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Parish History

We’ve been the spiritual heart of Bowdon for over 1,000 years

Free copies are available in St Mary’s or from the Parish Centre,

AN ANCIENT CHURCH and PARISH

The long ridge of Bowdon Hill is crossed by the Roman road of Watling Street (now the A56), linking Cheshire and Lancashire. There has been a landmark church on this raised site, in the centre of Bowdon, since Saxon times. A small community was established here, possibly by Archbishop Theodore, in the 7th century. Theodore set up the dioceses in the region and divided them into parishes, so Bowdon may have been one of the first. St Chad, Bishop of Mercia, in which Bowdon parish was situated in 669AD, is known to have worked nearby.

The 1086 Domesday Book tells us that a mill, church and parish priest were at Bogedone (bow-shaped hill) at the time, which was held by the Norman officer, the first Hamon de Massey. There is evidence for the rebuilding of the church in stone around 1100 in Norman style and around 1320 during the reign of Edward II, with the addition of a tower, new nave with octagonal pillars and pointed arches and a south side aisle (with the old church becoming in part the north aisle). In 1510 at the time of Henry VIII, it was partially rebuilt, but not completed.

To read the rest of the story of our parish, either open or download the Guide to Bowdon Parish Church and the Surrounding Area opposite, or carry on reading below.

669 – 1399

Bowdon hill lay on one of the major routes linking Cheshire with both the South and North and a small community had been established on the hill by the 8th Century, which also contained a church. This may well have then been the centre of a parish area established by Theodore in the 7th Century. St Chad is known to have worked nearby and at Theodore’s request became Bishop of Mercia in 669 AD in which Diocese Bowdon was situated.

It is to the 8th Century that a small fragment of a Saxon cross was assigned. The fragment can be found in the Chapel of the Cross at St Mary’s. Another fragment of Saxon carving, this time more likely to be 10th Century, was also found and this resides in the North transept.

Bowdon’s position on one of lines of march of William the Conquerer in his attack on Cheshire’s resistance made it an unfortunate victim to Norman ruthlessness and years later when the Doomsday Book was compiled it recorded that ‘Bogedone’ was now held by Hamon, that there was a priest and a church there, but it had been laid waste. We can assume that when this took place, the Saxon church suffered along with the rest of the community.

Under the Normans the church began to prosper. A new stone church was built on the site and the Saxon dedication gave way to the present dedication to St Mary the Virgin.

The Norman church served the community until the 14th Century when it was replaced by one more in keeping with the fashion of the times, and formed part of a fairly extensive building programme throughout the country, which was interrupted by the appearance of the Black Death in the time when Edward the Black Prince was Earl of the County of Palatine.

Fragments of the Norman church can still be seen in the North transept where they have been reused, along with some of the original Saxon fragments. Some of the monuments in the church date back to these times, for example, the effigy of an unknown knight belonging to the Baguley family, which dates from around 1320-30.

1400 – 1499

The previous Norman church had served the community until the 14th Century, and fragments of the Norman building can still be seen in the North transept. The 14th Century builders reused some of the stone including some Saxon fragments.

The style of church being erected in Cheshire in the 14th Century consisted of a nave with aisles and a chancel divided from the nave by a pointed chancel arch. The windows, although wider than before, were still narrow compared with those that would come later.

The east ends of the aisles were screened off to provide private chapels belonging to the leading families and served not only to provide chantries for the departed members but also places where the remains would be buried marked by an effigy and tomb.

This custom became prevalent after the Black Death which left such a mark on the country.

1500 – 1699

An affluent society and an accompanying desire to erect memorial windows encouraged a new fashion in church design by the 15th century and early 16th century. Throughout Cheshire although many of the 14th century churches were barely a century old, they were torn down or remodelled.

Often the old foot print was retained but the sidewalls were made with wider windows with four centred heads and the nave walls were heightened above newly constructed and lighter nave arcades to take matching clerestory windows. This involved the destruction of the high pitched gable roofs to be replaced by flat camber beam roofs.

At Bowdon this remodelling came late in the day and it was well into the 16th century before a major remodelling began. By then another fashion in windows had developed which meant that side windows were square headed, having five lights divided by a transom and lacking even the relief in the ligt heads. It was a style that was to overlap the reformation and reappear in many country houses in Elizabeth’s reign.

These windows made ideal frames for memorial glass which by then were being mass produced to cater for the growing desire to perpetuate families either by inscripitions, or personal portraits.

This remodelling of the church included a tower which housed the bells as bell ringing was becoming more popular, however it wouldn’t be until the 17th century that change ringing as we now know it would become fashionable.

One of the historic memorials of Bowdon, Brereton Momument, which was originally in the Carrington Chapel but moved to its cirrent position in 1888 dates back to the 1600s. In the reign of Henry VIII, Ashley came into the possession of the Brereton family by marriage. It’s William Brereton and his wife Jane who are commemorated in the momument. William was Sheriff of Cheshire in 1609 and was followed by his eldest son Richard in 1632.

1700 – 1872

Archdeacon William Pollock arrived as vicar in 1856 and immediately saw that the building of 1510 was not capable of accommodating the rapidly increasing congregation. Within a year he had obtained agreement that the old church should be pulled down.

It was demolished in 1858, with only a few parts being preserved in the new design. He must have been a remarkable, visionary leader to persuade local people to lose their historic church and even to provide 90% of the costs of the new building. Amazingly, the new church was completed in only two years and is largely unchanged today, 150 years later.

The new church opened its doors on the 27th September, 1860, at a total cost of £12,372, and for its time the church was built expensively with stone being used instead of wood for the roofs of the porches and the windows were filled with what was described as “rich and beautiful glass”. So much space was given to windows that St Mary’s has far more light than many churches filled with stained glass.

Some may wonder why so large a church was built a 150 years ago? There appear to be two main reasons. First, there were obvious signs of growth through the outward spread of Manchester, and second, the Victorians had in mind the occasional very large congregations. Traditionally too, each parishioner had his own seat fro which he paid rent.

1873 – 1999

The next priest to make his mark was Canon Arthur Gore who arrived in 1873 and stayed until 1911. He developed the church’s work in Bowdon Vale, with the building of the Vale Mission Room in Vicarage Lane, which is now St Luke’s church.

At the turn of the 20th century Gore had already been Vicar of Bowdon for more than 25 years.

In 1907 the church day school was largely reconstructed at cost of more than £2,000. The infant school in the Vale was planned as part of the same scheme, to cost £1,500. On the 28th April, 1909, the Countess of Stamford laid the foundation stone of the new infant school, which was built on land given by the Stamford family. The stone can still be seen on the building that is now the Cooperative store.

In the last years of his ministry, the Church school was rebuilt and a new infant school was constructed to provide for the increasing number of young families in Bowdon.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

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