St Mary's Church, Nottingham

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is the oldest religious foundation[1] in the City of Nottingham, England, the largest church after the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Nottingham and the largest mediaeval building in the city.

St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church Nottingham - - 2877003.jpg
St Mary's Church and the County War Memorial
St Mary's Church is located in Nottingham
St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church
Location within Nottingham
Coordinates: 52°57′4″N 1°8′34″W / 52.95111°N 1.14278°W / 52.95111; -1.14278
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
ChurchmanshipBook of Common Prayer / Broad Church
DedicationSt Mary the Virgin
Heritage designation
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated11 August 1952
Reference no.1342118
DioceseSouthwell and Nottingham
Vicar(s)The Rev'd Tom Gillum
Organist/Director of musicJohn Anthony Keys

The church is Grade I listed by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport as a building of outstanding architectural or historic interest.[2] It is one of only five Grade I listed buildings in the City of Nottingham.[3]

It is situated on High Pavement at the heart of the historic Lace Market district and is also known as St Mary's in the Lace Market. It is a member of the Major Churches Network, and part of the parish of All Saints', St Mary's and St Peter's, Nottingham.


The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book[1] and is believed to go back deep into Saxon times. The main body of the present building (at least the third on the site) dates from the end of the reign of Edward III (1377) to that of Henry VII (1485–1509). The nave was finished before 1475 and it is notable for its uniformity of gothic perpendicular style.[4] It is likely that the south aisle wall was the first part of the building to be constructed in the early 1380s, with the remainder of the nave and transepts being from the early 15th century.[5] The tower was completed in the reign of Henry VIII.[6]

The high altar with the reredos by George Frederick Bodley

The church was owned by Lenton Priory from 1108 to 1538[7] and the monks took the living of the church as Rector, and appointed a Vicar to perform the daily offices.

In 1513, a school was founded in the church by Dame Agnes Mellers as The Free School of the Town of Nottingham.[8] This is now Nottingham High School. In the Foundation Deed, Mellers provided that a Commemoration Service should be held in the church "on the Feast of The Translation of St Richard of Chichester". With the exception of the Goose Fair, it is the most ancient ceremonial event still perpetuated in the City of Nottingham,[9]

George Fox founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends, was imprisoned in Nottingham in 1649 after interrupting the preacher at St Mary's.

Nottingham Bluecoat School was founded in 1706, and the first lessons were taught in the porch of the church.

For several years from 1716, the church was used to house the town fire engine. It was kept at the west end, and was still there until at least 1770.[10]

St Mary's opened a workhouse in 1726 at the south end of Mansfield Road and ran it until 1834 when responsibility for workhouses was transferred from parishes to secular Boards of Guardians. The workhouse was demolished in 1895 to clear part of the site needed for the construction of the Nottingham Victoria railway station.[11]

The church was closed for 5 years from 1843 for a major restoration. It re-opened on 19 May 1848 when the Bishop of Lincoln John Kaye presided.[12]

First Sunday SchoolEdit

St Mary's pioneered Sunday School education for those children unable to attend a day school. Pupils were taught reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as religious knowledge. The first Sunday School was opened in 1751, 35 years before the generally acknowledged first Sunday School was founded in Gloucester by Robert Raikes.[13][14]

New parishes created from St Mary'sEdit


Chantry doorEdit

The chantry door is considered to be the oldest surviving door in Nottingham, dating from the 1370s or 1380s. it contains an example of iron work from the medieval period in the locking mechanism.[21]

The chantry room has latterly been used as a bonehouse, a coal store, and a chair store. It now contains a toilet for wheelchair users.

The survival of the door is likely to be due to the fact that it has not been heavily used, and is internal within the church.

List of vicars[22]Edit

Laying on of handsEdit

It was at St Mary's that the practice of laying on of hands by the Bishop during a Confirmation service was first observed ca. 1760 and documented by Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol.[23] It was performed by John Gilbert, Archbishop of York.


Bronze doorsEdit

The south porch doors are by the architect Henry Wilson. A complex work in bronze, the door contains 10 panels with New Testament scenes, and two door handles with cherubic heads. A further eight heads are on the cross pieces. Above, Christ and angel with doves.

The bronze doors were designed in 1904 by Henry Wilson in memory of his father-in-law, Rev. Francis Morse.

The intention of the design of the doors is to illustrate the Life of Our Lord in its relation with the Holy Mother to whom the church is dedicated and by the general treatment to suggest the idea of pity.

In the tympanum enclosed within a vesica the Holy Mother supports and cherishes the body of Christ, while in the spandrels, on either side, the gates of Death and Life are suggested: the Dove, typifying the spirit, enters weary into the one and issues strong-winged from the other, thus symbolising the unending round of Death and Life.

The dedicatory inscription "In loving memory of Francis Morse, 1818–1886, Father, Pastor, Friend" in the form of a pierced cresting, divides the tympanum from the doors themselves. These are formed into panels by mouldings of beaten bronze, with angel bosses at the intersections.

On each leaf of the door are five panels, in relief, illustrating the Life of Our Lord, the subjects on the left leaf being “The Annunciation,” with Gabriel appearing at the Virgin's window in the early morning; “The Visitation,” with the Virgin running to meet her kinswoman. Below these come “The Nativity,” followed by “The Epiphany,” and the lowest panel shows the Salvator Mundi on a Cross of branching vine. At the foot of the Cross stand Adam and Eve, conscious of the fall, while the doves of peace and pardon hover overhead.

The subjects of the panels on the right door of the leaf are “The flight into Egypt”; “The Baptism in the Jordan”; “The entry into Jerusalem”; The three Maries at the Sepulchre”; and “The Resurrection.” In this panel the Saviour is shown emerging from the tomb and while still bound with the grave clothes, the Spirit of Life, in the form of a Dove, flies to His breast, and overhead the birds sing at the coming of a new Dawn.

Other featuresEdit

The church has a fine collection of late Victorian stained glass windows by many famous makers, including Kempe, Burlison and Grylls and Hardman & Co..[24] The reredos above the altar is by the artist Charles Edgar Buckeridge.

It is also known for its octagonal mediaeval font with a palindromic Greek inscription ΝΙΨΟΝΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑΜΗΜΟΝΑΝΟΨΙΝ (Wash my transgressions, not only my face),[25] and a rather battered alabaster tomb fragment which portrays a lily crucifix[26] and a Nottingham Alabaster panel depicting Archbishop Thomas Becket.[27]

The church todayEdit

St Mary's internal dimensions[28] are

  • 215 feet (66 m) from west to east
  • 100 feet (30 m) from north to south (across the transepts)

while the tower stands 126 feet (38 m) above ground level.

The church has a wide ministry to many different groups. It is the Civic Church to the City of Nottingham. In the past, the election of the town mayor took place in the church and this tradition continues with a welcome to the new Lord Mayor of Nottingham in a service held each summer.

It is the University Church for the University of Nottingham[29] and several schools and organisations hold annual services here.

In recent years, in addition to its function as a place of worship, St Mary's is the venue for a wide range of concerts and public performances, and is home to the Nottingham Bach Choir.

The assistant curate at St Mary's takes the ancient title 'Lecturer'. This title, fell into disuse in the 17th century, was revived for Rev. John Pennington on his appointment in 1975. The last to hold the post was by Rev. Stephen Morris, until 2014.[citation needed]

The church retains the Book of Common Prayer, the traditional Liturgical colours and the principal services are sung by a robed choir.

St Mary's retains the historic practice of celebrating the Eucharist at a High Altar Ad orientem with priest and people facing eastwards, rather than the contemporary practice of Versus populum having the priest facing the congregation.


St Mary's vicarage until 2003

The vicarage of St Mary's was formerly at Washington House on High Pavement, but with the increasing industrialisation of the Lace Market at the end of the 19th century, the church purchased a new residence opposite the castle gatehouse. This was used as St Mary's Vicarage until Canon Eddie Neale retired in 2003.[30]

The adjoining property was the rectory for St Peter's Church, Nottingham.

A joint parish house has now been purchased in The Park Estate.

Notable burials in St Mary'sEdit

Notable marriages in the churchEdit

Bells and clockEdit

There are twelve bells in the ring.[32][33]

The first record of a tower clock dates from 1707 when a clock was installed by Richard Roe of Epperstone. This was replaced in 1807 by a clock by Thomas Hardy of Nottingham. The 1707 clock was moved to Staunton church.[34]

The current tower clock which dates from 1932 was installed by George & Francis Cope. It was the first electric auto-wind clock by that firm.



There are three choral services a week – Wednesday Evensong, Sunday Eucharist and Sunday Evensong. Under the leadership of John Keys, the Choir of St Mary's is highly regarded.[by whom?] Renowned[where?] for its versatility and wide repertoire it performs music from plainsong through to world premieres, performs regularly in concert on its own and with St Mary's resident orchestra, The Orchestra of the Restoration. Organ and Choral Scholarships[35] are available to students in full-time higher education.


The Organ is by Marcussen & Søn of Denmark and is a fine example of a neo-classical style instrument. It was installed in 1973 by the organist of the time, David Butterworth. It has 25 speaking stops and is a small organ for a church of this size. Nevertheless, it is an instrument of the highest quality which adequately gives musical support to choir and congregation as well as serving as a solo instrument.[36]


There are records of organs in the church in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but no record of any of the organists from this period has been found.[37]

Date Name Comments
1704–1712 Thomas Rathbone (d.1712)
1712–1755 William Lamb (d.1755)
1756–1802 Samuel Wise (c.1730–1802) formerly organist of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark-on-Trent and Southwell Minster
1802 – ???? John Pearson (c.1754–1832) organist until at least 1818
???? – 1831 John Pearson (c.1790–1831) date of appointment unknown but before 1825
1831–1836 William Aspull (1798–1875)
1836–1867 Charles C Noble (1812–1885) formerly organist of St Martin's Church, Stamford, latterly organist of St. Ann's Church, Nottingham
1867–1904 James Arthur Page FRCO (1846–1916)
1904–1914 William Frederick Dunnill FRCO ARCM (1880–1936) formerly organist of Christ Church, Surbiton and St Luke's Church, Bromley, latterly organist of Birmingham Cathedral
1914–1922 Frank Radcliffe MusDoc FRCO (1883–1922) formerly assistant organist of Manchester Cathedral and organist of St Wulfram's Church, Grantham
1922–1928 Vernon Sydney Read ARCM FRCO (1886–1980) formerly organist of Holy Trinity Church, Lenton, latterly organist of St John's Church, Torquay
1928–1954 Henry Oswald Hodgson FRCO (1886–1975)
1954–1956 David James Lumsden MA DPhil BMus HonFRCO (b. 1928) formerly assistant organist of St John's College, Cambridge, latterly organist of Southwell Minster and New College, Oxford
1957–1967 Russell Arthur Missin ThD FRCO(CHM) ADCM LTCL (1922–2002) formerly assistant organist of Ely Cathedral and Organist of St Mary's Church, Thetford, Holbeach Parish Church and All Saints' Church, Oakham, latterly organist of Newcastle Cathedral
1967–1983 David Sheeran Butterworth MA MusB FRCO(CHM) FRSA (b. 1946) latterly organist of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, Mansfield and St Mary's Church, Clifton, Nottingham
1984 – John Anthony Keys MA LRAM ARCM ARCO (b. 1956) formerly assistant organist of Chester Cathedral and Holy Trinity Church, Geneva and organist titulaire Eglise de St. Jean, Geneva

Organ scholarsEdit

  • David Gostick 1997–1998 (now director of music of Wimborne Minster)
  • Alistair Kirk 1998
  • Richard Leach 1999–2000
  • Simon Williams 2000–2003
  • Christopher Burton 2003–2004
  • Jamal Sutton 2004–2005
  • Nicola Harrington 2005
  • Ben Lewis-Smith 2006–2007
  • Simon Williams 2007–2009
  • Max Puller 2009–2010
  • Dominic Wong 2010–2011
  • Edward Byrne 2019–

References in literatureEdit

The church is mentioned in chapter 15 of Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.[38]

In the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk, Robin attends mass at St Mary's. The ballad is written in a manuscript dating from about 1450.

See alsoEdit

List of Greater ChurchesEdit


  1. ^ a b Domesday Book: A Complete Translation (Penguin Classics) ISBN 0-14-143994-7
  2. ^ Historic England. "Grade I (1342118)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 27 January 2009.
  3. ^ "Home". HeritageGateway. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  4. ^ Gill, Harry, 1916, Thoroton Society Transactions Volume XX. Architectural Notes on The Church of St. Mary the Virgin Nottingham.
  5. ^ Peters, D. J., 1974, A Short History and Guide to Nottingham Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin.
  6. ^ Allen, Frank J, 1932, The Great Church Towers of England. Chiefly of the Perpendicular Period Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ History and antiquities of Nottingham. James Orange. Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1840
  8. ^ A Concise Description of the Endowed Grammar Schools in England and Wales. Nicholas Carlisle. 1818
  9. ^ Founder's Day Programme of Events, Annual Publication, Nottingham High School Archives
  10. ^ Nottingham Date Book. John Frost Sutton. 1852. p.86
  11. ^ [1] Archived 14 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Nottingham Date Book. John Frost Sutton. 1852. p.510
  13. ^ Church of England in Notts & Derbys. 1911–1915, Parochial visitation of Edward Hoskyns Bishop of Southwell, Nottinghamshire Local Studies Library Ref. L21
  14. ^ Deering, Charles (1751). Nottinghamia vetus et nova: or, An historical account of the ancient and present state of the Town of Nottingham. "A society of good and well meaning persons which meet every Wednesday and Sunday evenings in the vestry of St. Mary's, pay yearly 6l. 8s. for the instruction of sixteen more poor children; and about six are put to school by the charity of private persons."
  15. ^ Colvin, Howard (1995). A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 (3rd ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 495–496. ISBN 0300060912.
  16. ^ William Stretton, Stretton Manuscripts. 1910
  17. ^ Cottingham, L. N. 1842–1843, Report to the Archdeacon and Churchwardens & Report on the Church Tower.
  18. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 2 February 2020.
  19. ^ Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Nottinghamshire. 1979. ISBN 0-300-09636-4
  20. ^ Temple Moore, An Architect of the Late Gothic Revival. Geoffrey Brandwood, 1997. ISBN 1-900289-03-2
  21. ^ Jane Geddes, Medieval Decorative Ironwork in England. Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 1999. ISBN 0-85431-273-0
  22. ^ Train, K. S. S., 1953, Thoroton Society Record Series XV. List of the Clergy of Central Nottinghamshire.
  23. ^ The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock: the celebrated orientalist. Leonard Twells, Zachary Pearce, Thomas Newton, Samuel Burdy, A.C. 1816
  24. ^ Hood, J. C. F., 1910, St. Mary's Church Nottingham.
  25. ^ Dictionary of phrase and fable. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer. Cassell, 1900
  26. ^ Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History. 1931
  27. ^ St. Thomas Becket in art. Tancred Borenius. Methuen & Co., ltd., 1932
  28. ^ Old and New Nottingham. William Howie Wylie, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853
  29. ^ Priory Demesne to University Campus: Topographic History of Nottingham University. F. O. Barnes. 1993. ISBN 0-900572-81-7
  30. ^ St. Mary's Parish Statement. St. Mary's PCC. 2003
  31. ^ T. M. Blagg (ed.), Abstracts of Nottinghamshire Marriage Licences 1701–53 (British Record Society Index Library, Vol. 60, London 1935)
  32. ^ Andrew Abbott, Nottingham Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, A Brief History of the Bells, March 1995.
  33. ^ Dawson, George A., 1995, The Church bells of Nottinghamshire Part II.
  34. ^ Beeson, C.F.C. English Church Clocks 1280-1850. Brant Wright Associates Ltd. ISBN 0903512149.
  35. ^ "St Mary's Choir Nottingham – choral scholarships". Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  36. ^ Link to details of the organ on the National Pipe Organ Register.
  37. ^ Abbott, Andrew; Whittle, John (1993). The Organs and Organists of St. Mary's Church, Nottingham. Rylands Press. ISBN 0-9521157-0-0.
  38. ^ Lawrence, David Herbert (1913). Sons and Lovers  – via Wikisource. "They threaded through the throng of church-people. The organ was still sounding in St. Mary’s. Dark figures came through the lighted doors; people were coming down the steps. The large coloured windows glowed up in the night. The church was like a great lantern suspended".

External linksEdit

  Media related to St Mary's Church, Nottingham at Wikimedia Commons