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What is the story behind the 'Temple in the Peak' in Hassop?

The west front of the Church of All Saints, Hassop Photo: Mike Smith
The west front of the Church of All Saints, Hassop Photo: Mike Smith

 In the small hamlet of Hassop, the appearance of the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints is remarkable. Mike explores this 19th century building and learns how its very existence could have had serious consequences for its owner.

One of the most remarkable and unexpected sights in the Peak District is the Roman Catholic Church of All Saints in the tiny rural hamlet of Hassop.

Designed like a classical temple that looks as if it could have been transplanted from ancient Greece or Rome, the building stands on the summit of a small knoll at the centre of the settlement. It is an incongruous but glorious presence.

This extraordinary building, constructed between 1816 and 1818, is located just a few yards outside the gates of Hassop Hall, the ancestral home of the Eyres.

Air to breathe

Great British Life: The south side of the church Photo: Mike SmithThe south side of the church Photo: Mike Smith

Legend has it that the Eyres acquired their name when a soldier called Truelove removed William the Conqueror’s helmet to help him to breathe after he had been knocked off his horse in battle, prompting the king to say, ‘I shall call you ‘Air’ for you have given me the air to breathe.’

Truelove, who adopted the name he had been given, later written as ‘Eyre’, lost a leg in the conflict – an injury depicted on the family’s coat of arms by a severed limb.

According to Millward and Robinson, authors of a well-researched history of the Peak District published in 1975: ‘By the seventeenth century, the Eyre family had accumulated wealth and land largely through lead-mining, sheep-rearing, well-contrived marriages and by imposing mortgages with cruel terms that were typical of the age.’

Hassop Hall served as their country seat for 354 years until 1852, when it passed to the Leslies. In 1975, the hall was acquired by Thomas Chapman, who turned the building into a celebrated restaurant and country hotel, which closed in 2019, when it was bought as a private residence by John Hill.

A brave and defiant step

During the many years when England’s Catholics were subject to persistent persecution, the Eyres remained staunchly committed to their religious beliefs, conducting their ‘secret’ services in buildings within the grounds of the hall.

In 1816, when Francis Eyre decided to build a new place of worship outside the boundary of his estate, he was taking a rather brave and defiant step.

As Fr Davoren, who retired recently as a much loved, long-serving priest at All Saints, explained, ‘The church is something of a rarity because it dates from the uncertain years between the Catholic Relief Act of 1701 and the final emancipation of Catholics in 1829.’

The handsomest barn in England

Great British Life: The rear of the church Photo: Mike SmithThe rear of the church Photo: Mike Smith

When Francis Eyre commissioned the building of the church, he asked his architect, Joseph Ireland, to fashion a building that would resemble St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden.

This well-known London place of worship (not to be confused with St Paul’s Cathedral) was designed in 1633 by Inigo Jones for the 4th Earl of Bedford, who asked him to keep costs down by designing a ‘simple church not much better than a barn’, to which the architect is said to have replied, ‘Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England.’

True to his word, Jones came up with a very handsome ‘barn’ indeed, distinguished by a temple-like frontage featuring four tall uprights supporting a boldly projecting pediment.

The church at Hassop, designed by Joseph Ireland, with his assistant, J.J. Scoles, acting as clerk of works, has a west front that is clearly a faithful copy of the frontage of the church in Covent Garden.

Whether a neo-classical frontage designed for a church in central London is appropriate for a place of worship in a tiny village in the heart of rural Derbyshire is open to question, but there is no doubting that the façade of the building at Hassop is very eye-catching.

The classical revival style is continued in the rest of the exterior. Five Grecian side windows are arranged neatly along the south side of the building, beneath projecting eaves, and four Tuscan pilasters add a decorative touch to the plain rear of the church, where a projecting pediment nicely echoes that at the west end.

A coved and coffered ceiling

Great British Life: The interior of the church Photo: Mike SmithThe interior of the church Photo: Mike Smith

The interior of the church is a simple, rectangular hall, lit by tall side windows and covered by a wonderful coved ceiling, coffered with a neat geometrical arrangement of indentations. At the east end, there is an elaborate baroque altar of Sicilian marble.

The altar is backed by a depiction of the Crucifixion, said to have been painted by Lodovico Carracci, a Bolognese artist.

Etchings of the Stations of the Cross came from France, whilst a memorial tablet by J.E. Carew of Brighton is dedicated to Thomas Eyre, who died in 1833.

The tablet is fashioned in a neo-classical style to match the wonderful architecture of the church – a building that is far more striking than even the handsomest barn in the Peak District!

WHILST YOU ARE THERE

Within a few miles of All Saints, there are two of the Peak District’s most popular tourist destinations, as well as a walking, cycling and horse-riding trail running through stunning countryside, a famous viewpoint and one of Derbyshire’s most beautiful villages.

Great British Life: The Gardens at Thornbridge Hall Photo: Mike SmithThe Gardens at Thornbridge Hall Photo: Mike Smith

Thornbridge Hall

The hall is surrounded by 14 acres of formal gardens, which have many attractive and quirky features. There is a café called Quakers, an Emporium where gifts and plants can be purchased, and a children’s play area set around a fountain.

Great British Life: The Monsal Trail passing Hassop Station Photo: Mike SmithThe Monsal Trail passing Hassop Station Photo: Mike Smith

Hassop Station and the Monsal Trail

Books and gifts are on sale at the former station buildings, where there is a children’s play area, a café with an extensive range of delicious, locally sourced food, and a cycle-hire facility, which is convenient for the many visitors who wish to enjoy the adjacent Monsal Trail that runs for 8.5 miles along a former railway line through a beautiful stretch of the Peak District.

Great British Life: The View from Monsal Head Photo: Mike SmithThe View from Monsal Head Photo: Mike Smith

The viewpoint at Monsal Head

The celebrated viewpoint at Monsal Head overlooks a sharp bend in the river Wye, which is crossed by a former railway viaduct, once criticised by John Ruskin as an eyesore but now preserved as a much-admired landscape feature and used as part of the Monsal Trail.

Great British Life: Ashford-in-the-Water Photo: Mike SmithAshford-in-the-Water Photo: Mike Smith

Ashford-in-the-Water

This picturesque village is set alongside the river Wye, which is crossed by a three-arched former packhorse bridge, said to be the most photographed bridge in England. Rainbow trout can be spotted leaping in the crystal-clear waters beneath overhanging weeping willows.



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