Ashbourne Derbyshire

St Oswald's Parish Church

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Arial View Taken By Graham Hobster

St Oswald's Parish Church church with its 212 ft spire was referred to by George Eliot as the "finest single spire in England", and was built around about 1340. The church has more in common with a cathedral, rather then a parish church, an impression that is increased when one enters it.

The present church, replacing earlier Saxon and Norman work, was begun about 1160 with the East End, the chancel. The present beautiful perpendicular period east window was added in 1385 repalcing the original lancets. The church was consecrated in 1241 but building continued on the transepts and nave until 1280.

From 1300 to 1350 the south aisle and spire were completed and in 1520 the nave clerestory was added.

The church was to remain like this until in the 1870's the Victorians gusied themselves. They added a high-pitched lead roof to the clerestory in the north transept, and would have gone on to treat the chancel similarly, but fortunately Sir Gilbert Scott managed to win his battkle with the Parocial Church Council when he wrote -

"If the roof had been modern, as you said, I should have gone along with you; but, though less old than the walls, it is nevertheless of true mediaeval period, and he must be a bold man who would dare to call the period which produced King's Colledge Chapel and those of St George at Windsor and Henry VII at Westminster, by the hackneyed name of 'debased'; a term now applied by students of mediaeval art to any period of its genuine productions."

The chancel is the oldest part off the church and contains 12 lancet windows and the tomb of Robert de Knivetin. There are many fine examples of stain glass windows, the best being one by Kempe showing the coats of arms of Normandy and England. The gateway to the church is also worthy of note set with carved skulls.

The church has many alabaster monuments and tombs. The most famous being that tp Penelope Boothby who died in 1791 aged 5. Thomas Bank's white Carrara marble figure of the sleeping child is so lifelike that she appears to be only sleeping.

The graveyard of the church is also well worth a visit, not only for its spectacular display of flowers in the spring but also for the many varied graves of people as diverse as Colonel John Beech Riddleston who fought at Waterloo under Wellington to ex French Napoleonic prisoners of war.

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Entrance gates
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(the 2 black & white photos date from 1923 and show the replacement cockerel being put in place on the top of the spire - thanks to Olly Moore for the photos. Look carefully at the top of the spire and you can see the man putting on the new cockerel)

The Cockerel

Below are drawings from the Sept. 6th 1873 edition of "The Graphic", showing repairwork in progress to the spire, where you can see the original cockerel being bourne aloft by the vicer, the Revd. E.M.Moore.

The following is a treatese written by Mr. D. Wells of Mappleton as part of a antiquties course, and which he has consented to appear here. (Clicking on a photo will give a larger image)


I have chosen the Parish Church of St Oswald, Ashbourne. Dedicated to St. Oswald, King of Northumbria (died 642), the church was consecrated in 1241. It is Early English in style.

I feel the best way to approach this is to take a thematic approach, St Oswald, Ashbourne is such a ‘treasure trove’ that I would struggle by taking a tour approach given the wealth of materials and the 3,000 word limit of the assignment. Examples of fixtures and fittings are described rather than comprehensively including all.

Unfortunately I was unable to gain access to the belfry or see the items mentioned within the sections entitled Altar Linen, Church Plate and Clergy Robes.


I would like to thank George Shaw, the Verger of St. Oswald for his assistance. George has a deep love and knowledge of the church and local history and a willingness to share this.


The Parish Church of St Oswald, Ashbourne in Derbyshire was consecrated in 1241. Maps 1 & 2 show the location of Ashbourne within Derbyshire and the actual location of the church within the town. St. Oswald has a rich history, with a wealth of interior fixtures and fittings, examples of which I shall briefly describe.


The alabaster altar in the church was constructed in 1882 of pieces found during the restoration of the church. The alabaster retable of the Altar (carved by T.Hardy of Ashbourne) added in 1896, shows vine leaves and grapes and on the North and South projections whereon stand the candlesticks, there are shields on which are carved a lily, as emblematic of Incarnation and a passion-flower as emblematic of the Great Sacrifice. At the same time the cross was gilded and jewelled on four arms.

Altar Linen


For altar coverings, there are four altar frontals. One of these was presented to the church by its maker, Lady Florence Duncombe of Calwich Abbey. Dedicated to the use of the church on 25thAugust 1911, the central panel bears the representation of St.Oswald. The side panels are embroidered with representations of angels supporting sculls with the Ter-Sanctus.

Other items (but not seen) at St. Oswalds include the Chalice Veil, Burse, Corporal, Pall Purification and Lavabo Towel.


In the North wall is an aumbrey which had been the receptacle for the relics under the High altar. It now contains among other things, fragments of ancient tiling.


There is a peal of eight bells. The new bells, founded in 1815 by William Dobson of Downham Market in Norfolk, were hung in a wooden frame. They were rehung in 1891 in a metal frame and in 1931 teak was used. SInce this time they have been rung from the floor of the church addition to the peal of eight bells, there is the Sanctus Bell, first mentioned in the Inventory Church Goods in 1547. The Sanctus Bell announced to the worshippers the Elevation of the Host at the time of the Celebration of Mass. In 1891 it was moved into the Belfry itself. It is 21 inches in diameter and weighs about 2 cwt and bears below the crown the letter’s’ between crosses three times repeated, ( Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy) together with the initials of the bell founder ‘T.N’ on an ornamental shield.

Church Plate

The older vessels consist of;

1 Silver gilt flagon 1645
2 Silver gilt chalices 1840
1 Silver gilt paten 1686
1 Silver gilt paten 1841
1 Silver gilt paten 1873

There are in addition a silver gilt and jewelled chalice and patent, together with two cruets, presented by Mr and Mrs Turnbull in 1903 as a memorial to their daughters. They are copies of Nettlecombe pate.

Clergy Robes

The code for clergy robes are laid down by the ‘Ornaments Rubric’ printed in the Book of Common Prayer. Given the fact that I have not seen them and the restricted nature of this assignment, I will merely list them. They include the Cassock, Amice, Alb, Chasuble, Tunicle or Dalmatic, Cope, Surplice, Rochet, Scarf and Hood Stole and Maniple.


font.jpg Positioned in the West End of the South Aisle (1241). A good specimen of Early English work, though the arcading on it, has the round instead of the pointed arch. It has small fleur de lis between trefoil arches.


lecturn.jpg The brazen lectern was given in memory of Lady Bent

Litany Desks

The two fine wooden Litany Desks are positioned in the tower space. At Litany Desks an ‘asking’ prayer is said in which people take part. Its very position, centrally within the church represents all joining together in prayers for the needs of the world.


The Eastern portion of the North Transept enclosed by the screen of Tudor design is the Boothby Chapel. It includes examples of fine Purbeck Marble and the local Chellaston alabaster and work respected 14thcentury craftsmen Thomas Prentice and Robert Sutton.

Beneath the transept is the burial place of the Cokaynes. The Boothby Chapel has a fine series of monuments to members of the Cokayne, Bradbourne and Boothy families. Notable memorials include those of Joan and Edmund Cokayne ( 1404). Sir John and Lady Cokayne ( 1447) and Sir Humphrey and Lady Bradbourne (1581).

effigies.jpg The oldest effigies are those of john and Edmund Cokayne of 1372 and 1403 respectively, set in a low tomb chest with quatrefoil panels, a fleuron frieze and battlements

Next are those of Sir John Cokayne (died 1447) and his wife on a tomb chest with angels with shields separated by panel tracery. This is badly defaced.

tomb.jpg Better preserved is that of the tomb chest with foiled panels by Sir Thomas Cokayne (died 1537) and Lady Barbara Cokayne. The shields are of families, who were allies

Another tomb with angels bears brasses depicting Francis Cokayne (died 1538) and his wife.

Just outside the Boothby chapel, against the north wall of the transept, stands the last of the Cokayne monuments. Sir Thomas Cokayne (died 1592) and Lady Dorothy Cokayne. This has acted in the past as a reredos.

(The momument can be seen in the foreground of the photograph below the "Benedictus" window in the North Transept.)


The oldest of the several monuments of the Boothbys, successes of the Cokaynes, is the Urn to Ann, nee Cavendish (died 1701).

An elaborate alabaster tomb in memory of Maria Elizabeth Boothby 1758-1805 is featured. It has an elaborate rhyming epitaph. ins.jpg
booth2.jpg Much more famous is the Carrara marble figure by Thomas Banks of Penelope Boothby (died 1793), aged nearly 6. She is said to have been able to speak a little of the four languages inscribed on her tomb

Also in the north chapel are the medieval screen, a painted 15thcentury panel and some architectural fragments, including a Saxon stone with interlace and a Norman stone with chevrons.

Monument Tablets

Altogether in the Chancel, Nave and North and South Transpets there are at least 20 Monument Tablets. An example of which would be the small tablet fixed on a black marble slab to the west wall.

" Here lyeth the Body of Nicholas Spalden aged 63. I.H.S.", and has a carving of skull and cross bones. Nicholas Spalden was a generous benefactor to the town and died in 1713.

On the South wall of the Chancel there is white a cenotaphic monument in memory of Lieut. Col. Phillip Bainbrigge who was killed in Holland in 1799. Another R.E. who fell in the trenches before Sevastopol and was buried in the Crimea.

However, by far the most important tablet is the Dedication Plate. On the South wall of the Sacristy can be found a small tablet of brass, now fixed to a slab of black marble, recording the consecration of the church in 1241. This is a remarkable survivor. The translocation of the Lombardic inscription on the Dedication plate is as follows:

" In the year 1241 after the Incarnation of our Lord on the 8thday of the Kalends of May, this church was dedicated and this altar consecrated in honour of St Oswald King and Martyr, by the Venerable Father in God. Hugh de Patishul, Bishop of Coventry".



Located within the South Transept this fine organ by Messrs. Hill and Son of London was built in 1858 and stands in a raised platform which covers the two fireproof chambers of the Vestry, Registers and the Church Plate.


An example would be the Vision of St Gregory from the 15thCentury in the chapel at St Oswald.

Parish Registers

The oldest original portions of the Registers are from 1604 –1615, 1629 – 1640 and 1655 –1679. I am unaware as to what is still kept at the church as recently many of the Parish Registers have gone to the Record Library in Matlock. I believe the Parish magazines are there too. (see excerpts from the register here)

Piscinae & Sedilia


Within the Sanctuary is the Early English Piscina which is in situ, corresponding in height to the lower floor level of earlier times. The piscina is a shallow stone basin used for washing sacred vessels such as the chalice and paten after the Holy Communion.

The sedilia, with filleted shafts, of the same period, have been raised to their present position. The highest seat ( nearest the altar) is reserved for the priest, the next for the deacon who reads the gospel and the third seat is for the sub-deacon who reads the Epistle.

Of the two divisions of the South Transept, the eastern part was once the Bradbourne chantry (founded in 1483) and in a vault beneath was the burial place of the Bradbourne family. The Bradbourne Memorials were later moved to the Boothby Chapel and this is now the Sacristy or Chapel of St Oswald. On the south wall is a double piscina from the 13thcentury, used in connection with the Bradbourne chantry.


The pulpit dates from 1882. The base is Derbyshire gritstone while the panels are of Derbyshire alabaster and are believed to have come from the old tombs of the Bradbourne family. The grey stones is Hopton Wood limestone and the little roundels are of Derbyshire Blue John. font2.jpg


A triptych was created in 1950, designed by Leslie Moore and the artist was Donald Towner. To the left is St Oswald and to the right is St Chad. Four larger panels from left to right display;

Adoration of the Shepherds
The Resurrection
The Ascension

The painting is in tempera. It is unusual in that the background is of the Dovedale and the Manifold Valley rather than the Holy Land.



The Screen was erected in the memory of Canon Errington Vicar from 1850-72. The idea of the figures representing Baptism, Praise, Prayer and the Holy Communion was suggested by kneeling angles attributed to Michael Angelo, in the Church of San Domenico at Bologna. screen.jpg


Scott erected the Choir stalls in the Chancel to the design of Sir Gilbert Scott at the time of the restoration of the chancel in 1876. The Vicar’s stalls were added in 1926 as a memorial to Canon E.E. Morris.

Two old oak benches were rescued from a local farmhouse and have bold carvings which date from 1480. On the end of one is a linen fold pattern and on the other end the armourial bearings of Ralph Fitzherbert, quartering Marshall of Leicestershire. This is positioned at the East End of the cantoris side of the choir. On the second bench both ends are enriched with some striking foliage and a snail is devouring the leaves.


Sepulchre Tombs

choir2.jpg In an ogival arched recess in the sanctuary north wall is a monument to Robert de Kniverton (died 1471). This is a memorial, which marks the place of the Easter Sepulchre. The Knivertons held considerable estates about Ashbourne throughout the Middle Ages. They were founders of two of the church’s three chantires, including the chantry of the Holy Cross in the church in 1392. This adjoins a 19thcentury memorial, which marks the place of the Easter Sepulchre. Of Early English design it is a memorial to Christopher Harland, the last descendant of the Knivertons to reside in the area.

Stained Glass

Perpendicular East Window


The great perpendicular east window which was the gift of the Kniverton family in the 1390’s and replaced the triple lancets, still retains some of its original glazing. The main part of the stained glass is by the Victorian artist, Thomas Kempe (1896), but the heraldry in the upper part, the coat of arms, which are families

Then holding land in the Honour of Tutbury is, with one exception, mediaeval.

The North Transept

win3.jpg win1.jpg

The 13th century medallions in the northwest Lancet, well set in 19th century grisaille and recently cleaned are the oldest glass in the church. There are representations of the Nativity. The lowest has the golden winged angel appearing to the amazed shepherds. In the top medallion Herod’s soldiers are wearing contemporary chain mail. Among some of the fragments of the 14th century glass set up in the North window of the Boothby chapel one can see a crucify, Christ in Benediction and heads of St Medwin and St Christopher.

The stained glass of the North window, the work of Mssrs. Hardiman and Co., of Birmingham represents the Benedictus (1877)

The South Transept


Here are two windows of very fine tracery – the great Perpendicular light in St Oswalds chapel, and a decorated one over the South door. The stained glass is mainly by Hardiman and Co., but some of the patterned glass in the upper part, including the golden bell, (centre), is mediaeval. The small "Good Shepherd" window high in the west wall, is by the Bromsgrove Guild

Windows of the Nave

The windows on the north side show the transition from Early English to Decorated as the builders gradually worked westward. The most easterly is a good example of the earliest form of tracery. The stain glass is a memorial to A.G. Corbet and is by C.E.Kempe and was dedicated on March 21st, 1902. The window represents St Andrew and St Oswald.

The centre window is a memorial to Neville Beard and is the work of Messrs Percy Bacon and Bros. Of London and was completed in 1910. The window has the central light depicting St Aidan who at the request of St Oswald came and evangelised his rude heathen people. St Colomba (in the western light) from Iona trained and instructed St Aidan. St Chad (in the eastern light) was in turn trained and instructed by St Aidan to administer the great discese of Mercia or Lichfield, of which the County of Derby, until recent years, formed a part.

On the south side of the aisle the windows are of geometrical Decorated design, three of them dating from the beginning of the 14th century.

The most easterly of the windows has fine modern glass given by Mr and Mrs Peveril Turnbull of Sandybrook Hall in 1905. The windows were in memory of their daughters who died in a fire. It is a fine design by Christopher Whale, a pre-Raphaelite artist.

The window is of three lights, showing mediaeval symbolism in modern grace and beauty, and is particularly rich in colour and line. It contains representations of the Virgin Martyr Saints, St Cecilia, St Monica, and St Dorothea. St Monica bears the chalice and a crook and in the distance we see a church. St Dorothea is beautiful with her roses and in the centre light we see St Cecila falling asleep to the sounds of heavenly music, an exquisite symbol of death.


The large western window of the nave is modern. The stain glass, a memorial to the Rev. Francis Jourdain, is by C.E.Kempe (1902) and features St Matthew and St Luke.

The Baptistry window, above the font in the Western Wall of the South Aisle is in Decorated Style. It contains stained glass produced by Burlison and Grylls presented by members of the Wise family in 1872. In the upper portion of the two sidelights, tow angels are depicted, "I acknowledge one Baptism….., for the remission of sin".


The pavement of the Chancel and tower is of tiles reproduced by the Minton Campbell Company from designs found in ancient tiles discovered during the restoration work in 1881. tiles.jpg

War Memorials

1903 saw the unveiling of the Memorial in the South Transept for the Ashbourne men who had died in the Boer War. The Great War Memorial followed by the west door. It lists 115 names of Ashbourne men who gave their lives followed by another 36 men commemorated in a World War II Memorial near to the North Wall. war.jpg

Wood Sculpture

oswald.jpg In the East End of the aisle in the tower pier is a canopied niche, which marks the site of the Holy Cross. It now holds a carved wood figure of St Oswald, (by Jethro Harris).


I feel I have learned much from St Oswald’s and the assignment in terms of ecclesiastical history, church interiors and local history. However it feels somewhat unsatisfying listing items separately and it is important not to view such fixtures and fittings in isolation. The fusing together of all fittings and fixtures, encompassing smell, sounds and light provide a totality of experience spiritual and aesthetic.


Oswald, SAINT (604-642, Maserfeld, Eng. feast day August 5)

Oswald was the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria from 633 to 642 who introduced Celtic Christian missionaries to his kingdom and gained ascendancy over most of England. Oswald's father, King Aethelfrith (d. 616), had ruled the two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Expelled from Northumbria upon the accession of his uncle Edwin in 616, Oswald and his brother Oswiu took refuge in Iona in the Hebrides, where they were converted to Christianity. Edwin was killed fighting King Cadwallon of Gwynedd (in northern Wales) and Penda of Mercia in 632, but the next year Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon near Hexham (in present-day Northumberland). The historian Bede says that he asserted his authority over all the peoples of southern England. The pagan king Penda defeated and killed Oswald at Maserfelth (probably near Oswestry, in present-day Shropshire). The dead king was venerated as a martyr of the Northumbrian church, and it was believed that his remains worked miracles.

Why St Oswald's church is dedicated to St Oswald is unknown. There are no other churches to him in the area, one reason may be that missionaries from Iona in Northumbria brought the faith to Ashbourne, and with it their reverence to St Oswald.
It has been noted that sometime between 1160 and 1163 the pope (Alexander III?) canonised St Oswald (along with a bunch of other English Saints)

See also the excerts from St Oswalds parish records on our history page.

Also a selection of Memorial Inscriptions from Ashbourne, St Oswald's Churchyard and Cemetery, collected and transcribed by Alf Beard

Good photo's and descriptions also at Craig Thornber's website.

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