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Listed Building record MDR3430 - St Mary's Church, St John's Street, Wirksworth

Type and Period (4)

  • (Medieval to Victorian - 1200 AD to 1870 AD)
  • (Saxon - 410 AD to 1065 AD)
  • (Medieval - 1100 AD to 1200 AD)
  • (Medieval - 1200 AD to 1250 AD)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

There was a priest and a church at Wirksworth by the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086. At the beginning of the 12th century, Henry I granted the church to the newly-founded Cathedral Church of St Mary, of Lincoln. The earliest known formal ordination of a Vicar of Wirksworth took place in 1272. Up to this date, the church was served by a chaplain or chaplains appointed by the Dean of Lincoln. In the 12th century, the churches of Bonsall, Carsington, and Kirk Ireton, and possibly Matlock, were parochial chapelries dependent on Wirksworth, but they obtained their independence and became distinct rectories some time prior to 1291. Three chantries were founded at Wirksworth, all of which appears to have been within the church, rather that having separate free-standing chapels. The church of Wirksworth is dedicated to St Mary. It consists of nave with side aisles and south porch, north and south transepts, each with an aisle on the east side, chancel with short north and south aisles or chapels, and a tower in the centre. Its proportions are unusual, as there is a greater space eastward than westward of the central tower. There is no longer any traces of the Saxon church that was standing at Wirksworth during the Domesday Survey, unless it be in one or two quaintly-carved stones. Of its Norman successor, although there is no part now standing, sufficient remains were discovered during the recent restoration to prove that it was a building of some size, of a cruciform shape, and lavishly ornamented with the various effective mouldings that characterised that style about the middle of the 12th century. In the 13th century, when the Early English style prevailed, this church was rebuilt throughout, and covered much the same ground-plan as it does at present (1877). The roof was raised in the Decorated period, at the commencement of the 14th century, when the arcades that separate the nave from the aisles were rebuilt, and the walls over them raised, so as to admit the insertion of clerestory windows. The upper stage of the tower was also built during this period. A Decorated style window at the west end of the south aisle still survives. Various alterations were made to the church during the 15th and early 16th centuries, in the Perpendicular style that prevailed at this time. These alterations include the insertion of Perpendicular style windows, and the raising of the nave and transept walls. There is a Churchwarden account from the year 1662, which enters a payment of 8d. to Christopher Wall for 'fitting up of a Saw pitt in the churchyard', which was doubtless used by the local carpenters, for the frequent refittings and alterations of the interior that took place from time to time. Substantial alterations were carried out in 1820-1, to give larger accommodation for the population. These alterations included the removal of the east walls of both the transepts, which were then rebuilt, so as to enclose a much wider area. Unfortunately, this had the effect of completely destroying the proportions of the side aisles, or chapels, of the chancel. Further and considerable alterations were made in 1855, including the rebuilding of the south porch, and the insertion of new windows in to the south wall of the nave. The chief alterations during this time were in the chancel, which was unwarrantably divided in to two parts with the insertion of a new arch. Eastward of this arch, a new roof was put in. A new window was also inserted, and the walls were raised accordingly. It was not, however, until 1870 that anything worthy of the name of restoration was commenced. A very considerable portion of the money set aside for these alterations had to be expended in undoing the inappropriate alterations undertaken in 1820. The whole of the interior and exterior of the church was most carefully and scrupulously renovated during this restoration work. Inside the church is an ancient font of early 13th century design and unusual proportions. There is only the large circular bowl now remaining, with the capitals of the four shafts upon which it originally stood attached to it. It was probably mutilated and ejected from the church in the time of the Commonwealth. Its successor, which stands in the opposite transept, is of octagonal design. It is ornamented with patterns of unusual style, having more resemblance to Egyptian art than anything that pertains to either Gothic or Renaissance. It is dated to 1662. There are a number of ancient sepulchral memorials and monuments that still remain within the church; including a Saxon carved stone, believed by Cox to be the coped cover of a tomb, but considered by Bateman and others to have been an altar-piece, or reredos, of the ancient church (see SMR 15532). (1) A number of Medieval floor and wall tiles were discovered during the alterations in 1820 and 1876. (2) The church, dedicated to St Mary, is a large and venerable edifice, exhibiting the various styles of architecture from the Early English of the 13th century to the latest in Gothic. Two, if not more, earlier churches previously occupied the site. Its immediate predecessor was a Norman structure, and various remains of that building were discovered during the recent restoration. This probably took the place of the Saxon church that was standing when the Domesday Survey was taken, and from the early connection of Wirksworth with the Abbey of Repton in the 7th and 8th centuries, it is very possible that there was a church here at that early period. A curious piece of sculpture in the north wall of the north aisle is believed by competent authorities to have belonged to this Saxon church (SMR 15532). The church itself is cruciform in plan, and will accommodate about 1000 persons. The tower rises from the centre of the church, where it is supported on four massive pillars, and is surmounted by a small spire of the extinguisher type, which was certainly not contemplated in the original scheme. There are six bells in the tower, but all are of modern date. The church appears to have had five or six altars in Catholic times. During the restoration works of 1870, many fragments of ancient incised and sculptured stones were found during the progress of the work, and are now built in to the walls for preservation. The ancient double piscina was discovered in 1855, and opened out in the south wall; and on the opposite side is the aumbry recess, where the altar vessels were kept. There are several interesting monuments in the church, but some described by Bassano in 1710 have since disappeared. (3) This is a grade I listed church. It is built in various styles from Early English to Perpendicular Cruciform, and has a central tower. It was restored in 1870 by Sir Gilbert Scott and more recently. It is rich in contents, including a remarkable Saxon coffin lid; monuments, etc. (6) Perpendicular windows above doorway. (8) The bells of St Mary's are historically significant. Dating to 1702, three out of the complete set of eight are made by Philip Wightman. (9)

Sources/Archives (9)

  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Cox, J C. 1877. Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Vol. II. pp 539-65.
  • <2> Article in serial: Ward, J. 1892. 'Notes on the medieval pavements and wall tiles of Derbyshire', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 14, pp 119-140.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Bulmer, T and Co.. 1895. History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire. pp 490-3.
  • <4> Bibliographic reference: Kendrick 1938 Anglo-Saxon Art P I LXVII.
  • <5> Article in serial: Cockerton, R & Eden, P. 1961. Archaeological Journal. Volume 118.
  • <6> Listed Building File: Historic England. 2011. The National Heritage List for England. Ref: 79688.
  • <7> Index: North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust (NDAT). North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust: 2093. 2093.
  • <8> Photograph: Derbyshire Archaeological Society. Perpendicular windows at Wirksworth Church.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Church of England. 2007. Identification of bells and bell frames of historic significance.



Grid reference Centred SK 2874 5394 (47m by 35m) Approximate

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Record last edited

Nov 10 2023 10:48AM

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