A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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The church of ST. MICHAEL is at the present day of greater historical than architectural interest. The site is ancient; the church stands at the east end of the town in what was formerly a picturesque situation on rising ground on the north side of the River Tame, and consists of chancel with north vestry, nave with north and south aisles, south porch, and west tower. The present church is entirely modern, but is the direct descendant of a building which appears to have been erected at the beginning of the 15 th century (c. 1413), and which was repaired and enlarged about a hundred years later, in the lifetime of Sir Thomas Ashton (died 1514), when a new tower was built. In January 1791 this tower was struck by lightning and great damage was done, necessitating a general repair of the structure in the following year. In 1817 the tower was taken down and a new one erected (1818), and soon after the whole of the north side of the church was rebuilt as at present. Whilst the work was in progress (March 1821) a fire occurred, doing much damage to the original building, which was only partially repaired, the south side continuing in a more or less ruinous state till 1840, when a general rebuilding began, and in the course of a few years the whole fabric underwent a complete restoration and reconstruction, assuming its present aspect (1840–4). The work is of a very elaborate description, with rich ornamentation in wood and plaster, and is a good specimen of the florid Gothic of the period. The east end of the chancel was rebuilt in 1883, and three years later the tower, which was in a dangerous state, was pulled down and a new one built (1886–8). The new tower, the total height of which is 139 ft. 6 in., is 19 ft. higher than the former one, and 3 ft. longer from east to west.
The arcade is of seven bays with a clearstory, and there are side galleries and one at the west end containing the organ. A highly-placed arch structurally separates the two eastern bays from the others, but the ritual arrangement of the chancel is confined to the parts of the church east of the seventh bay, in the fashion of the time in which the building was erected. The roof is flat and panelled and of oak richly decorated with the arms of those who have identified themselves with the building or patronage of the church, and the chancel arch bears the royal arms. (fn. 1)
There is some very good ancient stained glass in the three windows of the south aisle, and in the west window of the north aisle, belonging to the latter part of the 15th century (c. 1460–70). It appears to be only a small portion of the glass belonging to the older church, (fn. 2) and was till 1872 in the east window of the chancel, when it was removed to its present position in the south aisle. The glass now in the north aisle was at that time put up in the tower window, and there remained till the tower was pulled down in 1886. It remained packed up till 1890, when it was re-erected in its present position. The first window from the east on the south side contains figures of Sir John Ashton (d. 1428) and his three wives, Sir Thomas Ashton and his three wives, and the four sons and seven daughters of Sir John Ashton, (fn. 3) in the lower part of the lights. The subject of the windows is the life of St. Helena and the legends connected with her history, and though much mixed up in places, and with many pieces missing, the story is tolerably clear, and a very fine piece of 15th-century work, the colours being particularly rich. The window at the end of the north aisle has figures of Kings Henry VI and Edward IV. (fn. 4)
In the vestry is an oak chest dated 1776, and in a glass case near the pulpit is a black-letter Bible with hook and chain. Near the north door is a mural monument to the 'memory of John Postlethwaite who sustained the highest orders of masonry without becoming proud, and died 2 February 1818, aged 70 years, preserved from indigence by the bounty of his friends.'
All the fittings are modern.
The arrangement of the forms in the church in 1422 has been preserved. (fn. 5) On the north side of the church seven forms at the upper end of the church were appropriated, and six at the lower end; on the south side only six forms were allotted, the remainder being for strangers and others.
The plate consists of two patens of 1735, inscribed 'The gift of Emmanuel Smith, late of Taunton, gentleman, to the Parish Church of Ashton, July 25th 1735;' two embossed chalices of 1753, inscribed with the names of the churchwardens and the date 6 October 1753, and bearing the marks of William Shaw and William Priest; a large paten of 1755, 'The gift of Edmund Harrop, yeoman, late of this Town Deceas'd to the Church of Ashton under Line 1755,' with the same makers' marks; two large flagons of 1764, one inscribed 'Mrs. Tabitha Smith daughter of Emanuel Smith, gent, formerly of Taunton, in the Parish of Ashton underline, gave £20 towards this Flaggon AD. 1764'; and a modern chalice, paten and flagon presented by Emma Hulme, June 1893.
The registers of baptisms and marriages begin in 1594 and those of burials in 1596, with blanks as follows: baptisms from 1641 to 7 December 1655 inclusive; marriages from 1641 to November 1653, and from April 1661 to 1668; burials from 1641 to 3 October 1653.
The accounts of the churchwardens begin with those for 1639 (the first leaves are torn out), and continue uninterruptedly till the end of 1657, when a break of twenty-six years occurs, the next accounts being those presented 1 April 1684. (fn. 8)
The church of St. Michael is in Domesday Book recorded to have shared with the parish church of Manchester an ancient endowment of one ploughland. (fn. 9) On the formation of the manor of Ashton the advowson of the church was reserved, and was granted with that of Manchester to the Grelleys. (fn. 10) As late as 1304, however, the rector of Manchester claimed to present on the ground that Ashton was merely a chapelry belonging to his church. (fn. 11) A century later the reversion of the patronage was transferred by Thomas La Warre to Sir John Ashton and his heirs, (fn. 12) and the advowson has since that time descended with the manor of Ashton. (fn. 13) The trustees of the late Earl of Stamford are now the patrons. The value of the benefice was reckoned as 20 marks or £20 in 1282, (fn. 14) but the Taxation of 1291 did not allow it to exceed £10, (fn. 15) and fifty years later the ninth of sheaves, wool, &c., was only £5 15s. 6d. (fn. 16) In 1535 the value was recorded as £26 13s. 4d., (fn. 17) and by 1650 it had risen to £113 6s. 8d. (fn. 18) At present the rector's income is recorded as £730. (fn. 19)
The following is a list of rectors :—
|Instituted||Name||Patron||Cause of Vacancy|
|c.||1262||Clement (fn. 20)||Thomas Grelley||——|
|oc.||1282||William de Gringley (fn. 21)||——||——|
|oc.||1292||William (fn. 22)||——||——|
|16 Mar. 1305–6||Nicholas de Ardern (fn. 23)||Thomas Grelley||——|
|4 April 1308||Adam de Leighton de Ardern (fn. 24)||" "||——|
|26 June 1322||Simon de Cranesley (fn. 25)||John La Warre||d. Adam de Ardern|
|12 June 1331||Ralph de Benningholme (fn. 26)||——||exch. S. de Cranesley|
|? July 1332||Gregory de Newton (fn. 27)||——||exch. R. de Benningholme|
|18 Jan. 1351–2||Thomas de Rodeston (fn. 28)||Joan La Warre||d. Gregory de Newton|
|oc.||1356||Thomas de Wyk (fn. 29)||——||——|
|12 May 1362||Thomas son of Thomas de Wyk (fn. 30)||Roger La Warre||——|
|13 Oct. 1372||Thomas La Warre (fn. 31)||Lewis de Clifford||d. T. de Wyk|
|1 Nov. 1373||John de Marchford (fn. 32)||John La Warre||res. T. La Warre|
|18 May 1374||Henry de Nettleworth (fn. 33)||——||exch. J. de Marchford|
|c.||1400||John Huntingdon (fn. 34)||——||——|
|22 Nov. 1424||James Skellington (fn. 35)||T. La Warre||res. J. Huntingdon|
|12 June 1425||John Huntingdon (fn. 36)||" "||res. J. Skellington|
|16 Nov. 1458||Lawrence Ashton (fn. 37)||Sir Thomas Ashton||d. J. Huntingdon|
|31 May 1486||Gervase Ashton (fn. 38)||Thomas Ashton||d. L. Ashton|
|—||Edward Molyneux (fn. 39)||——||d. G. Ashton|
|2 Oct. 1535||William Thomson (fn. 40)||A. Radcliffe, &c.||d. E. Molyneux|
|11 Aug. 1554||William Rogerson (fn. 41)||Sir T. Stanley||d. W. Thomson|
|12 June 1557||Hugh Griffith, D. Decr. (fn. 42)||King and Queen||d. last incumbent|
|29 Jan. 1563–4||Robert Braboner (fn. 43)||T. Hoghton||d. H. Griffith|
|—||— 1605||Robert Parker, M.A. (fn. 44)||Exors. G. Parker||d. R. Braboner|
|15 Mar. 1618–19||Henry Fairfax, D.D. (fn. 45)||Sir T. Fairfax||d. R. Parker|
|c.||1646||John Harrison, B.A. (fn. 46)||Parliament||——|
|25 Sept. 1662||Thomas Ellison, M.A. (fn. 47)||Lord Delamere||ejec. J. Harrison|
|14 Jan. 1662–3|
|3 May 1700||John Simon de la Heuze||Earl of Warrington||d. T. Ellison|
|3 Mar. 1726–7||John Penny, M.A. (fn. 48)||" "||d. J. S. de la Heuze|
|9 Sept. 1758||Sir George Booth (fn. 49)||T. Hunt||d. J. Penny|
|1 Dec. 1797||Oswald Leycester, M.A. (fn. 50)||Earl of Stamford and Warrington||d. Sir G. Booth|
|5 Apr. 1799||Hon. Anchitel Grey, M.A. (fn. 51)||" "||res. O. Leycester|
|7 May 1810||John Hutchinson, B.A. (fn. 52)||" "||res. A. Grey|
|16 May 1816||George Chetwode, M.A. (fn. 53)||" "||res. J. Hutchinson|
|31 Dec. 1870||Thomas (Thompson) Eager, M.A. (fn. 54)||" "||d. G. Chetwode|
|13 Feb. 1893||George Augustus Pugh, M.A. (fn. 55)||The Stamford Trustees||d. T. Eager|
|1909||Frederick Robert Chapman Hulton, M.A.||" "||d. O. A. Pugh|
The rectors do not call for special notice. There does not seem to have been any chantry or chapel of ease in the parish before the Reformation, but the list of 'ornaments' existing in 1552 names three altars as fully equipped. (fn. 56) In 1542 the rector had two assistant clergymen, one paid by himself and the other by Sir Richard Ashton. (fn. 57) In 1554 there was one curate, who remained till 1565, though 'decrepit' in 1563; (fn. 58) and a new curate occurs in the Visitation list of 1565. In 1559 it was presented that the rector did 'no service in the church,' nor did he distribute to the poor as former parsons had done. (fn. 59) There was probably no curate as a rule, unless when the rector was non-resident, (fn. 60) and the recommendation of the surveyors of 1650 that a new parish should be formed in the northern half of Ashton was not carried out. (fn. 61)
There was a school, but of no settled foundation, in 1717. (fn. 62)
In consequence of the growth of population a large number of places of worship have been erected in the parish-township since the middle of the 18th century. The following belong to the Established Church:—St. John the Baptist's, Hey, 1742; (fn. 63) St. George's, Mossley, 1757, rebuilt 1882; (fn. 64) St. George's, Stalybridge, 1776; (fn. 65) St. Peter's, Ashton, 1824; (fn. 66) the second or new St. George's, Stalybridge, 1840; (fn. 67) Holy Trinity, Bardsley, l844; (fn. 68) St. Stephen's, Audenshaw, 1846; (fn. 69) Christ Church, Ashton, 1848; (fn. 70) St. John the Evangelist's, Hurst, 1849, (fn. 71) enlarged 1862; St. James's, Ashton, 1865; (fn. 72) and Holy Trinity, Ashton, 1878. (fn. 73) In addition there are a number of mission churches and rooms, including St. James's and St. Matthew's at Leesfield, and St. Augustine's at Mossley.
The Wesleyan Methodists had a chapel in Ashton in 1782; (fn. 74) now they have churches in Ashton, Mossley, Woodhouses, and Audenshaw. The New Connexion had a chapel as early as 1798; they have now four churches in Ashton, (fn. 75) and others in Hurst, Lees, Mossley, and Audenshaw. The Primitive Methodists are represented in Ashton, Hurst, Lees, Bardsley, and Mossley. (fn. 76) The Independent Methodists have a church in Ashton. (fn. 77)
There is a Strict Baptist chapel in Ashton; also a Baptist church. (fn. 78)
The Nonconformists of 1662 and later were able to worship at Denton and Dukinfield; the latter congregation is now Unitarian. In 1816 the Congregationalists took the old Methodist chapel in Harrop's Yard, it being difficult for Nonconformists to obtain land from the Earl of Stamford; and they built and opened a new chapel in 1817. This first Albion Chapel was followed by a second in 1835; and has now been replaced by a third, on another site, opened in 1894. (fn. 79) There are now three Congregational churches in Ashton itself, and another in Mossley. (fn. 80)
Albion school, connected with the first-named, had a unique position in the town.
The Christian Brethren have meeting-places at Lees and Mossley. The following also have churches or meeting-rooms:—Unitarians (1897), Catholic Apostolic, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, and Swedenborgians.
Mass was said in 1823 in a room near the market cross, but ceased on Dukinfield chapel being opened in 1825. (fn. 81) Of the present Roman Catholic churches, St. Ann's, the oldest, was opened in 1852, and replaced by a new church in 1859; (fn. 82) St. Mary's, 1870; St. Edward's, Lees, 1874–7—at first served from St. Mary's, Oldham; and St. Joseph's, Mossley, 1863.
The adherents of Joanna Southcote were numerous from about 1820 to 1885; they built a place of worship in 1825, and at one time had four temples. The Mormons also had a meeting-place.
Official inquiries as to the charities of the parish were made in 1826 and 1899. (fn. 83) For distribution to the poor there is available £278 annually, mostly of recent origin, the principal benefactors being John Kenworthy, (fn. 84) Benjamin Mellor Kenworthy, (fn. 85) Edward Brown, (fn. 86) and George Heginbottom. (fn. 87) The Infirmary has an endowment of £1,325 a year, to which is added £414, the gift of Samuel Oldham. (fn. 88) The educational endowments amount to £557, (fn. 89) and the above-named Samuel Oldham gave £193 a year to the park. (fn. 90) There are two small church endowments. (fn. 91) For the new township of Mossley an inquiry was held in the year 1899. (fn. 92)