The Extraordinary Parish of Taxal

Taxal is a small village in Derbyshire, close to Whaley Bridge and originally in Cheshire until a boundary change in the 1930's.

The living of Taxal has a long history.  As early as 1290 to 1300 it was owned by the Downes family who, soon after the Reformation, sold it to the Shallcross family.  It was next sold to Miss Lowe who married the parson, the Rev J. Swain, whose son became a patron and in 1774 appointed himself. A third John Swain was in training for Taxal and it was entrusted to "a warming pan", the Rev. J.Smith. He held it until the intended occupant was ready, and then resigned and the young John presented himself. Becoming aged, he sold the living to the Rev John Champion who appointed himself. It then passed to the Rev J.L.Whiteford and then Mr Slight bought it and presented it to Mr J.G.Slight who held it till 1878. On Rev Slight's resignation in favour of another parish, a venerable locum tenens was appointed and the lot duly offered for sale by Mrs Slight to Canon Bardsley of St.Ann's, Manchester because the Canon had not been able to preach for three years. The offer was declined but another clergyman as old as himself, Mr Whitworth, was recommended and he accepted it.  The object of appointing an aged man was to increase the value of the advowson and these gentlemen knew they were wanted as "warming pans" or caretakers. As soon as Rev Whitworth was presented, the living was sold to a Buxton hotelkeeper, Mr Brian Bates who intended it for a son or nephew.  He died soon after and his solicitors Messrs Bennett, Boycott and Orme of Buxton advertised the living for sale. They advised enquirers that owing to the precarious state of health of the Rev Mr Whitworth, they were compelled to put the living on the market.  They would accept a lower sum than Mr Bates paid. The annual value was £383 with a house and an acre and a half of garden and pleasure grounds attached to the rectory. The usual 8½ years purchase of Taxal should fetch £3190 but prices had fallen and now even with an incumbent of 77 or 78 years, a price of more than £2000 was unlikely.

In December 1886, the Rev W.Whitworth, rector of Taxal, died, aged 83. The living, with rectory house and grounds was worth £300 a year and was in the gift of Rev Mr.Evans of London (presumably he had already bought it)

On 13th January 1887, the appointment of Rev Samuel Evans MA  as rector of Taxal was announced. (it appears that he had appointed himself)

 Samuel Evans M.A. was formerly curate of Derryvullan Co.Fermanagh and for some years incumbent of Irvinestown, Co.Fermanagh.  In his younger days he had been an army officer and was a cousin of Sir George White VC, garrison Commander at the Seige Of Ladysmith.

Taxal Church  was, in 1887,  very much in need of restoration and improvement and the new incumbent wasted little time.  A decision was taken in December  to proceed at once with the plans which at that stage were estimated to cost £700.  In June 1888, the Chester Consistory Court considered the proposals; the estimate now being £1000.  £620 had already been raised by donations and a forthcoming bazaar was expected to raise a further £200.  The faculty was decreed.
The work included re-roofing the chancel, rebuilding the east window and chancel gable, building an organ chamber and reconstruction of the nave windows.  The church was also to have new seating, pulpit, reading desk and lectern and the west gallery would be removed.

The Rev Chancellor Espin held a further consistory court in March of the following year. Rev Samuel Evans and wardens John Nall and William Ford presented further proposals.
A new nave roof was to be constructed, a new porch on the south side would be built  and a stained glass window of three lights would be added to the east end of the chancel. The roof of the vestry would be altered and nine new buttresses would support the church walls.  The additional costs would be £850 to be raised by voluntary contributions.  The court sanctioned the plans.

During restoration work some interesting finds were made.  It had previously been thought that the fourteenth century tower was the oldest part of Taxal Church but workmen had discovered foundations, floors and other ruins of a twelth century building of smaller dimensions than the present structure. 

The Downes family was still resident in the neighbourhood and had donated a window at a cost of £35 in memory or the Rev William Downes who was rector in the thirteenth century..  Another stained glass window costing £170 had been installed in memory of the late John Dixon.  Renovation of the rectory house had just been completed at a cost of £200 borne by Mr Evans.

Restoration of the church was soon completed and on 19th October 1889, the Manchester Times reported that a re-opening service had been held; Rev Sam Evans being the preacher.

There was soon to be dissent in Taxal parish.


An argument had ensued over the ownership of the minute book and the legality of the wardens collecting pew rents. There were allusions to dishonest acts. Mr John Nall objected to the Rector's insinuation that he had misappropriated the church money. Mr. Evans denied such accusation and claimed that it was false, that it was Mr.Nall himself causing the squabble and he was a coward.  Amidst great uproar, Mr Nall said that "the Rector would see whether he was a coward or not before he had done with him".  The Rector's reply was that he would "take Mr. Nall by the neck and remove him".  Above the uproar, Mr.Nall shouted "Where should I be while you were doing that ?".  The meeting was terminated and the warden proposed that to avoid unseemly scenes, future meetings should be held in Whaley Bridge.


In May 1888 a meeting was held at the Mechanics Institute to consider a proposed application by John Nall to the Consistory Court for "a faculty appropriating and confirming to him six graves". It was intended that the meeting should be held in the church vestry but the rector refused to sign the notice or to allow the meeting.
Mr Nall had purchased the land in the churchyard for six vaults in 1884 when the Rev. W. Whitworth was rector.  He had paid £15 for the plots, one of which contained the grave of his daughter. He believed the transaction to be legal and spent a further £208 in completion of the vaults.

A few days after the annual vestry meeting in April, the Rev Evans wrote to Mr Nall offering to pay back the cost of two of the vaults if the latter would return the receipts and remove his structures, restoring the land to its previous state. Mr Nall heard that the rector had alluded to the graves from the pulpit a couple of weeks previously.

Mr. Nall had been advised by the Chancellor's Proctor to call the meeting to gain approval for his action in applying to the court. Already 300 parishoners had supported him in writing. Chairman of the meeting James Kirk J.P. said that if Mr. Nall had paid for the graves, he should expect to have them and the meeting should give it's support. Lieut. Col. Hall J.P. said "he was sure that they all regretted that Mr.Evans had seen fit to take the course he had, for it touched a man's tenderest parts when it affected the resting place of his dead". Mr.D.Smith J.P. said that the rector was within his rights in doing what he had done although it rarely happened and was seen as being very uncharitable.

A motion in favour of Mr. Nall was carried unanimously.


The Rev Chancellor Espin D.D. held a court early in June 1888.  He considered the application by John Nall for "a faculty appropriating and conferring to him six graves or burying places in Taxal Churchyard.  Mr.Fletcher of Chester appeared as Proctor for the applicant and the Rev Evans conducted his own case.  The Chancellor complained of persons forwarding him private communications in respect of cases in litigation. Mr Fletcher denied that his client had done this nor had any knowledge of any such communication.
Mr Evans said that he appeared against the application as a violation of his rights.  The Chancellor then informed him that the case could not be heard that day because of Rev Evans opposition. Mr Registrar Gamon asked Mr Evans if he wanted the gentlemen to file pleadings to which he replied that he did not know. The Registrar then said that he should put himself in the hands of a professional man who did know.
The application was adjourned to a future date.


The church at Taxal was closed for renovation and The Rev Samuel Evans told a number of parishoners that future services would be held at the Taxal and Fernilee National School which happened to be in the parish of Hope.  The Mechanics Institute which is within Taxal parish had been used for Sunday evening services since 1884.  Mr Nall, churchwarden had reported the matter to the Bishop. A meeting of the school managers was called with Colonel Hall presiding and a resolution was passed refusing to allow use of the school for services.


One of the most exciting scenes ever witnessed in any place of worship in The Peak occurred on Sunday afternoon during divine service in St James's Church, Taxal, Whaley Bridge.  The Rector, the Rev S. Evans, purchased the living about three years ago and there have been frequent disputes between the Rector and the Wardens.  The Easter vestry meeting was held on Saturday afternoon and the proceedings were quite lively.  Lieutenant-Colonel Hall, the parishoners warden, objected to the passing of the minutes, on account of their not being correct and he also objected to the accounts because they only covered the period from October to Easter, since the reopening of the church after restoration, no entries being made in the former part of the year when service was conducted in the Mechanics Institute.  The Rector declined either to correct the minutes or to allow any other accounts to be read and the meeting broke up in great confusion, nearly all the parishoners leaving the church so that nothing could be done.On Saturday night Colonel Hall caused a notice to be affixed to the church door calling another vestry meeting for Saturday next. At the service on Sunday afternoon, after the prayers had been read, the rector walked down the church, took down the notice from the door and walking up to Colonel Hall's pew placed the notice in front of the Colonel.  Colonel Hall retorted that he did not want the notice, and leaving his pew, walked down the church with the intention of again affixing the notice to the door.  He was followed by the rector and when he reached the church porch, a most exciting scene was witnessed.  There was a scuffle in the porch and it is alleged that the vicar gave Colonel Hall a violent blow over the side of the head with his fist. The church was by this time a perfect babel, all the congregation getting up and leaving the sacred edifice, no sermon having been preached.  For some time there was a most extraordinary scene.  It is believed that legal proceedings will follow.


At the Stockport County Police Court yesterday, before Colonel Howard and other magistrates, the Rev Samuel Evans M.A., rector of Taxal appeared in answer to a summons charging him with unlawfully assaulting Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hall J.P. of Horwich House, Chapel-en-le-Frith, in the parish church of Taxal on Sunday last.  Defendent pleaded not guilty.  Mr Cobbett of Manchester who appeared for the complainant said that on Saturday last a vestry meeting was held at Taxal at which Colonel Hall was present in his capacity of parishoner's warden.  The meeting broke up without anything having been done and next day Colonel Hall posted a notice on the church door, calling another meeting for Saturday next. When Colonel Hall went to the church on Sunday afternoon he found that the notice had been taken down and happening to have another copy in his pocket, he put it up and went to his seat in the church. At that time the rector was in the reading desk and the voluntary was being played.  The rector left the desk, went to the porch, took down the notice, and placed it in Colonel Hall's pew, and having done so stood in a defiant attitude. Colonel Hall left his pew and went to the porch with the intention of fixing up the notice again, when he was followed by the rector who said "I forbid you to put that notice up".  Colonel Hall replied, "Very well, I can stand here," and held the paper in his hand.  The rector then insisted on his leaving the church and as he refused he took him by the collar of his coat with his left hand and struck him a violent blow on the right cheek with his clenched fist. He also struck a second blow but members of the congregation interfered and Colonel Hall walked out of the churchyard.  Colonel Hall J.P. gave evidence and said that for some days he felt as if he had a mustard plaster on his face.  He still felt the effects of the blow. In cross-examination by Mr Brown who defended, witness admitted he did not reside in the parish but said he was a large ratepayer and was parishioner's warden.  When he put up the notice he was simply asserting his own rights and those of the people he represented.  They had been 12 months without the sacrament having been administered in the parish.  Mr J.C.Bagley, grocer, said he was going into the church on Sunday when he met all the congregation coming out.  He saw the rector, who was in a very excited state, seize Colonel Hall by the neck with his left hand, and with his clenched fist give him a violent blow on the right cheek. He delivered another blow, when witness seized hold of the rector and asked him how he dare strike a member of the congregation.  The second blow struck a man named Bennett, who went between them.  At this point Mr. Brown admitted the assault and it was agreed that no more witnesses should be called.  In defence Mr Brown contended that Colonel Hall, not being a parishioner, had no right in the church, that the vicar was asserting his rights in requesting him to leave and when he refused, to take steps to compel him to do so.  Further, he contended that the juristiction of the magistrates was ousted.  The Rev defendent then consented to be bound over in the sum of £10 to keep the peace for six months, and to pay the costs of the day.


The following Saturday another vestry meeting was held

On Saturday afternoon  a vestry meeting of the parishoners of Taxal was held in The Mechanics Institute, Whaley Bridge for the purpose of confirming the minutes of the last two meetings, passing the accounts of the late churchwardens and for the election of wardens for the coming year. The meeting was called by the Lieutenant-Colonel Hall J.P., parishoners warden, who last week prosecuted the rector( Rev S. Evans) for assaulting him in the church on the Sunday previous.  Much to the surprise of those present, the rector was the first to arrive and took the chair.  He said he had communicated with the Bishop's secretary respecting the proceedings of that day week and was informed that it was in his power to appoint both churchwardens, but as it had been the custom for the parishoners to appoint one, he had no desire to depart from it.  He refused to allow a thing in the accounts relating to the services in the Mechanics Institute and also £44 due for flagging in the churchyard, because such work having been done without a faculty was illegal and those who did it could be punished.  If anyone questioned the legality or propriety of his action they could attend the visitation on Thursday next. If there was any kind of confusion at that meeting he should at once adjourn it, and they had their remedy.  He had instituted an action at law against certain persons for removing parish books from the vestry of the church, where they had been since 1739 until he became rector.  He concluded by asking for a proposition for a parishioners warden.  At this point the meeting became very noisy.  The meeting passed a resolution that the accounts be read first but the rector refused to allow this to be done or to put the resolution.  He said they must appoint a warden and then they could do as they liked what they read.  The meeting declined to proceed with anything until the accounts had been read and after some excited proceedings the rector declared the meeting adjourned and left the room so that again nothing was done.

Sam Evans remained rector of Taxal until his death on 2nd February 1922. He died intestate and a bachelor. His estate had a gross value of £17122.  His brother the Rev. Henry Evans and his sister Miss Elizabeth Evans were the only next of kin.

Close to the church stood the Royal Oak, later known as The Chimes.


One Saturday evening, not long ago, a man who had been making a little too free with "John Barleycorn", had to pass through Taxal churchyard where a deep grave had been dug (for an interment on the morrow), close to the footpath over which the jolly fellow had to pass on his way home; and being rather unsteady in his gait, and not quite able to maintain his true perpendicular, he unfortunately fell into the grave; and being unable to get out again, he quietly resigned himself to his fate and went to sleep.  Shortly afterwards, one of his boon companions, in passing the same way, had the misfortune to fall into the same grave and rouse the first occupant from his sleep, who feeling himself offended at the intruders visit, muttered out in an angry growl "It's strange one cannot lie quietly in the grave".  These words, being uttered in a somewhat ghostly tone, so frightened the intruder that he quickly scaled the walls of the clay tenement and scampered away as fast as his legs could carry him to the friends he had just left at the public house, to whom he told the story of his misadventure, the recital of which roused the people's curiosity and they resolved to go in a body to the grave, and, if possible, ascertain from whence sprung the apparently supernatural voice which had so terrified their informant.  Accordingly with fear and trembling, they proceeded to the grave and found it tenanted by a faithful pot companion who had lately left their company, whom they quickly liberated from his cold dormitory to the infinite amusement of all present.

"The Rev John Drinkwater, past curate at Taxal in Cheshire, had been suffering under mental derangement for upwards of two years." So wrote the press.
"Immediately after he was seized by this afflicting malady, he was placed in a lunatic asylum but pecuniary resources failing, Mrs D. was under the necessity of removing him and he is now entirely under her own superintendance and protection at Ashford, without any hopes of restoration.   His curacy and school which afforded  the sole means of supporting himself, his wife, and three helpless children, were of course, relinquished and the whole family is now reduced from a state of comparative comfort and happiness, to the threshold of want and misery.  It has been thought advisable by a few friends, thus to make an appeal to the charitable and benevolent, not doubting but they will readily contribute to the relief of this now indigent and distressed family."

For a number of weeks the Derby Mercury published lists of donations including large sums from Francis Joddrell, The Duke of Devonshire, Lady Sherborne, various church collections and £18.14s.6d from the ladies of Miss Heywoods School.

The donations exceeded £500, a considerable amount in 1824 and the Rev. Drinkwater was  returned to the asylum.  Sadly his death was announced in December.  The widow and three helpless children were, however supported by these gifts for some considerable time.

Taxal is now a peaceful village and the grass of the churchyard is kept under control by Moses the donkey.
The lane alongside the Church leads down to the ford through the River Goyt and thence to the Buxton Road.