The Alderwasley Sheela Na Gig

The Alderwasley Figure  A front view of the figure.

This carving gets a passing mention in the book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District being listed as one of the sheelas in Derbyshire. It is situated on the old chapel in the village of Alderwasley near Wirksworth. The chapel is a small building next to a church yard and is now being used as the village hall after a number of years lying derelict. The chapel is small, distinctly un-church like and dates from 16th century. It used to be the personal chapel of the Hurt family whose old alabaster coat of arms can still been on the front of the building where it hangs above the main door. The building is supposed to be haunted and some of the carvings on the building are quite eerie. (see the head carving below).
David Clarke in his book Ghosts and Legends of the Peak District states that the carvings on the chapel are taken from an older building which used be at the site. However I can find no mention of a church or chapel on site the before this one (if anyone knows differently please get in touch). There is some evidence to suggest that the materials used to build the chapel have been robbed from another larger building. The stone on which the alleged sheela resides is very large for a building of this size with an even larger stone directly below it. It seems unlikely that the stones were cut to such a large size for a building as small as this chapel. There is a cemetery to the left of the chapel.

The chapel
The chapel itself is mostly made up of a red sandstone with inserts of a much lighter grey stone
There are a number of carved items set in a line into the front wall These are :
A malevolent looking stone head,
A decorated shield,
A foliate pattern 
a plain protruding stone
Flanking the main door there are two worn heads both of which appear to be wearing hats
All of these items seem to be carved from a darker stone than the stone which the chapel is made of.
The main door to the chapel is surmounted by a decorated lintel which appears to be 16th century.

Is this a sheela na gig?
The carving is very weathered and and it is hard to determine whether it is a sheela or not. There is a cleft at the bottom of the carving and there seem to be hunched up knees and folded arms. The face is very weathered but you can still make out eyes and a mouth. The mouth seems similar to the Holdgate Sheela in that the lips are joined but again this is hard to know for certain due to the weathering. The date of the chapel would count against this being a sheela as it is far later than the usual Romanesque period. However if the stones of the chapel are taken from an earlier building then we may be able to discount this. Saying that I have yet to find any records of a Norman church or chapel at this site. The position of the figure on a quoin stone is similar to figures found in Ireland but is fairly unusual for a British sheela. The alleged sheela figure is by far and away the most worn of the carvings on chapel but this may be down to the faster weathering of the sandstone from which it is carved. It is worth noting that the only other sandstone carving on the chapel appears to be 16th century and is also worn although not to the same extent as the alleged sheela. All in all the figure is too weathered to be certain whether it is a classic sheela na gig or other type of exhibitionist figure.

 

Alderwasley Chapel
Note the darker pieces of sculpture on the left hand side of the building. These appear to be re-used fragments and are of a different stone from the red sandstone from which the building is made. The alleged sheela figure is on the far left corner of the building.
Sinister looking head on the chapel A sinister looking head on the building. Note the different type of stone used for this piece.
Line of what appear to be re-used sculpture fragments A side view of the sculpture on the chapel. It's worth noting that the alleged sheela is carved from the same stone as the chapel and it not made the same type of stone as the other fragements.
The coat of arms The alabaster coat of arms of the Hurt family.
Fragments of loose masonry at the side of the chapel Fragments of loose masonry on the side of the chapel. The two largest peices are round stone with a sqaire hole and a square stone with a square hole. There is also a worn stone which looks a little like a plain corbel but this may just be down to the way the stone is worn. The square holes seem to indicate that these may be cross bases possibly taken from the adjoining cemetery.

My thanks go to John Palmer of www.wirksworth.org.uk for the following information about the chapel

"The CHAPEL is situate (sic) near the hall, and was built in the reign of Henry VIII [1509-47], by the contribution of Thomas LOWE, esq, and other principal inhabitants. It is not subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and has no parochial duties performed in it, nor any endowment. The minister is paid an optional salary by Mr HURT, who has the appointment. The Rev Emanuel HALTON is the present incumbent. Over the door of the chapel, in a recess, is the following shield of arms in alabaster [expressed in the French/English mix of heraldic language]: Quarterly, 1 and 4, for LOWE: gule, a wolf passant, argent. 2 for FAWNE: argent, a bugle, sable, between 3 crescents of the last, charged with a besant. CREST: a wolf's head, erased [cut off at the neck]."
More information on Alderwasley and it's history can be found at John Palmers website at www.wirksworth.org.uk/96-LHIS1.htm#Ad

My thanks also go to Andie Gilmour for pointing out this information.

 

 


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