At 1200 feet above sea level, Chelmorton is the highest parish in the Derby Diocese and the highest church with a spire anywhere in England. It is built into the hillside at the top of the linear village of Chelmorton, with its historic listed field strip system, and this means that different parts of the church are built on different levels.
The spire of St. John the Baptist church can be seen at the top of Main Street Chelmorton. A golden locust sits on a weather vane above the tall stone spire. Save the spire renovations have left it resplendent. Today’s bells come from the church at Derwent, flooded to form the Ladybower reservoir in the 1950s. A place of Christian worship existed here in the early thirteenth century, quite possibly earlier. The oldest surviving written record, however, is dated 1256 but one of the old oak beams long gone is believed to have been marked 1111.
Throughout its existence the church has suffered from the adverse climate it endures so high above sea level. This has necessitated a number of extensive restoration programmes over the years, with major work carried out in the thirteenth, sixteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This restoration work continues today with repairs aimed at ensuring the safety of the tower and spire, with its famous locust, being completed in early 2011.The five bells can now be safely rung.
The church has many internal features of interest, some dating back many centuries.The Lady Chapel, for example, was built in the second half of the thirteenth century as a chantry and became a lady chapel as the church expanded. It is now enhanced by the twentieth century Embroidered Panels that show some of the history of the village, plus the flora and bird life common to this part of Derbyshire The building is a Grade II* listed building
Until 1950, Chelmorton had its own resident vicar. Its parish, which includes Flagg, is now joined to the parishes of Monyash and Taddington, so as to form a united benefice with the Vicar living at Monyash Vicarage. As the evenings drew darker in 2012 a new Vicar Rev Richard Benson was appointed. John Fountain and David Race continue to grow the busy first Sunday of the month children’s family service.
Various activities raise funds for the church, on a regular basis coffee mornings are held at Bakewell Town Hall, to help, call Jane Palfreyman on 01298 85360. In 2005 a new house began build, Primitive Manse opposite the village institute. This house has an annual payment written into its deeds to make yearly donations directly to the church of St John the Baptist. First Sunday of the month is designated a family service which starts at ten welcoming the youngsters of the village. Vicar John Goldsmith saw numbers of the family service grow well over the last few years before his retirement. Other Sunday services begin at eleven thirty.
Harvest Festival brings produce to the church, after a thanksgiving service produce is auctioned for charity in the local pub, the Church Inn at a village dinner usually late in September.
A short tour of the Church
Facing up the church towards the altar. Notice the stout octagonal piers and the beautiful chancel arch. Both these features date from the thirteenth century. Walk up the church to the chancel steps. Note the very rare stone screen separating nave from choir. It was carved in about 1345 (4 years before the black death carried off so large a section of the countries population.) The wooden screen above it was added in this century.
Walk up the steps into the chancel and on as far as the alter rail. Notice the long kneeler with its embroider locusts, reminders of St John the Baptist. (Another locust can be found on the weather vane on top of the spire.) To your right are carved stone Piscina and Seillia (seats for the clergy) At each side of the sedilia is a stone head, one male and one female. The East window was installed in 1880
It seems likely that the marble for the Memorial Tablets on the chancel walls may have come from the next parish, the Ashford Sheldon area, where marble was quarried and worked from 1748 until 1905.
Down the chancel steps turn left to the Lady Chapel, built in 1256 as a chantry. Within the Lady Chapel are the Chelmorton embroider panels representing life through the ages, from prehistoric times to present day farming.
Return now to the chancel steps and turn to walk down the nave of the church. Notice how the pillars on your right are different in level from those on your left. Also that the arches on your right are pointed but on your left are round headed. The lower windows are from the later end of the thirteenth century, but the more elaborate upper ones were put in two centuries later when the height of the walls was increased. On the right the North doorway is blocked.
The font has contemporary old English lettering on each side of its eight faces possibly spelling out the Greek 'seb semno' ( Reverence the revered One.)
The tower is home to five bells. The treble and tenor bells were re-cast in 1960 to incorporate metal from the bells of Derwent Church, the ruins of which now lie drowned under Derwent Reservoir.
Trace your steps through the Tudor entrance doorway to the newest part of the Church's structure - the Elizabethan porch. Notice the holy water stoup and, incorporated in the walls, the Norman dripstone which its chevron pattern, and the grave covers: a sword for a soldier, shears for a wool-stapler, etc.