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Church Post Code NG23 5NP

Open to visitors

Visited July 2020

It was mid July 2020 and we were part way through a Saturday churchcrawl; photographing churches in a triangle formed by the A52, A46 and A1. Covid restrictions had eased for the time being, and we were free to travel. We had picked out around 20 churches to visit; a fairly ambitious number to visit in a day, but we were on course to do this; due in part to several of the churches being closed to visitors due to ongoing covid concerns.

We arrived at Elston in late afternoon, to visit both church and chapel. The parish church can be found in the centre of the village, and is dedicated to All Saints. The old chapel can be found to the extreme north east of the village; and has been redundant since 1870; being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.

It was a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, shirt sleeve weather and it was great to be out and about; and to have the freedom to do this again while we could; the prospects of a tough winter covid wise being suggested!

The village of Elston can be found to the east of the A46, which bypasses Bingham on its way towards Newark; with Newark itself some five miles off to the north east. The River Trent passes by to the west of the parish. Grantham can be found some 15 miles off to the south east, Nottingham  a little further away to the south west. The village recorded a population of 697 at the time of the 2021 census.


There is much history here, dating back to prehistoric times; with two Roman villas or farmsteads being located in the parish. The Fosse Way, a major Roman road which ran from Exeter to Lincoln ran close by, with a Roman Fort at nearly East Stoke (Ad Pontem) where there was a crossing over the River Trent.

It was at East Stoke where the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought in 1487, with it being likely that some of the fighting took place in fields close to Elston. Elston was home to Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, who wrote ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859. Erasmus was born in Elston Hall and there are several monuments to members of the Darwin family in the church of All Saints that I will come to later.

There was no church or priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086; the church that we see today dates from the 13th and 14th centuries, but there was an earlier church on this site, with the lower section of the tower dating from that earlier structure. The church was extensively restored in 1837 with the chancel restored and north vestry rebuilt in 1856.


This is a church of pleasing dimensions, photographed on the most beautiful of afternoons; the tall slender tower looks in truth to be a little too tall for the rest of the structure; it is battlemented and pinnacled, with two grotesque heads on each face of the tower. The church clock is set in to the south face. The short nave and the clerestory are battlemented; with two pinnacles rising up from the eastern end of the nave; these having weathered human heads at the foot. A bench is set against the chancel, looking out to the south. A pleasant place to sit on a pleasant afternoon!

The church was open to visitors and it was bright and welcoming inside. The north and south arcades are each just of two bays, with octagonal piers and moulded capitals. Looking towards the west the tower arch is decorated with shields.

The chancel was rebuilt in 1856, but has retained its medieval piscina, used in washing the holy vessels used in the Mass, against the south wall and an aumbry on the north wall opposite, in which the holy vessels would have been stored.


The east window is in memory of Charlotte Darwin who died in 1885, and was made by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. This depicts the crucifixion and has Mary the mother of Jesus and John standing in their traditional positions alongside the cross; a serpent emerging from a chalice that John is holding. Christian legend states that John was given poisoned wine whilst in Ephesus. He prayed over the wine and the poison came out in the form of a serpent.

Mary Magdalene is also in her traditional position at the foot of the cross; and appears, curiously, to be looking over to John rather than upwards to the crucified Christ.

At the west of the church, under the tower arch, is a two light window depicting brothers John and James, the ‘Sons of Thunder’. James is the patron saint of pilgrims and is depicted with pilgrims staff and wearing a scallop shell on his hat. John again holds a chalice, out of which rises the serpent.

At the east end of the south aisle is a three light depiction of the annunciation; with the angel Gabriel, who is shown with finely detailed wings of peacock feathers, appearing to Mary, who is shown wearing a fine expensive robe. This is out of keeping in what we are told Biblically, with their temple offering of two doves being for the poor people who couldn’t afford a lamb. On the centre panel, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shines down on a vase of lilies, which symbolise purity.


A three light window in the south aisle shows three mothers’ with their sons. First we have Elizabeth with her son, John the Baptist. Secondly we have the Virgin Mary with Jesus and the third is a puzzle which I can’t get my head around. The script at the bottom reads Anna and Timothy and I am struggling to connect the two. Certainly, Anna is connected with Jesus’ early life but why is she connected with Timothy?

A further three light window shows St Francis of Assisi, St John and St Gilbert of Sempringham. St Francis carries stigmata, the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion, on his hands and feet; whilst carrying a depiction of the crucifixion. John is shown holding a book on which is written ‘Little Children Love One Another’ a far cry from earlier in Jesus’ ministry when John, one of the ‘Sons of Thunder’ wished to rain down fire on a Samaritan village that had failed to show them hospitality! St Gilbert was the founder of the Gilbertines, the only medieval religious order of English origin. He is shown carrying a church.

Further glass includes what I though was a depiction of Nicodemus, carrying a jar of spices which would anoint Jesus’ body prior to burial in the tomb. We also have a two light window which shows the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.


There are several monuments in the north aisle to members of the Darwin family. These include memorials to three children of William Brown Darwin and his wife Elizabeth; which gives a very sad indicator as to the low life expectancy of those days.

A memorial to William, their eldest son, has a carving of two angels in flight carrying a crown; this being a symbol of victory with the victory here being over death with the soul of the deceased moving on to Heaven. He died in 1835 aged 13 years, with a moving epitaph reading ‘From early years he was the subject of a lingering disease yet he was blessed with a vigour of intellect and a warmth of affection which endeared him most fondly to parents who the more deeply deplore the loss’.

A beautiful monument depicting a female figure reclining, reading a book with the sun’s rays, or possibly the Holy Spirit, shining down on her. This is a memorial to Elizabeth, their oldest daughter who died aged 15 in May 1833. Another beautiful and moving inscription reads ‘The disease to which she died and the submissive piety which prepared her way to Heaven taught her much afflicted parents the duty of resignation’ with lines further down reading ‘With the hope of that blissful reunion where separation and sorrow shall cease for ever’.


Memorial to William Darwin d1835 aged 13 years


Memorial to Elizabeth Darwin d1853 aged 15 years

William and Elizabeth also lost their second daughter June Eleanor very young; passing away on Boxing Day 1838 aged 14 years. The memorial states that she died of ‘lingering consumption’ with part of the epitaph reading ‘we wept around her early bier while she was safe on high, in realms unsullied by a tear, unconscious of a sigh’.

Another monument is to Elizabeth Hill Darwin, the sister of William Brown Darwin, who again died young, passing away at the age of 22 in August 1804. Again, the epitaph is beautifully worded and moving ‘…Who after a long and painful illness (supported by true Christian patience and serenity rarely exceeded) calmly expired in the arms of a tender and affectionate sister’.

Times were hard, life acceptancy was low and illnesses that could be treated now could kill you in those days. Worth remembering as well that these were people of wealth; how much worse would things have been for those who lived in poverty at that time!


Open to visitors

Chapel Post Code  NG23 5NZ

Redundant : Cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust


We moved on, the short distance to the old chapel to the north east of the village. Standing fairly isolated in a field; this simple two cell structure dates back to the 12th century; and consists simply of a nave and chancel. It was a working parish church until 1870 when the parish was amalgamated with that of Elston All Saints.

The fact that this structure is still standing is testament to those people who refused to let it die. By 1960 the structure was derelict and was a target for vandals; passing in to the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust in 1977 who restored it back to health.

There is something about these two cell buildings; still standing sometimes against the odds that I find very appealing. Looking back, there are pleasant memories of visiting similar structures over the years; at Ballidon in Derbyshire just before a blizzard hit, at Sutterby in Lincolnshire and at Widford in Oxfordshire, all three covered within the pages of this site. Just nave and chancel; Christian worship stripped back to its basics. No ornate statues, no stained glass, no worship bands, no distractions; a place to sit and be at peace, particularly at a time such as this when the world outside was a worrying and challenging place. A place to remember Psalm 46 verse 10 ‘Be still and know that I am God’.


Mind you, not everyone had the same opinion; According to the excellent Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project, in Highways and Byways in Nottinghamshire, which was published in 1916, J B Firth noted that the deserted chapel at Elston was ‘hardly worth the labour of discovery’.

Approaching the church across the field to the south we see a single 14th century window in the nave and another of similar date in the chancel. The south door is Norman, with an arch over the doorway with zig zag pattern. There is a little graffiti around the door with a date of 1717 carved in to one of the stones, along with the initials RF and RB. Another carving inside shows a date of 1577, and it is thought that this was the date of some restoration work.


The church open sign was out; and moving inside, there is a gallery at the west end, dating from the 18th – 19th centuries, with two small windows above it. This was restored by the Churches Conservation Trust after years of neglect. Beautiful, elegant box pews, again restored, line the nave to north and south with taller, higher status box pews to the east of the nave, to seat I believe the Fillingham family of Syersrton. The elegant double decker oak pulpit is made from 17th and 18th century panels.

Nave runs seamlessly in to chancel, with no chancel arch. The east window is of three lights with clear glass, and again this dates from the 14th century.

There are the faded remains of several wall paintings here, including a large lion, with a row of hat pegs underneath, and some post reformation Biblical texts. I went up in to the balcony and looked down at the interior; fascinating to think what the scene would have looked like below during a service. For what its worth I disagree with JB Firth writing all those years ago, this beautiful little chapel very much is worth the labour of discovery!


It was time to look towards setting off home; 45 miles south east back home to the west of Peterborough. This had been a good churchcrawl, with a few more churches open than I had hoped for when setting off. There is another page on this site which covers this same trip, with the visits to the churches at Hawksworth, Shelton and Sibthope to be found on the tab immediately above this one. Both church and chapel here are normally open to visitors and are each very much worth taking a look at.

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