Family AncestryThere is a very large and extensive graveyard surrounding St Thomas Becket church with burials dating back to the 1700’s. About half of the memorials have been photographed and can be found at the ‘Find a grave’ website –https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1997102/st-thomas-a-beckett-churchyard A catalogue of names together with a map showing the position of memorials was completed in the late 1980’s and a copy is held at the local library in the Town Hall. Marriage, Baptism and some Burial records from the church are now held at the Derbyshire Record Office, in County Hall, Matlock. See https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/record-office/records/what-records-do-we-have.aspx for more information. Many of these records can also be accessed online using a subscription service to Ancestry.com or similar.
Church HistoryThe Parish Church of St Thomas Becket, Chapel-en-Ie-Frith was founded in 1225. The name Chapel-en-Ie-Frith is of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon derivation meaning “a church in a clearing in the forest” so the foundation of this church can be said to have given the town its name. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, the north western portion of Derbyshire was the “King’s Forest of High Peak”. The term “forest” not only included tree-covered areas but also heath and moorland and indicates that it was a Royal hunting ground. The Domesday survey tells us that the forest area comprised what are now the parishes of Hope, Glossop and Chapel-en-Ie-Frith and was included in the much greater area of Longdendale which extended from Glossop as far as the River Goyt at Marple Bridge and Fernilee between Whaley Bridge and Buxton and over to Hope. However, with the exception of a few foresters and huntsmen, very few people lived in the forest. It is recorded in the Domesday survey that there was a church and a priest at Hope but there is no mention of any other church within the forest area. We also know from ancient tithe records that, in the 12th century, the area comprising Chapel-en-Ie-Frith was within the ancient parish of Hope which fell under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry.; As the population of this part of High Peak slowly began to increase, the foresters were allowed to build their own “chapel of ease” in a clearing in the forest which eventually became this parish church. There may have been good reason to build in this spot – an area of high ground in the forest. Although few people lived here, there were ancient roads and trackways which intersected a little further to the east – the Roman roads connecting the forts at Melandra (Glossop) and Navio (Brough near Bradwell) and the Roman Baths at Buxton, known in antiquity as Aqua Arnementiae, crossed the trackways from the salt mines in Cheshire which came up this valley from the southwest. We can say with some certainty that the year of foundation or commencement of building of what would have been a very small church was 1225 because it is well-documented that the original church building was consecrated by Alexander de Stavenby, 43rd Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry on 7th July 1226. The church was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas Becket). Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury and was murdered in his cathedral in December 1170. He was canonised as a saint in 1173 and his tomb became a place of great pilgrimage in medieval England. It may be that people from the distant Forest of the High Peak made that pilgrimage too. The 7th July became a significant date in the local calendar and, until it ceased under the Commonwealth in 1650, was the date for the Great Fair or Wool Fair held on land now occupied by the cottages and gardens on the east side of Church Brow. We keep the date as our Patronal Festival. We have no record of what the original Chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury looked like but we know that it was much smaller than the present church and built on the site of the present Chancel whose walls contain some of the original masonry. As you enter the church, the interior of the building is somewhat larger than might appear from the outside. The church consists of a Nave (the main area filled with pews) with north and south aisles, a south porch, the Chancel or Sanctuary at the eastern end and the tower at the west end above the Baptistery. The internal structure has a unity which belies the fact that it was built over several centuries. There is no doubt that the Nave is of a much later date than the Chancel. It is separated from the north and south aisles by two rows of octagonal pillars which support four arches. The pillars and the wide arch which separates the Nave from the Chancel are all constructed of a pink gritstone which resembles stone which was worked at Crist Quarry in Buxworth. The chancel arch and the first two arches of the nave have been dated to about 1380. All the arches are in the Lancet style usually associated with the 13th century but, in a fairly isolated location, architectural styles would no doubt have changed very slowly and it is likely that the church as we see it today was largely in its present form by the end of the 14th century. The responds of the arches at the west end of the nave rest on two grinning corbels. It is not known who they are intended to represent but they were very much a feature of medieval stone carving. The north aisle was known in medieval times as the St Nichalas Quire or Bowden Quire which contained the pew and family tomb of the Bowden family of Bowden Hall. Nothing of this remains except for a portion of an alabaster slab with evidence of carving. The south aisle was known as the “Lady’s Quire”, a pre-Reformation reference to Our Lady and we know from the record of clergy that in 1521, John Bredbery was referred to as “Our Lady Priest”, presumably serving at the altar in the south aisle. Largely rebuilt in the restoration of 1733, no trace of the “Lady’s Quire” survives. Five large round headed windows were inserted in the south wall, much in keeping with the style of Georgian building and a painting of 1830 shows that they were glazed with small clear panes of glass. One of the windows is now covered by the entry to the south porch. The window arch at the eastern end of the aisle has been partially blocked up and a new archway containing a screen and entrance to the organ chamber was inserted in 1890 when the organ gallery in the tower arch was taken down and the organ moved to its present position. The clerestory or upper windows, above the arches of the Nave, were introduced into medieval churches to bring in additional light from above. The four windows on the north side are in a very early style with deeply splayed jambs. The corresponding windows on the south side have been blocked up and three windows of a more modern style inserted. The roof of the Nave is over 400 years old. Constructed without nails or screws, the beams are bolted together with wooden “throughs” similar to those found in the roofs of medieval barns and old houses. Incised on the tie beam at the east end of the nave is the inscription “H.L. 1599 – A.O.” – probably the churchwardens at that time and also on the same beam “T.T.” more roughly cut which could be the carpenter’s or builder’s mark. In 1889, the walls and roof of the Chancel were found to be in an almost ruinous state and a major restoration took place from 1890 to 1893. A considerable portion of the Chancel walls were taken down and rebuilt, all the old material being reused where possible and the ancient architecture and other features being reproduced. The outline of the old priest’s door on the south side of the chancel, revealed when the plaster was removed from the walls, can be seen on the right hand side as you face the altar – look for the two large stones (quoins) almost 3 feet apart and you will see the outline behind the choir stalls. Both the interior and exterior walls and the roof of the Chancel were plastered and, when the internal plasterwork was removed in 1890, traces of decoration were found but the plaster had deteriorated to such an extent that it was impossible to preserve these mural paintings. Also discovered was the piscina on the south side of the Sanctuary where the priest would have placed a shallow basin to wash vessels used at Holy Communion. As it is in the customary place, it is assumed that it is probably part of the original wall. The choir stalls were installed after 1893. The altar table in the Sanctuary dates from the 17th century. Behind it is a panel of Hopton stone, a very fine limestone, almost like marble, which is quarried near Wirksworth. The war memorial, a later addition erected after the Great War of 1914-18, flanks the altar listing the names of those who gave their lives for their country. The east window, installed in 1923, was the gift of Ernest Bagshawe, J.P. of Ford Hall in memory of his wife, Frances Alice Devereux Bagshawe. Returning to the west end of the church, the tower arch at the entrance to the Baptistery dates from the construction of the present tower in 1731. The marks of the stairs up to the psalm singers loft and the organ gallery can still be seen high on the south side of the arch. Apart from a quaint drawing made in Elizabethan times, we do not know what the previous “steeple” looked like. However, the churchwardens’ accounts record that in 1729, George Platt of Thrybergh was paid £10 to take down the old steeple. The present tower built in 1731 contains a peal of six bells, tenor 11 cwt in G, cast by Abraham Rudhall of Gloucester in 1733. The bells were sent by sea: down the Severn from Gloucester to the Bristol Channel and thence to Liverpool and continued by boat as the River Mersey was navigable at least as far as Stockport in those days. The final stage of the journey by the turnpike road over Eccles Pike must have been quite an ordeal!