The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1842)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2012


This very plain fabric stands, as I have before noticed, nearly in the centre of the village: the churchyard wall on the south side, running parallel with, and close by, the principal street. It is a very simple edifice; quite in keeping with the scenery around. That there was a former church - perhaps as far back as Saxon times - is highly probable: indeed, there are a few relics about the present structure, strongly indicative of great antiquity. Almost every part of the building is comparatively modern; the north part is of the reign of Henry the Second; the south, or front part, of Elizabeth; the chancel was erected about the year A.D. 1600; and the tower was rebuilded about the same time. There is only one good window in the whole structure - it is at the east end of the north aisle, evidently of the fourteenth century. A few specimens of painted glass adorn the antique window.

It was a very small church previously to the addition of the chancel, which was erected by the Rev. Robert Talbot, Rector of Eyam, at the time afore-mentioned. The old tower, which was but small, was taken down, and the present one builded by a Madam Stafford, a maiden lady, one of the co-heiresses of Humphrey Stafford, Eyam. The grotesque figures projecting from the top part of the tower, belonged to the old tower; and from their defaced and dilapidated appearance, as compared with those on the Saxon churches of Hope and Tankersley, they must certainly have been ornaments of a church long anterior to the Norman Conquest. The tower is square, nearly sixty feet high, surmounted with small embattlements and four ornamented pinnacles, about five feet in length. Four rich and deep toned bells occupy the top part of the tower, where ten bells might be hung conveniently. The bells, which are said to have been given by Madam Stafford, are rich in material - containing much silver. They have the following inscriptions:-


There are five bell frames, but never five bells, although there is a notion prevails that one was stolen and taken to Longstone, or elsewhere. Nearly in the middle of the west side of the tower there is a stone something less than the adjoining stones, with the following letters, and something like figures inscribed thereon:-

T B. W C. T C  P T
C H I C I 915 M B T

This stone, amongst the Solons of the village, has been the source of numberless conjectures. The letters are evidently modern in character - not more than two centuries and a half old; the date of the erection of the tower. They are most probably the initials of the then Churchwardens; this is almost certain from the C.W. at the head of the other letters. What the figures mean is totally inexplicable; for it cannot be supposed that they mean A.D. 915.[†] Some think they are not figures at all. As I have not given the inscription in the precise character of the letters, it would, therefore be recommendable to all who are interested in mystical inscriptions, to see it before they conclude concerning it from what is here advanced.[1]

Notwithstanding the architectural defects of the church, it has, however, one classical ornament that would add to the splendour of some of our magnificent cathedrals. It is the sun-dial, placed immediately over the principal doorway into the church. This complex piece of mathematical ingenuity, which is one of the finest of the kind in the kingdom, was delineated by Mr. Duffin, Clerk to _ Simson, Esq., formerly a worthy magistrate of Stoke Hall, near Eyam. The workmanship and engraving are by the late Mr. William Shore, of Eyam, an ingenious stone-mason. The following is a brief description of its admirable contents, by an able hand at gnomonics:- "It is a vertical plane declining westward, and from certain mathematical principles connected with conic sections, the parallels of the sun's declination for every month in the year - a scale of the sun's meridian altitude - an azimuthal scale - the points of the compass, and a number of meridians are well delineated on the plane from the stereographic projection of the sphere.

"The plane being large the horary scale is well divided; the upper, or fiducial edge of the style is of brass, and an indentation therein representing the centre of the projection, casts the light or shade of its point on the hyperbolic curves and other furniture of the dial". How lamentable that this noble work of genius should stand in its present neglected state! Much of the exterior of the south side of this edifice is covered with ivy, which, if not immediately checked, will soon envelope the whole structure.

The interior consists of nave, chancel, and north and south aisles. The chancel is open to the body of the church only by an arch, which intercepts to some degree the intended and necessary connection. The modern erection of a south side gallery, and one of rather older date, at the western extremity, have lamentably destroyed the original architectural beauty of the church. Seven pointed arches, three on the north side, three on the south side, and one on the west end, supported by plain, octagonal, and clustered pillars, once adorned the interior of this edifice. Two only now visibly remain. How deplorable that the whims and fancies of some persons should be allowed to destroy the ornaments and designs of our pious and venerable forefathers.

An ancient stone font, lined with lead, occupies its wonted place; and strongly reminds us of the simplicity of past times. There are also a few relics of Catholic times. At the north-east extremity of the church, there are the remains of the Confessional. An aperture in the wall is still seen, through which, it is said, were whispered the confession of sins. And at the same place, a small stone projects from the wall, with a hollow or cavity for the holy-water. Some have imagined that there were another Confessional, or place of priestly officiation, on the opposite side of the church; but of this there is scarcely any trace; and, indeed, were it so, it would intimate that the church had at one time two priests, which is hardly probable. Of the monuments and other things of interest in the interior, there are but few of importance. On the top of the roof of the chancel, there is carved, in wood, a talbot, or dog, which is a supporter of the arms of the Earls of Shrewsbury, who were Lords of the Manor of Eyam, and patrons of the living. The inscription, J.B., 1595, F.B., maybe seen on the front of the manorial seat: the letters are the initials of John Bradshaw and Francis Bradshaw. This family succeeded to the family mansion and part of the estate of the Staffords, who are supposed to be interred under the manorial pew. There is no monument, however, of this once influential family, which may be accounted for, through the church having been, in this and other parts, frequently altered; when, as no branch of the family dwelled at Eyam any length of time, after the death of the coheiresses of the last male of the Staffords, anything commemorative of their memories would probably be destroyed. The old manorial pew was remodelled and repaired by the Bradshaws.

In the chancel there is a mural monument, to the memory of John Wright, gentleman, who was buried January 2d, 1694; and Elizabeth, his wife, buried August 22d, 1700. The inscription is surmounted by the family arms. Two others, to the ancestors and other relatives of M.M. Middleton, Esq. of Learn Hall. One to Ralph Rigby, curate of Eyam twenty-two years, buried April 22, 1740.[2] A brass plate, to the memory of A. Hamilton, Rector of Eyam, who was buried, October 21, 1717. The inscription is in Latin. Another brass plate commemorates the memory of Bernard, son of Bernard Wells, who died March 16th, 1648. An alabaster monument of great beauty perpetuates the memory of Mary, daughter of Smithson Green, Esq., Brosterfield, who died in May, 1777. In the vestry there is a brass plate to the memories of Charles Hargrave, Rector of Eyam, who died Nov. 18, 1822; and to his son William, who died Nov. 1st, 1816. A stone in an obscure corner records the death of Joseph Hunt, Rector of Eyam, who was buried December 16, 1709; and Ann, his wife, buried December 18th, 1703. In the manorial pew there is a brass plate, to the memory of John Galliard, who died April 29, 1745. On the opposite side of the pillar there is another, adorned with a death's head and cross bones, to the memory of John Willson, who died December 21, 1716. On the reading desk there is a plate to the memory of the Rev. Edmund Fletcher, who died Oct 7th, 1745. These, with a few other slabs on the floor, are all of any moment in the church. There is one unassuming stone, however, laid flat in the chancel, simply inscribed with T. B., the initials of Thomas Birds, Esq., Eyam, of antiquarian notoriety: he died May 25th, 1828. The national arms; a full length figure of Aaron and Moses, painted in oil in the reign of Queen Anne; a table of benefactions, the Lord's prayer and belief, are, with the exception of an organ, erected a few years ago, all the other principal ornaments of the interior of this holy edifice. In justice it must be observed, that notwithstanding the humble exterior and interior of the church, it is exceeded by no place of worship in the kingdom in order, cleanliness, and in the due observance of its services, as respects the present Reverend Pastors.

[1] It is the opinion of a many that this stone is of great antiquity. It evidently was either intended for a different situation, or it belonged to the old tower - if the latter, it is very old, notwithstanding the letters being so very perfect. In the British Magazine for 1832, vol. 2nd, there is a fac simile of the inscription.
[2] The night of the funeral of this Rev. Divine was attended with the following singular occurrence:- Three clergymen, from Yorkshire, returning from the funeral, was [were] lost on the East Moor in a snow, which fell after the setting of the sun. A shepherd found one on the following morning, and with difficulty animation was restored; the other two were dead when found.

Editor's Note
[†] The later edition amends the figures to ‘1615’.

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This information was collated and transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in September 2012.

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