|St. Mary's Church
The church stands prominently on a site known to originate from Norman times with many developments through out the centuries. The site may be of earlier significance but evidence for this or of surrounding dwellings has not been found. On arrival at this well preserved ruin, every period of medieval architecture is on show:|
History of the Site
The name ‘Colston’ means the homestead (or ‘ton’) of someone called ‘Col’, possibly a Danish leader long before the Norman Conquest. ‘Bassett’ is a family name added to distinguish Colston Bassett from other Colstons in the time of William the Conqueror’s son, Henry I.
The Bassett Family
The Bassett’s were a powerful and wealthy Norman family. They possessed large estates including the manor of Colston. These they held from the time of King Henry I, until the death of Ralph, the last Lord Bassett of Drayton in 1390, a period of nearly 300 years. No doubt St Mary’s was in the middle of the village and only became isolated when the settlement moved to its present position, possibly after the terrible ‘Black Death’ of 1349.
The Site Plan
The old church has been a roofless ruin since the late 19th century. It comprises a four bay nave with a west tower, a south transept and an aisles chancel. There is a marked change in alignment between the nave and chancel. A south porch has been removed at some uncertain post medieval date and the north aisle, possibly along with the north transept, was demolished in 1774 and the arcade filled in. The south arcade collapsed when the roof was removed but otherwise much of the walling remains to full height. The exceptions being the east part of the north wall of the nave and the gable over the south transept window. A capital from the south aisle arcade lies inverted on the floor
Construction of the Church
The majority of the church is constructed of rough blocks of blue lias limestone laid in relatively thin courses. A variety of different types of stone have been used for dressing and facing, including white limestone and fossiliferous ironstone. The ironstones in particular are now badly eroded.
A precious, previously unrecorded fragment of Saxon carved interlaced pattern was uncovered during consolidation work on the transept gable wall and has been inserted as the right hand cornerstone of the little piscina arch below the great south transept window.
Three Norman columns with scallop capitals can be seen in the north arcade. The Western column, next to the tower is a half column, or respond, showing three full scallops and a bit. The centre column capital has five scallops but the right hand one has only four plus a diminutive scallop at each corner. The Norman arcade is thought to date from c. 1130.
Early English - 13th Century
An early English half octagonal column with bell capital and nailhead decoration is featured at the tower arch.
Decorated Period 14th Century
The piscine in the chancel has an o-gee, or double curve arch, a type started in the 14th Century. A piscine was for washing vessels used in services.
Perpendicular Period – 15th Century
A 15th century change in style is illustrated by the belfry windows in the upper stage of the tower with a perpendicular central mullion rising the full height of the window, top to bottom. The south transept window was rebuilt in the same style.
The Bell Tower
The tower was increased in height in the 15th century to provide a belfry. The present bell frame has been tree-ring dated to 1609. On the east face of the tower the outline of the mid 13th century steeply pitched roof can be seen below the 15th century roof drip. There is a great deal of superb carving on the tower. It has three grotesque gargoyles. The grim one on the north side clutches two human figures. The lead spouts were inserted in1937 and replaced when the tower was re-roofed in 1999.
A visitation of the plague in 1604 was responsible for the deaths of some of the inhabitants of Colston Bassett. In the registers are recorded the burials of 83 victims of the plague. There are many interesting grave markers, but no memorials from this earlier period in the churchyard, which still remains in use today.
Georgian Period – 18th Century
There is a Georgian window which has fashionable ‘Gibbs’ surround. A style named after James Gibbs, architect, (1682-1754). The style consisting of large and small stone blocks was also used by other architects such as Palladio and Colen Cambell.
1774 saw the removal of the North Aisle. The north arcade was then filled in to form the new external wall of the nave. The new windows inserted to light the nave were in the latest Georgian style and on the outside they are fashionable Gibbs surrounds. The layout clearly shows the development of the church from its 12th century beginnings to the roofless ruin it is today. Over the centuries it gradually grew in size. In 1450 it reached its greatest size. In 1774 the North Aisle and possibly the North Transept were demolished. The long history of structural problems suffered by the present fabric may be due to its having been built over earlier feature.
Mr Robert Millington Knowles of Colston Basset Hall was given permission by the Diocese to remove the interior fittings and the roof after he had provided the new church of St John the Divine down in the village in 1892. by 1898 the church lay roofless and ruinous, with debris including the bell hammers and he remains of the royal Arms lying on the ground. In 1907 it was described as covered in ivy and the interior full of nettles and debris.
Consolidation, under the guidance of English Heritage has retained an indication of cracks in the structure whilst ensuring the building’s stability and preventing water ingress. The Church is a scheduled Ancient Monument and is listed grade 1 in the ‘List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest’.
Work commenced on receipt of grants in 1994 under the enthusiastic leadership of the late John Severn FRIBA and Emma Alcock, artist, of local family. David Atkins FRIBA took over the project on John Severn’s death and steered it to completion in 2005 (11 years later). The cost of the project was £425,000, with generous grants received from English Heritage, Heritage Lottery Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, WREN, The Jonathan Vickers Trust, The Chetwode Foundation, The Frognall Trust and both the Nottinghamshire County Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council. £32,000 was raised by local fund raising events and donations. In July 2005 a service of rededication was held in the church ruin by the Rev. Andrew Wigram.