Newest Review: ... 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... more
Crooked Spire (Chesterfield)
Member Name: tange
Crooked Spire (Chesterfield)
Advantages: Impressive structure and lots of history.
Disadvantages: Not for those who don't like churches.
~~~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.
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
Summary: A really impressive landmark.