History & Heritage

Breadsall is a small rural village and at the turn of the twentieth century the population was far less than today -  there were nine working farms and a handful of cottages and houses dotted around the parish. The Church dedicated to All Saints, dating from Saxon times and mentioned in the Doomsday survey of 1087 dominated the village with its 156 feet {48m} spire.

On the night of Thursday 4th June 1914, a disastrous fire occurred; the outbreak was discovered at midnight by a troop of scouts camping nearby. The nearest Fire Brigade was owned by Derby Borough Council and as Breadsall was outside the Borough boundary the Church Wardens had to guarantee the expenses. The engine was Derby’s first petrol-driven machine and it turned out at 1.45 am on its maiden trip in practical work. The Fire Engine negotiated the hump back bridge over the Derby to Little Eaton canal and reached Breadsall without mishap. By the time an adequate supply of water was secured from Dam Brook on Brookside Road the fire was virtually all over.

After the fire all that was left were the bare walls and the shell of the tower and spire all in a much damaged condition and threatening to collapse.

All internal woodwork, of considerable value, was destroyed, including a fourteenth century door with good ironwork,  and several early sixteenth century benches with the arms of old local families of Curzon, Dethick, Dunne and Illingworth. The pulpit, the rood screen, a fine altar table from the Elizabethan period, a fine oak lectern, the organ installed in 1889 at a cost of £369,  and two old chairs given to the church by Sir Francis Darwin which came from Breadsall Priory were all reduced to ashes. The most grievous loss of all was an elaborate reading desk with a set of chained books, the only one of its kind. Eight tablets positioned in the tower were all destroyed, one to the celebrated Doctor Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet and philosopher who had lived at the Priory. The font dating from the fifteenth century was damaged beyond repair. The pitch pine roof of the nave and chancel and the finely carved oak roof of the north aisle all fell in. The five bells all dating to the eighteenth century crashed down to the tower floor, all were cracked or broken.

A piece of medieval sculpture, the famous Pieta standing 2’-6” high depicting the Virgin Mary with the dead Christ on her knees miraculously survived the fire undamaged. However a few days later the supporting bracket, cracked during the fire, gave way and the Pieta fell to the ground causing severe damage. At first it seemed impossible to restore but a highly competent sculptor Mr. McCarthy was engaged who made an excellent and complete repair.

The fire was immediately attributed to militant suffragettes who had fired and attempted to fire a number of churches in their quest to obtain “votes for women”.

The following morning on June 5th the police made a detailed inspection and found that a small lattice window in the south porch had had its glass and lead ripped out. The window was a convenient height from the ground in the east side of the porch and therefore hidden from the road. Whilst the aperture was small it was capable of admitting a slim person. Fluff from a tweed material was found adhered to the window jambs indicating a struggle to pass through the narrow aperture. Found nearby was a ladies hat pin and from its condition only recently lost and a small jemmy.

On June 6th the Rector John Ayton Whitaker received a green envelope, green being a Suffragette colour, posted from Derby on June 5th at 7.45 pm, inside was a postcard with the message “Let there be light, The price of liberty, Votes for women” also inside was a page from “The Suffragette” which made reference to Miss Emily Wilding Davison, the Suffragette who was fatally injured when attempting to  throw a “Votes For Women” banner over the Kings horse at the Epsom Derby on June 4th 1913.When interviewed by the local press the Rector said he was convinced the fire was the work of “The mad Women”

Whilst never being actually proved, it would seem reasonable to assume the perpetrators were Suffragettes.

From June 1914 to April 1916 services were held in the Old Hall. The restoration committee was chaired by Colonel W.Beadon Woodforde of Breadsall Lodge; he was churchwarden and took responsibility for rebuilding owing to the incapacity of the Rector through old age. The total cost of rebuilding and refitting was £11,000 of this £6,280 was received from the insurance company therefore £4,720 had to be raised by public subscription and donations.

After restoration the altars were dedicated at 8.30a.m.on Friday April 14th 1916 and the service of restoration took place at 2.30 p.m. on the same day, and services then resumed at Breadsall Church.

On Wednesday 6th September 1916 the five bells, which had all been recast, were dedicated at a Masonic service. Col. Woodforde was a prominent mason and as tribute to him, two of the five bells had been rehung at the expense of Derbyshire Freemasonry.

(Information kindly supplied by Cllr Roy Ling, abridged from his first book "A Pictorial History of Breadsall")