The earliest church that we definitely know of in Bakewell dates from Anglo-Saxon times. However, there were probably Christians here long before then. It seems very likely that there were Christians among the Roman settlers who lived in this area from the second century onwards.
Under pressure from successive waves of German invaders, the Christian faith then largely died out again. But it was brought back to the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in the late seventh century by Celtic missionaries from Northumbria. These pioneering missionary bishops built a number of 'minster' churches across the region as bases from which to carry the gospel to their surrounding area. Bakewell was one of these - its prominent hillside position overlooking the valley of the River Wye must have seemed like the perfect location to construct such a beacon of Christian faith.
Two Anglo-Saxon stone crosses can be found in the churchyard, each bearing intricate carvings. There was an archaelogical dig carried out in July 2012 at Hassop Station to try and discover the original position of the crosses. There are also many other carved stone fragments displayed in the porch, and nearby are five ancient stone coffins.
The Medieval Church
After a further period of instability, this time at the hand of invading Danes, in the tenth century a new church building was constructed on the site of the old one. This was the church that was standing at the time of the Norman invasion in 1066. We know from the Domesday Book that twenty years later Bakewell was one of only two churches in Derbyshire that were wealthy enough to support two priests.
William the Conqueror granted the manor of Bakewell to William Peverel, who may have been one of his many illegitimate sons. In 1110, William Peverel built a new church in Bakewell, and parts of this Norman church are still visible today, especially in the great round arches of the west wall.
About 150 years later, in the mid-thirteenth century, the church building was modernised according to the new Early English ideas. The heavy, round Norman arches of the crossing were replaced with lighter, pointed arches, and the north aisle was widened. The south transept was substantially rebuilt to become the 'new work' or 'Newark'. Not long after this, the chancel at the east end of the church was considerably extended. In the following century, the south porch was added and the Newark was enlarged eastwards. A tower and spire were built over the crossing and, a little later, buttresses and battlements were added.
The Newark contains some splendid alabaster tombs dating from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, monuments to members of the local Vernon and Manners families. Outside the Newark is another fourteenth century alabaster monument, in memory of Sir Godfrey Foljambe and his wife.
The Church Rebuilt
It gradually became clear that the tower and spire were too heavy for the stonework on which they rested. During the eighteenth century, the arches of the crossing began to buckle and the spire itself began to crack. In 1825 the spire was removed, and by this time the whole church building was in a very poor state of repair.
Plans were put forward for a completely new church, but it was decided instead to rebuild the structure that was already there. Beginning in 1839, the transepts and crossing were levelled and rebuilt, and a new tower and spire were then added. At the same time, the beautifully carved medieval font was moved from its position near the door to a new baptistery in the south-west corner of the church.
A few years later, the interior of the chancel was remodelled. A new mosaic floor was laid, and a new high altar and reredos were installed. New woodwork was also added, including a screen and choir stalls including some medieval craftsmanship. The stained glass throughout the church dates from the late nineteenth and early centuries, and includes the famous Henry Holiday 'Lamb of God' window in the north aisle.
More recently, in 1954 the Chapel of St Michael and St George, with its altar by Ninian Comper, was moved to the north transept. A prayer corner has been created in the north-west corner of the church, and the Newark has been enclosed to make a separate space for church and community use. We are currently planning to build a new kitchen in the Newark, fit for the twenty-first century, which will further improve the building and open up new possibilities for the people it serves.
Past, Present and Future
Bakewell Parish Church has enjoyed a long history of worship and service. There have been many changes over the past thousand years, from Latin Mass to the English Prayer Book, from Choral Matins to our contemporary Parish Communion. But our worship of God and our witness to the Christian faith, day by day and week by week, develops and builds on this ancient tradition.
If you would like to ensure that the church will still be here for future generations, please consider joining the Friends of Bakewell Parish Church.
There is an excellent guidebook on sale at Bakewell Parish Church. It contains more information about the history of the church, together with details of points of particular interest.