Churches of Derbyshire

The Chapelry of Stoney Middleton

by J. Charles Cox (1877)

This transcription by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2004

THERE is but little left of the old Chapel of Stony Middleton, nor can we glean much of a satisfactory nature in connection with its early history. We may take it as proved, that the Romans had a bath here in connection with the mineral waters, and it is highly probable that the wasters did not fall into disrepute, but were held in esteem both in early Christian and mediæval days. These healing springs[1] were dedicated to St. Martin, and, doubtless, a well-chapel, under the patronage of the same saint, would be erected near the margin of the waters, after the same fashion as the ancient chapel of St. Anne, at Buxton. Probably, too, such a chapel stood on the very site of the present church, which now bears the name of St. Martin;[2] for the bath is very near to the church, and Dr. Short describes in 1734, “three perpetual bubbling warm springs, close by the west side of the churchyard”.

At what time this well-chapel first gave way to one on a larger scale, and more suited for the general body of worshippers, we know not, but from the present tower, and other incidental particulars, it may be safely concluded that a fair-sized chapel was certainly erected here in the fifteenth century.

The Parliamentary Commissioners of 1650 describe Stony Middleton as “a parochial chapel thought fitt to be made a parish church. . . . . Mr. Thorpe present incumbent scandalous for drincking.” They estimated the income at £45 per annum.[3]

The present Vicar, the Rev. Urban Smith, writes to us- “When I entered upon this living in 1834, I found this inscription on a board in the church, under the Royal Arms, ‘Restored, 1759. John Hallam, Saml. White, Churchwardens’. There is no tradition about the shape of the old church nor of its date, but diggings in the churchyard seem to indicate that it was of the usual shape, with oblong nave and small chancel.” The architect of 1759 adopted a singular octagon design for the body of the church, and the effect of uniting this building to a low square tower of Perpendicular style is most incongruous. It is said that the same architect also designed the stables at the back of the Crescent at Buxton, the stables at Chatsworth, the rectory at Eyam, and Stoke Hall. We cannot help wishing that he had confined his attention exclusively to secular work.

The timber used in the re-building of the church in 1759, was taken from the old edifice. It gradually became so rotten that a new roof was put up in 1861. At the same time a new west doorway and windows were inserted in the tower, but they are, unfortunately, after an earlier pattern than the tower itself, which is certainly not prior to the 15th century.

When Mr. Rhodes visited Middleton, some sixty years ago, he remarked “an old stone font, of a very elegant form, and carved in a good Gothic style. It stands in a corner of the churchyard, overshadowed by some light trees. It is difficult to conjecture why so graceful a piece of workmanship should be cast, like useless lumber, into an obscure corner, rapidly to moulder away, when, by being removed into the interior of the church, it might be long preserved, an ornament to the building that gave it shelter.”[4]

This ancient font was unhappily destroyed at the time of the alterations in 1861, but from an accurate drawing of it, taken a few years previously, we gather that it was of octagon shape and of excellent design, very closely resembling the one at the mother church of Hathersage.[5] From the notes of Bassano, taken in 1710, we learn that it bore the arms of Eyre, as is also the case with the one at Hathersage. There can be no doubt that this fine old font was given to the church by Robert Eyre, who married the heiress, Joan Padley. The Padleys inherited property in this township, through marriage with the Bernakes, and it is very possible that Robert Eyre, on his alliance with Padley, not only gave the font to the church, but built the present tower, as well as the body of the church that was swept away in 1759. Robert Eyre (as we have already stated under Hathersage), died in 1459, and his wife in 1463.

There are no monuments in the church of an earlier date than the eighteenth century. The registers only commence with the year 1715.

The following are the inscriptions on the three bells in the tower

  1. “Daniel Hedderly cast us all in 1720.”
  2. “Tho. Froggat, Rob. Sheppard, C:W.”
  3. “Benjamin Ashton, Esq., Jonathan Rose, curate.”
[1] For a full account of the nature of these springs, see Short's Mineral Waters (1734), pp. 94-101, also Pilkington's Derbyshire, vol. i., p. 232.
[2] Pegge's MS. Collections, vol. i., f: 8. Dr. Pegge gives the dedication of the church, and no other particulars relative to it, but we may perhaps be excused re-producing the following anecdote relative to the extreme steepness of the street where are all the old houses of Stony Middleton: “The hill in this town is so steep, that it is said when Mr. Ashton was Sheriff in 1664, he had no coach, the Judge asked him why he did not bring one, he replied- ‘There was no such thing as having a coach where he lived, for ye town stood on one end’.”
[3] £40 of this sum was an augmentation from the sequestered rectorial tithes of Glossop. See the account of Charlesworth chapelry.
[4] Rhodes' Peak Scenery, pt. i., p. 31.
[5] Anastatic Drawing Society's vol. for 1858, plate xxii. The woodcut of a font given in Bateman's Antiquities, p. 211, and there attributed to Hathersage, is also in reality that of Stony Middleton.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in March 2004.

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