Frith is an old-English word for forest, and Chapel-en-le-Frith is the settlement which grew up around the church which was erected here by Foresters from the Royal Forest of the Peak in 1225. The church was dedicated to St Thomas Becket, murdered in 1170. The site chosen was on a ridge of land overlooking the upper Blackbrook valley and close to the junction of the Buxton-Glossop road with the salt trail, which came from Cheshire and crossed Rushup Edge into Edale on its way to Sheffield and Yorkshire.
With its strategic location the settlement grew quickly, becoming one of the centres of government of the Royal Forest of the Peak. With the coming of the railways in the 19th century the town's expansion was rapid but it's influence and importance faded with its subsequent closure of the Midland line from Manchester to London. The south station (on the Buxton-Manchester line) remains and keeps Chapel linked to the rail network.
The town's current prosperity is due in the main to the local company, Ferodo, that is still based here. Its founder, Henry Ferodo, was a local man and one of the inventors of brake linings.
Parts of the old village survive around the church, which is situated on a knoll just north of the main road. Although initially it looks Georgian, this applies only to the tower and south front, which were erected in 1733. The rest of the church, including almost all the interior, was constructed in the 14th century and is a fine example of the architecture of the period, though less ornate or imposing than Tideswell church, for instance.
There are some fine box pews in the church and in the churchyard is a badly worn Saxon cross, which was brought here from nearby Ollerenshaw. Among the many gravestones there is one which is thought to be that of a 13th century forester. The most notable incident in the history of the church occurred in 1648 during the Civil war, when 1500 Scottish soldiers, taken prisoner after the battle of Ribbleton Moor, were incarcerated here by Cromwell's troops. When the church doors were reopened after two weeks, 44 soldiers had died.
Chapel Market place
The cobbled market square lies just 100 metres south-west of the church and is surrounded by pubs, though fewer than in the past, and most of the remaining old buildings of the town. It also contains a fine old market cross, the old town stocks, the war memorial and a horse trough placed here to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It is well worth taking a short walk around this area to sample the neat little cottages down Chapel Brow, for example, or down to the 'Hearse House' which is now the information centre.
Just to the west of the town lies Eccles Pike, a fine local viewpoint, and below it is Bradshaw Hall, one of the finest local examples of a 16th century manor house.
Nonconformism was a strong influence in the area in the 16th and 17th centuries - John Bennet, a powerful early Methodist preacher lived here and Wesley was a regular visitor. Links with Nonconformism also exist in several of the interesting little hamlets and old halls in the surrounding area, notably Chapel Milton with its fine early 18th century chapel, Wash with a Quaker burial ground, and Ford Hall, which was the home of William Bagshawe, the 'Apostle of the Peak' who was forced to resign his ministry in 1662 for refusing to accept the Book of Common Prayer. Despite this Bagshawe continued to hold secret Nonconformist services at his house for many years.
Though it lies just outside the Peak National Park, Chapel-en-le-Frith is strategically placed for easy access to most of the western and central areas of the National Park and there is good walking to be had locally, with both Eccles Pike and Castle Naze offering excellent views of the area. There is a well-dressing and carnival the first week in July.