Chapel with a long history

LESS than three miles from the bustle of Worksop's town centre lies one of the area's hidden gems.

Steetley Chapel, the most famous example of Norman architecture in Europe, lies in a sleepy nook, forgotten by many and used by few.

Built in 1120 AD as a private chapel to a nearby manor house, the church's history goes back even further as it was most probably erected on the foundations of a wooden place of worship used by the Saxons.

"It really is a truly wonderful building," said churchwarden, Sheila Lound.

"But in common with most old churches nowadays we are struggling to survive - if we are lucky we can sometimes get four people to our Sunday morning services."

"The only time it is full is when we have a baptism or a wedding and we rarely see those who are involved after the event."

Steetley Chapel has an incredible history that stretches back to the time of the Black Prince and before the building of Welbeck Abbey.

In those far-off days, Christianity still held onto many of the customs of the sun and nature worshippers.

Folk lore also has a place in the chapel. A carving of Adam and Eve, the apple tree and the serpent, representing the creation and man's fall from grace, can still be seen alongside St George and the Dragon.

And Sir Walter Scott mentions Robert of Loxley (Robin Hood) meeting Richard the Lionheart at 'The Chapel in the Forest' in his classic novel, Ivanhoe.

In the year 1349 Steetley, like most of the known world fell victim to the Great Plague which wiped out a third of the population. It was almost always fatal in a day - a rash, a sneeze and collapse. The only treatment was a pocket full of posies (herbs to ward off infection).

It didn't take long for the village to die. There was no-one left and the chapel eventually began to deteriorate. The roof caved in and eventually what was left of the structure was covered with ivy.

But it is said that services were still held there in secret. Worshippers would lock themselves in with the knowledge that in an emergency they could escape from a tunnel behind the altar.

In the 17th century the old building played its part in the Civil War.

A party of Roundheads from Bolsover Castle accidently met Charles I supporters in the chapel grounds," said Mrs Lound. "A skirmish took place and shots were fired."

"Over the years musket balls have been found in the chapel grounds and there are still holes in the outer walls if you want to look carefully."

But just when it looked as if Steetley Chapel was doomed, the mines were opened in the 18th century and a move to restore the building started under the direction of Canon Mason, the Rector of Whitwell.

The work was finally completed in 1880 and the chapel was re-dedicated to All Saints, sister church to St Lawrence's Church, Whitwell in the Diocese of Derby.

"Those of us who love the chapel feel very proud to be involved with it," said Mrs Lound.

"We like people to take an interest in the place and, as our visitor's book clearly shows, those who do come are always moved by its beauty, simplicity and the peace that surrounds it."

"It would be so nice if we could share it with more people at our Sunday services," she added.

The stained glass window to the right of the altar was donated by Eva Marie and Alfred Thornton in 1990.

The design is centred around the theme of the Resurrection.

The lower parts of the window represent Whitwell Woods, Steetley Works, Farming and adjacent buildings.

It is known as The Thornton Window.