Site record MDR4532 - St Alkmund's Church (site of), St Alkmund's Way, Derby

Type and Period (4)

Protected Status/Designation

  • World Heritage Site Buffer Zone

Full Description

The remains of St Alkmund are said to have been moved to Derby from his original burial place of Lilleshall, in Shropshire, in the 9th century, with his shrine becoming a focus for pilgrims. In the time of Edward the Confessor, the church was served by a college of six priests who were endowed with nine oxgangs of land in Little Eaton and Quarndon. In 1841 it was 'most unfortunately' resolved to pull down the venerable old church and build a new one on the site, with demolition taking place in 1844. The old church consisted of a nave, with side aisles and south porch, a chancel, and a tower at the west end, not disengaged from the building but open to the aisles and nave by three pointed arches. The dimensions as taken in 1826 were: nave, 63ft 7ins by 17ft; south aisle 12ft 9ins wide, north aisle 10ft 8ins wide, and chancel 34ft 3ins by 12ft 4ins. From various drawings etc it appears that the building externally was almost entirely of the Perpendicular period, although descriptions of the interior suggest that the pillars between nave and aisles may have been Norman, with other possible Norman details in the chancel. On demolition, the old font was removed and was later in use as an ornamental vase in the vicarage garden. A number of stones belonging to the original Saxon church were found during demolition. (1) St Alkmund's Church was built in 1846 by H I Stevens on a Saxon site. It was an ambitious building marking the beginning of Victorian prosperity. It was constructed of ashlar stone, slightly rock-tooled, and had a tall nave with openwork balustrade, aisles and tall 14th century-looking piers inside, and a tall tower with a spire supported by flying buttresses. It was demolished in 1967 to make way for the inner ring road. (2) The new Derby Excavation Committee started work in October 1967 on the site of St Alkmund's church in Bridge Gate, which was being demolished ahead of construction of the new inner ring road. The excavation was planned to continue until March 1968. The whole area within the present church was excavated to more than 6ft below its original floor level. The foundations of previous churches, dating back to the 9th century when St Alkmund's remains were brought to Derby, were uncovered. A finely carved stone sarcophagus associated with the earliest buildings had also been found, although it contained only rubble and could not, therefore, be connected with the saint. (3) During and after the demolition of the church of St Alkmund's, excavations were carried out on the site. The oldest building found beneath the 19th century church consisted of a nave 50ft by 19ft with a smaller sanctuary about 16ft square. Traces of aisles about 3ft wide also probably date from this period. The surviving fragments of walling have a massive plinth about 10ins high, which much rank among the more impressive features of early church building anywhere. This church is certainly Saxon. The plan and details suggest a period not later than the 9th century. The two fragments of sculptured crosses inset in the wall appear to confirm this date. In the 12th century the church was extended eastward. The added part of the sanctuary was raised over the crypt and was probably designed to hold the shrine of St Alkmund. At the same time the aisles were rebuilt, if indeed they did not originate at this period. In the late 13th or early 14th century the south aisle was widened and the north aisle remodelled. Finally in the 15th century the church was extended westward and a tower inserted at the west end of the nave, wholly enclosed by aisles on either side. The most important single find was a very fine ornamental sarcophagus dating from the 9th century. It had been opened at some point, smashing the cover. The body was exhumed and the void filled with rubble, indicating the translation of the body which was regarded as a relic and enshrined, probably in the chapel behind the altar. In the circumstances this must mean that the sarcophagus was prepared for St Alkmund and that he was translated in the usual manner in the 12th or 13th century. (4) Fuller details of the excavations were published in 1976. It was found that the Victorian church ignored the plan of the medieval building, which was completely enclosed within the 19th century walls, although the piers and responds often cut into or lay within the medieval walls. Four building phases were identified. The earliest of these was pre-Conquest, but the actual date was difficult to assess. Its origins are now thought to pre-date the 9th century, with the remains of St Alkmund being brought to a pre-existing minster. The body of Aethelwulf is also said to have been buried in St Alkmund's following his death in 871. In addition to the sarcophagus referred to above, four charcoal graves were discovered in this early church, a custom thought to have been prevalent in the 10th century. Later building phases comprised various extensions to enlarge the church, so that the late medieval church gave the impression of a Perpendicular building. Finds made during the course of the excavation included a pre-Conquest penny, a few other coins and tokens, and a number of sculptured stones including architectural fragments, cross shafts and grave covers, one of the latter being a hogback. (5) Many of the finds made during the 1967 and 1968 excavations are now in Derby Museum. They include the monolithic sarcophagus carved with interlace ornament, the silver penny of well known Viking type with inscriptions which may be interpreted as 'MIRABILIA FECIT' AND 'DOMINUS DEUS OMNIPOTES REX', nine sculptured stones (five from the 1844 rebuilding and four found in the 1967-8 excavations) - these include 9th or 10th to 11th century cross shaft fragments, relief fragments and 10th or 11th century grave covers; and two 19th century corbel heads acquired by Derby Museum in 1985. In addition, two old keys from St Alkmund's were accessioned by Derby Museum in 1915. (6) Several fragments of Anglo-Saxon monuments, including a decorated sarcophagus and two possible slab tomb covers which may be post-Conquest, found as a result of excavation of the church site in the 1960s. Several carved stones have already been removed from the same site. All the pieces (12 in all) are now in Derby Museum. (7)

Sources/Archives (7)

  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Cox, J C. 1879. Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Vol IV. pp 113-126.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Pevsner, N. 1979. The Buildings of England: Derbyshire. 2nd ed., revised. p 171.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: 1967. 'Notes and News : St Alkmund's Church, Derby', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Vol. 87, p 169.
  • <4> Bibliographic reference: 1974. East Midland Archaeological Bulletin, No. 10. p 7.
  • <5> Article in serial: Ralegh Radford, C. 1976. 'The Church of Saint Alkmund, Derby'. Vol 96.
  • <6> Digital data: Derby Museum Curators. Derby City Museum Database. pp 39-41,67-8, 102-113, 142-3, 146, 152.
  • <7> Correspondence: Sidebottom, P. 1994. Letter regarding Anglo-Saxon stone monuments in Derbyshire, 15th February, 1994. Letter.



Grid reference Centred SK 3514 3673 (43m by 28m) (Approximate)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

  • EDR396
  • EDR1508

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Record last edited

Dec 9 2020 11:42AM

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