In what kind of building would you expect to find a pulpit nearly seven hundred years old and a font quite possibly from the first Millennium? Far from belonging to a museum, they regularly play their part in the worship of our church in Mellor.
The two ancient treasures evoke a strong sense of continuity with the past; this awareness of history also acts as a reminder that sermons and baptisms, weddings, funerals, Sunday services and prayers in all sorts of situations will continue long after we are all gone. Mellor’s two ancient treasures stand in a Church building which has changed extensively over the centuries; the interplay of change and stability is reflected in one Church of England liturgy which speaks of “the inheritance of faith” which has to be “proclaimed afresh in each generation.” The Church is not only a building but a community of Christian people. Our generation simply takes it’s turn in worshipping and serving God in this place, and maintaining this building as a witness to the Christian faith.
A Brief History of Mellor Church
Original estimates as to the time of appearance of a place of worship at Mellor being the middle of the thirteenth century seem to be inaccurate. It is now confidently put as the early fourteenth century, just before the ‘Black Death’. This was probably a stone building, and may well have replaced an earlier wooden building: no evidence of that however is available. What appearance the original nave would have had is unknown, as it has been rebuilt at least on one occasion. The tower, however, with it’s perpendicular doorway and window is almost certainly dated fifteenth century.
Mellor Church was first a chapelry (Chapel of Ease) in the large Parish of Glossop in the County of Derbyshire. It was in the extensive Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, in the Province of Canterbury. The Chapelry boundaries included not only Mellor and Ludworth, but Rowarth, Chisworth, Charlesworth and most of New Mills up until the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1884 the Diocese of Lichfield was split and the Parish came under the care of Southwell. In 1927 another change was made and Mellor was placed in the Deanery of Glossop in the Diocese of Derby. Today Mellor and Ludworth (Marple Bridge) now comprise the content of the Parish boundary, and became part of the Diocese of Chester in 2006.
During the eighteenth century many changes were made to the fabric of the Church. In 1783 the walls were partly rebuilt, and galleries on the south and east walls were constructed. The one over the the chancel extended seven feet out into the nave to accommodate the new organ and choir. The roof of the chancel was raised to accomplish this, which had the effect of blocking out the east window. The old pulpit was removed to the tower, and a large three decker pulpit built against the North wall. The Church at this time could seat seven hundred people compared to the present capacity of barely two hundred!
By the early years of the Nineteenth century the Church was greatly in need of repairs, the weight of the new galleries having put an unsupportable load on the walls of the building. The work progressed slowly as funds were slow to come in. When a new entrance and porch was built in 1815 a smaller door in the tower was made, still leaving the outline of the original one. The south wall was repaired at the same time. The reconstructions of the chancel and the north wall were completed by 1830. In the middle of the century the old pulpit was brought back into the Church and placed in the chancel next to the communion rail but remained unused. In 1879 new pine bench pews were installed only leaving three of the old ‘box’ type pews at the front of the nave. In 1885 the East gallery and the three-decker pulpit were removed, the old pulpit moved to the front of the chancel and brought back into full use. A pipe organ was installed in the North wall of the chancel and a traceried arch placed between the chancel and the nave. In the first decade of the twentieth century the remaining south and west galleries were demolished. Stained-glass windows were installed in the north wall, but frosted glass used in the south wall, since replaced with clear. The bell ringers’ loft was sealed off from the nave with a window depicting the sacraments in 1935. In 1926 the three old bells were melted down and re-cast into the one that is heard today.
Electric lighting replaced oil in 1947. 1960 looked like being a bad year for Mellor Church when death watch beetle caused mayhem in the roof. The present new roof was installed after £8000 was raised, and the screen was moved from the front of the nave to it’s present position at the rear creating a new ‘chapel’ at the west end. The new ‘Mander’ organ was installed in 1977, new Oak choir pews being provided in 1997. Further extensive renovations have been completed in 2004 and are still ongoing.
If you visit us, be sure to try to find the treasures in the churchyard, including the sundial with it’s supporting column being made from the remains of a late medieval cross, and the end posts of the old village stocks.
(Information by kind courtesy of Ann Hearle, Church Archivist)