Heritage Open Days to celebrate 100 years of Buxton church

Father Currey, the vicar at the time, arranged for his architect brother to design a stone church to replace the tin church. Currey and Thompson were appointed in 1914 to build on land donated by the Duke of Devonshire.
Father Currey, the vicar at the time, arranged for his architect brother to design a stone church to replace the tin church. Currey and Thompson were appointed in 1914 to build on land donated by the Duke of Devonshire.

Buxton’s Heritage Open Days will tell the century-old story of a unique church planned as an idyllic version of England but built in the darkest days of a world war.

St Mary’s, on Dale Road, is a rare example of an Arts and Crafts church, even more unusual because it was built when Britain’s labour force was focussed on fighting or working in the war production.

The laying of the foundation stone for St Mary's Church, Buxton, by the Duchess of Devonshire, in May 1915.

The laying of the foundation stone for St Mary's Church, Buxton, by the Duchess of Devonshire, in May 1915.

Its design represents the idyllic vision of the Arts and Crafts movement in the decorative and fine arts that began in Britain and flourished in Europe and North America between 1880 and 1910. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms, often with medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and was essentially anti-industrial.

St Mary’s foundation stone was laid in 1915, but with the war taking men away, it was recorded that its workforce was occasionally down to one man, a boy and a horse called Fanny.

The church’s ambitious design, with its “eyebrow” dormer windows and steep nave roof, is a far cry from the building it replaced – a “tin chapel” made of galvanised iron and wood paid for by a benefactor from the Mirrlees family who owned the pioneering diesel engine factory in Stockport, as a Christian mission outpost.

When work on replacing it began, the tin church went off to war – recycled as an Army barracks chapel.

Crowds gather for a ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone for St Mary's Church, Buxton, by the Duchess of Devonshire, in May 1915.

Crowds gather for a ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone for St Mary's Church, Buxton, by the Duchess of Devonshire, in May 1915.

The church is built from gritstone which was quarried at Nithen End, now the Punch Bowl Caravan Site on Manchester Road, and was built by a local firm, Herbert Robinson.

A relative of Mr Robinson said the church was built because St James’ Church on Bath Road was “too fashionable for many people”.

Ironically St Mary’s not only outlasted St James, which was demolished in 1955 to make way for Bath Road Health Centre, but also got its organ, built by Brindley and Foster of Sheffield, in 1874, restored at a cost of £10,000 in 1984.

War was still raging when the church was consecrated in 1917, but fittingly the first wedding recorded there was between Alice Webster and a soldier, Samuel Redfern, on June 26, 1918 – a statement of faith in the future.

The war memorial outside the west end of the church was constructed after the First World War. In 2012, refurbishment was carried out by the 73 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers).

The war memorial outside the west end of the church was constructed after the First World War. In 2012, refurbishment was carried out by the 73 Engineer Regiment (Volunteers).

• Heritage Open Days from September 7 to 11 bring together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 free events and 40,000 volunteers each September in a celebration of heritage, community and history.

This year Buxton will be putting on its largest selection yet of events and invitations to tour heritage buildings in the town. They include the Pump Room, part of the redevelopment of The Georgian Crescent; the University of Derby’s Buxton Campus in the Devonshire Dome; The historic Old Hall Hotel, England’s oldest continually operational hotel; Buxton Opera House; and Clowes Chemist, who will take part by displaying its wonderful history inside their historic pharmacy on Cavendish Circus.

Show cave Poole’s Cavern will be the hub for talks and walks on the town’s geology and geography.

Heritage Open Days in Buxton are being organised by the University of Derby. For more details, visit heritageopendays.org.uk.