Early days of land search
The small hamlet of Staley Bridge was chosen as the centre for a manufacturing town for different reasons than at first might appear obvious. Coal became a vital source of fuel supplies in the later years, but the attraction of this small village with its plentiful supply of water, as well as the close proximity of hills which encouraged a high humidity level, proved irresistible to the owners of the cotton and spinning mills.
Cotton was to be the foundation of the prosperity of Staley Bridge and it was this single factor which enabled and encouraged the village to grow into a significant industrial town with a population of over 25,000 people.
It is thought that the name of Stalybridge comes from a combination of two separate words namely Staley and Staly. These two words are thought to derive from the ancient families of the Staveleighs and the Staveleys who once lived in the area. The addition of the word bridge as a suffix to the family name, is naturally assumed to come from the bridge constructed to ford the river Tame and built for the use of pedestrians and for pack animals. That bridge was approximately in the same position as the current road bridge.
Though many historians have suggested that this bridge was built by the Staveleigh family, no record to that effect can be found, neither can the bridge be dated. Certainly the bridge is referred to in historical documents as early as 1621 and it would have remained standing until the Saddleback bridge was built in 1707. A Saddleback bridge is a construction with a centre pier in midstream.
Much of what is now sprawling housing estates would at that time have been woodland, accessible only to people on foot or to their pack animals. Not only the surroundings were different but the same is also true of the river. The River Tame that we know today is full of bicycle wheels, old prams, beer cans and other debris, but in the 19th century records show that the river was pure. There are even records of trout being fished from the river, hard though that might for us to believe.
Little Bohemia, a small collection of cottages built in 1721, stands at the foot of what became known as Cocker Hill, the eventual site of the church building. These few cottages became the focus of a small community. At that time this numbered no more than 140 people, not an insignificant number as far as the Church was concerned.
Those who chose to worship God had quite a journey on their hands, for at that time Staley Bridge was very much part of the parish of Ashton, then in the Diocese of Chester, and any alternative to that place of worship lay in the opposite direction. The only alternative was to travel to Mottram.
Clearly the Church officials of Ashton recognised the needs of the growing population of Staley Bridge and began in the early 18th century to look for a possible site where a chapel could be built to serve the new community.
The Cocker Hill site was, as far as records show, first conveyed on the 5th May, 1698 in an agreement reached between John Kenworth and John Haworth. The reason and purpose of the purchase is not recorded but it is known that nothing "was made of the land" at that time. The land measured only three acres of "Cheshire large Measure" and was sold at a cost of £1001.2s.0d and bore the peculiar name, as described in the deed of "a clance close, a parcell of land". John Haworth was acting as agent for the Earl of Stamford.
Long after securing the land, pressure to build a chapel began in earnest. In the early part of 1770 a movement began to establish a Chapel of Ease though at that stage the site of Cocker Hill still belonged to Lord Stamford. On 30th, June,1774 he agreed with the Commissioners to allow it to be used for the purpose of building a Chapel. Once the land had been secured, ecclesiastical permission to build on the site was needed and this was a long process. The land had to be cleared, plans had to be drawn and contractors for the work had to be organised.
Money for the building was raised by public subscription and by grants and gifts from "notables", culminating in a petition sent by the Rt. Hon. George Harry, Earl of Stamford, Thomas Milne, James Kenworthy and other principal inhabitants of Staley Bridge to The Rt. Revd William Markham. Lord Bishop of Chester.
The wording of the petition, and indeed petitions of a similar kind, has not changed in any significant way over the centuries. Despite this it does bear repeating here, particularly as it was the first document of its kind to be used for an ecclesiastical building in this area. The document runs as follows:
"This petition ....SHOWETH
that for the ease and convenience of the Inhabitants of Staley Bridge the aforesaid being very distant and remote from their Parish Church and of other neighbouring Inhabitants of the Parish of Mottram and the Townships of Newton and Duckenfield in the Parish of Stockport aforesaid who by reason of the distance of the several Habitations from their several Chapels and Parish Churches cannot without great Inconvenience especially in the Winter Season resort to Divine Service there THIS CHAPEL or edifice for a chapel with your Lordships consent hath been erected at the expense of the said Right Honourable George Harry Earl of Stamford and several other pious and well disposed persons on a piece or parcell of waste ground late belonging to the said Earl who by deed duly executed granted the said piece or parcell of waste ground together with a footway nine feet broad from the public road or highway to the south end of the chapel yard to the said Thomas Milne and James Kenworthy and their heirs in trust and to the intent and purpose for the chapel or edifice for a chapel might be erected on some part thereof and that the residue of the said piece or parcell of waste ground might be enclosed for a chapel yard, and that the said chapel when built and the chapel yard might be consecrated, set apart and devoted to the worship of God according to the usage of the Church of England AND WHEREAS now the same chapel or edifice for a chapel is compleated and furnished and adorned with a Table, Font, Pulpit, Reading Desk, and other necessaries for Divine Service by the pious benevolence of the said noble Earl together with the voluntary contributions of other pious and well disposed persons.......TO ACCEPT this our free will offering decree this chapel and the ground about to be severed from all common and profane uses and TO DEDICATE AND CONSECRATE the said chapel to the worship and service of God and the said ground about it to be a cemetery or place of burial wherein the bodies of the dead may be laid up untill the general Resurrection and WE DO PROMISE that we will forever hereafter hold the said chapel as a holy place even as Gods house and the said chapel yard as holy ground and use them accordingly.
James Kenworthy (as well as these three signatures there are a further forty eight names signed alongside; it would serve no real purpose to listing them all)
It will be clear to the modern day reader that the legal eagles of yesteryear were not concerned with punctuation. Many spellings are different and it is interesting that the name of the town of Dukinfield is recorded in its original form.
This petition heralded the opening of the first place of worship in the village/town of Staley Bridge. The new Chapel was to be called "Cocker Hill Chapel of Ease"