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Notes on Duffield Church

   A Paper read by Mr. John Bland before the Church of England Men's Society, Duffield Branch, on November 28th, and printed at their request.

   The writer wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to " The Churches of Derbyshire," by the Rev. J. C. Cox, LL.D., and to the report written by the late Mr. J. Oldred Scott, the architect at the restoration of 1897.


   The history of a parish church, in a quiet country village such as Duffield, must be mainly the history of its architecture, and the changes which successive generations have made in the fabric. It will be seen how, during the passing centuries, the parishioners of Duffield have left their mark on the building, so that all the styles of Gothic architecture which prevailed in England during a period of 500 years, from 1060 to 1547, are represented here.

   Much of what follows is familiar to many of you, but as the information is not accessible to all, and there are many who have given little thought or attention to the subject, a reminder of the history and antiquity of our church may be useful and interesting.

   Duffield Parish.—You are well aware that the ancient Parish of Duffield was a large and important one. It embraced the royal forest called Duffield Frith, which extended from Duffield to Wirksworth, and from Hulland to Heage, and of which the Ambergate woods are the only parts remaining. It contained the Townships of Hazelwood, Holbrook, Makeney, Milford, Shottle and Windley, and the Chapelries of Belper, Heage and Turnditch. Our Church is the mother church of all this large and important district.

   (It will be seen from what follows how the well-known popularity of Duffield church as a place for weddings came about. The parish was very extensive, there was the natural desire of young people to be married in the church where their parents and grand parents had been married; marriages are said to have been celebrated under rather free and easy conditions a hundred years ago, so that any " run-away " couples who represented themselves as living in Duffield Parish were married without enquiry. Be this as it may, Duffield church remained popular as a place for weddings from the whole of the ancient and extensive parish until quite recently, and some of us can remember the long succession of couples who presented themselves on the great festivals of Easter and Whitsuntide, and who had not always been disposed of when the hour for morning service arrived.)

   We are probably quite safe in saying that the spot where our church stands has been hallowed as a place of worship for over 1000 years. The venerable yew tree and the flowing river—emblems of the resurrection and of eternity—mark it as a spot such as the very early inhabitants of this land were wont to choose for their devotions.

   Dedication.—The dedication of the church, too, takes us back to the times of the early Saxon Saints. There are only eight English churches dedicated to St. Alkmund, and it is unfortunate that this, interesting and rare dedication was for a time obscured by the comparatively modern error which ascribed it to All Saints. As doubt is still entertained and expressed by some as to the correct dedication of Duffield Church it may be well to remind you that researches by Dr. Cox have most conclusively proved the point. Briefly his evidence consists of extracts from

  1. —Several old and rare books published between 1742 and 1811.
  2. —Pre-Reformation Wills, in which interment is desired " in the Church of St. Alkmund, Duffield."
  3. —The Chartulary of Darley Abbey, which refers to St. Alkmund's, Duffield, early in the 15th century.
  4. —A Lichfield Episcopal Register of the 14th century, where the Church of St. Alkmund, at Duffield, is named.

   As Dr. Cox remarks, we have here an extraordinary combination of evidence, such as is rarely obtainable with regard to the dedication of a church.

   St. Alkmund.—A few words about St. Alkmund may be interesting. He was the son of Alcred, who was King of Northumbria from 765 to 774, and he gained great fame by his victories over the Danes, who were ravaging the country and ruthlessly destroying every vestige of Christianity. He is said to have been treacherously slain by the Danes in 819, but his character was such that he was soon honoured as a saint and martyr. Butler, in his " Lives of the Saints," says of this Christian Prince, " During his temporal prosperity, the greater he was in power, so much the more meek and humble was he in heart, and so much the more affable to others. He was poor amidst riches, because he knew no greater pleasure than to strip himself for the relief of the distressed." With these beautiful characteristics we can understand how " the memory of a young man of royal descent, taking the lead in a struggle with the barbaric Danes and treacherously slain by these pagans. would speedily become hallowed."

   After a time his body was brought to Derby, possibly passing through Duffield, and it does not require a great stretch of the imagination to picture the sad procession winding its way by the river's bank, and resting for a time under the shade of our old yew tree, before entering on the last stage of its journey.

   The body was received with great honour in Derby, a shrine was prepared for its reception, and eventually a church, bearing the Saint's name, was erected over it. The shrine of St. Alkmund, part of which still remains built into a recess in the wall of the vestry, became very famous, and many miracles were said to have been wrought at it, and at St. Alkmund's Well, where the body rested before it was taken into the town. This well still exists, and is decorated with flowers every Whitsuntide, when the clergy and choristers of St. Alkmund's walk in procession to the well and hold a short service.

Webmaster's note: Present day thinking would suggest that the travellers would pass further to the west along the road which now passes by Kedleston Hall. The church in Derby was demolished in 1963 to make way for the the ring road - now called St. Alkmund's Way. In the process, the remains of the original church was uncovered, with a tomb which may have been St Alkmund's. This, and several other artefacts, are on display in Derby Museum.

   In all probability, about this time or shortly afterwards,i.e , during the ninth century , a similar Saxon church, dedicated to St. Alkmund, was built at Duffield. It may have been, as was then most common, merely a wooden erection, but it is more probable that it was built of stone.

Webmaster's note: Later writers have suggested the original chapel would be much older - built either for the baptism of converts or to serve pilgrims fording the Derwent on their way from Repton to Nottingham. However, the arrival of St. Alkmund's remains may have been such a notable event that the chapel was rededicated

   There is an historical reference to this church to be found in Domesday Book (completed for Derbyshire in the year 1086) in which Duffield is said to contain a church, a priest, and two mills, (no doubt somewhere on the Ecclesburn). There is no trace remaining of this Saxon church.

   Before we come to speak of the Norman church, a little information about the living of Duffield will be appropriate.

   The Living.—When William the Conqueror divided up the land amongst the nobles who had assisted him, he gave Duffield Manor and a great many other estates in this part of the country to Henry de Ferrars, the builder of the castles at Tutbury and Duffield: This Ferrars founded a Priory at Tutbury and gave to the monks there the tithes of Duffield Manor, except one-third which was reserved for the parish church. (The Ferrars family held these estates for about 200 years. One William Ferrars accompanied Richard I on his Crusade to the Holy Land, taking with him, no doubt, men-at-arms and vassals from his Duffield Manor). When the Ferrars estates became forfeited to the crown in 1206, owing to the repeated rebellions of Robert de Ferrars, and Duffield castle was destroyed, Henry III gave Duffield to his son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, Leicester, and Derby. In 1882, Henry, Earl of Lancaster, the son of Edmund, took away the tithe which had been given by Henry de Ferrars to Duffield church and gave it to the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin at Leicester, which he had founded, leaving Duffield with what were called the " small tithes " only.

   So that Duffield, which up to 1332 had been a Rectory, now became a Vicarage. The patronage of the vicarage, by the gift of Henry, Earl of Lancaster, was vested in the hands of the Bishop of the Diocese, and all Vicars of Duffield, from the year 1332 to the appointment of the late vicar, the Rev. F, W. Moore, were presented by the Bishop. The late Mr. Rowland Smith effected an exchange with Bishop Lonsdale, and obtained the gift of the living of Duffield, and it is now in the hands of Colonel Granville Smith.

   When the monastic religious houses were dissolved by Henry VIII, he confiscated their lands and revenues. But these were not given back to the parish churches from which they had in many cases been taken, he retained some of them in his own hands, and gave others to private individuals, his favourites and supporters. In this way Duffield Rectory and its tithes, which remained in the hands of the Crown until the reign of James I, were then given to private persons, and subsequently came to the family of Pindar, who lived in the old Rectory House, and from them to their descendant, Earl Beauchamp, who is now the Lay Rector of Duffield and receives the tithes ; the rights of the Chancel are also vested in his hands.

   When, by the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, tithes were changed from payment in kind to payment in money, Duffield was of the value of £660 a year. Thus £660 a year, which had been originally given to support the church and rector of Duffield, was taken out of the parish and given to private individuals, The small tithes and glebe land remaining for the stipend of the Vicar are now worth £160 a year.

   This is one of the very many instances which confute the fallacy that the Church derived her endowments from the State. The State did not endow the Church. Churches were built and endowed mainly by the large landowners on their several estates, and under various pretexts the Church has been despoiled and robbed of vast sums. (The " Tithes Commissioner's Report for 1881," showed that £1,000,000 a year in tithe was diverted from the Church and received by laymen.)

   To go back to the fabric of the church in the time of the Normans.

   Norman Church.—The Norman church would be a moderate sized building of stone, consisting probably of a nave the same size as now, and a chancel about two-thirds of the present size, but with a high pitched roof. If you go into the chapel on the north side of the chancel, sometimes called the "Vicar's Chancel," where the choir now robe, and look up at the south wall of this chancel, you will see a row of ten heads carved in stone, grotesque and ugly, these form a corbel table of undoubted Norman work and show that this is the outside wall of the original Norman chancel.

   The other principal remains of this period are to found in a curious place. Up in the ringing chamber, built into the walls round the windows, are several stone coffin lids or grave stones. They are carved with crosses and other designs, and belong to the Norman period, probably before the year 1200. There are some other carved stones to be noticed. Built into the wall at the south west end of the church are two stones carved with a rough representation of an eagle and a lion. They are evidently two of a set of four, as they represent the symbols of two of the Evangelists :—the lion of St. Mark and the eagle of St. John. Of course they are not in their original position, and have been defaced, the round parts of the figures have been chiselled off to make them flat. They were found during the restoration of 1897 built into the wall with the figures inside. It is difficult to say what was their original purpose, they may have decorated an early font, or been two of four stones at the corners of a tomb. There is a strong concensus of archceological opinion that these are Norman work, and they probably belong to the latter part of the eleventh century.

   The first addition to this Norman church seems to have been a north aisle to the nave, though it would be much narrower than it now is, probably little more than a passage. There were greater changes in the next century.

   Early English Period.—We come now to what is called the Early English style of building when the beautiful " lancet " windows and pointed arches were introduced. This covers less than 100 years—from the latter part of the 12th century to the latter part of the 13th— and during the reigns of Richard I, John, and Henry III. Salisbury Cathedral is considered to be a complete type of 'Early English" architecture, it was begun and finished during this period.

   The chapel on the north side of the chancel, where the choir now robe, was built at this time and the arch between the chancel and that chapel was cut through the Norman wall. The north transept was added about the same time, and also the south aisle, although it could hardly have been of the present width. The chancel arch was raised and rebuilt about the close of the 13th century, and probably the chancel was lengthened to what we see now. So that great alterations and additions were made during the prevalence of the Early English style and within the space of seventy to eighty years.

   Decorated Period.—The next period is known as the Decorated style of architecture, and covered most of the 14th century, i.e., the reigns of Edward I, II, and III. Window heads now began to be filled with tracery, flowing lines, circles, or trefoils, and ornaments are numerous and delicately carved. Workmen, as an act of worship to God, or for the glory of the Church, or love of their craft, gave their whole life to the beautifying of some church or cathedral. They considered that the best and fittest offering they could make to God was to faithfully copy His works in nature, and the richer examples of this style are ornamented with beautiful foliage most accurately copied. Those of us who went to Southwell saw in that lovely Chapter House an unrivalled specimen of Decorated work of this era. Of course, in a small and comparatively poor parish, we seldom find work of this richness. But at this time our church seems to have been considerably altered and much of its present character given to it. Both aisles were remodelled, and the south aisle re-built to its present width, and the arches between the nave and the aisles re-built. The large windows at the ends of the aisles belong to this style; that in the west end of the south aisle is a beautiful design and well worth your notice, as a really good specimen of the Decorated period. The south entrance and porch are of this date. The tower and spire followed a little later, say about 1400. There is a curious relic of this period in a well carved head on the wall of the north aisle, which forms a corbel stone supporting the roof timber. Dr. Cox says—" From the style of hair, beard, and moustache, it is clearly of the time of Edward II, 1307—1326."

   Perpendicular Period.—We come now to the last of the great styles of architecture, that known as " Perpendicular," which came into use about the end of the 14th century. This was an age of great activity in church building ; beautiful and stately churches were erected in all parts of the country. The fine tower of All Saints, Derby, is a notable specimen of this style. It is a purely English style and is never found on the Continent. Flowing lines of tracery in windows now give place to straight, rigid lines, and the name " Perpendicular " exactly expresses their chief feature.

   The Duffield parishioners caught the prevailing fever for re-building and improving, and set about renovating their chancel, so that we have one conspicuous example of 15th century Perpendicular work. The large east window in the chancel, although rather " squat " and " dumpy " in appearance through the lowness of the roof is a good specimen of this style. When we notice its rigid upright lines, the mullions carried right through from the base to the arch, and the window head broken up by smaller rows of parallel, upright lines and transoms, we see one great characteristic of the 15th century work. The three south windows in the chancel and the windows in the aisles are also square-topped Perpendicular ones of similar design.

   The Church has now taken the form, generally speaking, with which we are so familiar. It contains, as we see, examples of all the principal styles of English medieval architecture, and it therefore posseses much value and interest to students of architecture, and references to Duffield church are frequently found in books on this subject.

   19th Century Restorations.—In 1847 there was a restoration, chiefly of the south aisle, which was rebuilt by two sisters, the Misses Colvile, of Duffield Hall, and over the south entrance is a small brass plate inscribed—" This aisle was restored by two sisters, Anno Dom., 1847." The roofs of the north and south aisles were then raised to their present high pitch, whilst the nave and chancel retain the old pitch of the 15th century. The galleries were cleared out of the church. There was a large " singing gallery " which occupied the whole of the west arch, and where fiddles, bassoons and clarionets were played, supplemented on great occasions by trumpets and French horns. There is much to be regretted in the disappearance of those old village orchestras, but the time had come and Duffield must possess an organ and move with the times. An organ was now presented, and this did duty until about 30 years ago, when the present instrument was built. The old organ, on which the writer played his first church services, was of peculiar construction ; it combined the usual keyboard arrangement and a barrel-organ in one, so that the tunes could be produced either by playing on the keys in the front or by turning a handle in the rear! There were also two other private galleries, approached by flights of steps, occupying a considerable amount of room, and held by two prominent families in the place. One occupied the archway of the north transept and the other was near the south porch. These unsightly objects which had probably been erected during the " dark ages " of church architecture of the 17th and 18th century were cleared away. The chancel arch was fully opened to view, for its shape had been greatly concealed by two large paintings of Moses and Aaron which were taken down. The walls of the chancel, which had been whitewashed, were scraped, and the natural stone brought to light. In other parts of the church whitewash and paint had been freely used, the font and capitals of the pillars were painted sky-blue, and the walls were in many parts covered with paintings of cherubs, angels, &c., especially at the west end over the singing gallery. These were all removed.

   This work, although mistakes were made, was good for its period, and paved the way for the restoration, fresh in our memories, of 1897, when through the munificence of Sir Arthur and Lady Heywood, the late Mrs. Gillett, and others, and the generous help of the parishioners generally, a most thorough renovation and beautifying of the interior of the church was carried out at a cost of £4,500.

   The late Mr. Rowland Smith also built the small chapel which forms a south transept as memorial to his wife.

   The clock and chimes were at this time presented by the late Mr. G. C. Greenwell.

   It should be mentioned that in 1884 the old peal of six bells were re-cast and a full peal of eight hung. As a Jubilee-offering in 1887 Sir Arthur Heywood, Bart., presented two additional bells, making ten in all,—the only peal of ten in the County, outside the Borough of Derby, and justly admired for their sweet and well-balanced tone. The same generous donor also endowed the belfry with a sufficient sum to pay the ringers' salary and to keep the bells and ringing chamber in order in perpetuity, without any drain upon the churchwardens' funds.

   Monuments.—We have not many monuments of interest in Duffield church, but there are a few worthy of notice. In the north wall of the chancel is a recess covered by an archway, underneath which was found a stone coffin. A new lid was supplied, carved with a cross in imitation of the original which had been broken. This probably was the burial place of the founder of the Norman church.

   A very interesting monument is that in the north chapel. The monument, with recumbent effigies, of Sir Roger Mynors and his Lady, once of Windley Hill, who were buried in 1536. He is said to have been sometime Chief Forester of Duffield Frith. The monument is valuable because of its very accurate and beautifully carved representation of the armour, dress and ornaments worn at that period.

   Above that monument, in the north wall of the chancel, is a large hagioscope or " squint," which was constructed to give the worshippers in the chapel a view of the high altar. It is divided, which is very unusual, into three openings.

   In the north transept is a quaint and interesting monument erected to Anthony Bradshaw in 1600. He lived at Holbrook, and was grand-uncle to the famous President Bradshaw who condemned Charles I to death.

   The curious point about this monument is that Anthony Bradshaw erected it himself in 1600, to the memory of himself, his two wives, and his twenty children. He not un-naturally concluded that he was unlikely to add to his stock of olive-branches, but he lived fourteen years longer, and meantime had three more children! The date of his death (1614) he, of course, left blank, and it still remains blank. Across the centre of the monument are carved effigies of himself, his wives and his children (excepting the three which came later), with their respective initials. It is said that the portraits of the god-fathers and god-mothers of these children were formerly painted round the walls of this part of the church.

   There is a curious epitaph in the churchyard which may not be generally known. It is on the tomb of Titus Cartwright, evidently once the village blacksmith, and contains punning allusions to his trade. It reads—

" My sledge and hammer lie reclined,
My bellows too have lost their wind :
My fire's extinct, my forge decayed,
And in the dust my vice is laid ;


My coal is spent, my irons gone,
My nails are drove, my work is done ;
My fire-dried corpse lies here at rest,
My soul, like smoke, is soaring to be blest."

   Parish Registers and Churchwardens' Books.—We have a set of Parish Registers which go back to the year 1598. From them, and from the Churchwardens' books, many interesting extracts might be made. There are the usual curious entries of payments made by the Churchwardens, whose duties then covered a much wider ground than now. Payment for ringing the curfew bell crops up regularly, and also payments for ridding the parish of what they considered to be vermin, such as ls. for each fox's head, and for the poor, harmless hedge-hog, 4d. Of course there are numerous references to " ale," indeed an important part of the Churchwardens' duty seems to have been to provide ale on all sorts of occasions, and particularly at the Easter meeting when Churchwardens were elected. Indeed, in the year 1747, it seems to have become necessary to curtail this expense, for a formal resolution was passed that " no more than 10s. (shillings) was to be spent at the meeting at Easter for the choice of Churchwardens." Apparently the 10s. did not provide enough ale to " go round," for in the following year, 1748, they solemnly rescinded this resolution, and decided that the Churchwardens might spend 15s. " and no more !" Other occasions when much meat and drink were consumed were the annual perambulations or processions. Thus, in 1704, we have " paid for ale at Sam Stone's, when we went ye procession, 8s. ;" " paid for ale, &c., at John Harrison's on ye same account, 6s. ;" for ale at my house on ye same account, 7s. :" and again in 1712, "paid for meat and drink when we went a possessioning (sic), 18s."

   Were these processions what are known as " beating the bounds" or boundaries of the parish ? They could scarcely have been Rogation processions for the blessing of the crops : they were much more solemn occasions.

   Notwithstanding all this consumption of ale and the absence of modern blessings, such as Parish Councils and Sewerage Schemes, the inhabitants seemed to live to a good old age. There are several entries of centenarians, and numbers lived close on 100 years.

   An interesting point which is brought out in these books is the relative sizes of Duffield and Belper 250 years ago. In 1650 Belper is described as " a hamlet appurtaining to Duffield." In 1673, a levy was made on the parish to defray the cost of repairs to the Church, "it being much decay'd by reason of a violent flood." The sum to be paid by each township and hamlet in the parish was fixed in proportion to its size or rateable value, Duffield had to pay £31 16s. and Belper only £14 8s., so that in 1673 Duffield was twice the size of Belper. It was not until 1770, when Messrs Strutt's mills were built, that Belper began to overtake and outstrip Duffield in size and population, and it was not formed into a separate parish until 1846.

   It is interesting to see in these entries how the names of old Duffield families keep recurring, whose descendants are still amongst us. The family of Sowter has a long continuous connection with Duffield and its church. As early as 1604 a Jacob Sowter was baptised there. In 1682 Sam Sowter was paid 1s. for " whipping ye dogs out of ye Church." The name, " dog-whipper " still clung to the Verger within the memory of many of us. In 1702, and for several years afterwards, Matthew Sowter was paid 6s. a year for ringing curfew ; more recent members of this family were James Sowter, of Church Street, a ringer for more than half a century, and Peter, the well-remembered Parish Clerk for over fifty years, whose sonorous voice in broadest " Derbyshire," used to lead the responses and give out the hymns with the time-honoured formula, " Let us sing to the praise and glory of God." Other old families still represented in Duffield are Tempest (a daughter of Michael Tempest, of Burley, was baptised in 1722), Statham, Cooper, Clarke, Chadwick (1628), Winson (Wm. Winson, Churchwarden, 1777). and Garton. In 1701 we have an entry " Samuel Garton, de Duffield, demursus in Derwent infra Duffieldae pontem." Several other drownings and casualties are recorded. In 1673, " Robert Randall, of Denbigh, who, going from a cock fight at Duffield and being drunk, fell into water above Duffield Bridge and was drowned." Extracts of this sort could, of course, be multiplied, and they shed some light on the customs of our forefathers, the value of money and labour, &c. For instance, in 1661 the Churchwardens paid for a labourer's wages 9d. a day, and a skilled workman's 1s. 4d. a day. But if wages were small commodities were cheap, as three loads of coal cost 2s. 6d.

   From the Parish Registers and earlier sources, Dr. Cox has compiled a list of the Rectors and Vicars of Duffield from the year 1253 to the present time, and it is intended, with his permission, to have a copy of this list printed and placed in the church.

   We have now come to the end of this rough survey of events connected with our parish church. We have seen how it has taken shape during the long centuries. How that Saxon serf, Norman noble, Crusader, Plantagenet and Tudor, Royalist and Puritan have worshipped there, cherished its fabric, given of their substance to maintain, improve, and enlarge it. It is a matter for satisfaction that we, in our generation, have been able to do something to restore and beautify the interior of the church, and so to leave it to our successors in a better condition than we found it. It may be necessary in the future, owing to increase in the population, to build another church at the north end of the village. But we hope that nothing will ever be done to draw away the congregation from the old Parish Church, or to impair in any degree the dignity and prestige of the mother church of this ancient and important parish.


J.H. HALL, Printer, Green Lane Works, Derby.

Website copyright Jed Bland. 14.09.08 amended 20.07.10

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