St Michael’s Church
This small village is down one of two lanes off the A52 between Derby and Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The village has a population of only about two hundred and fifty at tops.
WHAT A STRANGE NAME
It is thought that the village name comes from the Saxon word for 'bright clearing' (sirelei) .The first recording of the use of the name Shirley was around 1250 when the Saxon lord Siwallis who lived in Shirley added de Shirley to his name. This family were crusaders and this is where the village pub takes its name ( Saracen's Head) . The Shirley family were granted the title Lord Ferrers and Viscount Tamworth in 1711 after many distinguished years of serving the country. They did live just outside the village in a lovely white house known as the Old Vicarage for years but the house has now been sold out of the family.
This little church I have known well since I was a youngster and U spent many a Sunday church service melting my shoes on the heating pipes that were in every one of the boxed pews. Yes the church still has boxed pews which you have to open doors to get into. It meant that we could play with toys in perfect privacy as children and no one was any wiser. When I was young the vicar was married to one of the Tamworth family and she would sit in the front pew by herself or with her two children. We were always amused by the fact that she was called Lady Penelope as Thunderbirds were popular at the time!
The box pews have very uncomfortable high backs and bench seats and it is believed that they date from the 19th century when eating became included in churches. Some box pews were highly decorated but those in Shirley were fairly plain wooden ones without canopies or heaters until they put in the famous heated pipes which were there as long as I knew the church. They are still there but the heating now comes from other sources so no more melting of shoes.
The church is located on Church Lane in the little village and it was built in the fourteenth century. There has been a Church on this same site since Saxon times, but the present building dates from the 14th century. There were pretty major alterations in both in 1842 and 1861.
Before you even enter the church there are some interesting things to see. Growing out of the front wall is a very ancient tree that has a huge hole in its base, perfect for kids to hide in. It looks like it should be dead but it does struggle on surviving. It has been a source of entertainment for village children for a good many years.
You enter the church yard through sturdy wooden gates and as you walk up the sealed path on your right is a huge ancient Yew tree which has been dated to about 1100Ad. It measure a huge 17’ 9" around its trunk at the 5‘ mark which I apparently how they date these trees.
Also in the church yard is the stump and the base of an old stone cross which is also dated to around the same time in the 12th century.
The church is a pretty building with a long history and many fascinating features inside as well. It was first mentioned in the Doomsday book in 1086 though not much of that building remains. The oldest part is the chancel arch and the oldest bell tower dates around the 1500s. It has two aisles and is in the traditional shape of a cross as are many Christian churches .
Inside the church the first thing that you come across is the stone font which dates from the 15th Century and is made from Derbyhire stone. It is a really big solid font so I don’t imagine it has been moved too often. It stands four foot high and it 2 feet in diameter with a wooden top covering most of the time. The top part is an octagonal shape and has carved crosses around the side.
There are a number of interesting wooden carved panels in the church. One carved panel in the now modernised section dates from the 18th century and has the date 1724 with the initial USC; presumably those of the artist who carved the panel.
One panel has some carved graffiti and because of the graffiti the panel must be older than 1677. This panel may have come from a family pew and survives from the time of the English Civil War and makes for some interesting speculation as to who carved the graffiti and why.
In 2012 major alterations to the church took place and the pews nearest the main door and the south aisle area were removed, a stone floor with under floor heating was laid. During these alterations the panels from the box pews that were removed were placed around the wall and the graffiti panel was one of those saved so all can see it now in the church.
The chancel is one of the oldest parts of the church and as in customary in a Christian church it is at the liturgical east end of the church around the altar. It is typical of the 14th century and has a lovely stained glass window at the end and two smaller ones on the right hand side as you face the altar.
The church has a fine old organ which has been restored but is now in need of another restoration and tuning I fear.
The church has a silver paten but we only have a picture of it in the church. The real thing is on display in Derby Cathedral Treasury. It dates back to 1491 and is the oldest in the diocese so something the parish is quite proud of. It is a tradition that Henry VII gave a paten to every church in England apparently.
While the alterations were being done in 2012 they discovered the remnant of a 14th century altar stone. They have created a glass covered viewing area in the newly opened up area so that this can still be seen. They think that at the time this was the altar the church probably only had the one aisle.
The south aisle area is now all opened out with no pews and used by the village community for various clubs so that the church is actually getting a lot more use than it used to. We have a coffee club every Monday morning, there is an Art club and a History club and others that are slowly forming. There are also concerts and other village activities such as lunches and talks so hopefully the building will get a lot more use.
For those interested in history there are some very old graves on which you can just still read the inscriptions. Both my parents are buried in the church yard; sadly my Dad is not with my Mum as step brother decided to put his mother in with my Dad. So he is with someone he was married to for five years rather than the person who gave him four daughters and was married to him for over thirty years but that is a long story! Things like this will be fascinating to historians in years to come.
So there you are a little tour of our local village church.