St. Marys Church, Wirksworth, Derbyshire
The town of Wirksworth is on the very edge of what is known as the White Peak area of Derbyshire. Limestone is the underlying rock which soon gives way to some rich arable farmland along the Ecclesbourne River. It is this location that gave Wirksworth its wealth and importance since the earliest of times. Romans made haste to take their share of Wirksworth rich veins of Lead and for the purity of its Limestone quarried in the surrounding area. More on Wirksworth later….. but first lets concentrate on St. Marys.
For such a relatively small town, St, Marys if a very substantial building. There has been a church on this site since 600 ad. The church you see today is substantially from the 13th and 15th centuries, with restoration works taking place in the 1800’s. It is a Grade 1 listed historic building. St. Marys is in a central location within the Town. Surrounded by an extensive graveyard, which is enclosed by a iron railing fence, and then by the important buildings of the town, such as Grammar School, Town Hall and Almshouses.
Walk inside and it is the size that impresses any visitor, more Cathedral like (and bigger than some) rather than the Parish Church. Layout is of the traditional East/West -North/South Cross shape. A central Tower is at its heart. The Nave is long and high, leading to the Chancel and then to the Altar below the Stained Glass East window. To the right of the Chancel can be found the Lady Chapel.
All under a high timber arched boat shaped roof.
St. Marys is also very special for its collection of stone carvings. These you need to search out as they blend into the interior stone walls of the church. I believe that they were discovered in foundations of the very early church and rescued. They depicted both Gospel events, local symbols and simple graphics. See if you can spot Adam and the Apple…
On the North Wall of the Nave you will find a Coffin Lid. Again excavated in1820 from the Chancel Floor in front of the Altar. Below it was a complete skeleton thought to be of the Northumberland Missionary Betti (circa 653ad)
There is also another famous Stone sculpture. It relates to Wirksworth Lead Mining history.
It is called “T’owd Man“
It the oldest depiction of a miner. Here he stands with his Pick and Kibble (metal bucket).
Originally this stone was located in the nearby church at Bonsall.
The Lead connection and Limestone Quarrying was the heart of Wirksworth for many centuries. The wealth it created no doubt help in the construction of St. Marys. The Town itself prospered. It was granted its Royal Charter, as a Market Town, in 1306. It also was home to the Bar Moot Court or Miners Court, settling territorial mining disputes and other incidents.. Tales tell of ruthless judgements for the guilty. The Town Hall is as grand as any, today the High Street is much as it always has been all surrounded by grand building. A great place to explore, look out for the remains of a medieval Cruck Truss which shows how buildings once were constructed.
In the pics above, note the Covid Signs. Restrictions have eased but traffic and folk were few….. I assure you Wirksworth is still a very busy and active community. Churches have only recently reopened outside of service times, so maybe we will get to glimpse inside some more local churches.
One day everything will get back to normal, till then….
Please Remember ….
Stay Safe …. Be Kind…. Look After Each Other
(C) David Oakes 2021