Chesterfield’s Crooked Spire, Derbyshire
The crooked spire of Chesterfield’s church of St Mary and All Saints is surely one of the country’s most easily identified landmarks. It rises 228 feet above the earth, and has a lean of more than 9 feet. When you hear it is twisted you imagine perhaps a bit of a kink in the thing. Then you see it: as bent as a dog’s back leg and twisted like a towel being wrung out. The prosaic explanation is that the wood used was probably green, and with the pattern of the lead tiles loaded on top pushing in a certain way the gradually drying timber began to twist and then couldn’t stop. Rather more intriguing is that plague struck during construction, and the wooden structure was left exposed to the elements, getting wet and drying out several times before the lead was finally placed on top.
The nineteenth century ancestors of the Health and Safety Executive ruled it unsafe and wanted to get rid of it, but the townsfolk got together and prevented its dismantling, instead paying for the structure to be strengthened.
Inevitably there are plenty of local legends associated with the twisted spire, offering alternative reasons for the twist. The shortest, most insulting, and funniest is that one day a virgin bride got married in the church, and the spire, determined to witness such an unheard of event, twisted round to get a better look. The tale continues that if ever another virgin bride ties the knot in the church the spire will untwist.
The devil gets a few mentions too: he perched on the spire and twisted his tail around it to hold on, the twist of his tail transmitting to the structure; he was sitting on the spire when some incense made him sneeze and twist in doing so; or he was being shod nearby in Bolsover when the blacksmith drove a nail through his foot and the devil’s subsequent leap just failed to clear the spire, his tail clipping it out of true.
Whatever the cause – and though it casts a foul slur on the virtue of the good maidens of Chesterfield it is hard not to root for the virgin bride’s tale – the spire is a memorable sight, well worth a detour from junction 29 or 30 of the M1 to the centre of Chesterfield .
1 Response to Chesterfield’s Crooked Spire
From Ian Carter on 2nd March 2010
Of course the virgin story is the true one! I wrote a song about it, called "The Spire That Aspired" (a reference to the town's motto).
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