Notes on the History of Clarborough Church
Although it is unlikely that any of the present building is earlier than thirteenth century, there was a church in the parish some time before that.
The Doomsday survey of 1086 mentions two mills but no church, but this does not rule out the possibility of a place of worship too poorly endowed to be recorded. We do know that a church had been established by 1103, because part of its income was donated by William of Lovetot to his new priory at Worksop. William’s son later went so far as to divert half the church’s revenues to his family’s new monastic enterprises.
For the next century or so the story disappears into the shadows. Possibly the benefice became impoverished through an excessive proportion of its income going to Worksop, and the building may have become derelict.
Sewell, Archbishop of York, refounded it in 1258. The North arcade dates from about this time. Sewell gave the church to the Chapel of St. Sepulchre in York which he had recently built and which needed endowments. However, he reserved for the use of the vicar in Clarborough toft and croft lying near the churchyard, the tithes of the enclosed crofts of the town and of the Bolham mills, and the altarage. The vicar was to be responsible for the support of two chaplains to serve the Welham, Bolham and Little Gringley.
In 1393 Clarborough had a prebendary in York Minster but no details have yet come to light.
We do not know how the church fared during the religious turmoil of the sixteenth century except that the impropriation passed to the Crown. No doubt the building lost its statues and murals, and by the end of the period seems to have had at least one puritan vicar. Meanwhile, following legislation during Henry VIII’s reign, parish registers had been started. The oldest dates from 1567.
Puritanism in the parish seems to have affected the Southworth family more than most. Edward left a small charity endowment in Little Gringley when he fled to Holland with the Pilgrim Fathers. Some years later his widow sailed from Holland to New England and married William Bradford, the second Governor of the new colony. In 1612 Thomas Southworth left behind 6/8d ( about 33p) for the payment of tithes and 20/- ( £1) “towards the repairs of the North Causey in Clareborough meadows and the way over Clareborough moor leading from the church to Moregate.”
Later in the century most of the nonconformists were Quakers and they suffered a certain amount of persecution for failure to communicate in their parish church and pay tithes. Finally one of them, William Hudson of Moorgate, secured a licence to hold meetings.
From time to time the fabric of the building has been considerably altered. We know very little about the earlier periods in its long history, but details of two changes in the nineteenth century have been recorded. In about 1825 the interior was renovated, new pews were installed and a gallery was erected at the west end. A small organ was built in the gallery at the expense of a well known local landowner, H.C. Hutchinson. In 1874 the church was thoroughly restored, (Professor Pevanser says “over-restored) in the manner of the Victorians. At a cost of £2,000 which was raised by subscriptions, the building was re-roofed, given a new organ-chamber and instrument on the south side of the chancel, and “refitted with open benches” It would appear that the number of seats was greatly reduced. The ecclesiastical census returns for 1851 record 400 seats, whereas an 1895 source mentions only 259. The 1851 return informs us that the afternoon service on 30th March was attended by 100 adults and 40 children. By this time, however, the parish had at St, Saviour’s, Moorgate, a thriving chapel-of-ease with an average attendance at its two Sunday services of 700 adults and 123 children. This chapel had been opened in 1829 to serve the densely populated section of the sprawling parish that embraced much of the growing town of Retford. Almost immediately the vicar moved to a house near St. Saviour’s. (By 1851 Clarborough also had both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist societies with a total attendance of over a hundred.The approach to St. John the Baptist’s was improved in 1897 by the addition of a lych-gate erected by Emily Garland in memory of her Uncle, William Birks