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Cromford Church History

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Saints & Prophets Resurrected at Cromford !


On April 20th 2002 following a four month closure, the Bishop of Derby led a special commemorative service to mark the re-opening of a rather unique Derbyshire parish church - Arkwright's Church - the quaint village church of St. Mary which stands amidst picturesque scenery beside the Derwent at Cromford.

The village of Cromford, familiarly known as the "Cradle of the Industrial Revolution"? is the place where the "Father of the Modern Factory System"?, Sir Richard Arkwright, built the world's first water-powered cotton-mill in 1771. He later built Willersley Castle and drew up plans for the building of a private chapel nearby.
Fire destroyed the Castle when it was almost finished and it had to be rebuilt, but Sir Richard never lived in it. He died, aged 60 on August 3rd 1792 and Willersley was not completed until after his death.

He was reputedly the richest commoner in the country and thousands attended his funeral, the procession stretching for over half a mile through Matlock to the church of St.Giles, where his body was interred. However, his son continued with his plans and built the chapel near Willersley Castle, which was opened in 1797 and became the Parish Church.

Body Exhumed!

Sir Richard Arkwright's body was exhumed and removed to the newly built church of St.Mary at Cromford, where his remains lie today beneath the chancel.

Other members of the Arkwright family lie buried in the tiny graveyard at the rear of the church, which underwent a major rebuilding programme in 1859. Pointed lancets were added to the flat oblong windows of Arkwright's original design, and the church was Gothicised in the style of the mid-Victorian era, with a magnificent triple-arched portico added at the main entrance, and a clock placed in the tower.

A spiritual revival marked the church's centenary in 1897 and the whole interior was richly decorated with magnificent wall paintings by eminent artist A.O. Hemming.

Prophets & Apostles

Each one of four columns down either side of the main body of the church carried a magnificent painting of either a prophet or an apostle. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel & Daniel decorated the north wall whilst Matthew, Mark, Luke & John were resplendent on the south side.

Each was a gift to the church by devout Victorian church members, each painting costing the equivalent of around five thousand pounds at today's prices. But over the course of the past century the church structure and fabric was badly damaged by water infiltration and dry rot. The damage was caused originally by damp coming in from both below and above; a leaky roof added to the rising damp which eventually seeped through and severely damaged the church fabric. The seeping damp caused a crystalline salt to form in the plaster work, as it dried it mouldered and expanded by chemical process, forcing the paint from the surface and causing the paintings to fade badly.

In some places whole lumps of plaster had come away. Eventually large areas were replastered in the late 1980's - and the wonderful wall paintings were lost. But not forever - thanks to English Heritage, who have footed the bill for a restoration project, believed to be in the region of £165,000.

The programme of conservation work started on the wall paintings in January 2002, and involved careful stabilisation, paint fixing, grouting areas of detached plaster, plaster repair and cleaning to remove a thick accumulation of surface dust, dirt and lime smears.

Over a period of four months a team of expert conservators, mainly volunteers from all over Europe led by Mr.Tom Organ carried out a detailed reconstruction of the missing areas based on photographic records which showed the paintings before any damage occurred. The whole has been thoroughly, lovingly and painstakingly restored and the impressive results are to be greatly admired. It is perhaps worth recording the original dedications beneath each of the Saints and Prophets;
St.John. "In memory of a beloved mother, an offering from the vicar of this parish, 1893"?.
St.Luke. "To the glory of God and in loving memory of Joseph Gould, died June 17th 1889"?.
St.Mark."In thankful remembrance of 46 years as Sunday school superintendent, Alice Parker"?.
St.Matthew. "For the beautifying of the house of God, from the children of the church"?.
Isaiah. "To adorn the house of the Lord and in acknowledgement of many kindnesses"?.
Jeremiah. "A gift to God's house from A.O.H. 1898"? (A.O.Hemming, the original artist)
Ezekiel. "To the glory of God and in loving memory of John Brown.Died March 9th 1881"?.
Daniel. "In loving memory of Nathaniel Wheatcroft who died on Feb.7th 1882 aged 62 years"?.

New Modern Facilities

There's new oak panelling at the rear of the church, behind which lies a new modern kitchen with all facilities, and new toilets. Rev.John Currin who also has charge of Holy Trinity at Matlock Bath is delighted with all the improvements and hoping that the subsequent resurrection of St. Mary's will herald a corresponding spiritual revival within the entire Cromford community, each of whom can be justifiably proud of their miraculously transformed Parish Church.

Rev.Currin said, "All the hard work and generosity of very many people has combined to make the church building a very special place of prayer and Christian witness. The provision of the small kitchen and disabled toilet, and the new central heating boilers make it a much more welcoming and comfortable place to be. There is still some way to go as we want to provide a loop system for people with hearing aids and a ramp to assist with wheelchair access."?

John would also like to see the building kept open as much as possible particularly over the summer period and is seeking volunteers who could help to keep the church properly attended.

World Heritage Status

In recent years a great deal of restoration work on the historic Cromford Mill complex, declared a Site of Historic Industrial & Architectural Interest, has been undertaken. This part of the so-called Derwent Corridor was recently granted official World Heritage Status and thousands more tourists are expected to add to the already burgeoning numbers who flock here every year from all over the world.

Most will visit Cromford Mill and give their time to the various tours, displays, industrial architecture, souvenirs in the gift shop, and refreshments in the café - but will perhaps pay only passing attention to the picturesque little gem of St. Mary's church which nestles snugly between the Mill and the fifteenth century Cromford Bridge. This being the case, most will miss what could be described as an "˜unmissable experience' - for the magnificently restored St.Mary's church alone, is more than worthy of the attention of any visitor to this part of Derbyshire.

This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writer Tom Bates