The Domesday survey mentions a church and a priest at Greasley in the time of Edward the Confessor, so there is a long history of a church in this parish. Domesday also mentions a chapel at Hempshill which was in Greasley parish. The parish was in the honour of Peverell and Aylric held of Peverell. The first person to carry the de Greasley title was William who is mentioned in 1139. Ralph de Greasley married Isabella de Muskham in 1212 and their daughter Agnes married Hugh fitz Ralph, son of the Lord of Selston, who became the first Patron of Greasley church. Eustache, daughter of Agnes and Hugh married Nicholas de Cantelupe and later Sir William de Roos and it is these two who are recorded in Archbishop Greenfield's register for February 26, 1294 as presenting Hugh de Cressy as Rector of Greasley church. The first rector was also named Hugh de Cressy, the second another de Cressy whose first name is not recorded. Hugh was described as incorrigible in 1312 when the church was sequestrated for the second time due to his absence from the parish.
The Barony of Canteloupe was created in 1299 and this family held the advowson of the church until Nicholas de Canteloupe founded Beauvale Priory in 1343 and gave the advowson to it at that time. The Priory was situated on land less than a mile to the north of the church. The Priory ruins are on private property but can be seen from a public road running from the side of the Horse and Groom Inn, Moorgreen. The church contains some floor tiles and two roundels of glass, in a window called the 'Beauvale Window', which are from the Priory. The Canteloupe Barony expired c1375 on the death of William, both of whose sons pre deceased him. The Watnall part of the parish was held partly by the Canteloupes and partly by the Chaworth family and this is still reflected in the parts of that village called Watnall Canteloupe and Watnall Chaworth. Following the dissolution of Beavale Priory in 1540 the advowson passed through marriages and land purchases to the Rutland, Melbourne, Palmerston, Sutton and Cowper families until in 1917 Lord Desborough and Lady Lucas requested the Diocese of Southwell take it over.
There is no early description of the church and so its appearance cannot be described, but it seems possible that there were at least two altars in the church, since the will of John de Wollaton, proved in 1382, states his request to be buried before the altar of St. James in the church at Greasley. The dedication of the church to St. Mary seems likely to have been unchanged, as the dedication festival has always been September 8th, the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the local 'wakes' were always held at the beginning of September, a continuation of the ancient feasting connected with dedication festivals.
In 1240 the Archbishop of York confirmed a grant made by the patron Hugh Fitzralph and the Rector, Hugh de Cressy, to Sir Robert de Vavasour regarding a chantry in the chapel at Hempshill. In 1303 Archbishop Thomas of Corbridge gave leave to Roger de Brunnesley (Brinsley) to build a chapel in his manor there and to have a chaplain serving it, though it was suspended on 1315 by Archbishop Greenfield.
The church stands on a hill and its tower provides a landmark for the surrounding countryside. There are few adjacent buildings apart from the Church Hall, a tearoom, the old vicarage and a few dwellings. Immediately on the east side stands Greasley Castle Farm, an 18th century building, which derives its name from the manor house which Nicholas de Cantelupe fortified in 1340 with permission from King Edward III. Some stonework from the de Cantelupe house remains in the walls of the farm barns and the traces of a moat can also be seen. Excavations of 1901 suggest a plain square plan with angle towers. The village of Moorgreen is less than a mile to the west and the hamlet of Bogend a few hundred yards to the west. It was at Bogend that the church school was founded by the Rolleston family in about 1756 and where it remained until the Board School at Beauvale was opened in 1878.
The parish is unusual in the Midlands for its church being so isolated from the settlements it serves, but there is no readily apparent reason for this apart, perhaps, from the number of farms in the adjacent areas. There is a suggestion that Moorgreen was the Home Farm of Greasley Castle. The church at Kimberley is first mentioned in the Torre manuscript in 1298 when Robert de Kynemarley was patron and John de Kynemarley its first Rector. In 1336 John de Kimmerley passed the manor and advowson to Sir John de Monte, Rector of Greasley, who, in turn, passed it to Nicholas de Canteloupe. The church at Kimberley was united with its mother church at Greasley in 1448. A part of Hempshill was in Greasley parish until Kimberley parish was formed and Domesday mentions a chapel there belonging to the church at Greasley. In 1240 Robert de Vavasour had a grant from Hugh de Cressy, Rector of Greasley, by the Archbishop of York, to build a Chantry in the chapel at Hempshill.
Greasley parish is a large one, at one time the largest in Nottinghamshire at 5363 acres. In 1676 the population was 386 with no recusants and 8 dissenters. In 1832 the vicar, John Hides, told the Church Commissioners that he needed to keep a horse to enable him to visit all his flock as the parish was 20 miles in circumference. In 1848 Kimberley became a parish in its own right as did Brinsley in 1866. In 1881 the parish of Greasley was 4,384 acres and the population 2,700. There were other boundary changes in 1955. The parish was a rural one where the parishioners were agricultural labourers or coal miners working in the colliers of the Barber Walker and Digby Companies. In 1638 the vicar stated that the Communion wine was administered out of bottles because of a lack of flagons, and later vicars emphasise to the Church Commissioners the lack of wealth in the parish. The present day parish serves a mixed community of rural people, those in employment in the local area and commuters to the cities of Nottingham and Derby.
The United Reformed Church in Greasley was founded in 1662 by Robert Smalley who was vicar of St. Mary's but who had to leave when he refused to submit to Epsicopal Ordination at the Restoration. Services were also held in private houses as is shown by Dissenters' Certificates of 1700 and 1799. The 1851 census shows there to have been Methodist New Connection, Babbington General Baptist, Wesleyan Reformers and Primitive Methodist chapels in Kimberley. At Moorgreen there was an Independent chapel. There were Methodist New Connection at Hilltop, General Baptists at Newthorpe, Primitive Methodists at Begarlee and Wesleyans at New and Old Brinsley.
In 1901 when Rev. Von Hube wrote his book 'Griselia' there were Primitive Methodist, Methodist New Connection, Wesleyan, Baptist, Salvationist Barracks in Kimberley, The Roman Catholics had a church at Hilltop; Brinsley had a non-conformist chapel; Watnall a Wesleyan chapel; Newthorpe General Baptist and Primitive Methodist chapels; Beauvale Primitive Methodist, General Baptist, Wesleyan and New Testament Disciple chapels, and Moorgreen had a Congregational chapel. Many of these chapels have closed during the 20th century to be converted to other uses or demolished although the Catholic church remains at Hilltop and chapels at Newthorpe and Moorgreen still worship.
Personalities associated with the church include Gilbert Millington, active in the Civil War, who has a memorial in the church. William Warburton who was vicar in 1723 and who later became Bishop of Gloucester. John Mansell vicar from 1776 to 1797 left a Charity bequest to the poor of the parish which was amalgamated with a charity from the Rolleston family in 1887 and distributed by Trustees. In 1603 John Robinson married Bridget White in the church, he was a Pastor to the Pilgrim Fathers and read the address to the Mayflower on its departure from Holland for America. A further link with the sea is the grave of Benjamin Drawater of Mansfield who was a surgeon on at least one of Captain Cook's voyages. A poignant burial here is Millicent Shaw's of 1844; she was crushed to death in the crowd whilst attending the Nottingham hanging of William Saville who had murdered his wife and three children. Mention must be made of the Rev. Rodoph, Baron von Hube, who was vicar from 1866 until 1907 and who was the son of a Polish nobleman. He became a deacon in 1857, was ordained in 1860 by the Bishop of Grahamstown in South Africa, and he served at Panmure German Mission before coming to the UK. He was curate at Eastwood and Ironville before becoming vicar at Greasley. We own to Rev. Von Hube a debt of gratitude because he wrote the book 'Griseleia', a history of the Parish, in which he describes the condition of the church and its restoration work during his incumbency. On April 5th 1870 he notified the Church Commissioners that he had inherited his family title and would thereafter sign himself as 'Rodolph Baron Hube'. During his retirement he lived in Nottingham and is buried in the Nottingham General Cemetery.
D.H. Lawrence used much of the area around Eastwood, including the parish of Greasley as settings for his books. Lawrence attended the Beauvale School and the old Ram Inn there is described in 'The White Peacock'. The old Greasley vicarage and adjacent fields formed the setting for 'Love Among the Haystacks' and the haymaking scenes in 'The White Peacock'. Lamb Close, the home of the Barber family of the Barber Walker colliery company, was 'Shortlands' in 'Women In Love' and 'Highclose' in 'The White Peacock'. The Barbers had a close association with St. Mary's.
The building contains traces of the medieval stonework in the exterior of the chancel walls, but is mainly little over 100 years old, apart from the C15th perpendicular tower with its eight crocketed pinnacles. The building is ashlar and in local stone. It is surmised that there had been a substantial fire in the earlier building because it is recorded that building work in the C18th revealed molten lead within the stonework of the walls, indicative of great heat.
The first recorded building work is 1727 when the roof was lowered and covered in lead, a piece of which was later recovered and retained and bearing the inscription, "Sir Richard Sutton Impropriator, 1727". In 1753 repairs were effected at a cost of £1530 and there is a brief recorded at Chatham Parish Church dated April 15, 1753 for Greasley church. An inventory in the 16th century, when Richard Hallam was vicar shows:-
1st Imprymis a challis wth, ye patten of sylver gylt
Item ii bells in ye steppyll
Item ii coppys on branched with blew ye hother wth green.
Item iii vestements on of thame ys blake chamlet wth ye crosse of ye bake of Greyne velvet.
It. Ye second of tham ye of grene wth ye crosse of ye bake of chamlet.
It. Thred of thame ys of goyld wth a crosse of ye bak wth blewe and rede.
John Gallaley and his followers are bound to answer for a bell wch. They have sold for x li. ( John Gallale was a churchwarden of this period).
In 1832 a new lead roof was placed over the chancel. In 1835 the burial ground was extended. A gallery on the north side was fitted in 1839 to increase the seating to 721, of which 320 were free sittings, and at the same time a chapel was built in Brinsley. The builder was Robert Barber of Eastwood and the cost for the chapel £800 and for the church £200. At this time the population of the parish was 4583, with 1,000 of them in Brinsley, three miles from the church.
The 1851 Religious census placed the population at 5284, of which 2714 were male and 2570 female. This indicates a growing population with an increase of 701 in just 12 years, as does the need for the gallery and extension to the burial ground. This is likely due to the increased in employment due to coal mining in the area. The parish was 8010 acres at the time of the census and St. Mary's returned an afternoons service only with 171 General Congregation and 77 Sunday Scholars. The average over twelve months being declared at 280 General Congregation and 90 Sunday Scholars. Brinsley Chapel of Ease held morning service with 112 General Congregation and 130 Sunday Scholars. The returns for both places being made by John Hides Vicar of Greasley. There was also Trinity Church in Kimberley holding morning and evening services with 63 General Congregation and 49 Sunday Scholars in the morning, 78 Sunday Scholars in the afternoon and 193 General Congregation in the evening. The rector, William Clementson, returned averages for twelve months of 85 General Congregation in the morning with 66 Sunday Scholars; 83 Scholars in the afternoon and about 400 General Congregation for evening service. The figures for Brinsley and Kimberley clearly reflect where the greater part of Greasley's population lived and perhaps explaining why the mother church's congregation was relatively low in comparison, and that only one Sunday service was held. In 1890 von Hube indicated on an application for a grant from the Church Commissioners for a curate, that the population was 2788 and that 2,000 or more worked in the mines of Barber Walker Company, perhaps he was referring only to the male population, as otherwise the figures do not make sense. In 1914, Rev. Douglas Wood applied for a Mining Grant for a curate and said his population was 4,000, mainly miners, and that in July 1914 he was to take over a large part of Kimberley parish which would add another 1,600 parishioners. Yet another grant application for a curate, of 1938 indicated a population of 7,000 and only Rev. Gerald Marson and a Church Army officer, who was leaving to become a Grocer, were available to the parish at that time.
During the Second World War added responsibilities fell to the vicar of Greasley who became Chaplain to the people serving at RAF Watnall.
The original vicarage was adjacent to the church but in 1872 a new vicarage was built on land given by the Patron in exchange for the old vicarage.
Von Hube tells us that when he arrived at the church in 1866 the chancel walls were skirted with large slabs as support, and these are still present. Masonry had been repaired and buttresses built, but the church was in a bad way. There was a brick wall of 10 to 12 feet in height erected inside to separate the tower from the church and the tower was boarded up to keep the cold out. There was 'an ordinary parlour fire' with dog grate in the chancel for warmth and the glazing of the chancel windows was similar to that of an early greenhouse and "the whistling of air through them was not exactly what an Aeolian harp would perform". The pews were straight backed and three of them were high enough to almost hide the head of standing occupants, and the pulpit was a two-decker.
The chancel windows were re-glazed in 1877 and there was a substantial rebuild in 1882 involving a new tower roof, new belfry floor, new heating chamber, new sections inserted into the nave windows and they were re-glazed in cathedral quarries. The nave was re-floored and new seating provided. At this time the pulpit was replaced with a stone one, the font moved and the galleries removed. A reading desk and lectern were provided. Whilst this work was being undertaken, services were held in the boy's classroom at Beauvale Board School. The architect for this work was H. G. Turner of Chancery Lane, London and he estimated the cost at £700, but it eventually cost nearer £900.
Coal had been extracted from the parish from its very early days and Beauvale Priory owned coal rights in the parish as is shown from leases of mining rights. Later, the church undoubtedly benefited from coal money through the support given by the Barber Walker Company which traces its foundation to 1680. The Barber family were in occupation of Greasley Castle in 1737, they moved to Lamb Close after the then Company Chairman bought Beauvale House and Lamb Close from the Cowper Estate and the Company bought 800 acres of land, including Newthorpe Grange from the estate at the same time which was 1916. The Walker family appears in 1790 in a lease from the Earl of Stamford to Thomas Barber and Thomas Walker. The Walkers lived at Eastwood Hall from 1843 to 1871. Barber Walker Company bought the Brinsley estate from the Duke of Newcastle in 1897 and the advowson of St. Mary's passed thereby to the Company, which was finally liquidated in 1954. The Barber Walker Company and its owning families had a close connection with the church at Greasley and the company supported the employment of a curate for several years.
There were many collieries in Greasley Parish and the surrounding areas, including Newthorpe, Awsworth, High Park, Watnall, Moorgreen, Hilltop, Moorgreen and Brinsley. High Park, sunk in 1856 had work suspended when water from the Great Northern Railway's Moorgreen reservoir burst up into No. 1 shaft. Work was recommenced in 1858, the colliery opened in October 1861 and became the first Nottinghamshire colliery to produce 1,000 tons of coal in a day. Engine Lane at Moorgreen lead to the Barber Walker engine houses, stables and workshops. The population of the parish increased as a result of the employment provided by the coal mines. A piece of land at the end of Occupation Lane, Beauvale, by the footpath to the Beauvale Engine yard became known as 'Dead Mans Land', because coffin bearers on their way from Brinsley to the burial ground at St. Mary's would take a rest there.
There are no working collieries in the parish or surrounding areas today, but headstocks from Brinsley can be seen in the village and at Moorgreen, behind the Garden Centre, a public park area has been built on land which was derelict for many years after the demise of the collieries. The slag heap from Brinsley remains as a pleasantly grassed hill passed by the A610 road. A reminder of the coal industry is seen in the 'Harrison' window in the church. This is dedicated to the memory of John Robert Harrison (1868-1948) who was a local colliery manager.
Although there had been agreement with the colliery companies not to mine directly under the church, it was very badly affected by subsidence, and the tower parted company with the north and south aisle walls, the chancel broke away from the nave and light could be seen through the cracks. In 1896 when all settlement had ceased extensive rebuilding was required at a cost of £2,000, funded by the Barber Walker Company, Earl Cowper and the Duke of Rutland. The church as we see today is that of this rebuild, although a choir vestry was added in 1910 and a vicar's vestry in memory of Thomas Philip Barber in 1963.
In 1909 the parish owned land adjacent to the vicarage, known as 'Steep Close' and also five fields in the parish of Sandiacre and six fields in Breaston from which rent of £99 per annum was received. In the same terrier the vicar's stipend is stated as £145.13s. 4d. and the parish owned Newthorpe Institute.
There was no coloured glass in the church until 1948 when money was raised by the congregation and the east window received its coloured glass, designed and fitted by H. T. Hincks of Nottingham. At the same time and by the same artist, the Beauvale Priory and Diocesan windows were fitted into the chancel, which became a memorial chapel to the memory of the dead of both world wars. Subsequent coloured windows have been made and fitted by Michael Stokes of Harlequin Stained Glass, whose motif of a harlequin is seen in the lower left corners.
The Choir Vestry was built on the north side of the Chancel in 1910 at a cost of £600. It contains a rather nice drop down wash basin, as well as cupboards for the robes of the choir.
In 1919 a pleasant light oak Chancel screen was erected as a memorial to the 68 people of Greasley who gave their lives in the 1914-1918 war. One name stands out, that of the only female, L. Cecelia Holmes of the WRAF. In 1947 it was decided to raise an appeal to fund a Memorial to the men of the parish who died in the Second World War. £968 was raised and a decision was made to link the memorials to both world wars and so the Chancel was turned into a War Memorial Chapel. A stained glass window provided to replace the plain glass in the East End. This was designed and made by Horace T. Hincks of Nottingham. At the same time two coloured windows were inserted into the window spaces on the south side of the Chancel and the reredos dating from 1896, was cleaned and renovated. The fallen of the World War Two are named on a wooden board in the Chancel and which bears 26 names. The Chancel forms a particularly pleasant area of the church.
The Vicar's Vestry was built onto the south side of the Chancel in 1963, in memory of Thomas Philip Barber, who died in 1961, by a donation from his children. It was dedicated by Canon S. J. Galloway, a previous Greasley Vicar and a son-in-law to the Barbers.
The Sanctuary area in front of the Chancel screen was dedicated by the Bishop of Southwell in 1976, with its furnishings donated by family, friends and parishioners in memory of Barbara Isobel, the wife of Rev. Philip Walker. Space for the Sanctuary was made by removing the first three rows of pews.
In 1966 the church was listed as of Special Architectural interest.
The main entrance to the church is through a door in the tower at the west end and a porch is formed by a metal and glass screen as a memorial to the Revd. Phillip Geoffrey Walker and his wife Barbara and dedicated by the Archdeacon of Nottingham in 1989. At the same time space was made for two Sidesman's desks, made of oak and dedicated to members of the congregation.
The graveyard was extended in 1835, being consecrated on August 26th of that year on land bought for the purpose by Lord Viscount Melbourne. It was further extended in 1976
The parish registers begin in 1660 but the early ones are in poor condition and there are some missing between 1653 and 1723.
The organ is a Lloyd presented in 1910 by Major Thomas Philip Barber of Lamb Close, Moorgreen.
Pevsner's description of Greasley states: 'A proud C15 Notts tower, tall and broad, and in a position to serve as a landmark for miles around. Ashlar, pairs of corner buttresses, large twin two-light bell-openings, battlements, and eight pinnacles. The rest of the church 1882 and 1896, rebuilt by Earl Cowper of Beauvale. - Nice slate Commandment Boards (the slate district reaches up about as far as this) - Stained Glass. Roundels of medieval glass showing St. Agatha and St. Lucy, from Beauvale Priory. DOE- MONUMENT. Lancelot Rolleston + 1685, demi-figure baroquely draped, with the usual pediment etc.'