Grid Ref: SK 697 935
Date: 10 July 2010



The Tower, Southwell


Southwell Minster spacer Southwell Minster
Crossing tower from the South West   Western towers from the South
East End   South Door
East End   South Door
Chapter House   South Arcade
Crossing tower and Chapter House from the East   South Arcade
Nave   Chancel
Nave   Chancel Looking West
Chapter House   sedilia
Chapter House Ceiling   Sedilia
Chapter House   Chapter House interior
Upper walls of the Chapter House   Chapter House


Southwell lies north-east of Nottingham and west of Newark on the A612. The minster deserves to be better known as it is a fine example of Norman and Early English architecture and the town itself is worthy of further exploration.

It is known that there was a Roman villa in the 2nd or 3rd century in Southwell but the ecclesiastical history begins in 956 AD when the land was given to the Archbishop of York by the King of Wessex. The archbishop established a group of priests in Southwell and by 1040 they had accommodation including a hall and refectory in the area south of the current church. They had a church and stonework from this period was found in the south transept in the 19th century. The rebuilding of the Saxon church was commenced in the time of Archbishop Thomas of York who was in office from 1109-1114. Initially work was undertaken from the east of the old church to build a new chancel, little of which remains. By 1120 the arches beneath the crossing tower were constructed. The old church adjacent to the new crossing was then demolished to make way for the new nave with its huge pillars and Romanesque semi-circular arches with patterned moulding. The unusually large triforium arches are empty, whereas at other other churches of this type they are filled with two smaller arches. It is thought that the building work was completed in the 1160s or 1170s with the two towers at the west end. The chancel was rebuilt between 1235 and 1250 and employs the new architectural style with pointed arches. The chapter house was added between 1290 and 1300 but since then only small changes have been made to the main structure apart from the roofs of the nave and western towers. The pulpitum, which almost completely cuts off the chancel from the nave was added about 1335-1340. Later the lancet windows of the nave were replaced with arched windows in the Perpendicular style, the one in the west front being replace in the first half of the 15th century.

The church was not a monastery with monks but a minster which had prebendaries, supported by local parishes. They met in the chapter house and each had a wooden seat as shown in the picture at the bottom right. In addition there were Vicars Choral and chantry priests. Southwell had six chantry chapels which were in an adjacent building from the 15th century. In 1547, Edward VI dissolved the college of priests. It was refounded by Queen Mary and again by Queen Elizabeth in 1585 with some of its original land. It then it operated until 1840 partly as a collegiate church with 16 prebendaries and partly as a parish church. In 1711 the western towers were struck by lightning and extensive damage was caused to all the timbers of the nave roof which had to be rebuilt. In 1840 the collegiate element of Southwell came to an end and it became a parish church. In 1801 the spires rebuilt in the early 18th century after the fire were removed leaving two square topped towers similar in appearance to the crossing tower. However, by 1840 extensive work was required and the church was closed for 40 years. Ewan Christian, the architect, funded by the Church Commissioners, replaced the roofs and added new spires to the western towers. In addition fire-damaged stonework in the nave was refaced. In 1884 the church was re-opened as a new cathedral for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire with 24 honorary canons. When All Saints in Derby was made into a cathedral for a new diocese in 1927, Southwell became the cathedral for Nottinghamshire.


Southwell Minster a History and Guide, text by Philip Dixon and Nigel Coates, photography and drawings by Philip Dixon and Richard Jarvis, designed by John Mills and printed by Cloister Press. A booklet available at the minster, priced at £5 in 2010. It covers the minster, now a cathedral, the bishops' palace and information on the town.

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