Become a member of The Friends ... Click Here to find out more!
The Friends accept donations, if you'd like to donate, please Click Here!
Notes on the church
Because all the work that the Friends do is for the benefit of the church, it seems appropriate to include on the website some information on the church fabric. “Notes on the Church” will feature an occasional series of articles on the more unusual aspects of the Crooked Spire.
Churchyard Curiosities-Part 1
From the 10th century, it was the practice to ‘consecrate’ (bless) one acre of land around a church for burial purposes. “God’s Acre” came to be regarded as a reminder of our physical mortality and at the same time evoke prayers for the faithful departed.
It was usual for burials to take place on the south side. The banking of the ground in this part of the churchyard provides evidence of the numerous burials which have taken place here over the years.
The number of burials in Chesterfield churchyard is estimated to be as many as 20,000 on the south side alone. The ground level became raised as additional graves were superimposed upon pre-existing ones. This led to the inner floor of the church lying lower than the ground level outside. In 1843, such differing levels necessitated the excavation of a small ditch (sough) outside the building to protect the outer walls of the church from damp. Notice this feature on both south and north sides of the church.
In this churchyard it is estimated that 75% of the grave plots were concentrated on the south and west sides.
There were no further burials after 1930 and in 1932 the Borough Council took responsibility for churchyard maintenance. In about 1934 all gravestones to the South and West of the church were removed and re-positioned at the periphery of the churchyard for ease of maintenance, (though perhaps an unhelpful arrangement for 21st century genealogists!)
The Frenchman's Grave
On the North side of the churchyard, there is a small area where the gravestones have remained in position, and one of these is an historical curiosity. To find it, walk along the path on the North side of the churchyard (cut through in 1914) towards the War Memorial. At the far end of the low wall on the left, walk up on to the graveyard banking and back along the outside of the wall for about 20 paces until you come to a vertical tombstone. Turn right and the memorial detailed below is the leaning, third vertical tombstone away.
This is a memorial to Francois Raingeard, a French Officer from the Napoleonic War, who was a prisoner in Chesterfield. He died in 1812 and his memorial is inscribed in three languages : English, French and Latin.
The text, though now indistinct, reads...
age de 30 ans
Le 10 Mars 1812 Stop traveller!
If, in life’s journey,
Sympathy has found a seat in thy breast;
Thou’lt drop a pitying tear,
To the memory of one, who fell.
A sacrifice in friendship’s pious cause
REQUIESCAT IN PACE
Chesterfield was used as an internment camp for Napoleonic army and navy officers from 1803. They had freedom to walk the town and converse with their fellow officers. One condition however, applied - they must return to their lodgings on the ringing of the Parish Church “curfew bell”.
Chesterfield's first Gas Lamp
On the South side of the church, beside the main pathway from the church porch to the South East corner of the churchyard, stands the town’s first gas lamp with the date 1824 at its base. Originally this lamp stood on the SE corner of the town Market Square. The lamp was manufactured by Joseph Bower who also re-designed the copper ‘Weeping Tree’ fountain in the garden at Chatsworth House. In his Chesterfield premises Joseph Bower built a gas apparatus to supply the lamp outside his shop with gas for 7 months of the year. This he sold to the town council. Quite the entrepreneur!
In 1974 the lamp was moved to the churchyard where it was converted to electricity.
The “Imp” in Chesterfield Parish Church
This note is about a feature of the church which, regrettably, was lost after the fire in December 1961
which destroyed much of the North Transept of the church. Although the Imp was not lost in the
actual fire (as photo no. 2 demonstrates), it disappeared in the demolition and rebuilding work
required after the fire.
An early photograph taken by C.H. Nadin (c 1906) - a well-known local photographer. (Photo courtesy of Chris Goodlad collection)
A post card of this imp - dated Sept.15. 1908, carried the following message:
“Isn’t it pritty” [sic]. “This lovely specimen is to be found behind the organ in the choir vestry in our dear old church.”
(Photo courtesy of Chris Goodlad collection)
Please click to enlarge
Taken from a recently discovered (1961) photograph. It is dated 22.12.61 and was taken from inside the roofless, fire-ravaged choir vestry.
The figure was originally situated about 9 metres (30 feet) from the ground, on the inner face of the east wall of the north transept of the Parish Church. High in the wall above the choir vestry.
It is presumed that such copies were made by a Chesterfield
pottery as a record, after removal of the corbel figure from the
church following the fire. A copy of the cast is on display in the
church. There is also one in Chesterfield Museum.
A.J. Hallam June 2012
A plaster- cast copy of the above image.
Please click to enlarge
The Spire ‘story’
The wooden, eight-sided spire, is thought to have been added to the 14th century tower about the year 1362. This date is supported by dendrochronological (tree-dating) evidence. The timberwork comprises 150 tons of wood, but not until 1639 was the exterior protected by 50 tons of lead sheeting. The original spire was probably covered in oak shingles.
The structure is an oak frame, clad with lead, and an interior view of the timber frame is one of the most remarkable sights in the entire church. Where the top of the stone tower and base of the wooden spire meet, no fixings are apparent. The spire merely ‘sits’, with its low centre of gravity, balanced unattached on the top of the tower.
It rises to a height of 77m (228’) above the ground and leans 2.89m (9’6”) to the south-west. The spiral twist at the base is about 45° from west to east.
Why is it crooked ?
It is important to distinguish two elements in the spire’s ‘crookedness’:
1. The inclination and 2. The spiral twist
It is unfortunate that most people use the word ‘crooked’ unhelpfully, combining the above two features.
The inclination (lean) is due to a number of factors: the use of unseasoned (‘green’) timber, the absence of skilled craftsmen (‘Black Death’) and the neglect of cross-bracing. Timbers on the South (warm) face have shrunk more than those on the North.
The spiral twist is considered, by some observers, to be there by original intention and not by accident. A number of European spires have the same form, based upon this ‘twisted’ design.
Why was the spire built from ‘green timber’?
The use of ‘green timber’ was a normal art of medieval carpentry, owing to the fact that it could be bent and shaped during construction, with wooden pegs used to draw timbers into alignment. Movement was expected and allowed for. Such fresh timber was also less wearing on tools.
Recent examples of the use of ‘green oak’ are to be found in York Minster, Windsor Castle and the Globe Theatre in London.
Church Open Days are held each bank Holiday Monday between Easter and August with guided tours up the tower throughout the day. Tours are available at other times and by prior arrangement with the Parish Office [01246 206506]. Tower trips are also conducted by the verger on most Saturdays.
<< back to previous page