The Church’s History
Ilkeston is a market town that lies midway between Derby and Nottingham on one of the last hills at the southern end of the Pennines. The Parish Church of St Mary’s stands in the centre of the town 360 feet above sea level and the tower of the church which can be seen from all approaches reaches another 75 feet above that overlooking the Market Place. It has been a familiar landmark on the skyline in that position for almost a hundred years and prior to that stood some 45 feet further to the east. Early in the twentieth century the tower was dismantled stone by stone, numbered and stored before being rebuilt to allow the nave of the church to be extended. The corner stone was laid on Easter Monday in 1910.
Almost two hundred years previously the church tower would have cut an even more imposing image on the skyline as until 1714 when it was struck and destroyed by lightning, the tower was topped by a steeple. By then there had been a settlement on the hill for well over a thousand years. Angles and Saxons from Northern Germany and Jutes from Denmark invaded Britain during the 6th century attacking and destroying old Roman towns. The attackers were a little reticent when it came to living in the remains of former Roman towns, one of them being near to where the present city of Derby now stands, and looked for alternative sites nearby.
It is probable that a group of Saxons led by a warrior called Elka or Elcha settled on a hill above a river and from these humble beginnings, the town of Ilkeston grew. The Anglo-Saxon name for a hilltop settlement was Tun or Dun so the original name would have been something like Elkasdun. By the time of the Domesday Book, this had developed under the influence of the invading Normans into Tilchestune and further linguistic changes have brought about its present name. Even today, the process is continuing and the town’s name is often abbreviated, especially by local inhabitants to Il’son.
But back to the time of William the Conqueror and the Domesday Book for it was shortly after this time that ownership of the land around Ilkeston changed many times and by the beginning of the 12th century, the Lord of the Manor was Robert de Muskham. It is Robert who is credited with building the first St Mary’s Church. About a century later in 1319, Ralph of Greasley who had married Isabella, one of Robert’s descendants, had become the Lord and in 1252 it was their offspring Hugh who received the Charter from Henry III that allowed Ilkeston to hold weekly markets and annual fairs that are still held in the Market Place outside the Church today.
This illustrations used in this article have been reproduced with permission from Stephen and Heather Flinders’ “Picture History of Ilkeston” which has also proved to be a valuable source of information. Copies of the book are available from Stephen who can be contacted via the Ilkeston and District Local History website. Another source of valuable information has been Trevor Beighton’s booklet “A History of St Mary’s Parish Church” and copies of this are available for a small fee from Church.