Written on the 800th Anniversary of St. Edmund’s Church in 1990 by Enid Clarke, the following provides an insight into the church’s history and background.
The Parish Church of St. Edmund, Allestree 1190-1990
The church of St. Edmund, Allestree, takes as its logo the cross, the crown of St Edmund and a yew tree.
That yew tree has stood in the churchyard for maybe a thousand years. Was it the tree under which a missionary monk first preached in pre-Norman times, for the church is dedicated to a Saxon Saint? St. Edmund was King in East Anglia, where he was martyred in 855. Is the yew tree Adelard’s tree, or Adelardestrew (a chapelry of Mackworth) as it was named in the Domesday Book? It is doubtful if we shall ever be sure, but the ancient tree, more than sixteen feet in girth, still stands a few paces from the church, and deep grooves on stones at the base of the tower can be seen, where arrows of yew tree wood were sharpened, when young men did their archery practice in the churchyard many, many years ago.
The church itself, part of the manor of Markeaton, with Mackworth as the mother church, has been renewed at least three times. The first building may indeed have been wooden, for it is likely, because of its Saxon dedication, that there was a chapel here as early as the tenth century. Was it, as has been suggested, at one time a chapel of ease for the monks of Darley Abbey, for remains of the old track up from the abbey still exist between the Vicarage and the Church Hall? Certainly there are solid stone remains from various time of rebuilding.
The church is built of strong local gritstones and has withstood the ages well. The stone may have been quarried from an area once known as the Stonehills, and local quarries were sited at the bottom of Kings Croft and in the woods at Burley.
We have a founder’s tomb near the alter, a stone slab of Norman times (early fourteenth century), incised with a floriated cross and set under a low arch. This was presumably the founder of the chancel, which was added to the earlier nave. But we don’t know the name of the one who was once interred beneath it. It is likely that he was one of the Touchet family, Lords of the Manor of “Allestry” and benefactors of Darley Abbey. The Touchet coat of arms, carved in alabaster, is on the opposite wall of the chancel now, but was apparently sited above the founder’s tomb until the major renewal of the church fabric in the 1860’s.
In the thirteenth century, along with the church of Mackworth, St. Edmund’s was granted to Darley Abbey, and its tithes went to the monastery. Gone are the clerestorey, the singing loft and the three-decker pulpit of earlier days. Gone are the times when, as a chapel of Mackworth, there were no rights of baptism, marriage and burial here. This was until 1596, and it was as recently as 1868 that St. Edmund’s became a parish church. There have, as yet, been only ten vicars to hold the living. The village round the church has grown vastly (especially in the last half century) from 1789 when Pilkington stated “there is about twenty one houses in Allestrey”. A survey of around 1600 even suggested that “Allestree is a small parish and may conveniently be united to Alkmunds in Derby lying near”. Now it has an electoral roll of over four hundred people, and many, many more parishioners come annually for baptism, marriage and burial services.
The bells are named:
- MARY: Sadler, Churchwarden, G. Hedderley fecit Nottigham 1790.
- GOD SAVE HIS CHURCH, 1711
- I TO THE CHURCH THE LIVING CALL AND TO THE GRAVE DO SUMMONS ALL, 1781 Joseph and Francis Sadler, Churchwardens, This. Hedderley founder Nottingham. The weight of this bell is 8cwt, 26 lbs.
The tower also houses a turret clock, with two dials, made by John Whitehurst, of Derby, in 1853. The hour is struck on the tenor bell.
Within the church there are some interesting memorials in the form of wall plaques. These were mainly erected to the memory of the Lords of the Manor, namey the Mundy family (also of Markeaton and Mackworth) and the Evans family. The wrought iron screen was dedicated to the memory of Col. Gisborne by his son, their family being almost the last private owners of Allestree Hall and its estate.
The oak pews were given and installed in 1932-3, and the organ, by Wood of Huddersfield, is dated by its Queen Elizabeth II jubilee crown. The alabaster lead-lined font once matched the pulpit that was removed in 1962 and replaced by the present oak one.
Allestree is fortunate to have records (now deposited in the Records Office at Matlock) dating back to 1597. Earliest ones are on parchment, some in Latin, some in English. They include records of baptisms, weddings and burials and also the accounts which Churchwardens, perforce, have to keep. All these valuable documents may, of course, be viewed, on application to Matlock.
Apart from the founder’s tomb and the east chancel wall, which are co-eval, the oldest parts of the fabric are the doorway and tower. The broad, south, Norman doorway was removed and re-erected in its present position when the south aisle was built and the church enlarged and renovated in 1865-6. In fact, if you look closely, some of the stonework may appear to be in the wrong position - and was there ever a tympanum, within the arch, as in traditional Norman work? We don’t know, but it is certainly a very fine piece of work for the entrance to what was only a chapel at the time it was carved. Here we can see, in stone, the parable that Jesus told of the sower and the seed. Look closely for the ears of corn that bore good seed, in varying numbers, and the evil beaked ones who would pluck the seed from the hearts of those who received “the Word”.
The sturdy west tower, with broad buttresses at its foot, was added to the substantial stone building about year 1200. It was restored early this century. It stands proudly on its hill overlooking the Derwent valley. It is the oldest church tower within the city boundary and, as such, is floodlit at night. There is a nineteenth century stair turret, and the three bells housed in the tower have recently been rung once again after essential repairs to the ringing chamber were carried out.
The late Mr. J. W. Allen, a local historian and churchwarden of this parish (to whom, along with the late Mr. J. T. Ward, I am indebted for some of the above information) wrote, in our parish magazine over forty years ago:
“The church clock has just chimed the hour. For over a century has that chime told the people of Allestree the time; for over two centuries has that bell called them to worship; for over seven centuries has that church tower been a familiar landmark for them; for over a thousand years have they toiled and played, lived and died here...”
So now we celebrate eight hundred years of worship (or more?) in this place. But the story of St. Edmund’s Church, Allestree, part of the body of Christ, is still being written, day by day.
Enid J. Clarke, Churchwarden, May 1990.
Key features and items of interest within the Church of St. Edmund’s, Allestree.
King Edmund of East Anglia was martyred by the Danes in 855 and a church, dedicated to him, has stood on this site since Saxon days.
We take as our crown and arrows of St. Edmund, placed above a yew tree. This yew, over a thousand years old, still grows to the south of the porch and a certificate denoting its age may be seen in the church.
1. The Lych Gate. Traditionally a covered entrance where coffins could be rested, our lych gate is, in fact, part of the war memorial and was placed here in 1927.
2. The Tower. Although the body of the church has been renewed and rebuilt many times, the tower, dating from 1200, still dominates the Derwent Valley and is the oldest within the city of Derby. The clock was built by John Whitehurst in 1853 and three eighteenth century bells are housed in the tower.
3. South Doorway. In the restoration of 1865/6 a south aisle was added to the church and this Norman doorway was re-erected in its present position with some of the of the stonework apparently misplaced. The parable of the sower is represented with ears of corn of varying fruitfulness surrounded by watching devils waiting to pluck “the Seed” from the hearts of the unwary.
4. The Alabaster Font. With its ceramic inscription is, in one sense, the doorway to the Church, for here, through baptism one enters “The Church” as a new-born Christian.
5. The Angel. Little carved stonework remains from earlier renovations but someone saw the beauty of this small figure and incorporated it into the newly restored building.
6. The Lectern. The intricate brass lectern is in the form of an eagle, with outspread wings, resting on an orb. This signifies “the Word of God” being borne out into the world, for the Bible is placed on the eagle’s back. Notice the guardian lions at the base.
7. The Pulpit. This is a simple wooden structure in keeping with the oak pews. Here “the Word of God” is interpreted through sermons.
8. The Processional Cross. Housed in the chancel the silver cross may be found. It is carried in front of choir and clergy at church services.
9. The Founder’s Tomb. Under a low arch is what is known as the Founder’s Tomb. It dates from the fourteenth century and has a floriated cross incised upon it. But who the founder was is unknown. It has been presumed that he was member of the local Touchet family and that it was the chancel, as an extension of the existing church, that he founded.
10. The Coke Memorial. Amongst the many interesting memorials to the local Mundy and Evans families there is one of special significance high up on the south chancel wall. This small alabaster tablet is of unknown date but is obviously old. Until recently it was wrongly thought to represent the Touchet coat of arms but has now been identified as the arms of Coke of Trusley. Another, more recent, Coke memorial is sited above it.
11. The Virgin Mary. Unusual for an Anglican church is the small figure of the Virgin and Child in the Lady Chapel. This has been on loan to the church for many years now.
12. The Cross of the Church of North India. The cross was brought back from India in 1989 and incorporates the symbol of the lotus flower which grows from the mud and always seeks the light. St. Edmund’s Church has a special link with India and the Diocese of Nagpur.
13. The Giraffes. The carved wooden giraffes and other nearby objects were gifts from the Church of St. Edmund at Phalombe in Malawi. The church at Phalombe was built with a gift of money from St. Edmund’s, Allestree.
14. St. Andreas Gemeinde flag. The flag is a gift from our link Lutheran church in Wallenhorst, near Osnabruck. Many visits take place between the two churches.
We hope you have enjoyed visiting St. Edmund’s, coming to a place where Christians have worshipped for a thousand years and more, where a church has stood to bear witness through the Holy Spirit to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We are reminded of the lives of our ancestors as well as the worship and concerns of the present generation. For whatever reason you come, you are most welcome, and we hope that this short guide to the church has added to your understanding and enjoyment.
John Warman, 2000