1971 - 1980
It had been decided during the amalgamation procedures, that the parish, the one parish uniting the two benefices, should bear the single title of St George, Stalybridge. No matter how hard efforts were made to bond the two congregations together there was an inevitability that the two would become in fact three congregations of Old St George's, New St George's and those who joined after the amalgamation. It was to this unsettled church body that the new incumbent was appointed.
Robin Edward Morris came from the parish of St Martin, Castleton to this new church. He was a much quieter person than his predecessor and employed a gentle approach to all that he did. Parishioners described him as "a gentleman who chose to persuade through charm" in order to achieve his objectives. Though a quiet man Robin Morris certainly had ideas and a vision of where St George's could be going during his time as incumbent. His was thought to be a period of consolidation where major enterprise would not feature, but this in fact was not to be the case and he achieved a great deal in his period of responsibility.
By 1971 the parish had grown considerably. Houses were continuing to be built on the Arlies estate, pushing the church further and further into the south east corner of the parish. This meant that a growing number of people who lived in the parish were not necessarily aware that St George's was their Parish Church. It was in 1972 that the Revd Morris was joined by the newly ordained John Fagan who came as the stipendiary assistant curate to the parish. John Fagan lived on Mereside and at that time this was an area of Council property, but on the edge of the private estate that was developing and spanning the whole of the south side of the hill. The Revd Fagan remained in the parish for two years until Harvest Sunday 1974 when he left to have a greater responsibility in a parish in Telford. John Fagan was a person well respected and very much liked by the worshipping community and he performed a considerable work of mission in this area.
In 1972 the Parochial Church Council, under the guidance of the vicar, sought a faculty to "tidy the graveyard, remove monuments, re-seed, and plant trees and shrubs in the old church of St George on Cocker Hill". This church yard remained the responsibility of the parish and was to prove to be a considerable burden over the years. The work carried out in the graveyard certainly improved the whole area though sadly some structural problems remained and, as we shall see in the next chapter, this proved to be a major hazard and liability for the church authorities.
Tidying the graveyard and removing kerbs and the occasional monument, was an exercise repeated in the graveyard of the new church. This in the end proved to be a very worthwhile operation, but caused a lot of concern to many of the relatives of those whose remains were buried in the yard. The incumbent and PCC dealt with this sensitively and sent out notices to all the people who had had monuments erected over the years, offering them the opportunity of objection. Those who objected had their graves untouched, but the rest of the kerbs were removed to allow the yard to be more easily mown and cared for. It certainly became a contentious subject and still to this day there are those who feel aggrieved at having kerbs removed, but ample opportunity for objection was given and was not taken up by these people, nonetheless it is sad that they feel as they do. The church yard of both Old and New St Georges were brought to a very high standard of maintenance.
In 1974 the ministry of the Lay Reader Clifford Roberts, who by this time was taking a very active role within the church in heading up the Stewardship Committee, was enriched by the licensing of two new colleagues. On 28th September, 1974 Mr John Dale, a native of the parish, was licensed to the role of Lay Reader. Mr Ron Johnson had moved into the parish because of his work and he too was licensed that same day. Ron Johnson remained in the parish until 1977 when again he moved along with his work, but John Dale had a very short ministry as a Reader in Stalybridge, leaving in the same year of 1974 to live and work in Winslow.
The school of New St George's was a large Victorian building that required considerable effort to maintain and repair. It was sited on Cambridge Street at the south end of the church graveyard. The school and its facilities were used by the church for all their social gatherings which were many. Dances, socials, fund raising events and the "crowning" of Rose Queens all took place in the school hall, but signs of decay and further expenditure were very clear. Decisions regarding the future of the school building - and indeed of the church - needed to be made before circumstances were beyond the control of the church.
With the help of an architect called Brian Vaughan, the incumbent and the PCC moved steadily towards accepting the idea of selling the school and adapting the present church building in order to create a Mezzanine Hall and other facilities that would make the church into a more flexible and multi-purpose building. Discussions about this were endless, but eventually a faculty was submitted to the Diocesan authorities for this work to be put to tender.
The faculty is very explicit and rather than explain the intentions it would be more appropriate to quote it in its fullness:
"To divide the church into two by the building of a nine inch brick wall across the width of the church at the second pillar out from the west wall, reaching from floor to roof; and to use that area to the west of the dividing wall for parochial, social, educational and recreational activities; the area in question would be divided into :- Entrance lobby and meeting space forming an approach to the church (via glass doors); kitchen, toilets and two committee rooms all downstairs; the upstairs space could be used for the purpose of a parish hall, i.e. for larger meetings, uniformed organisations, and recreational purposes;
the space under the stairs at the entry to be used for storage cupboards; the pews at the back of the church up to the second pillar to be removed; the font to be moved to the north east corner of the nave and placed against the wall with removal of two pews to allow standing area for baptisms."
This was certainly an exciting and enterprising piece of work and indeed was to become the basis of a much used and multi-purpose building.
The next twelve month period was a time of considerable concern regarding fund raising and how money might be found to pay for the alterations of the church. Clearly the church school would be a source of revenue and quite soon the church was negotiating with the Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust, a company who deal in housing for the elderly. Eventually a figure of £10,000 was agreed for the site, but because of delays in completing the contract the final sum rose to £10,750. This was certainly to be a good basis and formed over one third of the total amount of money required to meet the cost of the alterations. This, according to the faculty, was to be fixed at £28,467, a portion of which was set aside for the purpose of building a car park in the north east section of the grave yard. This car park was not constructed.
A further £9,000 was to be taken out on a mortgage from the Tameside Borough Council who accepted that the building would be used for general community activities and therefore were happy to fund this loan. The remainder of the money had to be raised or borrowed in various ways. This period saw much in the way of fund raising efforts. Coffee mornings, dances, socials, bring and buys; everybody was doing almost everything possible to raise funds for the venture. Even with all this great effort, funds were still insufficient to complete the work and the parish was once more approached to find a means by which this money could be raised. Eventually it was decided to approach the parishioners for private loans and this was a most successful method indeed. Many, many people came forward with offers from £50 to hundreds of pounds and making the eventual sum a realistic possibility.
The firm of Ken Hawker Ltd undertook this work and by the time the building work was complete, everyone was thrilled with the workmanship and general presentation of their "new" church building.
It was decided that a Dedication of the "new rooms" of the church should be undertaken and on Saturday 12th June, 1976 a service was held at three o'clock in the afternoon, led by the Bishop of Manchester for this purpose.
The church was filled with people bursting with pride and everyone was in a spirit of hope. At the service the hymns "All people that on earth do dwell","Angel voices ever singing ","Blessed city heavenly salem","Christ is made the sure foundation" and "Now thank we all our God" were sung. The service brought together the worshipping community and the community at large with representatives from all around the Borough. The Bishop of Manchester, The Rt Revd Patrick Rodger preached the sermon and highly praised the ability of the parish to undertake this vast task and the quality of workmanship that had gone into the building to produce the new West End.
The parish was in a new mood of hope and expectancy, the rooms were being used by community groups and by the church. The worshipping body of St George's had been drawn together in a common enterprise, and this single act was the core of the true uniting of the two churches of Old and New St George's as they worked side by side to almost construct "a whole new church". All was now going well and the money from the loans from the individual parishioners and the Borough had started to be repaid as income from the hall increased.
Secular groups frequently used the hall for their regular weekly or monthly meetings, and Robin Morris worked hard at attracting non-church groups to use the building. The "Darby and Joan" Club, the Slimming Club and the Mother and Toddler Group were perhaps the more significant amongst them, and of course the young people's groups, namely the Boys Brigade, Girl Guides and Brownies now used the hall as their base.
The whole of the floor in the new hall was made from re-using the maple wood that had come from the old school and it formed a very attractive, though in some cases rather brittle, floor space. A "bar" was purchased from a local club and this formed the south end of the hall and turned out to be a very popular feature in the many lettings that have taken place over the years. The kitchen area and the downstairs lounge were more than adequate for meetings of up to 60 people and it allowed the use of full catering facilities to be available for everyone.
A great deal of thought and care had gone into this adaptation of the church which would prove to be of real benefit to all concerned in the future.
A further three and a half years were to elapse before Robin Morris was to eventually leave the parish of St George and move to the parish of St Peter, Heswall, on the Wirral, where he is to this day. During that time the Revd Morris was to underpin this piece of innovative alteration, by a ministry of great sensitivity and care. It was during his ministry that the Worship Revisions of the Church of England were taking place. St George's had followed the suggestions of the Synod and had experimented with Series 1, Series 2 and Series 2 Revised, but were not inclined to move much further, preferring to remain with Series 2 Revised and the Prayer Book. At a long PCC meeting a vote was taken to determine whether to accept Series 3 for a further period of experiment. The vote was exactly balanced and needed the "casting vote" of the incumbent to decide the issue. This move in liturgy was not to be the last, but a significant one in the development of the church and its spirituality.
His last service was at the end of January 1980 and this was followed by an interregnum of 6 months, during which time the church wardens, Mr Alun Davies and Mr Harry Garnett, worked very hard at maintaining the structures established during the time of the former incumbent.
The PCC had met with the Area Dean under the direction of the newly appointed Lord Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Stanley Booth-Clibborn, to determine what kind of new incumbent they would like to succeed Mr Morris. Meetings of this kind "always" end up by determining the need for "a young man, married with two children, keen on the youth of the church and interested in developing what already existed at the church, not losing sight of the old and generally being all things to all people" - This is exactly what the PCC asked for but perhaps not what they received.
On the 10th June, 1980 I was inducted as incumbent of the parish of St George, Stalybridge.