Parish church

This old, grey Church, which is dedicated to S. Mary Magdalene, is situated at the west end of the town, on rising ground overlooking the surrounding country, and it is said that from the churchyard may be seen, on a clear day, the towers of Lincoln cathedral, at a distance of nearly forty miles. The first mention that we have in history of this church is in the Register of Thurgarton, page 67, where we read of Walter de Sutton giving it to the Priory of Thurgarton, which must have been late (c. 1268) in the 13th century; for Ranulph, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, confirmed this grant of the church, for the soul of his Lord King Edward II.; and Jordan, the son of Gerald de Sutton, added also some parcels of land to the aforesaid priory; and in the year 1328 the Church of Sutton-in-Ashfield yielded twenty marks yearly rent to the Priory of Thurgarton, the register of which informs us (page 178) that there was then half-a-carucat, which was a mark rent, and the tyth of the water mill was 5s., and John Frauncey paid for a toft 2s., which made the whole £14 7s. 0d. per annum. At the Reformation the great tithes were conveyed to the Nevylles, nnd from them to the family of Hardwick, of Hardwick. The famous Bess of Hardwick passed them on to the Cavendishes, Earls, and afterwards Dukes of Devonshire, from whom they passed in exchange to the Bentincks, Dukes of Portland, who in exchange for the same accepted lands at the time of the Forest enclosure to the amount of 1706 acres, since called "The Church Land," ahout one-half of which is now planted with trees, and the other is under cultivation, in the occupation of several farmers. The lay impropriator pays annually to the Vicar of Sutton twenty-six marks, viz., £17 6s. 8d. in lieu of the small tithes. The right of presentation to the church remains with the Dukes of Devonshire, the patronage thereof not having been included in the exchange effected by the two families, as related above. In addition to this annual payment the vicar receives £160 per annum from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, £52 per annum from Queen Anne's Bounty, the rent of twenty-three acres of land at Edingley, and the church fees, making in the whole a nett income of ahout £300 per annum.

The old East window.

The old East window.

The fabric of the church as it now stands consists of an embattled tower, 45ft high, surmounted with an octagonal spire of the same altitude: a nave, 64ft. by 66ft.; and a chancel, with an organ chamber 82ft. by 20ft. The whole church, including the chancel, accommodates about 600 worshippers; the seats are all open and free, subject to allotment by the churchwardens There are some few remains of Norman architecture about the structure; but by far the greater portion of it was built during the 14th and 15th centuries—some of the pillars being more ancient than the others. It has been repaired at different times, and in 1868 underwent a thorough restoration, at a cost of £2,000. The unsightly gallieries and pews were removed, and open seats placed instead of them. The side aisles were made longer and wider; an organ chamber was built; the windows and doors restored to their original size and shape; stained windows, placed by the Earl of Strafford and the Rev. Charles Bellairs (South Transept), Mr. W. Kinder (East window), Mr. E. Bonser (in the Tower), and Mrs. Kirk; the font given by Dr. Jephson, of Leamington; the pulpit, containing the following inscription:—"This pulpit is erected by friends and parishioners in memory of William Brooke Stevens, Incumbent of this Parish, who died October 22nd, 1866, aged 54. 'In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh,'"— given by members of the congregation as a memorial to the Rev. W. B.Stevens; beautiful church plate by the Rev. C. H. Prance. Miss Bellairs, and Mrs. Lancaster; a reredos by Mrs. Prance. The fittings for the chancel were provided by Lady Charlotte Denison. Lady Frederick Cavendish, Lady Lyttlelton, and others. At the same time, a wall and palisades were erected round the greater part of the churchyard, at the expense of the parishioners, and everything connected with the church put into good and efficient repair.

In the Chancel, adjacent to the Organ, is a beautiful Marble Tablet erected to the memory of William Unwin, Esq. containing the following inscription—

"Sacred to the Memory of William Unwin, Esq., whose remains are deposited in the vault adjoining, this Monvment is erected by his disconsolate Widow. He was born March the VII, MDCCXLI. He married April the XXI, MDCCL XVII, Eliiabeth Cradock, of Walsall in the covnty of Stafford, Spinster, end died Jvly the XIX, MDCCLXXIY, leaving issve Fovr Davghters Elizabeth, Mary Annie, Henri Hetta, and Lovisa. Snatch'd thvs early from a family whose happiness he sovght and constituted, and from prospects of svecess. proportioned to his active vniform vnblemish'd virtves. He was ardently lov'd, and will be long regretted by his friends, in the circle of whom he, if any man, might nvmber all chat knew him.'

Elizabeth married the Rev. T. Hurt, Vicar of Linby. and is buried there.

The following inscription also appears on a Brass Tablet immediately below:—

"In the same Vault are deposited the remains of Elizabeth, Widow of the above-named Wm. Unwin. She died March, 1816. Also, of three of their Daughters—Mary Annie, died November, 1805; Henrietta, died February, 1806: Louisa, born January 30th, 1774; died January 8th. 1857.''

A Hatchment—with the motto, Probitas Verus Honos ("Probity is true Honour,")—of the Unwin family now hangs on the West-end wall of the South Aisle. Prior to the restoration in 1868, it hung in the Nave immediately above the pews constantly used by the members of the family when worshipping in the Church.

Also, on the South side of the Chancel, is a neat mural Tablet to the memory of the Rev. W. Goodacre, the inscription being:— "Sacred to the Memory of the Rev. William Goodacre, Incumbent of this Parish, who, having for the long period of 39 years discharged the arduous duties of his sacred office, was taken to his rest November XIII, MDCCCLIX, in the LXXVI year of his age. With a firm trust in his Redeemer's merits, after having borne a long and severe illness with Christian fortitude, this Tablet is erected by his Parishioners and Friends in grateful recollection of his long and useful services."

The  Rev. WILLIAM GOODACRE. The rev. gentleman was incumbent at Sutton for 40 years, and probably did more hard work in the Church, at a very slender remuneration, than any clergyman of his day. He was incumbent, not only of Sutton, but also of Skegby, and of Mansfield Woodhouse, the united incomes of all three not amounting to £300 a year, and no residence. He would frequently commence the day with a full morning service at Mansfield Woodhouse, then perform a second at midday at Skegby, and finish up the day with a third at Sutton, with perhaps, a baptism, wedding, and burial in the intervals, and either a walk or a drive of 10 miles between the Churches. He brought up a large family, and bequeathed to them a precept which had been the guiding principle of his own laborious life, to "Owe no man anything, but to love one another."

The Archbishop of York being about to licence a Curate either to Kirkby or Sutton, the following Verses were written by the above-named rev. gentleman during his ministry in this locality, and as a result the Curate was licenced to Sutton :—

This journal of the eighth of May.
In eighteen hundred twenty-five,
Is penned to show that after all
The night is come and I'm alive.

My breakfast done at half-past eight,
I left my home and took my way
Towards Mansfield Woodhouse. where began
The labours of this toilsome day.

The Sunday Schools to teach the young
Their duty both to God and man,
I first inspected, and approved
The faithful labourers and their plan.

At half-past ten to church I went,
Said prayers and preached, four pairs did ask,
A woman churched, and half-past twelve
Completed saw my morning task.

I mounted steed, to Skegby rode,
Imparted to a female ill
The Holy Eucharist, as before
She had to me expressed her will.

At this place, too, I prayed and preached,
And set the congregation free;
Then mounting steed to Sutton hied,
And reached the church just after three.

Two children here I first baptised,
Then prayed and preached as heretofore;
Seven couples published—when the hour
Exceeded somewhat half-past four.

Two children more I christened then,
Ten minutes, too, in vestry stayed
Among the teachers of the school,
To hear some plans that they had made.

Again to Mansfield Woodhouse went,
A corpse in waiting there I found;
The last sad rites 'mid weeping friends
I read—and dust gave to the ground.

A fourth time then I prayed and preached,
And, this performed, the hour drew nigh
Whereof the kirk-hammer 'gainst the bell
Right hours would sound to passers-by.

Two children more I then did name,
In private manner as allowed
By Holy Church—tho' not approved—
But 'tis the humour of the crowd.

A person sick who wished my prayers
I called to see, as I was bound;
And after giving some advice,
My duty done with joy I found.

Bestowed with welcome by a friend,
Some food I ate with eager zest.
Which dinner or my supper call,
Or any name that you like best.

I sat awhile as loth to move;
But, knowing I was not at home.
I sallied forth, and safe arrived
Beneath my humble, peaceful dome.

This scrawl complete—the hour of " twelve"
Brings my day's labour to a close,
The past fatigue seoures my rest,
To yon I wish a sound repose.

In 1900, the following memorials were placed in the church by members of the Bonser family:—A handsome brass eagle lectern, bearing the inscription:—"To the glory of God, the beautifying of His Sanctuary, and in loving memory of William and Eliza Bonser, this Lectern is presented on Easter Day, 1900, by their children— Edward, George Gershom, and Florence." A beautiful stained window in the south aisle:—Lux Mundi (The Light of the World) and Pastor Bonus (The Good Shepherd), the following inscription being placed on a brass plate underneath:—"To the glory of God, and in memory of William Bonser, for many years warden of this church, who died on April 18th, 1891, aged 76 years; and Eliza, his wife, who died on March 22nd, 1885, aged 68; this window has been erected here by his sons—Arthur Howard and Harold."

In the steeple are three ancient bells, with the following inscriptions:

1. "Glory bee to God on high. 1656. G x D. SSSS."
2. "Jhesus bee our Sped. H x D. SSSSS."
3. "John Moore. Timothy Gregory. C.W."

The bells were re-hung in 1901 two having been re-cast. The names of the Rev. J, B. Hyde (Vicar), and Messrs. C. B. Beecroft and J. Briggs (Churchwardens), and J. Louis Jennings (Clerk), were added to the treble bell. The treble bell is 5cwts., middle bell 7cwts., tenor bell 9cwts.; aggregate, 21cwts.

There is a very ancient circular font of Norman date, and large enough for immersion, which for many years has been in the vicarage garden, having probably been placed there when the present font was presented by Dr. Jephson, but it is now lying disused in the belfry. In the church are several ancient flat stones, with crosses of different shapes and designs engraved upon them, probably of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and in the chancel is an oblong stone, from which the brasses have been removed, and another with a long bow and arrow engraved upon it, and which probably marks the resting place of one of the ver-derers, when Sutton-in-Ashfield was one of the twelve residences in the forest for the king's forest keepers. John Green was one of the last verderers in 1796.

In the church yard is an ancient yew tree, supposed to be about 700 years old, and which is now beginning to show evident signs of decay.

After the elapse of about 40 years, in 1904, another important improvement scheme was entered upon in connection with the church by the Rev. W. H. Williams, the then Vicar (now Vicar of S. Wilfrid's. North Muskham), and afterwards taken in hand by the Rev. F. J. Adams on becoming Vicar of the parish in September, 1905, the whole of the improvements being completed on May 9th, 1907. The total cost was £1894 17s. 6d.. towards which a "Thank-offering" on Sunday, February 25th, 1906, realised £250. The Duke of Portland,, with his cnstomary generosity, rendered handsome financial assistance, contributing £350 on behalf of the improvements and the alterations at the Vicarage. The work was completed in sections.

The first section was dedicated on June 9th, 1906, by Bishop Hamilton Baynes (Nottingham). This comprised a new organ chamber and choir and clergy vestries at the north-east end of the church. The choir vestry is 16ft by 14ft., access to which is obtained either via the organ chamber or the churchyard, where a new footpath has-been made, as well as to the adjoining clergy vestry, which is 16ft. by 8ft. Access to the latter can also be obtained through a doorway in the north wall of the chanel. The walls are built of stone from the Bolsover moor quarries and the "Parliament" quarry of Mansfield Woodhouse, the Bolsover stone being used for the dressings, and the Woodhouse stone for the rubble walling. The floors are formed of oak blocks laid on Portland cement concrete. The architect was Mr. F. P Cook, and builder Mr. C. Vallance, both of Mansfield. The Unwin family vault, which is now finally closed, was arched over to permit of the new vestries being erected. The organ chamber is 14ft. by 11ft. A new bell-ringers' chamber was put up in the tower, and the old chamber, where the baptismal font was placed, was thrown into the church and seated with chairs. The old vestry at the west end of the church was also utilised for seating accommodation. New choir stalls and clergy desks were also dedicated. The North stalls were given by Mr. and Mrs J. Briggs (parish warden of 27 years' standing), and the South stills by Mrs Banks to the memory of Dr Banks, who died at Sutton Dec 1, 1897. One of the clergy desks was given by the Allen family (an old Sutton family) to the memory of George Allen (sexton 39 years). Edward Allen (sexton about 20 years), and Samuel Allen (sexton 7 years, a great grandson of George Allen). A new sanctuary and chancel carpet was given anonymously; two new altar frontals by the Guild of S. Mary Magdalene and teachers and scholars of the Sunday School: oak altar rails by a member of the congregation for restoration from illness; and new massive brass altar candlesticks by Mr. and Mrs. H. North, who also gave the framed photographs in the clergy vestry of the following incumbents:—Rev. W. Goodacre, 1821-59; Rev. Wm. Brook Stevens, 1860-66; Rev. Charles Bellairs, 1867-74; Rev. F. Brodhurst, 1875-93 (now of Heath). Incumbents since—Rev. F. R. Pyper. 1893-96 (now of S. Andrew's, Nottingham); Rev. J. B. Hyde. 1896-1902 (now of Kirk Ireton); Rev. W. H.Williams, 1902-1905 (now of North Muskham); and then the present Vicar, who came September, 1905.