Updated 20 Feb 2014

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Photo 653


Baptist Chapel 1812-1900

John Pearson most kindly lent me a booklet "Living Stones" by Rev.Jenny Few 1986, which is a history of Wirksworth Baptist Church 1812-1986. The years before 1900 have been typed out below with the author's kind permission.


1. Forward
2. The Early Years 1818-1879
3. The New Church Building - 1886
4. Wirksworth in 1886
5. The Church is the People!
6. Into the Twentieth Century
7. Years of Progress: 1905-1914
8. The Great War: 1914-1918
9. The Post War Years: 1918-1926
10. Years of Change: 1927-1943
11. Difficult Years: 1943-1951
12. The Long Interregnum: 1951-1973
13. The Church is reborn: 1973-1982
14. The Present and the Future: 1982-

Architect's picture, with appeal for subscriptions about 1883.
The Baptist Chapel, Wirksworth 1905

The Baptist Church is on Coldwell St, opposite North End and next to St Mary's Vicarage.

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    On March 15th 1886, the new Baptist Chapel in Wirksworth was opened. It seemed a good idea, as we celebrate the centenary in March this year, to find out what has happened in the intervening years, and also to trace the story from the start of the church in 1818.

    In many ways the story is a very ordinary one: the ups and downs of a smallish church in a Derbyshire town. There have been few dramas. But it is the story of ordinary men and women whose lives have been touched by the Living God and who have strived to serve Him in His church to the best of their ability, and as such it is a story well worth telling. In his First Letter in the New Testament, Peter says that Christians should be like "Living Stones", built up together into a "Spiritual Temple", and I have tried in the book to emphasise the people as well as the building. From the earliest days there have been some real "saints" at Wirksworth Baptist Church and I wish I had the space to write their personal testimonies: I hope I have been able to give glimpses of their faith and love for their Lord.

    A lot of the information has come from the Church Minute books which are intact for the whole period covered by the book. Some of them are excellent minutes, full of detail and also legible! Others are just the opposite. I have tried my best to be accurate in every detail, but if there are any mistakes, I apologise in advance. The research reinforced my belief in the importance of good record keeping!

    I would like to thank several people who have helped me: Mr Robert Few, Mrs Myra Collis, Mr John Butlin, Mrs Andrea Phillips, Mrs Jean Radford, and Rev. T. Budge, E.M.B.A. Archivist. Thank you also to Mr Gavin Muschamp for the cover picture and the illustrations on page 82. Thank you to the Community Education Department of the Anthony Gell School, Wirksworth. Lastly a special thank you to the late Mrs Ida Thompson whose sure faith and keen memory inspired me initially.
    Jenny Few
    January 1986

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    The Early Years 1818-1879
    On August 2nd 1812, a Baptist preacher from Quarndon, Mr Joseph Barrow, came to Shottle and preached a sermon in the home of Sarah Jackson. He attracted a keen group of worshippers around him and after several weeks started holding regular services in the local school-room on Sundays.

    This was the start of Baptist witness in the area. During the next few months Mr Barrow travelled to Wirksworth and several other surrounding villages, preaching and establishing local groups. His ministry was blessed abundantly by God "to the good of many precious souls".

    He was originally connected with the Baptist Church at Duffield, but in the succeeding years spent more of his time with the growing fellowships at Wirksworth and Shottle. As a result, in 1818, he left Duffield: and the churches of Wirksworth and Shottle came into being as separate congregations.

    The earliest recorded minutes for the Wirksworth church, dated June 19th 1818, read "Agreed that Brother George Malin of Shottle, and Brother William Smith of Stonebridge act in the capacity of deacons". It was a business-like start!

    The following year, the church invited John Richardson from Ticknal to preach, and it is recorded that at a meeting on December 25th(!) they "unanimously agreed that we give Brother John Richardson a pressing invitation to come and reside amongst us". He accepted the invitation and stayed till 1835.

    The building used by the Wirksworth Baptists from 1818 was not very suitable for its purpose. No picture exists of it, but this is how it is described: "Underneath was a stable; the approach was very objectionable: an uncovered flight of steps led to the room; and a grocer's shop prevented it being see". There is no indication of its size, but it is known that there was a gallery as well as the main body.

    So this was the house of prayer in which the early

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    Baptist worshipped and flourished. A Sunday School was soon established and more deacons were elected to support the minister. Mr Richardson was not supported financially by the church as he had secular employment. The church started to support the Baptist denomination very early in its history by sending donations to the local association and sending delegates to the area meetings. (The Midland Association of General Baptist Churches was the fore-runner of the East Midland Baptist Association, which did not come into being till 1892). Locally the church saw itself as a missionary venture and, in the first few years, several preachers went out Sunday by Sunday to the neighbouring villages, particularly Middleton, Cromford and Bonsall. The response was good everywhere they went, especially in Bonsall. In 1822, Brother Job Worthy was asked to visit the owner of a piece of land "suitable to build a chapel on, and try to purchase it". The following year a committee was set up to make the necessary arrangements, and a chapel was built.

    In the other villages, services were held in a suitable room or hall. In Middleton, Mr John Spencer hired out a room for £1.5s In Shottle the church used a barn: "the Baptists were upstairs and the cows downstairs, so that sometimes the lowing of oxen could be heard during services". As the years went by, people from Ashleyhay, Middleton, Cromford and other places came to Wirksworth to worship, so there were three separate fellowships - Shottle, Bonsall and Wirksworth - forming a Baptist Church together.

    That they regarded themselves as one church is clear from the way they organised themselves. They shared their ministers and preachers and held joint church meetings. Deacons with particular responsibility for one of the churches were elected at the Annual meetings, which were frequently held on Christmas Day. Wirksworth was the largest church and was regarded by the other two as the parent body. In the Membership Book, the church is called "Baptist Church of Wirksworth, Shottle, Bonsall etc." until 1879! The group organisation seemed to work successfully for most of the time.

    Many people were baptised during the early years and the minute book records that "there shall be a meeting in the morning of the Baptismal day at half past eight to give a little advice to the candidates previous to their admission; and that the practice be continued". Baptismal services were usually held on a Saturday or weekday. The minutes also make clear the church's position on infant baptism: "any member taking their children to the font to be sprinkled in accordance with the practice of the Church of England shall be liable to exclusion, because it is

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    obviously unscriptural and tends to set aside the ordinances of Christ".

    The earliest membership list dates from 1813, and records the names of Joseph Barrow, his wife Martha and another man from Quarndon, John Slack. Between August 1st 1813 and May 1818, there were 70 baptisms. The total number up to 1835, when Mr Richardson left, was 359. The church was therefore thriving and the members were aware of God's blessing upon them.

    Many decisions affecting the organisation and conduct of the church were made in the first decades. By 1824 there was a group of trustees and several more deacons (who were chosen by ballot). The members were urged to commit the matter to the "Great Head" in prayer and then write their choice on a piece of paper. "These all were then thrown together and afterwards sorted and the highest numbers be considered as the person elected". Membership was a serious commitment and there are several instances of members being dismissed for improper conduct. The church disapproved of people being members of the Church of Christ and of the Society of Oddfellows at the same time. (The person concerned was not expelled from the church however as the deacons could not agree about it, and the matter was referred to the Midland Conference).

    The church also disapproved of the practice of Christmas singing "as being unscriptural, and highly unbecoming those who profess to be Dissenters".

    Some members were erased from the church roll or excluded from membership and some left of their own accord. There were several who left to join the Congregationalists or the Plymouth Brethren or even "the Church". Several were also restored to membership after a time of exclusion. Rules of membership were evidently stricter than they are now. A close watch was kept by the deacons on church attendance, particularly attendance at communion services. Perhaps the fact that pew rents were paid in those days had something to do with this!

    After Mr Richardson left in 1835, he was succeeded by Mr Underwood, who stayed till 1841. These were years of great enthusiasm and outreach, and Wirksworth, together with other South Derbyshire churches, met to encourage baptists in the north of the county. As a result of this zeal, and with financial assistance also being given, the Baptist church in Chesterfield came into being at this time. (It is noted that this was an unusual procedure:- small village causes helping a church in a larger town. Nowadays it would be the other way round). Mr Kenney, who succeeded Mr Underwood, visited Chesterfield frequently

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    to preach and encourage the church. He was held in high esteem by the Chesterfield Baptists.

    In 1848 Mr Stannion from Derby became minister, and he and his wife Rebecca enjoyed a fruitful ministry. The total membership shortly after he left in 1856 was 186. During his ministry a plot of land was purchased on North End for £140 for use as a place of burial "according to the dictates of our conscience and by our own ministry".

    Mr Thomas Yates from Hugglescote, Leicestershire, succeeded Mr Stanion in 1854, and he did much to improve the organisation of the church: with more regular lists of members revised frequently. Regular minutes of meetings were kept. The church was in a healthy and vigorous state during his ministry, although never well-off financially.

    After he left, the church was served by several ministers who stayed only a short while. In 1879, the Rev.Caleb Springthorpe from London was invited to become minister at an annual salary of £120. It was during his ministry that the new chapel was built.

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    The New Church Building - 1886
    In 1877, the Baptists at Shottle were given the opportunity to build a new chapel when the owner of the barn, the Duke of Devonshire, wanted to pull it down. After several anxious visits by Shottle and Wirksworth deacons and a lot of correspondence, the Duke granted a new site for a chapel together with a donation of £50. The chapel was built at a cost of £300.

    This venture at Shottle must have had some influence on the Wirksworth members, who perhaps began to look at their building and wish for something better! Mr Springthorpe was very keen on the idea of a new church, but nothing could be done until the grocer's shop and house in front had been bought by the church. This was not easy because the property was owned by a minor in her teens and a tenant, Mr Palin, lived there. However, advice was sought and eventually the shop was bought for £500 (which was exactly twice what it had been sold for in 1836).

    At this point in the story, the Spencer family begin to figure prominently. Mr Robert Spencer and his wife Mary retired to Wirksworth from Manchester in 1871, and joined the church. He became a deacon and when he died in 1882 he left a legacy of £500 to the church. His brother George, trustee of his will, began to take an interest in the church's plans and offered much valuable advice and assistance during the next few years. The will states:

    "....that my trustees shall pay a legacy of five hundred pounds at any time after my decease when and as my said trustees or parties entitled, to the dwelling house and shop and premises adjoining the Baptist chapel at Wirksworth aforesaid recently contracted to be purchased shall deem it requisite and proper to take down, alter or improve and thereby also alter, enlarge and improve the Baptist chapel adjoining thereto."

    It was this legacy which enabled the church to rebuild completely; rather than altering the existing premises. An architect, Mr Wallis Chapman from London, was invited to draw up plans and a local firm of builders, Messrs Walker & son, were engaged to do the building.

    A picture of the chapel, together with an appeal for subscriptions, was published and widely circulated. The

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    estimated cost was £2,200. At the time of the appeal, £400 had been raised by the church, £250 was in hand from bazaars, making a total of about £1200 (including the legacy) The appeal concluded with these words: "Men, brethren and fathers, hear ye this our first and earnest appeal for help!"

    In 1884, Rev Springthorpe was Chairman of the Midland Conference of Baptist Churches and in this capacity he visited many churches in the area, preaching and appealing for money.

    Early in 1885, Mr Palin left the shop and the last services were held in the old church. These took place on Sunday, March 22nd, and the occasion must have been tinged with sadness for many of those present. Six people who had been members for more than 50 years were there. They were:

    Samuel Jennens, baptised in 1818
    Henry and Hannah Taylor, baptised in 1823
    John Worthy, baptised in 1826
    Mary Houghton, baptised in 1829
    William Hatfield, baptised in 1833

    Several people were baptised at the last service: Mr and Mrs Poyser, Hannah Potter, Mr Lavidge, Elizabeth Wain, James Hatchett, Eva Potter, Betsy Land, Anna Marie Waywell and Emma Frith.

    So the old building came down and work began on the new. It was constructed of stone from Black Rocks quarry and Mr Andrew Bridge's quarry, Matlock. Plans were made for the opening to be held in February 1886, but it soon became clear that it would not be completed on time. The church decided to impose fines on the contractors if there was any unnecessary delay!

    In May 1885, the foundation stones were laid by Mr William Richardson; Mr Thomas Spencer, nephew of Robert Spencer; Mr John Keys, from Derby; and Mr A Y Springthorpe, who was the minister's son and lived in London. The Derbyshire Times reported this event, and it is worth quoting it at length:

    NEW BAPTIST CHAPEL - Memorial Stone Laying
    "A ceremony which appeared to excite a very
    considerable degree of interest took place in
    Coldwell St Wirksworth on Monday last at 2.30. The
    thoroughfare was nearly blocked up by a large crowd,
    and there were dotted about ladies and gentlemen
    whose evident interest in the proceedings was
    unmistakeable. There were many others who showed by
    the serious earnestness with which they listened to

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    what was going on that they had not joined this large
    crowds simply from motives of curiosity. The crowd
    was seemly, well ordered, quite befitting indeed the
    serious, very important occasion which had brought
    them together. It is always a subject of
    gratification to find places for religious worship
    springing up in any town, and it must have been a
    proud moment for the minister and members of the
    Baptist denomination to see such a gathering".

    Details of the procession from the Town Hall follow, and then the speech made by Mr Starkey, Church Secretary, is quoted:

    ".......We shall have accommodation for as many in
    the new chapel without a gallery as we had in the old;
    besides which we shall have a schoolroom and classrooms
    and two vestries, a lobby for conversation, and indeed,
    every apparatus for a church all alive. Not a penny
    will be wasted. No towering spires will salute the sky
    for we cannot afford them even if we wanted them. No
    painted windows will dim the light. Indeed, utility
    and economy will rule throughout. We shall have a real
    home for Christian hearts, a good drill-ground for
    Christian soldiers, and a good-sized auditorium for
    preaching the glorious gospel of the Blessed God in all
    its glorious breadth and fullness."

    A bottle was deposited under one of the stones, containing copies of the General Baptist magazine, some coins and a programme of the last service in the old building, together with a list of all who were there. A silver trowel with an ivory handle was used for the stone-laying. There was a ceremony for the Sunday School children too, and several of them carved their initials in the plinth. Tea at the Town Hall followed and was attended by visiting ministers, Members of Parliament and the Mayor and councillors. The Derbyshire Times reporter approved of this large gathering, which "would do credit to any religious community". Addresses were given by eight people, including the minister and the senior deacon, Mr William Hatfield.

    After this excitement, the church returned to the more mundane task of fund-raising and making plans for the interior decoration of the new church. An elegant gas chandelier was designed by Mr Chapman. Services were held at the Town Hall and mid-week meetings at the British School, of which Mr Starkey was the Headmaster. In November 1885, two more memorial stones were laid in the partially-completed vestibule, by two members of the Malin family from Shottle.

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    In January 1886, the church decided to install a pipe organ to replace the harmonium used in the old chapel. Mr Starkey and Mr Clark were empowered by the members to buy the organ from Mr J Porrit, organ builder, of London Rd., Leicester, for the sum of £130. This was not fully installed for the opening ceremony, but was in full use a few weeks later. The opening was arranged for Monday, March 15th, with a service followed by a Public Tea, tickets 1s each or 6d for children. (All the workmen were given a free ticket.) Guest preacher for the occasion was Rev Dr J Clifford from London.

    Once again, the Derbyshire Times reported the event approvingly:

    Opening Ceremony of Baptist Chapel

    "(The chapel) is a graceful and well-proportioned edifice in the gothic style. The floor is raised from the pulpit and the seats are fixed octagonally so all will be able to focus attention on the preacher without straining. This is a reform to which more attention should be paid in all modern religious structures".

    The church members were also delighted with their new building. It was deemed "commodious, handsome and suitable for all the needs of the congregation and Sunday School". The printed programme for the opening ceremony included the words of the Te Deum:

    We praise Thee, O God;
    We acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
    All the earth doth worship Thee,
    The Father Everlasting

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    Wirksworth in 1886
    The new chapel was opened at a time when the town of Wirksworth itself was undergoing a "face lift". with several other notable new buildings being completed about the same time - reflecting the national confidence of Queen Victoria's England

    The Town Hall was built a decade before, its foundation stones having been laid during Wakes Week, September 1871, amidst great celebrations, with processions, flag waving, etc

    The Cottage Hospital, on Greenhill, was a source of great pride for the townspeople and was generously supported by several of the wealthier families of the town.

    Undoubtedly the greatest improvement for the town in the second half of the 19th Century was the coming of the railway in 1865. The line, linking Wirksworth with Duffield and Derby, was greeted with great celebrations on its opening day, with processions and parades, a public luncheon at the Red Lion and games on the Hannages. It was a triumph for the people of the town, who had worked hard to get the line built. For the ordinary people of the town, it became the main link with the outside world. Apart from the High Peak at Steeple Grange, the only other means of transport available was the road: a slow and hazardous prospect. There was a public carrier service, and some goods were moved by waggon, but the railway was a great boon to tradesmen and passengers alike. (The line closed as a passenger link in 1947).

    A book written shortly after 1900 comments that at the end of the century, there had been a lot of improvements to the amenities in the town - besides the railway. There was now a better water supply to all parts; gas lighting had been installed in the streets; and the roads themselves had been remade and improved. There was an excellent postal service - 3 deliveries per day and one on Sundays! There were 3 banks in the town.

    At the beginning of the century, the main occupation for the townspeople was still the lead mines, but these gradually declined and closed during the 1800s. Work in the limestone quarries and tape mills replaced the lead

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    mines, so that the pall of smoke which overhung the town from the lead smelting was replaced by a cloud of limestone dust!

    Of course, farming was an important job for many people in the outlying areas and the weekly market was a lively, thriving place: meeting in the old Market Place, a much larger area than it is now that Harrison Drive has been cut through.

    As well as the British School on Chapel Lane, there was the National School on North End, built in 1851 at a cost of £1,457 3s 4d. (This is now Mrs Tucker's Infant School). The Anthony Gell Grammar School occupied an elegant building in the church close. The Church of England School on North End - now for infants - was built in 1896.

    There were many places of worship in the town in 1886. One writer of the time comments "no town in England for its size is better represented with non-conformist churches than Wirksworth". The Congregationalists were the oldest establishes, their church being rebuilt in 1866 on the site of a much older Presbyterian chapel dating from 1700. This building is reputed to have had shutters at the windows, so that the worshippers could meet in secret.

    There were three Methodist chapels: Wesleyan on Chapel Lane; Primitives in the Dale; and United Methodists on St. John Street. A Temperance Hall was built in 1860, and became the home of the Salvation Army; the Church Army had premises in the Dale; and the Moot Hall, built in 1814, was used by the Brethren.

    Dominating the town, then as now, was the Parish Church of St Mary, built over several hundred years in all the main architectural styles. Some restoration work was carried out in 1877 by Sir Gilbert Scott.

    So the new Baptist Church took its place with all the other places of worship and earned the description as the "prettiest of all the places of worship in the town".

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    The Church is the People!

    The Christian Church is not primarily the building, or even the organisation, but the people who meet together for worship. So, who were the people who belonged to the Baptist family in 1886? There were about 80 members at this time, some of them from families which had been associated with the church from its beginning. Inevitably, there is more in the church records about the officers than other members, so we can take a closer look at some of them.

    Mr John Henry Starkey was Church Secretary from 1874 till 1924. He and his wife, Catherine, moved from Coalville, Leicestershire, in 1871. Mr Starkey was Headmaster of the British School, Chapel Lane (where the Glenorchy Centre now is). They lived at "Middle Peak View", Cromford Rd, and both were in their late 30s in 1886. Mrs Starkey devoted herself to the poor and needy in the town and "exercised a ministry of quiet devotion among them". They had 2 adopted children living with them, James and Minnie Hatchett, both of whom later became Church members. James became church organist and treasurer and he worked as a bank clerk in Derby. He was one of the group baptised at the last service in the old building, as was the Starkey's live-in maid, Annie Marie Waywell.

    Mr Robert Spencer, who left the legacy of £500, lived at 16, St John's St with his wife, Mary. He had been a successful tradesman in Manchester before retiring to Wirksworth, and he was 90 when he died.

    The Church treasurer, Mr Samuel Allsopp, was 70 and lived with his wife, Ann, at 15 St John's St. He was a joiner by trade. They had one daughter, Sara, and a grand daughter, Emma Frith, who later joined the church. Two families of Allsopps lived on North End. Mr John Allsopp was a sadler, and was baptised in 1877. There is a note next to his name in the membership book: "to be seen by the minister", which sounds ominous! His wife was not a church member. In the other family, the parents did not belong to the church but several children and grand children were baptised in later years.

    Deacon Isaac Land lived at Millers Green and was a joiner. He was in his fifties, and had two children,

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    Bertha, who worked as a maid, and a teenage son, John

    Another large Land family lived at Bolehill. John Land, a lead miner, was a deacon and his wife Martha was also a church member. They were both in their fifties in 1886, and had 9 children living at home. Three sons became lead miners, another was a factory hand and another an apprentice stone mason. Several of them joined the church, including Samuel, who was church treasurer for many years. He became a draper, owning a shop in the Market Place where the chip shop now is. Other members of the family were connected with the Pentecostal Church, and more than one became a minister of a free Evangelical Church. They were also a very musical family, singing in the choir and providing soloists for special occasions.

    The Minister in 1886, Rev Caleb Springthorpe, lived with his wife, Ann Marie, at 47 North End. They had at least one grown-up son who lived in London.

    The Taylor family was very prominent in the church at this time and continued to be so until the 1950s. Mr Thomas Taylor, a master mason, lived at 28, West End. He was a deacon and local preacher and his wife, Jane, was also a church member. They were baptised in 1850. Their two sons, John and Henry, also joined the church and John in particular played a leading role as a deacon. He is warmly commended by the church as the "worthy son of sainted parents". Further up West End lived Henry Taylor, a retired stone mason, and his wife Hannah. They had been church members for 50 years and sadly they both died in 1886, shortly before the new building was completed. Other branches of the Taylor family lived at Warmbrook and the Dale.

    William Hatfield, Sunday School Superintendent, also lived at West End. He was a tailor by trade.

    George Malin was a local preacher and it was his two sons who laid the memorial stones in the vestibule. His ministry was particularly in the villages. Many members of the Malin family belonged to the Shottle Church, and it is a name which occurs throughout the church's history. Samuel Greatorex was also a member of the church at Shottle and was a deacon and local preacher. It was said of him: "his robust Christianity would not conform to what he believed unscriptural".

    Other families associated with the church were the Friths, the Goulds, the Barkers, the Beestons, the Clarks and the Richardsons. Most of the members were natives of Wirksworth, with only a few moving from other towns. Most entered the church by baptism, rather than the profession of faith, and for most it was death that separated them from

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    it. A few younger people left the town in the early 1880s, but it was not until the early years of the 20th Century that the population became significantly more mobile. There seems to have been a good cross-section of the community in the church, ranging from professional people to master craftsmen and labourers. There were a few shopkeepers too and quite a number of young women worked as domestic servants. Several members also worked on the railways. Very few travelled outside the town to work.

    In addition to the members, there were many people who attended services and supported the church on special occasions. The tape mill owner, Mr George Wheatcroft, was a friend of the church; as was Mr Joseph Wheatcroft, JP., who donated £100 to the building fund.

    These then were some of the people in the Baptist family in 1886; and we shall meet many more as the story goes on.

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