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Archaeological Recording of 17c Pew Panels in the South Aisle

By L.Elliott, Dr. D.Strange-Walker & P.Webb of Trent & Peak Archaeology

The summary is reproduced below:

  • During 2011, Trent & Peak Archaeology was commissioned by Ben Roper of Smith & Roper on behalf of the Shirley PCC to carry out archaeological recording of the 17th century pews in the south aisle prior to proposed groundwork at the St.Michael’s Church, Shirley, Derbyshire
  • The objective of the archaeological work was to identify and record the extent, form and location of reused 17th century pew elements prior to proposed groundwork and alterations in the south aisle. This included drawn, photographic and laser scanning of the pews in the south aisle.
  • The present arrangement of the box pews is a result of work carried out in 1842, which included the addition of the north aisle and west gallery. Prior to this many well carved oak pews are said to have been present with the only survivors being those present at the east end of the south aisle.
  • The recording identified four elements that can be dated to the 17th century. Panels 1-3, consisting of the same decoration (guilloche friezes framing panels of strap-work), moulding, construction method and phase of workmanship, can be dated by an inscription to 1649. The carved initials CC & MC may relate to either the Colwich family of Yeaveley or churchwardens or even the makers of the pews.
  • Panel 4 of different construction and moulding can be dated to at least 1677 due to graffiti.
  • Together these panels and in particular the ornately decorated panels 1-3 represent a (small) but significant dated sample, within a very limited corpus of 17th century woodwork from Derbyshire churches. Little woodwork in particular survives from the 1640’s, the time of the English Civil War, with only one church, Carsington being constructed (1648) during this period.
  • The decoration on panels 1-3 is characteristic of the 17th century. Parallels can be seen just over the border in Staffordshire at St.Peter’s, Alstonefield (16km) and St. John’s the Baptist, Mayfield (7.8km).
  • The Shirley panels may relate to a former family pew. It is unlikely that ornate pews were present throughout the church as at Alstonefield. Instead prior to 1842 the existence within the church of several other box pews of 17th to 18th century date, is indicated by panel 4 in the south aisle and re-used plain pew panels in the north aisle, including one with the carved initials IJSC and date 1724.
  • Of note is the graffiti present on panel 4, which includes the dates 1677 and 1724 (therefore 334 to 287 years old), adding to the small group of dated examples from Derbyshire churches Where the graffiti is not directly associated with the two inscribed dates, they can be stylistically compared to other recorded 17th century examples.
  • Altogether the four panels represent significant survivals of 17th century Derbyshire church woodwork providing rare evidence of ornate decoration, construction methods and graffiti. They should be retained and displayed elsewhere in the church if affected by new work in the south aisle.

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