A brief look at Steetley Church

Were taking a brief look at the important Norman church at Steetley, courtesy of our Derbyshire VCH volume III – ‘Bolsover and adjoining parishes’. It’s well worth seeking out this attractive building.

Clearly in a ruinous state, this engraving of Steetley church appeared in the Lyson brother’s ‘Magna Britannia’, volume V of 1817.
Steetley church on12 October 2021. Note the heavily restored porch and the window mainly inserted in the 14th century (but restored in the 1880 restoration), which replaced two smaller Norman lights.

Our illustrations here are taken from Lysons’ 1817 Magna Britannia (volume V). These were based on measured drawings.

The chapel, in the north east of Whitwell parish, was built by the Brito family, who held a free tenement there in the 12th and 13th centuries. They also probably had a manor house situated adjacent to the chapel building. In 1323 the estate included a 1-acre plot on which a capital message had once stood.

A priest’s house was noted in about 1200. It is clear that Steetley is the unnamed chapel of Whitwell noted in 1291.

The chapel probably went out of use sometime before 1531. It was in use as a barn in 1636 and into the early 19th century. By the time the Lysons brothers wrote about it in 1817 the nave was roofless.

But antiquarian interest was increasing. The apsidal east end was restored in around 1840 for the earl of Surrey. Worksop based Robert White published a set of measured drawings and a photographic survey in 1860. In 1873 the British Archaeological Association visited. They made recommendations to roof the nave and further preserve the building. In 1875 a service had been held in the still ruinous chapel, but rebuilding was being discussed.

Another plate from Lysons’ 1817 book. The apsidal chancel can be seen. In his 1953 book ‘The buildings of England, Derbyshire’, architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as ‘by far the richest example of Norman architecture in Derbyshire’.
A similar view to the 1817 plate above, this, though, is taken on 12 October 2021.

Five years later a restoration scheme was carried out by JL Pearson. Re-consecrated by the Bishop of Lichfield, it was said that the chapel had been ‘restored for the use of colliers’ (presumably those working at Steetley colliery). As any previous dedications were unknown it was dedicated to All Saints. From this date (1880) the building was used regularly for worship. It is still open for worship today, with accommodation for 60.

A further scheme of restoration was carried out in 1986-9.

An Anglo-Norman grave slab is present in the church.

You can find out much more in our VCH Volume III including a manorial history of both Steetley and Whitwell.

One of two interior photographs that appeared in JC Cox’s ‘Notes on the churches of Derbyshire, volume I, Scarsdale Hundred’ of 1875. This view is looking towards the apsidal chancel, which is at the far end . This part of the building is clearly roofless at this date.
The south doorway to the nave was heavily restored in 1880, with five orders instead of the former three.
Detail from the south doorway. As might be expected the exterior stone-work has suffered from erosion.