HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT EGMANTON

One of the earliest references to Egmanton ‘chapel’ (Eggemonton)  appears in a charter of John, Count of Mortain dated 1191x1193 that  describes  the gift of the chapelry of Blyth, with all its appurtenances, which includes  Egmanton, to the cathedral church of the blessed Mary of Rouen.

In 1252 the Papal Letters record that the rectory was valued at 8 marks (£5 6s 8d) when Master Richard de Chireburne, then rector, was granted licence to hold an additional benefice by Pope Innocent IV.

The church was originally in the patronage of the De Eyville   (D’Aville) family, the Lords of Egmanton, who acquired the village from  Nigel d’Albini  in the reign of Henry I, and may have sponsored its  construction or at least  its development from a chapel to a parish  church. It was passed down the family  until the reign of Henry III in  the early 13th century, when Sir  John de Eyville (who would go on to be  a leading rebel against the king in the  Second Baron’s War) gifted the  patronage of the church to the Priory of Newstead, which belonged to the Augustinian Canons. In 1291 the church, still with the priory as patrons, was valued at £10 in a religious tax of that year, a surprisingly small amount given the additional donations the  pilgrimages must have provided.

In 1315 there was an incident whereby the church and manse were forcibly entered during a vacancy following the death of Roger de Bergh, the previous rector. Archbishop Greenfield issued a mandate to the  Dean of  Retford to denounce and excommunicate those persons who had  committed this  crime.

The priory at Newstead struggled financially through much of  its existence. In response to a plea for financial assistance, Edward II  granted the priory a royal  licence in 1315, permitting it to appropriate  Egmanton Church to the  priory, bringing it, and its income directly under the  control of the  Augustinians. However the appropriation did not take place then due  to  opposition from the Archbishop of York, William Melton. In the end Papal letters had to be issued in 1326-7 to override his objections and even  o it was two more  years before the archbishop published the decree of  appropriation on 22 June 1329.

The reason given for the appropriation is the poor state of  the  priory due to its distance from any villages and its position along the   public road meaning many travellers would use the priory to rest for  the night.  The church was appropriated but the priory was expected to  appoint a perpetual  vicar to Egmanton, to construct a hall, chamber,  and kitchen for his habitation and to allocate 20 acres of arable and 3  acres of meadow land as well as the  mortuary tithes and all other  small tithes to support him.  The priory also had  to pay an annual pension of 6s 8d to the archbishop and his successors.

Interestingly, in a writ of 1342, the church of Egmanton was  still  being referred to as a ‘chapel’ and there is confirmation that it was  ‘not  alienated by Walter, sometime archbishop of Rouen, his canons or  their successors’.

In 1341 the church was valued at 12 marks (£8) for the ninths  of sheaves, lambs, and their fleeces in the Nonarum  Inquisitions  – a religious tax of that year. The church also had 11 acres  of land  attached to it (noticeably less than half what the 1329 decree had   ordered), worth 30s a year, and received both tithes of hay worth 10s  and  mortuary offerings worth 26s 6d; a total of £11 6s 6d.  No mention is given of  the impact of the shrine and pilgrimages on the church or  how much of this  income went instead to the priory rather than being  used for Egmanton itself,  particularly when compared to what was  supposed to go to Egmanton’s vicar. In 1428 a later tax showed Egmanton had the same value as in 1291, £10.

In 1531 Richard Cuxton, a local gentleman, asked in his will  that  his soul be given ‘to God Almighty, St Mary and All Saints, and his body to be buried in the Church of Our Blessed Lady of Egmanton’. Such  would have  been a common occurrence, especially given the holiness  imbued by the shrine of  the Virgin Mary. Donations were also common –  three years after this John Marshall, the rector at South Wheatley, bequeathed 3s 4d to the church.

The Reformation brought dramatic changes to the Church in England, and Egmanton was no exception. After Henry VIII seized control of the  English Church he made great efforts to close  down the priories and abbeys and confiscate their wealth, and as part of this surveyed these  institutions to judge their value. Egmanton was valued at £8 13s  4d,  which made it the richest of Newstead’s six attached rectories. Although the priory managed to avoid closure initially by paying a heavy fine  the delay was brief and in 1539 the priory at Newstead was suppressed.  Soon after Sir John  Byron (ancestor to the famous poet) purchased the  priory along with all its  lands and advowsons. Although the priory  building remained in the Byron family  for three hundred years the  church at Egmanton was at some point sold on. The records for 1546  state that Robert and Hugh Thornehill had petitioned to purchase the parsonage of Egmanton from John Bellowes, who had licence to alienate  the  rectory and church.

The Reformation also resulted in the closure and destruction of the Marian shrine at Egmanton in 1547. For the next four hundred years there were no pilgrims travelling to visit the church, which now became just an ordinary parish church.

In 1559 the Act of Uniformity was issued by the newly  crowned Queen  Elizabeth I in an attempt to finally and firmly establish the  nature of  the new Anglican Church. All clergymen were expected to appear to   report their acquiescence with the new Act. Egmanton’s vicar at the time did not appear, along with fifty other priests, and was declared contumacious (a legal term for a refusal to obey authority).  However it  is likely that soon  afterwards these priests eventually complied, as there is no mention of further action being taken against them.

Two of the surviving monuments in the church today date to  the Elizabethan period. In 1579 an alabaster slab was set up in the chancel as  a memorial to Nicholas Powtrell and his  two wives. Nicholas Powtrell had been a  serjeant-at-law and justice of  the assize at Lancaster and had purchased Egmanton Hall in 1554 from  Sir Edward Stanhope. He was buried in the chancel at  Egmanton. A wall monument  also survives from this period. It is dedicated to ‘William  Cardinall,  one of Her Majesty’s Honourable Counsel, established in the northern   parts, 1598’.

In 1589 the churchwardens presented that the church walls  were in  decay, and in 1609 they stated that: ‘we have amended all things that  were amiss about our church and churchyard’. By 1620 all seems to have  been in good order as they reported that: ‘the ornaments of the church  are sufficient, the church yard and vicarage house are in good repair, the sacraments were duly administered last Easter, and other duties  orderly performed’, although in the  following year they mention that  the quire was in disrepair, the default of Mr  Ed. Hall.  In c.1635  it was reported  that a school was kept in the church, that font cover  was ‘ill’, the seats were  not unform, and the churchyard fence was also  ‘ill’.

Religious divisions remained in the 17th century. Several inhabitants of Egmanton were presented as papal recusants. These   include John Sudbury and his wife, their son John and his wife, George  Booth  and his wife and servant, Stephen Burton and his wife and Elizabeth Elvys.

In 1676 a census was taken, showing Egmanton had 140 people  living  there, but only one of whom was recorded as a dissenter. The vicar at Egmanton was Ralph Worsey. He was still vicar thirteen years later when  he took  the Oaths of Allegiance to the new monarchs, William III and  Mary II, who had  just assumed the throne in the ‘Glorious Revolution’  that deposed the Stuart  kings.

More records survive from the 18th century. In 1743 the Archbishop  of York, Thomas Herring, made a visitation to Southwell and  each parish  priest was expected to report on the state of their parish.  Benjamin  Clay was the vicar at Egmanton at the time – he had been installed in 1718. Egmanton at the time had 50 households and 4 of the inhabitants  were  Quakers. Benjamin Clay resided in Egmanton and gave services in  the church  twice every Sunday. He also gave the Sacrament five times a year with about 150  communicants, 30-40 of whom typically receive the  Sacrament.

Most of these figures are typical for the period although giving services twice each week is more than many priests managed. It no doubt helped that unlike many of his colleagues Benjamin Clay was only  responsible for one parish, his attention therefore not being divided.  In 1764 the new  vicar, Matthew Markland, was also the vicar at Sutton-on-Trent  and although he too resided in Egmanton he only gave the Sacrament  four times a year and did  not report giving additional Sunday services.  He did request that the Archbishop direct some better repairs to churchyard fences in the country parishes, which he clearly felt had  been neglected.

It became the custom in Egmanton for couples who had been  married in  the church to give a cake to the church bell ringers, who in turn would inscribe their names in the belfry. The earliest recorded names  date to 1734 and continued through the 18th and 19th centuries.  Sadly,  the list was removed as part of the restoration work done at the end of   the 19th century.

A tablet in the church dated to 1750 states that Christopher Sudbury  gave 2 acres of land in the south fields and 2 rood of land in the east   fields and finally an estimated 1 acre 1 rood of land in the west  fields to the poor of the village.

In 1821 Egmanton was enclosed under the Acts of Enclosure.  As part  of the distribution of land the vicar was assigned 36 acres 36 perch of   local farmland. At the time the church already had 63 acres 2 rood 17 perch of glebe land  - enough land to make the  church well off, but  not rich. In 1851 the church’s land was valued at £131 per  annum.

By 1832 the patronage of the church had passed into the  hands of  Pendock Barry, esquire. He however sold the reversion to the Duke of   Newcastle – who lived at Clumber Hall in the Dukeries - and after his  death it passed to the Duke. He and his sons remained as patrons until the end of the century.

The church remained active. In the 1851 religious census,  when  Edward Younghusband was the vicar, the village population was 429  people,  and the church had a congregation of 127 people, including 50  attending Sunday School.

A tradition of the church recorded from the 19th century is the  storing of a large ham at the church. This was kept ready for  one of  the local families, who were accustomed to bury their dead ‘in ham’ –   the ham was eaten at a feast after the funeral.

During the 1890s the 7th Duke of Newcastle, a prominent  Anglo-Catholic, sponsored a series of repairs and reconstructions of   the church. In 1893 the church, particularly the tower, was restored at a  cost  of £1,500, during which the list of married couples in the belfry was removed.  The old bells were sold off and replaced with a new set  of three made by J Taylor and Co, Loughborough-based founders. The new  bells were presented by Mrs  M O Gibson in memory of her parents Francis  and Ann Tomkin. Bishop Ridding, in  his second visitation in 1892,  reported that ‘the two worst ruins promised to  be fully restored this  year at Egmanton, and Woodborough, and are nearly  completed’.

In 1897 the Duke hired the Scottish architect John Ninian Comper  to lead the restoration work. Comper added a new organ above the south  entrance, its casing modelled on that at Freiburg Cathedral, a pulpit based on the medieval one at Ghent, and a very colourful, new rood screen. He also built  a new shrine to St Mary, finally replacing the one destroyed in the Reformation. In the wake of  Comper’s work, the Duke spent over £2,000 more rebuilding and   reroofing the chancel and in decorative work inside the church.

Late on in the Duke’s life, sometime before 1922, he sold the patronage of Egmanton to the Society for the Maintenance of Faith. By  this time  pilgrims had begun to visit Egmanton and its rebuilt shrine  once more and there  was increasing interest in the church. In 1912 congregations of over 200 people  were common and a parish society, the  Guild of Our Lady of Egmanton, had been  formed to help run local church  activities. Between them and the vicars, work  continued on improving  and modernising the church, helping to attract further  pilgrims. The Reverend A H Manning, vicar at Egmanton in the 1920s, sponsored a  new sacristy for the church, as well as improving the heating.

Manning died in 1928, soon after moving to a church in Exeter, and  in his memory villagers donated a 15th century funeral  veil and an  altar stone. The new vicar, the Reverend Silas Harris, donated a   crucifix for the new sacristy. Harris was a big supporter of the shrine and spent much of his time as vicar promoting it.

Since its restoration in 1897 pilgrims had been visiting but  it was  only in 1929, at Easter, that the first organised group pilgrimage took   place, with pilgrims coming from Leicester, Leeds, Sheffield, Lincoln,  and more  locally. A year later the Rev. Alfred Hope Patten, who had  restored the shrine  of Our Lady of Walsingham, made the trip along with  a group of his people and gifted a banner to the church, which is  still there today. Since then many  other pilgrimages have been made to Egmanton.

It is particularly popular amongst Anglo-Catholics – those  within  the Church of England who emphasise the Catholic side of the Church’s   doctrine. The Society of Our Lady of Egmanton continues to organise  regular pilgrimages each year, starting with the summer pilgrimage in  June, then a  youth pilgrimage in July, an Assumptiontide pilgrimage in  August, a September/ October pilgrimage and finally an Annual Requiem each November.

In 1938 plans were suggested to merge Egmanton parish with  nearby Kirton  parish, as both were under the patronage of the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith. The plan was opposed by many Egmanton locals, including the Rev. Silas Harris. He argued that both villages could  expect to become  larger and more affluent (and so more appropriate as  separate parishes) thanks  to the new coal pits being dug nearby. Furthermore there were villages closer  to Egmanton than Kirton.

Harris was also an ardent believer in his faith and was  concerned  about the growing lack of interest in the church, which he saw as a dangerous trend. In his arguments he stated that there had been a  conspiracy  amongst local dissenters to take over the land in the  village, against which  the church was a bulwark, and that even then  these dissenters had forced down  the value of church land by leaving it  uncultivated.

In 2004 the art conservator Michelle Pepper was brought in  to  restore the rood screen and the shrine’s icons and decorations that  Comper  had created over a hundred years before. Her work was partially  funded by the  Nottinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.

In 2014, also part funded by the Trust, the  Comper organ case was also restored.