Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Cathedral of the Peak

Details of the parapet to the tower of St. John the Baptist's church

Known as the “Cathedral of the Peak”, St. John the Baptist’s church in Tideswell lies on the site of a chapelry within the parish of Hope, which was recorded in the Domesday Book; however, building of the existing church commenced c.1325, according to Pevsner, and was finished by 1400 – since when there have been no further additions to the structure. 

A general view of the south elevation

Although work was interrupted by the Black Death, 1349-1350, the church is very unusual in that it was essentially completed in a single phase of construction, where the development of the Decorated Gothic style and emergence of the Perpendicular Gothic style is clearly illustrated, and which includes the rebuilding in 1360 of an earlier chancel. 

The west elevation of the tower

Starting at the tower, which was the latest part of the church to be completed, the Perpendicular Gothic style is characterised by the tall west window, with its large mullions and simple panel tracery, and the very unusual octagonal turrets, with pinnacles, that top each corner. 

A detail of weathered Decorated Gothic tracery in the south aisle

Continuing clockwise past the castellated two storied porch, the arched windows to the south aisle have flowing Decorated Gothic tracery and this continues into the south transept, which has diagonal buttresses with now empty niches and grotesques; however, the sculptural decoration has been restored – probably during the major restoration by J. D. Sedding in the early 1870’s. 

Original and restored sculpted details on the south transept

Moving on to the chancel, the change in style of windows from arched to flat headed indicates the adoption of the new Perpendicular Gothic design for the rebuilt chancel, although the geometrical tracery is a throwback to the early Decorated Gothic style. 

Perpendicular Gothic windows in the chancel

In all of the fabric seen up to this point, there is no change in the masonry – either the type of stone or the shape, size and tooling of the blocks – and a yellowish coloured Millstone Grit of unknown provenance has been used throughout. Compared to other similar gritstones that I have seen in the Peak District National Park, this one is relatively soft and moulded details, as well as the ashlar, are often severely weathered. 

A general view from the north-east

The north elevation of the church, including the transept, essentially mirrors the south elevation although the buttresses between the windows of the chancel are shorter and lack finials.

A detail of the window tracery in the north transept

The churchyard is quite limited in size, with part of it set on rising ground to to the north of the church and a quick exploration revealed a couple of large chest tombs, but I saw nothing of great architectural interest. There is, however, a part set aside for several Commonwealth War Graves.

The Commonwealth War Graves


  1. A marvelous building! I wish there were pictures of the interior.