Places of Worship


St Johns Church and school, c.1905.
St Johns Church and school, c.1905.

ST. John's Church is finely situated at the west end of the town, and was erected at a cost of about £8,000, in 1855-56. Of the total amount, Mr. G. Knight bequeathed a sum of £6,000 towards erecting an additional church in Mansfield, the only condition he made being that there should be at least 500 free seats. The parishioners contributed a further sum of £1,000; and the late Duke of Portland £1,000 towards the cost of erecting a vicarage, or to any other object, as the Bishop of the Diocese might think best. The foundation stone was laid on January 6th, 1855 by the then Bishop of Lincoln, and the building was consecrated by him on the 29th of July in the following year. In plan, the sacred edifice resembles the generality of modern English churches. It is of the Early Decorated style, and comprises nave, chancel, and two side aisles, with a tower surmounted by a handsome spire. The nave is 92 feet 6 inches long within the walls; and, including the aisles, the width is 59 feet 6 inches. The tower is 80 feet high and 16 feet square. The spire, which is well proportioned and graceful, is about 100 feet high. The interior is fitted with open benches, and there is accommodation for 1,000 worshippers. One half of the seats are free, in accordance with the wishes of Mr. Knight. The east window was completed at a cost of £250, by subscription, and is to the memory of the founder of the church. It illustrates some of the later events of Christ's career on earth. The inscription at the base is as follows:—"To the glory of God, and in pious memory of Galley Knight, Esquire, the founder of this church, a.d. 1870." There is another stained glass memorial window, in the chancel, to the Hon. and Rev. E. Pellew, and in the church a larger one to the memory of James Greenhalgh, Esquire; and there is also one to Miss Williamson, another to Miss Moffat, and a third to Miss Hall. The organ, a fine instrument, was built in 1865 by Brindley, of Sheffield, at a cost of £480, obtained by subscription. About 1866 the church was endowed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the living is valued at £300. £120 is allowed for a curate, on condition that the spiritual wants of Pleasley Hill are attended to.


The ecclesiastical district of St. Mark's was carved out of the parish of St. Peter's in May, 1889, it being felt that the spiritual wants of the inhabitants required another church. The Rev. E. H. C. Stephenson, M.A. was appointed first vicar in 1889; services being held regularly at the mission-room in Stockwell Gate, opened nearly a quarter of a century before as a mission-room for St. Peter's Church, with the Rev. W. Maples, now of St. John's, as curate-in-charge. But Mr. Stephenson was not content without a church in which to minister to his congregation. He therefore set to work to raise the necessary funds for the erection of a suitable church on Nottingham Road, which is the centre of the district. With his usual open-handed generosity, the Duke of Portland gave the site and a handsome contribution. The members of the congregation also did their share; and at the time of writing this there is a substantial sum of money in hand with which it is proposed to begin the building of the nave, leaving the chancel to some future period. The population of the district is almost entirely working class, many being in the poorest circumstances. On the 25 th of April, an iron church for the parish of St. Mark, erected near the site for the new permanent church, was dedicated by the Right Reverend the Bishop Suffragan of Derby, in the presence of a large congregation. The clergy taking part were the Rev. E. H. C. Stephenson (incumbent), Rev. W. Maples, Rev. C. D. Powell (St. John's), Rev. E. B. Egan (St Peter's), and the Rev. E. Johnson (Grammar School). The cost of the building was nearly £280, exclusive of the site. Accommodation was provided for between 200 and 300 persons.


The mission church of Saint Lawrence, situate in Quarry Lane, is carried on in connection with the parish church. The population of the district is, like St. Mark's, more working class than anything else, and the church supplies a want that had long been felt. The building is of brick with stone facings, and very substantial in character. The services are well attended. The curate-in-charge is the Rev. J. N. Blagden.


It is questionable whether the Friends' or the Old Meeting House congregation were the first Nonconformist body to meet in the town for public worship; but I believe the sect now under notice have an undoubted claim to be regarded as the first, as the Puritans, who established the Old Meeting House congregation, as such, have long ceased to exist. However that may be, the first minute-book of the Society of Friends is dated in 1671, though the oldest memorial stone in the adjoining burial ground only bears the date 1778. A plan of the enclosure, however, shows that there were at least five interments previous to this date. The present Meeting House was erected in the year 1800, on the site of the Old Meeting House belonging to the same body. It is situated in Quaker Lane, off Queen Street, and is a plain but substantial building. Harrod, who visited it in 1800, says:—"Lastly, I visited the Quakers' Meeting House, a newly-erected building, very neat on the outside and within. The assembly consisted of respectable people, in plain, neat, yet costly apparel. As it was not a public speaking day, not a word was uttered, and what their thoughts were no tongue can tell.

I am pretty certain that if a draughtsman had faithfully delineated the inside of the place during the time I staid, omitting himself and myself, he could not possibly have offended against the costume." There is no window or opening to the lane except the entrance doorway, an arrangement probably necessary in more troublous times, that the Friends might be safe and free from interruption. There is not the slightest attempt at ornamentation, either externally or internally; but, on the other hand, comfort and good taste have been carefully studied. In the cause of education the Friends have been very active, many of the poorer inhabitants of the town owing their education to the excellent classes that have been, and still are, held here. For this, too much praise cannot be given them. George Fox, the earnest and deeply religious founder of this sect, frequently visited the town of Mansfield, and in his own "Journal" there are many interesting references to the town. In 1647, shortly after he entered on the ministry, he visited Nottinghamshire, and says:—"Travelling on through some parts of Leicestershire and into Nottinghamshire" (probably Mansfield), "I met with a tender people, and a very tender woman, whose name was Elizabeth Hooton, and with these I had some meetings and discourses. But my troubles continued, and I was often under great temptations. I fasted much, and walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and went and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places till night came on." After this he visited other parts of the country, and appears to have become more settled and comfortable in his religious views; after which, at the latter end of 1647, he again visited Mansfield. Referring to this visit, he says:— "As I was walking by the steeple-house side, in the town of Mansfield, the Lord said unto me, 'That which the people trample on must be thy food.' And as the Lord spake, He opened it unto me that people and professors trampled upon the life, even the life of Christ; they fed upon words, and fed one another with words; but they trampled upon the life—trampled under foot the blood of the Son of God, which blood was my life—and lived in their airy notions, talking of Him. Then came people from near and far to see me; but I was fearful of being drawn out by them; yet I was made to speak, and open things to them. There was one Brown, who had great prophecies upon his death-bed of me. He spoke only of what I should be instrumental of by the Lord to bring forth. When this man was buried, a great work of the Lord fell upon me, to the admiration of many who I had thought to be dead; and many came to see me for about fourteen days. I was very much altered in countenance and person, as if my body had been new moulded or changed. While I was in that condition, I had a sense and a discerning given me by the Lord, through which I saw plainly that when many people talked of God and Christ, &c, the serpent was in them. A report went abroad of me that I was a young man that had a discerning spirit; whereupon many came to me from far and near, professors, priests, and people. The Lord's power broke forth, and I had great openings and prophecies, and spoke unto them of the things of God, which they heard with attention and silence, and went away and spread the fame thereof."

Later on in the "Journal" he says:—"In the year 1648, as I was sitting in a friend's house in Nottinghamshire (for by this time the power of God had opened the hearts of some to receive the word of life and reconciliation), I saw there was a great crack to go throughout the earth, and a great smoke to go as the crack went, and that after the crack there should be a great shaking; this was the earth in people's hearts, which was to be shaken before the seed of God was raised out of the earth. After this I went again to Mansfield, where was a great meeting of professors and people. Here I was moved to pray; and the Lord's power was so great that the house seemed to be shaken. When I had done, some of the professors said it was now as in the days of the apostles, when the house was shaken where they were."

After visiting Derbyshire, Warwickshire, and Leicestershire, he returned again to this county, and says:—"At a certain time, when I was at Mansfield, there was a sitting of justices about hiring of servants; and it was upon me from the Lord to go and speak to the justices, that they should not oppress the servants in their wages. So I walked to the inn where they sat; but finding a company of fiddlers there, I did not go in, but thought to come in the morning, when I might have a more seasonable opportunity to discourse with them. But when I came again in the morning they were gone, and I was struck blind that I could not see. I enquired of the innkeeper where the justices were to sit that day, and he told me at a town eight miles off. My sight began to come to me again, and I went and ran thither as fast as I could. When I was come to the house where they were, and many servants with them, I exhorted the justices not to oppress the servants in their wages, but to do that which was right and just to them; and I exhorted the servants to do their duties, and serve honestly. They all received my exhortation kindly, for I was moved of the Lord therein."

From this place he went forward to Nottingham, where he was put into gaol for persisting in preaching in the Market Place. He was eventually set at liberty again, and his "Journal" proceeds:—"Now, after I was at liberty from Nottingham Gaol, where I had been kept prisoner a pretty long time, I travelled as before in the work of the Lord. Coming to Mansfield Woodhouse, there was a distracted woman under the hands of a doctor, with her hair loose all about her ears. He was about to let her blood, she being first bound, and many people being about her, holding her by violence; but he could get no blood from her. I desired them to unbind her and let her alone, for they could not touch the spirit in her by which she was tormented. So they did unbind her ; and I was moved to speak to her, and in the name of the Lord to bid her be quiet and still; and she was so. The Lord's power settled her mind, and she mended, and afterwards received the truth, and continued it to her death. Many great and wonderful works were wrought by the heavenly power in those days, for the Lord made bare His omnipotent arm and manifested His power to the astonishment of many, by the healing virtues whereof many have been delivered from great infirmities, and the devils were made subject through His name, of which particular instances might be given, beyond what this unbelieving age is able to receive or bear. Now, while I was at Mansfield Woodhouse, I was moved to go to the steeple-house there, and declare the truth to the priest and people; but the people fell upon me in great rage, struck me down, and almost stifled and smothered me; and I was cruelly beaten and bruised by them with their hands, Bibles, and sticks. Then they haled me out, though I was hardly able to stand, and put me into the stocks, where I sat some hours ; and they brought dog whips and horse whips, threatening to whip me. After some time they led me before the magistrate, at a knight's house, where were many great persons, who, seeing how evilly I had been used, after much threatening, set me at liberty. But the rude people stoned me out of the town for preaching the word of life to them. I was scarce able to go, or well to stand, by reason of the ill-usage I had received; yet, with much ado, I got about a mile from the town, and then I met with some people that gave me something to comfort me, because I was inwardly bruised; but the Lord's power soon healed me again. That day some people were convinced of the Lord's truth, and turned to His teaching, at which I rejoiced." This terminated the visits to this part of one of the marvels of the age in which he lived. After a singular career of extreme toil, mingled throughout with much suffering, he closed his eyes at the age of sixty-seven years.


This place of worship, originally a meeting house for Puritans, is now a Unitarian Chapel. It owes its existence to the Puritanism which was born in the early part of the sixteenth century. Traces of this Puritanism are to be found very early in the history of the town, mainly connected with the family of Sylvester, who lived in Mansfield from 1549 till about 1715. One branch removed to Southwell, and another to Sheffield. In 1624, Gregory Sylvester bequeathed an annual payment of ten shillings to a Puritan lecturer, chaplain to the first Earl of Devonshire, who died in Mansfield, and was buried on the 27th of March, 1627. The Presbyterians, as readers of history well know, occupied the pulpits of the Church of England during the period of the Commonwealth ; but on the restoration of Charles I., they were ejected to the number of two thousand, and the original holders restored, by the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662. This Act came into operation on St. Bartholomew's Day, 1662. By it every Nonconformist minister was rendered incapable of teaching any school, public or private, or to go within five miles, except when journeying, of any city, town, or village in which, at any time, they had exercised their ministry, under a penalty of £40 for every offence, one-third of the penalty to go to the informers. The Nottinghamshire ministers thus turned out, being anxious to settle as near Nottingham as possible, first settled at Shire-brook, about five miles from Mansfield, where they resided for about two years ; and afterwards the Rev. Mr. Firth, vicar of Mansfield, being kindly disposed towards them, they came to Mansfield, which had become quite an asylum for ejected ministers—as many as forty, it is said, residing here at one time. At Mansfield, many of them continued to reside for a period of fourteen years. In 1687, James II. published his celebrated "Declaration of Indulgence," in which, on his own authority, he suspended all penal laws against Nonconformity. It was while these ministers were in Mansfield that the congregation was formed which has become the Unitarian Church, and which is to-day one of the most beautiful places of worship in the town. On the 31st of July, 1669, an order was issued, under direction of his Majesty the King and his Privy Council, to Lord Arthur, Bishop of York, under the hand of his Grace the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, "To enquire after all conventicles, or unlawful meetings, under pretence of religion and the worship of God, by such as separate from the unitie and conformitie of the Church as by law established." The return to be made by the clergy of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, of which Mansfield was a part, was as follows:—

1.  How many conventicles, unlawful assemblies, or Church meetings are held in the various parishes in the county ?

2.  What number of persons usually frequent these meetings, and what sort and condition of people are they?

3.  From whom and upon what grounds they look for indemnity?

4.  At whose houses they usually meet, and who are their speakers ?

The replies made by the Vicar of Mansfield to the set of queries were as follows:—

Reverend Sir,—Whereas you require my present and speedy answer to four queries. Be pleased, therefore, to take the following return:—To the first query I answer, common fame says there are three 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 do 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 at some extraordinary times threescore. 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, both men and women, most of them inhabitants of this town. The quality of the Quakers 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 to meet either at the house of Mr. John Whitlock, or Mr. William Reynolds, or of Mr. Robert Potter, or of Mr. John Billingsby, or of Mr. Robert Smalley, and it is said that these, or some of these, are their speakers. This, in obedience to your commands, is returned by John Firth, vicar of Mansfield. August 12th, 1669.

The answer to the enquiry as to Mansfield Woodhouse and Skegby was as follows:—

In reply to your worshipful archdeacon's letter, I know nothing but this: That at Mansfield Woodhouse we have no conventicle but one of Quakers, at the house of Robert Bingham (excommunicated for not comynge to church); but who they are who frequent it I cannot say. At Skegby, alsoe, there is a conventicle of Quakers at the house of Elizabeth Hatton, widow; but I cannot learn who they are who frequent them, they being all of the other towns. In the same towne of Skegby, alsoe, there is another conventicle— reputed Anabaptists and fifth monarchy men—held at Mr. Lyndley's (excommunicated alsoe), but I know neither their speakers nor hearers. Sir, your most humble servant,

Fra. Chapman.

For a quarter of a century the ministers lived in Mansfield, and then the Toleration Act was passed, and most of them returned to their former homes. The trust deeds of the Old Meeting House date from 1701, and contain the names of many well-known persons in the town; and the chapel appears to have been erected in 1702. In 1708, during the ministry of the Rev. Thomas Fletcher, a parsonage house was appropriated to the chapel, greatly through the instrumentality of Mr. Samuel Brunt (the founder of the charity bearing his name); and he also bequeathed a small annual sum, which is still paid. The chapel is a quaint square building, the roof being supported by two massive handsome oak pillars. Previous to 1871, it was fitted with pulpit, gallery, and pews, without the slightest attempt at ornamentation. In that year, however, the congregation, without any outside help, raised the sum of £1,500, with which the chapel was thoroughly renovated and restored, and, it may also be added, beautified. It still bears some traces of the old puritanical days.

Near the communion table, fixed to the reredos, is a nicely engraved brass plate, bearing the following inscription:—

In memory of the conscientious sacrifices and Christian labours of the Rev. Robert Potter, vicar of Pentrich ; the Rev. John Whitlock, M.A., vicar of St. Mary's, Nottingham; the Rev. William Reynolds, M.A., lecturer at the same church; the Rev. John Billingsley, M.A., vicar of Chesterfield; the Rev. Joseph Truman, B.D., rector of Cromwell; the Rev. Robert Smalley, vicar of Greasley; and others who resigned their livings when the Act of Uniformity was passed, a.d. 1662. Driven from their homes by the Oxford Act in 1666, they found in Mansfield a little Zoar, a shelter and sanctuary, and, united in hearty love and concord, they worshipped together till the Act of Toleration was passed in 1688, when all who survived the day of persecution returned to their ministry, save the Rev. Robert Porter, who remained in charge of this congregation till his decease, January 22 nd, 1690. This Meeting House, erected a.d. 1702, for the exercise of religious worship, was restored in a.d. 1870. Laus Deo.


Wesleyan Chapel.
Wesleyan Chapel.

The best information I can give respecting this place of worship is contained in an article I wrote on the occasion of the centenary of the death of John Wesley, in the month of March, 1891. It was in the year 1788 that Methodism for the first time found its way to Mansfield, when John Adams, a local preacher, came from Nottingham and preached in the old Market Place. This visit led to others; and a Mr. J. Finch, residing on the Walk, Stockwell Gate, opened to them his house for preaching. This proved sufficient for only one year, and then a barn was taken near the present Friends' Meeting House. This, in its turn, became too small for the increasing numbers, and what is now the Baptist Chapel was built. For six years the society laboured and prospered; and then came the Kelham Secession—a great blow to the rising cause. The whole of the trustees were in sympathy with the new cause, and the chapel was taken from those who had subscribed to build it. Nothing daunted, the sturdy leaders of old Methodism took a room in Toothill Lane, where they grew in numbers; and at length, on the advice of the Rev. William Bramwell, in the year 1799, though poor, they erected a new chapel in Rock Valley, which was opened in the initial year of the century by the Rev. J. S. Pipe. Up to the end of the year 1806 Mansfield had been included in the Nottingham Circuit, from which town many celebrated preachers came here. In 1807, a new era commenced; Mansfield became the head of a circuit, which included Warsop Circuit, and had 460 members. In 1810, the Methodists acquired, for £ 1,200, the birth-place of the celebrated Lord Chesterfield ("Chesterfield House" and grounds), the property of the Stanhope family, and which provided at one time a residence for the ill-fated Dr. Dodd, tutor to one of the Chesterfields, who was hanged for forging his patron's name. The chapel consisted of the main portion of the house, the preachers' houses being the wings. The first preachers appointed to the circuit were the Revs. Philip Hardcastle and J. Bustard. In 1833-35 there were great revivals in Mansfield, and the society progressed and increased. This went on until 1849-50, when the Free Church split took away fully one-third of the congregation—a secession, however, which left them in possession of the chapel. They soon recovered the lost ground, and in 1864 had grown to such an extent that it became necessary to pull down their original chapel and erect the beautiful edifice which occupies such a prominent position in Bridge Street at the present time. The foundation of the new chapel was laid on the 29th of April, 1864, by Mr. J. S. Budgets of London; the day being, as the record says, "neither too hot nor yet too cold, but sunny , genial, and pleasant."


Congregational chapel, Westgate (c. 1910).
Congregational chapel, Westgate (c. 1910).

The congregation at this place of worship made its appearance in Mansfield about the year 1790, when the meetings were held in the Old Play House. When this became too small for their growing requirements, they removed to a large room in Back Lane. But it was not until 1793 that the first permanent chapel was erected, at a cost of £650. It was opened on the 7th of April, in 1793. No change took place for more than half a century, when a movement was set on foot for building a new and more modern place of worship. This continued until 1875, when the present minister, the Rev. J. G. Tolley, was appointed. He took up the matter with vigour. A site was secured in front of the open space at the end of Westgate, and here was erected one of the most tasteful places of worship in the town, a credit to the architect and builder and an ornament to the neighbourhood. The memorial stone was laid by the late Mr. Samuel Morley, M.P., on the 29th of May, 1877, and the opening services were held in the month of June, 1878. The chapel is in the Early Gothic style of architecture, and affords accommodation for 600 worshippers. There is ample Sunday School and lecture accommodation.


The Baptists first held meetings in Mansfield at the beginning of the present century, and in 1815 they became possessed of the chapel which, as has just been stated, formerly belonged to the Wesleyans, but fell into the hands of the seceders during the time of the Kelham disruption. In 1874, the chapel was thoroughly restored and renovated, and the interior entirely refitted. The present pastor is the Rev. J. Firth.


Early in the century the Primitive Methodists, then a new body, came to Mansfield, and about 1811 or 1812 settled down for regular preachings. Their first location was a room in the Back Lane, from whence they removed to Ratcliffe Gate. After a short time spent here, they once more removed, this time to the Lawn. Here Mr. Darby converted two houses into a chapel for them, he being a devoted adherent to the cause. This proved sufficient for the society until 1842, when they went to Queen Street, where they erected a chapel at a cost of £6oo. But they were not destined to remain here long. The cause grew, and it became once more necessary to build. This time they secured a capital site at the junction of Woodhouse Road and Terrace Road, where, in 1886, they erected a handsome place of worship and schools at a considerable cost. There is accommodation for 400 worshippers; and when a gallery is built, considerably more. Owing to the defective acoustic properties of the chapel, it was found necessary, early in 1892, to erect a gallery round three sides of the building and do other repairs, &c, at a cost of about £500. The chapel was reopened on Saturday, May 14th, by Master Claude Butler, on behalf of his father, Councillor Butler. The sermon was preached by the Rev. J. Stevenson, of Nottingham, who also spoke at a public meeting, presided over by the Mayor, in the evening. Considerable additional accommodation is provided by the gallery, which also gives to the chapel a very handsome appearance. Recently, strenuous exertions have been made to clear off a portion of the debt remaining on the chapel.


Though the Roman Catholics met for service in the town of Mansfield as early as the sixteenth century, when they were described as being "mean, both men and women," it was not until the year 1868 that a chapel was erected for them sufficient for their needs. The Church of S. Philip, in Ratcliffe Gate, is of brick, plain but very neat, and is surrounded by a high wall that almost shuts it out from view. It was built and presented to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham by Mrs. White, for the purpose of establishing a mission for the many Roman Catholics residing in Mansfield and its vicinity.


This chapel dates from the formation of the society in 1848. They first occupied the Mechanics' Institute, where they remained until 1851, when the present chapel on the Railway Side was erected. It was opened for divine service on Shrove Tuesday of that yean The chapel, which is not without architectural merits, was erected at a cost of about £1,000, and has accommodation for from six to seven hundred worshippers. This body have also a handsome lecture hall and schools in Albert Street, opened in 1890.


In addition to the stated places of worship, several other bodies have meeting houses and rooms about the town, including the Churches, Spiritualists, Christadelphians, Salvation Army, Christian Brethren, and others. There are also mission-rooms in relation to the Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and other bodies; and in connection with all the places of worship there are well-attended Sunday Schools.