The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) in Mansfield
Eleven years after the first Latter-Day Saint missionaries set foot on British soil, the first recorded baptism in this church in Mansfield took place (Baptism by immersion followed by Confirmation of those over the age of eight is used to demonstrate a person’s membership of the church). On this date, being Sunday 23rd July 1848 , Charles Cooper of Ratcliffe Gate, 41 years old and a Besom maker was baptised. A total of 42 baptisms were performed before the year was over followed by:
148 baptisms in 1849
160 baptisms in 1850
189 baptisms in 1851
213 baptisms in 1852
The ages of these early converts at the time of their baptism shows that the church appealed to all ages with the age range varying from 8 to 68.
In the early days the local congregations were more numerous in this area than they are today with congregations in Mansfield, Mansfield Woodhouse, Warsop and Sutton-in-Ashfield.
The 1851 census of Religions states that the Mansfield congregation met in a building with a seating capacity of 150 people which was the number in attendance at the evening service. The building used had previously been used by a Methodist Church . After the Saints (The word ‘Saint’ is used to signify a member of the church) left this building, in the mid 1880s, it was used as a warehouse by Wards Shoe makers. It is located in a yard just off of Ratcliffe Gate 100 feet west of Broxtowe Drive .
Although hundreds joined the church not all carried on attending and many emigrated to be with the main body of the church in America . The peak of the emigration was in 1853 after which the size of the congregation settled down to around 70 members attending church services.
The church has no paid ministers and consequently the local leaders proved to come from many walks of life, such as farmers, trades people, framework knitters or labourers.
This congregation was organised in 1849 with no specific meeting place being located. On the 1851 census of religions 16 people were in attendance at the afternoon service and 32 in the evening. Although it was disorganised in 1857, it had 123 converts and 28 children blessed in its eight years.
Thirty seven saints met in 1851 at a house in Marriott’s Yard, Butt Lane (now Sherwood Street ) but no other records have been located referring to this congregation except the following entry taken from the 1896 Warsop Almanac entitled:
‘ The Late Mormon Society’
The Mormons of Mansfield Woodhouse made a strenuous attempt to found a Warsop Mormon Society in 1848 but although the services were continued for about 7 years in a house in Marriotts yard, Butt Lane the principles of the ‘faithful’ could not take root in Warsop soil.
The Gospel reached Sutton a few months after Mansfield with the first baptisms taking place 20th March 1849 . Six people were baptised on that day.
According to the 1851 census of religions the saints met for a short time in Huthwaite. Next we find them meeting in a room above Mr. W. North’s shop on Portland Square , Sutton.
Missionaries made an attempt to find converts in Kirkby but with little success. An article in the Free Press dated 17th October 1924 recalls an event which took place in or around 1850. “The village was much disturbed by Mormon Preachers who took their stand on the Cross … It was fun to see and hear a real missionary from America ”. The article then says that they did not have much success there.
In all one 123 people were baptised in Sutton.
Back to Mansfield
For many years the church met in the Ratcliffe Gate property before moving to a large attic room in Simpson’s Yard, which was situated immediately to the left of the Empire Theatre on Stockwell Gate (several bill boards now stand on the site, which is opposite Superbowl).
The Mansfield saints were expanding their additional meetings to form a church that provided more than Sunday services. Local minutes provide us with the following ‘In 1874 John Clark was appointed to take charge of Sunday School’. An entry of 1912 tells us that the ‘Sunday School’ was held in the L.D.S. Hall at 2.40pm . There were two classes – Theological and Intermediate – and 25 persons were present’. Although there was only one single attic room at this time in Simpson’s yard, which had no toilet or running water and just one tiny gas heater, it had red curtains in the middle which were drawn across the room to divide it into two.
In 1879 a Mutual Improvement Association was formed. This organisation catered for all ages and provided for the general improvement of a person’s life, teaching many different types of life and household skills.
The first Relief Society (Similar to Women’s Institute) was organised in 1885. We find a choir being mentioned in 1875. In 1879 it was decided to open a night school.
In 1912 we find the first mention of social activities, which reads ‘A successful social was held at Stockwell Gate, with about 100 saints and friends in attendance. Excellent refreshments were served and a splendid programme rendered’.
During the Fist World War and for several Years afterwards just one service was held on Sunday. Although the Simpson Yard premises served their needs for many years we find that in 1926 the congregation began to expand and larger premises were needed. From August the Saints began to meet in rooms above a shop on Westgate, which stood approximately where the library lift is now located.
Their stay in these rooms were short lived for within two years they had moved to rooms above a baker and confectioners shop at 39a Albert Street, Mansfield. Different families in the congregation took it in turn to take a small bag of coal each Sunday morning to burn on the chapel fire.
In 1928 ‘a genealogical class had recently been organised … A spirit of enthusiasm was in evidence among the members’. In 1931 a Genealogical Society was established by the church.
In 1934 a Primary Association (similar to a Sunday school for 3-12 year old children) was founded. It was reported that “Mansfield is proud of its Primary. Five months ago it had none. Now enrolled in the Primary classes, and meeting each week, are forty children, of which number, all but one, are non-members of the church”.
One Easter dance was held in the Parish Hall where over 200 people attended. Visits to Newstead Abbey and Sherwood Forest were favourites of the saints.
In 1939 many local brethren were called-up or seconded to work in other parts of the country. This left just two active men in the congregation. After the congregation almost disappeared during this period we find in 1946 “After a retardation during the war, the Mansfield congregation was once again awakening. This day (30th November) saw the opening of the M.I.A. organisation and plans were being made to hold Relief Society, Sunday school and Primary”.
Within 12 months they were back to the full programme of activities of a spiritual, cultural and social nature. However another problem arose with a slow trickle of members emigrating. The congregation struggled for years to come, holding social activities to attract new members and even a Boy Scout troop was organised in 1947 where 12 boys attended.
Unfortunately, despite brave and valiant efforts, they lost their meeting place in February 1954, primarily due to a shortage of funds to pay the rent. However they continued to meet in various homes.
Less than two years later the congregation found a new place to meet in a building on Clerkson Street . Their stay there was only short lived due to the expense of hiring a large building for just a small congregation. Then they secured the use of the ‘St. Johns’ Ambulance Hall’ which was a large room above a public house, the entrance of which was on Eclipse yard off of West Gate. Before they could hold their services they would have to put away empty beer glasses and sweep up cigarette butt ends. Within months they were given permission, by church headquarters, to purchase a place of their own. A building fund was established with the opening fund raising activity being a bazaar held on the 2nd June 1956 .
Within months they had made a “Down Payment” on a large house situated on the corner of Crow Hill Drive and Woodhouse Road , Mansfield ; they moved in during January 1957. They knocked three rooms into one to make their chapel. Although still small in active membership they were steadily increasing in numbers. However the purchase of this property it brought with it many unforeseen structural problems which meant that well before the construction of the present chapel the Woodhouse Road property was condemned as being unsafe to meet in.
It was realised as early as 1960 that they needed a proper chapel to meet in and the search for a suitable plot of land commenced. A site was located on Berry Hill where the church now stands.
After years of fund-raising the ground breaking ceremony for Mansfield ’s first Mormon chapel took place at Berry Park Lea in 1969. The chapel was designed to be constructed in three separate stages according to both finances and the size of the congregation. The first phase was completed in just over seven months and the first service was held there on 10th May 1970 .
Church headquarters paid four fifths of the cost of the construction while local members had to find the other fifth; however half of that fifth could be made up from donated labour. Therefore the men spent countless hours after their normal daily work routine labouring on the chapel site while the ladies spent equally as many hours raising funds through jumble sales, bazaars and social events. The final payment was made five days before the chapel was handed over to the saints. A dream had finally been realised.
The congregation was expanding and within months the second phase of the chapel was applied for, permission was granted and the work of labouring and fund raising started all over again. By the end of 1972 the chapel had been doubled in size by adding a hall and extra classrooms.
During this period a scout troop was organised and a Land Rover purchased to take them on various activities. Members helped local charities and entertained the elderly. Dancing lessons were organised with dances and disco’s being frequent. During the first half of the 1970s an annual camp was held in Derbyshire along with frequent hikes.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the congregation grew steadily and on several occasions petitioned the church for the third phase of the chapel to be constructed. However church headquarters were then diverting a lot of its money into other countries where the need was greater than ours.
The members were becoming more active in searching out their ancestors and they applied to church headquarters for a Genealogical Library (Family History Centre). 1988 saw the centre open to both church members and the public alike to use these new facilities for research.
By 1993 it was felt that the congregation had expanded sufficiently to split it and create a new one in Sutton. This happened in 1993. The members in Sutton were delighted as it made their life much easier to get to church, especially for those without a car. Initially their Sunday Services were held in the Sutton Centre until a fire at this venue forced them to leave. Then they held their Services in the Priestic Road Primary School , which caused a few seating problems with not having enough adult sized chairs. After a few years they returned to the Sutton Centre. Sadly the Sutton congregation began to struggle and they were merged back into the Mansfield congregation in 2004.
By the year 2001 the church saw fit to provide the chapel extension that they had yearned for. However by this time health and safety standards no longer allowed the members to participate in the construction of chapels and the church headquarters paid the full amount of the third phase. At the same time the previous phases of the chapel were fully modernised.
The members had to vacate the chapel in October 2001 where they went into temporary accommodation at the Derby Road site of West Notts College . The work was undertaken by Woodhead’s, a local building contractor. The first services, in the refurbished chapel, took place on Sunday 11th August 2002 to the great excitement of all the members, who were absolutely delighted with the changes and new facilities. A few days later the congregation witnessed a rather amazing baptism, when one local Elder baptised his 101 year old mother. She felt that it was a ‘dream come true’.
A full account of the local history of this church can be found in the book entitled “The History of the Mansfield Ward 1848 – 2006”, a copy of which can be found in the Mansfield Library.