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Shirland Parish Church, St. Leonard's
St. Leonard's Church, Shirland, the church tower
St. Leonard's Church, Shirland, the church tower


The church is in the centre of the village, beside the turnpike road connecting Chesterfield and Alfreton. Gladwyn Turbutt, in his "History" of the village writes that "The earliest reference to a church at Shirland occurs in an interesting fine, dated 22 September 1226[1]" and goes on to comment that "a dispute of this nature could only have occurred a short while after a new church had been built[1]". According to Nikolaus Pevsner it is "essentially a fifteenth century church. The West tower has diagonal buttresses and eight pinnacles on the battlements[2]".

St. Leonard was a hermit - a Frankish nobleman - who settled near Limoges about the sixth century. Writing in 1875, Reverend J. Charles Cox observed that "the memory of this humble-minded hermit seems to have been formerly regarded with much favour in England, for more than one hundred and forty churches still retain their dedications to his name". ... "There are three other churches in Derbyshire dedicated to St. Leonard, viz., Thorpe, Monyash and Scarcliffe[3]". The number has increased and there are now around 180 churches dedicated to him.

Amongst the memorials inside the church is a marble tablet in memory of the web mistress's 3x great grandfather, John Clay (1790 - 1865), and his two daughters, Sarah Lee and Mary Bray.


St. Leonard's Church, Shirland
St. Leonard's Church, Shirland

Although the part of the churchyard surrounding the church has been largely cleared of its really old headstones, some memorials are still to be found. These include what must have been a very costly large chest vault to the Bansall family, which is of particular interest to me as Mary Bansall (1799-1844) had been a Clay before her marriage. Unfortunately, these memorials here have not withstood the effects of circumstances, weathering and nature. Cox[3] provides a photograph of the church (see below) and the Bansall memorial is on the left, close to the church porch; it surrounded by iron railings that presumably disappeared during the last war. When the web mistress last visited the church there was a yew tree almost covering the tomb.


Shirland Church, S.E.

This third picture, from Cox, is captioned Shirland Church S.E. and was taken between 1870 and 1875, when the volume covering the Hundred of Scarsdsale of his history of the churches was published[3]. It is a heliotype plate and is of such quality that the white gravestone in the foreground is quite clear. The headstone marks the grave of Ellen Bennett who lived in Higham; she was buried on 2 May and was aged 65 when she died.

IN
AFFECTIONATE REMEMBRANCE OF
ELLEN
WIFE OF JAMES BENNETT
WHO DIED APRIL 28TH 1870
AGED 55 YEARS
HER END IS PEACE

A list of MIs for the church has been checked and Ellen's gravestone isn't listed[4].

On the opposite side of the old highway stands the old manor house, now called Manor Farm, where several generations of my Clay ancestors lived and farmed the land. The names of John and Mary Clay, with the date 1746, are carved on the barn wall of Manor Farm. The Clays in Shirland were part of the family from The Hill, North Wingfield[5]; the branch of the family who lived in Shirland had come to the village in 1695 and built Gables Farm in Higham (which is in the parish of Shirland). The family finally left Shirland in the 1870's, though younger sons had moved to Bonsall, Crich, Liverpool, Matlock and Nottingham before that date. My Bryon ancestors farmed at Shirland Lodge.


1. The two coloured photographs are © Andy Andrews, re scanned 2007.
2. The heliotype plate is from a photograph taken specially for Cox's book by Mr. R. Keene of Derby[3].
All other information provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only. Page updated August 2010.

References and notes on the text:

[1] Turbutt, Gladwyn (1978, reprinted 1997), "A History of Shirland and Higham", Higham Press p.93 ISBN 0 9504692 1 1.
[2] Pevsner, Nikolaus (1953), "The Buildings of England, Derbyshire", Penguin Books.
[3] 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
[4] Monumental Inscriptions, Shirland St. Leonards, Derbyshire Family History Society. No date, but recorded by Margaret and Bill Brooksbank and Joy and Graham Chantry.
[5] Some of the younger sons of the Clay family in North Wingfield went to Alfreton, Ault Hucknall, Birmingham, London, Manchester, Salford, Sheffield (all ENG) as well as to Pennsylvania, USA and to Port Philip, later Melbourne, in Australia.

Elsewhere on this web site:
The Gentleman's Magazine Library - Derbyshire to Dorset
1842 Pigot's Directory extract of Shirland names
Shirland entry in Kelly's Directory for Derbys, Notts, Leics & Rutland, 1891
CLAYs listed in Kelly's Directory for Derbys, Notts, Leics & Rutland, 1891




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