Cromford, Derbyshire – St Mary’s

On Saturday 3 November we drove up to Cromford and parked by the Mills. The girls went for a wander round the shops, I went to visit St Mary’s church. Here is a website – Cromford in Prose and Poetry  – and here is the church website. The church is next to the Mill, SK 299571 – just by the bridge and across from Willersley Castle.

In 1792 Sir Richard Arkwright, the owner of the Mills, built himself a mansion, now known as Willersley Castle. He then started work on the church, but sadly died before it was completed. It was finished by his son Richard, and the church opened on 4 June 1797. It was a Chapel of Ease of Wirksworth, until it became a parish church in 1869. Early records describe it as a stone built preaching box. There is a painting by Philip Brown, which dates to the 1820s. Between 1858 and 1859 the original building was ‘Gothicised’ by an enlargement of the chancel arch and an extension to the chancel, the remodelling of the windows, the addition of a tower, and of the large entrance porch. The architect was the Derby based Henry Isaac Stevens. This photo, inside the church, dates to the 1920s.

To mark the centenary of the church, and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the murals were started by Alfred Octavius Hemming, a London based artist (1843-1907). He is best known as a stained glass designer – initially training as an architect in Edinburgh, then joining Clayton & Bell in 1868. He established his own practice on the Marylebone Road in 1883. It took about a decade for them to be painted. By the middle of the C20 they had been considerably damaged by water and dry rot, and large area were lost when damaged plaster was removed. The church was re-roofed in 1996, and work started to restore the paintings in 2002. They restored and cleaned the original ones, and recreated the others from photographic records – the new ones are slightly cleaner than the old ones (if you really want to tell the difference).

On the north side we have Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, with the Assumption of Elijah in the chariot of fire, watched by Elisha. On the south side the Gospel writers and the Ascension on Christ.

The Chancel continues the theme – with mosaics as well as paintings.

I liked the angels – what a gorgeous variety.

Alfred Octavius Hemming was also responsible for the windows – I don’t quite think he’s got the horror of the massacre of Stephen, or the walk to the cross.

An interesting selection of memorials – and the parish had researched their WW1 dead. There is something special when one is described as another’s “best friend”.


A fascinating church – and not what I expected as I opened the door. Back at the Mill the girls were still shopping. The Fact and Fabrication exhibition is on show here for a few weeks – and coming to St Matthew’s Darley Abbey just before Easter next year – see their website. Come and see it!




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