St. Martin's Church of Stoney Middleton - Atlas Obscura

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St. Martin's Church

Stoney Middleton, England

This 15th-century church was once described as the ugliest in England. 


The historic St. Martin’s Church in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire, was once described as the ugliest church in all of England, an observation recorded in the diary of a local cobbler named Tom Carter. Today, visitors are sure to find the remark at odds with the impressive little church.

During the Middle Ages, a small well chapel was the first religious building constructed on the site. Then, in 1415, a local lady known as Joan Eyre built the original St. Martin’s Church after her husband, Sir Nicholas Eyre, safely returned home after fighting in the Battle of Agincourt. Their son, Sir Robert Eyre, also took part in the battle. (Charlotte Brontë later adopted the Eyre name for her heroine after visiting the family property in nearby Hathersage.)

The original 1415 church followed the typical layout of other 15th-century churches. In 1759, a devastating fire broke out in the church, destroying everything except for the building’s stone tower. Soon after, in 1767, the church was rebuilt. Besides the tower, most of the present-day building dates back to this 18th-century reconstruction.

The redesign of the church wasn’t met with universal approval. The architect who led the project, James Paine, had up until then only constructed civil buildings, such as stables. Writing of the architect’s work, 18th-century historian Doctor Cox commented, “We wish he had confined his attention exclusively to secular work.” Cox’s assessment eventually led to the church’s designation as the nation’s ugliest.

While some contemporaries ridiculed the building, the church today is celebrated for its unique architecture. The nave of the church is octagonal—one of England’s oldest churches to have an octagonal nave—and all the pews face the center of the church. After working on the church, Paine went on to have an illustrious career, working on the famed Chatsworth House, among other commissions.

A 1903 pipe organ by Cousans Sons and Co is also housed within the church. 

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