cresswell, preached, "and thanksgiving  was offered unto God for our deliverance."

We are afforded a glimpse of what the church possessed in 1634 by the churchwardens inventory, published by Harrod. It runs:—

"A desk to which was chained the Book of Martyrs, a common table with covering of  buckram,  two holland napkins, and  a dozen trenchers, fourteen leathern buckets, marked  with M.S., several  loose  sermons, five bells,  a  clock  and chimes,  two  hand trials to the clock, a bowl or chalice for the communion, the cover of which was lost in the time of Mr, Byran Brittan, vicar." What a striking contrast this provides to the inventory of 1552. Little of value we notice remained, but in some instances an increase occurred, such as the bells. The three had increased to five, and there was a clock and chimes. The war against Roman Catholicism is seen by the 'Book of Martyrs' being chained to the desk, to keep fresh in the remembrance of the inhabitants the tragedies of Smithfield. It would be interesting to know how many people per annum used Mansfield's first free public library. The same year this inventory was taken, £22 13s. was collected for the repair of the vestry. Mansfield contributed £7 6s. 3d., Sutton £6, Woodhouse £4 6s. 7d., Nettleworth 13s. 4d. Scrofton £1 4s. 6d., Budby £2, Radmanthwaite and Pleasley Hill 18s., and Warsop 4s. 5d. With this money in hand the vicar and churchwardens proceeded to put the vestry in good order.

The Parliamentary inquiry in 1650 held at the Shire Hall, Nottingham, discloses the fact that the impropriate rectory of Mansfield was worth £175 per annum, whereof Sir Thomas Blackwell, Knight, or his assigns, received £105, Rowland Dand £20, and Mrs. Annie Wagstaffe £50. At this time the vicarage of Mansfield was worth £30 per year, but they had no minister "there at present, other there or at Skegby."

The year that a Board of Triers, a fourth of whom were laymen, was appointed to examine the fitness of ministers presented to livings, and a church board of gentry and clergy set up in each county to exercise a supervision over ecclesiastical ministers, we find the Rev. John Firth, M.A., presented to the living at Mansfield. Baxter tells us this plan of supervision worked well, and furnished the country with able, serious preachers. This is a copy of the report concerning Mansfield's vicar:

"In the month of May, 1654, there was exhibited to the committee of approbation of public preachers a presentation of John Ffirth, Master of Arts, to the vicarage of Mansfield . . . made to him by his highness Oliver, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England . . . together with a testimony on behalf of the said John Ffirth of his holy and good conversation upon perusal and due consideration of ye premiser and finding him to be a person qualified . . . the committee have approved him to be a fit person to preach the gospel . . and he is hereby intituled to ye profits and perquisites and all rights and dues belonging to ye vicarage as fully and effectually as if he had been intituled and inducted according to any such laws and customs as have in his case formerly been made."

The order was dated from Whitehall, May 9th, and is attested by ten persons. During this same year some trouble that had arisen in respect of the tithes was settled. Five years before Mr. Firth became vicar an enquiry into the question of the tithes was instituted, with the result that part were found to belong to Rowland Dand, and another part had been "assigned and sould unto Sir Thomas Blackwell, Knight." At this time the vicarage had tithe of corn and hay and other petty tithes in the town and croft closes. The tithes had enormously increased in value. Dand paid £27 per year for them, "but the same is worthe by improvement over and above the said rent, £ccxxxi xis. viiid." No wonder that when Sir Thomas was called upon to make good his claim he refused to acknowledge the validity of the former mentioned lease granted to Queen Elizabeth. He was, however, pressed to produce his title to the tithes, and he replied that "these were lost in the late warrs." This did not satisfy the Commissioners, for they ordered (and Sir Thomas agreed) the Parliamentary surveyor to reapportion the glebe, and Blackwell to pay the difference in value. A few years later—1657—Captain Blackwell had become possessed of the tithes, for we find he was asked to satisfy the Commissioners as to his right, but whether he succeeded we have not been able to trace. There is in the church a mural tablet to the memory of Wendesley Blackwell, of Dethick, who died March 30th, 1634, aged about 54, and a Latin inscription thereon, which states that the said Wendesley lies enclosed in marble. "He whom death for these four years had assaulted, now in a moment by dying, escaped from death. Blest with a beloved; wife and a numerous family with the inspiration of heaven, and the dower of natural abilities—this second Job did the envious Devil tempt in divers ways, oppressing him mentally when he was weary and sometimes torturing him in body. W. Blackwell bought Dethick from the Babbington's. The unfortunate Anthony Babbingtpn, executed for high treason 1586, for taking part in the plot to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from Wingfield Manor, owned the Dethic estate. Anthony well knew the dangerous nature of the plot he was engaged in, and to prevent the estate being confiscated, made it over to his brother George, whose extravagance soon led him into pecuniary difficulties. He sold the estate to Blackwell, who, in turn, transferred the greater part to the Hallowes.

From the perusal of a return made by the "Committee for ye plundered ministers," dated August 11th, 1659. we get some information as to the value of the living of S. Peter's. It was ordered that the yearly sum of four score and fourteen pounds be granted for increase of the maintenance of the minister of Mansfield, "being a large market towne, and ye maintenance belonging to ye said church but £xx a year, and that ye same be paid unto Mr. John Ffirth, minister of ye gospel, and such other Godly painful preachers of the gospel as shall succeed him in ye said place," . . . "or further order that Mr. J. Robinson, Receiver, doe pay the same Mr. Ffirth £xxih a year out of the rents and profits of the tithes of Mansfield; £8 19s. a year out of the rents and profits of the tithes of Buolton (Qy.), £8 1s. 10d. out of the rents and profits of North Leverton, £4 7s. 2d. from Eaton, from Normanton £6 6s. 7d., Farndon £27, all in the county of Notts, and £25 5s. 5d. from Bardney, in Lincolnshire, from the 29th day of September last." Whilst on the subject of tithes we might turn to the Notitia Parochialis (circa 1705), from which we find they were in the hands of Lincoln again. The entry is as follows:

"The tithes of hay and corn (except in tofts and crofts, and the wool and lamb) are impropriated in ye parish of Mansfield . . belonging to the deanery of Lincoln usually let for about £100 per annum, and the presentation of the vicarage is in ye Dean of Lincoln and their tithes are reputed to belong to ye vicarage and the oblations and all offerings and surplice fees. The augmentation was made to ye said vicarage by lands that had been given to superstitious uses by ye Lady Flogan in ye reign of King Henry VII. and VII., for ye maintenance of chantry priests to pray for ye souls of her relations in ye said church, which lands coming forfeited to the Crown was afterwards settled upon ye church by charter from King Philip and Queen Mary, but upon some dispute which arose about ye said lands by ye heirs and by ye Lady Flogan, and ye vicar and churchwardens upon whom these lands were settled by charter because ye said Lady had only surrendered them for 99 years for ye said use, it was agreed about 100 years ago that ye school should receive some part of ye lands which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth, and so continued ever since." From this it will be seen the tithes were now back in the hands of Lincoln. They were leased to Welbeck to whom they were eventually sold. We find, too, the tithes were farmed out to various people, and in old documents, we have come across the names of a few of these farmers. There was John Hardy in 1697, John Mason 1704, William Green, a malster, from 1708 to 1732, and who in 1743 was churchwarden with John Shaw, a grocer. Two others, we might mention, were John Boore, who was farmer in 1744, and William Birch 1755.

If Mr. Firth was appointed to the living of S. Peter's at a time when Presbyterian and Independent ministers were presented to livings at the will of their patrons, he was not one of the two thousand rectors and vicars—about a fifth of the English clergy— who were driven from their parishes as Nonconformists, eight years later. To use a common phrase he appeared to sit on the fence. At the Restoration in 1660, says Canon Prior, Firth found himself far too comfortable at Mansfield to run the risk of ejection on Black Bartholomew. He adopted his conscience and his convictions to the times; reintroduced the Prayer Book (revised by his townsman, Richard Sterne) gladly accepted the gift of a stone font (now at Warsop Vale Mission Church) and altar cloth from his churchwarden, Francis Molyneux, and exhibited his zeal for the church which a few years before he would have done little to save, by collecting money to crown the tower with a steeple. He was not at all uncharitably disposed towards Nonconformists if we compare his return to Arthur, Bishop of York, under the hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to enquire "after all conventicled or unlawful meetings under pretence of religion, and the worship of God by such as separate from the unitie and conformitie of the law established."

For we find him writing as follows: "Reverend sir.—Whereas, as you require my present and speedy answer to four queries. Be pleased, therefore, to take this following return. To the first query I answer, common fame says there are still sorts of conventicles or church meetings held in this town of Mansfield, who all have their stated days and times for assembling; and they are reported to be these—first, the Papists; secondly, the Quakers, neither of which did appear at the public assembly (i.e., the church service); and, thirdly, the Presbyterians, who do frequent the public assembly here. To the second—the number of persons at the Papists meetings are reported to be about thirteen. At the Quakers' meeting about twenty ordinarily, and some extraordinarly times, three score. And at the Presbyterians' meetings in the week days, not twenty; but on the Lord's day forty or fifty. The quality of the Papists is mean; most of them women and inhabitants of other parishes. The quality of the Presbyterians is better and more wealthy, some inhabiting in this parish and some in others. To the third my acquaintance with them is not so considerable as to enable me to give any positive answer hereunto. To the fourth—the Papists, are said to meet at the house of Samuel Clay, or at the house of Henry Dawes, and their speakers to be sometimes Mr. Turner, and sometimes Mr. Clay. The Quakers are said to meet at the house of Tymothy Garland for the most part, and it is said they are all speakers. The Presbyterians are said either to meet at the house of Mr. John Whitlock or Mr. William Reynolds or of Mr. Robert Billingsby or of Mr. Robert Smalley, and it is said that these, or some of these, are their speakers."

Bailey, in his "Annals," gives some particulars of the lives of Whitlock and Reynolds, which are full of interest. Mr. Whitlock, no doubt, through the interference of Mr. Pierrepont and the Marquis of Dorchester, was appointed to the living of S. Mary's, Nottingham, with Mr. Reynolds as lecturer during Cromwellian times, but on the Act of Uniformity coming into operation in 1662— an Act which caused two thousand ministers to give up their livings in the church—Mr. Musters sheltered them at Colwick Hall for a time, but they moved to Shirebrook, and eventually to Mansfield, where about this time as many as forty ejected ministers resided. They lived at Mansfield nineteen years.

Groves says Mr. Firth was kindly disposed towards these ejected ministers, Mansfield having become quite an asylum for them, as many as forty residing here at one time. For a quarter of a century many of them continued to live at Mansfield, but after the passing of the Toleration Act most of them returned to their own homes. The late Mr. Worthington, pastor of the Old Meeting House, for 21 years, had placed on the reredos of that place of worship a brass plate in memory of the conscientious sacrifices and Christian labours of these ejected ministers who found in Mansfield "a little Zoar, a shelter and sanctuary."

There was considerable litigation in regard to the endowment of the Free Grammar School in 1682, but after a chancery suit the vicar agreed to terms which set forth that he might receive out of the rents £60 per annum, so long as they did not decrease in value; the said vicar and churchwardens were to allow to the schoolmaster and usher the sum of £30 per annum, and provided that the surplus of the rents belonging to either church or school corporation shall be disposed of to the use of the church and school as the vicar and churchwardens, with the advice of the major part of the assistants, shall think fit. This clause provided a funu for the repair of both church and school.

Mr. Gervase Holles, a kinsman of the second Earl of Clare, before the Civil war broke out, lived in Mansfield, and was buried under the north end of the altar of S. Peter's, also his wife Dorothy, and a son and a daughter. He caused a memorial to be placed on the wall over the grave. This Gervase Holles raised a foot regiment at his own cost and fought for the King at Edgehill, Newark, and Newbury, and shared Charles II.'s exile in Jersey and Holland. At the Restoration he became M.P. for Grimsby.

George Fox, the founder of the Quakers sect, several times visited the town before and during Mr. Firth's ministry. He was there in 1647, and mentions passing the steeple house, and also that people came from far and near to see him. In the following year he was again in the town, where there was a great meeting of professors: and people, and he was moved to pray. The Lord's power was so great that the house seemed to be shaken. The most interesting item respecting Fox's visits to Mansfield was after the occasion just mentioned. There was a sitting of justices about the hiring of servants, and he went to ask the justices not to oppress the servants. He walked to the inn (probably the Bowl-in-Hand) where they sat, but, finding a company of fiddlers there, did not go in, but waited for a more seasonable opportunity, following the justices to a town eight miles off.

Unfortunately the churchwardens' books, which would have thrown considerable light probably upon this interesting period in the church's history, are gone for ever, but we get a glimpse of the times from an extract made from them. In 1698 Robert Baskervile was churchwarden, and in his accounts we read that refreshment was provided at the perambulation of the parish boundaries, and there was the usual allowance of ale on the handing over of the churchwardens' accounts, and for the ringers on special occasions such as Christinas Day, New Year's Day, and Gun Powder Plot Day. Will Baguley was, we find, the dog whipper, and is the only one we have noticed mentioned in the Deanery. The said Will was paid 2s. 6d. each half year for his services. In days of which we are writing, it was a common practice for worshippers to take their dogs to church with them. This custom obtained largely in Wales. The result was a man was employed to check unruly dogs by means of what were called dog tongs, composed sometimes of iron and sometimes of wood and leather. Half-a-crown for 6 months' service appeared to be the usual salary. Sometimes these officials also held the office of vermin killer—a scathing commentary upon the state of the church in the seventeenth century. A rather curious item from the same source is: paid for six hedgehogs 6d., and paid Marquess of Hartington's huntsman for a fox 1s. On Easter Monday no less a sum than £1 3s. appears to have been spent. The only particulars noted are that it was disbursed at the "Elm Tree" for meat and drink. As regards the payment for the killing of a fox such payments are frequently to be found in churchwardens' accounts. Asto the mysterious connection between churchwardens and foxes no evidence seems available. Possibly with so much enclosed land in the neighbourhood foxes were so numerous as to become a nuisance, and then it would be that the officials of townships paid a reward for their destruction. The twenty-three shillings spent at Easter may have been for refreshment after the Vestry meeting. If such a custom could again be introduced the clergy would have less cause to complain of the attendance at these annual gatherings. This inventory was taken a year before Mr. Firth passed away, after a strenuous life in the 74th year of his age. He was vicar and concionator for 45 years, and if the inscription on the tablet to be seen in the south chapel (it was in the centre aisle in Harrod's day) is a faithful expression of his virtues, he was "a man of high distinction and constant activity; second to none in learning and erudition, who after long watching for the Lord, worn out with age and at last broken down, fell asleep in Christ, May 25th, 1699." His successor was George Mompesson, son of the hero of Eyam, whose calm devotion and inspiring example have been told in song and story. When George was a boy he lost his mother, who lies buried in the picturesque churchyard at Eyam, death being due to the Plague, and about this time his father spoke of himself as a dying man. Happily he escaped the infection, and went to live at Eakering, a living in the gift of the Saviles, where he died nine years after his son followed Firth at Mansfield. It is said that during George Mompesson's time, Mansfield was a kind of Gretna Green. In 1722, William Mompesson, son of the previous vicar, was appointed to the living, a year after his marriage, at Blidworth, with Elizabeth, the only daughter of John Chappel, of Mansfield Woodhouse, a descendant probably of William Chapelt, who was educated at the Grammar School, Mansfield, and who afterwards became Lord Bishop of Cork and Rosse, in Ireland. Six children of this union were baptised at S. Peter's. Geo. Mompesson, a prebendary of Southwell, was buried at Barnborough, in 1731, and Mrs. William Mompesson, with her two infant daughters, were laid to rest in the churchyard at Mansfield, the same year. Bishop Halifax was born at Mansfield in 1733, but we have to go to Annesley to see in the register the marriage entry of his parents, dated 1731. The Halifax family lived in a house in Mansfield Market-place, almost directly opposite the Town Hall. In the year 1744-5, the sum of £31 10s., which had been paid as a fine to Thomas Badger, the vicar, was expended by Charles Wright and James Hardwick, the churchwardens at that time, in the repair of the south aisle. It is interesting to compare the south aisle of that time with what exists to-day. We find it had three windows of two lights, with square heads, debased. They were probably the result of the building done in the 17th century, but whether they belonged to the period which saw the tower steeple-crowned, it is impossible to say. The south chancel chapel had a square-headed door, and over it a small two-light window, and there was a three-light window east of this, also square headed. These two windows were of the Perpendicular period. At the east end of this chapel we find a two-light window with pointed head, and the corresponding window in the north chancel chapel was a two-light with square head. The east window was a five-light Perpendicular of that order known as "Churchwarden Gothic." The chancel roof was exceedingly low in pitch, so that the weathering of the pitch of the old roof was plainly visible. The battlements connecting the nave with the chancel as seen to-day were missing. There were three slabs built into the south wall. The porch had been renovated, and square coping stones finished off the wall, and at the spring of the arch a square string course went round. From 1752 to 1782 Septimus Plumtre was vicar, and prior to his coming to Mansfield he was at Teversal where on the east outer wall of the chancel is an inscription, stating that two children are buried at Teversal and two at Mansfield.