Churches in Mansfield
Mansfield is a small market town with few pretensions to importance, but nevertheless it has taken part in the history of the country, especially religiously speaking. For example, George Fox, thE Quaker, writes in his diary that when walking by the “steeple house” (Mansfield’s parish church), he felt that the organised religion of the day was trampling on the teachings of Christ and that it was his mission in life to teach them the error of their ways. He had many “discourses” in the parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul, on one such occasion coming close to being stoned by an irate clergy and congregation.
The parish church of St. Peter and St. Paul, at the bottom of Church Street, is the oldest and most important church in the town, dating back to Saxon times. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and a small fragment of the early church building is to be found low down on the east side of the tower. The church was rebuilt in the Norman style and a good example to look at is the lovely Norman arch at the end of the Nave. At the top of the side pillars are to be seen carved heads, which, as it w as a not unusual practice of those times, could be the portraits of the stone masons who worked on the church. The oldest of the of the church bells is dated 1603 while the peal was made up to eight in 1762. Bells do eventually show wear and have to be re cast, and the last occasion on which this took place was in 1948. Mansfield was served by St. Peter’s as the only parish church up until the mid 19th Century. When the growth of the town necessitated that a new church be built and the parish divided between them.
St. John, together with a school, was opened on what had been Callow Street, but was now called St. John’s Street. In subsequent years two more parishes were similarly created. Although created a parish in 1889, it was not until 1889 that the foundation stone of St. Mark’s church was laid at the junction of Portland Street and Nottingham Road, while in 1921 the parish of St. Lawrence was founded, the church itself having been opened in 1909 at the junction of Peck’s Hill and Skerry Hill.
In 1669, according to John Firth, there were only about 13 Roman Catholics in the town, and they, along with members of the free churches, were subject to official persecution. Things improved after the Act of Toleration of 1689, and for a long time t hey met at a house, now long gone, in Chandlers Court Stockwell Gate. They later moved to the Manor House on Ratcliffe Gate, which Mrs White had bought in 1876 and gave to the church to be used as a Mission Church and school, with its own priest. This church was the first one to be named St. Philip Neri. Because of the growing congregation, a new church with convent was built on the site, the school catering for 120 pupils By the 1920s it was clear that new premises would be needed, and the present church of St. Philip Neri was opened on Chesterfield Road South in 1925, while the school moved to Westfield Lane in 1927.
The Old Meeting House, the Unitarian Church on Stockwell Gate, is the oldest non-conformist church in the county, and one of the earliest in the country. It was opened on the 5th October, 1702, thirteen years after the passing of the Act of Toleration which permitted such places af worship to be built. It is by the side of Tesco’s and set back a little from the street, behind the rather fine C18th house called the Old Parsonage.
Mansfield has a long tradition of non-conformism, due in no small part to the toleration shown by the C17th Vicar of Mansfield, John Firth, to those dissenting ministers seeking refuge in the town after having been ejected from their livings (for failing to reconcile their own beliefs with the established rites of the church of England as laid down in the 1662 Act of Uniformity). In the C17th the town main non-conformist religions were the Unitarians and the Society of Friends and both groups, though persecuted, prospered. In Mansfield, according to John Firth, the Society of Friends (or Quakers) had between 20 to 60 members. The Society’s founder, George Fox, visited Mansfield several times, and was once put in the stocks at Mansfield Woodhouse for speaking strongly against the evil he saw in the established church of the time. The Quakers original C18th Meeting House was, unfortunately, demolished in The 1970s to make way for a road (Quaker Way), but a new one was erected on Rosemary Street.
The Baptist tradition in Mansfield dates back to the early 1800s.