History of St Peter's Church, Derby

The church, along with three other churches in Derby, is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, around the time of Edward the Confessor.

Until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1137, the church was under the jurisdiction of the Abbots of neighbouring Darley Abbey. The south aisle and Chantry were erected during a rebuilding project initiated by the first curate, John de Crich, in 1338. Despite being extensively rebuilt in the embellished style around 1350, the church maintains Norman characteristics at the eastern end of the church on the east wall of the nave and the arcade responds. Five light windows from the 14th century remain in the south and north aisles. The church is the sole preserved mediaeval structure in the city centre.

In 1509, the steeply pitched roof was lowered, the walls over the nave arcades were lifted, and clerestory windows were added. The chancel arch was expanded, and the east end was truncated by a bay with the addition of a new east window. At the same period, the tower was reconstructed. The bells, a recognisable sound to Derbians, were cast and hung about 1636 and are still in use today, with one never needing to be replaced.

In the late 18th century, galleries were built to the nave, but in 1852, the chancel was renovated and the seats, as well as the impropriator’s (lay rector’s) gallery, were removed. Plaster was also removed, exposing the original roof beams. The chancel and aisles were repaired again in the same decade, and the huge galleries at the west end of the nave were demolished. The south porch was demolished in 1865, and the organ chamber was built at the east end of the north aisle. The west end of the church and tower were completely rebuilt in 1898, with great regard for the existing historic east end of the church. The current church and parish amenities, which include meeting rooms, coffee rooms, an office, a kitchen, and bathroom facilities, were erected to the west end below the tower in 1970.

In 1349, the Black Death struck Derby, killing one-third of the population, including sixty clerics, one of whom was the vicar of St Peter’s.

Robert Liversage founded a chapel for holy service in 1530. Every Friday, thirteen destitute men and women were given a silver penny for their attendance. People competed to be one of the thirteen. The Liversage Almshouses are close on London Road, with the vicar and churchwardens serving as ex-officio trustees because Robert Liversage gave much of his property to the parish poor in his 1531 testament.

In 1556, Joan Waste, a St Peter’s parishioner and blind rope weaver, was tried for heresy at Derby Cathedral. She refused to abandon her beliefs and was burnt at the stake at Burton Road in Windmill Pit.

In 1586, the plague struck Derby once more, this time in St Peter’s parish.

Oliver Cromwell stole an Elizabethan chair that had been gifted to St Peter’s in 1593 around 1650. The chair was miraculously recovered at auction in 1960, and a churchwarden was able to negotiate its recovery.

The British metalsmith Robert Bakewell, who died in 1752, is buried in the graveyard.

In the top vestry of St Peter’s, William Cowper is claimed to have penned the hymn Hark my Soul, it is the Lord in 1768. Click here to view our next article.

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