The Church of St Michael the Archangel stands on an elevation on the west side of the river Idle overlooking the town. Part of the present building was dedicated on Michaelmas Day 1227 by Cardinal de Grey, Archbishop of York. The oldest part of the church is the south aisle and the chapel dedicated to St Oswald . Its outstanding feature is the handsome octagonal spire on a square tower. The tower and spire are early 14th century and the south porch with its groined roof was also added then. The roof over the nave was lowered from its original pitch in the late 17th century and the chancel was much restored and lengthened in the late 19th century. The north aisle was also rebuilt and widened at this time, and a transept at the north side of the chancel was added to contain the organ.
From early times there was a Manor of West Retford belonging to the Hercy family. With the Manor came the advowson of the parish church of West Retford. The family resided at the Old Hall, West Retford , which stood on the site of the present Trinity Hospital. The Manor passed to the Darrel family by marriage in 1627, when Edward Darrel died he was buried in St Oswald’s chapel in West Retford Church where his stone can still be seen. Edward’s son, John inherited the estate in 1659. John Darrel was seized with a serious attack of illness, but he recovered and as a thank-offering for his recovery he founded the Trinity Hospital. The Sub Dean of Lincoln Cathedral is the Warden, the Chaplain was originally the Rector of the Parish but today Trinity Hospital is served by its own Chaplain.
The Spire, tower and bells
The spire one of the most exquisitely proportioned to be found within many miles, is an exact replica of the spire of the church of St Michael at Rouen in Normandy. As Lincoln cathedral after the Norman conquest was served by Norman priests from Rouen, and as the Manor of West Retford was among the Manors granted to Roger-de-Buesli. it is almost certain that this and other churches in Nottinghamshire were designed and built by Norman architects from Rouen.
Originally the spire was surmounted by an iron cross, but in 1855 a severe gale damaged the tip of the spire and the cross was replaced by the current weather vane. It is the crocketted spire and tower that was referred to by the architect Pugin as “a poem in stone”.
There are six bells in the tower, the largest tenor bell weighing 9cwt in A Flat is dated 1619 and is inscribed “Jesus be our speed”, the 5th bell was originally cast in 1620 and recast in 1884 by Mr Taylor of Loughborough at the cost of £200 raised by public subscription, the inscription on this bell reads “Fili Dei Misere Mei” – “Son of God have Mercy on me”. The other 4 bells were cast in the 19th century. All the bells are mounted on plain bearings and fixed in a wooden frame.
A small baptistry on the south aisle accommodates the font, moved from its previous position by the south door. The Font is octagonal in shape with four stone carvings on alternate sides representing the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The ornately carved Victorian font cover stands on the floor nearby because it is said to be too heavy to be supported by the south aisle roof. In the old position a special timber carried it.
St Oswalds chapel is the oldest part of the church and St Oswald was the king of Northumbria from 633 to 642 who welcomed the arrival of St Aidan. There is a beautiful carved statue of St Oswald in a niche on one of the pillars in the south aisle which was placed there in the 19th century. Above the small altar is a stained glass window dedicated to the brothers of Trinity Hospital in memory of their founder John Darrel.
A carved oak screen in the 15th century style separates the chancel from the nave. It was erected in 1899 by “Watkin Homfray, his brothers and sisters, in memory of their father for 31 years Rector of this parish”. Along the top of the screen can be found the symbols of the passion.
The organ was built by Henry Father Willis (1821-1901) in 1876 at the cost of £410. It has had very few additions since that date. Originally it was pumped by a hydraulic blower but this was replaced by an electric pump in 1932 which is still in use.
On the first pillar just inside the south door is a fine statue of St Michael the Archangel which was commissioned in the 1960’s by the Rev Frank Pearce, dedicated to the Rev Alfred Linsell who was Rector from 1927 -1 960. At the east end of the chancel is the high altar which came from St Michael’s church Radford Nottingham . The original altar is now in the Mary Chapel.
The centre panel of the altar shows St Michael the Archangel flanked by four decorative angels. The window above the altar also depicts St Michael and was designed by the architect William Butterfield in memory of his brother the Rev Charles Butterfield, rector of this parish from 1857-1866. His was an “energetic incumbency” during which the church was greatly restored and the rectory and school rebuilt. The rectory, now the old rectory opposite the church was also designed by William Butterfield who was famous for his designs of All Saints Margaret Street London and Keble College, Oxford among many.
In the small chapel at the end of the north aisle, also known as the “Mary chapel”, there is a handsome reredos by Sir Ninian Comper, a notable church painter. It stands against the wall above the original high altar and came from a city church in Lincoln. It depicts the Adoration “encased with stencilled oak panels hand painted in oil and gilt”. The frame is carved in the gothic style with gothic arcades and symbols of the passion.
The parish church of St Michael the Archangel in West Retford reflects the history of the people of the town from its dedication in 1227 to the present day. Like most churches of great age it is now in need of costly renovation and an appeal fund has been launched, extending from 1990 to the present day, so that work can be carried out n the stonework, the interior decoration and the organ, thus enabling eight hundred years of worship at St Michael’s to continue through the 21st century.
1660 William Ombler
1679 William Whittingham
1701 Thomas Gylby
1705 Edward Griffith
1707 William Rudsby
1731 John Swayte
1752 John Sampson
1761 William Booth
1787 Abraham Youle
1837 Henry Dickonson
1857 Charles Dales Butterfield
1867 Watkin Homfray
1896 Charles Gray
1919 Giilbert Edward Summers
1927 Alfred James Linsell
1962 Frank Pearce
1970 Colin Nield
1985 John Ottey
2001 Mark A Stafford