Tideswell, Derbyshire – St John the Baptist

On Tuesday 22 September 2020 we started the day at High Peak Bookshop, then drove up to Tideswell, and parked right outside the church of St John the Baptist, SK153757. They advertise themselves as the Cathedral of the Peak, and are open despite being unstaffed. They have a one way system, in via the south door (which has flat access) out through the (inaccessible) north door. Although they must be one of the major church tourist hubs in the middle of a National Park, they had no guidebook on sale. Pevsner fills four pages with the church and the rest of the village, so I probably have more than enough information for this blog.

Pevsner describes it as “one of the grandest of Derbyshire parish churches” and “the most complete example of the C14 decorated style in the county. Apparently the mason(s) are likely to have had Yorkshire connections. The patrons were the Foljambe family, who also have links with Bakewell and Chesterfield. Sir Godfrey de F was born in Tideswell in 1317, his family were the Lords of the Manor, and he served in  several of the Parliaments of Edward III, was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, a close friend of John of Gaunt, and died in Bakewell in 1376 – there is a memorial to him in Bakewell church. The family had come over with the Normans, and took up residence in this part of the world – in case you’re wondering “Foljambe” means “a limp”.

Most churches had a bit of building, a few years off, then a bit more building – this one looks to have had a pretty continuous story (though perhaps with a break for the Black Death). Some say the work started in the early C14, with the tower being the final bit at the end of the century. Others have shortened the time, suggesting the whole thing was started in about 1380 and done in about thirty years. Having spent less than a decade working in a Cathedral being built, the thought of even thirty years of it is a bit much. A reminder though that families were building, not only to their glory but also to the glory of God.

We entered through a two-storey vaulted porch, and I wonder how this lead tablet could be interpreted. Inside there is currently a one-way system.

It is a church to look up in, and you then realise how high the church is. Can you imagine the work that must have gone into building it. No huge tower cranes, but a forest of wooden scaffolding, and where did all this stone come from – I assume it is reasonably local. Where did all the workers lodge in a small Derbyshire village, how much did the de Foljambe family spend on this place?

Looking down, the shape of the Victorian pews is rather nice too. I liked Mr Oldfield’s memorial. The window at the east end of the south aisle is by Alfred Fisher 1996 – it is a bit less saccharine than most windows covering the subject of Jesus welcoming the children.

At the east of the aisle is the De Bower chapel. A note says that the wording carved in the alabaster of the tomb would have it that the effigies are of Sir Thurstan and Lady Margaret de Bower. However there is no historical record of a knight with that name, though there is a Yeoman Sir Thurstan who made his money in lead mining. Pevsner says that he was one of the founders of the Guild of St Mary at Tideswell with foundation charters of 1384 and 1392. The tomb is early C15, much restored in 1873. They have made a little museum in this chapel.

Standing at the east end of the nave, it is worth looking up. The Chancel Screen is mainly C14, so I do wonder why they were allowed to fasten a projector screen to it (although the top part may well date from the Victorian reconstruction).

There are some nice carvings – Baptism, Confirmation, Visitation of the Sick and Ordination. The work dates to the last couple of decades of Victoria’s reign and was done by a local firm, the Hunstone’s. It was founded by two brothers, Robert and Advent. They were followed by Robert’s sons William and Advent II, and then Advent II’s son William (keep up at the back!).

The Chancel is rather gorgeous too, “one of the three or four finest in the county”. Either started early C14, stopped during the Black Death and then completed, or done in one campaign after the Black Death was over (though you would have thought that might have caused a few problems). Nice misericords and other carvings too. St Chad with his book, George with dragon, and Mary Magdalene with her jar of spikenard (precious ointment). The tomb is to Sampson Meverill 1462.

Back in the main body of the church, the organ dates to 1895 and is by Forster and Andrews of Hull. It was renovated in 1988 by Johnsons at a cost of £14,000. The casework dates to 1928 and is by Advent Hunstone, described on the Historic Organs Register as “a nice essay in Richly carved Gothic, carved by local artists … in oak. Oak carvings incomplete due to builder’s death in 1928. Decorative pipes, some speaking but mostly dummies.” The Lady Chapel is currently locked, but you can look in to see the two figures. The older may well predate the present church, the other, wearing a veil and whimple and with her feet resting on a dog, dates from around 1375.

Back in the main body of the church, the organ dates to 1895 and is by Forster and Andrews of Hull. It was renovated in 1988 by Johnsons at a cost of £14,000. The casework dates to 1928 and is by Advent Hunstone, described on the Historic Organs Register as “a nice essay in Richly carved Gothic, carved by local artists … in oak. Oak carvings incomplete due to builder’s death in 1928. Decorative pipes, some speaking but mostly dummies.” The Lady Chapel is currently locked, but you can look in to see the two figures. The older may well predate the present church, the other, wearing a veil and whimple and with her feet resting on a dog, dates from around 1375.

A final explore outside – I wonder which saint once filled the gap, and what the young lady and the devils thinks about our current position.

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1 Response to Tideswell, Derbyshire – St John the Baptist

  1. Barbara Korzeniowska says:

    Fabulous photos. Thank you I went to Tideswell in 1976, I think, for the well dressings. Do they still do that I wonder? I have a photo somewhere which I may dig out.

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