which consists of the villages of Crich, Fritchley and Whatstandwell

Crich Church

by F. Priestly & M. Priestley

Taken from the WEA booklet written to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.

THE ancient Church of St. Mary's rests on the hill top solid and timeless, a tribute to the mediaeval craftsmen who first built her.

It is almost certain that in a settlement such asCrich, a place of worship must have been in existence long before the present structure was built. No evidence of this remains however, except perhaps the re-use of isolated Saxon Stones.

Work on the existing building was commenced at the time of the 1st Baron of Crich in the early 11OOs and consisted of the nave and the north aisle. A good deal of this original Norman structure can still be seen, including the beautifully proportioned pillars and arches. The Capitals of the North Arcade, built in 1135 are square whilst those on the South, built a few years later, are round.

During succeeding centuries much rebuilding and restoration has taken place. The South aisle, the tower and spire, and the chancel were added during the 14th century and now, like many Churches, St. Mary's is a pleasing mixture of developing architectural styles.

Sir William de Wakebridge was a man closely associated with the early Church and it was he who founded a Chantry situated at the East End of the North aisle. His effigy can be seen in a niche in the wall of the North aisle. He lies with a dog at his feet and a Catherine Wheel held to his ear by an angel, now unfortunately almost completely mutilated.

Sir William was a warrior in the early battles of the hundred years war and no doubt fighting with him were men of Crich. Shortly after his return from the war the country was devasted by the Black Death Plague, which took several members of Sir William's family. In 1368 he founded a further chantry possibly at the end of the South aisle. It is likely that these chantries were screened off from the body of the Church and used as separate chapels.

A stone in the floor of the North aisle marks the tomb of a member of the Babington Family. The inscription has almost disappeared, but the name immediately conjures up the romantic but tragic plot to murder Queen Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, to which Anthony Babington of Dethick was a party.

A well preserved memorial stone is fixed to the North wall next to the altar. It shows Germain Pole and his wife Margaret dressed in their Tudor gowns and ruffs.

Margaret who outlived her husband became the second wife of John Claye. He is pictured on a fine alabaster tomb with his first wife, and on the sides of the tomb his five children are depicted kneeling. The inscriptions on the tomb are now almost obliterated due, so the story goes, to the boys of the day school, held in the chancel for some time, who were allowed to clamber over the tomb.

The other tomb within the altar rails is that of Godfrey Beresford. He died in 1513 and he is depicted as a knight in armour.

The family of Claye is also remembered by an epitaph on a board hanging on the North wall of the chancel. Written in Gothic lettering and fading badly it is extremely difficult to decipher. It is a humorous epitaph with a clever play on words and ends "That Claye to dust the winde up dryes, Then this a wonder count we must, That want of winde should make Claye dust."

Within the chancel there are several interesting items; worth noting are the sedilia or stone seats, three in number and used during the celebration of High Mass in pre-Reformation times.

Hidden behind a carved wooden door on the North wall is a squint through which a view of the altar was obtained from the vestry. Above the door, built into the wall is a very ancient stone lectern.

The earliest fragment of stained glass in the Church can be seen in the tracery of the window on the South chancel wall nearest the altar. A crowned head can be distinguished.

Standing in the nave the slope of the original roof can be traced and there is an old beam in the North aisle on which is carved the names of Thomas Shelmordine, the presbytarian minister during the Cromwellian period, and his two Church wardens. This was presumably one of the chancel beams before the restoration of the roof.

Before the installation of the organ there was a gallery from where the choir sang and where the instrumentalists performed for the services.

There is now only one entrance into the body of the Church, that of the South porch, though there have been two others, one on the North side, now stoned up, and the other in the West end of the tower, now replaced by a window. One imagines that three doors might have caused some draughts up on the hill top.

Two fine piscinas can be seen, one in the South aisle and a further one near the communion rails. These were sinks used by the priest to pour away the water used in washing the holy vessels.

The lead lined font is of a very early period and most likely dates from the original dedication.

In a niche in the outside of the North wall near to the old doorway is a tomb of Thomas England, vicar of Crich, who died in 1730. It is reputed that the grave was originally that of Richard Davey, the first chaplain of the chantry, who died in 1370, and that the stone lid was turned over so that the inscription for Thomas England could be made.

In considering the history of Crich Church, it is well to remember the present day custodians who still maintain and care for her with evident affection.

Visitors in this Jubilee Year are especially welcome and we feel sure that they will be well rewarded by the many treasures the Church has to offer.

Frank and Margaret Priestley are comparative newcomers to the village, having moved here three years ago. Their hobbies are many and include rambling, painting, local history and natural history.

drawing of tomb of Thomas England
Drawing by Frank Priestly

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