Picture Gallery> Derbyshire Pictures Index> This page
The Andrews Pages Picture Gallery : Derbyshire
A selection of photographs, prints and postcards. Some have personal or family connections
Darley Dale : St. Helen's Church
St. Helen's, Darley

The top photograph of St. Helen's Church at Darley Dale was taken to Canada as a reminder of home when John A Potter and his family, who had lived below Oaker Hill, emigrated. The picture probably dates from around 1910[1] but could be earlier as the image was a Carte de Visite.

"But the finest thing about Darley Dale is the marvellous old yew tree in the churchyard of Church Town, a few minutes' walk from Darley Station. A church of St. Helen has stood here for many centuries, as the stone coffins and sculptured lids now set up in the porch bear witness[2]".

"The yew stands opposite the south porch, surrounded - most wisely, considering the vandals with pocket knives who infect the roads - with spiked iron railings. It is not as tall in the bole as most ancient yews, for it divides almost immediately into two main trunks, and then sub-divides again into scores of branches of varying thickness. Many of these were lopped off around 1820[2]".

Church, about 1900

The church about 1900. Note the different lamp

Stephen Glover, writing in the 1830s, described the church as "an ancient gothic structure, with a square embattled and pinnacled tower, dedicated to St. Helen"[3]. The tower was to be strengthened and restored in 1902-3[4], the bells were also re-hung and increased in number from six to eight, with a new tenor bell to commemorate the life of Queen Victoria[5].

J. C. Cox, the church historian, states that "of the church that probably stood here for several centuries in the Saxon era, and which was extant when to Domesday Survey was compiled, there is nothing now left standing. Nor is there much remaining of Norman work. The church appears to have undergone a thorough renovation when the Early English style was in vogue"[7].

The first of the mid to late nineteenth century restorations was in 1854, when St. Helen's was re-pewed and a porch and chancel added, the work costing £1,600[7]. Plans had been drawn up in 1853 by the Derby architect Henry I. Stevens[8]. They show a gallery at the west end of the church and a stone screen near the font that was to be restored. Cox tells us that the doorway to the porch is of Early English style, and though it was renewed in 1854, it is "of the same design as that which was here in a previous restoration"[7]. He added that in the porch were a large number of sepulchral slabs and crosses; there would have been more but a considerable number were moved to Mr. Bateman's Museum. In a footnote he quoted Bateman's Catalogue of Antiquities, where it stated that numerous slabs from Darley church were "presented by Mr. Joseph Hallows". There are three examples below.

The church was to be restored again in 1877[9]. On 31 July 1885 St. Helen's was re-opened, having undergone another phase of alterations and improvements. The organ had been moved from the west end of the church into the chancel, and a choir vestry created in the empty space. New oak choir stalls were constructed, the pulpit was moved, and there was a new altar and lectern[10]. In 1928 a mural painting of a Roman galley was found on the north wall[9]. The discovery has been made workmen engaged during more renovations to St. Helen's. While they were stripping old plaster they uncovered a picture of a ship. Although one corner was damaged before the image was noticed, subsequently more care was taken and the remainder of the picture emerged. Work was then suspended until expert opinion was obtained. The first reaction was that the picture was covered up during the Reformation[11] whilst a second newspaper report suggested it was of Saxon origin[12] Pevsner, though, did not mention this "find"[13].

View of the porch, mentioned by both J. C. Cox[7] and J. B. Firth[2] as containing a number of sepulchral slabs.
The inscriptions on two gravestones on the left of the image can be read, although one is only partly shown:
1.The right hand headstone.
DIED FEBRUARY 7TH 1876 / AGED 73 YEARS / [There follows one line of text, unreadable]
2.Half headstone on the edge of the image shows:
---- REMEMBRANCE /[JOSEPH] WRAGG/ OF DARLEY DALE / [died 23 Jul 1884] --- 81 YEARS./

The ancient gravestone in the South Porch.

Glover had mentioned this stone in 1833. "In the porch of the church is an ancient gravestone, with a rich cross flore, bugle horn, and sword engraved thereon"[3].

Bateman included an etching of it in an article he wrote for the Reliquary (1861-2) although it was not part of his collection:
A coffin shaped slab "with sword and huntsman's horn and baldrick, hanging from the shaft of a cross fleury, was not found during the alterations [of 1854] but has long been built into the wall inside the porch, on the South side of the Church ; from the character of the ornamental foliage, it appears to be the most modern of the series ; but it is probable that none on these slabs are later that XIII. Century, whilst the most ancient cross may rival in antiquity the famous yew tree in the churchyard"[14].

Cox added that there were "either portions or complete specimens of about twelve" slabs in the porch[7].


Below are three of a series of sixteen other sepulchral memorials, found in the course of the restoration of Darley Dale Church in 1854, that became part of the Bateman collection.
Bateman wrote a short account of those in his possession for "The Reliquary", Vol 2. 1861-2[14]. Most were coffin shaped slabs, bearing crosses and other devises. Some indicated the sex or occupation of the deceased.

  According to Bateman, writing in 1861, this is "the most ancient, which is a fragment, 19 inches high, of the shaft of a very large cross, of early type. The medium breadth of the shaft was 15 inches, its thickness 11, showing the altitude must have been very considerable. The material is close grained red sandstone, a variety of colour often selected by the sculptors of these very early crosses, and each face is carved with a differently arranged system of knotwork, or interlaced bands"[14].

Cox thought this was the oldest of the relics "and may be as old as the ninth or even the eighth century"[7].

Nikolaus Pevsner was to comment some 90 years later that a fragment of another Saxon Cross had been discovered and was of great interest because of its remarkably antique geometrical ornament[13].

"The next in antiquity is part of a large and thick slab of coarse sandstone, now measuring only about two feet long by 20 inches wide, and probably only forming about a third of the original monument. It is obscurely covered in a diaper pattern [diamond pattern], of very early character, which has been nearly obliterated by long-continued exposure, previous to it having been broken up as a building material"[14].

Cox also mentioned this slab[7].

  This engraving is a "fragment from the foot of a coped tomb, of well-defined Norman work, of the beginning of the XII. Century, which is curious, as combining the peculiar chevrony ornament with the tiled or slated roof of the abode of the living, applied to cover the narrow house appointed for all the living. The breadth at the foot is about 12 inches, the height of the gable a little more"[14].

More on site information about Darley and the surrounding area:
Magic Lantern Slide of St. Helens
Kelly's 1891 Directory, Darley
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811
Pigot's 1828-9 Directory, with Matlock, Matlock Bath and Bonsall includes Darley names
Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock

Also see
Wolley Manuscripts, Derbyshire for more information about Derbyshire deeds, pedigrees, documents and wills

Joseph Whitworth - "Lives Which Hung by a Thread", a magazine article about the Whitworth Sharpshooter which now includes (Dec 2008) additional material about both Whitworth and the development of the rifle.

1. Photograph kindly donated by Denis Potter © 2004.
2. "Darley Dale Parish Church". Stengel & Co. Ltd., 39 Redcross Street, London E. C. No.16179. Not posted, but side band and undivided back, so about 1900.
3. "Darley Dale Church". Published by Cotswold Publishing Co., Wotton-under-Edge, Glos. - Posted 14 Feb 1913 at Sheffield. Message unrelated to image.
4, 5, 6 and 7. All four engravings from The Reliquary, Vol II. Images 5, 6 and 7 were engraved by Llewellynn Jewitt.
All images apart from (1), in the collection of, provided by, researched and written by © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

[1] There are more Potter family photographs in the Matlock section of the site. See: John Allen Potter & family

[2] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London.

[3] Glover, Stephen (1833) "The History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby ..." Edited by T. Noble. pub. Derby and London.

[4] "Derbyshire Times", 31 January 1903. When the tower was being rebuilt, a fairly plain Saxon coffin lid was uncovered in one of the walls.

[5] "Derbyshire Times", 1 February 1902. A Worthy Memorial to a Great Queen.

[6] 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.

[7] Francis White's Derbyshire Directory, 1857.

[8] The plans are held in a private collection. They were signed by the architect on 14 Dec 1853 and the work was undertaken the following year.

[9] "Kelly's Directory", 1928.

[10] "Sheffield Daily Telegraph", 1 August 1885.

[11] "ibid.", 27 April 1928. Darley Dale Discovery. Picture of a Ship on Wall of Parish Church.

[12] "Nottingham Journal", 27 April 1928.

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

[14] "Ancient Sepulchral Crosses at Darley Church", Thomas Bateman of Lombardale House. Published in "The Reliquary", Vol2. 1861-2.

Derbyshire Pictures Index
Next page
Previous page
Also see
Our Genealogy
Images of
Matlock & Matlock Bath

Inside the church

The famous yew tree

From the Vernon Lamb Archive

VLA 5141,
St Helen's, Darley

VLA 5169,
outside St. Helen's

VLA 5170,
outside St. Helen's