Chapter II. The church.

The chancel. Etching by Mrs Bruce.
The chancel. Etching by Mrs Bruce.

In a village like Clifton, where a modified form of the Feudal System has survived into the twentieth century, the history of the village is necessarily closely associated with the family of the Lords of the Manor, and the Parish Church assumes in the course of generations something of the nature of a domestic chapel.

This chapter upon the Church however will deal with the fabric and its monuments of the past, in a way which leaves to future pages the history of the Clifton family.


"How old is the Church?" asks the enquiring visitor, and is always disappointed if one cannot answer with a date clear, definite, and precise. Here is the nearest approach to definiteness upon which we can venture; upon such a hill standing alone and overlooking a river, it is far from improbable that long before the gospel of Christ was preached the position of Clifton Church was the scene of that earlier groping after truth, in which our primitive forerunners struggled, under the shelter of what wo glibly call a heathen temple. If, as is very probable, the Church then as "a place of worship" dates back actually before Christ, the history of many of our oldest parish churches is but repeated, for the early Church strove ever to capture what was highest and best in the glimmering darkness of heathen worship, and to dedicate it anew to the full glory of the Light of the world. Be this as it may, the earliest historic record is that the Domesday Book (1086); the earliest structural records of the past are the central and eastern arches on the north (left-hand facing the chancel) side of the nave, these are ornamented with "nail-heads" and their period is Transitional (Norman—Early English), the date being probably about 1150, certainly before 1200.


From that date onward the fabric gradually grew as the result of frequent alteration and improvement to its present cruciform shape. The Chancel for instance had its present roof built in 1503 by the Reverend Robert Yole, who left both his name and portrait on the wood-work;—the latter a far from flattering representation (unless he was a very ugly man indeed), is to be seen facing East at the top of the Chancel Arch. The open timber work of this very beautiful old roof, the symbols of which are well worth careful study, is a very representative piece of work of its time.

The year before Mr. Yole was instituted, that is in 1478, the Chapel of the "Holy Trinity" was founded, and still stands on the North Transept of the Church, but long before this in 1349 a jury found it "not to King Edward III. nor any others' loss if he granted Gervase de Clifton Chevalier license to give some land and the advowson of Stanton-on-the-Wolds to three chaplains daily celebrating divine service for the good estate of Gervase and Isabel his wife." This community of "Chantry Priests" was enlarged when Edward IV. gave Sir Robert Clifton leave in 1478 "to found a college in the chapel of the Holy Trinity within the parish Church of St. Mary at Clifton" with a Warden and several chaplains. In this transept there are in the East wall two small piscinae, and one large square aumbrey. The brasses and monuments will be spoken of in the chapter about the Clifton family, to which they nearly all belong. There is, however, one stone which may be mentioned here; it is dedicated to the memory of the founder of the five picturesque alms-houses which stand between the Rectory and the village green (see page 74.) The inscription runs thus :—

"Toth Clifton Family a friend sincere and constant to ye end would you know who the Inscription tells Here lyeth ye Body of George Wells Who died, aged 69 years A.D. 1712.''

"Plants and all creatures from ye silly fly: to man Earth's noblest creature all must die: but man alone must rise to woe or bliss consider then of what import is this: and live so here that you may ever bee partakers of a blest eternity."

In "Walks round Nottingham" written in 1835, "A Wanderer" (Barker) says Wells was a zealous Roman Catholic,—I wonder how he knew; personally I am not convinced, neither the burial registry or any other of the records of him seem to bear out this assertion.

The font cover is remarkable; the MR, which alternates with the fleur-de-lis and the Tudor rose in the brass work, stands for Maria Regina (Mary the Queen): as the Church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the symbol probably throws the date of the font-cover back before the Reformation, as it is obviously older than the modern movement which would apply the title of "Queen of Heaven" to her, whom "all generations shall call blessed"; the same movement, however, has left its mark on the West window in this very matter, for the topmost light is an "M" crowned and the date of this window is quite recent, for the late Mr. Clifton erected it as a thankoffering for the recovery of his wife from a serious illness about twenty-five years ago.


Returning to the chancel, on the floor in the middle is a large stone to the memory of Dr. Standfast, who was Rector 1721-1754, who is chiefly remarkable in that he gave ten years before his death, his "whole study of books" to found a public library for Nottingham, for which "generous proposal" the Mayor and a special Committee returned him thanks on behalf of the Trustees of the Blue-coat School, to whom the ordering of the library was entrusted. But the idea was conceived before the time was ripe for it, and it proved only a small success. The books are still to be seen at the Bromley House Library, though they have recently been removed from the room set apart for them in Dr. Standfast's time, which bears his name. A catalogue of these books was printed in 1863, and may now be had. There are 1,413 in all and most of them though beautifully bound are worthless, some few, however, are of extreme rarity and value: for instance there is one printed by Jacob Bellaert of Haarlem in 1485, another by R. Pynson in 1499, and rarest of all a copy of Caldernius on Martial, printed by Gensburg at Rome in 1474. This is probably the earliest printed book but one in Nottingham.

The Trustees of this Library appear to be the Rectors of Clifton, Wilford. Barton, Gotham, Rempstone, Wollaton, and St. Mary's St. Peter's, and St. Nicholas', Nottingham They however have never yet met as such, within living memory, and until they do, the Bromley House Society are continuing to act as custodians; their Librarian Mr. Lineker takes a great interest in the tradition.


Under the altar, let into the floor is the old stone altar, which at the time of the Reformation was deposed in favour of a wooden one. On the North side of the chancel is the "priests'" door, which has been obviously moved from a more easterly point in the wall, where a former door opened probably upon a little vestry, unless what appear to be corbels in the wall deceive us. On the West wall, opposite the brass to the Rev. Robt. Thirlby referred to on Page 11 is another nice little brass plate dated 1673 to the memory of Gervase Holland, gentleman, "a relative and servant" of Sir Gervase Clifton (what is now known as "agent") and at the back of the sedilia is another to the memory of Lady Arabella Wheler, sister of Sir William Clifton 3rd Bart., and daughter of Sir Clifford Clifton, Knight. She died in 1729, her husband having been Admiral Sir Francis Wheeler, one of the admirals who were "cast away" in Cadiz in William III.'s reign.


On the South side is a doorway dated 1632 which opens into the Clifton vault, wherein lie some 25 coffins containing the mortal remains of generation after generation of knights and their dames; the bodies of the more recently buried baronets including the famous Sir Robert who died in 1869, rest upon shelves, and among them is a small leaden case, doubtless from its shape and size containing a human heart, believed to belong to Sir William Clifton, a crusader.

In 1790 Throsby says, there was in the vault "a very ancient lead coffin shaped to receive the head and shoulders of its inhabitant", this I have never seen; but it is on record that a Sir Gervase Clifton was beheaded after the battle of Tewkesbury by order of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III.)


To the West of the door are two stone tablets, one to the memory of Frances, daughter of Sir Gervase Clifton, who died in 1846, after having married Archdeacon Markham, Rector of Barton, who was a son of Archbishop Markham of York ; the other stone is to the memory of their son, Henry Spencer Markham, who was Canon of York and Rector of Clifton (1830-1844), and the father of Henry (Markham) Clifton, the squire of Clifton from 1869 to 1896, when he died.

A brass tablet to the memory of "the old squire" and his wife was put up below these stones in 1904 by Mr. Reginald Bell of Thirsk Hall who is a nephew of the late Mrs. Clifton.


The reredos.
The reredos.

The East window was filled with new glass in 1852, the year following the great Exhibition, in memory of Sir Juckes Clifton, who had restored the whole of the church at his own expense in 1846, and the tiles of the floor still bear alternately his arms and his initials "J.C." The window represents the four evangelists, Abraham and Moses, St. Peter and St. Paul, and our Lord and His mother: the work is characteristic of the middle Victorian era (which is putting it politely!) and yet, from the font for instance, partly screened by the oaken tracery, the brilliant colouring of the window is not, it has been claimed, altogether without artistic appeal. The oak screens were put up in 1901-2 by Mr. Hodgson Fowler, Architect, chiefly at the expense of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton, who also had the choir stalls erected. The reredos of Derbyshire alabaster, delicately coloured, is a modern addition by Mr. Bodley. in admiration of the workmanship of which most critics are unanimous. To the same gifted architect belongs the great credit of so arranging the colouring of the sanctuary by boldly painting the stonework and by hanging some brightly coloured curtains, that the brilliancy of the East window is all but toned down to a deep and rich beauty.


There are six bells, four old ones, and two added in 1894 when the old ones were re-cast.

Here are the inscriptions (some of which are also to be found in neighbouring church towers, such as Plumtree and East Leake), and the weights:—

1st (1894).
"O come let us sing unto the Lord." 5cwt. 1qr. 121/2lbs.

"God save His Church" 1707. 6cwt. 2qrs. 4lbs.

"I My roariuge sound doth warning give
That  men cannot heare alway live," 1605 (re-cast A.P. 1894 with founder's name). 8cwt. 1qr. 12lbs.

"Jhesus be our spede 1589 " (The Clifton Crest) 9cwt. 1qr. 17lbs.

Inscribed as 3rd. 1603 (re-cast A.P. 1894).
12cwt. 2qr.  17lbs. Tenor (1894).
"The love of Christ constraineth us."
H.W. Wynne Ffoulkes. Rector, A.D. 1894.
Henry Robert Clifton
Churchwardens. George Wootton
17cwt. 10lbs.
The first peal was rung on August 20th. 1894.


The church choir, 1906.The church choir, 1906.

The South transept is now used as a choir vestry. In a grand oak chest several hundred years old, are kept the square mortar-board College caps, worn by the twelve village maidens, who clad in white robes, sit in the Tower, and help an excellent masculine choir in the Chancel, to lead the worship at Divine Service.

The old chest has three locks, doubtless one each for Rector and Wardens, so that all had to he present to consent to its opening. Here too is the floorstone to the memory of the "Black Prince," who was a very tall negro servant of the Cliftons, who died in 1684 having become a Christian ten years earlier at that time a very remarkable event, and one celebrated with great pomp. There is a mark in the porch (I—P) which indicates the height of this man, who, Thoroton says, '' was brought up in the Clifton family and grew to nearly the height of 7 feet." This mark, however, makes him measure but six feet and four inches. The lettering of this floor-stone has been re-cut in recent years.

Among the list of former Rectors, which has been prepared and put in the porch by the present Rector and which dates back to 1242, are many ecclesiastical dignitaries; among them Bishop Grene who was Bishop of Sodor and Man from 1449 to 1454, and became Rector of Clifton after resigning his see. in 1462.

The Church is now lighted throughout by electricity, which was installed and is maintained by the generosity of Colonel Bruce.


The nave and tower. Etching by Mrs Bruce.
The nave and tower. Etching by Mrs Bruce.

In the Churchyard, two relics call for special mention; the first is the very beautiful stone crucifix over the West end of the nave, which obviously must date from pre-reformation times, and which remained hidden by ivy for many generations and was but recently uncovered. So excellent is its preservation, so sharp the figure, even to the features of the Divine face, of which little of the expressive beauty has been lost, that it is difficult to believe that it is probably weathering its fourth if not indeed its fifth century. The second is a very ancient stone sepulchral slab, which lies on the South side about ten feet from the Church; the shape of the cross suggests the tomb of an abbot, and a distinguished antiquarian once told me that it probably dated from between 1200 and 1300. There are several incidents which point to one of the great Clifton Squires of that time having become a "religious," in which case an abbacy may have begun and ended with him. At that time an abbot was often a far greater dignitary than a bishop, and like him, was summoned to Parliament.


The Communion Plate consists of six pieces of solid silver : 1 large handsome flagon, 1 chalice, 1 paten, 1 straining spoon and 2 alms dishes ; they all bear the same inscription: " Given to the Parish of Clifton, Notts., by the will of the Reverend Abel Collin Launder, the late Rector, 1803," except the spoon, upon which it is abbreviated; they are all kept in a safe at the Hall, and brought to the Church by the Clerk on Sundays and Holy days.