St Swithun's church, East Retford

In the year 1258, Gilbert de Tyva was made sacrist of the Cathedral of York, by Sewall, the then Archbishop, and was inducted into the possession of this church (which had previously been dedicated to St Swithin) on the Saturday next after the feast of St. Martin, being about the 18th of March. On the 3rd of the nones of May, in the same year, the said Sewal ordained the vicarage, along with those of Sutton, Everton, Hayton, and Clareburgh, in which ordination it was set forth, that if any of the vicars should happen to have less than ten marks per annum, the vicarage was to be augmented as it should please the Archbishop.

For the continuance and well-being of the vicarage it became necessary that some stipend should be permanently fixed; accordingly the said prelate endowed it as follows.

Having thus briefly introduced the steps taken for the establishment of the church, and also the means by which it was endowed for the support of those who might hereafter be collated to the living; I shall lay before the reader the following extract from Torre’s manuscript of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, deposited in the archives of the Cathedral at York, wherein the substance of the foregoing document is set forth.


Church.—The Ch: of East Retford was by Roger,± Abp. of York given to his new founded Chappell St. Mary and Holy Angells near the Minster of York.†

And being appropriated to it on the 3 non: Maij AD. 1258.

Vicaridge.—Abp. Sewall ordained that the Vicar of Retford should have 100s. out of the Altarage, and the Small Tithes, viz, of Chickens, Piggs, Geese, and the bread and wine which shall happen to be brought to the Altar.

In wch respect the Vicar shall repair the Chancel and find necessaries for them. And also answer ‘the Archdeacon his procurations.

And the Sacrist of that Chappell was to give the Tithes of the Mills to the poor of the Town.

In a book entitled "Nonarum Inquisitiones in Curia Scaccarii," referring to the reign of Edward III, we find the following document respecting this church and vicarage.


It qd non vell & agn ecclie de Est Retford pq no tax q e pcella capelle S'ti Sepulc an dce vz p ann xj et no plq qz nulle garb nz fen ad ea ptin set totu consistit en altag mortuar oblat & aliis minut decis q val p ann ad ver val xvl ijs iiijd et de toto integro peipit vicar de rectore Cs p porcone sua.

In the year 1392, this church contained two Altars, situate in a chapel‡ at the back of the chancel, one dedicated to St. Trinity the other to St. Mary, at which two Cantarists were appointed (by the bailiffs of East Retford) to minister daily: for the conducting and support of which the following copy of an ancient document will present a detail.


"The Bailiffs and Comunity of the Town of Retford. having obtained the King’s license to amortize, &c. &c. by the consent of Tho: Abp. of York, and his Chapter, gave, and by their Charter, confirmed to God, St. Mary, and All Saints, and to the Altars of St. Trinity and St. Mary, built in the parish Church of East Retford, and to Sir John, son of Robert Browne, of Tyreswell, and Stephen Maudelene, Chaplens, and their successors, the annual rent of £16. 8s sterling, issuing out of 9 Messuages and 6 Tofts, in the Town of East Retford, payable quarterly, every year to the said Chaplens, and their successors, for celebrating masses, and other divine services, at the said Altars for ever, under the forms following, &c. And also that there be annually on the 4th of December one special obiit celebrated for them and their Cormunity by the Vicar of the Church, for the time being, and the said two Chaplens with Placeto and Dirige, &c. And that the Vicar after the end thereof shall have 6d. and the two Chaplens 3d. a piece, paid by them and their successors, the Bayliffs of the town, &c. and that in every vacation of these Chauntries, that the presentation thereunto do (plenojure) belong to them, the said Bayliffs, and their Community for ever."

A Catalogue of the First Cantarists for St. Trinity’s Altar.





16th Aug. 1392

Dms. John Brown de Tereswell, Cap.

Ballive & Com. de Retford.

p. Mort.

13th April, 1407

Dms. John Masham, Pbr. John Frankysh, Cap.


p. Resig

1st Jan. 1422

Dms. Richard Peynter, Pbr..


p. Resig

11th Nov. 1423

Dms. Richard Thrampton, Pbr. Richard Webster, Cap


p. Mort.

3rd. Sep. 1450

Dms. William Hall, Cap.


p. Mort.

13th March, 1458

Dms. Robert Gyll, Pbr.


p. Resig.

16th Sep. 1467

Dms. Thomas Underwood, Cap.


p. Mort.

6th July, 1468

Dms. William Ricard, Cap.


p. Mort.

22nd May, 1486

Dms. Richard Wylis, Cap.

Aepus and Cap.

p. Mort.

13th April, 1513

Dms. John Boys, Cap.



A Catalogue of Secondary Cantarists of St. Mary's Altar.







Ballive &

pro. resig



Com. de

vic. de

16th Aug. 1393

Dms Stephen Maudelene, Cap.




Dms. William Tiltyngs, Cap.



23rd Feb. 1400

Dms. John Fryston, Cap.



3rd Dec. 1422

Dms. Robert Holme, Pbr.




Dms. John Wiseton, Cap.


p. Mart.

14th Oct 1440

Dms. William Wryght, Pbr.



Dms. William Kirkeby, Pbr.


p. Mort.

22nd Sep. 1464

Dms. Thomas Gedlyng, Pbr.


p. Resur.

23rd Sep. 1485

Dms. Roger Wilson, Cap.


p. Mort,

18th Feb. 1506

Dms. Henry Runder, Cap.


p. Resig.

ult. July, 1508

Dms. John Gedlyng, Pbr.


p. Mort.

30th Jan. 1517

Dms. Thomas Wilson, Cap.


p. Resig.

28th Oct. 1524

Dms. Richard Baok, Pbr.



Early in the 16th century it was found that this chapel, from age and decay, must soon become a heap of ruins, and several other parts of the church had become considerably delapidated from the same cause, it was resolved that the chapel should be entirely demolished, and the church repaired with the old materials. This took place in 1528, when a stone, of which following is an inscription, was placed over the door formerly the entrance to the chapel, as a record of the event.

In comparing the dates of the above it will appear evident; that a two-fold error has been committed. First, a chronological,—Secondly, a clerical, one. As. it respects the first it will not excite much surprise if we consider the defective state of chronological computations at that period, because, until the immortal Newton finally completed his theory, the data on which calculations of this nature had been made, were extremely erroneous, and an error of six years might easily be accounted for; but when we find 1582 substituted for 1528, we may suppose the mistake to have originated with the engraver, who has either not discovered it,—or discovering, has thought the alteration unnecessary. Be this, however, as it may, it is certain that the stone was placed there in 1528, to commemorate the event previously alluded to.

After the body of the church had undergone a thorough repair, I find little worthy of particular notice respecting it: (with the exception of a regular and uninterrupted succession of vicars,) until the year 1651, when the tower, the chancel, and a considerable portion of the rest of the building was blown down. The following minute, dated November 4th, 1652; from the books of the Corporation, is almost the only document now remaining relative to the event; it states,

"That the greatest part of the church of East Retford, by the fall of the steeple, and other parts, had become very ruinous and made a heap of stones, and the remainder was much shaken and injured.; that the inhabitants had been at a great charge and cost to repair the part of the church which was standing, but were unable to re-build what had fallen down, (the town being full of poor people, unable to contribute towards the charge, and being themselves chargeable to the rest of the inhabitants;) that the bailiffs, aldermen, and council of the town, (whose names were subscribed,) had endeavoured, with the consent of the common burgesses, or the greater part of them, to procure the assistance of the neighbouring towns towards so pious a work, but finding that course fail, they did, therefore, with one consent, order and decree, that all the messuages, cottages, lands, and hereditaments, belonging to the Corporation, or wherein they had any estate of freehold, either as trustees for the use of the Free Grammar School, or otherwise, in villages, hamlets, or parishes of Kirton, Willoughby and Walesby, in the county of Nottingham, should sold in fee-farm, only reserving the ancient and accustomed yearly rent then paid, or payable to the bailiffs and burgesses for the use of the said school, and the monies which should be raised, by such sale, show be employed towards re-building and repairing the church and steeple." The charge of re-building whole, amounted to about £1600 of which the great portion was paid by the Corporation.

After the completion of the church in 1668, no particular occurs until the year 1687, when the terrier of the glebe lands, &c. now in existence, which, in all probability was the first belonging to this vicarage, was drawn up and signed by the vicar, the churchwardens, and three of tile parishioners; I shall therefore, after giving a Copy of it, proceed to a general description of the building, &c. as we find it at the present day.

Aug: ye 13. 1687.

A true & pfect Terrier of all ye Geab Lands belonging to East Retford Church.

Imprs One Dwelling house containing three Bays of Building, one Layth containing two Bays of Building & one Garden with a Yard butting upon ye Church Yard on the West, & on the King’s Street on the South, on ye School Orchard on ye East, & Jos: Cotham’s Orchard on ye North.


All manner of Small Tythes with ye Easter Book, and ye Surplus Fees, & two Gates on ye Common.


Willm. Dunston, Major.

Wm. Wintringham, Vicar.

Christo. Byron, Alderman

William Bunby, Churchwarden.

Thos. Rawson, Alderman.

Francis Hindley, Churchwardens

 The Parish Church of St. Swithin, which is a large, well-proportioned, and handsome structure, is situate on the north side of Chapel Gate, near the north eastern verge of the parish, in a very convenient situation; it is generally denominated the Corporation Church, not only on account of its standing within the borough, but also to distinguish it, in general conversation, from West Retford Church. The present edifice is, generally speaking, in the Gothic style of architecture, and in excellent condition on the outside, but only in moderate repair in the interior. It has a. very handsome square tower, containing six bells; and the body, which is in the form of a cross, consists of a nave, a chancel, two side aisles, with north and south transcept, the whole pretty well lighted, and on a commodious plan.

The architecture is evidently of four dates; the oldest, in all probability, being Norman. Near the pulpit are the remains of two clusters of pillars with their bases, and a fragment of the caps still remaining. The spring of the arch on each side of the nave has been altered from the form of a semicircle to the pointed Gothic, but the alteration is quite apparent. Over the porch (as may be seen by a reference to the frontispiece) is the medallion of a king on his throne, with a globe and sceptre; this is probably of the same period, and may have been placed in its present situation after the ruins of the first church.

The next in point of age, is about the date of the original endowment, as a reference to the fine lancet-shaped window in the chancel, as well as to some other parts of the edifice, will testify. About the year l200, the short round-headed window of the Saxons gave way to this peculiar style, which continued to be the prevailing fashion of the times, until about the reign of Edward the third.

The two latter dates are both Gothic; the earlier of the two being apparently of the florid style of Henry the seventh’s age ; and the latter, that of the reign of Charles the second.

The body of the church is one hundred and sixteen feet six inches long, from the eastern window to the western entrance; fifty-one feet laterally, from wall to wall in the nave and side aisles; eighty-five feet from north to south in the centre, and the chancel nineteen feet. The largest portion of this space is taken up with pews, some of which (those in the south aisle, the southern transcept, and the chancel,) are regular and well sized, but the whole of those in the nave are not only irregular in their construction and arrangement, but are extremely ill-adapted to accommodate that number of persons which the increasing population of the town necessarily requires; if the whole were re-pewed, in such a manner as a sense of propriety would dictate, several additional sittings would be obtained, without injury to any of the present proprietors, whilst suitable accommodation would be provided for severall respectable families in the town to whom sittings we be highly acceptable.

The height of the tower to the top of the pinnacles is ninety-seven feet, and of the nave forty-four feet the roof of the nave is supported by pillars, duodecagonal in figure, and terminating with the small abacus over the arches are twelve clerestory windows, which have a very light and interesting appearance. None of the windows at present exhibit any specimen of stained glass so as to allow us to give a description, being merely such small specks as have hitherto withstood the fury of the contending elements, or what more to be dreaded in some cases—the rash hand of the glaziers’ apprentice. The western window is nearly new; formerly however, it could boast of its heraldic and other insignia, even so late as the year 1677, which Thoroton wrote this part of his history of Nottinghamshire ;—he thus describes it.

In the West window—France and England, and Sab. Fretty Arg. a Carpenter’s square Or, and Sab. Fretty Arg. and Axe Shaft Or. and head Arg.—There was Gules a chief Arg. Hercy quartering Leek.—And Gules a Saltier ermine, Neville, impaling Avg. a Chevron between three stars (or Mullets) pierced sable; and under the same all in one scutcheon, Arg. upon a Bend Azure, three Crescents Avg. A few scattered pieces are to be found in the eastern window; these however are nearly all the fenestral embellishments which at present exist, though, without doubt, this church in its earlier ages, contained many more.

There are at present four galleries, viz, one in the north aisle, another in the south erected in 1778, one over the west entrance in 1740, and another in the southern transcept in 1820; that in the north aisle, is considerably the oldest, some parts of it being composed of old English oak, and the workmanship may be considered as of the fifteenth century; in the gallery over the western entrance stands the organ$ built by Mr. Donaldson in the year 1797, it is however much too small for the nave of the church, which, were it larger, and more proportionable, would have a very pleasing effect: it has been in agitation some time to make a considerable enlargement in the case, and, with the addition of pedals, it might be made not only abeautiful ornament to the church, but a credit to the town at large.

The northern transcept is generally known by the name of the"Bishop’s choir," and I find it to be supposed by several, that a bishop has been interred here; is however, an erroneous idea, as that name is derive from the circumstance of the bishop holding the ecclesiastical court here for the Deanry of Retford every four years: the Archdeacon also delivers his charge to the clergy, &c. annually in this place; hence the appellation of "Bishop’s Choir." This place is used on sundays for the accommodation of the children belonging to the National School, during the celebration of divine service. In an interstice in the north wall is a kind of closet, the door of which is secured by two very ancient locks, and an iron bar; here are deposited the indentures of those who have been bound apprentices by the parish; it also contains a number of certificates which were formerly demanded from every person on changing his residence from one parish to another.

The chancel, compared with the church, is but small and formerly was but indifferently lighted, as a considerable part of the window was walled up; latterly however, this defect has been remedied, and the light is now considered to be too strong and glaring. Some years ago it was suggested to have it glazed with ground glass, edged with a slight relief of stained glass, which, if carried into effect, would have a very neat and imposing appearance; but as the requisite funds could not be obtained without an appeal to the parish rates, the idea was abandoned, and the subject fell to the ground.

The vestry room is a small, but very convenient apartment, fitted up in the year 1792, on the north side of the chancel, in which the parish vestries are usually held. The parish chest, ‘a pondrous ark of oak,’ displaying on its front, three large locks, is also kept here, wherein are deposited, in the most confused and disorderly state, the parish books from the year 1687, together with the vouchers: it is much to be regretted that the contents of this chest are not so collected and arranged as to be ready at all times for reference, by those whose business may lead them to do so.

The tower contains six well-toned bells, which, with the exception of the third (it being considered somewhat too sharp) are said, not only to sound well, but harmoniously. As many of my readers may be strangers to the belfrey, and not wishful to hazard an ascent up the awkward and difficult ladders, &c. which lead thereto, I shall briefly describe the ascent. The entrance is at the angle formed by the junction of the south aisle and transcept, where, after ascending two flights of steps, is the door leading to the ringing chamber; here the machinery belonging to the clock is placed; from hence you ascend a ladder into another Chamber where is the chimes machine; here also is an outlet to the roof of the nave; from this chamber another ladder leads to the belfrey; the following is a copy of the inscriptions which circumscribe the heads of the bells.

First, or Treble Bell.
Second Bell.
Third Bell.
Fourth Bell.
Fifth Bell.
Tenor Bell.
GOD SAVE his chvrch. 1590.

From this place a small ladder conveys you to top of the tower which forms an area of six hundred square feet, which is rendered perfectly secure by an embattled fabric raised five feet high. The old pinnacles, which were very diminutive in size, inferior in point of workmanship, were, a few years ago, found to be considerably decayed, and in the year 1816, it was agreed that they should be taken down and new ones erected. The whole of the new part is from the projecting ledge a little below the battlements; the pinnacles, which are eleven feet high, are considered light and highly ornamental to the ancient fabric.

* From the Register Book of Archbishop Greenfield, remaining in the consistory court at York.
# St. Swithin received his clerical tonsure, and put on the monastic habit, in the monastery at Winchester, and was pro- moted to holy orders by Helmstan, Bishop of Winchester; at whose death in 852, King Ethelwolf granted him the see. In this he continued eleven years, and died in 868.
± This Roger was the famous opponent of the celebrated Thomas a Becket. He, it appears, had given the church to that place some time previous to the above endowment, as that prelate died in 1190, so that a church had been in existence here long before 1258.
† Mr. Luddington, who was vicar of East Retford in 1660, informs us that this chapel was "near the greater church of York; in which Roger placed thirteen clarks of several orders, viz. four priests, four deacons, four subdeacons, and one sacrist,to celebrate divine service according to the constitution of that church of St. Peter; for whose support he gave the moyety of the church of Ottley, the church of Everton, the church of Sutton, with the chapel of Scrooby, and the church of Hayton, the church of Beardsey. The church of Claverly was of the gift of William Scoty, that of Hoton of William Pannel, that of Harewood of Amicia de Rumelly, and that of Thorpe of Adam de Bruis, and Javette de Arches his wife. Hamo the chanter of York, was by the said Archbishop Roger made sacrist of the said chapel of St. Mary and Holy Angells, that in it he might dispose and order the service, and procure and minister to the chaplains, deacons, and sub-deacons, what the archbishop had constituted for their food and rayment, &c. Every priest was to have yearly ten marks, every deacon one hundred, and every sub-deacon six marks of silver by the hand of the sacrist, who was also to have yearly ten marks, (though the rents whereof he was made procurator should happen to fall short to the rest) and the surplusage of all the rents, but was to act with all diligence according to the will and direction of the said archbishop." Mon. Angl. vol. 3. page 137.
‡ This Chapel was large, and appears to have extended to a considerable distance eastward, being the burial place of several of the parishioners who died in affluent circumstances; thus we find that Thomas Maunton, of East Retford, Berker, made his will, proved the 24th of May, 1425, giving his soul to God Almighty, St. Mary and All Saints, and his body to be buried in the quire of St. Trinity, within the Church of St. Swithin, of the said town. This and a number of others which our space will not allow us to mention, proves the fact above stated. We also find in 1442, Maud Wakefield died, giving her soul as above, and her body to be buried in the quire of St. Mary's, within the said Church; in 1443, Alexander Roley; in 1455, John Roley; in 1459, Thomas Lord; in the same year Ralph Hickson; in 1460, Thomas Strendall; in 1473, William Gill; and in 1513, John Helwys; each, and all, did as above.
$ The first organ which this church possessed came from the Theatre, at Newark, and was presented by Robert Sutton, Esq. and the gallery erected at his expense, in 1770. In 1787 an additional stop was introduced by Mr. Casterton, of Lincoln; and in 1707, the present organ was erected, and the front of the old one taken to the church at West Retford. The following is a list of the organists, with the dates of their appointment.
Sep. 14, 1770, Mr. W. Wilson.
Nov. 12,  1778, Mr. B. Young.
July 28, 1781, Mr. I. Goodlad.
July 18, 1791, Dr. Miller.
Oct. 8, 1797, Mr. John Gildon.
April 25, 1799, Mr. T. Hand.
July 2, 1607, Mr. J. Birch.
April 4, 1822, Mr. J. E. Clarke.
June 22, 1824, Mr. H. T. Bugg, present Organist.