Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

                                   1957 - 1971

 

After the turbulent and unsettling years that preceded this period both parishes needed a time of stability and renewal, but for the Old church the short term incumbencies were to continue.  John Penrose was succeeded in 1958 by William Radcliffe who, like his predecessor, remained in the church for only three years.  By this time Old St George's had developed a "tradition" of incumbents who were not really committed to the parish  nor indeed felt that they had much to contribute to a church that moved so rapidly towards closure. 

 

William Radcliffe was respected and indeed appreciated by his congregation and particularly following the rather peculiar ministry of John Penrose.  Penrose was at odds with the vast majority of the worshipping community and Radcliffe attempted to stand alongside them and to reaffirm them.  This appears to be his only success in his three year ministry where he simply maintained what was there, offering no initiatives or much encouragement to the depleting community.

 

It is quite an interesting fact to compare two periods of this church's ministry.  Between the years of 1938-1961, a relatively short period of some twenty three years, there had been five incumbents at the Old church.  In the period 1867 until 1937, a span of seventy years, only three incumbents were at the church.  It is not surprising that with this rapid change of "leadership" the church became extremely unsettled. 

 

William Radcliffe was succeeded in 1962 by the last incumbent of the church of Old St George's, Cocker Hill.  Michael Robert Hodge was to remain for five years until the closure of the church in 1967.

 

The Revd Michael Hodge was like many of his generation who felt, and some would say quite rightly, that Christian Stewardship was the prime responsibility of every worshipping member of the church.  This he interpreted to mean that only money raised by "planned giving" and on the plate was the true offering of a Christian and a committed community.  He felt very strongly that there was a significant difference between a church employed in social activities and one committed to Christian endeavour, so much so, that he forced the demise of the thriving Dramatic Society, the frequent dances and social events that were commonplace within that church.

 

Though in an ideal world this philosophy would have been both understood and accepted, the people of Old St George's reacted rather badly to this "new broom sweeping clean".

 

Few people appeared to leave the church but many became discontented and this added to the growing unease within the church and fewer and fewer initiatives were acted upon. 

 

New St George's also had a change of incumbent in 1957, but it was not until the following year the Revd Kenneth Langton was inducted as successor to George Leonard Eakins.  This was Kenneth Langton's first living as an incumbent.

 

Kenneth Langton was also of the generation of his colleague, Michael Hodge, and he too felt strongly about Christian Stewardship and responsibility and felt that "planned giving" ought to be the sole fund raising activity within the church.  He thought that if everyone who had previously raised large sums of money through social activities concentrated their efforts on giving "on the plate", then the finances of the church could be more accurately assessed and planning for future developments assured.

 

New St George's had at that time become a church where dances and social activities took a high profile on the agenda, and the news brought by Mr Langton on his induction proved to be a bitter taste in the mouths of many people. 

 

Kenneth Langton had a relatively long ministry of 13 years in that church and during this time there were a number of physical as well as spiritual changes.  It would be true to say that he lifted the church from a period of chaos and uncertainty to a more stable situation but not everyone would agree with this.  Few could disagree with the fact that he did a considerable amount of good work with the youth of the church.  It was he who created the Youth Club and developed the use of younger people in the services, underlined by the addition of " Servers " within the sanctuary.  Like any person who brings about significant change within a church, the Revd Langton was not liked by all his congregation and he certainly met with considerable opposition to many of his initiatives, but perhaps his greatest contribution was during the last four years of his time at New St George's during the period of the closure of the old church and the uniting of the two benefices.

 

Mr Langton was a man of change and came with many ideas.  The first significant change was the addition of a Processional Cross which was donated by Mr James Heelan in September, 1959.  This promoted the use of processions by the choir and the use of servers.  From first arriving at the church, Kenneth Langton and his wardens had been in negotiation about revising the west end of the building, to accommodate much needed toilet facilities.  After a considerable amount of work and planning, a faculty was applied for in October, 1961 to carry out alterations and repairs to the west end of the church where new toilets and washing facilities could be provided.  This was also the opportunity to have the church rewired and install new light fittings - taking away the rather old and inadequate lighting system that had existed up to that point.  The church of New St George's has always suffered from a lack of cupboard space and it was during this revision that new cupboards were created under the stairs of the tower.  Within the faculty application, the access passages into the church were to be completely revised.  The old side aisle doors were to be bricked up and plastered and new double doors fitted in the centre of the church at the head of the nave.  Up to this point the entrance to the church had always been through the south door and during this revision the south door was completely blocked up allowing toilets to be built in that area. From that point on, the west door was to be the main access point for the congregation.

 

This was certainly a very thoughtful and useful revision making good use of the west end of the church and making a considerable improvement to the building.

 

At the end of Stanley Stirrup's time in the church, he had promoted the idea of a Lady Chapel and this was brought to fruition during the early years of Kenneth Langton's ministry.  An altar was given by the Revell family, the local Undertakers, as indeed had been the case with the main altar given in memory of the late Harry Revell.  A Communion rail and kneeling platform was given in memory of "Emma Gudger died 23/12/62 and William Gudger died 18/1/63."  The money for this was given by the Mothers' Union and it was they who carpeted the area, and provided matching pew felts for the whole of the south side seating area.

 

From 1963 to 1967 Mr Langton worked hard at building up relationships within the parish and trying to establish his firm belief in stewardship. 

 

                                     Closure

It was in the year of 1967 that moves began in earnest to discuss the closure of the church, and this created tremendous uncertainty amongst the congregation of Old St George's.  The vicar of the church, the Revd Michael Hodge, wrote a letter in the magazine in the early part of 1967 trying to calm his parishioners and explaining as much as he knew of the situation. This is an extract of his letter where he wrote:-

"I want to try to answer some questions that are being asked now, and it is generally known that it is the intention of the Manchester Diocese to unite the parishes of Old and New St George, and to close our building on Cocker Hill in the process. 

When will it happen?  I just don't know!...Is it inevitable, or can it be prevented? From a long term point of view it appears to be certain unless something absolutely unforeseeable occurs.  In the short term it could be postponed if TWO things happen -

a) there was a tremendous increase in church attendance; if every reader (other than invalids) came to church every Sunday;

b) If there was a great increase in giving - many are only "tipping" God.  Our income is dropping and our Missionary Giving in 1966 was deplorable....With this in mind our parish conference set about answering some questions...what is proving so valuable that it must continue, whether by taking it with us or by it being taken over by others?  The conference answered - Christian Stewardship; Scripture Union Bible Readings; Sunday Schools and Missionary Prayer Groups....

 

The church don't forget means the people of God.  This church can never be closed by men.  Men can only close buildings.  The worship and work of the church will continue.  The extent to which they continue depends upon the extent you will co-operate with God!

Your sincere friend and vicar,

Michael R Hodge"

 

Both Mr Hodge and the Parish Conference raised some important issues but by now the writing was on the wall.  Church attendances were very much reduced, giving was "deplorable" and the general attitude of all concerned was extremely poor and unproductive. 

 

It was on the 6th March, 1967 that Mr Joe S Davenport made a visit to Old St George's church and to the PCC.  Mr Davenport had only recently been appointed as Diocesan secretary, a position he has continued to fulfil until this day and which has proved to be one of the most "valuable assets " of the Diocese.  Mr Davenport's job was to discuss the future of the parish and to talk, along with the vicar of the New church, about the possibilities of amalgamation.  Decisions of this kind have historically caused great sadness and concern to those involved and this situation proved no different.  Considerable argument ensued and people looked for reasons or individuals who might be blamed for the impending demise of the historical church.  Once the closure order had been signed and matters had accelerated, the parishioners of the old church continued to feel extreme regret at the idea of their building being demolished.  The final service was held at the beginning of September 1967 and the record books show that more than 150 parishioners attended the final evening service.  At this service the congregation were asked to choose their own hymns and the evening was spent in prayer and the singing of sixteen hymns.  Following that service there was a farewell dinner arranged on the Friday in Old St George's school rooms on Stamford Street.  Eighty people were present and they heard the Venerable S Hetley Price, Archdeacon of Manchester, thank them for all their efforts and those of their forbears in the work of Old St George's through the years. 

 

The Archdeacon was not the only speaker during the evening, for many had much to say about the passing of their church.  The vicar's warden, Mr J W Price, a former Methodist Sunday School Superintendent, said: "I am ashamed that our church is closing.  Where have we gone wrong?  As it draws nearer it becomes more heartbreaking.  This church means such a lot to me and to a lot of people."  These sentiments were echoed by many, but people did look forward positively to the amalgamation with the New church.  Mr Q MacKenzie, speaking for the Christian Stewardship Committee, said: "We have failed in our purpose to keep a viable church at Old St George's.  But this, the end of one place, is also the beginning of another.  We shall continue to devote as much as possible to the maintenance of our new church."  Other speakers that evening included Miss Olive Greenwood, Mr S Stevens, Mrs R Fidler, and Mr Clifford Roberts, who was the Lay Reader of the church.  Clifford Roberts particularly praised the work of the vicar during his short term at the church. 

 

The Archdeacon was very quick to prevent people from giving themselves too much hurt and said: "We should not indulge in self criticisms.  We must learn not to get too attached to people and to places."  On the following Saturday the Revd Hodge performed the final wedding at the church between Miss Ann Porritt, of Stamford Close, Stalybridge, and Mr Harry Gordon, of Beauchamp Street, Ashton.  The Revd Michael Hodge is currently the vicar of Tunbridge Wells and Hon. Canon of Rochester Cathedral. 

 

The legal machinery ground slowly in terms of church amalgamation, but Kenneth Langton, along with the Archdeacon, worked very hard at making sure this most difficult passage was as smooth as possible.  The Revd Langton was licensed as curate-in-charge of Old St George's from 1967 until 1969 so that he had legal rights in administrating the closure order.  This allowed him to build up the relationships between the old and new church and to make the transition somewhat easier. 

 

A great deal of effort was made to preserve the building and Mr Langton sought every opportunity to interest secular bodies to maintain the building as a monument for the future.  In 1967 the Stalybridge Civic Society had shown considerable interest in such a venture and the hope was that the church might be converted into a viable theatre.  The Bishop of the Diocese had agreed, if this venture was taken further, that the building would be made a gift to the town on the single condition that it should be maintained in a proper and dignified manner.  The Civic Society discussed this possibility at length with the PCC but sadly nothing came of these discussions.  No further interest was taken in the building and in 1968, the firm of Smith, Gore Ltd, Chartered surveyors from Stafford, were commissioned to put into force the work of demolition. 

 

This sight caused great sadness to countless people in the town for by this time many of the plain glass windows that had replaced the stained glass removed to St Augustines, Newton Heath, had been damaged and the building looked in a shabby condition.  But not all of the church's treasures were lost. 

 

A good number of the pews were transferred from Old St George's church to Holy Trinity, Bardsley and others found their way to St Anselm, Whitworth.  The pews at Holy Trinity, Bardsley still remain, but sadly the church of St Anselm followed in the wake of Old St George's and was demolished.  Mention has already been made of the single remaining stained glass window of "Ruth and Naomi" which now is in the book corner of St Michael and All Angels, Mottram.  The bell was also saved and was transferred from the old church to the new church of St Stephen, Astley, Leigh.  This transfer took place in 1968 and was arranged between the Revd Langton and the Revd W King, the first incumbent of that church.  The font was transferred to the new church.

                                     Readers

When Mr Clifford Roberts came to the new church of St George  he became the fourth of what was to become a long line of successful Lay Readers of the church.

 

The first Lay Reader of the new church was Mr Alfred Wright who served in this capacity for twenty two years from 1925 to 1947 and a memorial plaque on the north pillar of the chancel is a constant reminder of his worthy ministry.  He was succeeded by Mr Dennis Selby who was licensed as a Reader on the 21st May,1949.  Mr Selby remained at the church until he moved with his job in August 1967.  For a brief period the Church gained a man already trained as a Reader from another diocese.  Mr William (Bill) Davey moved into the parish and was licensed by the Bishop on the 26th June, 1963.  He remained at the church until he too moved with his job in March, 1965.  Clifford Roberts joined the new church at the end of 1967 and performed a very worthy ministry, particularly in the area of Stewardship, until he took a job with the YMCA working in Sheffield in June, 1979.

 

The tradition of Reader ministry was to continue and develop within the new united benefice and, as we shall see later, four more men were to take up this specialised ministry before the church was to reach its 150th anniversary. 

 

These 13 years of Kenneth Langton's ministry had proved to be a period of considerable change.  This meant that the Bishop would need to choose carefully to find a man who would bring consolidation and build upon the ministry that had been established.

 

This was most certainly found in the appointment of the Revd Robin Edward Morris.