Nonconformity played a large part in the religious life of the people of Somercotes, Leabrooks, Birchwood and Pye Bridge. Although many of the chapels which were opened in the 19th century have closed, several do still remain. The Anglican Church of St. Thomas was dedicated in 1854 and the Salvation Army has had a presence in the village since 1867.
There are many photographs of the churches and chapels in the Photo Gallery.
1. THE CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS, NOTTINGHAM ROAD, SOMERCOTES
Somercotes was until 1853, part of the parish of Alfreton. In that year it became part of the new parish of Riddings, and did not have its own church.
In 1849 a small Methodist Chapel was built on Nottingham Road, where the Church of St. Thomas now stands. In the early 1850s there was division within the Methodist movement and the Somercotes Congregation, which kept faith with the traditionalist Methodist movement, agreed to sell this chapel to the Church Wardens of Riddings for a sum of £400. The Church Wardens adapted the building for Anglican worship and added a stone chancel to the existing brick built chapel after receiving £800 in a donation given by Thomas Haden Oakes, who also financed a stained glass window. Dr Lonsdale, the Bishop of Lichfield consecrated the church and dedicated it to St. Thomas the Martyr, on 22 July 1854. The stained glass window was placed in the chancel to commemorate the event.
The vicar of the Church of St. James, Riddings, oversaw the parish of Somercotes until 1892, when the Reverend R B Davies was appointed priest-in-charge. The Reverend F C Mahony followed as the second priest-in-charge and became first vicar of Somercotes in 1889.
PHOTO: An early photograph of the original Church of St. Thomas
It was soon recognised that the building was inadequate to serve the increasing church membership and a fund was started for the rebuilding of the church. A substantial amount of money was raised thanks to the generosity of Sir Charles Seely and James Oakes, together with the efforts of the parishioners in raising a substantial sum of money.
In 1901, after plans submitted by the Diocesan Architect had been approved, the rebuilding of the church commenced. The old brick nave was removed and replaced by a stone nave with north and south aisles to which porches, choir and clergy vestries were added. The walls were built of Coxbench stone with dressings of red stone from Coxbench and Chevin Quarries, and the roof made of pitch pine covered with boarding, felt and slates.
Once the rebuilding of the Church had been completed, it was capable of seating 412 worshippers, and was consecrated by Dr. Ridding, Lord Bishop of Southwell on 15 October 1902. (At this time all Derbyshire parishes came under the jurisdiction of the Dioceses of Litchfield or Southwell. The Diocese of Derby was not created until 1927).
A lengthy report of the consecration was published in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald on Saturday 18 October 1902. A full transcript follows, as written in the newspaper. (Note that the war referred to by the Bishop in his address is the Boer War, which ended on 31 May that year).
“NEW CHURCH FOR SOMERCOTES
Consecrated by the Bishop of Southwell.
Wednesday was a red-letter day in the annals of the church at Somercotes, when a new church was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwell. The history of the church in Somercotes contains many varied chapters. Years ago, before Somercotes has attained extensive dimensions, it was under the care of the Vicar of Riddings. The ecclesiastical parish of Riddings joined the parish of Alfreton at that remote period. Up to the year 1852, there was no church accommodation in Somercotes but about then the necessities for it began to be manifest. At that time there was situated in the place a Wesleyan Chapel, near which was a tract of land which could be utilised as a burial ground. Dissensions had arisen in the society and records show that the members were not very contented. On February 10th 1852, an appeal was issued by a committee, amongst whom were Mr. W. Palmer-Morewood. The Rev. Thomas Lund, Rural Dean, the Vicar of Alfreton, Mr. Jas Oakes (now deceased), and the Rev. Jno. Wood, a late Vicar of Riddings, for funds to provide church accommodation in Somercotes. Finally, the chapel and the ground were purchased and the land was conveyed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners on the 5 June 1854. Services were commenced in that year by the Church. In 1854 a chancel was built to the chapel and on 22 of July 1854 this was consecrated by the then Bishop of Litchfield as St. Thomas’ Church.
For many years the ministrations at this church were carried out under the supervision of the Vicar of Riddings until 1892, when the Rev. B. Davies was placed as Curate-in-Charge. His ministry closed in 1894, when he was followed by the Rev. C. R. Dickinson. The latter was succeeded in 1896 by the Rev. F. C. Mahony, who is now Vicar of Brassington.
Somercotes, before Mr. Mahony’s advent, had increased to such dimensions that it was evident the existing arrangements were not in the best interests of the Church, and Mr. Mahony set to work to put matters on a more satisfactory basis.
To make Somercotes a separate Ecclesiastical parish an Endowment Fund was opened. It was necessary to raise £1000 in the place, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners decided to add £700 to that amount in order to complete the scheme. With the liberal assistance of the family of Sir Chas. Seely, Messrs Jas. Oakes, Mr. C. R. Palmer-Morewood J.P., and others the money was raised , and on 29th of October 1898, Somercotes was made a separate Ecclesiastical Parish, and the Rev. F. C. Mahony was instituted to the living as the first Vicar of Somercotes.
Mr. Mahony then proceeded to raise funds for a new church, for which it was expected over £4000 would be needed. The old church only accommodated about 270, and a new church was absolutely necessary. On 22nd of August 1901, the Vicar and churchwardens were empowered to take down the nave, and build a new nave with north and south aisles, south porch, and vestries for clergy and choir. Plans were drawn up by Mr. Percy H. Currey, of Derby, and these were accepted by the congregation. The amount of the contract was £3912, while it is anticipated about £120 will be needed for chancel alterations. With other expenses it is estimated that the total outlay will reach about £4300. Some estimate can be made of the way in which people have devoted themselves to the task of raising money when it is stated that the Vicar and his co-workers have paid now £3550 of the total cost. Valuable help has been received from Sir Chas. Seely and his two sons, Mr. C. H. Seely, MP and Mr. F. E. Seely, who gave between them £1700 to the Endowment Fund and the Building Fund. Messrs Chas. Oakes have also given the same amount to the two funds, while Mr. C. R. Palmer0Morewood has given £200. It should be added that Mr. Chas. And Mr. Frank Seely each gave also gave £100.
The first Vicar, the Rev. F. C. Mahony has not stayed in the parish to see the consummation of his two schemes, he having been preferred to the living of Brassington. His mantle has fallen upon his brother, the Rev. W. P. Mahony, who assisted his brother for several years , and who was instituted to the living on the 11th of May this year.
The church was originally a square brick building to which a stone chancel was added in 1854. This chancel formed part of a scheme of entire re-building, but this work was never carried out. The work jus completed comprised the removal of the old brick nave and the erection of a new nave with north and south aisles, porches and choir and clergy vestries, the chancel and organ chamber of the old church being retained. The new scheme required the erection of a much larger nave than was contemplated when the chancel was built, and the harmonising of the new and old portions was a matter of some difficulty. The church now, as completed, will accommodate 412 worshippers. The new nave is 57ft. long and the width of the nave and the aisles is 48ft. The nave is seated with chairs, and the pulpit, font and choirseat etc. are those which were formerly in use at the old church. The general contractors are Messrs Ford & Co. of Derby, the amount of the contract being £3912.
The pulpit used in the old church, which is retained, was erected in memory of Lady seely, the late wife of Sir Chas. Seely, by the workmen of Birchwood Colliery and friends in May 1896. Her death took place on December 8th, 1894. The choir seats have been renovated and the organ tuned and improved. A handsome oak eagle lectern has been purchased by the Ladies Working Party, and this was used for the first time on Wednesday.
Wednesday was the day fixed by the Lord Bishop of Southwell to consecrate the new church. There was a large congregation. Miss Seely and Mr. C. H. Seely MP, Major and Mrs. Leach attended, and in addition, Mrs. S. C. Wardell (Doe Hill House), Mr. J. G. Wilson, Miss Wilson and Mr. William Wilson (Alfreton), Mrs. Vaughan Radford (Carnfield Hall), Mrs. J. H. Lewis (South Normanton), Mr F. C. Pogmore, Mrs. W. Round (Stonebroom), Ald. Oakes JP and Mr. Chas. Oakes were also present. The clergy present were the Revs. W. P. Mahony (the Vicar), F. C. Mahony (Brassington), J. H. Lewis (South Normanton), H. Rogers RD (Riddings), R. E. St. Aubyn Arkwright and R. M. Cole-Hamilton (Alfeton), C. Harrison (Selston), W. Round (Stonebroom), G. E. Atkins (Tibshelf) and A. Cotton (Riddings). The Rev. A. N. Bax was the Bishop’s Chaplain.
The Choir and the clergy entered by the south door, and the congregation joined in singing “All people that on Earth do dwell”. This Vicar presented the Bishop with the petition for consecration, which he handed to the registrar, who read it aloud. The Bishop, having assented to it, he and the clergy, preceded by the churchwardens with their wand of office, walked in procession through the church repeating the 24th Psalm. The Vicar then presented the deeds of conveyance and endowment to the Bishop, who laid it on the Alter. The Bishop afterwards delivered the sentence of consecration, which was read by the registrar and signed by the Bishop, who ordered it to be registered in the Registry of the Diocese.
The Rev. F. C. Mahony then conducted a short-ended evening service, the lessons being read by the Rev. C. Harrison and the Vicar.
The Bishop gave an address, in the course of which he said that though the war was not desirable he ventured to think that it had produced many lessons which would make for the advancement and the prosperity of the nation, which had been awakened out of its lethargy and its sleep, to a point of thoughtfulness, progress and enthusiasm. There was a need for the nation to wake up in intellectual things, in educational things and secular things. As a nation they were called upon to work. They had reached a point of contentment and self-complacence, when they were not willing to work the hours they once did, and which they were once proud of doing. Just now there was a movement which concerned them all. Years ago their forefathers had fought for religious education, which now appeared to be attacked. Religion was one of the fundamentals of the greatness of the Empire. Were they to lose that religious aspect of their education? There was a need for waking up from sleeping in order to maintain the spirit in the schools.
An offertory was taken for the building fund and the sum of £33.7s.10d was the result. The choir rendered capable musical help, under the direction of Mr. E. Moore, the organist being Mr. S. Marriott.
After the service there was a tea in the National Schools, which was attended by over 100 people. Those who presided over the tables were Mrs. Hole, Mrs. Weightman, Mrs. Arnold, Mrs, Exon, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Tarlton, Miss S. Smith, Mrs. Prince, Mrs. Hicking, Miss D. D. Hole, Mrs. Boam, Miss Mintoff and other helpers. In the evening there was service, the preacher being the Rev. G. E. Atkins of Tibshelf.”
PHOTO: A photograph of the Church of St. Thomas after the rebuilding
Over the years the Church has had many benefactors who have helped not only with the fabric of the building, but also with the internal fittings. In 1896, Sir Charles Seely gave the carved ornamental stone pulpit to the church, in memory of his wife, Emily, as noted in the above newspaper transcript. The High Altar, Reredos and oak panelling were dedicated in 1910, in remembrance of Thomas Haden Oakes who did much for the spiritual and physical welfare of the local population. George Beastall gave the stained glass window which depicts the Resurrection in memory of his wife Ann which was dedicated in 1921 [George died on 18 November 1940 and his grave is located at the west side of the church].
A Chancel Screen was given to the church by Ann Naylor, in memory of her parents and brother, but unfortunately this was damaged in the fire of 1980 and only the lower half along with two angels from the Upper Screen, still survive. A stained glass window in the Resurrection Chapel was given in memory of Mabel and Henry Hemstock and the infant son, also named Henry, while in the Sacristy a window was dedicated to Margaret Ellen Gillet in 1963, who was a verger at the church. On the south aisle is a window dedicated to Thomas Daykin.
Changes to the internal layout of the church have also taken place in the past. The organ console was originally in the Chancel, with the inner workings located in the vestry. The Vestry was converted into the Resurrection Chapel in 1948, and in 1958 the organ was finally moved to its present location. At the time it was situated on a balcony which was reached by a spiral staircase, but sadly this organ was destroyed by the 1980 fire and replaced with the present organ.
In 1945 electric lighting was installed in the church. A plaque on the wall in the sacristy commemorates the dedication and reads: “The electric light in this church was installed in October 1945 to the Glory of God and in memory of the Rev. Birtwistle M.A. and his fellow workers; Hezekiah Hicking, Daniel J Jaques, Walter Poyser, James Tarlton, Edward Moore, Arthur Gillet, William Randle and Frederick Taylor”
A new Communion Rail was installed in 1963, along with the statue of Our Lady.
The first vicarage was situated on Somercotes Hill, across the road from New Street. Later, a former colliery manager’s house was donated by the Oakes family for use as a vicarage which was situated on Birchwood Lane. The present vicarage, sited next to the church, was built in 1964 on land originally owned by the national Coal Board. In 1970, part of the land was used for the construction of the Parish Hall.
PHOTO: A photograph of the altar at the Church of St. Thomas (2012)
THE 1980 FIRE
On the night of the 30 January 1980, the church was devastated by a fire that gutted the roof and destroyed the organ. The damage was estimated at £200,000. It is ironic that the year prior to the fire the congregation had raised £10,000 to install new lighting and heating. The main aim of the refurbishment was for fire prevention.
The insurance did not cover the total cost of repairs and additional money had to be raised to meet the total cost. The Derbyshire Times Extra, published on 12 February 1980reported: “Although St. Thomas’ Church is insured, thousands of pounds still need to be raised. Examination of the building revealed that a new base needed to be laid, and this is not covered by insurance. An appeal fund has been launched and letters are being sent to pubs, shops and places of employment in the area, in a bid to raise the money needed”
The flames of the fire were so fierce that they could be seen as far away as Swanwick. Many local people can recall the fire and the bravery of the congregation who formed a human chain, while the fire burned, to rescue as many of the furnishings as they could. The parish worked hard to raise funds for the rebuilding of the church which took over 12 months, during which the Parish Hall was used for Sunday morning services. The Church finally re-opened at Easter in 1981.
During the rebuilding work the font was moved from the back of the church to its current position. A glass screen was erected across the back of the church to form a foyer and a new sacristy was constructed in part of the north aisle. A new organ, by J.J. Binns, was installed by Woods of Huddersfield, and dedicated on 4 March 1983, followed by a recital by Peter Gould, organist at Derby Cathedral.
2. THE CHRISTADELPHIAN HALL
The Christadelphian Hall was situated on Leabrooks Road, Somercotes, but its exact whereabouts are not clear. It is believed that it was probably in the building which has since been used as a Billiard Hall and Snooker Club, on the corner of Leabrooks Road and Mansfield Street.
Dates for the hall being used for worship are also unclear. It is likely that it was established sometime around 1900 and was probably closed in the mid-1930s.
Christadelphians aim to get as close as possible to the faith and practice of the early Christian church. They describe themselves as "a lay community patterned after first century Christianity". Their name comes from a Greek phrase, Christou adelphoi, which means “brothers (and sisters) in Christ”.
3. FREE UNITED METHODIST CHAPEL, LEABROOKS
This chapel was situated on Chapel Street, Leabrooks and was opened in 1859. According to Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1932, the chapel was rebuilt in 1896.
The opening of the newly rebuilt chapel was reported in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald, published on 4 November 1896. The article read: “LEABROOKS. OPENING OF THE NEW CHAPEL. The members of the Free Church had the pleasure on Sunday last of opening their new sanctuary for public worship. The building has been erected at a cost of £650, to accommodate 450 persons, and the preacher for these special services was Mr T H Marsden, of Sheffield, who delivered two appreciative and inspiring discourses to large congregations. Anthems were creditably rendered by the choir at each service, and the soloists were Miss Elliott, of Swanwick; Mr Joseph Sharp, of Riddings and Mr T Parkin. The collections realised the highly satisfactory sum of £16”.
The chapel closed in 1973, and the event is recorded in the London Gazette published on 4 December that year “The Registrar General, being satisfied that LEABROOKS METHODIST CHURCH, Chapel Street, Leabrooks, Alfreton, in the registration district of Chesterfield in the County of Derby, is no longer used as a place of worship by the congregation on whose behalf it was on 23rd December 1946 registered for marriages in accordance with the Marriage Act, 1836, has cancelled the registration. Dated 27th November 1973”.
4. LEABROOKS CEMETERY CHAPEL
Leabrooks Cemetery opened in 1895. The graveyard is a burial site which is registered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and holds the graves of servicemen from various conflicts.
PHOTO: The Cemetery Chapel, Leabrooks
The Cemetery serves Somercotes, Riddings and Swanwick. Kelly's Directory of 1932 relates that "a cemetery of about 4 acres, situated at Leabrooks, was opened in 1895, and is managed by a Burial Board of 8 members, representing the Urban District Council of Somercotes and Riddings, and Swanwick Wards: the mortuary chapel is a neat structure of brick with stone facings in the Gothic style, and was erected at a cost of over £600".
The Cemetery is currently managed by Amber Valley Borough Council.
5. THE METHODIST CHAPEL, BIRCHWOOD
Between 1839 and 1867, a total of five Methodist Chapels were built in the area. The most impressive was the Wesleyan Reformers Methodist Chapel at Birchwood. This place of worship was built in 1853 by John Smedley (who founded Smedley’s Hydro in Matlock and built Riber Castle).
A Methodist Chapel already existed in Somercotes and was situated on Nottingham Road. In the early 1850s there was division within the Methodist movement and the Somercotes Congregation, which kept faith with the traditionalist Methodist movement, agreed to sell this chapel to the Church Wardens of Riddings for a sum of £400. It became the Church of St. Thomas. The Methodist Congregation then appealed to John Smedley of Lea Bridge for help in establishing their own church, and he built the chapel for them on Birchwood Lane.
The Derbyshire History, Gazetteer & Directory dated 1857 states “The Wesleyan Reformers’ Chapel, situated in Birchwood Lane was erected by John Smedley Esq., of Lea Bridge. It is a handsome building with tower and one bell. In connection with which is a good school, eligible for all the children in the village. The school-room is lighted with gas and heated with hot water, will accommodate about 200 children; average attendance 126”. The school room mentioned was effectively the first school in the village. Each pupil was charged a small fee to attend.
PHOTO: Birchwood United Methodist Chapel (2014)
John Smedley was the son of John Smedley Snr, who was a partner in a mill at Lea Bridge. John Smedley Jnr began work as an apprentice at the mill and in 1825 took over the management of the factory. He diversified and expanded the business, becoming very wealthy in the process. He developed an interest in Hydrotherapy and built Smedley’s Hydro in Matlock, as well as building his home, Riber Castle. As well as an industrialist, he was also a well-known philanthropist, and built or sponsored several Methodist Churches in the area. He died on 27 July 1874. The Smedley company is still in business today, and their premises at Lea Bridge is now the oldest working factory in the world.
Initially the chapel was built for a congregation of Wesleyan Reformers, a movement which united with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the United Methodist Free Churches in 1857. Later Directories would refer to it as a United Methodist Chapel.
PHOTO: Birchwood Band of Hope - Senior Members 1912
Back Row (L/R) H. Robinson, A.H. Bilson; E. Wright, W. Hayes, G. Truman, S. Hardwick, F. Coupe
Middle Row: B. Martin, G. Clark, W. Naylor, T. Burnham, M. Giles, S. Wood
Front Row: H. Hooley, John Wilson, E, Jepson, G. Naylor, J. Gent, L. Jepson, F. Naylor
In 1874, after the death of John Smedley, the chapel was purchased by members of the congregation for £800, which was reported to be about half of the original cost. In 1910, the present schoolroom was built, although by then several National Schools had been built in the village.
The chapel interior houses a balcony at the tower end, and staging at the opposite end for use at special events. The Derbyshire Ancestral Research Group currently hold their meetings in the schoolroom.
6. THE MISSION ROOM, MUCKRAM LANE, LOWER BIRCHWOOD
The first Anglican Church service at Birchwood seems to have taken place as early as 1840. The Parish Church of St. Thomas’ 150th Anniversary Magazine records that “In 1840 the Bishop of Lichfield granted permission to the Vicar of Riddings to perform and celebrate Divine Service in a building situate at Birchwood”. This pre-dates both the Church of St. Thomas and the Birchwood United Methodist Chapel. It is not known exactly where on Birchwood Lane this building was located, or for how many years it may have continued as a place of worship. The fact that such a service did take place acknowledged the growing need to provide some form of worship for the small but flourishing community. It was not until much later, however, that a dedicated building was erected.
In the early 1890’s the Church approached Sir Charles Seely to ask if he would provide a place of worship at Lower Birchwood for the local population. At the time Sir Charles was head of the Babbington Coal Company, which operated the Birchwood Collieries and owned much of the surrounding estate. It was common in such circumstances for the Church to lease or rent the land for a nominal sum and Sir Charles Seely provided approximately one acre of land to that effect. It was situated off Muckram Lane and was the site of a former brickworks. Sir Charles also defrayed half the cost of the building itself.
The Mission Church opened on 22 March 1893. Details of the opening service were reported in the Derbyshire Courier, published on 25 March, which read: “On Wednesday evening the opening of the Mission Church took place. The choir at the parish church, robed at Mr. Merriman's, sang in procession the hymn ‘Through the night of doubt and sorrow.’ The service was fully choral. A passage of scripture was read by Mr. T. L. Luff Mr. Towson, the licensed lay readers, upon whom the conducting of the services will mainly depend. An address was delivered by the Rev. R. B. Davies, curate-in-charge. The total cost of the building, which is pleasantly situated, is £6O. The Babbington Coal Company have given half the money, and also found labour to erect the structure, the dimensions of which is 35 feet by 15 feet. Other subscriptions have been given, until the debt prior to opening was £9. The offertory at the service realised £l. The building was supplied by Messrs. Boulton and Paul, of Norwich.”
The decision had been made to purchase a prefabricated mission hall from the company of Boulton & Paul, who by the 1890’s were producing a range of buildings which were manufactured in sections that could be easily assembled on site. It was a quick and inexpensive way to erect a variety of buildings. Their range included standardised churches, chapels, mission and gospel halls as well as hospitals and school rooms. The chapels often became known as “Tin Tabernacles”. The new churches were usually sited on rudimentary brick or rubble-and-mortar foundations; they had a bolt-together wooden frame, an inside wall lined with tongue-and-groove match-board pine and the roof and outer walls were clad with corrugated iron sheeting.
The finished building at Muckram probably looked similar to the church erected at the Butterley Railway Museum for the Midland Railway Trust, and comparable to the St. Barnabas Mission Room that had been opened at Pye Bridge in 1887. It was lit by three hanging paraffin lamps and was heated by a large combustion stove. The Altar was a small draped table and there was a lectern and a harmonium. It had seating for 100 worshipers, although the average attendance in the 1850’s was 40.
PHOTO: The Mission Chapel at Butterley Railway Centre
The Chapel is recalled in a book titled “Farewell to a Muckram Lad” by Les Burt. In this book he describes the chapel as the “Mittie”, which was made from corrugated iron, painted with red oxide and lined inside with varnished boards.
Such buildings not only had a religious function, but often became the focal point of a community, as would have been the case for the people of Lower Birchwood and Muckram. During 1893 a coal dispute resulted in the miners being locked out of the colliery, causing hardship for families throughout the area. They resumed work in October that year and a special Harvest Festival was held at the newly erected Mission Church. The event was recorded in the Derbyshire Courier published on 21 October, which also followed the report with further information regarding the buildings use during the dispute: “BIRCHWOOD - Church Mission Room - A special service was conducted in this Mission Room on Sunday evening last by Mr. G. C. Towson, lay reader, on the occasion of the harvest festival. A novel feature among the offerings was barrow-full of newly got coal from the Bircbwood Colliery on the resumption of work. The interior of the building had been decorated with corn, flowers, etc., by the Misses Tomlinson, Mr. Tomlinson, and Mr. Mellors. There was a fair congregation, and the offertory realised 10s. 7½d which was most satisfactory considering the depressed circumstances of trade.” - “School For Pit Lads - During the miners’ lockout a number of pit lads applied for admission to the Somercotes Boys’ School. Mr. Hicking, the schoolmaster, took in as many as he could, to the number of 20, but was obliged to refuse admission to about ten more for whom he had no room. These went to the infant school and asked to be admitted there, but Miss Jones was unable to admit them as the school was already full. Accordingly the following morning, a temporary school for the pit lads was opened at the Birchwood Mission Room by the Rev. R. B, Davies, curate in-charge and 26 scholars were enrolled. By the end of the first week the number on the books was 84 and the average attendance for the week was 38. The school met five days week, from ten to twelve, and from two to four. The syllabus of instruction includes religious teaching, reading, writing, and occasional singing and drilling. Through the kindness of a friend a football has been provided for recreation three days a week, and illustrated papers which the lads can take home in the evening and change the following one. We believe that this is the first school of the kind that has been opened, and it speaks well for the lads of Somercotes that they should have thought of such good way of occupying their spare time.”
Over the years the building served as a place for children’s parties, as a school room, a place where Coroner’s Inquests were held and for many other events as well as for religious services. The caretakers were unpaid valuable members of the congregation. The Brocklehurst family were one time caretakers at the Mission Church and their eldest daughter, Maud, held weekly Saturday night dances there which became known as “Maud’s Sixpenny Hop”. Annie Gadsby, wife of a local farmer was also a caretaker and school teacher. Her funeral was reported in the Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald on 12 January 1924: “BIRCHWOOD RESIDENTS FUNERAL - The interment of the late Mrs. Annie Gadsby, wife of Mr. Harry Gadsby of Shady Farm, Birchwood, took place at Swanwick Churchyard on Saturday. Deceased had been for many years an earnest worker and school teacher at the Birchwood Mission Church, where she will be sadly missed. The service was conducted by the Rev. R. Birtwistle”
The Somercotes Parish Magazine also printed various articles relating to the Mission Church, some of which are transcribed below:
October 1920: “On Sunday Sept. 12th Services were held in the above room. In the afternoon the Scouts made a good show and the children listened attentively to the Vicar’s address. In the evening, Mr. W. F. Croft of Tibshelf took the service and preached an excellent sermon. The room was full on both occasions, the collections were good and the children sung the hymns well.”
This was the first service that had been held at the Mission Church for several years, possibly due to the war effort depleting the congregation, although the exact reason is not known. The article continued:
“Many have pleasant memories of services in past years and we are looking forward to reviving them when more help is available.”
September 1925: “Progress is reported at the Mission Room. The services seem fairly well established now and we are looking forward to a happy winter session. Now the evenings are getting darker and the weather colder it will necessitate some provision of light and heat. To meet this need arrangements have been made to have gas put in, with a radiator for heat. This will make the room nice and comfortable, so we feel we can give a hearty invitation to all who join with us in our services of worship and prayer to Almighty God. Of course these improvements involve an outlay of money (about £15) and we should be glad to receive donations towards the same. These donations should be given to the Vicar or to Mr. Stirland Tomlinson.”
This article is interesting as previous to this date it was believed that the Babbington Coal Company provided coal for heating at no cost to the church. This was probably true in the early years of the Mission Chapel, but it seems that by 1926, some 33 years after its erection, heating and lighting was a problem and the building may have been in need of some repair and refurbishment. The gas was probably provided from the collieries own gas works, as was the houses at Muckram.
November 1926: “We are trying to beautify this little room by having a new Altar Table and Screen. The Screen has now been erected.”
July 1928: “As promised some time ago, the room has been renovated, painted and varnished and now is in a very good condition and looks well. We are grateful to the Babbington Coal Co. for another kindness added to the many which they have shown us in times gone by...”
By the mid-1930’s attendance at the Mission Church seems to have waned and its continued service to the community must have been in doubt. By the end of the 1930’s the situation became worse for the church as the Babbington Coal Company sold their entire Somercotes and Birchwood estate, including the Birchwood Collieries, to the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company of Chesterfield in 1939. Whether or not this sale had any influence on the decision is not known, but the Mission Church closed its doors for good around this time.
The Mission Church building was dismantled and moved nearer to the colliery in 1940, where it was used as a canteen for the mine workers. Its later history is told by Les Burt in his book. Sheepbridge Iron & Coal Company closed the colliery in 1941 and their estate was sold at auction the following year. The building was sold and again dismantled and re-erected on land in Somercotes owned by John Bakewell, who ran both a bakery and plant nursery business. In the 1970’s the nursery was closed and the land sold for re-development to a builder. Some years later, the old Mission Church was used as a store by the builders during construction of the bungalows on Hilton Park Drive, and was eventually demolished in 1991 after almost one hundred years.
7. THE MISSION ROOM, PYE BRIDGE
The Mission Room in Pye Bridge was founded in 1887. It was run by the Church of St. James in Riddings, as Pye Bridge was then part of the Parish of Riddings.
The Derby Mercury, published on 29 June 1887 records the opening as follows: “A Church Mission Room – The inhabitants of Pye Bridge have hitherto been destitute of any place for the holding of religious services, and as it is some distance from Riddings or Codnor Park, the want of a local building as long been felt. Through the kindness of Mr. T. H. Oakes JP, a Church of England Mission Room has been opened at Pye Bridge and services in future will be held in it. In addition, Mr. Oakes has promised to consider the utility of arranging for an infant’s school to be held there. In connection with the opening Mr. Oakes provided a meat tea to 150 of the inhabitants.”
According to Kelly's Trade Directory of 1895, the Mission Room had seating for 120 worshippers, and was also used as a classroom for infants.
There are several newspaper reports and a map that refer to a building in Pye Bridge as the “St. Barnabas Mission Room”. It would appear that the church was dedicated at some point to this saint.
The building was situated at the side of the Pinxton Canal, but has long since been demolished. It is not known when the Mission Room closed.
MAP: St. Barnabas Mission Church at Pye Bridge (outlined), date of map unknown
8. THE NON-DEMONINATIONAL HALL, CEMETERY ROAD, LEABROOKS
No information is currently available regarding the opening date for this building. It was a large hall which had a front façade facing Cemetery Road at Leabrooks. This non-denominational hall was probably used for community events as well as for worship, and was used as a classroom for Leabrooks pupils in the 1950s when space at the Junior School in Somercotes was at a premium.
It closed probably in the 1960s or 1970s and is now a private residence, although due to its size and architecture it can still be distinguished from the surrounding buildings.
THE PENIEL CHRISTIAN CHURCH, LEABROOKS
The church was established in the house of Mr Kay who lived at Bank Street, Somercotes. He mortgaged his home to buy the premises at Leabrooks, which is situated on Main Road, just before Leabrooks Corner.
It opened on the 22 June 1935 and was known as the Assemblies of God, the aim of the church being to share the love of Jesus with the community. Members of the Church would visit schools with puppets and sing to the pupils at their morning assembly. In later years, the ladies of the Church cooked a dinner once a month for the senior citizens of Hathersage Drive, Leabrooks.
PHOTO: Leabrooks PCC (2015)
In 1995, a Youth Group from Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, visited Somercotes on behalf of the Church to minister in schools. In 2000, two young people from the Leabrooks Church went to Charlotte & New York, USA on an exchange visit.
The Church, now more commonly referred to as Leabrooks PCC (Peniel Christian Centre) is still open for worship.
9. THE PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL, LOWER SOMERCOTES
According to White’s Directory of 1857, the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Lower Somercotes was founded in 1839. It was built only a few years after the enclosure of Somercotes Common and before that area became developed. White’s Directory states that the chapel was enlarged in 1852.
The Census of Religious Worship, taken in 1851, lists the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Somercotes as having seating for 80, and 200 for “other” sittings.
This chapel was closed in the 1890s (it is mentioned in Kelly’s Directory of 1895, but may already have closed by this time).
10. THE PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL, MAIN ROAD, LEABROOKS
The Primitive Methodist Chapel was situated on Main Road, Leabrooks, on the same site that the Peniel Church is now currently using.
According to Kelly’s Directory of 1912 the church was opened in 1905, although it does not seem to have been registered for marriages until 1907. The London Gazette has the following notice for the church, in their edition dated 24 September 1907:
“A Separate Building, duly certified for religious worship, named PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHURCH, situated at Lea Brooks, in the civil parish of Alfreton, in the county of Derby, in Belper registration district, was, on the 21st September, 1907, registered for solemnizing marriages therein, pursuant to 6th and 7th Wm. IV, c.85. Dated 23rd September 1907”.
The church closed around 1935, as the Peniel Church opened in that year. The registration notice regarding the closure was duly recorded in the London Gazette on 16 April 1937:
“NOTICE is hereby given that the Building formerly known as METHODIST CHAPEL situated at Lea Brooks in "the civil parish of Alfreton in the registration district of Belper in the county of Derby which was duly registered for marriages pursuant to the Act 6 & 7 Will. IV, c. 85. is now no longer used as a Place of Meeting for religious worship by the congregation on whose behalf it was so registered, and that the registry thereof was therefore on the 12th day of April 1937 formally cancelled by the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for England and Wales.—Witness my hand this 13th day of April 1937. GEORGE PYM, Superintendent Registrar”.
11. THE PRIMITIVE METHODIST CHAPEL, SOMERCOTES HILL
According Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1912, the Somercotes Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1898 and had seating for 250 worshippers. It was a replacement for an earlier Chapel situated at Lower Somercotes, which was built in 1839, (for which see the separate entry in this database).
The Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser published a notice in their newspaper dated 3 December 1898 which read “A new Primitive Methodist Chapel has been opened at Somercoates, Alfreton, which has cost over £1,000”. A further article appears in the Derbyshire Courier, published on 15 April 1911: “Special services were held at the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Sunday, Mr. G H. Williams of Somercotes being the preacher. Miss Eliza Williams of Somercotes was the soloist, her fine rendering of “Abide With Me” (Liddle), “Angels of Light” (Marshall) and other pieces being much appreciated.”
PHOTO: A photograph of the original Chapel built in 1898
The first Chapel on this site was a brick structure which was built close to the road. Fronting the road it had a small wall with iron railings. It was demolished, around the early 1960s, and replaced by a more modern building which was set further back on the same site.
This new Chapel itself closed about 2005 and has been demolished. Its closure came as a consequence of the building needing repairs, and a dwindling, mostly elderly congregation.
There was a small, rectangular building to the right of the 1960s building – which was all that survived of the original 1898 chapel. It is faced with stucco, with an entrance door, and a single pointed arched window at the front. It was in use until the 1990s by a Funeral Directors who took over the premises, as a mortuary chapel. The same Funeral Directors now occupy the site where the Wesleyan Chapel stood on Nottingham Road.
12. THE SALVATION ARMY CITADEL
The Salvation Army have had a presence in Somercotes since at least 1894. Kelly’s Trade Directory of 1912 records that “…The Salvation Army hold their services and meetings in a corrugated iron building erected in 1894 in Sleet Moor Lane , and holding about 300 people…”.
PHOTOS: Salvation Army at Sleetmoor Lane, Somercotes
The corrugated iron building, to which Kelly’s Directory refers, was demolished and a new Citadel built of brick was constructed in its place. The new Citadel was opened by Mrs M R Oakes on16 December 1937. Also present at the ceremony were Mr R C A Palmer-Morewood and Colonel Hugh Sladen along with other Salvation Army officials.
It continues to operate as a place of worship.
13. THE SALEM METHODIST CHAPEL, SLEETMOOR LANE, SOMERCOTES
The Salem Methodist Church was opened in 1867 on Sleetmoor Lane, Somercotes. It was situated at the junction of Coupland Place and Sleetmoor Lane, but was demolished when Coupland Place itself was redeveloped in the early 1970s.
A newspaper report was published regarding an anniversary service held at the Church, which is transcribed below from the Derbyshire Courier dated 19 March 1870:
On Sunday last, March 13th, 2 sermons were preached in The Salem Chapel, Somercotes on behalf of the Trust Fund by the Rev. Charles Griffiths of Nottingham, selecting for his text in the afternoon Malachi iii, 16 and 17, and in the evening Hebrews xi, 24-26; the former stimulating and encouraging god’s people to punctually and regularly attend the services of the sanctuary; the latter showing the necessity of our young men making a proper choice of their companions and positions in life. The choir rendered good service. The anthem, “give ear to my words” at the evening service was given in good style. The day being fine the congregations were good, several not being able to obtain a seat in the evening. Liberal collections were made amounting to £7 1s. 1½d., being over £2 in advance of last year. The proceeds, together with £3 already in hand, will be appropriated towards the reduction of the debt on the chapel, making a total of £30 since the opening in March 1866; the interest on the mortgage being met from other sources."
The Post Office Directory of 1876 lists a “United Methodist Free Church at Sleet Moor Lane” and Kelly’s Directory for 1912 states that there is “a United Methodist Chapel on Sleet Moor Lane”
The closure of the church in 1971 was reported in the London Gazette, published on 18 May of that year, which read “The Registrar General, being satisfied that SALEM METHODIST CHURCH, Sleetmoor Lane, Somercotes, Alfreton, in the registration district of Belper, in the County of Derby, is no longer used as a place of worship by the congregation on whose behalf it was on 5th April 1871, registered for marriages in accordance with the Marriage Act, 1836, has cancelled the registration”. Dated 10th May 1971.
14. WESLEYAN METHODIST CHAPEL, NOTTINGHAM ROAD, SOMERCOTES
The Wesleyan New Chapel was opened on Nottingham Road, Somercotes in 1880. It replaced the Wesleyan Chapel that was closed around 1853 and sold to the Riddings Anglican Community for a Chapel of Ease. The Church of St. Thomas was built on the site of the old chapel.
The new chapel was certified for religious services on 18 October 1880 and the opening services were reported in the Derbyshire Courier of 6 November 1880: “SOMERCOTES - WESLEYAN NEW CHAPEL - The opening services were continued last Sunday when two sermons were preached by the Rev. T R Pickering, formerly of Ripley”.
The chapel was situated on the corner of Mill Street and Nottingham Road. It stood back from the road, the frontage having a central gateway through a small boundary wall, and a path to the main door which was flanked by grass and trees.
In 1930, the chapel celebrated its Jubilee, which made the 3 April edition of the Derby Daily Telegraph: “SOMERCOTES - Large Congregations attend Wesleyan Celebrations - Somercotes Weselyan Church members held their Jubilee celebrations yesterday…The Choir sang the anthem “Son of My Soul” and Miss Phyllis Wright was the soloist. The organist was Mr A Lathwell…”
The Chapel closed as a place of worship in 1957. Its closure was recorded that year in the London Gazette of 9 April as one of the buildings which "have wholly ceased to be used as places of worship by the congregations on whose behalf they were certified”
Sometime after its closure it was used as a warehouse to store cardboard cartons and other similar articles for Everlastic Ltd, who had a factory in the village. It was still used for this purpose in the 1960s. In the 1970s the chapel was structurally altered and converted to a car showroom and garage, The frontage was tarmaced to produce a forecourt and several outbuildings were demolished. In later years, the building was purchased by A. Storer & Sons, Funeral Directors, a more fitting business for the old chapel.