On the outside of the north wall of Chaddesden churchyard you will find a narrow, well traversed path, leading down to the car park. The history of this path dates back to a least the 13th century and up until 1347 it was a vital part of life, and death, in Chaddesden.
Prior to 1347 the good folk of Chaddesden could not be buried in their own churchyard because there wasn’t one but had to be taken to Spondon for burial in, what was then, the closest church. Thus the Coffin Road came into being and that narrow path is the start of it. Its route passed down the side of our present church, across what is now the car park and then up the side of the allotments on its way across the fields to Spondon. It arrived in that village somewhere close to where West Park School now stands and then continued on its way to the church. Now this was a long way to go to be put to bed with a shovel and remember, this was before the days of our infamous Felix Bus Company.
Several factors combined to force a rethink on this situation and one of the greatest of these was the brook that flowed through the park. In those days it was not the well tamed home to Ducks, Kingfishers and our mischievous little dog that we see today but a much deeper waterway that was prone to extensive flooding, in fact, this ability to flood was maintained well into the 20th century but it didn’t cause the problems that it did back then. In the 13th century this rather inconvenient flooding resulted in mourners not being able to get the coffins of their dearly departed across the park to Spondon for burial and the result was a logjam of coffins stuck on the Chaddesden side waiting for the waters to subside before the journey could be completed. Remember, Moses had long since been and gone by this time and the sight of a queue of ex residents waiting to cross to their final resting place was rather disturbing for the hardworking people of Chaddesden.
The Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, Roger Northburgh, who had control over such matters, was contacted and made aware of the situation and he issued authority for the people of Chaddesden to be buried in what became their own church. This however was on the understanding that the burial fees were still paid to the vicar of Spondon but that’s another story. This all happened in 1347 and the churchyard was eventually closed for new burials in 1993.
This is a light hearted look at a piece of Chaddesden’s rich history and if you read the very comprehensive and well written history of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Chaddesden, by Peter Cholerton, you will find it includes reference to the Coffin Road.
Thanks must go to Peter whose book confirmed certain dates for me as well as the name of the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.