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A History of the Church at Derwent

It was the Monks of the Premonstratensian Order (more commonly known as the ‘white canons’) from Welbeck Abbey who first set up a Grange in the upper Derwent Valley. They erected four chapels on various parts of their extensive estates. Thus Derwent Chapel was at first a monastic Chapel serving the Grange. After the Dissolution, the patronage of the chapel passed into lay hands, and indeed at times there was no resident priest. In the visitation of 1597 George Tinker is described as ‘lector’, of ‘Darwyn’. By 1672 the Balguys, who built their Hall at Derwent in that year, had the patronage, and the chapel was used by them virtually as a domestic chapel to the Hall. The font in the later Church at Derwent is known to have born the inscription ‘Henry Balguy 1672’ (the very same year). It seems highly likely that the font was a thank offering to the Church at the time of the building of the Hall.

What has now happened to the font is not known, but another of the treasures of the early Church which has passed down to St. Cyprian’s, is the very rare silver gilt Elizabethan Chalice with cover or lid, now known as the ‘Derwent Chalice’. Made in 1584 in London, it is thought to have started its life in secular use, and it is just possible that it was also the Balguys, and not anyone earlier, who made this gift to the Church.

The Cup itself Is beautifully engraved with figures emblematic of the elements: an eagle for air, the phoenix for fire, the turtle for water, and the orange for earth. The final figure within the design is a griffon, to which no meaning has been assigned. It has been suggested that a griffon might form part of a coat of arms of the donor, however, no family in the Derwent area has been found who bore any of these emblems as part of their Coat of Arms, so the griffon keeps his secret.

The chapel was well looked after by the Balguys and in due time (1713) they applied for some of Queen Anne’s bounty to augment the income of the priest in charge which was only £4 a year. There exists an interesting letter (1717) from a Mr Balguy to the Bishop of Lichfleld requesting him to confer Holy Orders on the Schoolmaster of Hope (whose salary was only £6 a year) so that he could also be priest at Derwent and receive the £4 a year as well!

The pre-reformation chapel, having become much dilapidated, was pulled down in 1757, and another smaller and much inferior chapel built in its place. Sometime after 1783, John Balguy (by this time of Swanwick Hall not Derwent Hall) sold the patronage of the chapel to a Dr. Joseph Denman (the son of a Bakeweil Surgeon called John Denman, who died in 1752). Joseph was born in Bakewell in 1731 and also practiced as a Surgeon at Bakewell, and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1776. He married the daughter of Richard Finney Esq., of Stoney Middleton, and when she became the sole heiress he came to possess the estates which had belonged to the Finney family. Joseph Denman’s son Thomas later became the first ‘Lord Denman’.

The ‘Denman Salver’ is another of the treasures of the Church at Derwent which has been passed down to St. Cyprian’s, it is inscribed: ‘To the Chapel at Derwent, from Dr. Denman’. The silver marks show it was made in 1768, so it may have been donated in that year, but it seems more likely to have been in secular use first and presented to the chapel after Dr. Denman had bought the patronage, and possibly to mark the assumption of the patronage. This seems to be the only surviving connection with the second Church at Derwent. White’s Directory of Derbyshire, published in 1857, traces the descent of the patronage from Dr. Denman through several people in quick succession. Finally the Duke of Devonshire bought it between 1862 and 1878, and retained it up to the time of the flood, when his patronage was transferred to St. Cyprian’s, Frecheville.

The purchase of the patronage by the Duke of Devonshire seems to have marked a turning point in the life of the Church, because it was at that time that the 1757 Church, which Dr. Cox in his ‘Churches of Derbyshire’ says ‘had neither antiquity nor beauty to recommend it,’ was superseded by a third Church. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Cavendish M.P. in 1867 and the Church dedicated to St. James and St. John in 1868, a tower and spire being added in 1873. The total cost was £2,020.

Bulmer’s Directory of Derbyshire, published in 1895 gives a description of the Church as follows: ‘It is a handsome edifice charmingly situated in the valley of the Derwent and forms a harmonious picture from every point of view. It is built in the geometrical style of architecture, from plans prepared by William White Esq., P.S.A. Wirnpole Street, London, and consists of a chancel with aisles, nave with aisle of two arcades, south porch and tower and spire of good proportions. The stone used is red sandstone, which is of a warm and pleasant colour. The windows are filled with geometrical tracery. The roof is open-timbered with tinted ceiling between the rafters. The walls of the chancel are furnished internally and those of the nave are plastered. The chancel is furnished with caned choir stalls in pitch pine, and the nave is fitted with open-timbered benches, which are free to all parishioners (now at St. Cyprian’s). The east window is placed somewhat high to admit the reredos. A Caen stone pulpit of neat design and enriched by delicate carving stands in the nave. Some old 14th century stones, which had been re-used in the erection of the 1757 chapel, have been rebuilt into the walls of the present Church.’ within the parish of Hathersage, but now it was possible to make this fine new Victorian building the Parish Church of the two townships of Derwent and Hope Woodlands. The name of the new parish thus became ‘Derwent Woodlands’.

Then 75 years later came the end - the building of Ladybower Reservoir. The story of the Church building can be recorded in pictures, but what of the people? The last service took pace on Wednesday, March 17th, 1943, and some from St. Cyprian’s were. present. At the time the Reverend Paul Tuckwell wrote:

‘A party of twelve from St. Cyprian's - members of the Mother's Union for the most part - made an expedition to Derwent to be present at the last service that will ever be held in Derwent Church. They went by train to Bamford, and then walked the four and a half miles up to Derwent. Most of them later had to walk the same distance back: so the journey was something of an adventure, and it was so fortunate that the weather was bright and sunny.’

‘The party from Frecheville arrived just after the service had begun, and were not able to find seats. The Church was packed, for the first time, on the evidence of one who was present when it was opened, in its seventy five years of life. For Derwent is not an old Church as some imagine. It was built in 1868, and the Vicar now retiring, the Rev. W.R. Rouse, has been its priest for more than half its history’

So the Church disappeared, the Vicar retired, the people were rehoused, and the area of the parish not flooded, together with all the Church records, passed into the parish of Bamford (which like Derwent Woodlands has been carved out of Hathersage, in 1860).

‘But Derwent Church will have, we hope, a sort of living memorial in the Church and Parish of Frecheville’ wrote the Rev. P. Tuckwell. ‘Materially, at any rate, we shall owe Derwent a great deal. The compensation paid by the Water Board for the destruction of the Church is to be devoted to the building, after the war, of our permanent Church and vicarage, and should pay for the greater part of these. It is proposed also, that the endowments of Derwent shall, be transferred to Frecheville, to provide the Vicar of Frecheville’s stipend. And we hope also, that some of the furnishings of Derwent will find a home, for the time being at any rate, in St. Cyprian’s.’

Editor's Note:  The Church at Derwent and our links with it are commemorated in the Parish Logo, which is shown at the top of the pages on our website and used extensively throughout the Parish. The symbol of the spire rising out of the waves reminds us that St Cyprian's is the successor to St James', Derwent and of the debt we owe to the people of that Parish. The symbol is the basis of a stone carving, given by the Men's Society, over the West Door of St. Cyprian's and which is featured in the Logo for our 50th Anniversary. 

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Last modified: August 25, 2002