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St Mary's and All Saints Parish Church may not seem familiar to many people from its name but it is far more famously known as the Crooked Spire of Chesterfield.
For many years I could see the distinctive curved spire of this Church from my bedroom window and although I knew that it was a famous local landmark I had no idea until a few years ago just how famous it actually was in other parts of England too. In fact I began to realise its national fame when my brother relocated to Wiltshire and his local pub was called the Crooked Spire and had a picture of my local landmark on its pub sign. Later that year I went to Tenerife and one of the first pubs that I stumbled across was, yes you guessed it - the Crooked Spire. That's when I realised that it had International fame too.
WHERE IS THE CROOKED SPIRE?
This Church is located in the centre of Chesterfield, a medium sized town in north east Derbyshire with a population of just under 100,000 people.
Chesterfield is actually one of the oldest towns in England with its origins dating back to a Roman Fort which was built around 70 AD. Today there are many original Tudor buildings that still exist in the town and for anyone interested in historical things this is a fascinating place to visit, but one thing that will be uppermost on any such visit to Chesterfield will be a visit to the Crooked Spire whose presence dominates the town.
Chesterfield is easily accessible if you are planning to visit from outside the area as it is easily approached from junction 29 or junction 30 of the M1 Motorway.
The Church itself is located right in the middle of the town centre and you cannot fail to miss it. There is a large car park located just across the road and it is here, next to the Crooked Spire that the tourist information centre can also be found in Rykneld Square.
THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
The Church of St Mary's and All Saints Parish Church dates back to 1234 although it wasn't actually completely until 1360, and the building of the spire did not begin until 1349.
This Church is now the largest Church in the whole county of Derbyshire and it is now a major tourist attraction. The Churchyard is now also the location of Chesterfield's oldest gas lamp which dates back to 1824 although this was moved here from its original location in the Market Place in more recent times.
The greatest threat to the Church occurred as recently as 1961, when on the morning of 22nd December a fire broke out in the North Transept which raged through the building and threatened the spire itself. It took several fire engines two hours to get the fire under control and the restoration costs following this cost £30,000.
WHY THE SPIRE IS CROOKED?
There are many weird and wonderful myths and legends of why the crooked spire is bent and some of the more bizarre tales include a magician, who persuaded a local blacksmith from Bolsover (a nearby town 7 miles away) to make shoes for the Devil. The Blacksmith was shaking with fear and accidentally hammered a nail into the Devil's foot, such was the pain that the Devil took flight and as he skimmed over the spire he caught it with his tail and twisted it.
Another tale is that a virgin was once married in the Church, and the spire having never seen a virgin bride before, leaned over to take a closer look, those that believe this myth also believe that should such an event ever take place again then the spire will straighten up again.
More recently many of the locals believed that the spire had been struck by lightening but the truth is there is a much more plausible explanation. The most likely explanation is that the spire is twisted because of inferior workmanship and the use of untreated timbers which simply buckled under the weight of the lead tiles that were used, this lead weighs around 32 tonnes.
The spire did not twist immediately and it was probably a hundred years after its construction that the twist became noticeable, and over the years this has become even more pronounced. In fact the spire is still moving today at a rate of a couple of centimetres every year.
VISITING THE CHURCH
The Church is open from 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday and entry is free, but since this is still used daily as a Parish Church please respect the parishioners and make sure that a service is not taking place before you enter.
It is also sometimes possible to tour the tower, something that I did about five years ago and I would definitely recommend this if you get the chance. If you are lucky a tour may be taking place but more often than not this has to be arranged in advance with the Verger. There is a small charge to tour the tower and although I don't recall exactly I think it was just a couple of pounds.
The tower affords probably the finest views of Chesterfield that you will find, overlooking the old Market Square. The tour also allows you to see the twisted green timbers close up and the Verger is very knowledgeable with the history of the Church and will be only too happy to answer any questions that you may have.
The Church itself has not only magnificent stained glass windows and ancient carved wooden pews but it is also the home of some other important artefacts too. These include an early example of an English Piscina, a basin used for washing communion vessels, which was discovered by workmen who were replacing the old heating system, and very nearly bricked it up.
Another important find was an unusual Norman Font. This treasure came to light in 1898 when it was dug up in the Vicarage garden.
MY EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH
Despite the fact that this Church dominates the town and its distinctive spire can be seen for miles around I have never taken this place for granted and I have ventured inside through its doors several times. I am not a religious person but I cannot help to feel the solitude and tranquillity that this place provides.
I remember visiting this place on a school trip and learning about the history of the place, as well as the history of the town in general and although I probably did not realise it at the time this is probably when I first fell in love with this place.
Throughout the ages this Church has remained virtually unchanged although it has succumb slightly to commercialism in the shape of a small gift shop that can now be found inside the Church.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the Crooked Spire and I am looking forward to my next visit to Chesterfield soon.
Should you require any further details the following contact may be of use:
Chesterfield Tourist Information
Or you can contact the Verger on +44(1246) 206506.
I only visited the church once , which was when we were visiting my father's family the Hampton's when i was quite young years ago.
One of my uncle's use to be a caretaker in the church. I only remember him as uncle George, he took my brother's and sister's up to the top of the church, and looked all around inside teh church it was truly a pleasure and an advantage to see when i was young and it was one of my greatest memories i will always cherish.We all live in suffolk but most of my father's family all still live in chesterfield somewhere.My mother and father have since passed away sadly and we all lost contact.
But its been great reading up again on what my uncle told us all about the church some years ago.
I have found when visiting other places that even people who haven't heard of Chesterfield have heard of St Mary & All Saints Parish Church ~ even if they don't know that they have! They probably know it by its more regularly used name of the Crooked Spire.
~~~WHERE IS IT?
The Crooked Spire is located in Chesterfield town centre, in north Derbyshire (Chesterfield can be reached from Junction 29 or 30 on the M1, the A61 from Sheffield, the A6 then A619 from Buxton, or theA61 from Derby). It dominates the skyline when you are approaching the town form any direction ~ I always know when I am nearing home when I look out of a train, bus or car window and see the twisted spire. It is a reassuring and distinctive landmark that shows me where I am. The entrance to the churchyard is next to the towns new and award winning Tourist Information Centre (in Rykneld Square) and is actually impossible to miss.
There isn't any parking dedicated for church use ~ visitors and parishioners must use the public car parks in the town centre and walk the short distance to St Mary's.
~~~WHY IS IT CROOKED?
There have been many legends as to why the Crooked Spire is crooked. One story states that a Blacksmith in nearby Bolsover was asked to put horseshoes on the Devils hooves. As he hammered in the first nail the Devil shrieked with pain and shot off into the air in the direction of Chesterfield. As he flew past the church he wrapped his tail around the spire, twisting it in his pain. Another legend says that one day a rumour got around that a virgin was getting married in the church. Unable to believe this unlikely event, the spire turned around to have a look to see if it was true. Apparently if another virgin gets married there it may turn back!
The actual reason for the twisty spire is much more mundane. When the spire was built, during the 13th and 14th Centuries it was straight (the spire was added a few years after the tower). It stayed that way for a few hundred years and then gradually began to bend. This is probably due to "green", unseasoned timbers being used to build it. There are also no cross braces used to support and strengthen the tower and spire.
The spire was added from around 1349 onwards ~ coinciding with the Outbreak of the Black Death in the area. It is also recognised that this may have had some bearing on the bending; maybe the plague killed many of the master craftsmen, leaving the less experienced builders to build an inferior spire!
~~~A BIT OF TEHCNICAL INFORMATION.
The church spire stands at 228 feet and leans around 9 feet from the centre of the tower. Apparently it bends a little more each year ~ this fact scared a couple of our friends silly on a recent visit to Chesterfield. They had traveled up from London and had never seen a crooked spire before. We were standing outside the pub next door (the Rutland Arms) and one of them phoned his wife to say he thought he was going to get crushed because he thought the spire was going to fall down!
There also around 32 tons worth of lead tiles on the outside of the structure which are weighing it down, along with several hundred years worth of weathering, people climbing and bell ringing. It really is no wonder it has bent! There are 144 steps leading up the tower to the spire and, when you get to the top, you will be a little nervous to discover that the spire merely rests there with nothing securing it ~ eek!
~~~CAN I VISIT?
If you want to have a look around the church itself then entry is free. The door is open from nine til five, Monday to Friday (it is slightly earlier in January and February, closing at 3pm instead) and only during Services on a Sunday. There is a gift shop inside and the interior of the church is lovely, with lots of things to look at and a nice atmosphere too. I would recommend that you make the time to take a tour of the tower. This costs £2.50 for adults and £1.00 for children and is well worth it to see the twisted timbers close up and to see the views over Chesterfield.
Tours don't happen everyday (only if someone is available who can climb the stairs to take you up), so it is advisable to ring up and check if you are making a special journey or wanting to take a group of people (ring the verger on 01246 206506).
~~~WHAT IS INSIDE?
People often seem to neglect the rest of the building and concentrate only on the oddly shaped spire. They forget that the church itself is worthy of note. It is the largest church in Derbyshire and is almost on a par with some cathedrals in size and importance. The layout is a cruciform structure which is 170 feet long and over 110 feet across.
There are lots of things to look at inside too and a visit is going to take you a while if you investigate them all. For example there is a very early example of a Piscina, which was found in the Holy Cross Chapel during some building work. This was an ancient basin used to wash communion vessels and was quite an important find. As was the Norman Font found in 1898 in the vicarage garden ~ this was quickly restored and returned to the church.
You will also find some beautiful stained glass windows and ancient carved wooden pews, in the main body of the church and in the Guild chapels. I have spent many visits in the past looking around the walls and floors looking at the fading names from the past.
~~~ AND OUTSIDE?
There are some seats in the churchyard that have become a popular place for people to eat their sandwiches when the weather is nice ~ you'll find people sitting on the grass, under the trees, watching the world go by too. All the gravestones have been removed from the yard (some are stood up around the edges), just leaving grass and cobbles. The first gas lamp that was ever installed in the town (in 1824) has been moved to the grounds of the church.
~~~WHY DO I LIKE IT?
I am not a church goer, or a religious person, but I love to visit St Mary's Church. It has been a stable structure in my life ~ as buildings around the town, and my life in general, have altered, the Church has remained the same. It is a remarkable building and one that brings visitors to our town. It is a very special place for most of the people in Chesterfield. It has survived fire too ~ in 1961 a massive fire almost destroyed the building, but firemen managed to save it after a two hour fight with the flames. It cost £30,000 to restore it for future generations to marvel over. Unfortunately the famous Schneltzer organ was destroyed (leaving only five left in the world), but at least the building was rescued.
When I was at school we often came into town to do school projects on the church. For me the church was a place of great interest and I really enjoyed drawing the building and the objects inside. I also loved finding out more about its history and about the many people who must have visited over the years. The gravestones stacked up outside and the memorials inside provided me with an insight into the past and was probably the start of my love of history.
The famous church has even inspired verse over the years.
"So that the spire, 'tis very plain,
For ages crooked must remain;
And while it stands must ever be
An emblem of deformity."
it has also inspired artists, writers and schoolchildren to write, draw and to find out more.
It inspired me too!
Chesterfield Tourist Information
Tel. 01246 345777/8
The famous "Crooked Spire" in Chesterfield. It's proper name is the St Marys and All Saints Parish Church but everyone just refers to it as the Crooked Spire! There is folklore about Devils and virgins but Chesterfield folk aren't really into that sort of thing. I think the most likely explanation is the combination of the heavy lead cladding, unseasoned timbers inside and joiners who were probably most certainly over-seasoned in the many hostelries which surround the church!