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St Mary's Church History St Mary's stands by an attractive leafy lane off the village street, with Georgian Claxby house for company and the steep Western slopes of the Wolds as a backdrop.
Its site clearly found favour with the Romans, for in the early 19th century a section of a blue-and-white Roman mosaic pavement was discovered just west of the Church, and in late Victorian times more mosaic fragments were found near the North chancel wall: Roman pottery has also come to light during recent grave digging. Doubtless with these discoveries mark the sight of a Roman villa or country house, one of the number in the district: it was probably associated with a Roman road which passed through Claxby, on its way from Ermine street (now the A15) to Caistor high street.
Elsewhere in the parish, evidence has been found Roman pottery making and iron smelting, drawing on the local ironstone outcrops. In what form settlement continued after the collapse of Roman government is uncertain, though Anglo-Saxon pottery has also been found in the parish. But the village name (like so many others in Lincolnshire) is certainly a Scandinavian origin, recalling the Vikings who colonised the area in the later 9th century. Spelt "Cleaxbyg" in 1067, "Clachesbi" in 1086, and "Claskesbi" in 1155, Claxby means the "by" (or village) on a man named "Klaka", a Danish word meaning "chatter" or "gossip" (as in the dialect phrase "clacking tongues").
At the times the Norman conquest the local landowners (who included the Anglo Dutch nobleman Ulf son of Tope) bore a mixture of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon names. By this state the village was already closely connected with its neighbour at Normanby-le-Wold, and when the Domesday book was completed in 1086 the combined population of the two places was estimated to be about 75 families. Claxby was probably the large of the two settlements, and boasted at least one mill. Though the Domesday book also records a church at Claxby, no recognisable trace of this Anglo-Saxon building survives.
The "early English" architecture of the present Church indicates it was probably begun in the 13th century, perhaps by the Brayboeuf family, then the most important local landowners and patrons of the Church: certainly Reginald, son of Simon de Brayboeuf, was appointed vicar by his father in 1275, but resigned ten years later joined the Dominican "Blackfriars". The present chancel (see below) was probably built in about 1310, at a time when village farmers were offering from the sale of all, while the clerestory -- the raise central section of the nave roof -- may have been added in the 15th century. By that time the Witherwick family -- whose mansion stood one or near the site of Claxby house -- had taken over from the Brayboeufs as squires of Claxby.
The earliest Claxby parish registers (now in the County archives) are Elizabethan, beginning in 1566, when there were 40 households in the village. At the end of Elizabeth's reign in 1603, St Mary's was said to the "well prepared and kept also decently": the aged Richard Codd was rector, and though "no graduate and no creature", he was able to catechise children, and was "of God and honest behaviour". There were then 107 communicants, besides four Roman Catholics, doubtless connections of the local Catholic gentleman William Fitzwilliam. Few external alterations seem to the made to St Mary's after the medieval period, and a detailed drawing made by John Nattes in 1796 (now in the Bankes collection, Lincoln Central Library) indicates that it had become somewhat dilapidated by Georgian times. By then the medieval tower was heavily buttressed, and the wavy rage lines of the nave and chancel roofs may indicate that these were also in poor repair.
When Archdeacon Bonney visited Church in 1846, nevertheless, he found little to complain of, and deemed the building quite large enough for Claxby's population -- which in 1821 numbered 184 people, living in 30 houses. By early Victorian times (1851), however, the population have swelled the 262, the 60 or so village churchgoers being outnumbered by the 75 adults and 40 children who preferred the Wesleyan Methodist chapel. In 1870 this growth in population, together with the increasing dilapidation of the Church -- and no doubt a desire to emulate Normanby, whose own Church had been refurbished two years earlier -- led to the thorough restoration of St Mary's. James Fowler, and energetic Louth architect also employed at Normanby, was commissioned to demolish the medieval tower and build a replacement, and to construct an entirely new south aisle, together with a new vestry and organ chamber attached to the chancel. He was also to insert new chancel east windows (transferring the old east windows to the new tower west wall), to re-roof the entire Church, filling in the old North door and rebuilt the south door, and provide a complete new set of interior furnishings. All this would cost some Â£1400, about 400 Â£50 being raised from local subscriptions while the remaining Â£950 was contributed by the rector, the Rev Samuel Wright Andrews. This lavish restoration -- almost amounting to rebuilding -- was completed in 1871, when St Mary is assumed more less is present appearance. The interior was redecorated in 1967.
Today the well-kept Church continues in regular use by the growing population of Claxby. The old vicarage schools, converted into "the Vikings Centre" to honour the Queen's Jubilee of 1977, is available for visiting groups and walkers along the Viking way footpath.