Although not the oldest of Belper’s Churches, Christ Church, serving the part of Belper west of the railway line, has stood at ‘The Triangle’ end of Bridge Street, where the roads from Derby, Matlock and Ashbourne meet, for 165 years.
Belper was originally Beaurepaire, a little hamlet around what is now the Market Place, whose inhabitants looked to Duffield for their pastoral care until, in the 13th century, a small ‘chapel of ease’ was built. Now the St John’s Heritage Centre, as well as accommodating Belper Town Council, the Chapel of St John, as it became known, served the majority of the town’s religious needs for the next six hundred years.
By the early 19th century, the rapid rise in Belper’s population, resulting from the development of the Strutt Mill in 1776, meant that, despite alterations, the little chapel was too small. It was replaced with a new church – St Peter’s – and consequently Belper gained ecclesiastical independence from Duffield. As the population continued to grow, it soon became obvious that St Peter’s could not adequately serve the whole town and, in 1845, a sequence of events began which led to the establishment of the Parish of Christ Church.
The impetus for a new church building appears to have come from the Strutt family, the wealthy and influential owners of the local mill. A letter, dated 24th April 1845 to Jedediah Strutt, from the Rev’d William Barber, Rector of Duffield, provides the earliest evidence of a desire to create a new parish, stating that the Bishop of Lichfield (the Diocese of Derby was not created until 1927) would be prepared to appoint a vicar.
Today Christ Church stands confidently – but not defensively – in the ‘Catholic’ or ‘High Church’ tradition of the Church of England, with vestments, ‘bells and smells’, altar servers and a robed choir. The dignified and uplifting style of worship has, over the years, helped foster strong links with the community, and local government, links of which Christ Church is justly proud and keen to preserve. Christ Church continues to strive, as it has always done, to be the Christ’s Real Presence in the community, serving the people of Belper and the surrounding area today and into the future.