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Steetley Chapel

Interior, East - 1875


When J. Charles Cox visited Steetley for his book on "Derbyshire Churches" (1875) he described the ancient church as "long since desecrated", adding that "The building is quite a gem of early architectural art, indeed it is one of the most complete and beautiful specimens of Norman work on a small scale that can be met with anywhere in this country or in Normandy". Restoration was then being considered as a means of preventing further decay[1]. There had been no roof over the nave for about 150 years. However, there is evidence from the plates published by the Lyson brothers that the chancel still had a tiled gabled roof in 1817[2].

The underlying cause of the building's poor state was revealed by a gentleman called Abraham de la Prime, who wrote the following in his diary on 12th February 1698:

"In a green meadow close in Stickley, near or in Shire Oaks, in or near Worksop, stands a staitly well-built chapel, all arched roofed, excellently enambled and gilt; the lead that covered the same is all stolen away, so that the weather begins to pierce through its fine roof, to its utter decaying"[3].



Detail of the beautiful chancel arch, then exposed to the elements.
Cox measured the nave and the chancel; both were 26 feet long.
The nave was 15 feet wide with the chancel a little narrower.
The arch itself was ornamented with "a triple series of mouldings". The first
is an "escalloped border over reticulated cones, the second is embattled,
and the third the chevron moulding
". The left hand capital, above, depicts a
double-bodied lion and the one on the right is of St. George and the Dragon.
Cox notes that the dragon's extremely long, sweeping tail "terminates in
branching foliage
"[1].


Bishop Littleton visited Steetley, a mile and a half outside Whitwell, in 1742 and noted that the chapel had been converted into a barn but he concluded that "the whole is a most uncommon structure"[4].

The Earl of Surrey, later the Duke of Norfolk, had owned the chapel about 1835 when he carefully rebuilt the apse which was said to have been in a very ruinous state. The walls then had a very fine plaster coating[5]. This was recorded by the Rev. J. Stacye following the Archaeological Association's visit to Steetley in 1873. When Cox and his friends went there in the 1870s the area served as a poultry yard[1].

Divine service was held in the roofless chapel by Rev. George Edward Mason, the Rector of Whitwell, in October 1875. This was the first time there had been any form of worship in the ruined building for upwards of 300 years. Amongst the congregation was Charles Tylden-Wright, co-director of the Shireoaks Colliery Company, who volunteered to see what he could do about the possibility of at least ensuring the chapel had a roof. Those at the service also hoped that the Duke of Newcastle, who then owned it, would either place it for sale or otherwise under the Bishop of the Diocese[6].

The two powerful photographs of the decaying building shown above must also have had an impact at the time as they would have helped bring the chapel's plight to the attention of a wider public.



The apse, which Cox describes as supported by "five round-edged pilaster buttresses,
connected by a broad string course, or belt, delicately carved with interlacing foliage.
Above this is a unique belt which encircles the middle of the apse, are three small
round headed windows of excellent design
". Two of the windows are illustrated
in his sketch[1].





Steetley Chapel. The apse, post-restoration.
The illustration was probably done by Cox about 1903
for his pocket book on Derbyshire[7].



The following Spring (1876) the Trustees of the Worksop Manor Estate, who then owned the chapel, gave a 50 year lease to the Rector and Churchwardens of Whitwell. This was conditional on the chapel being incorporated with the parish of Whitwell, or becoming a separate ecclesiastical district. The Worksop Manor Estate was to contribute £1,000 to the endowment of the district if it was needed[8].



Illustration of the restored chapel by Thomas Linthwaite Tudor, 1920s[9].


At the time of its restoration in 1880 the chapel was described as standing in a field a few hundred yards from the road to the north and being almost entirely surrounded by trees. The restoration work was carried out by Messrs. Shilleto and Morgan of Hull under the direction of the architect, Mr. J. L. Pearson, R.A. It was re-dedicated by the Bishop of Lichfield on 2 Nov 1880[10].



Norman door, photogrpahed in the 1930s[11].
Cox thought the south doorway was richly ornamented. There
are three receding semi-circular arches: the outer having the
chevron, the next the beak-head and the third had plain
moulding[1].


Nikolaus Pevsner, writer of 46 volumes of county guides covering architectural history, was amongst the many who considered this building to be an architectural gem. "There are few Norman churches in England so consistently made into show-pieces by those who designed them and those who paid for them"[12].

More recently, Simon Jenkins appreciated the chapel when he visited Steetley at the end of the twentieth century. It was one of the eighteen Derbyshire churches in his "England's Thousand Best Churches" and he awarded it a single star[13].



Steetley is mentioned in the following on-site transcripts:

Kelly's 1891 Directory, Whitwell


1. and 2. Heliotype plates of "Steetley Chapel", from photographs taken specially for Cox's book by Mr. R. Keene of Derby and the plates by B. J. Edwards & Co.[1].
3. Also from Cox[1] "Steetley" - drawing of the apse.
4. "Steetley Chapel". Later drawing of the restored apse, published in Cox's "Derbyshire".
5. Tudor's drawing. See [9] below.
6. Norman door, Steetley from Mee, Arthur (ed.) (1937) "Derbyshire: The Peak Country",The King's England Series, Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London.
All images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References:

[1] 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.

[2] Lysons, Rev Daniel and Samuel Lysons Esq. (1817) "Topographical and Historical Account of Derbyshire" London: Printed for T. Cadell, Strand; and G. and A. Greenland, Poultry.

[3] Prime's diary was published by the Surtees Society in 1870 (vol.liv., p.174). The quote is from Cox's Churches, note [1] above.

[4] Bishop Littleton went to Steetley on 2 Sept 1742. The quote was published in the Henter Collections, Add. MSS., 24,447, f.100. The quote is from Cox's Churches, note [1] above and the manuscripts with be held by TNA.

[5] "Journal of the Archaeological Association", vol. XXX, p.144. The quote is also from Cox's Churches, note [1] above.

[6] "Derbyshire Times", 23 October 1875. Steetley Chapel, Derbyshire.

[7] Cox, John Charles, (1915, 2nd edition, revised), "Derbyshire" - Illustrated by J. Charles Wall, Methuen & Co., London. The first edition was published in August 1903.

[8] "Derbyshire Times", 13 May 1876. One of the trustees was William Ewart Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, who had just completed his first ministry.

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

[10] "Sheffield Daily Telegraph", 3 November 1880.

[11] Mee, Arthur (ed.) (1937) "Derbyshire: The Peak Country",The King's England Series, Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London.

[12 Pevsner, Nikolaus (1953), "The Buildings of England, Derbyshire", Penguin Books

[13] 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.



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