st marys church 07

The history of worship

Hilary Silvester talks about the history of worship.

At the heart of the Lace Market lies Nottingham’s largest parish church, which serves as the city’s civic church, the home of annual services to note the appointment of Lord Mayors and Sheriffs, commemorations and celebrations, judges’ services and so on. There was a church here from early Saxon days, but the building now standing largely dates from the 15th century, with restorations and alterations carried out in the from every century from the 18th to the present day, when the latest work includes the laying of a new floor in the nave.

The church has witnessed the history of Nottingham, including the visits of King Richard III who no doubt would have heard his last Sunday Mass here before going off to Bosworth Field for his final battle. More recently it was used as a look-out and surveying point in the Civil War, its lofty position on the High Pavement cliff making it a good vantage point: occasionally visits to the tower are arranged for the public to experience a bird’s-eye view of the

Sylvia Schwartz, 12.11.2012

Another conflict, World War II, posed a particular threat to the church, as incendiary bombs fell on High Pavement and its historic buildings, including the Shire Hall (now the Galleries of Justice), with one landing on the church roof during Nottingham’s most serious air raid in 1941: it was only the courage and persistence of the firemen that saved the city’s most famous church – just as St Paul’s had been saved in London. The interior of the church has many interesting and decorative features from the centuries, including the base of a pillar from an earlier building and a wall of monumental plaques, including one to a local dentist who is said to have been an inventor of false teeth – and a very prosperous man.
At the other end of High Pavement lies the former Unitarian chapel (now the Pitcher and Piano pub). The original Unitarian chapel was erected on the site in the 17thcentury, but the sect had become so fashionable that in the 1870s a competition was held to build a larger church which we see here. It has wonderful stained glass by Morris & Co., and this can been seen clearly through the glass barriers on the upper floor installed by the architects who converted the building to a bar and restaurant: a very imaginative conversion.


St Mary's Church Interior Landscape - High Res



The other places of worship in the Lace Market are perhaps less imposing than these two buildings, but are certainly very numerous. Nottingham was a city known for its non-conformity, in politics, behavior and much else (a reputation which survives to the current day), and certainly the Non-Conformist religious denominations saw the Lace Market as a most suitable and fruitful area in which to gather a flock, and its streets abound in chapel buildings dedicated to many different sects (Nottingham’s true ‘Chapel Quarter’ perhaps?). They range from the Unitarians, Methodists, Wesleyans to the early Roman Catholic places of worship. Just walking around the Lace Market and nearby streets will give an idea of the importance of religion, and non-conformist religion in particular to the people of Nottingham in the nineteenth century. A good game of ‘spot the chapel’ could be undertaken, looking out for features such as classical columns and triangular pediments at the top of the frontages. Many of these chapels have, over the years, found new uses, as offices, retail and
wholesale premises, and as places of entertainment, such as the Lace Market Theatre in Halifax Place; the Arts Theatre in George Street (formerly Staveley’s Particular Baptist Chapel; and the Broadway Cinema in Broad Street. This building is the
former Wesleyan chapel where William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, who was born in Sneinton to the east of the city centre, dedicated himself toGod: there is a plaque to Booth just inside the door. Just outside the Lace Market, across Parliament Street and at the corner of King Edward Street, lies another building of significance: the Salvation Army Citadel, which was built in honor of Booth and his mission to the poor and distressed. At the corner of George Street and Parliament Street sits the Central Methodist Mission, which still functions as a church and includes community facilities such as
shops and a café. Such was the prevalence of 19th century belief in the importance of regular attendance at services and adherence to codes of behavior and religious observance that the paternalistic Thomas Adams even had a chapel built in the basement floor of his huge and imposing lace warehouse in Stoney Street, where the workers had to attend a service each morning before commencing work, and which had its own chaplain.
A walk around the Lace Market searching for its places of worship certainly gives a feeling of on particular but extremely important aspect of city life in earlier centuries. 

Hilary Silvester
Nottingham Civic Society