Illustrated tour part 1 - exterior

A brief history

The north elevation of St Peter's Church, NottinghamFrom left to right can be seen the chancel roof, the St James' Room (behind the tree trunk) the north transept (the gable end) and the exterior wall of the north aisle with its castellated top. Above this can just be seen the upper part of the north clerestory.

The first parish church of St Peter stood in the French borough which grew up after the Norman invasion by the side of the existing Anglo-Danish settlement of Nottingham. William Peverel, one of the Conqueror's followers and castellan of Nottingham, gave the church along with St Mary's and St Nicholas as part of the endowment of the Cluniac Priory of Lenton, which he founded between 1109 and 1114.

During the wars in King Stephen's time, the Earl of Gloucester captured the town in 1140 in the name of the Empress Matilda. The citizens who supported Stephen were put to the sword and their houses set on fire - terrified, they ran to the churches where they were massacred and their sanctuaries were burnt over them. It is said that the nave of St Peter's ran with blood at this time. This must be the reason that nothing remains of the original building, except for some signs of Norman work at the east end of the south nave arcade.

The earliest part of the existing church is the south arcade, said to date from 1180, which must have formed part of the rebuilt structure. The roof line of this second church can be seen on the wall of the tower which was completed in 1340 in the Decorated style. The north arcade of the nave and the original clerestories in the Perpendicular style must have been added between this time and the construction of the nave and south aisle roof just before 1500.

During the Civil War the town and castle were held for Parliament. Cavaliers from Newark broke into the town twice. On the second occasion, in January 1644, the Royalists seized St Peter's and occupied it. In the process of their being cannoned out of the church by the Castle garrison, considerable damage was done. The chancel was destroyed and the north clerestory extensively damaged. Many holes were blown in the walls, both inside and out.

At this time St Nicholas' Church was demolished by the Roundheads as its tower had been used by the Royalists as a vantage point for cannon to fire into the Castle. The congregation was received into St Peter's for a number of years, and a gallery was incorporated in the north aisle in 1670 to hold them.

The chancel was rebuilt in 1670 in Restoration style. Evidence of war damage repairs can be seen with small areas of brickwork in the wall of the north aisle. An extensive refurbishment in 1719 re-positioned the gallery in the north aisle, and the north clerestory was rebuilt in 1799. The original south porch was removed in 1765 and the Rector's Vestry was built in 1814, the year before Waterloo. A new chancel and north transept were built in 1876-77, and the St James' Room completed the present church when it was added in 1936 on the occasion of the living of St James' Church, Standard Hill, being combined with St Peter's.



The east elevation of St Peter's Church, NottinghamThe railings at the front outside the church carry five shields bearing the arms of the See of York, the Ragged Cross of Nottingham, the emblems of St Peter and St James, and the arms of the Diocese of Southwell. The niches in the tower probably carried the figures of the Virgin and St Peter and St Paul.

The work on the new frontage and churchyard was carried out in 1965-66. The tower and spire were found to have no deep foundations, and they are now supported by a triple-piled concrete curtain behind the front wall which was constructed at that time. The steps were added in 1998 to open up access from St Peter's Square to the West door and the newly-built St Peter's Centre.


Tower and spire

The tower and spire of St Peter's Church, NottinghamThe tower and steeple were completed in 1340 in the Decorated style. The weathercock was originally made by a tinker working on the spot in the churchyard, and was put on the spire in 1735. It is 133 feet above St Peter's Square (which was once the site of the Monday Cross) and is just a bit higher than the Castle Rock. The spire was originally ribbed and crocketed, but these decorations were sawn off in 1825.

The tower now carries a peal of twelve bells with a second "sharp" bell. In early times Nottingham was a well-known bell founding town, and the church must have had a ring of bells for many hundreds of years although there are few records about them. There were bequests in 1440 and 1522 for repairing them, and there is an entry in the Guild Book about some bells the church had in 1634. There was a major recasting in 1771 by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel and the new bells were first rung on Christmas Day of that year. The most famous one is that originally given in 1544 by Margery Doubleday with a legacy to pay for it to be rung every day except Sunday at 4.00am, to call the town's washerwomen to their labours. It was recast in 1771 and in 1902, and is now number eleven in the present peal. A new bell frame was installed in 1965 by John Taylor and Son of Loughborough, and two bells added to the pre-existing ten. Another two of the bells in the peal were recast in 1981. A second "sharp" bell was added in 1993, however this is not part of the peal but used for practice purposes.

It is not known when a clock was first fixed on the tower. The earliest reference found is a payment in 1577 of "2/- to Toms for looking after the clock". The present one was installed in 1840 and in 1872 new dials were provided. It now has an automatic mechanism, and in 1979 the dials were coloured dark mallard green with gold hands and numerals.

Forward to part two
Nave and chancel
Part three
North aisle
Part four
South aisle
Part five

The text is adapted from the Church Guide written by the late Allan Derry.
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 18th April 1999