The Parish Churches of St Charles, King and Martyr

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper on 1st October 1990, reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

The Parish Churches of St Charles, King and Martyr - Peak Forest

THE OLD...... Nobody in Peak Forest can now remember its historic little chapel, demolished around 1880 in favour of a new larger building close by. Even so, memories of its existence were handed down to villagers like Mrs. Daisy Fletcher, whose father remembered the chapel being carpeted with rushes, brought down by parishioners from Rushop Edge. For a short time the chapel was left to stand side by side with its successor, built in 1876 by the Duke of Devonshire at a cost of £6000, but finally its old stones went into the building of a new reading room nearby, where its former east window still overlooks the main road and a dated lintel stands above an outer doorway.

Simple as the chapel was, it held a unique place in peakland history. Built towards the end of the Civil War by Christiana, Dowager Countess of Devonshire, the chapel had to await the restoration of the monarchy before it could be openly dedicated to St. Charles, King and Martyr. Christiana's son, Charles, had died in 1643 fighting for the Royalist cause and his body, in fact, was pickled in a barrel (in the manner of Lord Nelson's body many years later) before burial and had to wait for thirty years, until the day of his mother's interment, to be transferred to the family vault in Derby Cathedral.

ONLY THEIR NAMES The rare dedication is matched by an unusual privilege brought about because the chapel stood on royal forest land and was therefore a ‘Peculiar’ free from episcopal jurisdiction. This enabled couples to be married here without banns, at any hour of day or night, so attracting hundreds of eloping lovers to Peak Forest during the first half of the eighteenth century. Only their names are recorded in the special ‘Foreign Marriages’ registers. Successive Acts of Parliament had ended the practice by 1804 but the final link, the wooden seal necessary to the privilege, has survived and is kept under lock and key with other church treasures.

In 1780 the chapel, then only 45ft x 22ft, was extended by 15ft, its original windows being replaced in 1835. At around this time the building was occasionally and inexplicably referred to as St. James' Church, and appears as such on a surviving funeral card, moreover Peak Forest wakes were traditionally held around the Feast of St. James.

AND THE NEW......... On 1 November 1877 the new church was firmly dedicated to St. Charles, King and Martyr. From the old building and into the new went the altar, its mahogany altar rails - reerected around the original font, two oak chairs for the sanctuary, and its single bell - not rehung but still kept in the belfry with its successor. Early monuments to the Bower/Needham family were re-sited in a side chapel built chiefly at the expense of Samuel Needham. Its east 'Good Samaritan' window was installed in memory of Robert and Sarah Needham and their two infant sons, and two pleasing stained glass windows to later Needhams share the north wall with a large painting of the Holy Family, a gift of the Devonshires.

The lectern was given in memory of Thomas Carledge in 1958, whilst William Naylor, former schoolmaster, Sunday School teacher and choir master, is commemorated in a brass tablet of 1907. In safekeeping here is another link with bygone village life in the proudly painted drum of Peak Forest Temperance Band. Three large archways originally opened from the chapel into the main body of the church, having been built up when that part of the building was closed for roof repairs in 1954. By tremendous efforts the villagers raised the entire cost of restoration, about £2,500, and the church was reopened ten years later.

THE RICH AND THE POOR By coincidence Peak Forest had lain until 1954 in the ownership of the Duke of Devonshire, and family links with the church are numerous. The main east window, depicting the Saviour of the World, was installed by Peak Forest tenantry in memory of both Lord Frederick Cavendish, Chief Secretary for Ireland until his assassination in 1882, and Lord Edward Cavendish who had laid the church's foundation stone. Marble memorial tablets were erected to William Cavendish, 7th Duke and builder of the church, and to his grand son, Frederick Egerton, killed at Ladysmith in 1899. Together with a matching monument to Queen Victoria the marble tablets were carved by the Revd. George Rogerson, a young vicar in turn commemorated in the south aisle. A predecessor named John Duncalf is remembered in an engraved brass plate of 1836 kept on a window sill.

Huge dark boards around the south door list eighteenth-century charities giving bread, money, meat and woollen cloth to the needy, and useful appren- ticeships for local children.

In accordance with the will of Marina Barnsley, who died in 1899, a brass was erected in the nave recording her generous bequests to the vicar, the village headmaster, and the choir.

Sixty years later a more modest plaque was cast in memory of John Pearson, organist for fifty years and descendant of David Pearson, a blind tuner and clock cleaner who had played in the old building on a French organ now kept in retirement in the new one. The present instrument has had a devoted organist for the last thirty two years in Mrs. Daisy Fletcher, whose life has been entwined with the church for eighty years.

An antique brass chandelier in the chancel is a memorial to her family (also Fletcher). Other memorial gifts include a litany desk and credence table, and a pair of brass vases to complement the altar furniture donated in 1877.

One interesting souvenir from the old chapel and still in use is a rare oak hymn board, its numbers printed onto rotating linen rolls and turned by a complicated array of knobs. In fine condition too is an oval board painted with the royal Arms of George III, this displayed in the vestry.

A window in the south aisle is devoted to Charles I, bearing the dates of his birth, coronation and beheading. Both his crown and the execution block and axe are pictured, to either side of a full-length figure of the bearded king, his crown on a table at his left side. This lovely stained glass is an appropriate reminder that Peak Forest church owes its foundation to the Royalist loyalty of a Countess and its dedication to her executed king.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 1st October 1990.

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