There may have been a church on the site of All Saints in Breadsall since Saxon times – certainly the stones at the bottom of the tower suggest as much. The Normans rebuilt and there were further changes in the thirteenth century to create a place of worship in the Early English style. Succeeding generations placed their mark on the building. It even boasted a set of chained medieval books and an Elizabethan altar until the night of 4th June 1914 when the whole lot went up in smoke.
At 11.30 pm the alarm was raised by Mr Hopkins who saw the light in the church from his cottage. He alerted the verger who in turn summoned the rector and the church wardens. Before long local inhabitants were through buckets of water on the fire with little or no effect. Meanwhile the motorised fire engine in Derby needed permission before it could attend the fire so that by the time it arrived the Norman tower was an inferno.
Reverend Whitaker told journalists that suffragettes were responsible. The aged cleric was adamant. Witnesses spoke of an explosion suggesting arson. The church had no electricity or gas to have caused the effect. His worst fears were confirmed when Alice Wheeldon confessed to having done so, though not to the police.
The problem with this neat scenario is that aside from Alice’s confession (seated on the far left of the picture next to her two daughters and a prison warder) the only evidence of suffragette involvement were three letters which arrived after the event and some graffiti on a wall a mile away – in other cases letters were left at the scene at the time of the arson rather than arriving afterwards. The only other evidence was a woman sized hole in a window and a hat pin which was found nearby.
Other suffragettes were available nearby (Nottingham) as were some members of the Boys Brigade (camping) -who might presumably have fitted through a “woman-sized” hole – though presumably they might not have required a hat pin to fix their headgear! hough its not beyond the realms of possibility that the hat pin was simply an example of lost property. In any event no one has ever been arrested for the destruction of All Saints.
Just when it couldn’t have got much stranger Alice was arrested on 30 January 1917, with two of her daughters, and charged with conspiracy to murder both the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and Labour Party Minister Arthur Henderson.
Alice was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was sent to Aylesbury Prison where she went on hunger strike. From there she was sent to Holloway. However, Lloyd George requested her release from prison. This happened, on licence, on 31 December 1917. The family had always maintained that their arrests were the result of an elaborate set up, Alice was radical in her opposition to the war. Alice, her health damaged by the hunger strike, died in 1919 but was cleared of the charges in 2013.
Meanwhile All Saints underwent restoration at a cost of £11,000.