A Brief History of St. Bartholomew's, Hognaston


The very heart of the village through the Middle Ages was the church. The villagers used it for baptisms, marriages, burials and worship. The sanctuary, or chancel, was the responsibility of whoever held the advowson, that is, the right to represent the priest. The nave and the tower, however, were the responsibility of the parishioners. They used it for their court meetings, to store their ploughs and grain, and their treasures and documents were kept in the village chest. In times of trouble the bell would be sounded and the people would hurry with their livestock to the church for protection. As a last resort they could climb the tower and pull up the ladder after them. The five foot thick walls and narrow slits were their equivalent of the castle keep. Until the Reformation, the church and its precincts were sanctuary. The cross, marking this, has since disappeared. In the lawless and anarchic times ‘ of the Middle Ages, the right of sanctuary was a blessing for anyone .fleeing oppression or injustice. They could stay in the church for forty days, the priest being responsible for the welfare. They were then tried by the village or manor court.. If guilty, they had to go to the nearest port, keeping to the highway, dressed in their shirt alone.



Particular features of this church are the doorway with its unusual tympanum (the stone within the arch) and its/ font which are early .Norman.,., dating from the last half of the 12th century. Worth noting on the doorway is the typical Romanesque beak-headed moulding, two small heads on the capitals, and the dog-tooth pattern on the rounded arch. The tympanum is very crude and various interpretations are given to it. It depicts a bishop with his crozier, the holy Lamb, some birds and various beasts, including a pig. While the jambs and arch are the work of an itinerant mason, the crudity of the tympanum suggests it was the work of the village blacksmith.

The base of the tower with its three lancet windows, its shallow buttresses, and the nave arch suggest a transition from Norman to Early English in style, from 1200, a little later than the doorway and font. The two upper floors are of a different stonework and were most likely re­built with the massive supporting buttress in the late 15th century.

At first, this church was a Chapel of Ashbourne. As such it would have no rights of baptism, marriage or burial. The villagers would have had to go to Ashbourne for these ceremonies.

By the end of the 13th century it had become a parochial chapelry, that is to say, it had its own parish where these rites and services could be held. So for 700 years the villagers of Hognaston have buried their dead in the churchyard. Because of that, the floor of the old church was lower than the ground outside and had to be raised when, amongst other things, a north aisle was added to form the present church in 1879. This was somewhat to the consternation of the villagers whose ancestors were buried there.

The nave of the old church was considerably smaller. It had a flat ceiling and gallery at the west end hiding the interesting Early English style archway. This was approached by an outside staircase.

One other relic of this ancient church is the slimmer of the two bells hanging in the tower. Expert opinion states that, “without doubt it was cast in the early years of the 13th century, say between 1200 and 1220”. The other bell to be seen is inscribed ‘H. BUCSTON N. BRADLEY 1670’. Both bells have retained their good tones, but they were replaced by the present clock and three bells. They were presented in 1911 by John Smith of the famous Derby firm of clock-makers in memory of the first John Smith, a native of Hognaston.

The restoration is mainly of fine­grained Hopton limestone. Three features may be noted: one is the pulpit with its Blue John bosses; a second is the unusually fine emblematic tiles in the sanctuary; and the third the East Window. The figures depicted, left to right, are St Bartholomew, the Crucifixion, and St Joseph. The East Window is believed to be the work of Karl Parson or one of his pupils in the 1920’s. Look at the intricately painted Hieroglyphics behind the figure of St Joseph. A plaque on the south wall of the • chancel gives details of the dedication.

St Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles and was involved in missionary work from Ethiopia to Armenia, where he was martyred in AD 71. His festival is on the 24th August, but the patronal festival takes place on the first Sunday after the 4th September.

During 1989-1991 the Victorian pipe organ was restored by Mr J H Poyser of Derby with money raised in the village.

The base of the Norman /font was renewed by Linford-Bridgeman Ltd of Lichfield in January 1992.

This information was compiled by Miss Sophie Garrett from J W Allen’s

‘Notes on Hognaston’ and ‘Churches of Derbyshire’ by J C Cox Volume II (pub. 1887).

June 1993