The Rectors of St Peter's Church
Part Three: 1656 - 1853

John Barret
1656 - 1662

John Barret was born in Nottingham in 1631 and was educated at Clare College, Cambridge (William Gull's old college, two hundred years before). He graduated in 1650 and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1652 at Wymeswold by the Wirksworth classis (the assembly of ministers and elders). He became Richard Whitchurch's assistant at St Peter's in January 1656 and succeeded him as minister of the church in October. It is not apparent that he would have used the title "Rector" and he was not instituted in the official manner of all the other incumbents (except perhaps Whitchurch).

Barret was a leading member of the Presbyterian assembly in the town. He was a member of the Nottingham classis from 1656 and its Moderator or chairman in 1657: the classis regularly met in his house, and the surviving minutes (now in the University Library) are probably in his handwriting. The Town Council allowed him an assistant in September 1657, "being weakened by his saied pains" (though he survived for another 46 years!) He seems to have served faithfully and to have treated his parishioners sympathetically, and remained at St Peter's for two years after the Restoration of Charles II.

In 1662 the Act of Uniformity outlawed Presbyterian practices within the Church of England. John Barret and his old friend John Whitlock of St Mary's were called before the Archdeacon on 1 July 1662 and ordered that they must use the new Book of Common Prayer, and must wear a surplice, on the following Sunday. Both failed to do so, and were suspended - though the Archbishop of York tried to prohibit the suspension - and Barret was ejected from St Peter's for refusing to subscribe to the new Act. With other Presbyterians he then proceeded to set up a "dissenting" ministry in the locality - the origins of the present nonconformist churches. For some years they were persecuted and their activities banned, and some ministers - though probably not Barret - were put in prison. Barret is said to have escaped on one occasion, when he had been preaching in some malt-rooms in Long Row, by disguising himself in the clothes of "Mr Bartley, a gentlemen, one of his hearers, who was very like him in stature and features".

After 1664 limited permission was granted to open "conventicles"; Barret established meeting-houses in Bridlesmith Gate and Middle Pavement - within St Peter's parish - which led to the foundation of the High Pavement Chapel in 1690. Barret continued to minister there and at his house in Sandiacre until his death. He wrote numerous books and published sermons, with titles such as Away with the Fashion of the World: Come, Lord Jesus and The Evil and Remedy of Scandal, and a touching account of the life of his son Joseph, who died in 1699. John Barret died at the age of 82 in 1713 and was buried at St Peter's, which he had served over fifty years earlier. The funeral sermon (later published) was preached by John Whitlock junior, son of Barret's old colleague from St Mary's.

John Aistrop
1663 - 1667

When John Barret was ejected as a non-subscriber to the Act of Uniformity, he was replaced by a good episcopalian. John Aistrop was licensed to preach in September 1662, and was instituted in January 1663 both to St Peter's and to St Nicholas', which continued to share the church building until 1672. He had already become vicar of Farndon, near Newark, in 1662, and took on a curacy at Lenton shortly before his death in December 1667. (According to some accounts he claimed to have been at St Peter's earlier and to have been ejected by the Presbyterian party in 1648, but this is not borne out by the records; he would have been under twenty at that time, since he graduated at Cambridge only in 1645.)

In 1667 many of the parishioners of St Peter's (including the Mayor and Sheriff as well as the churchwardens) signed a petition to the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, asking for Michael Mitchell to be appointed "vicar"; Mitchell was domestic chaplain to Henry Pierrepont, the Marquess of Dorchester, of Holme Pierrepont, who contributed generously to clergy stipends in the 1660s and 1670s. Nothing more is known of Mitchell, and it is not clear how this undated document (in the University Library's Wadsworth MSS.) relates to Aistrop's death in December 1667. The choice of rectors for a prominent city church at this time must have had more to do with politics than religion, which may explain the failure of the petition.

Samuel Leeke
1667 - 1672

Notwithstanding the petition in favour of Michael Mitchell, Samuel Leeke was instituted on 30 December 1667, a fortnight after Aistrop's burial. He was the son of Thomas Leeke, master of Nottingham Free School 1628-57, and had already been a fellow of St John's College, Cambridge before taking on the first of his many parishes. He had previously been rector of Wickham St Paul and (mostly after he resigned from St Peter's in 1672) rector of Kilvington 1671-81 and of Hockerton 1681-87, vicar of Rolleston 1682-87 and rector of Barnborough 1687. He also served concurrently as rector of St Nicholas' 1669-72. Leeke was responsible for rebuilding St Peter's chancel in 1670 (it had been damaged or destroyed in the Civil War). He became a Prebendary of Southwell in 1670, and also a canon residentiary. He died at Southwell and was buried there in 1687.

Edward Buxton
1673 - 1680

Edward Buxton was born in Kirk Ireton, Derbyshire, and was Cambridge educated. He had previously been vicar of Duffield 1662-72. Buried 27 July 1680.

William Wilson
1680 - 1692

William Wilson, another Cambridge man, was ordained in 1677. Like the incumbents of St. Mary's and St Nicholas', he was receiving payments from the fund set up by the Marquess of Dorchester, but there was confusion over missing payments in 1689 and Wilson seems to have received money that should have gone to St Mary's. He was still at St Peter's in April 1692 when he signed the Vestry minutes, but by June he was reported to be "now in London", and the Vestry asked a certain Peter Clarke to be rector - though apparently without success. By the end of the year there was certainly a vacancy. Wilson appears to have moved to Morley (Derbyshire), where he was rector from 1691 until his death in 1741.

Nathan Drake
1693 - 1705

There is some confusion over Nathan Drake's exact status, though little doubt that he served during these twelve years. He signed the Bishop's transcripts of the parish registers calling himself "rector" in 1693, and in August of that year was also described as rector when the Town Council agreed to let him borrow "six books called Polly Glotts" (Walton's Polyglot Bible). In April 1694 however, he was signing as "lecturer" and other records call him "curate" in 1693 and 1695; one source says he was never admitted as "vicar" but held the living in commendam. In 1697 he was responsible, with the ministers of the other two churches in the town, for inspecting the teaching at the Free School. He remained in charge of St Peter's, but he was a prebendary of Southwell 1695-1705 and was buried there in March 1705.

The Bluecoat window of St Peter's Church, NottinghamTimothy Fenton
1705 - 1721

Timothy Fenton was a Yorkshireman, from Hunslet near Leeds; he had taken degrees at Oxford and Cambridge before coming to Nottingham. He served as curate of St Mary's, Nottingham 1699-1701, and was also vicar of Arnold 1701-21. He left Nottingham to become rector of Barnold le Beck and Hatcliffe, Lincolnshire in 1721, but remained a prebendary of Southwell 1714-24. He was one of those involved with the foundation in 1707 of the charity school now known as Bluecoat School, which has maintained close links with St Peter's ever since; he is shown in the "Bluecoat" window in the north aisle of the church. He died in 1724.

James Wilson
1721 - 1725

On Timothy Fenton's resignation James Wilson was named as "curate", but he was not instituted as rector until after Fenton's death, in April 1725. He died soon after, in July 1725.

Edward Chappell
1725 - 1767

Edward Chappell was born in 1692, the son of the Revd. Henry Chappell of Cuckney; he had been educated at Jesus College, Cambridge and had been curate at Plumtree 1718-23. In January 1732 he was appointed Master of Nottingham Free School but left three weeks later "as it did not suit". He held two other livings, Thorpe-near-Newark 1741-62 and Barnborough (Yorkshire) 1762-67, while still at St Peter's, and was a prebendary of Southwell 1750-67. He died in September 1767, aged 73, after 42 years "continual residence" at St Peter's; he and his sister Judith are commemorated in an elegant monument on the south wall of the chancel.

Samuel Martin
1767 - 1782

Samuel Martin was born in 1741 at Newton Regis (Warwickshire) where his father was rector. His mother came from Lichfield, where her father had been Dr. Johnson's headmaster at the Grammar School; she was the aunt of the writer Anna Seward "The Swan of Lichfield", who was thus Samuel Martin's first cousin. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge where he became a fellow, and he retained a reputation as a Hebrew and Greek scholar. After ordination he was curate of Enderby and Whetstone (Leicestershire) 1765-67, before coming to St Peter's. In 1782 he also became rector of Tollerton and a prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, but did not leave St Peter's. In September of that year he died, aged 41, on falling from his horse after a day's angling at Stoke Bardolph with Thomas Frost and Mr Plowman. He was buried in his family's vault under the altar at St Peter's.

Jeremiah Bigsby
1783 - 1797

Jeremiah Bigsby was the son of a Nottingham surgeon, born in 1748 and educated at Oxford. He was rector of Mundesley before returning to Nottingham. He died in January 1797 and like his predecessor was buried in the Martin family vault.

John Ashpinshaw, later Staunton
1797 - 1814

Born at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in 1765, John Ashpinshaw took MA and LLD degrees at Cambridge and was a curate at St Mary's, Nottingham 1790-93 and at Warsop 1793-97 before coming to St Peter's. Ashpinshaw was responsible for one of the major restorations of the fabric, under the architect William Stretton. In 1807 on inheriting Staunton Hall, he changed his name to Staunton and lived at the Hall there, serving as a JP for both Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, until his death. He resigned as rector of St Peter's in 1814, but continued to hold other livings simultaneously: he was vicar of Hinckley 1804-12, rector of Elton 1812-51, of Kilvington 1813-51 and of Staunton 1826-51. He died in June 1851, and was buried at Staunton.

Robert White Almond
1814 - 1853

Robert White Almond is the first rector of whom we have a portrait: the painting which hangs in the church was painted by Thomas Barber for the Artizan's Library, of which he was President. He was born on Christmas Day 1786 in Arnold, and studied mathematics at Queen's College Cambridge, where he was a friend of the brilliant young Nottingham poet Henry Kirke White. He served as curate of Basford and Bulwell 1810-14, then began his 39 years at St Peter's. He was much loved by his parishioners, both from the high life of Low Pavement and in the slums of the Broad Marsh, especially those who benefited from his relief work and evangelism among some of the poorest homes in Nottingham.

Among his initiatives was the publication in 1819 of a hymn-book for use at St Peter's, to supplement the Metrical Psalms which were the usual musical fare; in the preface he felt the need to argue the legitimacy of hymns, since many people thought only the words of scripture or of the Prayer Book could properly be used in church.

He also played a prominent part in the cultural and philanthropic life of Nottingham. He was chairman of the board of governors of the General Hospital for 25 years, and also for many years chairman of the governors of the Bluecoat School: the children attended his funeral in black-trimmed caps. He was one of the founders of the Nottingham Subscription Library in 1816, and was its President for 34 years (another Barber portrait hangs in Bromley House). His scientific interests no doubt led to the strong collections in this field that the Library built up in the early nineteenth century (he was a keen amateur astronomer and had his own telescope). Another friend of White Almond's was the Sneinton miller George Green, whose mathematical work is now highly regarded, particularly "Green's Functions" (see the memorial sermon on this site).

Robert White Almond died in September 1853, much lamented; he was buried under the altar at St Peter's and has a handsome monument and a commemorative window in the chancel.

Peter Hoare, 1992

Part Four: 1853 - 1997
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997