FENNY BENTLEY : CHURCH OF ST EDMUND
Church Post Code DE6 1LD
Open to visitors
Visited February 2020
It was a cold dull day in the Derbyshire Dales in February 2020, and we were visiting the church of St Edmund at Fenney Bentley, before moving on to St Oswald at Ashbourne two miles or so to the south, this being part of a full day’s crawl which took in a dozen or so churches. It was an early start, leaving Peterborough in what seemed to be the middle of the night, but what in reality was more like 6.30am and travelling the 100 or so miles; arriving at Fenney Bentley for when it opened.
Fenny Bentley sits alongside the A151 Ashbourne to Buxton road, and is one of the most southerly Derbyshire villages in the Peak District. The Staffordshire border is a short distance away, with Ilam and Blore, which we were to visit a little later in the day, just off to the west, with each being in Staffordshire.
At the time of the 2021 census, the population of the village was 185. The church of St Edmund is centrally located and consists of west tower with spire, nave with north aisle with chapel, south porch and chancel.
There was a church and priest noted here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 but nothing remains of that early church. As far back as 1240 the church here was one of six smaller churches attached to St Oswald at Ashbourne, which we were to visit next. The church that we see today dates from the 14th century but was heavily restored and rebuilt in two periods of Victorian restoration which included the tower being rebuilt and the octagonal spire added, as well as the north aisle being built.
The church was open to visitors; it was a dull day as mentioned earlier and there are no clerestory windows here. This, combined with a decent amount of stained glass, meant that it was quite dull inside. I don’t like to shoot with the church lights turned on; but after checking a single photograph taken with them off it was evident that they needed to be on for this one!
The north arcade is of three bays, with octagonal piers and capitals. There is no chancel arch; nave is separated from chancel by an early 16th century screen. There is also a screen at the east end of the south aisle, with the church organ immediately to the east of this. In the chancel there is a two bay north arcade leading in to the north chapel.
Moving in to the chancel, the fine five light east window has stained glass; Jesus with children in the central panel. He is flanked, to the left as we look at, by Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Cleophas. To the right as we look at it is Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome. We very often see the three Mary’s on Easter morning, with an angel of the Lord pointing upwards; I can’t recall though seeing the four Mary’s lined up like this in an east window.
The chancel fittings all date from two periods of Victorian restoration, including a fine stone reredos which runs the entire width of the chancel, which has angels in blind arches to north and south looking inwards where it is written ‘Do This In Remembrance Of Me’.
Other stained glass here includes a three light window depicting three scenes from the Old Testament. We see Abraham being prevented by an angel of the Lord from sacrificing his son Isaac; Joseph who had risen to second in command in Egypt, announcing himself to his brothers who had plotted to kill him as they begged for food during a famine. The third panel shows Noah and his family on the ark, rejoicing as the dove flies back in with an olive leaf.
We also see a depiction of Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, being shot with arrows by Vikings; with the church here dedicated to him.
In the north chapel is a remarkable monument to Thomas Beresford who died in 1473 and his wife Agnes who died in 1467. The couple lay side by side, with both being completely covered in a shroud, which has been tied at top and bottom. They had no fewer than 21 children, with 15 sons and 6 daughters, with each of the children also shrouded. At the side of the shrouded children is a muzzled bear, which appears on the Beresford family coat of arms. I have seen a fair few shrouds over the years, normally with at least some part of the top of the shroud parted so that the skeletal face is visible; but nothing like this though. A fascinating monument, the likes of which I have never seen before!
It is suggested that the monument was carved some years after the death of Thomas; the Official Listing for this church has the monument erected during the late 16th century and possibly it is simply addressing the fact that all those concerned had passed away. Whatever the reason this is a remarkable monument and to be honest, it would have been worth coming over from Peterborough just to see this!
Evidently, this monument is not in situ and until Victorian times it used to stand against the north wall of the chancel. The roof of the north chapel is painted; angels with red wings unfurled holding shields. One angel plays a lyre whilst another who stands on the clouds and looks down blows a trumpet, which can also be seen as a symbol of the resurrection.
A wall monument is worth noting, this being to Francisca Beresford who died in 1688. At the top of this monument are carvings of two human skulls, each with a full set of teeth and deep cavernous eye sockets. The skulls are winged, symbolising the safe escorting of the soul towards heave. At the foot of this monument is an angel with long flowing hair; with long hair becoming a familiar sight in the coming months on Zoom church meetings as covid closed the country down.
ASHBOURNE: CHURCH OF ST OSWALD
Church Post Code DE6 1AN
Open to visitors
From Fenny Bentley we travelled a couple of miles to the south, to Ashbourne and the church of St Oswald. This is a large and busy market town, which had a population of nearly 9,000 at the time of the 2021 census. Ashbourne can be found at the very southern edge of the Peak District National Park, leading it to be called the ‘Gateway to the Peaks’.
Ashbourne is home to the annual Royal Shrovetide Football match, though we are using the word football in a fairly loose sense! This is a game that is played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and in scenes that will no doubt bemuse the rest of the world, one half of the town plays the other, with hundreds of players taking part. The goals are three miles apart and the overly large ball can be picked up and carried, kicked or thrown. I daresay that rules are frowned upon, a few punches are thrown and the action even takes place in the brook that runs through the town to the south of the church. The ball is occasionally seen to emerge from the scrum of people for short periods!
There was a church and priest mentioned here at the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086, with part of a Saxon cross shaft to be seen in the south aisle, and the church site has probably been a place of religious worship for a great while longer with the present church suggested to stand on the site of a pagan holy well. Construction on the church that we see today was started in the early part of the 13th century; being built in cruciform style with impressive central tower and spire standing 215 feet tall.
Those entering the church from gates to the North West will see conical caps on top of the piers, these resting on carvings of skulls; designed to remind the onlooker entering the church grounds of their own mortality. Live a good Christian life, trust in God and do not be caught lacking when your own time comes. These gate posts date from around 1700 and have a Grade II Listing in their own right.
The church is a real statement piece and is described on line as being of cathedral like proportions. The church that we see today consists of nave with south aisle, north and south transepts, each with an eastern aisle, central tower with spire and chancel.
The chancel is the oldest part of the structure, along with the north and south transepts, which were each built in the first half of the 13th century. The nave dates from the mid 13th century and the south aisle was added towards the end of that century, at which point the central tower was built. The spire dates from the early 14th century. There has never been a north aisle here. The clerestory was added in 1520 and there have been periods of Victorian restoration here, including much remodelling by George Gilbert Scott in 1876.
Looking at the church from the south, this is a structure of impressive dimensions; a delight to see, even on a gloomy day! The tower and spire dominate the landscape; with stair turret with crocketed octagonal cap at the south east corner of the tower. Gargoyles peer out from all four sides of the tower, but were pretty much out of bounds to the camera on the day due to the poor lighting. Evidence of the previous roof line can clearly be seen on the east wall of the tower and also over the south transept. The off centre church clock faces out from to the east.
The transepts are each of great size, with no fewer than three medieval chantries being located within the north transept at one point. The clerestory and chancel are each battlemented, with the latter being of great length. Built to the glory of God, and with also an eye to lessening the time in purgatory for the donor and their family in those pre reformation Catholic days!
The church was open and there were people inside looking around, even on a cold dull winter’s day. The church lights were on and the chancel was nicely illuminated by spotlights. The south aisle is of four bays; a children’s section has a collection of cuddly toys carefully arranged on chairs, after I had carefully arranged them on chairs that is!
As mentioned earlier, the chancel there was remodelling here by George Gilbert Scott in 1876, and the present appearance of the chancel is mainly down to him. The high altar is raised up on three steps, with the altar cloth having the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God on it. The reredos dates from after Scott’s remodelling, dating from 1950. This has four scenes from the life of Christ; the adoration of the shepherds, the Transfiguration, the Risen Christ meeting Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb on Easter morning and the ascension. These panels are flanked by St Oswald and St Chad and this reredos is especially interesting as the backgrounds on each of the four panels are local scenery and not views of the Holy Land.
A triple sedilia and double piscina are to be found in their traditional places against the south wall. The piscina is at ground level, showing that the chancel floor has been raised a fair bit at some point in time.
The fine east window is of seven lights and with the exception of some medieval coats of arms up in the tracery the rest of this window dates from 1896 and was made by notable stained glass artist Charles Eamer Kempe. Christ in majesty is central on the top row, crowned and holding a globe, with pulses of flame shooting out from golden nimbus. Central on the bottom row is Mary the mother of Jesus who is holding hands with her son; and attended by two angels. Both central characters are flanked by other figures, which include several angels which have exquisitely crafted wings of peacock feathers; a Kempe trademark.
The west window is also from Kempe, this one dated 1902. This is a superbly detailed Tree of Jesse window which traces the lineage of Jesus, with Mary holding the Baby Jesus at the top. A total of 18 characters are included, which includes King David who is central, crowned and holding out a book of Psalms towards the onlooker; harp by his side.
As always with Kempe windows it was a case of hunt the haystack. Kempe’s work was ‘signed’ with a small haystack and given the intricacies of his work they are not always easy to find. Kempe died in 1907 and Walter Ernest Tower was appointed chairman; from that point a Black Tower was added to the signature haystack.
An exquisite stained glass window from Christopher Whall tells a tragic tale of the deaths of Monica and Dorothea Turnball, who were both killed in a fire at Sandybrook Hall close to Ashbourne in March 1901. The central panel shows St Cecelia falling asleep to celestial music, a symbol of death. To the left as we look at it is St Barbara, who carries a sword showing the manner of her martyrdom. To the right is St Dorothy, who carries flowers, her associated symbol. An angel with flowing wings looks down tenderly on those below.
The face of St Barbara is an actual portrait of Monica, who was an accomplished poet, and who died attempting to save her sister, and the face of St Dorothy is a portrait of Dorothea; Whall believing that real people should be depicted in the glass that he made. This reminded me of the Tiffany stained glass window at Kimbolton which commemorated two young sisters who died, with each being a portrait of the deceased and who were, along with several other children, in the presence of Jesus.
Symbolic as to the purity of the girls who died is shown by the fact that the three saints depicted namely Barbara, Dorothea and Cecelia was all virgin martyrs.
There are a few pieces of medieval glass here, with a very ancient and depiction of the crucifixion of interest.
The north transept is of great interest, with some fine memorials. A standing wall memorial to Thomas Cokayne, who died in 1592 and his wife Dorothy, see the couple, kneeling on cushions, facing each other over a prayer desk; he dressed in armour with his wife wearing a ruff with long flowing gown. Their ten children, three boys and seven girls, are lined up on prayer below.
Of the other memorials, the oldest is to John Cokayne, who was steward to John of Gaunt. He died in 1372 and his tomb was altered in 1412 to include his son Edmund, who was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.
A tomb to Humphrey Bradbourne and his wife shows them laying side by side, each holding a prayer book. Sir Humphrey is dressed in armour and has a fine head of hair and beard. He is shown with two rings on his fingers. She holds a prayer book in chipped fingers. At the sides of the tombs are mourners, which due to the number I am assuming is not representative of their children. There are female figures to one side and male to the other. Some figures are at prayer, others hold shields and three of the male figures are shrouded.
A chest tomb to Thomas Cokayne was made at a cost of £8. Thomas died in 1537 and was knighted by Henry VIII himself in 1513, being dubbed 'magnificent by the King! Close by is a tomb for John Cokayne and his wife Margaret, who each lay recumbent with hands raised in prayer.
Another tomb is to John Bradbourne and his wife Ann. He died in 1483, the same year that he established a chantry chapel in the south transept here. Ann died in 1499. It seems a little odd that this tomb is in the north transept; perhaps it may have been moved at some point. Each lay recumbent, with hands raised in prayer; he wearing armour, she with an elaborate headdress and a necklace made of cockle shells, suggesting that she had visited as a pilgrim the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella.
Also in the north transept is an exquisite carving showing a young girl, asleep with hands clenched together under her chin. This is Penelope Boothby who died in 1791 aged six years; the only daughter of Sir Brooke and Lady Boothby of Ashbourne Hall. At the time of her death she had knowledge of four languages, and was, according to the epitaph on her tomb ‘in form and intellect most exquisite. The unfortunate parents ventured their all on this frail Bark. And the wreck was total’.
Memorial to Thomas Cokayne (d1592) and wife Dorothy (d1595)
Memorial to Humphrey Bradbourne (d1581) and wife Elizabeth (d unknown)
Memorial to John Cokayne (d1372) and Edmund Cokayne (d1403)
Memorial to John Cokayne (d1447) and wife Margaret (d unknown)
Memorial to John Bradbourne (d 1483) and wife Ann (d1499)
Memorial to Penelope Boothby (d 1791)
On leaving the church and taking a look at the church grounds, the sun taunted me by coming out for about thirty seconds then hiding back behind the clouds for the rest of the day.
It was at this point that Gary arrived back at the van; excited that he had had his hair cut and had been given a loyalty card. This allowed him a free hair cut after six visits. Given that we were over 100 miles away from home, this wasn’t a great offer although it was suggested that he popped over and had another cut while I was looking around a church in Suffolk once, a further 60 miles or so off to the south!
One of the finest churches in Derbyshire and it was great to be able to see it. It was a shame that the lighting conditions on the day were not better but we have what we are given! Well worth taking a look at if you are around. A photograph in the informative church guide shows a photograph taken in the spring, with the church grounds an absolute carpet of daffodils!