A Brief History of Beeston Church- St John the Baptist

by Joe Earp

At the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066, the then village of Beeston had three Saxon Manors belonging to Alfag, Alwine and Ulchel. By 1086 these had passed to the Lordship of William Peverel. Although there is no mention of a church in Beeston at the time of the Domesday – 1086, – it is likely that one existed. When Peverel endowed his Priory at Lenton he gave the ‘living of the church’ and the right to appoint a vicar to the monks. Probably under their influence, the simple wattle and daub structure evolved into a substantial stone building on the site of the present church. The font to the church is ‘Early Englsih’ and dates to the first stone built church on the site, built around the thirteenth century.

For the next 400 years not only the Church but the whole of Beeston and its villagers came under the control of the powerful Lenton Priory. By the year 1583, – the year of the Priory’s Dissolution under Henry VIII, – the medieval building had reached its height. After the Dissolution the Crown retained possession of the advowson of the vicarage. It was in the 16th century when the plague carried a way a third of Beeston’s population of between 300 and 350 souls. Their bodies were interred in a communal grave inside the Churchyard, this later became known as ‘the plague hole’.

The church was rebuilt under Henry VIII, using stones from the fourteenth century church. It was in late perpendicular architectural style, with a nave, chancel and small tower on the south side. It could accommodate 270 people in enclosed pews, of which only 35 were free and unappropriated. There was a doorway in the south wall of the chancel, used at this time by priests, but it is now blocked by the choir stalls

The church, except the chancel, was rebuilt in 1843 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The new church was built to seat 800 and cost approximately £3,500, of which £3,100 was raised by public subscription, thanks to the efforts of the Rev F.T.Wolley. Wolley’s wife laid the foundation stone for the rebuilding, but died before it was completed. The church was reconsecrated on 5 September 1844 by the Bishop of Lincoln, and a special train was laid on from Nottingham for the service, which included the consecration, morning prayer, Communion service and a confirmation.

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St John the Baptist Parish Church, High Road, Beeston, c 1904- Photo Credit: Picture the Past.

Since 1843, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s church has served the community of Beeston well. In 2007 a £860,000 re-ordering and renovation moved the main entrance to the west end, and cleaned the interior, with new heating, seating and a new organ. The next major stage of the restoration was in January 2012 and cost £5,000. This was to replace the lead on the roof after it had twice been targeted by thieves.

The final stage started in June 2013 and included cleaning of all masonry and re-pointing open joints, which cost £40,000. Stone restorer and cleaner Ivan Sorockyj reported to the Nottingham Post in January 2014: “I have worked on the project since the start and now it is finished it looks brilliant. We used a lime mortar as part of the restoration which is what was originally used when the church was built. The only problem we experienced was doing our work around the day-to-day running of the church because we obviously had to stop for services and funerals. It has been a great pleasure to work on and you can tell the difference.”

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Beeston Church during the restoration and cleaning, August 2013- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Most recently the church has seen even more changes with the tram developments around the town. Part of the tram route goes past the church and leads to the Beeston Tram Station. It has been quite interesting to note how much of the tram tracks have taken up the churchyard.  Over the summer of 2013 a skeleton of a woman dating to the Victorian period was exhumed after it was discovered during the tram construction work. The Rev Wayne Plimmer, vicar at Beeston Parish Church, made a statement to the Nottingham Post regrading the skelton: “What has been discovered is the remains of a Victorian burial. Because it’s a full skeleton the contractors have to get the Ministry of Justice’s permission to exhume the remains. Part of that process is ascertaining if there are any living relatives. As long as the remains are treated with decency I’m philosophical about it. Any kind of activity around this body will be undertaken with dignity.”

The churchyard was closed for burials in the late 19th century, while gravestones were moved from the original plots to the sides of the graveyard in the mid 1950s. During the period of tram construction work around the church it is sad to see how many gravestones have been damaged and destroyed. Recently some more gravestones and a magnificent looking sandstone tomb were left broken up awaiting to be took away.

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The photograph shows recent broken gravestones caused by the tram works, awaiting to be took away- Photo Credit: Joe Earp.

Despite all of the recent works on the church and around the surrounding area, the future looks bright for the next chapter of the church’s history. The Rev Wayne Plimmer commented: “We are a thriving church. The churchyard is a feature of Beeston and when the tram comes it will be a focal point.”

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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