After a few days of sickness I felt well enough to venture out again the weekend before last so we headed off into Derbyshire on the Heritage trail. I love being able to access places that are not usually open to the general public it is a rare treat and who knows what you might find – it is like opening a lucky bag.
We decided on the Chapel of St John the Baptist at Matlock Dale, built in 1897 of the Arts and Crafts style; designed by the architect Sir Guy Dawber for Mrs Louisa Sophia Harris, the lady of the adjacent large house, as her private chapel.
The Chapel sits high above the dale at Artists Corner – there is no parking on the hillside other than for residents – walking is the only option. So it was a case of follow the double yellow lined road up quite a steep, windy hill but believe me it is the best way to approach this magnificent building.
On the way we passed the large house that once belonged to Mrs Harris named The Rock – it now has its own private post box at the entrance – for incoming mail I presume!
Just a little further along the lane the spectacular Chapel suddenly comes into sight – towering above us – it may be small but it certainly has a presence.
The Chapel is built upon a rocky terrace above a well so that the sheer natural rock face and man-made building merge together as one. Surrounded by woodland, which ensures its secrecy, and clothed with trailing ivy, moss and wild flowers it is the most magical, romantic place ever with an air of quiet calm broken only by intermitent birdsong.
You enter the walkway through some very grand gates – almost out of scale with the tiny chapel.
The plaque on the wall by the gate has been placed there by ‘The Friends of the Friendless Churches’ (doesn’t that name tug at the heart strings?), a charity taking on such places to stop them going to rack and ruin. They are now restoring the chapel bit by bit and lovingly care for it once again – I had never heard of this charity before but they are doing such good works up and down the country and it is to their credit that this chapel is being so beautifully restored and might even hold a few special services again sometime in the near future.
And finally through the gate the first glimpse of the chapel – such a beautiful little building – simple in its design – but intricate in detail – it did not disappoint.
The entrance is protected by a cloister that turns around one side of the chapel with wooden tiles on the roof…
…and candles carved into the stone on either side of the doorways.
Once inside, although a high church intended for Anglo- Catholic worship, it retains a simplistic, cosy feel – everything has been lovingly crafted from the handmade bricks to the stain glass in the windows. Mrs Harris had certainly not spared any money on this chapel it is a sheer work of art and she obviously could afford to commission work from the best artists and craftsmen at that time.
At the far end opposite the entrance you look directly upon the magnificent stained glass window designed by Louis Davies. The panelling around the altar, recently uncovered and restored, has the distinctive Arts and Crafts design and colours.
The whole place has a lovely balance of the ornate and the simple.
The crystal chandeliers were specially commissioned by Mrs Harris and are quite elaborate but this kind of ‘showiness’ would not have normally been thought suitable in a public place of worship.
The soft orange coloured bricks are handmade giving a rustic feel to the place – the plaque with the beautiful Art Nouveau typeface is to commemorate Louisa Harris.
The windowsill in the vestry captures a behind the scenes moment – a bag of crisps, some old lightbulbs, a few candles and the cross.
If you want to read more about this gem just Google St John the Baptist Chapel, Matlock Dale.
After leaving the chapel we noticed a sign on the track opposite saying ‘teas’ and went to explore. We followed the driveway down for about 50 yards to a clearing in the wood where a little stone cottage suddenly appears with tables and log stools laid out in the garden.
The Cottage Tea Garden is so hidden away from view – can only be accessed on foot and is only open during the summer months and warm winter days as it is an outdoor café but it is absolutely delightful and I cannot recommend it enough should you ever be passing.
So we did – and the owner pops out of her cottage door below like a cheery weather man.
She served us with a cream tea for me (homemade scone and strawberry jam), coffee and apricot and coconut flapjack for DH. One slight hiccup was that we hardly ever carry any cash and the owner cannot take cards so we had to dig deep into our pockets and have a count up of our pennies before we ordered but this is something she is evidently used to and told us often moms and dads have been known to borrow their children’s pocket money to pay her!
A delightful afternoon. x