Edward Muirhead Evans

And what was it like ? — the church which the Rev. Edward Muirhead Evans ‘inherited’ from the late John Francis Nash Eyre in 1887 ?

Of the actual foundation of any portion of this church or its adjuncts, no direct documentary evidence seems, as far as at present can be ascertained, to exist….
In the 45th year of Henry IIIrd’s reign, about 1261, the Manor of Ilkeston came by marriage into the possession of Nicolas de Cantilupe. One portion of the church now remaining must have been in existence prior to the Cantilupes becoming lords of the manor — namely the south arcade of the nave which dates back as far as Henry II (1154-1189) or Richard I (1189-1199), being of the transitional period (in the twelth century). The chancel is of the early part of the Geometrical and must have been built in the reign of Henry III and founded by Nicholas de Cantilupe, fourth son of the founder of that family and first of that family who was Lord of Ilkeston.
His tomb still remains. The arms on the shield of the effigy correspond with the Cantilupe arms in a tomb at the south end of the South Aisle of the Presbytery of Lincoln Cathederal, where was a chantry founded by Nicolas, Lord Cantilupe who died in 1372, grandson, or possibly great grandson of the founder of the Chancel of Ilkeston Church.
The nave was rebuilt about 1330 by Nicholas de Cantilupe, grandson of the founder of the Chancel, a princely benefactor of the church, founder of the Beauvale Monastery in his park at Greasley. A beautiful Chantry Chapel was added in 1360, by Joan, Relict of Nicholas de Cantilupe.
In 1854 was the last restoration — the rebuilding of the North and South Aisles, the rebuilding of the Chantry Chapel, adding clerestory and restoring the Chancel Arch, recasing the Tower, and adding the Vestry — all at a cost of £4000.
The working classes of Ilkeston gave over £500, the Duke of Rutland £200, and the Vicar and his relatives over £1400.
The endowment of Ilkeston church is so ancient that its origin cannot now be traced. It consists of some 44 acres of glebe, and £100 tithe, paid by the Duke of Rutland’s land.

Adapted from the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald (September 17th 1887)


Edward Muirhead Evans, right, (1849-1907) was vicar of St Marys Church, Ilkeston between 1887-1907, during which time there were modifications to his church, the vicarage was rebuilt, and St John’s Church in Nottingham Road was established.

On Sunday morning, May 1st 1887 the new vicar of St. Mary’s Church was formally inducted into the living of Ilkeston. The church was filled and the congregation was treated to a fully choral service. In the evening Edward preached his first sermon to a crowded congregation.

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1887: An early controversy for Edward

Within a few months of his arrival Edward was embroiled in a controversy all of his own making. The impetus for this was the death of two-year-old Arthur Bostock, son of Owen and Sarah (nee Trueman), following an attack of croup. Sarah was the daughter of John Trueman who owned the Horse and Groom at Gallows Inn and which was managed by his son-in-law. Edward visited the grieving parents, trying to persuade them to have the child buried at St. Mary’s. However Sarah wanted otherwise — she had written to the Rector of Trowell Church requesting that her son be buried at his church, just as her older son, John, had been buried there two years earlier. (Aged eight, John had drowned in the Nottingham Canal near the family’s Inn). And just as two years earlier, the Rector gave his consent.

At noon on the day of the funeral the Rector received a letter from his counterpart at St. Mary’s Church, threatening to report the Trowell incumbent to the bishop if he buried an unbaptised boy. And Arthur had not been baptised, though neither had his brother John. The Rector bowed to the threat — he couldn’t now permit a service to be held in the church before the burial, but offered the parents alternatives. The boy could be buried without a service, or have a Dissenting Minister conduct the service, or have a burial at the General Cemetery. The parents chose the first course.

The Nottingham Journal was not impressed: “this suggests the Vicar of Ilkeston might be better have refrained from any interference in the matter … the occurrance of such cases cannot fail to excite local irritation, and assuredly do not tend to the spread of true religion”.

And the episode was soon elevated to “Scandal” status !!


1887: Edward begs for assistance

A few days after this episode Edward was shooting off another letter …. this one to the Town Council (September 1887), He asked that the Council illuminate the town clock in the parish church, and that the Corporation ‘assist’ in the repairs to the church bells (estimated at £196). The first request was met with some favourable consideration, but the ‘bell repair’ issue elicited incredulity; — “a remarkable piece of business: people must think the Council is a lunatic asylum to make such a request ” (Councillor Edwin Sutton)
“I presume the Council will be open to receive applications from people who want to build chapels or make alterations ?” (Councillor Charles Mitchell, sarcastically ?)

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1888: A discovery at the Vicarage

In January 1888 work was taking place in the Vicarage grounds when a rectangular brass plate was unearthed. It was about 1ft by 1ft 6in, and at its top was a coat of arms, showing a shield with floral decorations at both sides and above was the head of an animal (a leopard?). Beneath was an insription which read ……

Here are interred the remains of
MR BENJAMIN DAY,
Late of Arnold, in the County of Nottingham,
Who Departed this Life July 6, 1760,
Aged 94 years

Beneath this was a sonnet and then a further inscription …

Here lie also the Remains of Elizabeth, his second wife, a sincere Christian

This plate was to be found in the centre aisle of the Church in 1831 but somehow found its way into the Vicarage garden. There was conjecture that, when the work took place to restore the Church (1853-55), it was removed and perhaps, through carelessness, found a new ‘resting place’. Vicar Edward had it cleaned, intending to restore it to a safer  ‘home’.

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1888 (and 1892): Unlawful burials ?

In 1862 a new burial ground had been added to the Churchyard at St. Mary’s from land donated by the Duke of Rutland. (This was the churchyard extension, today separated from the Church by Chalons Way).

The Ilkeston Pioneer (April 10th 1862) wrote about it …..
The new ground to be added to the Churchyard is situate at the east end of the Cricket ground, and will be ready for interments in June next. The promoters of this very necessary addition to the burying ground deserve the best thanks of the public, for their efforts will undoubtedly save the inhabitants a heavy yearly rate for twenty years to come, which must have been imposed to make and sustain a Cemetery, as at one time proposed. For several years past increased attention has been paid to the order and neatness of the Churchyard, and we have no doubt the new proportion of the ground will in a short time be rendered a beautiful repository for all that is mortal of departed friends.

The new burial ground had been consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield on Thursday May 29th of 1862.
An Aggrieved Churchman’, who wrote to the Pioneer in November 1875 described it as “more like a dung yard than a grave yard” – the dung being that of the 20 or 30 geese who felt at liberty to wander in the area. In the same paper ‘A Mourner’ had also spotted the geese as well as their companion ducks and a grazing horse in the burial ground.
“A dog is not even allowed in the Dissenters’  Cemetery on the Stanton-road, which is kept in a very tidy state: but in the sacred spot attached to the old Church animals of every description appear to be welcomed”.

Part of the old churchyard had already been closed, in 1856, and after the new burial ground was consecrated, the rest of the old ground was closed — by order !!
However, in the summer of 1888, shortly after Edward’s arrival in Ilkeston, it was reported by Edwin Trueman that the old churchyard was once more being used. In July Dr. Hoffman of the Burials Acts Department of the Home Office descended upon the town to sort matters out. John Fish, the Parish Clerk, was on hand — he admitted that burials had recently taken place but that he was under the impression that the old churchyard had been closed for a period of 20 years only. Now that time was expired and it could be used once more. Dr. Hoffman quickly disavowed John’s claim; the Order was clear, that the closure was absolute and permanent. However John now thought that the matter was triffling and that some people — who could he possibly mean ? — had merely complained for the sake of stirring up a controversy.

Mr Hoffman left the town, promising to report back on his subsequent consultations with the Home Office. This he did in mid-September of 1888 when it was confirmed that no more burials in the old graveyard were to be permitted — except in existing vaults.

However, in mid-November 1892, Dr. Hoffman was back in town. Councillor Joseph Scattergood, a member of the Town Council’s Health Committee, had alerted the Government’s Home Office that the Parish Churchyard was once more being used for burials — the churchyard was already overcrowded and interments were taking place too near the surface. Joseph pointed out that there was now no need to use St. Mary’s burial ground as the new Park Cemetery had just opened for burials. On November 16th, the Vicar accompanied the Doctor, and a group of Ilkeston’s dignataries, to inspect the Churchyard — and Dr. Hoffman was clearly annoyed by what he found !!  The Home Office regulatons were still being disregarded, leaving the Church authorities open to financial penalty. Vicar Edward was suitably penitant and promised that no more interments would take place (except where a depth of at least four feet could be guaranteed).

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1888: An eventful Christmas Day at St. Mary’s

Leading up to the Christmas Day of 1888, self-styled ‘Professor’ Alonzo Spencer (really a stationary engine driver living in Belper Street) had been planning a ‘spectacular feat’ to amaze the town’s residents. And on Christmas Day he was ready to carry it out.

Alonzo would climb to the top of St. Mary’s Church tower, a height of 75 feet, accompanied by his parachute, attached to which was a home-made, wicker-work basket. The plan was to jump out of the tower and float gently to the ground, seated in the basket. He had heard that American daredevil Thomas Scott Baldwin had undertaken a similar feat earlier that year, at Alexandra Palace — surely a hardy Ilkestonian could carry off something more dangerous and dramatic ?

Thomas Baldwin at Ally Pally 1888, from the Illustrated London News … his drop from the sky, the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute, his tenth jump.



When Alonzo got to the top of the tower however, he must have looked down, then glanced at his cobbled-together basket, looked down again, and at that point decided that discretion was the better part of valour. A test descent was needed. Alonzo therefore lowered the open parachute and its unoccupied appendage over the tower’s side and let go — at which point the ‘flying machine’ appeared to demonstrate a will of its own. It ‘flew’ (plummeted ?) away from the tower and became entangled in telegraph wires which crossed the churchyard some 30 yards from the tower.

Alonzo rescued his ‘machine’ with the aid of a scaffolding pole and carted it home — to fly another day perhaps ? The people of Ilkeston were probably not amazed but they were certainly amused.

But how did Alonzo gain entrance to the tower ? —- his half-brother, Silas ‘Silly-Ass’ Spencer, had been a bell-ringer at the church. Did he still have ‘connections at St. Mary’s ? And where was the Rev. Muirhead Evans all this time ? Perhaps positioned at the church gates, selling tickets for a better view ? All proceeds to Church funds !!

Perhaps Alonzo’s eccentric acts of derring-do had an impression upon his children, especially his young sonsIn 1892, twelve-year-old Hubert Spencer and his younger brother Harry, aged 10, were very fond of throwing themselves around and performing acrobatic tricks like circus entertainers — prompted perhaps by the recent visit to Ilkeston of a renowned circus troupe. At home in Havelock Street one Sunday morning in early September, Harry had climbed on top of the fire-range and then onto the table, ready to astound his  brother, but then fell onto his left-hand side against the range. His step-mother Alice soon found him on the floor, in excrutiating pain and vomiting, so she lifted onto the sofa where she offered the lad some water. However before Doctor Tobin could arrive young Harry had died. A ruptured liver or some other vital organ being the cause of death.


1889: Edward pines for ‘the good old days’

Edward, about 1889 (Seaman & Son)

In January 1889, at the annual meeting of the Church Institute, Edward gave a speech on “the Good Old Times”. He descibed Ilkeston as a most democratic place, and wherever anyone went they heard the cry ‘Vox Populi’ — the voice of the people was paramount. He lamented that the people would not listen to their betters, nor pay respect to those who were wiser than themselves.

He argued that Conservatives — of which he was one — taught that men should respect those who ruled over them; in the ‘good old days‘ people gave heed to the squire and to those who were placed in positions above them. Thus, it was the duty of the members of the Church Institute that they should teach something better than that the mere people should decide everything.


1889: Grave discoveries at the Chancel

In May 1889 alterations were being made to the chancel at the Parish Church when two tombstones were discovered under the floor. The first, remarkedly well-preserved, was a slate about six by three feet, with an inscription under the arms of the Flamsteed family of Little Hallam.

It read :- “Here lyeth the body of John Flamsteed, of Little Hallam, gentleman, who dyed December ye 15th, 1745, aged 72”

The grandfather of this John Flamsteed was the uncle of the Astronomer Royal of the same name; while his father, of the same name too, was the one who, in his will dated 1684, set up the charity bearing his name.

The second tombstone was another slate slab, about three by two feet, with a brass shield attached to its middle, and bearing the inscription:  “Here lyeth the body of  Templer Flamsteed, son of John and Ann Flamsteed, who was borne October the 22nd, 1712, and departed this life April the 6th, 1713”.

1889: More Church improvements

In July the Parish Church was reopened after a partial and temporary closure for refurbishment, the ceremony conducted by the Lord Bishop of Southwell. The old seats in the chancel had been removed, replaced by carved oak stalls for the choir, and chairs put in the rest of the chancel. The stalls had a total of eight carved pinnacles at the ends, courtesy of the Cossall Carving Class.

The Communion table had been raised and was now approached using steps, made of polished Hopton Wood stone. Other parts of the floor had been retiled and there were new alter cloths, carpets and kneeling cushions, several provided by ‘ladies of the congregation‘. A new alter table of Austrian wainscot oak was installed, all the chancel brasswork had been relaquered, and the seating in the rest of the church had been cleaned and varnished.

The church organ had been rebuilt by Messrs Brindley and Foster of Sheffield, on their “patented tubular pneumatic system” for a cost close to £500, and was to be repositioned from the east end of the chantry to a new organ chamber, between the east end of the south aisle and the vestry. For the experts among you, ” it now consisted of 26 speaking stops and 12 accessory movements, many of these being the firm’s patent” (DM) It was to be played by the organist, seated on a console in the chancel, so that he could hear the effects of the music with the choir and observe the movements of  the clergy, away from the organ. “The stops are the large open diapason or great organ, harmoni-flute, trumpet, vox Angelica, voix celeste, and pedal open diapason (16 feet), and the agreeable tone of ‘Bourdon’ on pedals” . When it was first installed at St. Mary’s, in 1866, it had come from St. John the Evangelist’s Church in Paddington and had reputedly been played upon by the composer Mendelsshon. Its arrival after its overhaul however had been delayed, so that it wasn’t there for the re-opening service — it was expected in October but was in its final place only at the beginning of November.

Looking towards the east end of the Chancel; the South Aisle on the right (from Trueman and Marston)

The Cantilupe Gothic alter tomb had been moved, about four feet, to underneath the east chantry arch.

Percy Carrey of Derby was the architect for this work, while John Manners, builder of South Street, did much of the interior building work. The total cost was in excess of £1000, some paid off by subscriptions but a large proportion merely increased the Church’s debt.

1890; another Evans

On January 8th 1890 a son, Harold Gaspar, born to Edward and Sarah Louisa Evans.

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1890: and yet another controversy for Edward

In June 1890 the Rev. Edward stood as one of the four Church candidates for the upcoming School Board election … and in his campaign he made some very controversial remarks about Board Schools.

At holiday times we see young men breaking down the branches of trees and doing other mischief, and young married men brutally ill-treating their still younger wives; and these have been educated in Board Schools.

In reply to Edward’s views, Mr Harvey, the miner’s agent, stated that the Vicar had, by his words, simultaneously managed to insult the town, the members of the School Board and the parents of the Board School’s children …. not bad going !! He personally knew of Church parsons who got drunk and had to be carried home — much worse behaved than these imaginary Board School scholars. Voluntary Church schools educated the snobocracyall collar, cuff, and tie !!

Mr. Harvey then referred to Edward’s speech at the Church Institute in January of the previous year (above). To the miner’s agent there was no man sufficiently high for another man to demean himself by bowing and scraping to. Church parsons were not the friends of working classes, they were the greatest enemies they had, and, with the Tory Party, had blocked many reforms they should have had. If they had depended upon men like the Vicar of Ilkeston, would they have had the secret ballot, or free press, or the franchise, or compulsory education ?? He hoped that ‘the voice of the people’ would be heard in this election and would leave the vicar at the bottom of the poll.

And of course the Vicar was quick to defend himself. In a speech to his electorate a few days later, Edward declared that he had been totally misunderstood. The standard of education found in Board Schools was excellent, and thus he was so surprised when he discovered that some young people of these schools were misbehaving around the town — especially on Bank holidays. He commended the religious education in these schools and, if elected onto the Board, he would never interfere in this education. At the culmination of his speech, it appears that he had not fully convinced his audience !!

When the election results were announced, close to midnight on June 18th, the wish of Mr Harvey, the miners’ agent, was granted … almost !! Edward was bottom of those elected (that is, number 9), and the Derby Daily Telegraph had some very stern advice for Edward ….
The Vicar, it is to be noted, only got in by the skin of his teeth, although he appears to have been confident of occupying them premier position, and of being elected chairman. The reverend gentleman, moreover, went to the length of indicating the changes he intended to propse when acting in that capacity. In future it is to be hoped he will recognise the wisdom of  “never prophesying unless he is quite sure”. (June 20th)

Within a few months, was Edward starting to exploit his new position on the School Board ??!! In March of 1891 he asked for a reduction in the rate of 10s per day charged whenever he used Kensington School for Church meetings; his curate wanted to use that school’s buildings for a weekly Mission until the summer. The Board deliberated and decided  that, because the Mission was of a denominational character, a reduction should not be given — it would be unfair to other local religious bodies.


September 24th 1890: a musical concert.

The refurbished Church organ, installed less than a year before, still had a significant debt attached to it.

Step in, Ilkeston’s leading musical talent, Harry Stanley Hawley. (right)

On this September Wednesday, aided by several artists from the R.A.M., he gave two concerts — afternoon and evening — in aid of the Organ Fund.

November 1891: a Church extension ?

Members of the Church were now urged to cast their attention to the ‘large and increasing district’ between the Parish Church in the Market Place and Trowell Station at the bottom of Nottingham Road. This area included Gallows Inn, and one side of Park Road and Derby Road, with a population of about 3000-4000. The Duke of Rutland had already given half an acree of land as a site for a new church, and plans had already been prepared for a plain brick building housing about 300 worshippers. Now Edward was being urged to start a fund-raising campaign — a first installment of £1500 was needed to get the building ball rolling. However this was a poor area and so financial help would probably be needed from Nottingham and Derby.

Six months later and the name of St. John the Evangelist had been chosen for the new church. As usual, fund-raising activities had to be arranged to finance the venture — like the bazaar held in St Mary’s vicarage gardens on August 3rd 1892 and opened by Lady Laura Ridding, wife of the Bishop of Southwell. At this event the Rev Edward mentioned in his welcomng speech that a predecessor vicar, George Ebsworth, had long held the desire to build a new church in the southern part of the parish. Now, because of the rapidly increasing population in that part of the town, it fell to Edward to push for the new church, thirty years after George’s departure.

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And so on, to the bell-ringers