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The Rectors of Ordsall

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William Denman, MA (Rector 1550-1587)

One of the most famous of the Rectors. He was instituted on 2nd June, 1550, and deprived by order of Queen Mary for three years 1556-9. He was the son of Nicholas Denman. His mother was Anne, one of the eight sisters of Sir John Hercy of Grove.

He matriculated as a pensioner from St. John’s College, Cambridge in March, 1544, and became B.A. in 1548, and M.A. 1551. In 1549 he was made a Fellow of his college, and was ordained soon afterwards. His brother was Francis, who lived in Grove Street, Retford, and had two daughters Anne and Barbara; destined to become famous characters. The second brother was Nicholas, who had two sons, Alexander and Robert, both of whom were buried in East Retford Church.

The Reverend William Denman was married and this was given as the reason of his deprivation under Queen Mary in 1556. Robert Blunston was given the Rectory in his place and he held it for three years.

After the accession of Elizabeth a Visitation of the Northern Province was held, and the Deaneries of Retford and Laneham were summoned to appear at Blyth Church on August 26th and 28th, 1559. The Rector was then restored to his living and Robert Blunston removed.

He remained for nearly 30 years after this stirring adventure and was buried at Ordsall on 14th November, 1587. He had a son William, baptised 29th January, 1569, but the child was buried on 1st May, 1571.

Another child Nicholas was baptised on 8th June, 1572 and a third, William, was baptised on 23rd March 1575. The Marriage and Burial Registers begin in the year of the Rector’s return in 1559.

There was formerly a monument to his memory in the Church, but this disappeared sometime in the 18th Century. Thoroton in his History of Notts. records the Latin inscription, of which we give a translation

I was a Squire’s son, my mother was heiress of a knight,

My name is Denman, I was a Master of Arts.

Rector of Ordsall in Mary’s reign removed,

Queen Elizabeth restored me to my flock;

And I thereupon worked that Retford should reap the fruits of my labours,

If any are zealous to make progress in Religion,

Ordsall knows I built houses for the poor.

Beneath this pile, I now am lying dead.

Ah! no, not dead, I live beyond in bliss,

Earth holds my corpse, in heaven my spirit dwells.

It is a pity this interesting monument is lost. Other members of the family desired to be buried in Ordsall Church, according to the list in the Torre MSS. at York.

30 October, 1557. Richard Denman.

6 July, 1576. Ralph Denman of Thrumpton, near his uncle Richard.

3 December, 1583. Philippa Denman, widow, in the North Aisle near her husband.

12 May, 1582. Thomas Denman in the Lady Quire, (or Chapel where the organ now stands).


The will of Thomas Denman was made on 12th August, 1546, and has been printed by the Surtees Society in vol. 106. The following extract is of some interest

To be buried in the Lady Choir, there to remain until the general Resurrection. To the Common Cheste Ordsall 10/- also to E. Retford, W. Retford, Moorgate, Babworth, Morton, Elkesley, Gamston, Eaton, Grove.

To upholding of Long Bridges in Ordsall, and to mending of highways there 6/8.

To niece Nicholas Denman’s wife a Red Mantle.

To cousin RaIf Denman, my best gowne.

To nephew Richard Denman, my gowne furred with lamb, and jerkin of Chamlet.

To Johann Burley, daughter of Elizabeth Burley a flecked cow.

To Gregory Dunston, my doublet of Say.

To Thomas Burley, when 21, my Kendall Jacket, doublet, shirt, pare of hose.

To my God Children 4d. each.

To Elizabeth Witson my servant £3/6/8, a mattress, pair of hemp sheets, 2 yellow coverlets, one new, one old.

To my Lady Hercy a gold ring.

To William Denman son of Nicholas Denman and his heirs: All lands in W. Retford on condition in Even of A1l Saints’ there shall be given unto the Curate of Ordsall 3/4 each year for the poor, the distributor to be the Curate and four of the most honest men of the said parish. In the presence of Sir Edmund Webster, Priest.

Thomas Eyre, Nicholas Johnson, Roger Tonge, John Backhouse, Richard Chreye and others. Proved 15th May, 1552.

Additional material from David Marquand, English Small Town Life, Retford 1520-1642, Department of Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1993:

Denman was nephew and heir of Sir John Hercy of Grove, and on Sir John’s death he became Lord of the Manor of West Retford.  He was thus an influential man in the area and supporter and protector of local puritans.

He had family links with other puritans, including Edward Hodgson, Vicar of East Retford, Nicholas Pettinger II, and Robert Lily, Rector of Babworth.  In 1578 he presented his brother, Francis, as Rector of West Retford. His nephew, John, married the sister of the leading puritan divine and controversialist, Walter Travers.

His death in 1588 came fairly soon after the public disputations between Travers and Richard Hooker, and two years after Travers’ suspension from preaching in London.  It was a critical phase in the development of puritanism.

It is notable the extent to which these feelings of religious radicalism were restricted to a small and inter-related group in the town and stretched back to the earliest years of the Reformation in the person of William Denman.  The departure of the Pilgrims was no casual whim, but a deep-felt Protestant commitment rooted in the family traditions of North Nottinghamshire.” [p. 259]

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