Sunday, 30 July 2017
For most of its 1,000 year life, All Saints has been the main parish church of the city. Although the first on the site was founded by King Edmund in 943 AD as a royal collegiate church, nothing remains from this period, and it is unclear whether it was this or a later church which was rebuilt in the 14th century.
This mediaeval church was roughly the same size as the present building. It had a square West Tower, which was pulled down and rebuilt between 1510-30 in the Perpendicular Gothic style, and which has been a distinctive landmark ever since. At nearly 200ft tall, until elevated to cathedral status it was the second highest parish church tower after that in Boston, Lincolnshire. It contains ten bells, all over 300 years old and one over 500 years old.
It is clear that this mediaeval church was richly endowed, but at the Reformation the College was dissolved and the church became the responsibility of the town. But from the middle of the 17th century the church slowly fell into decline until, in 1723, the Vicar, one Dr Michael Hutchison, took matters into his own hands and began its demolition one night! Thus forced, the town accepted its responsibilities and work on a new church, to the plans of James Gibbs (designer of St Martin-in-the-Fields) began.
Gibbs delivered a large and airy church of classical design, with a nave and matching wide aisles under a arched roof supported on classical columns. The 16th century tower and porch were incorporated into the design, and numerous furnishings and memorials were restored from the earlier building. One of the most notable new fittings, however, was a very fine wrought-iron screen, partly gilded, across the full width of the church, by a local iron-smith, Robert Bakewell.
This the church continued its life as a parish church until, in 1884, Derbyshire became (with Nottinghamshire) part of the new Diocese of Southwell, to take account of the growing industrial population of the area. In 1889 a suffragan Bishop was appointed as Bishop of Derby, which was elevated to a full diocese in its own right in 1927, with All Saints as the Cathedral. To cope with its new role, plans were made to extend the church to the east, although this was not completed until 1965, to the designs of Sebastian Comper, son of the famous Sir Ninian Comper.
Today, one enters via the west porch under the old tower, which provides a fine landmark for this part of the city centre. Immediately you are struck by the spaciousness and light of the church, which is painted entirely in white inside. The two other features that catch the eye are the huge classical baldicchino over the altar (also dating from 1965), and the startlingly vivid blue and yellow stained glass in the only two coloured windows, in the north and south aisles. These are by Ceri Richards, and depict in abstract fashion the themes of All Saints and All Souls.
The monuments are splendid: in the south aisle is an unusual wooden effigy of a cleric, possibly Robert Johnson, who was Sub-dean in 1527. Beyond this is the most famous monument, to Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (1527-1608), better known as Bess of Hardwick. It is a huge classical edifice in black and white marble, with a coloured life-sized effigy of Bess herself (she is buried in a vault beneath). This astonishing woman began her career as a gentlewoman servant, but through four successive marriages became one of the wealthiest (and most respected) women in England.
Her life is the subject of a small exhibition adjacent to her memorial. She was responsible, amongst other things, for the great stately homes at Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House, and her six surviving children became the forbears of the distinguished Cavendish family. Many of these are buried in the vault below. They include Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), who discovered hydrogen and calculated the weight of the earth to within 1% of the figure accepted today. An astounding scientist by any measure, he was also renowned as being painfully shy - as a result of which, many of his discoveries were unrecognised until the late 19th century.
Across the nave in the north aisle is a very fine alabaster monument to John Lawe, another Sub Dean of the 15th century (we don't know when he died, as they omitted to include the date in the space provided for it!). Other items of interest include a Consistory Court, dating from 1643 a canopied chair from which the Archdeacon would conduct ecclesiastical legal affairs. The Chancel is relatively unadorned beyond the altar and canopy, but is flooded with light.
The cathedral has a coffee shop and gift shop opposite in Iron Gate.
Derby Cathedral, 18 Iron Gate, Derby, DE1 3GP