Gamston is listed three times in Domesday Book: two manors forming part of the lands of Roger of Poitou and two gardens belonging to East Markham and Eaton. There is no mention of either a church or a priest.
The oldest surviving fabric of the present church has been dated to the end of the 13th century, yet there was certainly a church at Gamston by the late 12th century. Around 1185, Roger de Mattersey founded the Gilbertine priory of Mattersey dedicated to St Helen, and granted the advowson of Gamston church to the canons of that establishment.
In 1192 this grant was disputed by the abbot of Welbeck, but Gamston remained under the patronage of the Gilbertine canons by judgement of the abbot of Darley to whom the cause had been committed by Pope Celestine III.
In a charter dated between 1191 and 1193 by John, Count of Mortain (later King John), he gave the church of Blyth with all its appurtenances, which included the chapel of Gamston, to the cathedral of the blessed Mary at Rouen. This is clearly at odds with Mattersey’s claim and in 1342 an inquisition was held by the escheator of the county, Nicholas de Langford, that established that Gamston, along with Kirton and Egmanton, all described as chapels, had not been alienated by the archbishop of Rouen or his successors. The inquisition also found that ‘they say that the advowson of the church of Gameleston was in the hands of Robert, Prior of Mathersey [Mattersey], and his predecessors from time immemorial’.
The advowson remained an issue of some controversy in the thirteenth century, and on 27 January 1266 it was recorded that both the prior of Mattersey and Sir Thomas de Mattersey had presented clerks to the church, although the later renounced his appointment in favour of the prior.
On 12 May 1270, archbishop Giffard licenced Roger of Doncaster, a clerk, to hold Gamston church in commendum (ie in the manner of a layman’s benefice, without spiritual obligation).
Although the history of the church of Gamston is closely linked to that of the priory of Mattersey, relations between the two establishments were not always harmonious and in February 1301 the archbishop of York passed judgment against the rector of Gamston who had tried to resist paying an annual pension of 2 marks to the Gilbertine canons as patrons of the church.
In 1309, archbishop Greenfield granted the rector, Master Philip de Barton, licence to celebrate worship in a private oratory in the manor, presumably that of Haughton.
The church of ‘Gamelston’ was valued at £13 6s 8d for the ecclesiastical taxation assessment of 1291. In 1428 the church was assessed at 26s 8d for tax purposes under Henry VI (ie 10% of £13 6s 8d, showing that there had been no change in value between 1291 and 1428). There is some documentary evidence from the fifteenth century for enrichments made to the fabric of the church. In 1409 George Montboucher left 10 marks in his will for the fabric of the church. In 1470, one Thomas Thurland left by his will £40 for the ‘making of Gamelston steeple’, whilst his son, also Thomas, willed to be buried in the chancel near the image of Saint Peter and provided that the balance owed by the church for the making of three bells be paid out of his estate. Thomas also willed that a priest sing for his soul in Gamston church for ten years and be paid three marks yearly.
On 3 October 1538 Mattersey Priory was suppressed and on 4 November 1539 the temporalities were granted to Anthony Nevill, esquire of the king’s body. The advowson thereby passed to the assignees of Henry VIII and the church remained a crown living until the nineteenth century when it was transferred to the bishop of Manchester.
In the sixteenth century there is evidence for a rector of Gamston stealing from the church: on 6 May 1582, Richard Slynet was cited to ecclesiastical court because he ‘retayneth a crosse, with a staffe, and certayne candlestycks being church goodes’. Slynet admitted he had sold a ‘crosse’ as well as two ‘sencers’ and two candlesticks, and was ordered to pay 4s 8d to the parishioners for the stolen implements.
In 1596 the churchwardens were clearly unhappy with their rector as they returned that:
Mr Birkhead, parson, is not a preacher but expounds in his parish church; they have only had two sermons in twelve months, and they were both on one day; the parson churched one Frances Collinton, a fornicatrix, and suffered her to depart unpunished...
In 1603 a much happier state of affairs was reported:
1. our minister is a preacher licensed in 1593, and Bachellar of Artes in Camb., 1590; his benefice is in the King's Books as £10 12s 8 3/4d; 2, 3 and 4. our parson is not double beneficed, and we have no recusants in our parish; 5. we have 78 communicants and no non-communicants except minors under 14 years of age, numbering 59.
All was not harmonious in the parish though, as in 1623 the following were admonished:
Nicolas Inggall for breaking the Sabbath in getting peas, and would not be warned by the keeper; Elizabeth Spenser for not paying her dues to the church [8d due for the last year and 8d for this year] and giving most vile and cruel words; Ellin Riggin, wife of William Riggin, for abusing Richard Shippman's wife with railing and scolding words; the wife of William Citching for abusing Richard Shipman's wife with very vile and cruel words.
A memorandum by the Rev John Davies in 1669 notes that the ‘broad flat monument at the upper end of the chancel, on the left hand side, is the tomb of one Mr Thurland’.
When Archbishop Herring carried out his visitation in 1743, John Henry, rector, provided a detailed account of the church and parish. There were 36 families in the parish, of which three were dissenters all of whom were Anabaptists. The parish contained one licenced meeting house, and assembled twice every Sunday and every Wednesday evening. The ordinary preacher was a farmer of the parish by the name of Joseph Jeffreys. The parish contained no endowed school, but the rector noted that the parishioners had the ‘privilege’ of sending their children to the public school at Haughton Park.
The only charitable endowment in the parish in 1743 was £4 which had been left by two farmers, the interest on which was given each year to the poor. The rector resided in the Parsonage House, and there was no other curate in the parish. The rector also recorded that he knew of nobody who came to church and was not baptised, and nor did he know of anyone above the age of fourteenth who was not confirmed. Public service was performed every Lord’s day at ten in the morning and at three in the afternoon. The children and servants were catechised during Lent every Lord’s day, and the rector knew of no church attendees who kept them from it. The Lord’s supper was administered four time a year, and the previous Easter had received about 30 communicants.
In response to the Archbishop’s request for advice on how the church might be promoted, the rector gave a detailed reply arguing that more should be done to reach out to dissenters:
What I am going to say is, I doubt, odious, if not offensive and scandalous to some among us; but as the Apostles themselves used to go to Heathen Temples; I cannot but think, it might be of use, if were allowed, to be more conversant with dissenters, both in public and private, we might have a better opportunity, to convince them, that we do not look upon forms and ceremonies as essentials, but only as helps and assistances to true Religion; which, where they have nothing in them either idolatrous, or superstitious, nor against scripture, ought to be complied with for decency’s and order’s sake.
The rector’s belief that dissenters might be persuaded to return to the fold might be explained by the small number of dissenters in his parish.
Writing in 1796, however, John Throsby noted that the ‘brass upon a stone, which remembered the Thurlands’ had by that date been stolen.
In 1844 the church at Gamston was considered by White’s Directory to represent ‘a fine specimen of ancient architecture’, a notable feature being the ‘embattled tower’. The church also possessed ‘a beautiful altarpiece representing the last supper’ that had been presented by the rector around 1828, in addition to a ‘curiously’ carved chair, made in 1620, which was located in the chancel.
It was noted that the church formerly contained some antique brasses – apparently a reference to Thurland brass mentioned above – and windows richly ornamented with stained glass, but that these had been either destroyed or stolen. It was also bemoaned that the ‘sculptured ornaments’ in the church had been whitewashed: ‘It is much to be regretted that such fine specimens of antiquity are not preserved in their original state, and the labours of industrious whitewashers transferred to the kitchen’. The sculptures in question were described by Throsby in 1796 as being located in the chancel ‘one on each side, projecting from the wall’ and representing ‘a man and woman, mutilated and white washed’.
In 1844 the rectory was still in the patronage of the crown, valued in the king’s books at £11 16s. 5d., but holding a true value of £248, with the incumbent being the Rev Joshua Brookes BD.
The 1851 census recorded that the parish covered 2,000 acres and contained a total population of 308, with 143 males and 165 females. The church of St Peter was endowed with £225 of glebe land, with a house of £70, fees of £1.10s, and Easter offerings amounting to 14s. There were seats for 280 parishioners, a hundred of which were free. Attendance at the morning congregation numbered 55 parishioners, with an additional 40 Sunday scholars. It was remarked that there was only a single service in the church on each Sunday, which took place alternatively in the morning and afternoon. When the service took place in the afternoon, the attendance increased from 55 to 70 parishioners.
In 1855 Gamston St Peter was thoroughly restored by the architect Gilbert G Scott, ARA:
The whole building has had new roofs, and the walls have been put into thorough repair and renewed in many places. The windows have been new glazed. The nave and the aisle have been re-laid with small black and red tiles. The chancel floored with decorated tiles. The sittings are open, of a plain and substantial character, and entirely composed of oak. The pulpit is also of oak, on a stone basement. The desk is open and placed opposite the pulpit. The chancel seats are of a suitable character, and are placed stall-wise. The communion rails, made from a design of Mr Scott are executed by Skidmore, Coventry, who has also supplied the chancel corona and the standards for lighting the church. The edifice has been effectually heated with hot air by Haden, of Trowbridge… A handsome crimson velvet communion cloth with an embroidered monogram, and a beautiful border of vine-leaf pattern, has been presented to the church by the parishioners. The organ, a new one, was built be Messrs Forster and Andrews of Hull for £150.
The effigy of a knight, supposedly Nicholas Monboucher who may have been responsible for the construction of the tower in the late-fourteenth century, was removed from the north wall of the chancel, and two slabs, inscribed with Maltese crosses, were also discovered built into the south wall. The expense of this work amounted to £2,035, and 16 months were spent on the restoration. The duke of Newcastle, owner of the parish, contributed two-thirds to the restoration of the nave, aisle and tower, and rebuilding of the porch, whilst the chancel was restored by the Rev. John Twells, rector. The remaining money was raised by the parishioners in church rates.
During this restoration, G G Scott, the architect, identified the church tower as quite early in the perpendicular style which commenced towards the end of the reign of Edward III (d1376).
A peculiarity was observed in the construction of the tower. It was noted that, although evidently built by skilled workmen, it did not stand square with the nave and chancel, but was inclined to an angle of about eight degrees to the north of west, while the other parts of the church were nearly due east and west. This deviation was not caused by accidents or carelessness, since it would have provided the workmen with additional difficulty in connecting the tower at so inconvenient an angle. The postulated reason was that the tower had been built according to what the builders believed to be true north, and when they placed the tower on a different line of meridian from the older part of the church, they may have done so in the expectation that the nave and chancel would soon after been rebuilt also, at which point the line which they had adopted for the tower would be made conformable. G G Scott also remarked at the time of restoration that the chancel could be dated to the sixteenth century and was of a size and height ‘by no means proportioned to the scale of the church’.
When the church was visited in 1914, Gamston St Peter held a net value of £245 and the parish had a population of around 412 parishioners. The church accommodation amounted to 200, and the number enrolled in church day school was 44, with 30 attending Sunday School.
A number of improvements to the church were made over the course of the next twenty-five years, including the dedication of a new altar, provision of a ringing chamber, the number of bells increased to six, and the upper part of the tower pointed externally. By January 1938, however, the fabric of the church had fallen into serious disrepair as recorded in the Southwell Diocesan Magazine (Vol 11, January 1938): ‘the beautiful old village church of Gamston, near Retford, is sorely in need of restoration. The immediate urgent repairs consist of renewing defective joists and stonework, repointing and replacing certain defective stones. There are very badly perished stones which need replacing with new stones, and a large amount of general overhauling and retting of copings.’ The tower was also in a dangerous state, and required ‘a complete repointing of the whole exterior’.
By the date upon which the article was published, the restoration fund had reached £150, but it was estimated that the cost of the work would exceed £1,000. A general appeal was thereby made by the Rev S M I Salt, the rector, and Mr Albert Hather, people’s warden and secretary to the Parochial Church Council, who welcomed contributions from friends of the church and parish.
The restoration work began in November 1938 under the supervision of the architect C F W Haseldine, FRIBA, of Nottingham and was completed the following spring. Reporting on the success of the restoration in 1941, the rector recorded that:
Decayed stones have been replaced by new ones, the entire exterior has been repointed in mastic cement, the interior has been plastered where it was needed and coloured, the roof stained and specifically treated, and the ancient stonework cleaned and dressed. The old decayed bosses at the porch have been replaced by new ones, sculptured to represent a canon and a nun of the order of St Gilbert. Nothing but restoration has been effected, no new feature added or old one removed. The venerable atmosphere of this ancient church has been faithfully preserved.
The cost of this work was £1,070, most of which was raised from the ‘leading residents of Gamston and Eaton’, with additional contributions from the Incorporated Church Building Society, the Diocese and friends outside the parish. In his report, the rector noted that it was a matter of thankfulness that the ‘the petition in the prayer “that no craftsman should suffer injury while the repairs are being carried out” was granted’. The reconstruction being completed in 1941, the rector also offered the prayer that ‘the church we love, thus restored, may be spared damage or destruction by aerial bombardment’.
This prayer was answered and in 1949 the walls of the choir and sanctuary, having survived the Second World War, were re-coloured ivory-white by gift of one Mr Herbert Smith.
The church closed for worship on 1 November 2015 and the parish merged with Eaton. In February 2018 the building became the responsibility of the Churches Conservaton Trust and a two-year project to restore the building was initiated.