The Marriage Registers of Peak Forest Chapel, co. Derby
edited by George W. Marshall, LL.D (1901)

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1996


IT is not always an easy matter to write a preface that will be interesting reading, but as this is a book containing in part the contents of the Parish Register of the Liberty of Peak Forest, it must necessarily be to a certain extent a history of the place. The portion of the High Peak of Derbyshire now forming the Parish, or to write more correctly, the Liberty of Peak Forest, was from very early times the centre of the Royal Forest of the Peak. This was never a forest of trees, but a deer forest. It is also said that the wild boar abounded here. The exact date when it was first set apart for hunting is not known, but as the Castle in the neighbouring parish of Castleton, said to have been built by Peveril, a natural son of William the Conqueror, it is not unlikely that he followed the example set him by his father in the South of England in founding the New Forest, and that the Forest of the Peak was of his creation. This is borne out to a certain extent by the letters ADMC on one end of the old block seal used at the Peculiar Court, meaning the year 1100. The name of the neighbouring town of Buxton, formerly spelt Buckstone, was undoubtedly derived from its close proximity to the King's Forest. There is in the parish a large farm house built upon the site of a former one, and bearing the same name, the “Chamber”. It was here the Head Forester lived. Another farm house is named Dogman's Slack, and here resided the man who had charge of the hounds. Squire Frith of hunting fame hereabouts lived at the “Chamber”. The country was disforested by Charles the II.

After the death of King Charles I. the Countess of Devonshire, a very loyal woman, and consequently much troubled at the execution of that monarch, sought some way of showing her loyalty and devotion. She decided on building a little church in the royal Forest, for the use of the King's Foresters. This she did in the year 1657 dedicating it to Charles King and Martyr. In carrying out this resolution the first thing to be done would be the choosing of a site. The matter, I think, was decided in this way. There still stands in what is now the Churchyard, near the West end of the site of the church, a large gritstone base; it is circular in shape and leaded into it is a short octagon pillar. This pillar is not in the centre, but on one side of the base, leaving ample room for a person to stand upon it. In my opinion this has been a preaching stone or place, as the base stands about fifteen inches above the ordinary level of the ground. In seeking for a site the preaching place was chosen, the pillar shortened, and the font fixed upon it. It might be supposed that the standing room was for the priest when baptising, but the floor at the West end of the Church was filled up so that the aisle was level with the top of the base.

The font itself, now in the present church, is generally supposed to have been brought from some other church or abbey. It is certainly very much older than 1657. It formerly had a cover as the holes on the top prove, but no one remembers it having a cover at Peak Forest. There is also in the present church tower an old bell, said to have belonged some abbey, but recast for Peak Forest Church in 1657. It bears on one side a double W, and has a latin inscription, “Dulcedine vocis sonabo,” and on the fourth side “Luo Noc”, the latter meaning “I atone for the guilty”, shows that the noble foundress built the church by way of an atonement for those guilty of regicide. The church built in the Royal Forest and on Crown land was under no jurisdiction, but had a Peculiar Jurisdiction of its own. It was also extra Parochial and extra Episcopal. The patronage has always been in the hands of the Devonshire family, and the Chapel was conveyed by deed of gift to the Minister. There was no institution or induction. The deed of gift was in the following terms:

“To all to whom these presents shall come. The Most Noble William, Duke of Devonshire, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter sends greeting. Whereas the chapel of Peak Forest, in the County of Derby, is now void by resignation (or death) of the Reverend A. B, the last Incumbent there, and doth of right belong my gift or donation. Know ye that I, the said William, Duke of Devonshire, have not only given and granted the said Chapel of Peak Forest with all its rights members and appurtenances unto my beloved in Christ, C. D., Clerk, of whose probity and learning I am well satisfied, but also by virtue of these presents Do induct him, the said C. D., unto the corporal possession of the said Chapel with its rights, members and appurtenances as aforesaid. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this … day of … one thousand eight hundred and


Signed sealed and
delivered by the above
named William,
Duke of Devonshire
in the presence of
… … … … …
         … … … … …”

Four other churches in England have the same dedication, but Peak Forest is the only one built in the lifetime of Cromwell. The other four Charles Churches are, Wem, Tonbridge Wells, Falmouth, and Plymouth.

The Minister at Peak Forest had the right to hold a Peculiar Court and had the title of Principal Official and Judge in Spiritualities in the Peculiar Court of Peak Forest. In this court he granted Probate of Wills, &c. He had also power to grant Marriage Licences to any persons applying, no matter from whence they came, and in virtue of these Licences could marry any persons from anywhere and at any time. These powers he exercised in favour of people coming from all parts to this Ecclesiastical “Gretna Green” of the Peak. From ninety to a hundred of these “Foreign Marriages,” as they were locally called, took place every year. It is therefore very likely that many a tangled skein of family history may be unravelled by these Registers. Unfortunately, for some time after these marriages were stopped by Act of Parliament, the ministers were non resident, and the registers kept in an old oak box in a damp vestry, owing to which they became very much dilapidated. Nothing remains for the first forty years of the existence of the benefice, that is from 1657 to 1696. About the latter date the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield made a claim upon Peak Forest, but were unable to sustain it. There remains an old document, date 1697, containing the answer of the minister to the Dane (sic) and Chapter of Lichfield. Among other matters he mentions the “records of more than threescore years”, proof that there were records or registers for more than fifty years prior to those still in existence. After the year 1696 only a fragment remains until 1727. Some entries after 1696 are in a book containing parish accounts. The Register of Foreign Marriages is a small folio, 16 inches by 8 inches, clearly written, and apparently only in two hands. In the latter part of it, the residences of the persons married are usually given. Most of the leaves are loose, and the paper on which it is written extremely fragile. The regular entries are on thirty-one leaves, and the rest of the leaves are mostly blank; a few contain accounts and memoranda of no value, and which have not been transcribed. There still exist a number of inventories, indentures and bonds of different kinds connected with the legal processes of the Peculiar Court. The wooden Seal of the Peculiar is in the custody of the Vicar and is interesting. One end is oval the other round. The oval end, besides the symbols of the Passion, the crown of thorns and the three nails of the Cross has the following Latin inscription: Sigil: Jur: Sti: Ca: primi: Mar: Dar: Seal of the Jurisdiction of St. Charles the first Martyr, -- the last word Dar from the initial letters of Charles' motto. Deo Auspice regno. I reign by God's favour. There is also the date 1661. The round end, besides the arms in which the beasts of the forest figure, has the following superscription: Pecu: Juris: apud Peake Forrest Cap: ADMC. Peculiar Jurisdiction at Peak Forest Chapel -- A.D. 1100. [1]

The date refers to the founding or creating of the Forest by Peveril. One cannot pass over the history of Peak Forest without referring to the “tale of blood”. About the middle of the eighteenth century, two young people on their way to Peak Forest to be married, were waylaid in a wild gorge through which the way led; some Castleton miners had noticed them as they rested for a short time at Stoney Middleton, and heard them enquire the way to Peak Forest. These men determined to rob them as they passed through this gorge, known as the Winnats or Wind gates. There is still pointed out a piece of a field wall, once a part of a barn where the crime was committed. The following account is taken from the Wolley MSS. in the British Museum.

“A remarkable punishment of murder. The following account was given by Mr. Thomas Marshall, of Edal (Edale) in Derbyshire, December 17th, 1778. Twenty years ago a young gentleman and lady came out of Scotland as is supposed on a matrimonial expedition. As they were travelling through that County, they were robbed and murdered at a place called ye Winnets, near Castleton. Their bones were found about ten years ago, by some miners who were sinking an Engine pitt at ye place. One James Ashton of Castleton, who died about a fortnight ago, and who was one of the murderers, was most miserably afflicted and tormented in his conscience. He had been dying, it was thought, for ten weeks, but could not die till he had confessed the whole of the affair, but when he had done this he died immediately. He said Nicholas Cock, Thomas Hall, John Bradshaw, Frank Butler and himself meeting the above gentleman and lady in ye Winnets, pulled them off their horses and dragged them into a barn belonging to one of them, and took from them two hundred pounds. Then seizing on ye young gentleman, the young lady (who Ashton said was the fairest woman he ever saw) intreated them in ye most moving manner not to kill him, as she was the cause of his coming into that country. But, notwithstanding her intreaties, they cut his throat from ear to ear. They then seized ye young lady herself, and though she intreated them on her knees to spare her life, and turn her out naked, yet one of the wretches drove a miner's pick into her head when she dropped dead at his feet. Having thus dispatched them both they left ye bodies in ye barn and went away with their booty. At night they returned to ye barn, in order to take them away; but they were so terrified with a frightful noise, that they durst not move them; and so it was on the second night. But the third night Ashton said, it was only the Devil, who would not hurt them, so they took ye bodies away and buried them. They then divided the money and Ashton bought horses with his share, which died soon after. Nicholas Cock fell from a precipice near ye place of ye murder and was killed. Thomas Hall hanged himself. John Bradshaw was walking near ye place where ye bodies were buried, when a stone fell from ye hill and killed him on ye spot. Francis Butler went mad and died miserably.”

An old person, a native of Castleton, who died some years ago, told me that when she was a girl she knew well the relatives of some of the murderers, and that one woman had often shown her a ring which she averred was taken from the finger of the lady of the Winnats. A sum of money was found by two lads a few years ago under a piece of rock near the road leading from the Winnats to Chapel en le Frith, part of which is in my possession, and which, after making every enquiry, I believe to be part of the murder money, probably part of one man's share.

There formerly lived in Peak Forest a family, now extinct, a member of which found the horses, which had been allowed to ramble on the open moor, saddled and bridled. He ransacked the saddle bags, finding money and jewellery. Amongst the latter was a new gold wedding ring-long after in the possession of a member of the family, who migrated from Peak Forest. This ring, undoubtedly, was for use at the wedding ceremony. This family is still spoken of by the name of “Saddle Bags and Silver Spurs”. The lady's side-saddle may be seen at the house connected with the Speedwell Mine at the bottom of the Winnats pass.

The names of the murdered people were never known. Had the crime been committed on the return journey their names would have been found in this Register. Peak Forest, with its Peculiar Court and Jurisdiction, would be unknown to their friends, who never hearing of or from them would conclude that they had left the country. Since writing the above I have been permitted through the kindness of my friend and neighbour, the Vicar of Castleton, to examine the Parish Register, for the dates given in the Wolley MSS. Among the burials I find the following entries, “1778 October 18th James Ashton” (this is the man who confessed).

Thomas Hall June 9 1751
Thomas Hall May 28 1753.
Rebekah Cock dr of Nicholas and Mary Cock buryed October
14th 1759, accidently drown in the brook.
Charles son of Nicholas and Mary Cock buryd March 2 1763.
Nicholas Cock buryd 29th December 1766.
John Bradshaw 30th August 1774.

The surname of James Ashton seems to have been tampered with, with the intention of obliterating it, the parchment being roughened, but it is still quite legible. The two Halls may neither of them have been the murderer of that name, as in all probability he found a suicide's grave at some crossroads. The only name I could not find is that of Francis Butler, but as he went mad, he was doubtless removed to a place of safety, and was not buried at Castleton. He might have been interred in the Churchyard at Hope.

The present Church of Peak Forest, having the same dedication as the old chapel, was built by the late Duke of Devonshire, in the year 1877, and consecrated on All Saints' Day, November 1st, 1877. It was the last act of consecration of Bishop Selwyn of saintly memory. It is one of the prettiest village churches in Derbyshire. There is a side chapel, known as the Needham Chapel, in which are several stained windows to the memory of the Needham family and their connections. There are also two tablets placed in it which formerly had a place in the old chapel, as well as an oil painting of the Holy family, this was also in the old chapel. The tablets read:-

In hopes of a joyful resurrection
near this place was interred the body of
Sarah Bower of Rushop
daughter of John and Mary Bower
of Torr Top,
who died December 25th 1779 Aged 32 years.
Also the body of John Bower
son of the aforesaid John and Mary Bower
who died December 28th 1756 Aged 13 years.
Also the body of Mary Bower
daughter of Robert and Hannah Needham
of Perreyfoot, and mother of the above
named Sarah and John Bower who
died February 14th 1781 Aged 59 years.

To the memory of Samuel Needham
of Rushop, Gentleman, who departed this
life October 14th 1801 Aged 75 years.
Also Robert Needham of Perrey foot
father of the above named Sam' Needham
who died May 12th 1772 Aged 75.
And Hannah his wife who died May 9
1772 Aged 81.
Also Martha their daughter who died
August 7th 1742 Aged 13.

Several brasses belonging to the old Church were lost when the Church was taken down in 1880. One of these was found by the present Vicar in a cottage. It was being used for a grid under the fire place. He took it up, claimed it, and put it in the present Church himself. It is nicely engraved and bears the following inscription.

to the memory of
Revd. John Duncalf
24 years Minister of this Liberty
He died September 14th 1836 in the
54 year of his age.

This Minister was educated at Sedbergh School - and was a famous Mathematician. I have in my possession a book written by him against Fatalism. It reads like the problems of Euclid.

Five marble tablets have been placed in the Church within the last few years. One together with the centre light of the East window has been erected to the memory of Lord Frederick Cavendish. The inscription is as follows:

The centre light of this East window
was put in by the Peak Forest Tenantry
In memory of
the sad death of
Lord Frederick Charles Cavendish, M.P.,
Chief Secretary for Ireland,
Second son of His Grace the Duke of Devonshire, K.G.
Lord of this Manor and Patron of this Church.
Born Novr. 30th 1836. Died May 6th 1882.

The second tablet is placed on the South side of the East window, and reads thus:

In grateful Memory of
Lord Edward Cavendish, M.P.
who laid the foundation Stone of this Church
of Charles King and Martyr March 31st 1876
and entered into rest May 18th 1891
In the 54th year of his age.

The tracery of this window was inserted by the parishioners and a few friends.

“The memory of the Just is blessed.”

The third tablet is placed on the North side of the Church with this inscription:

In grateful memory of
William Cavendish
Seventh Duke of Devonshire, K.G.
who built this Church to the honour and glory of God
and for the benefit of his people.
He entered into rest December 21st 1891
in the 84th year of his age.
“Full of days, riches and honour.”

The fourth is placed on the South side of the Church, and on the East side of the King Charles window.

In memory of
Frederick Greville Egerton
Commander R.N.
Younger son of Admiral the Hon: Francis
and Lady Louisa Caroline Egerton,
grandson of the seventh Duke of Devonshire, K.G.
He died from wounds received in Action
while serving with the Naval Brigade from
H.M.S. Powerful in the defence of Ladysmith,
South Africa, Novr. 2nd 1899
In the 31st year of his age.
“So He bringeth them unto their desired haven.”

The last tablet is placed on the West side of the King Charles window and is the first Memorial erected any where to the memory of our late beloved Queen.

In dutiful memory of
Our Most Gracious Sovereign Lady
Queen of Great Britain and Ireland,
Defender of the Faith, Empress of India
who exchanged an earthly crown
for the Crown of Glory
January 22nd 1901 In the 82nd year of
her age-the 64th of her reign.
“Let her own works praise her in the gates.”

These five tablets are surrounded by a plain oak frame. That to Commander Egerton is surmounted by the Arms of the Cavendish and Ellesmere families. The one to her late Majesty is surmounted by the Royal Arms.

The tablets are the handiwork of the Vicar, and for the last one he has received the thanks of the King Edward VII. and also of the Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyle, for his work of loyalty and devotion.


William Oldfield was Incumbent in 1696. In a letter to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield he uses the expression “none of my predecessors,” showing there were a number before him, but I cannot find their names.

Jonathan Rose 1727
John Ashe 1747
Jeffry Wolstenholme 1784
Hugh Wolstenholme 1804
John Duncalf 1812
Henry Barrow Chinn 1836
William P. Rigg 1859
Thomas Rigg 1863
William Pigrum 1864
Arthur T. Field 1865
Harry Mitchell 1875
George Rogerson 1881

Vicar of Peak Forest Chapel.      

[1] See Oldfield's Ansr. re Peak Forest Peculiar in Jewitt's Reliquary xi., 246, and also, with other particulars and notes on the Seal of the Peculiar, in Cox's Churches of Derbyshire, ii. (sub Peak fforest) 278; and Proc. Soc. Antia., London 2 S. xviii., 360.

Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie, April 1996.
Any references to, or quotations from, this material should also give credit to the original author.

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