Everyone recognises pictures of Chesterfield Parish Church with its crooked spire. It has been described as the ‘most famous architectural distortion north of Pisa’. Not only does the spire lean over 9’ from true centre, it is also twisted.
It is the stuff of myth and legend, always involving the Devil. In one story, the devil was resting on the spire with his tail wrapped round for support. The smell of incense made him sneeze so violently, his tail caused the spire to twist. Another story suggests the Devil was so surprised when a virgin bride entered the church on her wedding day that he twisted round in surprise, pulling the spire with him.
The actual explanation is a lot more mundane. When it was built, the spire was covered with wood shingles on a wooden frame. When the shingles rotted, they were replaced by lead, which was plentiful in the area and cheap. About 32 tons of lead were used to cover the spire, on a framework that wasn’t designed to support that weight. The effect of expansion and contraction also exacerbated the problem. The south side of the spire gets all the sun and the lead expands and contracts more on that side compared to tiles on the north side. The differential rates of expansion and contraction caused the spire to twist.
The Romans had a permanent settlement here and may have brought Christianity to the area. There has been a church in Chesterfield since the C7th and records of a church here in Norman times.
King John granted a market charter in 1204 and Chesterfield flourished. In response to this, the old church was replaced by a larger and more impressive building. Work soon began at the east end. By 1234, the chancel and crossing were complete. The Early English chancel with its side altars, is large compared with other parish churches, and is an indication of the prosperity of Chesterfield at that time. The tower with its spire and the south transept were completed by the early C14th, and the rest of the church soon followed in the Decorated Gothic style.
The roof was raised around 1500 by the addition of a clerestory, allowed more light into the church. The west front was rebuilt in the early C16th.
There was some restoration in the C18th when the north transept was rebuilt.
George Gilbert Scott was asked to carry out a major restoration in 1843. He removed the box pews and galleries. The flat plaster roof was removed. New windows were inserted and the west gallery constructed.
Further work began in 1887 after the Rural Dean reported that the fabric of the church needed a very large expenditure of money to make it what it should be, The chancel was in a poor state, glass was old and worn ironwork of the windows needed repainting.
Temple Moore was appointed to carry out the necessary restoration and alterations. He was responsible for the lovely reredos above the high altar in the chancel.
There were later alterations with the formation of a central sanctuary under the crossing and altars at the ends of the nave aisles.
On December 22nd 1961 there was a devastating fire in the north transept thought to have been caused by and electrical fault. This caused £30,000 damage and destroyed the 200 year organ, apart from a few pipes.
The church is close to Chesterfield town centre and is set in its own small graveyard. Trees and surrounding buildings make it difficult to photograph.
Entry is through the south porch with a carving of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child above the door.
The church is open Monday – Saturday from 9am-4.15pm. Tower visits run in the summer months.
The church does not have toilets and visitors are directed to The Spire by Stephensons, next to the church. This serves a range of excellent and cheap cakes.
There is no parking in the church but there are car parks close by. The post code is S40 1XJ and the grid reference is SK 385711
There is more information and a lot more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/east_midlands/derbyshire/chesterfied_mary/index.html