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Sub-Dean Johnson, Derby Cathedral | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Sub-Dean Johnson, Derby Cathedral

Derby's parish church of All Saints was one of the last of the 'parish church cathedrals' (to form new dioceses several major city churches were upgraded and adapted to cathedral status in the early 20th century, the practical alternative to constructing new purpose built cathedrals) . It became cathedral in 1927, but owing to the war plans to enlarge the building to fit it's new status were shelved until 1972 when a new chancel and offices were built. The impression still is however that of a civic parish church, albeit an especially grand and beautiful one.

 

Though there has been a church here since c943, the oldest part of the present building dates to 1510-30; the west tower is a soaring landmark and one of the tallest medieval towers in the country, as well as are particularly rich example of late Perpendicular gothic, decorated with much panelling and ornament in it's upper part.

 

The rest of the medieval building was totally demolished and replaced in 1725 with the present classical-inspired building designed by James Gibbs and built by Francis Smith of Warwick. The nave and aisles are of equal height and flooded with light from mostly clear glazed windows and spanned by a plaster vault. Many of it's original furnishings survive, such as the fine wrought iron chancel screen by Robert Bakewell that extends across the entire width of the church, since there was no structural division between chancel and nave.

 

The new chancel, built to the designs of Sebastian Comper in 1972, replaced the original flat east wall with it's 'Venetian window' and adds a greater sense of space and light, though one's eye is drawn first to Comper's ciborium or baldachino over the high altar immediately in front of it.

 

Around the same time two striking new abstract stained glass windows were installed on either side at the east end of both aisles, designed by Ceri Richards and interpreted in glass by Patrick Reyntiens (these were to have been complement in the 1980s by further abstract glass by Brian Clarke in the round windows at the west end, but discussions came to an abrupt halt after some uncompromising language from the artist!).

 

There is a good collections of monuments, including a few from the previous church, most important being the grand tomb of the legendary Bess of Hardwick in the south aisle. The earliest monument is the early 16th century wooden tomb nearby of Sub Dean Johnson (the effigy is damaged but includes a fine series of weepers on the tomb chest). Other memorials of the Baroque period are also worthy of note, foremost being the Countess of Bessborough monument by Rysbrack..

 

www.derbycathedral.org/cathedral_page.asp

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Taken on March 5, 2012