Chapter Three

                              The Growing Community

 

The ministry of James Wardleworth continued for thirteen years until he resigned on the 4th October, 1790.  This ministry and the following thirty years was to be a time of continual growth and change as the population of the village increased dramatically.  One can only assume that the Church grew as rapidly, in relative terms, and in tandem with the village.

 

The first baptisms recorded in the parish of Staley Bridge were held on the 28th July, 1776 and the first recorded burial in the graveyard of the church took place on the 16th January, 1777.  The ministry of Wardleworth must have had its effect, though nothing is recorded, for the Bishop of Chester felt that he was worthy, and the parish of such significance, to receive a Stipendiary Curate. On the 12th March, 1790 William Kenworthy was to become the first Stipendiary Assistant Curate of the parish.  The church documentation of this period is particularly scarce but parish records show that relatively few children were baptised in the following years though this increased, presumably as the influence of the church grew.  The graveyard at Cocker Hill was sadly in early use and a considerable number of burials had taken place throughout the years. Infant mortality led to many unrecorded burials, and as recent exhumations have shown, often more than one body was interred in a single coffin.

 

The Revd James Wardleworth was succeeded by The Revd John Robinson who was licensed on the 1st April, 1791 and who remained in the parish for a relatively short period of only four years.  He resigned on the 9th October, 1795 but it is difficult to determine why this resignation took place.  One must assume that he resigned to take up a position elsewhere but the parish was fortunate to have had an Assistant Curate called John Kenworthy who had joined the parish in September of the previous year.  John Kenworthy saw through the interregnum and he then began a tradition in Staley Bridge rarely repeated since his time. He was appointed as the incumbent on the 25th September, 1796 a mere two years, almost to the day, since he joined the parish as an assistant.

 

As the church's influence began to grow and develop, so too grew the influence of the mill owners.  The family of Mr Edward Hall, members of Cocker Hill Chapel of Ease, continued to change the life of the village and community.  When the mill was built in Wood Street, it depended upon water power derived from a stream which flowed from Ridge Hill, to power the carding machinery but at that stage his spinning machines were still operated by hand.  In 1794, Hatchett's mill was established on the river bank on what was then called Rosbottom Street, now known as Market Street.  The following year a group of four families joined together to build a mill in Chapel Street. These were  John Leech, George Cheetham, John Lees and  Thomas Harrison, all names of great significance in the early years of Cocker Hill Chapel.

 

"Neddy" Hall decided to update his antiquated methods of spinning and installed a steam engine in his mill.  It is understood that he was one of the first people on the Lancashire cotton mill scene to take this step.  Steam engines meant smoke, and in order to carry away the great volume of smoke, Neddy Hall built the first of the tall chimneys that became a dominant feature of the landscape of Staley Bridge.  The large quantities of smoke and soot gave the mill its nickname of "Sootpoke" mill.  Other mill owners followed this initiative and installed similar machines though of a larger capacity.  Sootpoke's engine was thought to be around six horsepower, but subsequent machines were six and seven times that capacity.  Many other mills were quickly to follow and records show that by 1823 Staley Bridge had twenty six mills and a population of five and half thousand people.

 

Clearly an increased workforce meant an increase in the numbers of children, and children who would need some form of education.  Though the majority of records for Staley Bridge show that a school existed in 1795, established in a house in Wood Street close to the mill, by Robert Platt and Thomas Broadbent, it was not the first school in the village.  In 1794 a Sunday School connected with Cocker Hill Chapel was held in a house on Cocker Hill.  Here the children paid one penny each and were taught the rudiments of education as well as receiving the traditional teaching of the church.

 

The ministry of the Revd John Kenworthy continued for nearly ten years though little is recorded of any note during this period.  We must not assume that because records fail to indicate any significant changes during that time that his ministry was uneventful, for clearly the church congregation and the spiritual welfare of the people was developing.

 

The Revd John Cape Atty was licensed on the 11th April, 1807 following the death of John Kenworthy. It was in his period as incumbent that the next Articles of Enquiry show the changes that had occurred within the village and in the church during the intervening years from 1778 to the date of the Articles in 1811.  By this time the number of houses had grown to an impressive four hundred and " the population of Staley Bridge and its environs had been computed at 3,000 Souls".

 

In 1811, there were still no Roman Catholics living within the town but it would not be long after the death of John Cape Atty that this situation would alter in a dramatic way.  This was of course not the case with other denominations. Atty records that, "the Methodists of what is called the 'new connection' have a licensed Chapel here."  The first Methodist Chapel was erected at the corner of Chapel Street and Rassbottom Street in the year 1802.  Atty continues, " they (the Methodists) seem not to have increased of late. There is also an Anabaptist congregation here; the Meeting House I understand is to be licensed.  The teacher's name is Armitage Barker".

 

The Christian presence in Staley Bridge was increasing and diversifying but the tenor of Atty's reply in the Articles does suggest that little activity, or indeed respect, existed between the various denominations.

 

The question contained in the Articles about those who profess to disregard religion still remained, and here Atty makes some interesting comment.  He continues, "among a large population consisting chiefly of cotton spinners there are many, no doubt, who absent themselves commonly from all public worship; of their motives, and Number, or whether they have increased of late, I am ignorant."  This does display a marked lack of awareness about the nature of the township and suggests a rather narrow, almost congregational view of ministry, not untypical of the time.  Many such opportunities were missed and Industrial Mission, as it would much later become known, was not practised.

 

Atty, like his predecessors, had no house in which to reside but chose to live within the parish and close to his chapel.  He continues in the Articles, "I reside in a house close to the Chapel, which House I bought at some inconvenience, by the Desire of my Congregation, who promised to advance £200 to obtain a like sum from the Governors of the Bounty of Queen Anne, to be invested in the said purchase.  It is a substantial Stone Building, with a stable and Cow-house on the premises. Also a garden."  The incumbents of the nineteenth century lived somewhat differently to their present day counterparts!

 

By this time, services were far more regular within the church, and a more traditional pattern of worship and catechising was established.  Atty says of these things, "Divine Service is performed twice on each Sunday.  Public and private catechising are used.  The Sacrament of ye Lord's Supper are administered four times in the year.  Communicants from thirty to forty.  Numbers stationary.  The money collected is given to poor housekeepers."  Though the number of Communicants remains low with respect both to the population and to church attenders, it should be remembered that the system of receiving Communion was very different to that which is practised in these modern days.  The old preface of the Prayer Book would be read on the previous Sunday, and those wishing to receive Communion would give their names to the incumbent.  This particular practice reduced the effective number of the Communicants of any church, not least one that was in its infancy.

 

As has been said earlier, a good number of children were populating the village and schools were created to meet the demands of education.  In the Articles, Atty makes no mention of the school at Cocker Hill, though by that time it was well established.  He does however mention the voluntary schools in the area. Of them he says, "there are several voluntary schools. Free Sunday Schools have been lately established which teach from three to four hundred children."  It is unfortunate that the number of schools is not recorded, but his response does demonstrate the vast numbers of children involved.

 

John Cape Atty had a particularly fruitful ministry and remained as incumbent for fifteen years until his death in 1822.  He, like his predecessors before him, received a stipendiary assistant and in March of 1818 Abraham Cuppage joined Atty at the church.

 

In 1821 the third Articles of Enquiry were returned, though this time in a very different form than previously devised. No longer was the questionnaire in the format of one answer per page, but now single questions requiring the shortest of answers were listed in a rather mechanical manner covering only two sides of paper.  Though the death of John Cape Atty did not occur until 1822, this particular questionnaire appears to have been completed by Atty's successor, The Revd Isaac Newton France.  We can only assume that Atty was unable, through his illness, to complete the form and that it remained in the church until the appointment of France in the following year.

 

Many of the new questions related not to the kind of people in the area, though some still did, but rather concentrated on the building itself and the community associated with it.  We now learn that the building contained seating for seven hundred people and was entirely pewed.  A question is asked regarding the number of seats left specifically for the poor and France sadly responds, "none" indicating the wide difference between the "have" and the "have not" of the old days.  For the first time, however, we are given attendance figures, rather than isolated figures for Communion, which show the true development of the church in a more realistic manner.  In 1821, France records that four hundred and fifty people normally attended the church on each Sunday.  This is not an outstanding figure in relation to other churches of that period, but it is not an insignificant one either for a small and developing village.

 

From the Articles we hear that the church had books in "a good state" and that they provided two surplices for the use of the incumbent.  At that time Communion would have been received from pewter vessels; the Articles tell us that no "plate of worth" existed.  The church retained its single bell and was in good condition.  They had two biers with black cloths for funeral services.

 

One of the most significant questions runs, "Is there a sufficient Drain around the church?" - France responds, "not wanted". How wrong he was, for modern day surveys have shown that poor drainage was one of the more significant factors in the collapse, both of the church, and more latterly of the graveyard.  The graveyard is described as "small - quite full" and was apparently kept in good order by allowing sheep to graze upon it.

 

The Sacrament continued to be administered four times each year and the only other occasions on which Divine Service was performed other than a Sunday, appeared to be Christmas Day and Good Friday.  Numbers of Communicants remained relatively low and  "average No. Abt thirty".  The collection was given to the poor. No Parish House existed at this time and the new incumbent, describing this situation, used words that would echo loud in the years ahead, "For though lately come", Isaac Newton France states that he, "means to reside".  These three words, or more accurately their sentiment, will come up many times in later chapters, but with vehement and far-reaching significance.

 

The only apparent form of endowment or charity, appears to be that left by the previous incumbent the Revd John Cape Atty. He bequeathed £100, the interest of which was to be given annually by the Wardens and the incumbent, to the poor and needy of the parish on Christmas Day.

 

Atty's will, and the money accrued from its investment, still remains as a means of support within the benefice of St. George.  This money is now used, though rarely, to help people in real need.  It is good to see that a Christian thought of so many years ago continues to help people in these days.

 

In the Articles we see for the first time mention of the appointment of Church Wardens.  These were appointed at Easter, "Two - one by the incumbent, one by the consent of the congregation".  The population at that time is recorded in a surprising form by the Revd France to be in the order of £6,000.? people (he was a new incumbent lately transferred from the curacy of Ashton and not used to these forms).  At that time there was still no record of any Roman Catholics in the village but the number of "Dissenters" had increased - France records, "Four dissenting Chapels, very large numbers, increasing".  This sounds far more like a weather forecast than a record of the spreading of Christianity in the village.

 

The church of Cocker Hill was about to move into one of the most significant stages of its development, for things were never to be the same again.

The Revd Isaac Newton France had arrived.