With its picture postcard scenery and seemingly peaceful villages, Derbyshire might be the last place you’d expect to find links with the Devil. Yet, associations with the evil one are surprisingly common in Derbyshire, says guest writer K.B. GODDARD.
The iconic crooked spire of Chesterfield’s St. Mary and All Saints’ church is a familiar sight on the Chesterfield skyline. How the spire came to be in its current state is usually explained by the use of green or unseasoned timber in its construction. However, there are also some popular folktales explaining the phenomenon and some of them involve the devil himself.
A place of worship may seem an odd place to find the devil taking a breather but, nevertheless, according to one such tale, this is the spot where he chose to rest himself one night. Stopping to rest on top of the church, so the story goes, the devil wrapped his long tale around the spire to stop himself from falling off. As he sat there, drifting up from the church below came the smell of incense. This so offended and irritated the nose of the devil that it caused him to sneeze. He flew off in such a hurry that he forgot to first unwind his tale, with the result that the spire was pulled and twisted into its current peculiar shape.
A second version claims that a local blacksmith was shoeing the devil and mistakenly drove a nail into the devils foot causing the evil one such pain that he took off with a yell. As he flew over Chesterfield, in a fit of rage and agony, he kicked out at the spire twisting it out of shape.
There are other tales connected with the crooked spire one of which makes the rather cheeky prediction that if a virgin should ever marry in the church its spire will straighten out again!
But the devil did not confine his escapades to Chesterfield. Eldon hole, on Eldon hill, near Peak Forest was once believed to be bottomless. It has been referred to as the devil’s bolt hole as it was thought to be a gateway to hell. According to one legend, in the 16th century the earl of Leicester persuaded a local man to be lowered by a rope into the hole to test its depth. When he was brought back up he was insensible and died a short time later, leading some to speculate that he had come face to face with the devil and died of the shock.
Peak Cavern in Castleton also has a history with the devil. The cavern is now often referred to by its older and more colourful name, that of Devil’s Arse; the name was changed to avoid offending the visiting Queen Victoria. The name of Devil’s Arse apparently comes from the strange, flatulent noises that issue from the cave. When the flood waters pour out of the cave it is sometimes said to be the devil urinating inside!
Then just this year, a copy of a 332 year old guide book to the Derbyshire Peak District was found in a house at Eyam. The book’s inside page clearly describes the area as “The Devil’s Arse of Peak.”
Quite why the devil should be so fond of Derbyshire is a mystery but he certainly seems to have made his presence felt.in the landscape of the county.
K.B. GODDARD is a Derbyshire-based writer specialising in Victorian style ghost stories. She has published two short story collections so far and has plans for a third. Her work has also been featured on horror fiction site Shadows at the Door and on The Wicked Library podcast. She loves history, mythology, Sherlock Holmes and old ghost stories. Not necessarily in that order.