Beeston, Nottinghamshire – St John the Baptist

Friday 8 September and it is Heritage Open Days weekend. I had a funeral visit first thing. Then we drove across to Nottingham and tried to find Beeston Parish Church. We found a parking space, and a main shopping street, and the trams, and then realised that I’d been past the church on the tram the previous day. We crossed the tracks and entered the church of St John the Baptist – SK 527366. They advertised themselves on the HODs website “Come and see your re-furbished Parish Church! A warm welcome awaits you. Refreshment available.” They were right – two lovely ladies put the kettle on for us in their nice kitchen. The church has a good website, but if I purchased a guidebook, I can’t find it now.

The present church is at least the fourth on the site – previous ones being built in the C13, C14 and C15 centuries. The font is lead lined and dates to the C13, probably the oldest thing in the church. How sensible to have it at floor level, and not with a stupid step that everybody falls over. How nice to see beautiful lettering – this is a refurbishment job which has been done not just properly, but superbly.

Before the Dissolution the church was served by priests appointed by Lenton Priory. The nave, tower, south porch and former vicar’s vestry date from 1843-44 and were designed by George Gilbert Scott. The tower is 74 feet high and contains ten bells – it must be quite a noise when they are all being rung. The nave is the late Perpendicular style, and the windows are of Victorian stained glass, including by Kemp. The west window is entitled “The Doom” and was installed in memory of John Watson, the owner of Beeston’s silk mill. Eve is showing quite a lot of flesh!

The new seats – and I was very surprised when I read on the church website that this is refurbishment is almost a decade old – are good quality, and they have kept some older chairs. The statue of Virgin and Child on the Lady Chapel altar is lovely. I lovely the attention to detail – many churches would simply have drilled their power points into the pillar.

The nave altar and platform are excellent. What a sensible idea to change the colour of the carpet where people kneel, much easier than separate kneelers. They have also ramped up to the Chancel – no apologies to the disabled are needed here – and the Chancel looks used, loved and part of it all. The nave altar is by Nicholas Hobbs of Wirksworth, and they had a display of some of their vestments and embroidery. The Chancel dates to the reign of Henry VIII, and was the only part to survive the 1840 restoration. More Victorian glass – the East window shows John the Baptist in the centre, with OT figures on one row, and the Evangelists above.

The main war memorial is in the Chancel, and many of the other memorials have been researched – with the material well presented.

Captain Harold Walton was killed on 13 October 1915, during the 1st/7th Sherwood Foresters “Robin Hoods” battalion involvement in the Battle of Loos. After many near misses, he died as a result of a German bomb in “Little Willie” trench at the Hohenzollen Redoubt. It was only a fortnight previous that he had been awarded the Military Cross in recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty.

Gervase Spendlove was born in Nottingham in 1895 and educated at Oundle School. He joined the motor section of the Legion of Frontiersmen a few months before the outbreak of War. After helping with recruiting work, he started with three others on motor bikes for General HQ in France. They were attached to the Royal Engineers as dispatch riders, with the rank of Corporal. When an appeal came for men with OTC training, he took a Commission and was attached to the 2md South Lancashires, as a 2nd Lieutenant. Three days later, on 17 November 1914, he was killed by a shell near Ypres.

Thomas Bigsby was Vicar 1799-1821, but mainly lived at Arnold. He had “a dignified appearance, with a good complexion and no whiskers, and dressed in a black coat, knee breeches, silk stockings and silver buckles”. He was “good-natured and kind hearted, especially to his poorer neighbours”.

Richard Strey died in 1797. He was the last of the Strey family to live in Beeston Manor House. The octogenarian squire was described as “an easy-going personage, of middle height, ordinarily dressed in a brown coat, and fond of going out coursing on his grey pony.” Madam Strey was spoken of as “somewhat sharp-tempered and penurious to a degree.” On Good Friday they gave buns to all poor boys that came to the house.

The memorials outside have been moved to the side, or used as pavements. I’m never sure that is a good idea, but we mustn’t end with a moan. It is a wonderful church, we had been welcomed, and had had a good explore. The church website says “We aim to be a generous-hearted and inclusive Christian family in the centre of Beeston with a ministry that reaches out from our beautiful Parish Church into the wider community.” Thank you. We also found an Oxfam book shop, so Julie was a happy bunny.



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