The most comprehensive account of the early church in Smalley is found in the writings of the Reverent Charles Kerry in his book “Smalley – It’s History and Legends”, published in 1905.
From the earliest time of its ecclesiastical history, Smalley seems to have been a parochial chapelry of Morley, with scarcely any distinctive history of its own. There is mention of a church in Smalley, with its own priest, in the Domesday Records of 1086, but it is considered there was a church on the same spot long before that.
According to the Reverend Kerry, this claim is substantiated by the finding in 1862, when excavating a grave of an oblong grit stone with incised cross. This is considered to show features of the period of the Roman Empire and the Reverent Kerry describes it as the greatest antiquarian treasure of Smalley. It can now be seen built in to the east wall of the porch.
The medieval church was demolished in 1794, as it was in a dilapidated condition. The Reverend Kerry visited many of the parishioners about 1855 seeking to record their memories of the old church, as there was little written evidence.
It seems that the old building consisted of tower, nave, chancel and porch, and was built of a lightish-red sandstone; many of the decayed stones of the exterior had been replaced with patches of brickwork.
One of the remnants of this church is the stone “coffin lid” (see sketch) which was discovered among the debris and is now placed in the south wall of the chancel of the present church. This stone is thought to date back to the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th century.
The tower was square and very little higher than the nave; it had two bells in a square wooden chamber. There was a weathercock on the tower which is the subject of two anecdotes; the first concerns its collection from Derby. The persons supposed to collect it apparently went on a drinking spree and had to return without it as the Landlord had retained the bird as a guarantee for repayment of their debts. The other tale relates that a youth, standing on the Bailey Croft footpath, took aim with his gun and put a bullet through the tail. (He must have been a very good shot!).
The nave had a carved open-timbered roof and was lit by five windows. Most of the windows contained stained glass, predominantly yellow. The porch had no outer door and there were stone seats on each side. The round-headed door was thick and heavy, covered with big-headed nails and ornamental iron bands.
There were only two pews in the church – one on each side of the chancel arch – that on the south being occupied by the “Richardson Radfords”, whilst the other pew belonged to the Fletchers or Barbers of Stainsby House. All the other seats were plain oak benches.
The reference to the Richardson pew relates to the residents of Smally Hall. In particular, the brothers John and Samuel Richardson were great benefactors to the village as they were the founders of the Boys’ Endowed School – still known as the Richardson Endowed School. The school was founded in 1721.
The pulpit stood on the north side of the chancel arch. Above this arch were the Ten Commandments, engraved on to large slabs of slate, and these were surmounted by the Royal Arms. On each side of the arch were tablets with the list of benefactions to the parish.
Four coloured paper garlands were suspended from the main timbers of the nave roof – two in front of the chancel arch and two more about halfway down the church. The altar pace was only raised one step above the floor of the nave. The floor was of stone, being eighteen inches lower than in the present building.
The fabric of the building severely deteriorated and it is recorded that a Vestry Meeting held in January 1793 agreed to advance upon the Parish Account the sum of £50 towards rebuilding Smalley Chapel. It was also further agreed that every landholder who kept a team of horses would do a day’s teamwork towards materials for that purpose.