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Ashbourne, St. Oswald's Parish Church - Exterior
Parish Church 1

Rated as "the finest parish church in the kingdom" by the nineteenth century novelist George Elliot[1], St. Oswald's Church is almost on the edge of the town at the lower end of Church Street. The church is a cruciform structure of the Early English period and is dedicated to St. Oswald, King and Martyr[2]. In 1999 Simon Jenkins awarded Ashbourne's church four stars in his top 100 of the many English churches he had visited, along with Melbourne. This was the highest ranking he gave to the county's churches[1].

Pevsner dated the wrought iron gates at the eastern exit of the churchyard, shown in the top image, to around 1700[3]. The four posts are each topped with a large square based pyramids, two slightly larger than the other two; the pyramids are resting on stone skulls, one at each corner.

The Domesday Survey recorded that Ashbourne possessed a priest and a church[4], but until the 1913 restoration it was thought nothing remained. It was then that the existence of a Saxon crypt was verified, according to Pevsner[3].

The church was rebuilt and then consecrated in 1241, as is shown by an ancient Latin inscription on a brass plaque in the church[4]. In the seventeenth century the plaque was moved to Ashbourne Hall, possibly whilst the church was repaired, but was returned in the early eighteenth century[5]. Davies (1811) tells us that an article was inserted into the register noting that King Charles I came here in August 1645[4]. This register this was in was stolen in the nineteenth century, according to Dr. Ernest Sadler; he stated in 1645 that the King visited here after the Battle of Naseby and attended divine service[6].

Parish Church 2.
Enlarged section of a heliotype by Richard Keene, taken during restoration in the 1870s[5].
Note the scaffolding at the eastern end of the church.
Spalden's Almshouses are on the right edge of this image.

The chancel was restored in 1877-8 by Sir Gilbert Scott R.A. at a cost of £2,500[7]. The east window, which can be seen behind the left hand lamp post in the top picture, is rich in old heraldic glass[8]. The newly-restored chancel was re-opened in July 1878. "For over two years the fine proportions of the church have been shorn of the chancel", hidden behind blank boarding whilst the work was carried out. There was more to be done, but further funds were needed. The work that had been completed included repairing the ancient oak roof, plus internal and external stonework and the foundations underpinned where they were found to be defective[9].

Parish Church 3
The south side of the church (1891-8).

The spire, for many years known as the "Pride of the Peak", is magnificent and sits on top of an octagonal tower which houses the bells. It is said to be 212 feet high and was described by Kelly's (1891) as a work of great beauty and remarkable lightness, "ribbed with ball flower ornaments and pierced with 24 dormer lights in five tiers of four each"[2]. Because if its exposed position it has occasionally been damaged, severely so by a gale in February 1698. It was repaired and re-pointed in 1873[5].

In 1891 a committee connected with the restoration of the church tower and spire appointed a builder, Mr. Alfred Hill "of Tideswell and Litton", to work on restoring both. Mr. W. White, of London, was the architect[10]. The work was completed in 1894, so not long before the first two images were taken, and cost nearly £5,000[7]. In 1896 money was still being raised for the church spire fund[11].

Parish Church 4
There are two-light bell-openings on each side of the crossing tower,
which is without battlements.
Instead there is a pierced quatrefoil parapet[3].

Early in 1927 it was found that the church once more required restoration, with at least £6,000 needed to restore the nave roof, the tower and re-hang the lower bells as well as to renovate the organ. Although the tower looked solid there were serious cracks above the roof and the bells had been silent for a long time[12]. There were a number of appeals and the nave was completed in 1929[13]. The bells of Ashbourne Church, which are said to have inspired Tom Moore when he wrote verses beginning with "Those evening bells, those evening bells ... ", were to be heard again in early 1932 as by then the church restoration was almost complete[14].

Parish Church 5

The site of the original vicarage is shown on various old maps, but a replacement was built about 1857. "The Old Vicarage House, which was close to the church, and in a ruinous condition, was taken down in 1854, and a new site having been given by G. H. Errington, Esq., a good residence has just been erected at a considerable cost by the present vicar. It is prettily situated on an eminence at a short distance from the church, and commands some beautiful views; it is built of stone in the Jacobœan style of architecture, and when the grounds are completed, it will form a very pleasing object on approaching the town."15]

Davies' book Also see:
Davies, David Peter (1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper which describes Ashbourne.
Read the transcript (Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811) elsewhere on this web site.

1. "Ashbourne Church". Postcard by S. Hidensheimer & Co. Ltd., Manchester. Printed in Berlin. Not posted (the rate on the card: 1/2d postage stamp Foreign 1d)
2. Ashbourne Church (about 1877), Heliotype from photograph by R. Keene, Plate 17, Cox[5]
3. "Ashbourne Church", published in the Sheffield Telegraph's "Popular Album of Matlock". The views were from a series of pictures taken by Wilson and Frith..
4. "Ashbourne Church", photographed by W. Winter of Derby, from Ward Lock & Co's "Matlock, Dovedale, Bakewell and South Derbyshire.", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (Guide Series 1911-12).
5. Ashburne Church". Published in Cox, John Charles, (1915, 2nd edition, revised), "Derbyshire". This image was from a photograph taken by Mr. S. F. Wood of Duffield. First published in the 1903 edition.
Images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Jenkins, Simon (1999) " England's Thousand Best Churches", Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, Penguin Books Ltd., 27 Wright's Lane, London, W8 5TZ, England, ISBN 0-713-99281-6.

[2] "Kelly's Directory of the Counties of Derby, Notts, Leicester and Rutland", (May, 1891) published London. Oswald had been King of Northumbria but was slain in battle in 642 A.D.

[3] Pevsner, Nikolaus (1953), "The Buildings of England, Derbyshire", Penguin Books.

[4] Davies, David Peter (1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper. Read the transcript (Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811) elsewhere on this web site. Davies provides a transcript of the Latin.

[5] Cox, J. Charles (1877) "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire Vol II" Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby.

[6] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 10 January 1935. The newspaper quoted from Dr. Sadler's work "A Guide to Ashburne (St. Oswald's) Parish Church, Derbyshire ..." which had just been published by published by J. H. Henstock and Son, Ashbourne

[7] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1912.

[8] Tudor, Thomas Linthwaite (1926) "The High Peak to Sherwood, The hills and dales of old Mercia" , published London by Robert Scott.

[9] "Derbyshire Times", 20 July 1878. Re-opening of the Chancel of Ashbourne Church.

[10] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 11 February 1891. Restoration of Ashbourne Church Tower and Spire.

[11] "Derby Mercury", 1 January 1896. Surplus proceeds were to be given to the fund from a performance by the Dove Valley Thespians. This was not the only instance.

[12] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 9 December 1927.

[13] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 11 January 1929.

[14] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 2 January 1932.

[15] White, Francis & Co. (1857) "History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby ..." See Neil Wilson's excellent transcript.

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