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Wirksworth (St. Mary)

WIRKSWORTH (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, in the union of Belper, chiefly in the hundred of Wirksworth, but partly in that of Appletree, and partly in that of High Peak, county of Derby; containing 7891 inhabitants, of whom 4122 are in the town, 13 miles (N. N. W.) from Derby, and 139 (N. W. by N.) from London. This place, formerly written Wircesworth, Werchestworde, Wyrkysworth, is of very great antiquity. It is supposed to derive its name from some valuable lead-works in the neighbourhood, which, by an inscription on a pig of lead found in 1777, appear to have been worked so early as the time of the Emperor Adrian, at the commencement of the 2nd century. The Saxons subsequently carried on mining operations here on an extensive scale. In 714, Eadburga, abbess of Repton, to whom Wirksworth then belonged, sent hence to Guthlac, patron saint of Croyland Abbey, a leaden coffin; and in 835, Kenwara, another abbess of Repton, granted her estate at Wercesvorde to Humbert, on condition that he gave annually lead worth £15 to Archbishop Ceolnoth, for the use of Christ-Church at Canterbury. In Domesday book, Wirksworth is described as the property of the king, having a church, a priest, and three leadmines; and it remained in the crown until King John, in the fifth year of his reign, granted it to William de Ferrers, in whose family it continued till the attainder of his descendant, Robert, in the time of Henry III. By this monarch it was given in 1265 to his son, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and the manor has since that period constituted a part of the possessions of the duchy of Lancaster.

The town is situated in a valley nearly surrounded with hills, at the southern extremity of the mining district, and is supplied with water brought by pipes from the hills on its eastern side. Gas-works were erected in 1838. The chief employment of the inhabitants arises from the lead-mines, but some of them are engaged in the cotton manufacture; in the town and its immediate neighbourhood are three establishments for the manufacture of small-wares, and about 1500 quarters of malt are made here annually. The Cromford canal, and the Cromford and High Peak railway, commence in the parish; the former about a mile and a half north of the town, near where it crosses the river Derwent by means of an aqueduct; and the latter about half a mile north. The Midland railway passes a few miles on the southeast of the town. The mines and miners of the neighbourhood are governed by ancient customs, confirmed by a commission of inquiry in 1287; and all disputes and offences are determined at the Barmote courts, held twice a year before the steward, in the moot-hall, a handsome stone building erected in 1814 by the Hon. Charles Bathurst, then chancellor of the duchy. In this hall is deposited the ancient brass dish, the standard for those used for measuring the ore, which must be brought to be corrected by it, at least twice a year, by all the miners. The code of laws and regulations by which these courts are governed is very similar to that in force in the mining districts of the duchy of Cornwall. One remarkable custom is, that each person has the privilege of digging and searching for lead-ore in any part of the king's field, which, with a few exceptions, comprehends the whole wapentake; and should he discover a vein of lead, he has a right to work it, and erect buildings necessary for that purpose, without making any compensation to the owner of the land. A market on Wednesday, and an annual fair for three days, were granted by Edward I., in 1305, to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster: Tuesday is now the market-day; and there are fairs on Shrove-Tuesday, Easter-Tuesday, May 12th, July 8th, Sept. 8th, and the third Tuesday in November, for cattle, the last being also a statute-fair. The town is governed by a constable and headborough; and a petty-session is regularly held by the county magistrates. The powers of the county debt-court of Wirksworth, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-districts of Ashbourn, Bakewell, and Belper. Two courts baron, at Easter and Michaelmas, and a court leet at Easter, occur for the king's manor, under the lessee of the crown; and a court is held for the rectorial manor. There is also a manor within the parish, which has no courts, called the Holland, or Richmond, manor, granted in 1553, by the crown, to Ralph Gell. The parish comprises 14,022a. 3r. 20p., and includes the chapelries of Alderwasley and Cromford; the townships of Ashley-Hay, Biggin, Hopton, Ible, and Idridgehay with Allton; and the hamlets of Callow, Ivonbrook-Grange, and Middleton.

The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £42. 7. 8½.; net income, £164; patron, the Bishop of Lichfield. The church is a handsome structure in the later English style, with a square tower supported in the centre by four large pillars, and contains some ancient monuments. At Cromford, Alderwasley, and Middleton, are chapels, the two former built and endowed by individuals, and the latter by subscription. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Primitive Methodists. The free grammar school, adjoining the churchyard, was established and endowed by Anthony Gell, of Hopton, in 1576, and was rebuilt in the English style, in 1828, at an expense of about £2000; the income is upwards of £250 per annum. This school, in common with those of Ashbourn and Chesterfield, is entitled, next after the founder's relatives, to two fellowships and two scholarships at St. John's College, Cambridge, founded by James Beresford, vicar of Wirksworth, who died in 1520. Almshouses for six men, near the school, were also founded and endowed by Anthony Gell. Elizabeth Bagshaw, in 1797, left £2000 three per cent, consols, for the poor, the dividends of which amount to £56 per annum; and there are many other donations and bequests, producing together a considerable sum. In 1736, a quantity of Roman coins was discovered; and spars, fluors, &c, have been found in great variety in the neighbourhood. Here were also some mineral springs, but they have been destroyed by draining the mines.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.