Inside the hidden vault at St John the Baptist Church in Armitage

The hidden chamber at St John the Baptist Church

The hidden chamber at St John the Baptist Church. Pic: Rev D Thomas

St John the Baptist Church, Armitage, has been on the same site near the River Trent since 1160. A stable pillar of the community for the villages of Armitage and Handsacre, the intrinsic history of both the church and the site surrounding it has recently become of great interest to historians and the general public alike over the past year.

Before the church was completely pulled down in 1855, it consisted of a north and centre aisle and a chancel. By the time it was rebuilt in 1857, it had lengthened and added a south aisle to complete the building as we know it today.

The one thing that stayed in place was a tiled cross with four medallions in it on the floor, possibly built in 1820, designed as a ‘centrepiece’ for the church – it is assumed that it has been built around, as the newer tiles are leading away from it, rather than to it. Whilst this created a ‘messy’ look of the design on the floor, no more was thought about it. That is, no more was thought about it until the Lister (or Lyster) vault was discovered underneath it.

Research into this discovery has shown that the private crypt was built in 1780 for the burial space of the Lister family, who lived in the still-existent Hawkesyard estate. Other families considered were the Birches of Armitage, and the more famous Spode family; both considerations were dismissed following the conclusion that they lived past the year that the last Lister was buried.

In terms of the first Lister in the Armitage area, Nathaniel Lister (1725 – 1793) was probably the first – there are no others recorded as living, building or being christened in the parish before him. The burial registers in Armitage indicate that he was not buried at Armitage, and neither was his wife Martha. However, he had a son Thomas Lister who is recorded as being buried at Armitage, and therefore it is his body that is most likely to be buried in the vault, in the sealed tunnel second to the left.

Due to the rebuilding of the church in 1857, it seems that the vault has been forgotten about until now.  It appears that no other bodies are visibly contained in the crypt, and so the mystery continues!

Because of the preservation of the chancel, a bigger hole in the floor cannot be made. St. John’s chancel is full of beautifully-made, hand-crafted woodwork, as well as an admirable work of tiling throughout the church.

Thanks go to Rev D Thomas and Harry Thornton for providing a plethora of information about this subject.

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2 Comments

  1. Julie Handsaker

    18th May, 2010 at 7:41 am

    This church was originally built by the early knights of Handsacre. If it were erected about 1160, it was most likely built by Sir William deHandsacre. There were a number of knighted and non-knighted Handsacre’s buried at this church and I would not be surprised that their bones are somewhere around the church. If not inside the building, then either underneath the structure or in the church grounds….somewhere.

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