St Peter's Church - Hope

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper on 16th June 2008, reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.


Throughout much of its history the parish of Hope was one of the largest in England. A Saxon church was in use here by the time of the Norman invasion, though the present church was built between 1200 - 1400. Its modest broach spire practically nestles into the embattled outer walls, leading the eye towards the 15th-century craftsmanship of superbly ugly gargoyles and tiny stone heads circling the base of each pinnacle.

A notable Saxon cross shaft carved with knotwork, foliage and figures stands by the porch. Many ancient crosses were destroyed around 1643 under Cromwell but that of Hope somehow survived in the fabric of the village school until that in turn was demolished 150 years ago. By the north door of St Peter's is the stump of the medieval Eccles Cross which originally stood on the ancient Doctor's Gate track.

The rare addition of a parvise, or priest's room, can be seen above the south porch, and a niche over the outer door contains a statue of St Peter. Seventeenth-century churchwardens used to display animal carcasses above the porch as proof of essential parish expenditure. Pests were an expensive nuisance on the farms: payment for a dead fox was 7s 8d (38p), while a hedgehog fetched two pence (1p). Yet when five calves were purchased to ‘leather ye bells’ they cost only four pence each.

‘putt out your children’ History tells a rather gruesome story centred on Hope churchyard. Here about 280 years ago the bodies of a grazier and his maidservant were finally laid to rest. They had been exhibited for some 20 years, having being found perfectly preserved after 30 years' burial in the peaty moorland, where they had perished in the winter of 1674.

The interior of St Peter's is very handsome beneath its oak tie beams. Seventeenth and 18th-century memorial floor slabs are overlooked by several fascinating charity boards; we learn that from 1824 turnpike tolls were used for the purchase of linen and wool for the needy. Earlier legacies provided poor parishioners with wheat bread and enabled their children to learn to read. One well-meaning charity of 1730 left a bequest to ‘putt out your children’ into apprenticeships.

‘reputed scandalous’ Oak panels in the north aisle are inscribed with the names of those who once sat in the adjoining pews. The schoolmaster had his own chair, carved in 1664 with a Latin motto for the Reverend Thomas Bocking. His name is also carved into the fine pulpit as ‘Clarke and Teacher’. Bocking was ‘reputed scandalous’ for taking up arms in the Royalist cause during the Civil War.

The Annunciation window of the Lady Chapel contains early stained glass depicting the family arms of the Eyres, hereditary foresters of the High Peak, while a marble plaque marks the vault of the Woodroffes, descendants of Radulphus Woodrove, Armiger, Keeper of the King's Forest of High Peak in Hope Dale. Symbols of bugle horns, a sword and an arrow identify two ancient burial slabs as those of officers of the Royal Forest.

Other familiar High Peak surnames, coats-of-arms and mythical beasts are carved into oak panelling which survives from Jacobean pox pews. Henry Balguy of Derwent, by contrast, is depicted on a gleaming memorial brass in quaint 17th-century costume with his family arms and a pious epitaph.

St Peter's has even known conflict within its walls. In the 1400s the altar was defiled by bloodshed, causing the church to be closed for reconsecration and earning the offender a public whipping for such sacrilege.

Today's visiting worshipper may well be a rambler or hiker entering the churchyard, rather appropriately, through a stone stile entrance, with time for some quiet contemplation inside this beautiful church.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th June 2008.

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