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Ault Hucknall Parish Church, St. John the Baptist
Ault Hucknall church

Ault Hucknall [Hault Hucknall] church is about a mile away from Hardwick Hall. Pevsner, whose architectural guide of Derbyshire was first published in 1953, thought the position of St. John the Baptist was "lovely"[1]. When the above photograph was taken around 1875 for Rev. Cox's book on "Churches"[2], and even when Pevsner was writing, it would have been a tranquil spot with views of the Hall and little else nearby but these days the M1 is in the valley below and cuts off the church from the hamlets of Astwith, Hardstaff and Stainsby which are part of the parish.

As Hardwick Hall is so close perhaps one would expect to find several tombs of the Cavendish family in either the church or the churchyard but there is only one, to Anne, wife of William the first Earl of Devonshire. Also inside the church is a plain black marble slab commemorating Thomas Hobbes, who lived with the Cavendish family and died at Hardwick in 1679, aged 91 years[3].

The central "crossing" tower is, according Pevsner, usually found on "the most ambitious churches of the county[1]". Below it is a Norman archway "with bold mouldings of the beak-head and chevron pattern, and with other curious devices[4]".

Ault Hucknall, blocked up west doorway

Cox on Ault Hucknall's blocked up west doorway (look under the large window on the photograph):
"On the exterior of the church several stones will be noticed by the practised eye, which show by their moulding that they have formerly served in a Norman building. But the most interesting relic of the old church is the upper part of a now built-up doorway at the west end of the nave. It consists of the tympanum or semi-circular stone, which so often formed the part of a Norman doorway. This tympanum is most quaintly carved with rude mythological figures. It was considered of sufficient importance, even last century, to merit a description and an engraving in the Gentleman's Magazine[4]. It seems to be in much the same condition now as when then described. To the observer's right is a tall quadruped with a long tapering neck, somewhat resembling a giraffe, but the head terminates in a beak, and each of the legs in claws. The tail twists back between the legs and behind the back, above which it seems to terminate in a cross set in a circle. In the right hand corner is a much smaller quadruped with ears. Down the centre of the stone is a Latin cross with a long stem ; on the left is a centaur, corresponding in size with the giraffe like figure opposite, in one hand it holds a palm branch and with the other it grasps the cross.[2]". Cox also concluded that the stone immediately below, with the winged dragon, a cross and a man fighting the dragon, was not originally in this position.

Ault Hucknall, fragment of old screen

Cox on the fragment of old screen inside the church:
"In the modern vestry ... is a handsome fragment of oak carving, a portion, we suppose, of a former screen[2]". Worth later attributes this to the Decorated period[5].

The graveyard of St. John the Baptist church contains a number of headstones for the Clay family; although they are not my direct ancestors they are, nevertheless, related and the surname appears in parish records from the sixteenth century onwards. Amongst their number are several Sampson Clays, for example:


Other Derbyshire churches where the Clay family worshipped, were christened, married, buried or otherwise associated with, can be seen by clicking on the images below:




North Wingfield



1. Heliotype plate of "Hault Hucknall S.W.", from a photograph taken specially for Cox's book by Mr. R. Keene of Derby and the plate by B. J. Edwards & Co.[1].
2. The drawing of the doorway from drawings by Mr. Bailey and others (not named). The screen fragment was drawn by W. E. Keene. Both from plates produced by Bemrose of Derby.
In the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


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

[2] Cox, J Charles (1875) "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Vol I, Hundred of Scarsdale", Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby.

[3] The memorial to Thomas Hobbes was recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine; a link to the on site transcript of the Ault Hucknall [Hault Hucknall] entry is provided below and includes Hobbes' MI.

[4] Cox, John Charles, (1915, 2nd edition, revised), "Derbyshire" - Illustrated by J. Charles Wall, Methuen & Co., London.

[5] Worth, R. N. (1890), "Tourist's Guide to Derbyshire", Edward Stanford, London.

[6] Sampson was the son of John Clay "of Harstoft" by his wife Anne, nee Rooth. Sampson married Mary Dannah at the church in 1819 and the couple went on to have eight children. His ancestor John Clay, 6 x great uncle of the web mistress, had moved from Egstow not long before he died.

Also see, elsewhere on this web site:
Ault Hucknall, Kelly's 1891 Directory. There is more about the church
Read the Hault Hucknall entry in the Gentleman's Magazine
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811, see Hault Hucknall

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Another photo by Richard Keene