St George's Church


Chapter Two

Two Churches and a Mill

It is an uncanny coincidence that the Church and industry at that time moved hand in hand.  1770 saw not only a great increase in the interest by the church to develop the Cocker Hill site and find money to build a Chapel of Ease, but also the Industrial Revolution had brought  about many other changes. 

Only thirty years earlier, John Kay of Bury had invented the Flying Shuttle. This allowed the weaver to work at a considerably increased speed.  Such an invention was wonderful in itself, but in that same year James Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny, a device which enabled the spinning of several threads at once. Not long after that time Richard Arkwright devised his revolutionary method of spinning with rollers. 

The next fifteen years proved to be a time of rapid growth for various sections of industrial life, for it was also during this changing time that Samuel Crompton of Bolton combined the two new methods into his single machine called the Mule.

These marvellous inventions must have been far from the minds of the Staley Bridge people.  These were ordinary folk who earned a living in difficult conditions, often combining the roles of farmer, though in a very small way, with that of textile worker in a home cottage industry.  Loom houses were commonplace and no doubt many of the cottages had garden space taken up with such a construction.  Though there are no records to show the exact format of the houses, it can be reasonably assumed that houses without gardens would have had a loom in an upper storey.  Such houses often had larger windows for increased light.

These cottage industries involved the whole family.  In order to supply the one hand-driven loom, more than six spinners would be fully occupied for this was a very slow and laborious business.  Clearly Staley Bridge would be an ideal site for its own "industrial revolution" and this was not far around the corner.

The Church moved steadily towards establishing the first Christian centre of worship in the area.  The Cocker Hill site seemed ideal as it was a promontory, seemingly of a solid rock construction.  One can readily understand why this site was chosen and, as the first ever drawing of the Church shows, it was ideally placed.  Were this site to be considered for building today, geological and technological exploration would be made  and no doubt the site disregarded, but for then it seemed the obvious place.

Permission had been granted for the construction of the Chapel, money had been raised, contractors established and now, as the year 1776 arrived, a building was near completion.  It is very sad that we do not have any early recorded drawings or letters to give us more detail about the actual construction.

What has survived is the Deed of Consecration and though it would serve no real purpose to repeat the lengthy document here, some of the information is both interesting and relevant.

As with the petition, the Deed sets out the reasons behind the building of the church and describes the site as lying "within Ridgehill and Lanes", an unusual but historically accurate title.  We also learn that "James Kenworthy is a Woollen Clothier at Castle Hall in Dukenfield" and that Thomas Milne was similarly employed but was a native of the village.  The Chapel is described in size to be "sixty seven feet in breadth across the nave or body (this being an outside measurement) "and fifty eight feet four inches and a half or thereabouts" (being the inside measurement).  This shows that the walls were approximately four feet in thickness.

The church was consecrated as the "Chapel of St. George in Staley Bridge within Ridgehill and Lanes in the parish of Ashton underlyne" (notice the change once more of the spelling for Ashton).  This title of St. George was never used and the Chapel was only referred to in documentation as "The Chapel of Ease, Staley Bridge".  In fact the title of St. George had no relevance or purpose until the advent of the new church threatened its existence.  The church remained part of the Ashton parish and so all fees were paid to the incumbent of the time namely The Revd Sir George Booth, Baronet.

The Deed set out the law pertaining to graveyards, services and the election of Wardens, reminding such persons of their responsibilities and duties.  The Deed also makes due provision for the Earl stating, "WE DO ASSIGN AND CONFIRM the Front Seat or Pew  situate in the South West Square in the Gallery of the Chapel unto the said Earl and his heirs for the use of themselves their Families and Tenants free and clear of all Rent to be hereafter paid for the same exclusive of all other persons whatsoever without his or their Leave first to use the same" - rank had its privilege.  The majority of the remaining pews were to be rented to those in the area capable of paying, save a small number of free pews for the poor. 

The Deed of Consecration was signed on Thursday the 25th July, 1776 having been duly read out by William, Lord Bishop of Chester, immediately following the Repetition of the Nicene Creed.  The Deed is witnessed by "twelve pious and good men and of a numerous Congregation".

The first church had a balcony with upper and lower windows on each of the eight facing walls. The church roof was in a semi-pitched form, a most unusual shape, though this was not repeated in the final building to stand on the site.  The Chapel of Ease was consecrated on 5th July, 1776 by the then Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd William Markham, who was translated that same year to York.  Following the consecration much further work had to be completed and so it was not until the following year that the first incumbent was appointed.

It was also in the year of 1776 that the first cotton mill was built in the village.  Mr Edward (Neddy) Hall opened his mill in Wood Street, giving employment to the majority of the township and encouraging others to move there.  This was most certainly a time great excitement in the village and the appointment of the Revd James Wardleworth B.A. as the first incumbent on 26th April, 1777 was greatly welcomed.

Staley Bridge rapidly grew and no doubt church and industry developed equally rapidly side by side.  Once again there is sparse written evidence of the actual composition of the village at that stage, but the reader would find it interesting to have the little, yet fascinating information available from the Articles of Enquiry of 1778 sent out by the Bishop of Chester to all of the parishes.  The Bishop of Chester at this stage was Beilby Porteus who was consecrated on New Year's eve 1776.  The date of the Articles of Enquiry was 6th April,1778 and was distributed from Lambeth.

There were eleven questions which were addressed to the incumbents, and the Bishop, in his opening paragraph, asks for accuracy; this was certainly the case with James Wardleworth in his returned form.  When asked to describe the parish, Wardleworth states, "The Extent of the Village of Staley Bridge, where a Chapel of Ease has been lately erected, is about half a mile - it is in ye Parish of Ashton Under Line, and contains 104 Houses.  There are no families of note in it."

In 1778 the feelings toward the Roman Catholic Church were certainly strained.  The second question asks about the "Papists" and shows concern about any Rank that they may hold.  Wardleworth answers in a simple form," There are no Papists in ye Chapelry of Staley Bridge, neither is there any place in which they assemble for worship nor Popish school."  Ecumenism was not a strong point at that time!

Wardleworth goes on in the same manner about other denominations; "there are nine Presbyterians in this village but no Independents, Annabaptists, or Quakers - one Baptist, and no Moravians.  We have no Meeting Houses -The Presbyterians have somewhat increased of late years, which, I imagine, is owing to population."

Not only are the Articles concerned about the presence of other religions but also of those with none!  Questions were asked of the incumbent about those who had no regard for religion or who commonly absented themselves from public worship of God on the Lord's Day.  Wardleworth continues, "there is one person who professes to disregard religion in this village - and many, I believe, who commonly absent themselves from all public worship on ye Lord's Day.  This is done, I suppose, out of sloth, or  a contempt for religion." Even in those by-gone days the Church was not as full as we are encouraged to believe - little changes.

James Wardleworth lived in the Parish though this was not always the common practice of all incumbents.  He did not have a parish house but was allowed £60 per annum for a salary funded from the collection of Pew Rents.  This is one of the reasons why so few "free" pews were allocated in the Chapel.

Question six is the most interesting by far and yet is answered in seemingly the most casual of manners by the incumbent.  The questions asked in this section are all to do with the services performed in the Chapel on the Lord's Day - whether a sermon is preached, if not by what reason; the days upon which prayers are read, how often the Church is catechised, how often the Sacrament is administered and so on.  James Wardleworth had this to say:

"My Chapel had ye Misfortune of Tumbling down on Friday 15th May, 1778 and it is uncertain when it will be rebuilt - but while it was standing, service was duly performed twice on the Lord's Day, and two sermons preached, prayers are read on ye Saints Days.  As for the catechising the children in ye church, this good Custom is not so frequently practised as it ought.  It is seldom done but when there is Notice given of a confirmation, which, I imagine, is owing to ye Double Duty we have in this part of ye world.  I make use of Archbishop Wakes' exposition of ye Catechism.  The Sacrament is administered four times in ye year betwixt 40 and 50 usually receive it tho' there were upwards of 60 last Easter."

It would seem that the land slipped and that the back and side walls of the Chapel simply collapsed, causing cracks and major repairs to be needed to the east and south facing walls as well as the roof.

Little appears to be made of this and certainly no specific text is on record that shows the great concern we might have expected at such an event.  It would seem that as soon as the church had fallen, work must have begun to restore it.  No record is kept of money raised, nor the source from which it might have come in order to do this work, but clearly it was achieved very quickly and with the minimum of fuss.

The "second" church was soon in place and appears to have been a carbon copy of the original, though strangely there is no record of a re-consecration when the church was re-opened for worship. This would be unique if it did not indeed occur.  Wardleworth gives no clues in the Articles of Enquiry as to the reasons for this nor is any mention made of a re-consecration in the subsequent Articles of Enquiry of 1811.

The roof of the rebuilt church remained in the peculiar semi-pitched style with a flattened top; the bell tower, containing a single bell, was of a reduced height and support for the east and south walls was strengthened.  These features can be clearly seen in the lantern slide picture showing some of the early graveyard monuments and some of the housing that was built much later on the Turnpike Road, later to be called Wakefield Road. 

This particular church remained in place until a serious land slip occurred in 1877.



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