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Nottinghamshire County Council - Proud of our past, ambitious for our future

Southwell Chapter

Our latest online exhibition features the records of the Southwell Chapter, which have been newly catalogued at Nottinghamshire Archives.

01 - Photograph of Southwell Minster from north west (ref PR25121)
Photograph of Southwell Minster from north west (ref PR25121)

For many people living in and around Southwell in Nottinghamshire, the Southwell Chapter would have been an important part of their lives.

  • Some people wanted to get married and needed a licence from the chapter
  • Others were called to the chapter court to account for their spiritual and moral behaviour
  • Some individuals needed the wills of their deceased loved ones to be proved by the chapter
  • Many men became members of the chapter, either as canons, vicars in local churches or singers in the choir
  • Children attended the Southwell grammar and song schools, run by the chapter.


In this exhibition we will explore the history of the Chapter through the eyes of nine people, each with their own story to tell. 

  • Andrew Meires had a long career at Southwell in the 1670s and 1680s as school master, vicar and financier

  • Edmund Crumwell got his marriage licence at Southwell in 1672, and his will was proved there

  • Edward Astline and Anne Lowe were presented to court for not going to church in 1683

  • Eleanor Wilson went to court after the death of her husband in 1683

  • Gilbert Bennet was a prebendary canon who appointed deputies to serve as vicars in the chapter’s prebends in the 1660s

  • John Beckit and Jane Pigott were summoned to court in 1683 for a sexual misdemeanour

  • Mark Keep was the Clerk of the Fabric, responsible for the upkeep of the church, when there was a fire at the Minster in 1711

  • Thomas Cartwright was a vicar choral in the 1470s and 1480s whose behaviour was not very appropriate for a priest

  • William Mompesson had been rector of Eyam during the plague before he became a prebendary canon at Southwell in 1671, where he built the canons’ new house.



The Collegiate Church of the Blessed Mary the Virgin, the mother church of Nottinghamshire, was established some time during the Saxon era.  It may have been built on the site where the first Christians were baptised in Nottinghamshire.

The first time it comes into written record is in a grant of lands made by Edwy, king of England (c940 – 959), in 956, although there had probably been a church on the site for many years previously.  It was the Normans who built a larger church in stone in the first half of the 12th century.

02 - Photograph of Southwell Minster from north east, with chapter house (ref PR25122)
Photograph of Southwell Minster from north east, with chapter house (ref PR25122)

The Minster was governed by a body called the Southwell Chapter.  The Chapter was established in Saxon times.  Although under the authority of the Archbishops of York, it enjoyed considerable independence. 

The Chapter was made up of sixteen canons.  They would meet regularly in the chapter house to hold discussions, make decisions, appoint new clergymen and supervise the running of the Minster. 

White Book of Southwell

The Chapter owned and managed a large number of estates.  Much of the rents and revenues from its extensive properties were used by the Chapter to provide much of the finance for the repair and maintenance of the Minster and the provision of stipends to the clergy. 

Many of the endowments and property which the Chapter owned was granted by the king, and copies of these grants, along with rights, privileges and statutes issued by the crown, the pope and the archbishop, are recorded in the White Book of Southwell.  The Book started in c1335 but records documents from c1106 to 1609.

03 - The Liber Albus or White Book of Southwell (ref SC7-1-1)
The Liber Albus or White Book of Southwell (ref SC7-1-1)


Southwell Chapter Court

The Chapter also had its own court, which had jurisdiction over 28 parishes in Nottinghamshire.  The court would issue marriage licences, prove wills and watch over the moral and spiritual wellbeing of the people who lived in these parishes.

Apart from a brief period during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, the Chapter held sway for many centuries.  However, in 1840 the Chapter lost its powers as part of wide-spread Victorian reforms of the church. 

In 1884 the Diocese of Southwell was established in 1884, and Southwell Minster became the diocese’s cathedral church. The Chapter was then re-formed, but in a different form and with a much diminished range of powers.

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