The Ladybrook area of Mansfield is a post-war housing estate to the west of the town centre running between Oakdale Road and Bancroft Lane. At the time of its building it was referred to simply as the ‘New Estate’.
The church of St Mary the Virgin sits on the top of Skylark Hill and was completed in 1957. It was designed by the Nottingham architect Nat Lane. This was the first church to be completed in Mansfield since St Lawrence in 1909.
The inspiration for the building had come four years earlier in 1953. Faced with the rapid expansion of the Ladybrook area, a group of people decided to hold a service in the Ethel Wainright School hall. Hymn and service books were collected from nearby St Peter’s church on Saturday evenings and returned on Sunday after Evensong.
The first services here were held on 8 October 1953. They were well attended. A large Sunday School developed as a result and two sessions were held in the afternoon to accommodate all the children. In this way, the foundations of the parish were laid.
The name of the new parish church was originally going to be St Luke’s referencing the fact that it was situated between St Mark’s and St John’s as in the Gospels. However, the current dedication was agreed upon in reference to the area it was designed to serve – the brook of Our Lady.
The Bishop of Southwell, Dr F. R. Barry appointed the Reverend John C. Milner to be the first priest-in-charge of the Conventional District of Ladybrook and to build up a congregation. Milner was serving at the time as senior curate at East Retford.
Funds for the erection had been supplied by local businesses through the efforts of Canon Norman Hodd, the Rural Dean. The final cost was £18,000.
The new church was consecrated on 13 July 1957. Choirs from other churches joined with St Mary’s and the service was led by Bishop Barry as celebrant and preacher who was assisted by the priest-in-charge (the Rev J C Milner). The service was also attended by the Mayor (Councillor A. A. Armstrong) and the Mayoress, the Town Clerk (Mr A. C. Shepherd) and Mrs Shepherd, and other members of the Council and officials. At a children’s service in the afternoon, scholars of the primary, junior, and senior departments of the Sunday School assembled with their parents and friends at the Ethel Wainwright Schools, and, after prayers of thanksgiving, joined in a procession to the new church. The procession was led by cross bearer and servers, robed choirboys, Brownies, Scouts, Cubs, and Girl Guides. Mr Milner officiated. Over 200 parents and friends were present at the first baptismal service at which Mr Milner baptised 24 infants. He also preached at Evensong.
Part of the design of the 1957 church was five oil paintings of scenes from the life of Christ, in which the characters wear modern [1950s] dress, by the artist Arthur Fretwell, 37, art master at Hucknall National School, who had studied in Paris. At the time the paintings caused considerable controversy with Nat Lane, the church architect, commenting before the opening of the church: 'I’m expecting lots of controversy from a packed congregation and visiting church dignitaries on Saturday. I commissioned the paintings especially for that purpose... when critics protest and boil with anger, it shows they are thinking. That is what I want all who go to church to do... the stereotyped stained-glass windows one sees in most other churches don’t make people think. They admire them, but stained glass does not rouse one’s passions, and that is what the church is in need of today... I am sure they will give pleasure and inspiration to all who come to this church after the first shock'. The artist stated: 'Bible stories apply to any age and to any nationality, and I think they can be told more vividly if related to contemporary life. That was why I put all the figures in modern dress, which I hope will not easily date. I have painted a donkey – it might have been a car, I suppose – because the donkey is symbolic'.
During the consecration service, Bishop Barry said: 'This church is conceived in contemporary terms and, as nearly everyone in England knows by now, there are some beautiful painted panels on the gallery front. They are expressed in contemporary idiom. Whenever the Church makes use of modern idiom there are always people who begin to raise objections and say that somebody is going to be shocked. If the Church had taken that line in the past you would never have had the great Italian pictures, you would never have had Southwell Minister or the Bible in the English language'.
On its 50th anniversary in 2008 the church gave thanks to Barry, Milner and Hodd alongside ‘all those people who gave their time and talents in those early days’. Two wall hangings were made in celebration, a combined effort of the congregation, the local school children and the community under the guidance of textile artist Carol Marples. The dedication of the wall hangings was led by the Reverend Jan Dewhirst and took place on 11 July 2008.