by Keith Lawrence
A strange title perhaps – but if they were public houses! Travelling from the Lancashire border southwards we pass six churches and two chapels associated with manor houses.
A ‘church crawl’ covering some 800 years of local history although it is true that only remnant of the earliest phases of the churches may now survive. Churches were increased in size and embellished century by century until the Victorian makeovers. While the Victorians removed much of interest from these ancient churches their own work is now over 100 years old – antiques in their turn. It is also a journey through the lives of many of the leading local families, in the memorials they have left behind.
The ‘church crawl’ starts in Wilmslow with St Batholomew (SK9 4AA); a jigsaw of a building commenced in the 13th century (13C). Look for the 13C? crypt, 14C elements in the nave, a 15C church tower, 16C wooden screen and wall panelling and box pews from the 1700s. The tomb of Henry Trafford from 1537 – he was both rector and benefactor of the church and the Robert del Booth brass 1460 (oldest in the country). Heading south along the A34 we reach Nether Alderley. The church – St Mary (SK10 4TW) – is part of an interesting group of buildings including an old school house (1628), the Stanley family mausoleum (1909) and the nearby old water mill (National Trust). Again the church has elements from a wide range of dates – a 14C font and doorway, 15C/16C Nave and a 19C chancel, in which are tombs of the first two lords Stanley of Alderley. An unusual feature of the church is the upper Stanley family pew slotted into the south aisle in the 17C.
The next stop on the ‘church crawl’ is the chapel of Capesthorne Hall (SK11 9JY) dedicated to the Holy Trinity, which was originally built between 1720 and 1722 but heavily remodelled in 1887. It is a relatively simple three-bay building with interesting terracotta panels and a mosaic reredos. The original box pews were removed in the Victorian makeover leaving us with only college style pews and a raised family pew. The next two churches could not be more of a contrast as both are half-timbered (timber framed), typical of the classic ‘black and white’ buildings in Cheshire.
All Saints, Siddington (SK11 9JP) has elements from the 16C through to the 18C but the timber frame of the nave was encased in brick early in the 19C. Its appearance would have been much different prior to the covering of the wooden frame. Look for the memorial to Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstab VC DSO MC (1888–1918), recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War II, whose father was Vicar of All Saints.
However the next church on the crawl St James & St Paul in Marton (SK11 9HE) reveals all and is probably the best half-timbered church in Cheshire and the oldest in Europe. This church has to a large extent escaped the improvers since the 14C with only new windows in the 19C. This jewel has a king-post roof, remains of medieval wall paintings, a 15C font, an Elizabethan parish chest, 18C painted boards and relative newcomer a 14C alter cross bought in the 1950s.
We next arrive in Congleton where St Peter (CW12 4AB) presents a much more restrained exterior; indeed it has been described as unprepossessing. Walk inside, however, and you are presented with a near untouched 18C interior. The c17 pulpit exposes an older origin for the church with the medieval church having been made over in the period 1742 to 1786. Look out for the Royal Arms of William III, paintings of St. Peter and St. Paul either side of the east window and a medieval parish chest. A relatively forgotten incident in the abolition of slavery is commemorated on the east wall. There is a large memorial to Colonel Sir Thomas Reade (1782-1849) showing a slave praying by a palm tree. This commemorates Sir Thomas’s actions when in Tunisia – here in 1842 he persuaded the Bey (King) of Tunis to abolish slavery throughout his dominions. Sir Thomas’s story is however much more interesting as he spent six years as ‘Napolean’s jailer’ on St Helena (1816-1821).
We are nearing the end of the ‘church crawl’ with just two more before we reach the Staffordshire boundary.
St Mary’s Astbury (CW12 4RG) was originally the mother church of Congleton and as befits this role is one of the finest churches in Cheshire. This church was probably founded in the 13C – there are windows dating to this period on the north side of the north chancel. Parts of the north aisle are 14C but the tower is late 15C. This church has survived unscathed by the Victorian restorers and has a feast of medieval and renaissance features. Perhaps most unusual is a 16C wooden lectern composed of an eagle on a stand. Look for the altar tomb dedicated to Lady Jane Grey Egerton – her effigy is an Elizabethan women with a ruff.
The last visit on this ‘church crawl’ is the chapel of Little Moreton Hall (CW12 4SD), a National Trust property. The Chapel, begun in 1508, is accessible by a doorway from the inner courtyard. It contains Renaissance inspired tempera painting, thought to date from the late 16th century. Subjects include passages from the Bible. The chancel is probably a later addition dating from the mid-16th century. It is separated from the nave by an oak screen and projects eastwards from the main plan of the house, with a much higher ceiling. The stained glass in the east wall of the chancel is a 20th-century addition installed by Charles Abraham, the last private owner of Little Moreton Hall, as a parting gift on his transfer of ownership to the National Trust. The chapel is still used for services most Sundays at 3.45pm conducted by the clergy from the local Scholar Green church.
A relatively short journey by road covering nearly an 800 year span of history. While some churches suffered at the hands of the Victorian modernisers we have more than enough unscathed churches and a plethora of surviving features. This short article has done little more than produce a very minor scratch on the surface of this store of ecclesiastical history. Each church is worth a little research before hand to make the most of the visit. The opening times may not coincide for the whole journey to be made in one trip – check the websites for access times and in at least two cases – the chapels of Capensthorne and Little Moreton Hall – the admission costs.
Cheshire County Council. (1989). Discovering Cheshire Churches. A look at the fascinating variety of the county’s religious buildings, in the form of ten motor tours. ISBN 0906759579.
Stephen Richard Glynne, James Augustus Atkinson. (2013). Notes on the Churches of Cheshire. Chetham Society Volume 32 New Series. ISBN 5518508166.
John Leonard. (1990). Cheshire Parish Churches. Sigma Leisure. ISBN 1850582521.
Roland W. Morant. (1989). Cheshire Churches. Countryvise Publication. ISBN 0907768180.
Raymond Richards. (1973). Old Cheshire Churches. E.J. Morten Publishers. ISBN 0901598909.
Mike Salter. (1995). The Old Parish Churches of Cheshire. Folly Publications. ISBN 1871731232.
All the churches have entries in Wikipedia.
St Batholomew, Wilmslow. http://www.wilmslowparish.org/. For the Virtual tour. http://www.westondigitalimaging.co.uk/st_barts/flash/index_St_barts.html .
St Mary, Nether Alderley. http://www.stmarysalderley.com/
Capensthorne Hall Chapel. http://www.capesthorne.com/hall-and-gardens/grounds-and-gardens.html
All Saints, Siddington. http://www.achurchnearyou.com/siddington/
St James and St Paul, Marton. http://www.martonchurch.co.uk/
St Peter, Congleton. http://www.congletonteamparish.co.uk/Indexfr.htm
St Mary, Asbury. http://astburychurch.org.uk/
Little Morton, Chapel of Little Moreton Hall. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall/history/