|Wirksworth Parish Church - St. Mary the Virgin,
Here is another illustration from J. B. Firth's "Highways
and Byways in Derbyshire".
The author's opinion of the church was somewhat mixed and he
thought the tower "in the middle of the building
is capped by a little spire many sizes too small".
He considered that St. Mary's in 1908 was "a fine spacious
building, but it has the air of having been rescued from bad
keeping after years of neglect. It stands high in the middle
of the town, surrounded by a large churchyard, in one half
of which the tombstones are erect, while in the other half
they lie flat on the ground. The contrast is not pleasing ;
it looks too much like a premature division of sheep and goats".
Yet only thirty years earlier a photograph of the same view
of St. Mary's had been published in Cox's "Notes on
the Churches of Derbyshire" and many more headstones
In 1820 Ebenezer Rhodes had visited Wirksworth and decided
that St. Mary's had "neither grace nor dignity".
He was disappointed to find the church "undergoing
a thorough regeneration ; the pews were taken down, the pavements
broken up, and vaults were excavating in various parts of the
church. The monuments against the walls were covered to protect
them from dust ... The whole place, indeed, appeared less like
a church than a huge workshop, where every thing was in confusion".
The restoration of 1820-21 was described as an act of barbarism
by many and Firth believed that "irreparable damage was
committed" at that time.
A more recent family photograph of St. Mary's.
J. Charles Cox (1877) found evidence of a lead covered
spire in Churchwarden accounts of
1664. He added that it "was somewhat higher and far
better proportioned than the present
"extinguisher" (as it is locally termed),
being broader in the base". He cites an illustration in
but the web mistress's copy unfortunately has no such image.
He also adds that
the "spirelet" only dates from 1821.
A mid-twentieth century guide to the market town points to
innumerable links with the past in the church, which dates
back to the 7th century.
"This large cruciform church was added to and restored under
the direction of Sir Gilbert Scott in 1876, but its former
connection with Anglo-Saxon days is apparent". Fragments
of Norman mouldings were discovered during the 1876 restoration,
when much of the task "consisted in undoing the work of
1820, when the church was shamefully pulled about".
However, one good thing did emerge from the disastrous restoration
of 1820 which was the discovery of a really remarkable sculptured
stone coffin lid, dating from about 800 A.D. It was found,
lying face down, whilst the pavement in front of the altar
was being removed.
It is now built into the nave's north wall.
Saxon Carving found in 1820.
Briefly, Christ is shown washing firstly his disciples' feet,
top left, then his death, resurrection and ascension to Heaven,
and finally the disciples returning to Jerusalem after
the ascension, bottom right. An account of the discovery of
the stone, which measures five feet in length and two feet
ten inches in breadth, was published in the Gentleman's Magazine
in 1821 and is to be found elsewhere
on this web site.
In the 1860s a report by John Webster and James Walker
declared that St. Mary's was in a seriously dilapidated state
and Gilbert Scott was called in; he corroborated the Webster
and Walker findings and fundraising began in earnest.
Notices appeared in the local press in 1870 for builders who
were interested in restoring the church to submit tenders.
The church the underwent work to restore it and, as far as
possible, to undo the 1820-21 work and it was re-opened
in May 1872.
During the restoration in the 1870's some encaustic mediaeval
paving tiles were discovered (sample left below). Encaustic
is the art of decorating tiles by burning in the coloured
clays that were laid into the tiles. These tiles were
of Derbyshire manufacture, according to Llewellynn Jewitt who
wrote about them in "The Reliquary".
Other fragments, for example a ram's head from a Norman arch
and some Norman capitals and bases, were found at the same
Finds from the restoration of the church, undertaken in the
Mediaeval Paving Tiles found at Wirksworth Church
Cox felt that it was unfortunate that these old tiles
were not kept in the church, but became part of various
Above is a drawing of large slab, which
" bears a boldly incised cross, a sword and
a bugle horn, with belt attached". Cox believed
it probably covered the coffin of a chief forester of
the ancient royal forest of Duffield Frith. This was
against the west wall of the north transept by 1876.
Twelfth century mouldings, found in the 1871-6 restoration.
"The beak head, alternate-billet, and other patterns,
as well as heads of small shafts and other details, that were
found in the masonry, have now been built into different parts
of the interior of the church".
Interior. View of the choir and chancel from the crossing.
The chancel window, in memory of Francis Edward Hurt of Alderwasley
who died in 1854 (below), was installed in 1855 having been
unanimously agreed to by the County Magistrates. It was designed
the Derby architect Mr. H. I. Stevens and the masonry work
was carried out by Mr. Lawton. Mr. Warrington of London produced
the stained glass, and inserted four other stained windows
in the chancel at the same time. The arms of the Hurt, Lowe
and Fawne families are in the upper (traceried) parts of the
By 1912 the church had 13 stained glass memorial windows.
Simon Jenkins, writing in 1999, thought Scott had preserved
the" raw dignity" of the church, "even if the
atmosphere is blighted by bad Victorian glass"11]. Oh
The dedication is along the bottom of the window and reads:
"Memorial to Francis Edward Hurt,
of Alderwasley, died March 22, 1854, aged 73 years.
Erected by public subscription, 1855".
Window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris.
Morris designed the angels in the upper segments
of the window.
Burne-Jones was responsible for the Angel Gabriel, St. Mary,
Elizabeth and several of the prophets.
Three figures from the window (below), installed
in memory of James and Hannah Nall.
|TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN
JAMES NALL AND HANNAH HIS WIFE-LATE OF THIS PARISH
JAMES NALL DIED 22ND JUNE 1876 HANNAH DIED 11TH MAY
Amongst the monuments inside the church is an altar tomb to Anthony
Gell, who founded the school and almshouses, and is dated 1583.
His effigy shows him wearing a long gown and there are
a ruffs around his neck and wrists.
1930s sepia photograph of Wirksworth Church
1. Illustration by Nellie Erichsen from Firth.
2. Photograph of Wirksworth Church by Frank Clay.
3. Sepia images from Mee, Arthur (ed.) (1937) "Derbyshire:
The Peak Country", The King's England Series, Hodder
and Stoughton Limited, London. Mee acknowledges the work of his
Art Editor, Sidney Tranter, but is not specific about who provided
which picture, although contributors included the National Trust
and Valentine and Sons.
4. Mediaeval Paving Tiles from "The Reliquary" Vol.XI
(1870/1), Plate XVIII.
5. Drawing of coffin lid from Cox.
All the above images in the collection of, provided
by and © Ann Andrews
6. A series of photographs were taken in the summer of 2016
for this web site by and © Susan Tomlinson.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.
 Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways
and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co.,
 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.
 Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak
Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown,
and Green, Paternoster Row. The publication date is from my own
copy, but J. B. Firth was quoting from an earlier edition.
 "Wirksworth Urban District
Council Official Guide", date unknown but © Ed.
J. Burrows & Co. Ltd., Publishers, Cheltenham & London.
 Cox, John Charles, (1915, 2nd
edition, revised), "Derbyshire" - Illustrated
by J. Charles Wall, Methuen & Co., London.
 "Derby Mercury", 15 May
1872. Re-opening of Wirksworth Church.
 "Derbyshire Times",
21 May 1870, and other newspapers.
 Jewitt, Llewellynn (ed.) (1870/1), "The
Reliquary" Vol.XI pub. Bemrose & Sons.
Mercury", 28 March 1855. The Memorial Window to the
late Francis Hurt, Esq.
 Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire,
 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. He awarded St. Mary's three
Also see, elsewhere on this web site:
Gentleman's Magazine Library has a section on Wirksworth
Parishes, 1811 includes a short piece about Wirksworth. Peter
Davies does not mention a spire on top of the tower.