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East Midlands Chesterfield and its churches, Derbyshire

Shops, a crooked spire and George Stephenson.

Chesterfield is a large market town in north Derbyshire and an important regional centre. It is sufficiently far away from Sheffield and Derby to have a thriving shopping centre and one of the best markets in the area. It is also famous for its church with the crooked spire.

It is an attractive place to wander with its mix of architectural styles, including early C20th ‘black and white’ timber frame buildings.



The pre war brick and stone built Town Hall is a particularly splendid building overlooking Shentall Gardens.

The centre of Chesterfield is compact, with the Market Place at its centre. The splendid C19 brick built Market Hall has recently undergone a multi million pound refit. At the centre is a cafe with stalls around the edges selling everything from sweets to clothes.



Along the outside are small shops including the Cheese Factor which has one of the best selections of English and Continental cheeses in the area. There is everything from traditional Caerphilly to Cornish Yarg, and farmhouse Stilton.

The Open Air Market in the square is open Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. There has been a market here for 800 years, making it one of the oldest markets in the country. There are over 150 different stalls which spread along neighbouring street. It sells everything from fruit, veg and flowers to haberdashery and fashions.


On the second Thursday of the month there is a Farmer’s Market and on the last Sunday of the month is the Artisan Market with a mix of food and craft stalls.

Adjacent to the Market Square is the Vicar Lane Shopping Centre.


The Yards is a collection of independently owned shops and cafes. Opposite is the large enclosed Pavement Shopping Centre which contains all the usual chains as well as a Tesco. Next to these is Chesterfield Library, a large modern building on two floors which gives access to the coach and bus station.

There is an information Centre in the library although the main Tourist Information Centre is in a purpose built building in Rykneld Square. This has maps of Chesterfield as well as information about the town and local area. It also sells tickets for local theatres as well as day tours by local coach companies.


Near this is perhaps the best known landmark in Chesterfield, St Mary and All Saints' Church (#2) with its crooked spire.


Holy Trinity Church (#6) is on the edge of the town centre and is a typical C19th Gothic building. Its main claim to fame is that Victorian railway engineer George Stephenson who died in Tapton House on the outskirts of Chesterfield and is buried in the chancel


Chesterfield Museum and Art Gallery is virtually opposite St Mary’s Church in what was the Mechanics Hall. It covers the history of Chesterfield from a Roman fort to its growth as a market town and later industrial heritage. It has a small art gallery displaying works of local artist Joseph Syddal and the Romanian painter, David Ghilchik, with his paintings of Staveley Iron Works. It also has a rolling programme of exhibitions and events during the year. Entry is free.

Chesterfield theatres include the Pomegranite Theatre and the Winding Wheel have a range of live shows throughout the year from drama to pantomime with dance thrown in.

Queens Park is a large public park to the south of the town centre and the home of Chesterfield Cricket Club. There is a lake with a miniature railway running round it from Easter to the end of the summer holidays. There is also a children’s play area, glass conservatory, bandstand which has concerts in the summer and a cafe.

Chesterfield doesn’t feature on the tourist itinerary but is popular with locals. Set on the edge of the Peak District it is close to attractions like Chatsworth House, Bolsover Castle, Hardwick Hall, Renishaw Hall and Gardens... The Chesterfield Canal runs to the east of the town and there are boat trips during the summer months.
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St Mary and All Saints’ Parish Church - the church with the crooked spire

Everyone recognises pictures of Chesterfield Parish Church with its crooked spire. It has been described as the ‘most famous architectural distortion north of Pisa’. Not only does the spire lean over 9’ from true centre, it is also twisted.

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It is the stuff of myth and legend, always involving the Devil. In one story, the devil was resting on the spire with his tail wrapped round for support. The smell of incense made him sneeze so violently, his tail caused the spire to twist. Another story suggests the Devil was so surprised when a virgin bride entered the church on her wedding day that he twisted round in surprise, pulling the spire with him.

The actual explanation is a lot more mundane. When it was built, the spire was covered with wood shingles on a wooden frame. When the shingles rotted, they were replaced by lead, which was plentiful in the area and cheap. About 32 tons of lead were used to cover the spire, on a framework that wasn’t designed to support that weight. The effect of expansion and contraction also exacerbated the problem. The south side of the spire gets all the sun and the lead expands and contracts more on that side compared to tiles on the north side. The differential rates of expansion and contraction caused the spire to twist.

The Romans had a permanent settlement here and may have brought Christianity to the area. There has been a church in Chesterfield since the C7th and records of a church here in Norman times.

King John granted a market charter in 1204 and Chesterfield flourished. In response to this, the old church was replaced by a larger and more impressive building. Work soon began at the east end. By 1234, the chancel and crossing were complete. The Early English chancel with its side altars, is large compared with other parish churches, and is an indication of the prosperity of Chesterfield at that time. The tower with its spire and the south transept were completed by the early C14th, and the rest of the church soon followed in the Decorated Gothic style.

The roof was raised around 1500 by the addition of a clerestory, allowed more light into the church. The west front was rebuilt in the early C16th.

There was some restoration in the C18th when the north transept was rebuilt.

George Gilbert Scott was asked to carry out a major restoration in 1843. He removed the box pews and galleries. The flat plaster roof was removed. New windows were inserted and the west gallery constructed.

Further work began in 1887 after the Rural Dean reported that the fabric of the church needed a very large expenditure of money to make it what it should be, The chancel was in a poor state, glass was old and the ironwork of the windows needed repainting.

Temple Moore was appointed to carry out the necessary restoration and alterations. He was responsible for the lovely reredos above the high altar in the chancel.

There were later alterations with the formation of a central sanctuary under the crossing and altars at the ends of the nave aisles.

On December 22nd 1961 there was a devastating fire in the north transept thought to have been caused by and electrical fault. This caused £30,000 damage and destroyed the 200 year organ, apart from a few pipes.

The church is close to Chesterfield town centre and is set in its own small graveyard. Trees and surrounding buildings make it difficult to photograph.

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Entry is through the south porch with a carving of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child above the door.

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St Mary and All Saints’ Parish Church cont...

The church is equally as large and impressive inside as it is outside. It is a cruciform church. with a large nave with altars at the ends of the side aisles. The main altar has now been moved under the crossing. The chancel contains the high altar with two side chapels on either side. There are smaller chapels on either side of these.

The nave is Decorated Gothic with pointed arches and tall pillars. The clerestory windows contain plain glass. On the walls are lovely carvings of the Stations of the Cross.

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At the back of the nave is the shop area with a gallery above.

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The west window was installed in 1890 and has scenes from the life of Joshua.

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The central sanctuary and crossing altar date from the 1940s.

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The rood beam with Christ crucified with St John and the Virgin Mary was designed by Temple Moore in 1915.

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The wood screen behind the altar has small carvings of four English kings; Edward the confessor, Henry III, Richard II and William IV.

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The choir stalls have been moved to the front of the nave.

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The dark wood carved Jacobean pulpit is to the left of the Crossing.

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St Oswald’s Chapel with its plain altar are at the end of the north aisle.

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The stained glass window beside dates from 1960 and represents the saints of the Saxon church.

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Next to it is the St Francis window.

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On a pillar near this is a C16th figure of a seated Christ with a crown of thorns.

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St Peter’s Chapel is at the end of the south aisle and was installed here in 1939. The beautiful gilded reredos commemorates two servers who were killed during the Second World War.

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The window beside it on the wall commemorates an airman killed in 1918 and has Christ, the king of Peace at its centre.

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The stained glass windows in the south aisle are C20th.

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The beautiful Anniversary Window window was given to the church by the people of Chesterfield in 1984, to mark the 750th anniversary of the church. It traces the history of the town from the C11th.

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St Mary and All Saints’ Parish Church cont...

The north transept contains the new organ, placed here after the fire of 1961.

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The south transept contains the pre-Norman font which was discovered in the Vicarage gardens in 1898. It stands on a pedestal of Frosterley marble and the carving around the bowl is now very eroded.

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The carved screen, with its fan vaulting, between the south transept and the chancel chapels, dates from around 1500.

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Standing in front of it is the parish chest from about 1600 which was used to store parish records, vestments and church silver. On top of it is a whale bone which has been in the church since 1837 although no-one knows how or why it arrived here.

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The C17th clock was left to the church in a will. It is wound one a week and still keeps almost perfect time. Christ crucified is carved on the door. Below is the cockerel that crowed after St Peter had denied he knew Christ.

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1000+ Posts
St Mary and All Saints’ Parish Church cont...

There are several small chapels along ther east wall of the church.

The Holy Cross Chapel is just to the east of the north transept. This was the guild chapel of the Guild of the Blessed Lady and the Holy Cross which was founded in 1218 and was one of the most important in Chesterfield. It houses the Blessed Sacrament and is used for private prayer. The stunning gilded reredos dates from 1934 and the central panel showing the Crucifixion was carved at Oberammergau. On the left are the four Marys. On the right the Roman soldiers.

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The piscina and squint are C15th.

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On the wall is the Hunloke Cross which was gifted to the church. It is thought to be late C15th or early C16th. It depicts Christ on the cross with St John and the Virgin Mary. At the ends of the
cross are the symbols of the four evangelists.

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Immediately behind the Holy Cross Chapel is the vestry. Next to it is St Katherine’s Chapel which is reached through the original rood screen dating from the early C15th. It has a simple altar with red front and curtains behind. The stained glass east window dates from 1868.

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The high altar has a beautiful gilded reredos designed by Temple Moore in 1898. In the centre is the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. On the left is the Annunciation. On the right, the baby Jesus is being presented at the temple. The east window above dates from 1947 and depicts the Apostles’ Creed.


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Beyond is the Lady Chapel with the splendid C16th Foljambe tombs on the walls. The alabaster altar dates from 1936. The brass chandelier, along with a similar one on St Katherine’s Chapel was presented to the church in 1760. The C20th east window depicts the nativity.

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On the floor is a modern brass memorial to Archdeacon Geoffrey Clayton who was vicar here before becoming Archbishop of Cape Town. The marble memorial is to Talbot Dilworth-Harrison who was an Archdeacon here.

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The tiny Lesser Lady Chapel is off the south transept. The altar is Elizabethan and there is a copy of Bellini’s Madonna and Child above it. The east window shows The Virgin Mary presenting Jesus at the Temple. To the left of the window is a statue of Joseph with the young Jesus. On the right is St Anne with the Virgin Mary as a child.

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In a niche in the wall is another statue of the Virgin holding the Christ Child. Below is the Millennium carving of the Virgin and child which was presented to the church.

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The church is open Monday - Saturday from 9am-4.15pm. Tower visits run in the summer months. There is no parking in the church but there are car parks close by. The post code is S40 1XJ and the grid reference is SK385711

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1000+ Posts
Holy Trinity Church - the Church where George Stephenson is buried

Holy Trinity is a large church on the edge of the town centre and surrounded by a large graveyard. It was build in 1837 on land given by the Duke of Devonshire when the population of Chesterfield had grown to large for the Parish church of St Mary and All Saints’. It is typical early C19th Gothic style church made of well dressed blocks of gritstone with a square tower at the west end topped by tall pinnacles.


Its main claim to fame is that Victorian railway engineer George Stephenson is buried in the chancel. Don’t be fooled by the tall pillar memorial in the graveyard to the memory of Harriet Stevenson and her husband George. They are no relation and nothing is known about them.


So many visitors automatically assume this is The George Stephenson, a small plaque has been placed by the memorial stating that George Stephenson is buried in the church.


Entry is through the south door which leads into a large lounge area at the back of the church with a kitchen. Inside, it feels a large church with a big square nave with an open beamed ceiling and stained wood pews. It was originally designed for a gallery around three sides, but this was removed in the late C19th along with the box pews.

Tall lancet windows filled with diamonds of pastel shades of Victorian glass throw colour shadows on the walls.

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Hanging on the walls are banners which are used in the Annual Christian Witness Procession on Spring Bank Holiday Monday.


On the north wall is a display about George Stephenson with small models of Locomotion and Rocket.

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The chancel is small compared to the rest of the church and reached through a pointed arch. On the left hand side is the pulpit.

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On the right is the organ with the stone font. This is octagonal with quatrefoils on each face.



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The altar has carvings of flowers and foliage. Behind, on the east wall is a carved wood reredos with a cross and the symbols of the four evangelists.


George Stephenson is buried in a vault behind the altar and his grave is marked by a slab of Derbyshire stone with his initials and the date of death. George’s wife Elizabeth who worshipped in the church, has a memorial stone on the wall.


The beautiful east window was installed in memory of George Stephenson by his son Robert. In the centre is the Last Supper. Above and below are intertwined monograms of GS



The church is kept locked, although is open for Heritage Open Doors in September. I’d contacted the vicar through the church website who arranged for the churchwarden to open up for me.

The church is on Newbald Road and there is some parking available inside the grounds. The post code is S41 7PG and the grid reference is SK382716.


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