St Oswalds Parish Church

There are several churches in Ashbourne but notably the most impressive is St Oswald’s Parish Church, with its 212 foot spire, referred to by George Eliot as the ‘finest single spire in England.’ It is one of the glories of Derbyshire and the tower and spire dominate the town. From the outside it is often mistaken as a Cathedral it is so impressive, rather than a mere parish church, but as soon as you set foot through the door you could definitely be forgiven for imagining its Cathedral like impression – even more so.

Ashbourne Church St Oswalds

St Oswald was a saint in Anglo-Saxon times, who became King of Northumbra in 635-642. He famously brought St Aidan from Iona to Lindisfarne and both their efforts were responsible for the conversion of the Kingdom and the Foundation of the Northumbrian Church. Why St Oswald’s Church is dedicated to this Saint is unknown as there are no other churches to him in the area. It is thought that the reason may be that missionaries from Iona brought the faith to Ashbourne and with it, their reference to St Oswald.

Ashbourne Church St Oswalds

Parts of the church date back to Saxon and Norman times and the East End, which is the chancel, was built in 1160. The chancel is the oldest part of the church and contains 12 lancet windows and the tomb of Robert de Kniverton, who died in 1471 and this memorial marks the place of the Easter Sepulchre. The Kniverton’s held considerable estates throughout Ashbourne in the middle ages and were the founders of two of the churches’ three chantreys, including the Chantrey Of The Holy Cross in the church in 1392. Here there are many fine examples of stained-glass windows and the church houses many alabaster monuments and tombs which are truly fascinating to explore. The Norman crypt was found during excavations in 1913 and there is a very impressive 13th century font.

The church was consecrated in 1241 but building continued on the transepts and nave until 1280, the present period East window being added in 1385 to replace the original lancets. The present day church as we see it today was started to be built around 1340. The south aisle and spire were completed between 1300 to 1350 it is believed, and in 1520 the nave clerestory was added.

St Oswalds Stained Glass Window

There is a peal of eight bells and the new bells which were founded in 1815 by William Dobson were originally hung in a wooden frame. They were re-homed in 1891 in a metal frame and in 1931 teak was used for the first time. There is an impressive bell, which is 21 inches in diameter, called the Sanctus Bell, which was first mentioned in The Inventory Church Goods in 1547.

Remaining untouched more or less until the 1870s, St Oswald’s then emerged into the Victorian era, the time when a high pitched leaded roof to the clerestory in the North transept was added.

The alabaster altar in the church was constructed in 1882, of pieces found during the restoration of the church. It was carved by T.Hardy of Ashbourne and shows intricate designs of vine leaves and grapes. On the North and South projections stand the candlesticks and there are two shields on here which are carved of the lily, which is the emblematic of ‘incarnation’ and passionflower to the emblem of ‘ the great sacrifice.’

Ashbourne Church St Oswalds Inside

The transepts contain two separate chapels dedicated to 2 local families, the Cockayne’s and the Bradbourne’s, who later became the Boothby’s. The Boothby Chapel is full of monuments with the most famous tomb being of Penelope Boothby, who died in 1791, aged just five. The marble figure of the sleeping child is so lifelike, thanks to the skill of the sculptor Thomas Banks, she only appears to be sleeping. It is said she had been able to speak a little of the four languages which are inscribed on her tomb and she was painted in life by Joshua Reynolds. Her epitaph reads ,

‘She was in form and intellect exquisite, the unfortunate parents ventured their all on this frail bark, and the wreck was total.’

Beneath the transept is the burial place of the Cokaynes, the oldest effigies belonging to John and Edmund Cokayne of 1372 and 1403 respectively.

In the South transept there is a dedication of The Great War Memorial by the West door for the Ashbourne men who died in the Boer War. It lists 115 names who gave their lives followed by another 36 names commemorated in a World War II memorial near the north wall . The graveyard of the church has a spectacular display of flowers in the spring but there are very many varied graves dating back years and years with people as diverse as Colonel John Beech Riddleston, who fought at Waterloo under Wellington to ex-French Napoleonic prisoners of war.

The church is a stunning example of architecture and certainly can’t be missed on the skyline of Ashbourne’s horizon. It’s a place for contemplation and prayer today and a historian’s dream come true!