A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1963.
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ROMAN CATHOLICISM (fn. 1)
Roman Catholicism in the Potteries area remained weak so long as the district continued one of moorland settlements, its few inhabitants mainly small farmers and potters. It was only from the end of the 18th century, when the population of the district was multiplying rapidly, that Roman Catholics increased in number, helped a few decades later by the beginning of Irish immigration. That Roman Catholicism was able to persist in the area as much as it did during penal times was probably due to the influence of local gentry such as the Biddulphs of Biddulph Grange, the Coyneys of Weston Coyney, and the Draycotts of Paynsley. (fn. 2)
The earliest information about the number of Roman Catholics in the area after the Reformation is provided by a return of 1657 which lists 12 at Bucknall, 13 at Cobridge (notably the Bucknalls, a family of potters), 4 at Hanley (3 of them named Maire, another family of potters), 3 at Burslem (including John Daniel, a potter living at the Nook), 2 at Boothen, and 1 at Meir Heath Furnace; most of the men were described as potters except at Bucknall where they were mainly husbandmen. (fn. 3) A return of 1780 lists 134 Roman Catholics in Burslem parish and 102 in Stoke parish. (fn. 4) Irish immigration into the Potteries had begun by the 1820's, (fn. 5) and by the early 1850's Roman Catholics in the area probably numbered well over 2,000. (fn. 6) Just over 100 years later the number is approaching 20,000. (fn. 7)
The first Roman Catholic centre in the area after the Reformation (fn. 8) was established on the Biddulph's Rushton Grange estate at Cobridge. (fn. 9) The grange had belonged to the Cistercians of Hulton until the dissolution of the abbey in 1538, and it was bought by the Biddulphs two years later. The Biddulphs were themselves Catholics certainly before the end of the 16th century and had Catholic tenants at the grange by the mid-17th century. (fn. 10) There is a tradition that the Biddulphs' chaplain ministered to the victims of the plague at Burslem in 1647 (fn. 11) and another that by 1688 the grange was sufficiently well known as a Catholic centre to be ransacked by a Protestant mob in that year. (fn. 12) Cobridge certainly had a relatively strong Catholic community by 1657, (fn. 13) and Rushton Grange was a Mass-centre in the 18th century. (fn. 14) About 1760 the area received its first resident priest, Thomas Flynn, who, though he used the chapel at Rushton, (fn. 15) probably lived at Burslem, and in 1773 Confirmation was administered at the grange by the Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District. (fn. 16) Flynn left the area in 1776 and three years later was succeeded by John Corne. (fn. 17)
In 1780 Corne began to build a small church on the hill top east of the grange with money subscribed by local Catholics. Work was temporarily suspended owing to the alarm caused by the Gordon Riots, but the church, 21 ft. by 15 ft. with accommodation for 70 people, was opened in 1781. (fn. 18) A house for the priest was built to the west. (fn. 19) The chapel at the grange ceased to be used and by 1820 was 'a mere thatched shed'. (fn. 20) Richard Prendergast, priest there from 1795 to 1813, lengthened the church. (fn. 21) In 1816–17 his successor Louis Gerard, of French emigre family, (fn. 22) more than doubled the size of the church by adding a nave, 48 ft. by 27 ft., at right angles to the earlier block which thereby became a south transept; (fn. 23) he also installed a gallery. This work, the building of the school in 1821–2, and the enlargement of the house in 1831 placed the mission, already very poor, heavily in debt. (fn. 24)
The next priest, Roger O'Higgin (1842–5), increased the seating accommodation of the chapel by 70 places, added a sacristy, and established a parish library. (fn. 25) Thomas Leith (1851–73) installed gaslighting in the chapel, house, and school during his first winter at Cobridge, and evening services were held for the first time; in 1855 he built a new sacristy and erected Stations of the Cross. (fn. 26) Further alterations were made in 1882, (fn. 27) but the church and house eventually became unsafe as a result of mining subsidence. They were pulled down in 1936 and the present church and presbytery opened on the same site in 1937. (fn. 28) Designed by E. B. Norris of Stafford, (fn. 29) the church is a brick building with wide nave, passage aisles, chancel, and baldachino.
In 1822 Bridgettine nuns from Lisbon opened a convent at Cobridge Cottage situated off Elder Road between the present Grange Street and Mawdesley Street. They moved to Stone c. 1828. (fn. 30) The Little Sisters of the Poor, after two years at Druid's Hall, Albion Street, Hanley, moved in 1892 to Cobridge House in Cobridge Road, the home of the Hales family in the 18th and 19th centuries. The nuns bought the house in 1899 and replaced it by the present St. Augustine's Home, built in 1902–3 and extended in 1911 and later. There is now accommodation for about 100 old people at the home. (fn. 31)
At first the Cobridge priest served a very wide area covering Leek, Crewe, Market Drayton, Ashley, and Newcastle (fn. 32) as well as the Potteries with its rapidly growing population. The gradual establishment of new missions reduced his responsibilities, but in 1827 he could still describe his mission as 'one of the most extensive and in the greatest want . . . about 1,000 souls dispersed in 6 towns and above 20 villages'. (fn. 33) By this time, however, the southern part of the Potteries and Newcastle had become part of a new mission centred on Longton. The number served from the Cobridge church was estimated at some 1,300 in the early 1850's, (fn. 34) and the average attendance at Sunday Mass there early in 1851 was 600. (fn. 35) The missions founded at Tunstall and Hanley in the 1850's removed about 1,000 people from the charge of the Cobridge priest, (fn. 36) while the transfer of about 1,500 to the care of the priest of the new mission of Burslem in 1895 reduced the Cobridge mission to about 350. It now (1960) numbers just under 900. (fn. 37)
A community of Benedictine nuns exiled from Ghent were settled at Caverswall in 1811 by Walter Hill Coyney of Weston Coyney and his Roman Catholic wife Mary. The nuns opened their chapel for public services and in 1812 their chaplain started a Mass-centre at Normacot. In 1819 he opened a small church dedicated to St. Gregory in the Greendock area of Longton. (fn. 38) The brick building in a simple Gothic style still stands between Gregory and Griffin Streets. (fn. 39) The mission was served from Caverswall and Cresswell until 1822 when a resident priest was appointed to St. Gregory's. (fn. 40) In 1835 'a low pinnacled tower' and a presbytery, and in 1850 a Lady chapel were added. (fn. 41) The present church of St. Gregory in Heathcote Road was built in 1868–9 (fn. 42) and at its opening Bishop Ullathorne is said to have declared that it should prove 'a great boon to the poor Catholics in this dreary town of sin and mud'. (fn. 43) The church, designed by E. W. Pugin, is a tall redbrick Gothic building with blue-brick bands and stone dressings. It consists of an aisled and clerestoried nave, with a west gallery and vestibule, and a high-vaulted chancel. Externally the five-sided east end is roofed in a series of small gables with carved figures standing between them. The windows contain Geometrical tracery, and there is a large rose window at the west end of the nave. The presbytery was built on to the church in 1880. (fn. 44) The first church is used as the parish hall; the upper part of the tower has been removed.
A Mass-centre served from St. Gregory's was opened at the Newstead council school in 1958 and transferred to the new Roman Catholic infants' school in 1959. (fn. 45)
A small community of Dominican nuns under Mother Margaret Hallahan opened a convent at the Foley between Longton and Fenton early in 1851. On the expiry of the lease in 1854 the convent was moved to Stoke. (fn. 46) The Sisters of Charity of St. Paul opened the present St. Gregory's Convent in Trentham Road in 1932. (fn. 47)
On the last Sunday of March 1851 260 people heard Mass at St. Gregory's. (fn. 48) The Roman Catholic population of the mission was about 2,000 in 1896 (fn. 49) and had doubled some 30 years later. (fn. 50) It is now about 3,000, (fn. 51) Meir having been taken out of the parish in 1934.
The mission at Stoke was founded in 1838 by the priest at Longton, who in that year began to say Mass at a house in Whieldon Road occupied by a Mr. Maguire. (fn. 52) In 1841 the Mass-centre was moved to a joiner's shop in Liverpool Road, (fn. 53) and this was replaced by a chapel built in 1843 in Back Glebe Street (otherwise Rome Street) and dedicated to St. Peter's Chains. (fn. 54) The chapel continued to be served from Longton until the appointment of a resident priest in 1850. (fn. 55) The building being poor and inadequate, the congregation bought a new site on Cliff Bank in 1852. (fn. 56) On condition that a church should be built there this land was offered in the same year to the Dominican nuns who were looking for a site in the Potteries for a new convent and who themselves acquired some of the adjoining land in 1854. (fn. 57) Work began on the new church and convent in 1856 and with their opening in the following year the old chapel was sold. (fn. 58) The new church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and St. Peter in Chains, was designed by Joseph and Charles Hansom and is an aisled Gothic building of variegated brick to which the chancel was added in 1884–5. (fn. 59) The Stations of the Cross from Belgium were given in 1865 by Dr. James Northcote, priest-in-charge 1857–60 and 1881–1907, (fn. 60) and the organ was erected in 1905 to commemorate the golden jubilee of his priesthood. (fn. 61)
The Dominican convent and girls' school in Hartshill Road originally occupied a single wing of about half the present frontage and the building below the church (later the presbytery). (fn. 62) The west front was added in 1864–5 to house first a boarding-school and from 1869 St. Margaret's Home for Incurables, which the nuns ran in addition to their extensive educational and parochial work. (fn. 63) The convent was raised to the rank of a priory in 1866. (fn. 64) The choir and chapter-room were built in 1884–5. (fn. 65) Cliffville, a house adjoining the convent property, was acquired in 1922; the senior part of the school was then moved there, followed by the junior part in 1929. (fn. 66)
The average attendance at Mass in the Stoke church on Sundays in 1850–1 was 144. (fn. 67) The Roman Catholic population served by the priest at Stoke was estimated in 1852 as 'upwards of 500 souls', the previously rapid increase being checked by 'the very small and wretched accommodation' afforded by the existing chapel. (fn. 68) The population attached to the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in the late 1950's was about 2,300, (fn. 69) Fenton and Trent Vale having become separate parishes (see below).
The Tunstall mission, the first to be started from Cobridge and covering Tunstall, Goldenhill, Red Street, Kidsgrove, and Norton-inthe-Moors, was founded in 1853 with a school-chapel in Plex Street dedicated to St. Mary. It continued to be served from Cobridge until 1854 when it received its own resident priest. (fn. 70) The presbytery at first adjoined the chapel (fn. 71) but was later moved to a house in Chatterley Road opposite the end of Plex Street, 'a commodious residence with well laidout grounds', 'castellated walls and strong heavily studded gateways'; the site is now occupied by the Cottage Hotel built in 1875. (fn. 72) A new church of St. Mary and a presbytery were erected in Sun Street (now St. Aidan's Street) in 1869 (fn. 73) and remained in use until 1930 when the present church of the Sacred Heart in Queen's Avenue, begun in 1925, was opened. (fn. 74) The Sun Street church was then used as a Sunday school but was sold in 1934 and now houses the main workshop of Taylor's Garage; (fn. 75) the Plex Street chapel is now part of the works of the Staffordshire Tea Set Company. Although the architect of the new church of the Sacred Heart was originally J. S. Brocklesby, it was completed by Fr. P. J. Ryan, parish priest 1903–51, who used unemployed parishioners on the building. Of Derbyshire granite and roofed under a series of copper-covered domes, the church is in the Romanesque style and consists of campanile with one bell, north-west tower, clerestoried nave, aisles with side chapels, and apsidal chancel with ambulatory. It is built on a raft foundation to avoid the danger of subsidence. The stained glass, the bench carvings, and some of the ironwork were executed by amateur craftsmen among the parishioners, and the church also contains many furnishings bought abroad by Fr. Ryan. A building in The Boulevard has been acquired as a parish hall and named the Ryan Hall in memory of Fr. Ryan. (fn. 76)
A Mass-centre, opened at the primary school, Chell Heath, in 1951, is served from the Sacred Heart Church. (fn. 77)
There were some 300 Roman Catholics in the extensive area served by the new mission in 1854, (fn. 78) and by the end of the century there were over 1,400 in the Tunstall mission, (fn. 79) by then considerably reduced in size by the detachment of Goldenhill and the northern area. The Roman Catholic population is now nearly 2,500. (fn. 80)
The priest at Cobridge bought land in Lower Foundry Street, Hanley, in 1857 where in 1860 the church of St. Mary and St. Patrick was opened by William Molloy, Hanley's first resident priest. (fn. 81) In the meantime the Cobridge priest had occasionally been saying Mass in a loft over Bath and Poole's carriage-works opposite. (fn. 82) The presbytery, however, was built on land between Jasper Street and Regent Street where it was intended to build a new church also, but the poverty of the mission delayed this work for some 30 years. Finally in 1889– 91 the present church of the Sacred Heart was built there; (fn. 83) it was consecrated in 1911. (fn. 84) Built in a Gothic style of brick with stone dressings the church has a clerestoried nave, wide aisles, an apsidal chancel, and a west turret with a bell. (fn. 85) The architect was originally H. V. Krolow of St. Helen's and Liverpool, but after his resignation the work was taken over by R. Scrivener and Sons of Hanley. (fn. 86) The church in Lower Foundry Street continued in occasional use until its sale c. 1940; (fn. 87) it is now (1960) used as a warehouse.
It was originally intended that there should be a convent to the east of the Sacred Heart Church, (fn. 88) but the only convent ever established in the parish was that opened by the Little Sisters of the Poor at Druid's Hall, Albion Street, in 1890 with a home for the aged attached. In 1892, however, the sisters moved to Cobridge House. (fn. 89)
At its foundation the Hanley mission had a population probably of about 1,000 (fn. 90) and of some 3,300 by the end of the century. (fn. 91) Despite the separation of Birches Head and Abbey Hulton in 1923, the Sacred Heart parish had a population of some 4,500 in 1929. (fn. 92) With the resettlement of many Hanley people in new parts of the city in recent years the number has dropped to about 1,800. (fn. 93) As there are a number of East European refugees in the city, Mass has been celebrated in the Ukrainian rite on frequent Sundays since c. 1953. (fn. 94)
A chapel was opened at St. Mary's Roman Catholic school in Queen Street (now Brierley Street), Smallthorne, in 1875. (fn. 95) It was served from St. Peter's, Cobridge, until 1895 when it was transferred to the new Burslem mission. (fn. 96) The present school-church was built in 1905 (fn. 97) and enlarged in 1934. (fn. 98) There has been a resident priest since 1923 and the Roman Catholic population of the parish has remained at about 600 since the late 1920's. (fn. 99)
The priest at Tunstall opened a school-chapel dedicated to St. Joseph in John Street (now Brakespeare Street), Goldenhill, in 1871. (fn. 100) Goldenhill, including Kidsgrove and Biddulph, became an independent mission with its own priest in 1882, and in the following year an extension at the north end of the school building was opened as a separate church. (fn. 101) The present church of St. Joseph in High Street at the southern end of Goldenhill was built in 1951–3 with a presbytery adjoining, on land bought before the Second World War; the architect was Cecil Barker then of the firm of Wood, Goldstraw and Yorath, Tunstall. (fn. 102) The church is built of brick in a modern style and has a low clerestoried nave, passage aisles, and a chancel. At the entrance end of the nave is a domed tower with round-headed windows at the belfry stage where tall stone crosses are incorporated. Internally the pulpit and the piers supporting the nave arcade are built of small unplastered bricks.
A Mass-centre was opened in the infants' school in Havelock Street (now Masterson Street) in 1885 and served from Stoke until the appointment of a resident priest in 1922. (fn. 106) The present church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Masterson Street was opened in 1923. (fn. 107) It is a low brick building designed by E. B. Norris of Stafford (fn. 108) and consists of nave, chancel, aisles, and two sacristies.
The Roman Catholic population was estimated as 1,200 in the 1920's and has altered little since. (fn. 109)
A mission including Burslem, Smallthorne, and Wolstanton was formed out of the Cobridge mission in 1895 with the assistant priest from Cobridge as resident priest. (fn. 110) At first Mass was said at the Hill Top Pottery in Liverpool Road (now Westport Road), (fn. 111) but in 1897–8 a building was erected in Hall Street containing a church dedicated to St. Joseph on the upper floor and a school on the lower. (fn. 112) The presbytery in Hall Street was built in 1903. (fn. 113) The present church of St. Joseph was built on an adjoining site in 1925–7. (fn. 114) Designed in a Romanesque style by J. S. Brocklesby, (fn. 115) it is of red and purple brick with campanile, small north-west tower, nave, passage aisles, transepts, and apsidal chancel. The decoration of the ceiling and the work for the stained glass windows were carried out by the young people of the parish under the guidance of Gordon Forsyth, director of the Burslem school of Art; his daughter Maura painted most of the murals. (fn. 116) The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace opened their present convent in Hall Street in 1926. (fn. 117) The new mission had a population of some 1,500 in 1895, (fn. 118) but Smallthorne became a separate parish in 1923 and Wolstanton in 1927. (fn. 119) The Roman Catholic population of St. Joseph's parish is now (1960) 850. (fn. 120)
A mission was started at Birches Head in 1915 by the parish priest of Hanley who then opened a chapel dedicated to St. George on the upper floor of a new building between Boulton Street and Gibbins Street, the ground floor being used as a school. (fn. 121) The chapel was temporarily closed for a period before 1918 but was otherwise served from Hanley until 1923 when a resident priest was appointed. The present church of St. George and St. Martin was built on an adjoining site in 1927–8. Designed by E. B. Norris of Stafford in the Romanesque style, it has nave, aisles, chancel, and a bell-cote containing one bell.
In 1920 the priest at Goldenhill opened a Mass-centre at Packmoor in a hut bought from the army camp at Rugeley, and for some years it was served by the chaplains to the Little Sisters of the Poor at Cobridge. (fn. 122) In 1932 the priest at Goldenhill bought a plot of ground in Bull Lane, Lane Ends, and built the present brick church of St. Patrick there, designing it himself and using much local voluntary labour. (fn. 123) The church was opened in 1935 and served from Goldenhill until 1956 when it was attached to the new parish of the English Martyrs, Biddulph, itself founded from Goldenhill in 1952. (fn. 124) There were over 150 Roman Catholics attached to St. Patrick's in the late 1950's. (fn. 125)
A church dedicated to St. Teresa of the Child Jesus was erected in Stone Road, Trent Vale, in 1928 by the newly opened Michelin Tyre factory. At first served by a French priest, it soon passed into the care of the parish priest at Stoke; a resident priest was appointed in 1935. (fn. 126) After considerable extensions by Messrs. Sandy and Norris of Stafford in 1956, the church was reopened and consecrated in September of that year. It is of red brick with nave, transepts, chancel, and campanile. There are now (1960) some 1,100 Roman Catholics in the Trent Vale parish.
The Irish Christian Brothers have had a house at Trent Vale since 1932 with a boys' grammar school attached. (fn. 127)
In 1934 the priest at Longton bought a house called 'Highfields' in Sandon Road, Meir, with the land attached, and a resident priest was appointed. (fn. 128) A church dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury was opened at Christmas 1934 in the converted stable block, and the house has remained the presbytery since then. The hall of the new school was used as a church from 1937 until 1949 when the original church building, extended by the addition of a Nissen hut, was reopened as the church. The present church, built of pale yellow brick and designed by Messrs. Sandy and Norris of Stafford, was opened in 1957. The Roman Catholic population of St. Augustine's parish is 1,200.
The Church of Our Lady and St. Benedict in Abbey Lane was built in 1937–8 by the parish priest at Birches Head. (fn. 129) The area became a separate parish in 1941 and has a Roman Catholic population of over 1,300. Bentilee became a separate parish in 1956. A Mass-centre, opened at the Greenway Inn, Baddeley Green, in 1958, is served by the parish priest at Abbey Hulton.
A Mass-centre was opened by the parish priest of Abbey Hulton in the Clowes Community Hall on the Bentilee housing estate in 1956. (fn. 130) The area received its own priest in the same year and became the parish of St. Maria Goretti. A church was begun in 1959. The Roman Catholic population of the parish is 450.