I am a medievalist in the process of completing a PhD (involving medieval medicine). I travel as much as possible at home (UK) and abroad. I'm always ready for new experiences!
Published August 6th 2014
Behind the scenes look at a unique medieval spire
The skyline of Chesterfield, a town just outside of Sheffield, is dominated by the famous crooked spire of the Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints. The spire is both twisted and bending to one side, which gives it the appearance of the crumpled sorting hat from Harry Potter.
The spire is held to the top of the church solely by its own weight. It's not attached or bolted to the body of the church in any way. Local legend says that a medieval blacksmith attempted to provide new shoes for the devil, but drove a nail through his foot instead. Leaping in pain, the devil jumped over the church and his tail twisted the spire into its current condition. In actuality, it's likely that the shortage of skilled craftsman and labourers after the Black Death meant that amateurs had to finish the job of constructing the spire. It is thought that the builders used wood that had not dried properly, as well as too much lead weight.
Tours of the tower are given by the verger twice a day. The tours typically occur at 11am and 2.30pm, but it is recommended to double check with the church first, as tours can be cancelled due to inclement weather, etc. Tours take place from Monday to Saturday from Easter to Christmas, including summer bank holidays. The tour commences in the main sanctuary. Visitors climb around 60 steps inside a twisting medieval stairwell into the bell ringers' chamber. Inside the chamber, the verger gives a short talk on the history of the church and its spire. There is also a small window to view the sanctuary far below.
From the bell ringers' chamber, the tour continues to the bell tower itself, which contains 11 bells. One of them is on an automated schedule, while the others have to be rung by hand. The original bells dated to the eighteenth century, but were all replaced in the 1940s due to great disrepair and old age.
From the bell tower, there are more steps to climb to the bottom of the spire, which sits on top of the bell tower. These steps are steeper and smaller than the previous steps and the hand rail along the stairwell is also gone at this point, so it is a literal 'climb' to get to the top. The inside of the spire is a fascinating image. There was surely a method to constructing the spire, but from the inside it looks like a wild disarray of wooden beams. The wood inside this spire dates to the mid-fourteenth century. Its incredible that it has lasted for so many centuries and will continue standing for many more centuries to come.
The church is the largest in Derbyshire and worth visiting in its own right. All churches contain unique stained glass creations, but this church has some truly outstanding examples. The tower tour provides a behind the scenes look at places usually off-limits to visitors. There are about 160 steps to climb in total. The cost is £4 for adults and £2 for children. The tour takes about 45 minutes.