History of the Parish of
St. Nicholas, Newport.
The ancient suburb of Newport was just outside the old city walls, and was approached through the North Gate of the Roman city, now commonly called Newport Arch. It is thought that Newport, as an area, began life after a large number of people had become homeless as a result of the building of the castle and the cathedral, which was consecrated in 1092. Newport had its own market and the first St. Nicholas Church probably dates from that time.
The Ancient Parishes of St. Nicholas and St. John Baptist.
The two churches of St. Nicholas and St. John Baptist date from the 12th century, being granted by King Henry 1 (1100 - 1135) to Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln. The church of St. Nicholas stood in Sastan's (or Saxtan's) Gate at the present corner of Newport and Church Lane. St. Nicholas was very popular in the Middle Ages, being the patron saint of merchants (and of very many other groups, including sailors, travellers, children and prisoners. It is said that he was the patron saint of more causes than any other saint!). The position of the church of St. Nicholas just outside the city walls was, therefore, most appropriate, as merchants, and others, could stop there to pray and ask for protection from their special saint before facing the dangers of the countryside beyond. This church was rebuilt in approximately 1280.
The church of St. John Baptist stood about half a kilometre (approximately a third of a mile) from the North Gate, near to the site of the present day Bishop Grosseteste University, and survived until 1545 when it had to be demolished because of general decay. St. Nicholas continued as a place of worship, but in 1602 the chancel was in a state of decay owing to the neglect of the patrons (the Dean and Chapter). In 1643 St. Nicholas, and also the church of St. Peter-in-Eastgate, were destroyed to prevent Royalists using the buildings as cover, and it is possible that the stones from the buildings were used to help fortify the city walls. Thus, from 1643, these two ancient parishes had no place available for public worship. The spiritual needs of the parishioners were entrusted to local clergy and the benefice of St. Nicholas was preserved by the preaching of an annual sermon in the churchyard. As the years passed parish business was carried out in the local public house "The Turk's Head".
The Growth of Newport.
Over the years Newport continued to grow in size and, by the 1830's, covered quite a large area. This increase in size had also brought with it a great many social problems. In 1822 a local architect and antiquary, Edward James Willson, had written to Subdean Bayley with the following observations: "Newport it seems to me is in more need of civilisation than any other part of the City. There is no church, no person of the least influence, no checking of the grossest rudeness and insubordination".
The Lincolnshire Advertiser wrote in 1835 about the need to provide churches within reasonable distances of centres of population. The article went on: "We are led to these remarks from the great increase of the City of Lincoln without Newport Gate, forming as it does a town to itself while there is not a church within a considerable distance to which the population may repair on the Sabbath. The natural consequences of this is that the inhabitants generally are either complete heathens or violent sectarian bigots. We do most sincerely trust that some steps will be taken to remedy this crying evil".
Some steps were indeed taken and, in 1838, after much discussion, it was decided to erect a new church upon a site offered by the Rev'd. J. Wilson, which was more or less in the centre of the "town" of Newport. The architect was Mr. (later Sir) George Gilbert Scott, who, previous to this, had gained a reputation for building workhouses. He won a competition to design the new St. Nicholas. The foundation stone was laid in April 1839, and the building was consecrated on 24th November, 1840 by Bishop John Kay.