Ashbourne, Derbyshire – St Oswald

I have visited St Oswald’s church in Ashbourne on several occasions, but Tuesday 17 September was a day I managed to get to go round properly with my camera. I had had a meeting in Wirksworth (to which I caught the bus), then had a lovely ride to Ashbourne on a little bus through Hopton, Carsington, Brassington, Bradbourne and Kniveton – Julie would hate some of those roads in the car, I will never get her on the bus! St Oswald’s church is on the south west side of the town, a bit away from the centre, at SK 176 464. The website for the group does not yet have info about the church and its building –

There has been a church here since before Norman times. Oswald, as readers to this blog should know, was a C7 King of Mercia – I wonder if the dedication came from a group of monks from the North? The Doomsday Book refers to “a priest and a church with 1 carucate of land taxable”, and in 1093 William Rufus handed the church to the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral. The town has a Market Charter which dates to 1257, and much of the present church dates to this time. The Chancel is the earliest part surviving, and the building of the nave and tower continued through the second half of the thirteenth century. In 1287 Edward I called an assembly, which met in the church, to discuss control of the local lead trade. Early in the C14 they added the spire to the tower, and it is majestic – 212 feet. It is also heavy, about 300 tons – and the foundations were not designed for this. A lot of repairs have had to be done in the last century.

We can imagine how colourful and busy the church would have been before the Reformation – three Chantry Chapels, wall paintings, images – and don’t forget the smell of incense either. The clerestory was added around 1520, so more light in the nave and transepts. After the Reformation it would have been a barer place, but you can imagine it getting a good clean and tidy when Charles I attended divine service here in 1645 (a visit remembered in the vestry).

In 1710 an organ was fitted by Henry Valentine of Leicester. A series of services and recitals took place – the Reverend Nathaniel Boothouse noted that the proceedings ended in September “on the Wednesday night of the following week with a fine concert of Instrumental and Vocall Musick in the great parlour of the Blackamore’s Head”. Handel was one of those who came and played this organ. In 1858 a new organ was installed by William Hill of London. He insisted on his own appointee, Benjamin Parkin, as organist. The man who was ousted, Andrew Loder, did not go quietly – but when he went, went as far as Australia! Parkin continued as organist for 48 years. The choral tradition continues, still with Choral Evensong every Sunday, one of only a handful of Derbyshire churches that manages this. I think it is dreadful I have to write that sentence – though I am well aware that evening congregations have declined, and even in my parishes continue to do so. And the people who complain about the lack of Evensong on the Sundays when we don’t have it, are usually the people who come rarely if at all! Our choirs had joined theirs’ on  Sunday 8 September for a gorgeous service, but only six non-singers bothered to make the journey from Derby. There is a choir vestry under the organ, but the choir has expanded to fill more space (here in the south chapel). A Royal Visit and a bit of a clear out would not be a bad idea!

This is a church where the bell ringers are also visible – the bells are rung in the centre of the church. Like many bell ringers, they disappeared before service started (though I must say that most of my lovely team of ringers in Ponteland were the exception to this rule – I do miss them!).

You enter the church through the south door, but there is flatter access at the west end. They could spend a little bit of money and make the access a great deal better. As you enter, you find a welcome banner for Weddings, a book stall, and a church you can wander round for hours.

I worked my way round into the south aisle, and was struck by this window, the Turnbull Memorial Window. Monica was born in 1878 and Dorothea in 1880, the two daughters of Peveril Turnbull, churchwarden. They died in a fire at their home in 1901, Dorothea’s dress was set alight by an oil lamp. Monica tried to save her, and her dress caught fire too. Monica died on 4 March, Dorothea on 27 April. I hope that this window, installed in 1905, helped in the grief. The artist was Christopher Whall, a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I liked this angel in the next window, and it was worth looking up to enjoy all the carved figures along the south aisle pillars.

The west window is Victorian and dedicated to the Wise family. It shows a Jesse Tree, Jesus’ family tree stretching up to the Virgin and Child. There are some little memorials as you work up the north side – and I failed to photo the War Memorial.

Then you walk into the North Transept, and see the number of memorials in the Cokayne/Boothby Chapel. They were Lords of the Manors from the C14 to C19. I failed to get a wide photo of the whole area, but here are a couple a bit closer. Please could we have a clear out here too?

Sir Thomas Cokayne died in November 1592. He had taken part in the siege of Leith during the war against Scotland in 1544, was a guard of Mary Queen of Scots during her stay in Derbyshire, a leading founder of Ashbourne Grammar School in 1585. His wife Dorothy, the daughter of Sir Humphrey Ferrars of Tamworth Castle, died in December 1595. They had ten children, Francis, Thomas, Edward, Florence, Dorothy, Talutha, Joan, Joan, Jane and Maud.

Francis Cokayne and his wife Dorothy. He died on 5 August 1538, only a year after his father Thomas died. The brass shows Francis and his wife, plus their three sons and three daughters, but Dorothy remarried after her husband’s death and is buried elsewhere.

This is the tomb of Thomas Cokayne, Francis’ father, who died in April 1537. He was knighted by Henry VIII at the siege of Tournai in 1513, fought in the battle of the Spurs, and was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. His wife Barbara was daughter of John Fitzherbert of Etwell. He was known as “The Magnificent”, and deserves better than this.

Sir John Cokayne died in 1477 and is buried with his wife Margaret Longford. The tomb is made of Derbyshire alabaster, and is the work of the Chellaston firm of Robert Sutton and Thomas Prentys. The collar worn by Sir John denotes his membership of a High Order of Chivalry awarded only to adherents of the House of Lancaster.

Sir John Cokayne died in 1372, having served in several parliaments of Edward III. The monument was altered in 1412 to add the effigy of Edmund Cokayne (right) the eldest son of Sir John. He also represented Derbyshire in Parliament, and was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. The shields around the tomb bear arms of families with which the Cokaynes were allied.

Sir John Bradbourne died in 1483, and his wife Anne Vernon who died in 1499. She wears a necklace of cockle shells. This is the earliest of the Bradbourne tombs. Sir John and Anne founded a chantry chapel in the South Transept about 1483, and were buried there shortly afterwards. The tomb was moved here in the mid 1800s.

Sir Humphrey Bradbourne who died on 17 April 1581 was great grandson of Sir John and Ann Bradbourne. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Turville of Newhall. Around the sides of the tomb are representatives of their six sons and four daughters, including Jane Sacheverall. Also represented in red chrysons are three children who died in infancy. The tomb is the work of Richard and Gabriel Royley of Burton on Trent. Apparently their tombs were “inexpensive and popular”.

Having written this up so far, I really need to go to Ashbourne and check I’ve got the right names on the right tombs. Here are some others I haven’t much (if any) information for.

Penelope’s Tomb remembers Penelope Boothby. Born in 1785 she was the only child of Sir Brooke and Lady Boothby of Ashbourne Hall. She died in 1791. Although only six, she was said to have knowledge of four languages – English, French, Italian and Latin – and the tomb has inscriptions in all four. She is asleep in a long frock. The sculptor was Thomas Banks RA, and the tomb was exhibited at the Royal Academy before coming here. It is reported to have moved Queen Charlotte to tears, and I can understand why. Sir Boothby did not cope with his grief – he left his wife and Ashbourne, and died in poverty in France in 1824. May the whole family rest in peace.

I walked back under the tower and the bells and into the Chancel. The present appearance of the Chancel owes much to the restoration by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1876. The lower part of the east window is by Kempe and dates from 1896, the upper lights contain medieval glass. The altar reredos was designed by Leslie Moore in 1950 and painted by Donald Towner. The life of Christ is placed in Dovedale and the Manifold Valley.

There is a plaque commemorating the Ashbourne Shrovetide Football match, and last year (2018) when we visited there was an amazing art installation. It was developed for the Ashbourne Festival in partnership with The Clayrooms pottery in Ashbourne. Local ceramicists and teachers, Helen Cammiss and Sarah Heaton, originated the idea. The 5,000 small figures, representing the crowd and players, were created by hundreds of school children, local residents and visitors, and the ball was painted by Shrovetide ball painter Tim Baker. The Ashbourne Festival website is What a stunning piece of work, bringing the community together – well done.

I ambled back to the bus station and joined the school kids waiting for the 1620 bus back to Derby via Hulland Ward, Weston Underwood and Quarndon. This was also a Yourbus, so the £5.00 ranger I’d been sold on the previous one was valid too! I jumped off on Kedleston Road, then waited for an Allestree bus back through the estate. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

That evening we got an email from Selwyn College, Cambridge inviting us to the 40th bash next April (is it really 40 years since we started there?). They have lost touch with the chap who my fellow Geographer. A bit of research shows he is Head of Corporate Strategy for one of the Water companies. His salary may be a bit more than mine, but I bet he never gets an afternoon off to ride the bus via Ashbourne.

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