Church History

14th-century St Michael & All Angels has been described by Pevsner in 1892 as one of the prettiest and best-proportioned churches in the Peak District…Our church was completed around 1371 but there is evidence of an earlier church.

The church tower and spire are 14th century and the body of the church is 14th to early 15th century with late 15th century re-windowing. There is an early wall painting on the west wall, a rare stone lectern in the chancel and a medieval mass dial on the external South wall.

There is a strong history and tradition of spirituality in the area with the oldest Neolithic chambered tombs in England located at Five Wells, above the village. The Norman cross in the church yard probably marks the site of an earlier church. In the churchyard also are known to be the 19th century unmarked graves of orphans from Litton Mill. Within the church is the memorial brass of the Blackwell Family, medieval coffin lids, three fonts and 17th & 18th century memorial grave slabs for notable local people. An annual Well Dressing and Flower Festival is held in the church, churchyard and around the village during the fourth week of August each year.

A more extensive history of the church written by J. N. Wordingham in July 2011 can be found below:

Although the village is mentioned in the Domesday book there is no reference to a church, yet the dedication to St. Michael and All Angels along with the shape of the much smaller original graveyard area suggests an ancient foundation. King John gave the tithes along with those of the mother church at Bakewell to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield, which body was soundly admonished by Archbishop Peckham in 1280 for failing to provide an adequate stipend for the priest.

Part of an earlier building may be detected in the West wall, but the present building largely dates from 1373 when it was rebuilt by the Coterel family who held mining rights in the area as well as part of the manor. The Duchy of Lancaster Annals record that three oaks were to be felled for the building and the roof beams from them may be seen in the nave. The family tomb was thought to be near the three seat stone sedilia in the South wall of the chancel which has wooden panels bearing the arms of the three dioceses of Lichfield, Southwell and Derby. Opposite is the 14th century doorway leading into the sacristy which was raised two feet during repairs to the flooring of the church in 1847 and thereby ruined the window to the right of it. The window above the doorway indicates a former upper room above the sacristy the whole probably being the priests lodgings. In the north wall of the sanctuary is a rare 15th century stone gospel lecture. Beneath the floor of the present wooden high altar which is set with four Riddle posts is a stone altar with incised crosses. On each side of the east window of the chancel is a stone bracket about 7 feet high which supported statuettes at one time. The one on the north side has faces carved on two sides of it. The figure of Michael on the South bracket is modern.

The stained glass in the east window is a recent addition to the church being inserted in 1993 when the stonework of the window was partially renewed. The five panels which depict scenes from the early life of Christ came from the redundant and demolished Church of Saint Peter, Birkenhead. They were made in the early years of the 20th century by the firm of Burlison and Grills also of Birkenhead and depict the Baptism of our Lord, the First Miracle, the Last Supper, the Resurrection Appearance to St. Mary Magdalene, and The Ascension. A sixth panel representing Pentecost has been distributed in the tracery above. A special appeal fund was opened to defray the cost of work on the east window comment and the installation of the stain glass became a memorial to relatives of the many donors.

Up to the early part of the 19th century there may have been a rood screen, certainly there was “a rich screen of oak between the nave and chancel with its splendid tracery” but it was sawn down, reason unknown, by a churchwarden. A Sheffield architect in 1841 wanted to restore it but his overall estimate for repairing the church was too costly. The purpose of the imp and preacher corbels on either side of the chancel arch is best left to the visitors imagination for up to 1891 the Jacobean pulpit, which was restored on its repositioning, was on the north side and the incumbents reading desk on the other side facing his congregation. The inward facing corbels may represent the founder and his wife.

The Chapel in the South aisle which was refurbished in 1943 and dedicated to “All Saints”, may have been a chantry Chapel to the Blackwall family. In his will, Richard Blackwall who died in 1505 and who's brass is now affixed to the wall, left an annual rent of five shillings from a farm in Taddington to the church “for religious uses”.

It is thought that the stone bearing the brasses was formerly part of an altar or table tomb. The alabaster slab not in the porch came from this part of the church and was a memorial to a later Blackwall. The family was a well established one of many centuries in the neighbouring village served by Taddington church. The more elaborate piscina in the South wall is on the same date as the one in the chancel. The reredos at the back of the altar was fashioned from a fireplace mantle of a house in the village.

The Chapel in the north aisle is dedicated to “Our Lady, Saint Mary” the mother of Jesus. It is set aside for private prayer and houses the Reserved Sacrament. The aumbry and its accompanying card form the subject of a conversation between the author, CS Lewis and his brother “Warney” who visited the church while on a walking holiday in 1936. This Chapel was furnished in 1923 after the organ was moved into its present position. Until 1891 a smaller instrument was cited in the chancel. The east window of this aisle was inserted in the 15th century when probably the clerestory story windows were added. It will be noted this window is of the early perpendicular style compared with the decorated style of the other two east facing windows.

At the back of the nave the rough hewn gritstone font in the north aisle could be of the 13th century. Its history appears on the wall alongside and together with the smaller bowl in the porch may have belonged to earlier churches on the site. The font by the South door is dated as being of the 15th century. Both inside fonts are lead lined, a reminder of the importance of lead mining to the parish in the past. A lead figure of Saint Michael which stood on a ledge in the West wall disappeared during the re-pewing of the church in 1847. A small lead figure of punch was much later found in the churchyard!

Conservation of the wall painting on the West wall was undertaken during the autumn of 1996. Analysis of three paint samples dampened hopes of confirmation of a mediaeval work of art just since the presence of Prussian Blue paint suggests it could not have been painted before 1708. The colouring of the undercoats was indicative of an artist who was used to working on canvas and the extensive use of lead based pigments suggested that the medium was oil. The identity of the artist is, as yet, unknown since no record of the Commission for it has been found. Beside parts of the human figure, possibly that of King David, there may be discerned, beneath its right leg, a red capped crown with ermine headband and some metal work. In the other corner is what could be the framework of an hourglass which would be an association with the missing figure of father time. Also absent from the 1827 description by a visitor are the scythe, harp, sceptre, and globe. Before conservation, the figure bore a distinct resemblance to Saint Christopher and Child in the Chapel of Haddon Hall.

Among those buried inside the church is Roger Wilkinson, a major benefactor of the parish Whose name appears on the charity boards. Omitted from the list of his bequests is the foundation of a school which began in the 1720s. Earlier members of his family were buried in the tower. The tower and steeple were added in the 15th century and during the lengthy rebuilding of the Spire and tower during the 19th century, a bell was hung in the porch and rung by a deaf mute. Two of the four bells or pre reformation. The clock on the outside of the tower south wall was installed in 1940 in memory of a fallen soldier of World War One.

The choir vestry extending from the north door was built by a village craftsmen in 1940. It contains mullions and window surrounds from a 16th century former clergy house at Chelmorton. This was extended in 2008, again by a village craftsman, to provide a small kitchen and disabled toilet.

The gritstone slab with its Latin cross now in the porch was probably the coffin lid of a 13th century priest. It was previously on the earth floor of the church but its original position is uncertain. Also in the porch exciting much comment is the short headstone of a young man who died in 1718.

On a buttress of the South wall may discerned a scratch dial. Also the subject of much speculation is the decorated headless stone shaft and Socle in the churchyard which could mark the site of the Saxon building. Following an inspection in 1994 it was recorded in the national schedule of monuments as probably being of the 11th century and it's ornamentation suggestive of Norman origin. The report concluded: “The cross in Saint Michael's churchyard is an unusual and reasonably well-preserved example of an early standing cross.”

on the other side of the path maybe seen an interesting group of headstones bearing carvings of Angel heads and wings. elsewhere, but sites unknown, all the graves of 25 apprentices from nearby notorious Litton Mill. Burial rights were granted in 1345; before then corpses were taken to the mother church in Bakewell and the inhabitants like those of the other daughter churches Were responsible for the upkeep of part of the churchyard walls there. The graveyard was unfenced until the mid 19th century when a hawthorn hedge quickly gave rise to Shrove Tuesday games of Battledore and shuttlecock over it by boys of the parish. In 1889 the churchyard was enlarged to take in the whole of the field and the hedge was uprooted.

The oldest surviving church register begins in 1642. The pewter plate has long gone and the oldest piece of silver plate is a chalice with lid bearing the Crest of the Blackwall family. In 1651, Richard Goodwin left 4 pounds to buy a new silver chalice which was recast and gilded in 1871 when a full set of plate was presented to the church by a former incumbent.

For many centuries a chapelry of Bakewell, the parish became a perpetual curacy in 1748 and was endowed with its tithes in 1890. A Vicarage was built on the site of the old tithe barn in 1837. The living became a United Benefice with Chelmorton in 1956 to which Monyash was added in 1990 with the incumbent living in that parish. This has a parallel in the late 18th century when Rev’d John Coxon held the curacies of all three chapelries and resided in Monyash. The enlarged Vicarage at Taddington became the residence and office of the Archdeacon of Chesterfield, but it is now a private dwelling house.

On the 1st of March 2011, benefice was united with that of Hartington, Biggin and Earl Sterndale with all six parishes remaining distinct and the incumbent living in Monyash.

This grade one church constantly needs repair. A further extensive renovation of the fabric over a 10 year period took place towards the end of the last century and was affected with financial assistance from English Heritage, The Peak District National Park and other grant awarding bodies. Parishioners remember especially the encasing of the Spire in temporary splints.

J. N. Wordingham

July 2011