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The Church of St Michael and All Angels stands high on a hillside above the Derbyshire town of Hathersage. I have passed close by to this Church on many occasions, but it is only very recently that I undertook a small detour off the main road to visit here.
All over the County of Derbyshire there are many wonderful Churches and this is one of the finest examples of them all. The Church is thought to date from the 11th century although the first written records of this actual Church are from 1381. This Church is one of the main tourist attractions in the town and it is notable for two different historical reasons.
Firstly, the Churchyard here is the location of the grave of Little John, Lieutenant and best friend of the legendary Outlaw Robin Hood. Little John, was in reality a giant of a man and his grave is over 10 feet long (3.5 metres). It is thought that Little John was born in Hathersage and spent much of his life here. Robin Hood is said to have been born in Loxley, now absorbed into the suburbs of Sheffield, just 8 miles from here.
Secondly, Charlotte Bronte stayed in the Vicarage here in 1845, with her friend Ellen Nussey. Ellen was a school friend of Charlotte Bronte and her Brother was the Vicar of the Church.
It is widely believed that the village of Morton, in her famous novel, Jane Eyre was based on Hathersage. Whilst it is thought that the heroines name was taken from the Eyre family, who were the prominent family in Hathersage at that time. The Eyre family were also the Lords of the Manor and had been for over eight centuries. There are many items relating this family inside St Michael and All Angels Church, including several 15th century brass ornaments.
Sir Robert Eyre restored this Church during the 15th century, although several guidebooks on this area incorrectly state that Sir Robert Eyre built the Church at Hathersage. This is certainly not true since the first recorded documents of the Church from 1381 pre-date Sir Roberts birth by almost a hundred years, whilst the design of the Church is much older even than that and is more typical of that of the late 11th century. There is however no mention of this Church in the Doomsday Book of 1086, although reference is made to the the Manor of 'Hereseige.' There must have been a Church in Hathersage before 1381 however, since the list of Priests for the Parish goes back to the year 1281 when a man simply called William held office as Rector of Hathersage.
During the reign of Henry 1, around the year 1130, a man called Richard Basset along with his wife Maud, founded a Priory in Leicestershire at Launde. Within this Priory there were no less than seventeen different Churches, these were scattered throughout the English Midlands, one of these Churches is thought to have been this Church at Hathersage.
The Church that we see today was restored between 1849 and 1852 although some of the original Norman features were retained. These include the west window of the tower, which has perpendicular stonework and the parapets of the Nave and Aisles.
The approach to this Church is via a very steep narrow lane. It is possible to drive a vehicle up here, but this is not for the faint-hearted. The road is single track and it is very steep. If you are unfortunate enough to encounter a vehicle coming down the hill, whilst you are trying to get up it, then it is likely that you will end up having to reverse all of the way back down to the bottom. Parking is possible on the grass verge outside the Church, but spaces are limited.
Even from a distance this Church looks very grand. It is has tall steeple, mounted onto a traditional style hexagonal base. On closer inspection it soon becomes apparent that this is a very well maintained Church. There is a very ornate gate at the entrance and the Churchyard is very well kept, with tidy flowerbeds and neatly cut lawns.
As you approach the entrance of the Church there is a small sign that points the visitor in the direction of Little John Graves. This grave is huge and lies between two Yew Trees. The headstone is a fairly recent addition as the original was crumbling away. This original headstone is currently propped up just inside the entrance of the Church.
In 1784 two local men opened up this grave and a 75cm long thighbone was removed from the grave. It is said that this was taken to Cannon Hall, near Barnsley, but it has since disappeared. Several other articles that were also reputedly exhumed from this grave at the same time are however still at Cannon Hall. These include a green cap, consistent with those worn by the followers of the Sheriff of Nottingham at the time of Robin Hood.
During Victorian times this Church was restored. The Architect in charge of this work was a man called William Butterfield, who restored the building in a sympathetic way. This work involved the raising of the level of the roof and the levelling of the Chancel floor. During this time new stained glass windows were fitted. These stained glass windows were designed by Charles Kempe and are now one of the focal points of this Church, but these windows are not original to this building. They were moved here from nearby Derwent Hall, which was rather fortunate since this Hall was demolished a few years later to make way for Ladybower Reservoir.
I would certainly recommend a visit to this Church if you are in the area. When I was recently here the doors were open and I was allowed to wander around unassisted. This Church is still used for services and on the day that I visited a Wedding had taken place earlier that morning.
The church is thought to date back to 1381, but was restored in 184952. St Michael and All Angels is one of the best examples of church architecture in the country. Charlotte Bronte stayed at the vicarage here in 1845. The church houses 15 brasses to the Eyre family, which inspired Brontes choice of her heroines name, Jane Eyre. The stained glass in the east window is by the eminent stained glass designer Charles Kempe. It was originally in the Derwent church. When Derwent village was drowned to create the new reservoir, the glass was saved and installed here.