© Copyright Friends of Belper Parks, St Johns Chapel, The Butts, Belper, DE56 1HX, U.K. Site update 1st September 2008
Background aerial photograph courtesy of Amber Valley Borough Council
There are later vague references to old walls of great thickness being visible in the Coppice area. There is a very large stone, with a carving of two daggers crossed, situated in the wall of Fleet House on the Fleet. This was moved from an old cottage that stood nearby. the date carved on it is thought to be a later addition. Local people believe that this stone came from the Manor House as well.
Bill Bowler, the tenant farmer of the Manor Farm at the start of the 20th Century allowed the council to use part of the Coppice area for the tipping of ashes in order to level the ground. He told the person who took the farm after him that prior to the tipping there had been large foundation stones protruding from the ground. This tipping is believed to have been in the area now occupied by the Selway factory.
In 2001 some mounds in the Coppice that looked like building platforms were excavated by archaeologists. Garden walls were discovered and under these, traces of a mediaeval building. It appears that the oldest walls dated from the 13th Century and that later in the same century or in the early 14th century this was demolished and replaced by garden terraces, including possibly a pond. This seems to tie in well with the recorded dates for the construction of the Manor House and the creation of the Park. Subsequently an old painting was discovered that showed a small cottage and gardens on this site. So there may have been a small group of buildings here, built within the Park, that were demolished in the early nineteenth century. Again the archaeology tended to support a 17th - 19th century date for these later gardens.
There are stories of tunnels under the Park leading between the key buildings. Parts of some of these tunnels have actually been found but there is no real evidence that they extend any distance, one is supposed to have provided an escape route for people who made counterfeit coins from a cottage on the Fleet. They are part of the "mystery" of this historic area.
There is no mystery however about St. John's chapel because it still stands today as the oldest building in Belper. It was built about 1250 for the use of the foresters. In 1548 the chantry roll of King Edward VI recorded that "The Chauntree of Beaureper was founded by the Duke of Lancaster to say Masse there for the keepers of Duffield Frith, and for the whole town as appeareth by a grant from the king's majesty." It has changed very little since apart from the addition of the porch in 1634.
As Belper grew rapidly in the early 19th century it soon became evident that St. John's Chapel was too small for the town. The much larger St. Peter's Church was completed in 1824 and after that St John's served simply as an extra chapel and Sunday School. It felt into some disrepair and suffered abuse so repairs were carried out from 1870 onwards.
In recent years it has taken on a new life as the meeting place of the Town Council, Friends of Belper Parks, and other local groups, it also houses a historical collection that can be viewed once a month. Although not within the Park it is so closely associated with it to be an essential part of any historical tour and its atmosphere takes one straight back to the early days of the medieval deer park.
Themes - The Manor House and Forester’s Chapel -2