The history of the parish and building
The parish of St. Nicholas lies to the west of the city centre of Nottingham. With the demolition of slum housing in the Broadmarsh area during the 1960’s to make way for Maid Marian Way, St. Nicholas was left without any parishioners in its parish boundaries. Members are currently drawn from all over the city and suburbs of Nottingham.
The church is the most significant building of historic interest and aesthetic value in the Broadmarsh area of the city. Its graveyard provides the only area of green space other than the castle grounds elevated on the other side of Maid Marian Way.
St Nics’ location within the city and adjacent to a main thoroughfare exposes it to passing visitors placed as it is like a beacon on one side of the city and ideally situated to play a major part in the proposed development of one of the main shopping centres of Nottingham.
St. Nicholas is the Patron of youth, of merchants and of sailors and travellers. It is possible that there might have been some slight connection with sailors or bargemen as St. Nicholas is the nearest church to the Leen, which may have been more navigable in the past. The dedication takes on fresh significance today as the church, in the commercial centre of the city, has an extensive ministry to young people and seeks to help them navigate the complex landscape of the 21st century.
A church of St. Nicholas was erected on the site of the present building soon after the conquest. Originally it seems to have been very like St. Peter’s church in appearance, and was quietly serving as a parish church until 1642. During the English Civil War, Colonel Hutchinson held Nottingham Castle for the Parliament, and was attacked by a body of Newark people acting for the King. They established themselves in the tower of the old St. Nicholas Church, and proceeded to bombard the garrison of the castle with such effect that they were dislodged. Colonel Hutchinson didn’t want to expose his men again and so caused the church to be completely destroyed. Its materials were carted away and used for other purposes. The site of St. Nicholas' Church remained void and desolate for twenty-five years.
From this time, St. Nicholas’ congregation was given its own space to worship separately in St. Peter’s, until this church too was destroyed in 1644. It is not known what happened to the St. Nicholas’ congregation after that but they undoubtedly remained as a group determined to rebuild St. Nicholas.
In 1671, a fresh start was made and the new church was completed in 1678. It was cruciform in plan and its nave lacked aisles, but it is a typical church of its period. The best view we get of this church is about 1740, in a series of probably Thomas and Paul Sandby plates, prepared for the illustration of Deering’s (Nottingham historian) work. Here we find a west door in the tower approached by four steps, which was then possible, as the west walk was not railed off or sunk below the level of the graveyard.
In 1714 a curious and hidden inscription was found on one of the rafters saying “This Church was burnt and pulled down in 1647 and begun again in 1671.” The Rector and Sexton signed it.
Early in the 18th century as so much room was required for the voluminous skirts of the ladies; spacious square pews were added as were galleries for “the humbler portion of the parishioners”. These pews were removed later and some idea of their woodwork can be gathered from the contemporary panelling which still remains in the chancel. The small organ erected in 1811 was replaced in 1848 by one purchased from the Roman Catholic Chapel in George Street. This necessitated an organ chamber to be built in order to accommodate it. This organ, modernised and rebuilt remained incorporated in the modern organ of the church until April 2009.
White’s directory of Nottinghamshire 1853 states, “St. Nicholas’ Church is a neat, brick edifice ornamented with stone, and like St. Peter’s, shaded by a number of trees. It occupies a pleasant situation to the south side of Castlegate (now Maid Marian Way) whence its large burial ground extends to Chesterfield Street and Rosemary Lane. The building was commenced in 1671, and finished in 1678, on the same site. The present edifice has a light and airy appearance, and has a tower with one bell at the west end. It has a spacious nave and two side aisles. The southernmost of which was much enlarged by subscription in 1756; and a similar extension of the north aisle took place in 1783, when £500 was raised for the purpose. It has since been paved and ornamented with a handsome pulpit, and also a new gallery on the north side. The organ was erected in 1811”.
Inside the church has a very architecture. It had a black and white gabled roof, built in 1848, which historians argue seems to be out of keeping with the round headed windows typical of the Georgian period. They believe that a flat ceiling would have been the original design. There are six round columns carrying the roof and they have “a strange appearance and one misses the arches which one would have expected to see borne by such columns.” There is a beautiful three-centred chancel arch, and the elaborate moulding of the flat ceiling of the chancel is of fine workmanship.
In 1863 the interior of the church was remodelled. New pews were installed and all galleries were removed except one which remained on the west wall. The old gallery fronts were transformed into chancel stalls for the accommodation of a surpliced choir. A portion of the old gallery fronts were also placed by the NW doors, this has since been moved into the tower. A new oak lectern was provided in 1899. Mr. T. C. Hine noted a ‘curtained dossal covering the grim wainscot of the chancel walls’.
The original pews are no longer in place, other than a few that remained in the gallery until 2011. The chancel rails mentioned in Pevsner are now leaning against a wall in the vestry. The inlaid wooden pulpit may well have been made in the early days of the 18th century. The church has a historic nickname of “the Drawing Room Church.”
No burials have taken place in the churchyard since 1881.
There is The Royal Arms over the north door and the Newdigate Achievement in the gallery and may be of interest to heraldry students, but the rest of the monuments are only important in showing the ordinary life of the town in the 18th century.
The East window dates from 1913. It is five lights tall. Two of the lights depict St. Nicholas, the patron Saint of the church. It was filled with stained glass in memory of Mrs. Preston (Arundell). The window in the south aisle was donated by J. Francis Townend after the 1st World War as a thanksgiving for the safe return of his two sons. It depicts the Risen Christ in all His Glory.
In 1953 the church was designated a listed building- grade 2*
During a survey of the roof a pinnacle was noted to be in a dangerous state and was removed. It was suggested that the remaining ones be examined carefully and frequently and to remove if necessary. The roof was showing considerable signs of decay and this had led to dry rot to the panelling in the chancel.
The lead on the north and south aisles were either renewed or recast when the interior of the church was remodelled in 1863.
Redecoration of the church late 1950’s
A letter dated 1955 states “that the church has suffered neglect and decay over very many years and has put the church in danger and it was at one time in the balance as to whether it should be closed and demolished.
The tower was restored in 1961. The Historic Churches Preservation Trust gave a grant of £500 towards this. The lightening conductor was discussed 1961 as there wasn’t one post restoration.
The pinnacles have at some point been removed as noted in picture of 1959. The cherry trees look as if they have been newly planted. This would have been shortly after completion of the new road through the city – Maid Marian Way. Also at this time the south aisle windows were repaired.
The chancel was reorganised, as detailed by the plans dated 1956. Ten brass memorials were lifted from the floor and mounted on walls. The chancel furniture was removed and the floor levelled. A music area was designed in the SE corner. The organ was also moved to the SE. The pulpit was modified and the communion rails were removed as were the choir stalls
The choir vestry at the back under the south west balcony was altered to make a kitchen and toilets. On 8.5.1981 a faculty was applied for:
For 2 Glastonbury chairs and 2 reading desks made in elm and stained to match the panelling.
A yew cross 28” high, made from Yew – designed by Alistair Campbell.
Remove old communion table
Raise the present communion table by 3”.
The pulpit was modified and moved to the left of the chancel.
The design of the 2 reading desks uses part of the old communion rail and use with the large sanctuary chairs, which are excellent examples of 18th century woodwork, probably about 1815. They would also match the credence table. The Altar rails were removed and stripped of the “dark treacly stuff” put on them over the years, then re-stained prior to being made into the desks. (Gilbert and Hall LTD 1982).
The old communion table was to be reverently disposed of by burning as it had no historical or architectural interest (12.3.1982). It had remained in position on the east wall until a decision was made, as there was no diocesan store for unwanted furniture. The lectern was to be kept in the vestry until storage was available.
It was also reported around this time that we must ensure that the guttering and downpipes are kept clean. They create damp problems.
Lime wash should be used on the walls (letter dated 1985). Emulsion in theory vapour permeable, does not allow moisture to dry out easily.
The 1985 church redesign report states that the pews are beyond repair. It was planned in this redesign to construct a new gallery in the NW corner but it was agreed (1990) that this would need such a complex support system that the net seating capacity gained would be negligible. The people were persuaded by the architect to relook at the idea of a tower room. New opening lights were to be fitted into the windows to improve ventilation and at the two north doors the inner porches to be removed. It was planned that these doors would be sealed and fitted with panic bolts and to open outwards as fire doors when the new west door was fitted.
This redesign project was committed to giving 10% of money raised to external projects. £3,000 from the redesign fund was donated to Action for Hope.
A new heating plant was needed and the idea was to construct a new room for this at the NE corner of the church. However due to the number of burials found in an underground vault this proved an impossible task except at great trouble and expense, so this idea was abandoned. The new heating plant was placed in the existing basement boiler room in the SW corner.
The cost of phase 2 of this project was estimated at £87,000 to be raised entirely by church members. They wanted this commitment to be ‘strong and built to last, benefitting generations well beyond the year 2000.
The column plinths were reduced in size to increase visibility. All the pews, apart from a few in the gallery, were removed. It was hoped that a new sunken baptismal pool would be placed towards the front of the nave
The font was designed in 1990 by Pauline Holmes. The silver rods echo the pillars, arches and windows in the church. The hexagonal top holding the silver dish refers to the pulpit shape. The cost was £550.