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In the Beginning

In the Beginning 

"Causeway! Peel Causeway!" 

The travellers needed no porter's shout to tell them. To a fusillade of slamming carriage doors, they had left the warmth of compartments and were striding along the platform. Wraith-like, they emerged from swirling steam, moustached and bearded faces jaundiced by gaslight above while collars grimed by a day in the murk of Man­chester. 

By the time the guard's lantern had gleamed its approval and the locomotive stuttered a response as driving wheels lost their grip on wet metals, the marching col­umn had divided. Some climbed the steps to cross the bridge to carriages wailing to carry them up Stamford Road to Bowdon. Others wheeled right, past the Waiting Room and out towards the farms and fields of Hale. Here, away from the city and the suburbs, they had chosen to make their homes in new houses that had hardly yet begun to change the sleepy, rural nature of this place. 

Though daily reminded of the contribution of the Cheshire Lines Committee to their ability to make their homes here, few, on this winter evening, December 9th, 1889 would have realised that in the Waiting Room they had just passed, plans were being revealed to fellow residents for their future spiritual welfare. 

These had begun, quite informally, five months earlier, on July 4th when Item Two, on a three-item agenda, had read: 

'...That a Mission Room (or Church) should be built in the immediate neighbourhood of Peel Causeway Station, to meet the wants of a rapidly-growing district...'

The Rural Dean had convened the meeting and the representatives of Bowdon and the neighbouring parishes had unanimously adopted the resolution. From then on, the course was set and the pace accelerated. To reach all interested parties, a circular was sent out, an invitation to a full meeting to be held al the Bowdon Parish Schools on November 22nd. Under the chairmanship of the Venerable Archdeacon Gore, five crucial issues were to be resolved.

  • Who might suffer a diminution of his parish by a new one coming into being close by?
  • What area would comprise the new parish?
  • Where exactly would the new church be situated? (the idea of simply a Mission Room was clearly redundant by this time)
  • How much would it cost?
  • And where was the money to come from?

With elaborate courtesy and in prose as ornate and dignified as their architecture, these worthy Victorians set about the task before them.

The one whose parish might be thought to have suffered was the Vicar of St John's Altrincham, Mr. Wainwright. However, not only did Mr. Wainwright accept that many who lived near to it would go to the new church, he drew the boundaries of the new parish which, more or less, exist to this day.

'Do you draw a line up Broomfield Lane to Hale Road until you meet what used to be called Dob Lane, now Park Road, and then return into the mother parish. So that if you take the far side of the railway as one boundary and Park Road as the other, you will have an idea of the new district in your minds.'

Where was the church to be? The Archdeacon described the site with reference to the landmarks of the time.

‘There is a road parallel with the old field path running out of Ashley Road; that road divides and one branch of it goes pretty sharply to the left towards Broomfield Road, and the other goes to the right and sweeps round and strikes Hale Road. At about the fork of these two roads they [the Harrop Trustees] have given us a site.

Of course, we know as businessmen that a new church greatly improves the value of the adjacent property and therefore landowners are commonly quite willing to give a site for a church merely in their own commercial interests, but we are bound to acknowledge the kindness and courtesy with which we were met by the Trustees in this case.’

He returned to this thought later but first he mused upon the nature of the building that was soon to occupy that site.

Whatever the building, it was going to cost money which would to have to be raised by subscription.

‘The question of funds,' he said, 'is more or less dependant upon the character of the building you wish to erect. If we proposed to put up a little iron church or a small mission room we could not expect a very large subscription. We could have done the tiling cheaply but it is my experience that it is sometimes harder to get a small sum for a small purpose than a big sum for a big purpose.'

He illustrated the point with an example from the first, informal meeting:

‘One gentleman said, when he thought they intended to build a mission room that he would give £50, but when he was told that they were going to build a church, said that that was quite a different matter and he would give them £200.’

That informal meeting had resulted in subscriptions totalling £1,300. Now it was up to Peel Causeway to provide evidence of their own enthusiasm for the project. The Archdeacon's words were inspiring.

'I want to say only a few more words and I should like them to be words of the deepest possible solem­nity. I have spoken of a church as being of value to a property and a great convenience to the people, but I ask you to think of a church as a building which is to be dedicated for ever to the service of the Lord God Almighty. And I ask you whether a building to be dedicated to that sacred service ought to be any­thing less than the very best we can build.'

A subscription list, passed around the room, promised £76. By the lime of the meeting in the station waiting room on December 9th, that £76 had grown to £160 and the £1,300 promised in Bowdon had become £1,926.

As money was being raised, a committee of ten deliberated how best it might be spent. They worked in close consultation with the architects, Tate & Popplewell, discussing details of lighting, heating, ventilation. Should such matters seem mundane, the manner of their discussion was anything but, being conducted, according to a con­temporary report,'...with an interest, an energy and joy with which no stranger could intermeddle'.

Many participants, then, at this stage, had probably as many different ideas about how the actual church would finally appear. Those ideas were adjusted (or confirmed) at a meeting in the Parish Rooms on May 14th, 1890 when the plans and drawings were exhibited and explained. Inevitably, there was some criticism ('...but then, the criticisms were very kindly ones'). Several people joined in making the same one. To their suggestion that stone, rather than brick, might have created a finer impression came a gentle riposte: 

‘…Translate silver into gold and we will be alchemists too:

our brick and terra-cotta shall become stone.'

Eloquent, elegant and unanswerable.

Silver or gold, more of it was needed and in the Volunteer Drill Hall on Peel Causeway (where the forecourt of the Ashley Hotel is today) a Sale of Work was held, running from Thursday to Saturday, June 19th, 20th and 21st, in the hope of raising something between £300 and £400. The united choirs of Bowdon sang at the opening service of dedication and Mrs. Gore, wife of the Archdeacon, declared the sale open. It seems to have been the first flowering of a talent that has continued to blossom in St. Peter's ever since.

An eye-witness account declared

‘The Hall was soon thronged with a busy and delighted stream of people from far and near. The music was good. The shape and beauty of the seven stalls was a sight to be remembered: and the whole hall had been effectively convened into a fairyland of utility and art.'

If it is true that summers used to be hotter, then three summer days in the Drill Hall, sunny ones, too, from all accounts, might have caused any but the most zealous en­thusiasm to wilt. Not so. As the last trestles were folded away and the Hall returned to the military purposes of Major Mothersill and tlie Volunteers, no less than £454 had been added to the coffers.

The alchemy of autumn turned the leaves to gold. They fell and furled and were swept away. In a tent on the site of the church-to-be, those who had worked through the hot summer days were muffled up against the cold as they shared a special ser­vice. Mrs. Joynson took the silver trowel the committee had given her and, in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, declared the foundation stone well and truly laid. Outside, the snow was falling, settling on bare branches and frozen turf. It was November 29th, 1890.

Almost one year later, November 28th, 1891 saw the successful conclusion of another three-day Sale of Work held in conditions far different from the first but

‘although fogs reigned without, within all was sweetness and light. A choice stringed band performed. Purses were soon light and so were our hearts when we heard that the Sale had cleared, not the hoped-for £400 but £570 and that promises and payments had reached a grand total of £5,482.'

Part of this had come, not as had so much of it, in hard-earned proceeds of Sales of Work nor in generous donations but in amounts small by comparison but great to their donors. Children of the new parish were encouraged to "buy a brick' and the red bricks in the Baptistry were purchased by the sum they raised - £7 6s 9d. The font ewer was also purchased by children, children of the parish of St. Phillip's Bradford Road, poor children who 'clubbed together their pennies' to achieve this 'touching and appropriate effect of their self-denial'. (Why they should be supporting the af­fluent new parish, instead of the other way round is not clear but so it was.) Originally £4,165 was the sum thought to be needed for a church to seat 425. The final total was £6,755 15s 16d and this took no account of gifts.

By far the greatest individual contribution to the treasures of the church we know today was that of the Joynsons. The East and West windows, the bells and the alabas­ter reredos, the panelling in the sanctuary and the sedilia, and the credence table were only some of their gifts. Together with their imaginative enhancement of the church (perhaps inspired by it), other aspects became more ambitious. Oak doors instead of the planned deal ones, block flooring, an open, stained, wooden roof instead of a plas­ter one and chairs instead of pews. Special communion offertories made possible the purchase of the carved oak altar. It would be difficult to imagine the church without the tower, yet the architects were asked to draw one on the plans, "just to see what it would look like', not as a serious proposition. It became such a familiar feature of the fund-raising literature that not only was it built but built nine feel higher than origin­ally depicted.

Two memories from the time of its building.

Mr. Christopher Hazelhurst, who has a plumbing business in Hale, was told by his late uncle Mr. Robert Hazelhurst the builder that when he was a young bricklayer he had worked on the building of St. Peter's. High up on the tower as it neared completion, the bricklayers could not keep coming down for refreshment, so they would take a bottle or two up with them, strictly against the rules, of course. One day, two of them saw, to their horror, the Clerk of Works about to climb the ladder to inspect their handiwork. As he came higher and higher, they put two bottles of stout into the cavity and bricked them into wall. So, for all we know, there are two bottles of very well-matured stout there to this day.

As a small child, the Revd. Maurice Ridgeway recalls looking up in wonder when his father pointed to the topmost stone on the tower and told him that he had stood up­right on that stone. He had, but when he had been a child himself and the stone lay on the ground before being hoisted up into place.

As the place of worship became complete, the means of worship were provided:

prayer books, hymn books, choir robes, altar linen, an altar cover, beautifully worked hassocks, a kneeler for the sanctuary steps.

There were statues for the niches in the reredos, more windows, the pulpit and the organ. Not all of these had been provided when the Lord Bishop of Chester came, on June 16th, 1892, to dedicate the Church. The service was followed by a banquet in the Drill Hall for subscribers where Mr. Joynson told the story of what he called their 'grand mistake' - their miscalculation of the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice wailing to be evoked.

That evening, a 'solid repast' was enjoyed by all those who had been engaged in the actual building of the church under the expert guidance of Mr. Berry. In acknowledgement of that, the committee presented him with a salver and tea service in solid silver, their appreciation inscribed.

By Easter 1893, all was complete, the Building Committee showed that the Church was absolutely free of debt and the man to whom the whole parish would be looking for guidance and encouragement, consolation and inspiration for the next 32 years climbed the steps and preached, for the very first lime, from the pulpit. His name was John Ritson Brunskill.