St Martin of Tours

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We’ve often passed this church set back among the trees driving from Gainsborough to Retford and decided it was time we visited it. It is a secret church surrounded by a graveyard in a deserted landscape apart from the Hall Farm and buildings.

It has a huge west tower, dating from 1504 with decorative metal reinforcing crosses on the walls below the bell windows and an attractive open metalwork clock. There are tiny windows on the south side of the tower letting light onto the stairs to the bell chamber. The tops of the tower, nave and chancel walls are battlemented and there are tall pinnacles. There is a small stone cross at the east end and another above the south porch. The nave is heavily buttressed as the ground slopes away to the east.

The church is medieval but was sympathetically restored in the 19thC and it is difficult to tell medieval and newer fabric. Inside the door are three steep steps down into the nave. At first the inside of the church feels quite dark until your eyes have had time to adjust. It is made up of nave and north aisle separated by pointed arches. The nave is empty apart from the remains of the old wooden bell frames are in the north aisle and some bench pews pushed to one side.

There are the remains of old tombstones ion the floor and a wooden roof.

There is a carved wooden screen across the opening into the tower. In front of this is a lead lined stone font standing on legs.

There is the remains of a tomb in the nave with an effigy of a 14thC knight minus his legs. His head is resting on a pillow. He has chain mail around his neck and a belt round his waist. At the base where his feet should be is the remains of a very worn lion. It is thought to be that of William Saundeby, Lord of the Manor and founder of the church.

There is a beautifully carved rood screen separating nave and chancel with a panel of vine leaves and grapes along the top. This has a black and white marble diamond floor. Above the wood roof has carved bosses and the wooden beams rest on carved stone bases. There is no high altar but there are the remains of a gilt and enamel mosaic reredos in an alabaster frame on the east wall. On either side, the wall is lined with alabaster and panels of red Verona marble. This has the signs of the four apostles on either side of a cross.

On the north wall of the chancel is a marble tomb slab with pillars and portico above. An engraved stone on the wall dated 1599 which announces this is a monument to John Helwys and Mary his wife, daughter of Robert Blagdon of Thames Ditton in the county of Surrey who left behind them two children, Gervase and Margaret. “This is a work of piety, not of pride, and the work of deep affection, for in their own lifetime they taught me how I ought to honour them indeed. Thus it behoves me to live, and them to die”

Above is the east window with Biblical scenes including the annunciation, birth and and presentation in the temple and crucifixion. The rest of the stained glass windows are late 19thC by the renowned Victorian designer Charles Kempe and are rather nice.

The windows in the nave tell the story of St Martin who was an army officer in France. One day, during a very severe winter, he was riding at the head of a unit of soldiers through the gate of Amiens when he saw a beggar with hardly any clothing and shuddering with cold. Saint Martin drew his sword, cut his cloak in half, and gave half of it to the beggar. After he had gone to bed that night, the figure of Christ, surrounded by his Angels, and wearing the half of the cloak that Saint Martin had cut off, appeared to him and commended him for his charitable and unselfish act.

This is a lovely church that must have been very important once. Now it is no longer used and is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and is always open. The church is unsigned. It is off the A620 to the east of Gainsborough. We parked in the yard to the north of the church. Just before the white building of Hall Farm before the bend sign. there is a gateway in the brick wall. Walk across the yard and there is a small archway into the churchyard in the top left hand corner.

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