First published: December 2011
Author: Dave Cook, Priories Historical Society
Bassetlaw hosts many many buildings to various religions and orders of faith. This month I will look at some of the oldest of these establishments dating from the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods of history. They also provide a pleasant backdrop to the scenery in the landscape and any village scene as well as providing a focal point for the community and as a spiritual foci.
The tiny hamlet of Littleborough has one of the most impressive religious buildings in Nottinghamshire. St. Nicholas' is small but beautifully constructed with limestone in a herringbone pattern which also incorporates reused Roman tiles from the 1st century town of Segelocum which lies under the surrounding fields. The small chapel stands close to where the Roman road between Lincoln and Doncaster forded the river Trent. The age of the building is open to conjecture – it is either late Saxon or early Norman, it doesn't appear in Doomsday but this occurs in many cases where a church has been proven to exist at the time there are two Saxon pillars reused in the chancel arch and the misalignment of the east wall compared to the foundations suggest the rebuilding of an early structure. In 1684 a Roman grave was found in the graveyard suggesting the site may have been placed purposely over or near an ancient temple. In medieval times it was given to Welbeck Abbey. Restoration work carried out on the church by the Foljambe family involved filling in a door to the south of the building in 1832. The two bells in the small bellcote date to around 1200 and 1350 respectively and are possibly the oldest in the county. Restoration work carried out on the church was in 1900 which cost £300 and again in 1973. In the 17th century the building doubled as the school and during 1635 Samuel Holding taught there. The graves in the churchyard are also worth noting, There are several Victorian graves with apex tops and simple crosses in the centre which have been illuminated by the triangular windows cut around them, there is also a war grave a timely reminder of those who have died to defend our freedom. The building is out of use now and looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust, even in the early nineteenth century only saw one service a month. The building is accessible via the church warden who will give you the key to open the door.
Another older Saxon church lies in Carlton Barron, nowadays known as South Carlton. This Grade I listed church, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist has stood in the village since roughly the 7th century and is the oldest standing building in Bassetlaw. It was important enough to be mentioned in the Doomsday book as few churches feature in this mainly administrative book. The village at this time was also home to several thegns, probably explaining the existence of an early stone church rather than a wooden one which would have been the norm. The building has been enlarged and remodelled several times over the centuries although several remnants of Anglo-Saxon work remain such as the lower portions of the tower and several filled in windows. There is also a listed ashlar monument in the churchyard dating to the early nineteenth century. It has been dedicated to several saints over the centuries including St. James,St. Mary and All Hallows before settling as St. John’s in 1646. In the south east corner of the church is an unusual tympanum with the sun and moon with flowers, or stars, between them under what appears to be a fish, rainbow or even angels and in the middle a Maltese cross. Quite what all of these symbols mean has been lost to time along with the upper portions of the stone. Perhaps it was reused in another part of the church or is buried close by.
The church dedicated to St. Mary & St. Martin at Blyth is one of the finest 11th Century buildings in the country and was the first monastery constructed in Nottinghamshire. First founded in 1088 by Roger de Busli for the Benedictine order of monks from Rouen, France. The building sits between the main road to Doncaster and the gently flowing river Ryton with early Norman architecture Pevsner described as 'grimness'. The building still has a fascinating 'doom painting' depicting scenes of hell to help visualise what would happen to your soul if you sinned. The damaged effigy of a knight sits inside the church and may belong to one of the FitzWilliam family. Many knights would have visited the church due to its proximity to the royal tournament field. Sixteen years after the death of Richard of York
during the battle of Wakefield, his body was rested in the church during the night of 23rd July on its way down to Fotheringhay for burial. The monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII and only the prior, George Dalton, was pensioned off, possibly due to the conduct of the monks in 1536 which saw 5 tried for 'grave offences'. After the dissolution the monastic buildings were given to the Andrews and Ramsden families and over time pulled down probably to construct other buildings in the village. The whole east wing and central Norman tower were removed and later a new tower was constructed at the west end of the church. The north aisle at one point was separated from the church and used as a coal store and the end wall of the nave used as an aviary. In 1689, the owner of the church and village, Edward Mellish, created a new vault under the church and repairing the building for the villagers – his monument is to be found in the church above the vault.
These are just a few of the hundreds of beautiful buildings in our area so why not go out and take a look at the buildings where you live There are many tiny features to look for such as masons marks, effigies, fonts and memorials – you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.