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History                    St Michael’s Church, Pleasley

A Short History of the Village and St Michael’s Church, Pleasley.

Although not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, it is likely that a settlement of Pleasley already existed at this time. Derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘Plesa’, being a person’s name and ‘lëah’ meaning wood, glade or more likely clearing in a wood, Pleasley would probably have been a very small community providing a crossing of the River Meden. Later constructions to provide water for the mill in the square at Pleasley have changed the nature of the river, but originally this would have been an ideal fording place. There is a natural bowl of flat land here by the river which cuts into the higher magnesium limestone which surrounds it on all sides and this would have given good access across the river.

It is believed that at the time of the Domesday Survey, Pleasley would have been part of the manor of Glapwell. Prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, the owner of the manor of Glapwell had been a man called Leofric, but in the Domesday Book it states that this land and several other manors had been taken over by William Peverel. Serlo, the tenant is referred to in later documents as Serlo de Glapwell.

A descendant of Serlo de Glapwell, either his son or grandson, known as Serlo de  Pleasley is thought to have founded the church of St Michael’s in about 1150 and also to have built a manor house close by.

The simple Norman style chancel arch with billet moulding is all that remains of the original church although some of the lower stonework of the walls is thought to be original. A founder’s tomb is recessed into the south east wall of the chancel, but when this was opened up during renovations in the 19th century it was found to be empty. Serlo de Pleasley had formed an alliance with Felley Priory and it is believed that he was buried there instead.

The church was altered during the 13th century with windows being enlarged and a tower being added at the west end in the late 14th or early 15th century. There is no written record of this work being undertaken, but the church displays the style of building from these centuries. Some stonework around several doors and windows has since been replaced in later renovations of the 19th Century.

The old, carved stone font is thought to be Norman and of a similar date to the original church. The early style of carving depicts a priest performing a baptism, holding a cloth with a cross decoration in one hand and an aspergillum (water sprinkler) in the other. The style of haircut appears to be Norman or it could just represent a priest’s tonsure, when the crown of the head is shaved, leaving a circle of hair around it. The figure, richly dressed in priest’s vestments is seated on a throne or priest’s chair which is shown to one side. The priest is seated beneath an arch similar to the chancel arch in the church.

The octagonal font is shaped from one block of stone, with flattened sides on the exterior to provide surfaces for carving. This may indicate a slightly later date as Norman fonts were generally square or tub shaped. Examples of octagonal fonts have been found as early as 1170, but this shape is more common from the 13th century onwards.

Only one side has been fully carved. A second side has another arch carved at the top, but the full panel was never completed. Undoubtedly, the font should have been carved on all sides, but something prevented this from happening.  A newer font dated 1662 stands at the back of the church and this would have been installed following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Many original fonts were removed from churches at the start of the Commonwealth period (1649-1660) and new ones installed at the Restoration. St Michael’s old font was found in the Rectory garden in the 19th century, being used as a flower tub and has since been restored to the church. The later font stands on an earlier base which could have held the original font.

It is perhaps surprising that such a simple, relatively small church should have such a finely carved font. The church does appear to have been upgraded during the 13th century and this may have been due to the wealthy influence of the Bek family who held Pleasley manor from sometime prior to 1280 until Anthony Bek’s death in 1310. Thomas, John and Anthony Bek were all very wealthy people. Thomas became Bishop of St David’s in Wales and was also Lord Treasurer to King Edward 1st, Keeper of the Wardrobe, Keeper of the Great Seal of England and a Chancellor of Oxford University. Anthony Bek was a Crusader, courtier, linguist, ambassador and the Bishop of Durham.

A charter, granted by the King dated 9th May 1284 gave Thomas Bek and his heirs  the right to hold a market on Monday in each week, plus two fairs to be held on the feast of St Luke and the feast of St Mark. The remains of the old market cross stands at the crossroads in Pleasley. The cross would have been erected soon after the granting of the charter. All that remains are stone steps leading up to the base of the shaft.

Although Pleasley may only have been a convenient place to stay while hunting in the forest and certainly not Thomas Bek’s main residence, he was granted permission in 1285 to build a stone mansum and crenellate it. The addition of battlements could have just been for decoration rather than for defence and this house may have replaced or improved upon an earlier residence.

On 18th February 1293 King Edward 1st visited Thomas Bek at Pleasley on his way from Welbeck to Codnor Castle. He stayed the night, so the house must have been big enough to accommodate the King and his retinue. Also it must have been of sufficient importance and size to seek the King’s permission to fortify it. Or permission may have been required as the property possibly fell within the King’s forest known as Sherwood Forest. The actual site of the manor house is unclear, but it has been suggested that it was situated on a bluff across the River Meden from the church with a good vantage point both ways along the river and down to Pleasley Vale where the Pleasley deer park was situated.

The River Meden has always provided the north-west boundary of Sherwood Forest through many centuries and the crossing of the River Meden at Pleasley would have been one of the points of entry into the forest. At this point the forest was not necessarily thick with trees but contained areas of scrub and clearings to encourage grazing for the deer.

Pleasley Park itself is first mentioned in documents in1209. By 1330 it seems to be mentioned in conjunction with neighbouring Warsop Wood and this may have formed one large deer park. By 1425 the park estate was held by John Leake of Sutton Scarsdale Hall and it is suggested that the manor house at Pleasley may have fallen into disrepair at this time with the stone later being re used in farm buildings close to the site.

A more detailed history of St Michael’s is available to buy at the church.