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St Michael and St Mary, Melbourne, Derbyshire

(52°49′16″N, 1°25′27″W)
SK 389 250
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Derbyshire
now Derbyshire
medieval Carlisle
now Derby
  • Louisa Catt
  • Ron Baxter
  • Celia Holden
  • Ron Baxter
02 Sep 2014 (LC, CH), 25 April 2022 (RB)

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Melbourne is a market town in the South Derbyshire district, 7 miles S of the centre of Derby. The church is on the S side of the town centre, alongside Melbourne Hall. It is by far the most ambitious Norman parish church in the county, perhaps the whole country. It was built entirely of the local millstone grit, an Namurian sandstone similar to Ashover Grit (Stanley, 175), and has a 5-bay aisled nave with a 2-tower W narthex, a crossing tower with transepts and a 2-bay unaisled chancel. The original chancel was of 2 storeys with blind arcading on the upper storey that survives for one bay on either side, and steep roof with 2 registers of openings into the crossing, which were removed and their arches blocked and windows inserted, apparently at different dates in the 14thc (S) and 15thc (N). It is substantially Norman except for the upper stages of the crossing tower, and windows in the aisles, transepts and chancel. It was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott from 1859-62.


Melbourne was held by King Edward before the Conquest, when it was assessed at 6 carucates, and by King William thereafter. The was a priest, a church and a mill in 1086. When Henry I founded Carlisle Cathedral in 1133, he endowed it with Melbourne church (see Comments).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



Wall passages/Gallery arcades


Vaulting/Roof Supports


Arguments about the date of the foundation of the church are intimately tied to Henry I's foundation of a new cathedral in Carlisle. Henry gave the church as part of the endowment of the new bishopric, and the donation was part of an agreement between the king and Archbishop Thurstan of York, which dates it c.1114x1135. In the event the first bishop, Adelulf Prior of Nostell, was not consecrated until 1133, and it has usually been assumed that Melbourne was built by Adelulf as a suitably grand retreat after the city of Carlisle was annexed by the Scots (Barman 1960). Gem (1989) cast serious doubts on this assumption. In this view, Henry's donation of Melbourne to Carlisle was part of a systematic policy of maintaining friendly relations with his brother-in-law King David I of Scotland that also included Henry's gift of the manor of Huntingdon to David in 1113. Another possibility suggested by Gem is that Adelulf himself, while Prior of Nostell, had received the grant of Breedon, a manor adjacent to Melbourne, from Henry de Ferrers as part of its foundation gift in 1122. Effectively therefore, Gem's analysis returns the possible foundation date range to a longer timespan, while offering strong if inconclusive evidence for a start date c.1120.

The S clerestorey passage was apparently built for just half a bay with the arcade, presumably to buttress the crossing, then completed to the W end of the nave in the 13thc. This implies that the 12thc narthex was standing before the S nave wall was completed to its full height.

The widespread use of tectonic cushion capitals in the crossing and the narthex is striking, and paralleled in the nave at Thorney Abbey . Another unusual feature is the absence of imposts on the capitals of the windows. The treatment of the crossing capitals is worth noting, in that decorated (including figural) capitals only appear on the E side of the crossing; on the E crossing arch and the E sides of the lateral crossing arches. Decorated bases also appear on the E arch only. The iconography of the 6 narrative capitals is enigmatic. Perhaps a dipole between the demon capital and the priestly one was intended, and dragons are commonly found without a specific narrative context, but the man and wolf (or dog) scene defies interpretation. The N and S doorways have identical capitals, those on the N doorway more worn than the S, and it must, I think, be assumed that the S doorway capitals are copies, although I would be unwilling to suggest a date for the work. There too we are confronted with some unusual iconography.


R. J. Barman, History and Guide to the Parish Curch of Melbourne, 1960.

J. J. Briggs, The History of Melbourne, in the county of Derby, including biographical notices of the Coke, Melbourne, and Hardinge families, Derby 1852.

J. C. Cox, Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Chesterfield and London 4 vols, 1875-79, III, 395-408

J. Deans, Melbourne Church, London 1843.

R. Gem, 'Melbourne' in P. Dixon, C. J. Brooke and R. Gem 'Romanesque
Churches', Archaeological Journal, 146 (1989) sup 1, 24-31

C. Hartwell, N. Pevsner and E. Williamson, The Buildings of England: Derbyshire, New Haven and London 2016, 512-15.

Historic England Listed Building: English Heritage Legacy ID: 83078

M. F. Stanley, 'Carved in Bright Stone: Sources of Building Stone in Derbyshire'. D. Parsons (ed.), Stone. Quarrying and Building in England AD 43-1525. Chichester 1990, 169-85.

W. Wilkins, 'A Description of the Church of Melbourne in Derbyshire with an attempt to explain from it the real Situation of the Porticus in the ancient Churches', Archaeologia, 13 (1800), 290-308.