29 Jun


The Crooked Spire in Chesterfield has been a daily feature of my journey to work in Sheffield for many years and it never ceases to be a source of wonder. To me it is as special as the leaning tower must be to Pisa’s populace. You can see it for miles from whichever compass direction you approach the town, and it affords a spectacular panoramic vista of North East Derbyshire on days that you can get access to the turret at the base of the spire.

I had an interesting conversation with the Verger on a visit there a few years back and we discussed the various theories about how the spire had become so deformed.

He first informed me that in olden times the Verger used to carry a ruddy great stick to belt people out of the way as the Bishop approached – literally bashing them into the verge. At six foot four, I could see he would be mighty effective in this role.

As we climbed up into the tower, I Looked at the oak beams and joints within the Spire. I suggested that they showed timber framing, or green woodworking techniques – marks from side axes, adzes, and wooden dowels holding the oak joists together. As the Spire was built only eight years after the Black Death had ravaged the country, could it be that there were not enough master carpenters around to do a proper job on the roof?
Had they employed more rustic ‘woodsmen’ using green woodworking methods?

He said that this was indeed the case, but that there was good evidence that the spire, originally clad with oak shingles (tiles), had been perfectly straight (for 300 years). During this time the oak frame would have had ample time to season properly. It had not twisted as the green timber had dried out.

He believed that it was the later addition of a lead cladding (33 tonnes) which caused the distortion (the sun’s rays being differentially absorbed around the spire, and extreme torsion resulting). The tower leans nearly 3 meters from true. The Spire had additional cross bracing installed in the 18th century to stop further distortion.

A lot of local firms use silhouettes of the Spire on their business logos, but remarkably the Parish Church of St Mary and All Saints gets no benefit from this powerful marketing image. I find this quite shocking – an extreme example of familiarity breeding contempt.

This amazing architectural gem survives solely on parish funds. A lone testament to the resilience of medieval joinery, and I reckon I can aspire to that.

One Response to “Aspire”

  1. inspiredbywoodandcoffee July 1, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    I love reading your blogs Henk – keep em coming 🙂

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