Derby is a reasonably recent inductee into the Cathedral ranks—1927, to be precise. That’s when the parish church of All Saints became Derby Cathedral.

Of the medieval church, only the tower remains.

The rest fell victim to the ambitions of the then vicar Michael Hutchinson, who demolished the old church in 1723 to make way for a new one. There was so much local opposition to the scheme that he preemptively and unilaterally decided to demolish the church, with the workmen toiling overnight. Many felt Vicar Hutchinson got his just desserts when he died before the new building was completed, driven mad from the strain of raising funds to pay for it.

Architect James Gibbs, of St. Martin-in-the-Fields fame, worked with builder Francis Smith of Warwick to create the new church. The plain exterior of the building reflects their sensitivity to local hostility, and it blends well with the historic tower. And they cannot be held responsible for a further poor decision of the city fathers in the 1960s to demolish rows of 18th-century houses, a square and St. Alkmuund’s church to make way for a road to run beside the river below where the Cathedral is situated (despite there already being a by-pass). Isn’t the result lovely? Sigh…

Across the thoroughfare is the partially preserved enclave now known as the Derby Cathedral Quarter, with a statue of Charles Edward Stewart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

It would have been a good deal nicer if the powers that be had left well enough alone.

But the aspect from further north is not as bad. At least one can get a clear view of the Cathedral without all the garbage containers and parked cars.

Never mind, let’s go inside and look around. The interior is lovely; as we face east toward the altar, it looks much like St. Martin-in-the-Fields with its wide nave in gold and white.

Gazing from the opposite direction, you can see the organ loft running across the west wall.

Beautiful oriel windows on either side of the organ bathe the area in light.

The whole nave is very light; there is little stained glass (despised by the Georgians). Instead, large, clear Palladian windows mark the bays down each side of the building.

Two stained glass windows were added in 1965 and are typical of the swinging sixties, designed by Welsh artist Ceri Richards and interpreted in glass by Patrick Reyntiens. All Souls is the East window of the North aisle.

It “represents the human soul emerging from its physical limitations”…

…while the All Saints window “depicts its consummation”. It is the East window of the South aisle.

I see.

Apparently, there were plans afoot in the 1980s to complement these with further abstract glass by artist Brian Clarke, destined to be installed in the round windows at the west end. Unfortunately (or not), discussions came to an abrupt halt after some uncompromising language from the artist. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that!

The All Saints and All Souls windows were placed in the retrochoir to the East by Ninian Comper and his son, Sebastian. Completed in 1972, it includes a prominent baldachino with severe white and cold classicism, contrasting sharply with Gibbs’ exuberant baroque style.

The ironwork screen running between the nave and the sanctuary is the feature of which the Cathedral is most proud.

In English rococo, it was designed in 1730 by local ironsmith Robert Bakewell, and as the guide intones, it is “delicate as lace and intricate as a fugue”. The coat of arms of George II is emblazoned on the top of the arch.

Derby Cathedral has many historical links to the Cavendish family of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, which we have visited several times. The most prominent is the tomb of the matriarch, Bess of Hardwick, of Hardwick Hall, designed by Robert Smythson, presumably with her involvement, as it was done seven years before her death in 1608.

Elizabeth (Bess) Hardwick married her second husband (of four), twice-widowed William Cavendish, in 1547, and they began the construction of Chatsworth House in 1552. William had been one of Thomas Cromwell’s Monastic Visitors, who were a group of royal administrators, mostly laymen with legal training, and many of whom later played leading roles in dissolving the monasteries that they visited in 1535–6. In William’s case, he also served in the Court of Augmentations and thus could acquire favourable, formerly monastic, properties for himself. Their second son, William Cavendish (1552–1626), became the first Earl of Devonshire; he purchased that title from the ever-short-of-cash, King James I. 

The edifice’s vertical surround contains many prominent sculptures. Not to my taste, but someone clearly liked it.

This is a little better, though it reminds me of a Christmas centrepiece.

This prominent memorial to Caroline, Countess of Bessborough, eldest Daughter of William Cavendish, third Duke of Devonshire, was created by Michael Rysbrack (or Rijsbrack), a Flemish sculptor, born in Antwerp in 1694.

Nearby are many relatives, including her several times great grandson, Henry Cavendish, natural philosopher and the most incredible experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age.


Also buried here is Georgiana Spencer, who married William, the 5th Duke of Devonshire and mother of the 4th Duke of Devonshire. You may recognize her from the movie The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes. She was famous for her effusive charm, political influence, beauty, atypical marital arrangement, and love affairs, and she was notorious for her gambling, which led to massive debts. She was also the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales and great-great-great-aunt of the late Queen Elizabeth II. 

Lastly, we have an effigy of a canon of All Saints church from around 1527, which was in the now-demolished medieval church. Given its age and the cavalier treatment it has received over the last 600 years, it’s in excellent shape.

The plainness of the boxy pews is relieved by the botanical carvings on the rounded ends.

The kneeler cushions are extremely lively, however! I wouldn’t mind one of those as a footstool.

Others are simply cushions to be laid on the floor before kneeling on them.

I was intrigued to see some poppies from the local ceramic artist, Paul Cummings.

Remember the phenomenal poppy display at the Tower of London commemorating nearly 1 million service people who served in WWI?

I didn’t realize Paul Cummings was from Derby.

A last look at a most beautiful cathedral.

It might be a late addition to the Cathedral lineup, with a contentious history, but I liked it very much.