Picture Gallery> Derbyshire Pictures Index> This page
The Andrews Pages Picture Gallery : Derbyshire
A selection of photographs, prints and postcards. Some have personal or family connections
Wirksworth Parish Church - St. Mary the Virgin, Inside the Church
The chancel, chancel window and choir
Before 1905.

When Ebenezer Rhodes visited Wirksworth in 1820 he was disappointed to find the church "undergoing a thorough regeneration ; the pews were taken down, the pavements broken up, and vaults were excavating in various parts of the church. The monuments against the walls were covered to protect them from dust ... The whole place, indeed, appeared less like a church than a huge workshop, where everything was in confusion." He concluded that St. Mary's had "neither grace nor dignity."[1] The restoration he encountered was described later as an act of barbarism by many and Firth believed that "irreparable damage was committed" at that time.[2]

J. C. Cox was another to condemn some of the 1820 work. "Of the shocking havoc made in this church in 1820-21, the M.S. notes of the Rev. R. R. Rawlins, the diligent collector of Derbyshire church lore, who was on the spot at the time, bear sad testimony. More than one standing tomb of alabaster, with effigies thereon, was carted away, never more to be seen; but amongst all this upheaval of the fabrics of the church, one good accrued in the unearthing of one of the most remarkable memorials of pre-Norman date that England possesses."[3]

Nevertheless, one good thing to emerge from this disastrous restoration was the discovery of a really remarkable sculptured stone coffin lid, dating from about 800 A.D. It was found, lying face down, whilst the pavement in front of the altar was being removed[4]. It is now mounted on the nave's north wall.

Carving on a Saxon coffin lid found in 1821.

Briefly, Christ is firstly shown washing his disciples' feet, top left, then his death, resurrection and ascension to Heaven, and finally the disciples returning to Jerusalem after the ascension, bottom right. Two accounts by R. R. Rawlings and Mr. Hunt of the discovery of the slightly coped stone, which measures five feet in length and two feet ten inches in breadth, were published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1821 and the entry can be found elsewhere on this web site.

Advertisements inviting tenders to be submitted to fit-up of the building with gas lights were placed in September 1851 as the church wanted to provide Sunday and week evening lectures[5]. By the following month a fund for liquidating the expenses was progressing very favourably, as the greater part of the sum needed had already been raised[6]. The gas fittings can be seen in a number of the postcard images.

A 1860s report declaring St. Mary's to be in seriously dilapidated state resulted in the architect, G. G. Scott, Esq., R.A. being called in[7]. The closing services took place on 24 July 1870 and work then began. There had been strong opposition to enlarging the nave but in the end a compromise was reached - no enlargement of the nave in return for free and unappropraited pews[8].

St. Mary's re-opened in May 1872[7]. New north and south transept windows had been added; the north transept window had been given by J. Wall, Esq. and had cost £57 10s. There were eight new windows in the chancel aisles and transepts, with stained glass inserted in one; it had been given by Andrew Macbeth Esq. The floor had been re-laid with tiles from Minton, Hollis and Co. The new chancel tiles were facsimiles of the old tiles found during the restoration and were supplied by Messrs. Godwin. Everything discovered during the restoration had been carefully preserved. The second portion of the work, the extension of the nave, was already in hand[9]. This was completed the following year and opened by Bishop Abraham[10].
There is more about the external changes that were also undertaken on the previous page.

Finds from the restoration of the church, undertaken in the early 1870s.

During this major restoration some fragmentary remains of encaustic mediaeval paving tiles had been discovered (samples below). Encaustic is the art of decorating tiles by burning in the coloured clays that were laid into the tiles. These tiles were of Derbyshire manufacture, according to Llewellynn Jewitt who wrote about them in "The Reliquary"[11]. "Scarcely a whole one has been found ... but by very careful and minute examination I have made of them, I am enabled with the aid of others found in the church in 1820, and form others formed from the same moulds ... to make out the accurately their patterns and devices."

The top design on Plate XX, on the right below, is "an elegant sixteen-tile pattern ... which occurs at Repton and Bakewell, and is one of extreme beauty and intricacy." Below it are two four-tile patterns. The one on the left was also found at Repton and Bakewell. Some of the designs are heraldic, containing the arms of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster and Edward I, for example. Plate XVIII, on the left) contains the arms of Canteloupe (no.3) and de Warren (no.14), the Bell with sword and key (no.8, and also found at Repton and Thurgarton) as well as some fluer de lis.

Cox felt that it was unfortunate that the old tiles were not kept in the church, but became part of various private collections[4].

Other fragments, for example a ram's head from a Norman arch and some Norman capitals and bases, were found at the same time.

Mediaeval Paving Tiles, plate XVIII   Mediaeval Paving Tiles, plate XX
Mediaeval Paving Tiles found at Wirksworth Church[11]

large ancient stone slab  
A drawing of a large slab, which " bears a boldly incised cross, a sword and a bugle horn, with belt attached". Cox believed it probably covered the coffin of a chief forester of the ancient royal forest of Duffield Frith. It was against the west wall of the north transept by 1876[4].

    lead miner
    Etching of a carving of a medieval lead miner, with his pick and "kibble". Originally in Bonsall church, the carving was moved to Wirksworth in the 19th century by Mr. Marsh, the high bailiff, to save it from destruction[12].

Twelfth century mouldings, found in the 1870-3 restoration.
"The beak head, alternate-billet, and other patterns, as well as heads of small shafts and other details, that were found in the masonry, have now been built into different parts of the interior of the church."[4]

The choir, chancel and chancel window.

When the roof height was changed back to the pre-Scott restoration height in 1926-30, part of the restoration done by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners included new windows inserted in the choir and a large rose window over the eastern gable[13].

Interior. View of the choir and chancel from the crossing.

The chancel window, in memory of Francis Edward Hurt of Alderwasley who died in 1854 (below), was installed in 1855 having been unanimously agreed to by the County Magistrates. It was designed the Derby architect Mr. H. I. Stevens and the masonry work was carried out by Mr. Lawton. Mr. Warrington of London produced the stained glass, and inserted four other stained windows in the chancel at the same time. The arms of the Hurt, Lowe and Fawne families are in the upper (traceried) parts of the window[14]. By 1912 the church had 13 stained glass memorial windows[15]. Simon Jenkins, writing in 1999, thought Scott had preserved the" raw dignity" of the church, "even if the atmosphere is blighted by bad Victorian glass"[16]. Oh dear!

The dedication is along the bottom of the window and reads:
"Memorial to Francis Edward Hurt, Esq.,
of Alderwasley, died March 22, 1854, aged 73 years.
Erected by public subscription, 1855

Window designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris

Morris designed the angels in the upper segments of the window.
Burne-Jones was responsible for the Angel Gabriel, St. Mary, Elizabeth and several of the prophets.

Three figures from the window (below), installed in memory of James and Hannah Nall.

St. Mary

St. Paul


The church has two fonts.

13th century font
South Transept Wirksworth Church.??
The early 13th century font, after its restoration in 1896.
It is now placed closer to the wall.

BY 1877 the ancient font was standing in the north west corner of the north transept. It is early thirteenth century. Cox suggests that it was probably ejected from the church and mutilated during the Commonwealth period. All that remained was the large circular bowl, "with the capital of the font shaft on which it originally stood attached to it". He described it as being two feet ten inches wide and two feet deep[4]. In 1896 it was restored by the Hopston Stone Company, and was then fixed to the centre of the North transept. Fifty years before its restoration it had been in the old porch and was used for all kinds of things! However, once all the work was completed it was intended that it should be used for baptisms and a water attachment was provided. It was then placed on a marble base, shown on the image, with the inscription "This ancient font was restored Anno Domini, 1896, in memory of Thomas Tunstall Smith[17]." It was moved to the north nave aisle about 26 years ago.

A second font, from the Restoration, was in the opposite transept[4] though is now at the east end of the south aisle. It is octagonal in shape and carved on it is the date of 1662, which agrees with the churchwardens accounts quoted by Cox, and there are seven sets of initials on it - of the Vicar Tomas Browne, 4 churchwardens and two others who were office bearers at the time[4].

Ancient Font
The Ancient Font. The cracks are an unfortunate recent development.
It is still used for baptisms.
  Restoration Font
The Restoration Font is covered with
a conical oak lid.

The Gell and Lowe Monuments.

The Lysons (1817) recorded a number of monuments inside the church - of the families of Vernon, Gell, Blackwall, Wigley, Lowe and Hurt; Anthony Hopkinson, Gent, 1681; Anne relict of Thomas Parker, and one of the daughters and co-heirs of Robert Venables of Wicham, Cheshire, 1669; George Turner Esq., of the ancient family of that name at Swanwick, in this county, 1768, and Francis Green, Esq. 1782.[18]. Amongst these is an altar tomb to Anthony Gell, who founded the school and almshouses, and is dated 1583. His effigy shows him wearing a long gown and there are ruffs around his neck and wrists (see below).

Cox maintained that there were more monuments for the Gell family than exist today. The oldest tomb commemorated John Gell and Margery his wife, who died in 1521 but it had disappeared long before 1876. John Gell, apparently the first of that family to live at Hopton, died in 1526. His monument was extant when Wyrley visited in 1593 and Cox suggested that it was probably there until 1820/1. However, it was not mentioned by either Peter Davies in 1811 or by the Lysons brothers is 1817[18].

Both tombs are raised slightly above floor level and stand on a stone plinth. The rather unsightly radiator behind them was later removed.

The Gell Monuments.

An image of Ralph Gell between his two wives is incised on the upper slab of the alabaster altar tomb on the left, above. Round the margin of the tomb is the dedication:

"Here lyeth Raff Gell of Hopton, sun of John Gell of Hopton, and Godythe and Emme his wyffes, which Raff deceased ye viith day of June Anno Dmi M'V'LXIIII."

The following stanza is at their heads:-

"This body whych of kynde we have .... to earth it must
A gostly bodye shall at length be raised out of dust
What harm at all recyveth man by yeldynge uppe his brethe
Synce he unto a duryng lyffe hath passage throughe dethe
God of His mercy meer us those in a lyves booke us writ
Dy must thou oneded then yelde thyselfe and dred not deathe a wyt".

The tomb on the right of is the alabaster monument of Anthony Gell, Ralph and Godeth's son; it has epitaphs in both Latin and English on the sides.

"In obitum Antonii Gelli Armigeri.

Antonius Gellus sapiens jurisq'peritus, | qui quondam patriae flosq' decusq' fuit, | Hic jacet o dolor, o, nihil est mortale perenne, | quam cito qui viguit mox ruiturus obit. | Hoc tuus indoctos erudit lacte minervae, | vivendi o foelix haec tibi cura fuit. | AEdes pauperibus pulchras et dona reliquit, | sic christum in membris pascit in aeva suis

Ultimum Vale.
Dixit vita vale, dixit valeatis amici, | dixit et eximo pectore vita veni, | Vita veni sine labe insons fine penis, | absq' labore quies absq'salus.

Amicorum responsum.
Vale in Christo Jesu, vir ornatissime, | nihil mall tibi accidit in morte, | Si quid accidit nobis occidit.

An Epitaph.
The corpse of Antonie Gell Esquire | entombed as you see | Lye here, his soul ye everlasting joyes | posses undoubtedlye. His lyfe, | his deathe, his faith, his hope | are testimonies sure | God grant us many lawiers such | in cuntrie to endure. | By wrongful means he hurted none | but wished all men good | And helpinge was to such as nedde | yf in his power it stood | By upright lyfe he learned to die, | by deathe to lyve agayne, | Though earth to earth by course convert his soule | for aye doth raiyne.
Mori lucrum."

The Gell arms are at the foot and immediately above on the east wall which the head faces, is a tablet:-

"Heere in this tombe lyeth buryed the Bodye of Anthonye Gell, late of Hopton Esquire, and sometyme one of the worshipfull companie of the benche in the Innar Temple, in London. Hee at his onlye coste and charges founded a free Grammar schoole and an almes house in this towne of Wirksworthe. And hathe geven lande worth by yeare tenne poundes for ever for the mainteynance of the sayde schoole and hathe lykewise charged his manner of Wirksworth called ye Holland lande which a rente of XX poundes by yeare towardes the mantenance of six poore aged and impotent psons, in ye sayd almeshouse for ever. He dyed ye xxix day of June ano di. 1583."

Monument to Anthony Lowe, Esq.
(Servant to Kings Henry VII & VIII and Edward VI).

"In the chancel, against the south wall, is an altar-tomb to Anthonye Lowe, with an effigy of the deceased in armour, having his helmet on, with the visor up, and his feet resting on a skull. On the wall behind it are the royal arms and this inscription:-

Here lyethe Antonye Lowe, esquyer, servant to Kynge Henry the VII, Kynge Henry the VIII, Kynge Edward ye VI, Quene Marie ye I, buried ye XI day of Decemb. a.d. 1555.[4]

Cox tells us that Anthony Lowe was the third son and eventual heir of Thomas Lowe who had settled at Alderwasley. He had married Bridget Fogge and the couple's two sons and five daughters and are shown on the west side of the chest, although only the names of Edward, Anne, Susanna and Barbara were known.

The early twentieth century card, above, shows that the wall behind the tomb was then in a poor state. In 1969 the Lowe tomb was re-painted in the original colours. Captain P. Drury-Lowe of Locko Park had commissioned the monument's repainting and cleaning"[19]. The arms and the Tudor rose are coloured today and wall behind it is now in a good state of repair.

1. "Wirksworth Church. The Chancel". Postcard published by George Marsden and Son, Wirksworth. Adam Bede's Series. Phototyped in Bavaria. Posted at Matlock Bath on 19 Nov 1905.
2. Sepia image from Mee, Arthur (ed.) (1937) "Derbyshire: The Peak Country", The King's England Series, Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London. Mee acknowledges the work of his Art Editor, Sidney Tranter, but is not specific about who provided which picture, although contributors included the National Trust and Valentine and Sons.
3 and 4. Two images of Mediaeval Paving Tiles from "The Reliquary" Vol.XI (1870/1), Plate XVIII and Plate XX[11].
5. Drawing of coffin lid from Cox, Plate XXIII[4].
6. Etching of mediaeval lead miner, also from Cox[4].
7, 8, 9, 10, 11. A series of photographs, taken in the summer of 2016 for this web site by © Susan Tomlinson.
12. "Wirksworth Church. South Transcept [sic]". Postcard published by The Artistic Publishing Co., 9 Bury Court, St. Mary Axe, London, E.C., Series No. 226. Phototyped in Bavaria. Early 20th century. Unused.
13, 14. Two more photographs, this time of the two fonts, taken in July 2003 are also by and © Susan Tomlinson.
15."The "Gell" Monuments, Wirksworth Church". Postcard published by James Watterson, Photographer, Wirksworth before 1918. Printed in Saxony. Stamp box: Inland 1/2d Foreign 1d, so published before 1918. Unused.
16. "Wirksworth Church, The Monument to Anthony Lowe, Esq." Postcard published by James Watterson, Photographer, Wirksworth, No. 72989. No date but posted at Matlock on 1 Aug 1921.
All photographs taken by and © Susan Tomlinson.
All other images provided by and © Ann Andrews collection.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row. The publication date is from my own copy, but J. B. Firth was quoting from an earlier edition.
Also see: Map of Derbyshire, 1824 - Mr. Rhodes's Excursions

[2] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London.

[3] Cox, J. Charles (1892) "On an early Christian Tomb at Wirksworth" from Andrews, William (1892) "Bygone Derbyshire", pub. F. Murray, Derby, pp.22-3.

[4] Cox, J. Charles (1877) "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire Vol II" Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby.

[5] "Derby Mercury", 17 September 1851.

[6] "Derbyshire Courier", 25 October 1851.

[7] "Derby Mercury", 15 May 1872. Re-opening of Wirksworth Church.

[8] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 4 February 1870.

[9] "Burton Chronicle", 16 May 1872.

[10] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 23 May 1873.

[11] Jewitt, Llewellynn (ed.) (1870/1), "The Reliquary" Vol.XI pub. Bemrose & Sons.

[12] Cox, J. Charles (1877) He records in a footnote that "The preservation of this curious piece of sculpture is due to Mr. George Marsden, of Wirksworth, the indefatigable Hon. Secretary of the Restoration Committee". Another image of the lead miner can be seen on Lead Mining in Matlock & Matlock Bath.

[13] "Derbyshire Times", 28 June 1930. Wirksworth church. Chancel re-opened by Bishop.

[14] "Derby Mercury", 28 March 1855. The Memorial Window to the late Francis Hurt, Esq.

[15] Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire, 1912.

[16] Jenkins, Simon (1999) " England's Thousand Best Churches", Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, Penguin Books Ltd., 27 Wright's Lane, London, W8 5TZ, England, ISBN 0-713-99281-6. He awarded St. Mary's three stars.

[17] "Derbyshire Times", 21 March 1896. Restoration of the Wirksworth Church Font.

[18] Lysons, Rev Daniel and Samuel Lysons Esq. (1817) "Topographical and Historical Account of Derbyshire", London: Printed for T. Cadell, Strand; and G. and A. Greenland, Poultry. Lysons took their information about the tombs from Francis Bassano's 1710 notes in 1810. A note at the end of the book Lysons' suggest that some missing tombs may have been missing in the interim or they may have missed them. Or it may have been too worn to read. So the fate of the oldest Gell tomb is unclear.

[19] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 7 January 1969. Tomb restored to original hues.

Also see, elsewhere on this web site:
The Gentleman's Magazine Library has a section on Wirksworth
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811 includes a short piece about Wirksworth.

Derbyshire Pictures Index
Next page
Previous page
Also see
Our Genealogy
Images of
Matlock & Matlock Bath

Outside the church

Also by Nellie Erichsen

Ashbourne, The Mansion

Ashover Church


Melbourne Church was also restored by Sir Gilbert Scott