St. Mary's Church, Nottingham

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

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

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 Greater Churches Group, and part of the parish of All Saints', St. Mary's and St. Peter's, Nottingham. A map of the parish is available on Google Maps


The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book 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. 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. The tower was completed in the reign of Henry VIII.

The church was owned by Lenton Priory from 1108 to 1538 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. 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,

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.

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.

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.

First Sunday School

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.

New parishes created from St. Mary's
  • 1822 St. Paul's Church, George Street, Nottingham built as a chapel of ease
  • 1841 Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Square
  • 1844 St. John the Baptist's Church, Leenside, Nottingham (destroyed by enemy action in May 1941)
  • 1856 St. Mark's Church, Nottingham
  • 1856 St. Matthew's Church, Talbot Street
  • 1863 St. Ann's Church, Nottingham, with St Andrew’s created out of this parish, in 1871
  • 1863 St. Luke's Church, Nottingham
  • 1863 St. Saviour's, Arkwright Street
  • 1864 All Saints’, Raleigh Street as a chapel of ease (now merged again with St. Mary's following the unification with St. Peter's and All Saints').
  • 1881 Emmanuel Church, Woodborough Road in 1885
  • 1888 St. Catharine's, St. Ann's Well Road out of the parishes of St Mary, St Mark, St Luke and St Paul
  • 1903 St. Bartholomew's Church, Blue Bell Hill Road
  • 1726 West front rebuilt by Hiorne of Warwick in the Classical style.
  • c1818-20 South aisle restored and crossing vault replaced by William Stretton.
  • 1843 Tower saved from collapse by Lewis Nockalls Cottingham.
  • 1844-1848 Five year restoration of roofs and west front returned to gothic style by George Gilbert Scott (church closed) at a cost of £9,000 (£704,010 as of 2011),
  • 1848-1860s Internal restoration by George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt.
  • 1872 Chancel reroofed by George Gilbert Scott.
  • 1890 The Chapter House was built by George Frederick Bodley.
  • 1912 The Lady Chapel added by Temple Lushington Moore.
  • 1935 Tower ringing room floor concreted and new bell frame
  • 1940 The Simpson memorial choir vestry added.
  • 1992-93 Exterior fabric restored and cleaned.
  • 2008 New kitchens and toilet facilities.
Chantry door

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.

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

Laying on of hands

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


The church has a fine collection of late Victorian stained glass windows by many famous makers, including Kempe, Burlison & Grylls and Hardman & Co..

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

Internal dimensions are

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

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

The church today

St Mary's 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 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', the post is currently held by Revd. Stephen Morris.

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.


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.

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's
  • John Samon, Mayor of Nottingham, 1416
  • Thomas Thurland, Mayor of Nottingham, 1473
  • John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare 1637
  • John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare 1666
  • Eleanor Fitzwilliam, Countess of Tyrconnell, 1681, daughter of John Holles, 1st Earl of Clare
  • Lady Jane, Dowager Countess of Valentia 1683/4, widow of Francis Annesley, 1st Viscount Valentia, daughter of Sir John Stanhope.
  • Chambre Brabazon, 5th Earl of Meath 1715
  • Lady Mary Brabazon, daughter of Chambre Brabazon, 5th Earl of Meath 1737
  • Thomas Berdmore, dentist to King George III 1785
  • George Africanus 1834
  • Robert Aldridge, Vicar of St. Mary's (1598-1616)
Notable marriages in the church
  • George James Bruere, later Governor of Bermuda, 1743

There are twelve bells in the ring.


St Mary's has a choir of some standing. Under the leadership of John Keys, the Choir of St Mary’s is regarded as one of the county’s finest.

There are three choral services a week – Wednesday Evensong, Sunday Eucharist and Sunday Evensong.

Renowned 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 are available to students in full-time higher education.


The Organ is by Marcussen & Søn of Denmark and was installed in 1973. It has 25 speaking stops and is a very small organ for a church of this size.

Link to details of the organ on the National Pipe Organ Register.


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

Organ Scholars
  • David Gostick 1997–1998 (now organist of Wimborne Minster)
  • Alistair Kirk 1998
  • Richard Leach 1999–2000
  • Simon Williams 2000–2003
  • Chrisopher 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
List of Greater Churches

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 5 years ago via