A Brief History of St Mary’s Parish, Middlewich and Holmes Chapel

The town of Middlewich was settled from Roman times as a centre for agriculture and salt extraction.  The first permanent church, the church of St Michael & All Angels, served the town from the twelfth century and became part of the Church of England during the reformation.  Middlewich had no Catholic church from 1504 until the nineteenth century. In the intervening years Catholics in the town were served (as was the rest of Cheshire) by recusant priests based in the Wirral, Runcorn and Macclesfield.  Mass was held at Winsford Hall from 1830 and then from 1851 Fr Alcock, a priest from the Crewe area said Mass fortnightly in the kitchen of a lodging house close to where the cemetery is today. The Catholic population of the time is estimated as twelve.  The parish was officially established in 1866 in a building in Wych House Lane (purchased for £160!)  From 1869 it also served as the Catholic school for the town.  The cross from this building can be seen in the entrance porch of the current church building.

cross
 

There was a rapid increase in the numbers of Catholics in the area in the late nineteenth century, primarily due to an influx of Irish immigrants to north-west England. The chemical industry (based on salt) was doing well and offering employment so many were attracted here.  It was soon recognised that a bigger church was needed and the current site in King Street was purchased around 1890.  We are uncertain as to the reason for the patronage of St. Mary, but at the time of the opening there was a great resurgence in devotions to Our Lady following apparitions at places such as Lourdes (1858) and Knock (1879) and this is the most likely reason.  This church was opened on 31st May 1891 (the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary). The architect was Edmund Kirby (1838-1920) of Birkenhead who designed fourteen churches for the Diocese of Shrewsbury[1].

The Parish Centre was originally opened in 1899 as the Catholic School for the town and was in use until 1994 when the new Primary School was opened in Manor Lane.
The Parish served as an important centre for the local area, serving Sandbach and Winsford in the early twentieth century.  During the Second World War the Parish catered for the needs of American and Dutch soldiers in the large camp at Byley and Mass was said at Cranage Hall Hospital.
During the 1950s St Mary’s had over thirty Maltese parishioners who were based at a local transit camp for RAF personnel.
The Old School Building on Macclesfield Road, Holmes Chapel was acquired on behalf of St Mary’s Parish to be used as a Chapel and Social Centre for Holmes Chapel Parishioners, the first Mass being celebrated there in 1964.  The facilities were completely refurbished in 1980 and the daughter chapel of St Margaret Ward was opened.

St Mary’s was privileged to have the Rt Rev J J Brewer, Auxiliary Bishop of Shrewsbury as it’s Parish Priest from 1971-1978.
The current altar was consecrated in July 1972 by Bishop Brewer.  The altar and ambo are made from green Connemara marble (a nice link to the Irish heritage of many of our parishioners) and white Sicilian marble and contains the relics of Saint Felicity and Saint Felix, early Christian martyrs.  The old school building was completely refurbished in 2004 to provide a comfortable and flexible Parish Centre that is used for Church Groups, Sacramental Preparation Programmes and Social Events.
 
We thank all the past and present clergy and parishioners who have served the town so well and provided us with such a beautiful church and facilities.

 
Sources of Information

Appleton D (Ed), Diocesan Yearbook 2012, Diocese of Shrewsbury, 2012
Williams J, St. Mary’s Middlewich 1891-1991, privately published for the centenary celebrations
Church Registers, Clergy and Parishioners of St. Mary’s Middlewich and St. Michael & All Angels Middlewich
 
 
 

Clergy of Middlewich

Pre-reformation Priests (St. Michael & All Angels):
~1200 Fr Warin                     ~1250 Fr Thomas                 1306 Fr Richard Tuchet  
 
1329 Fr John de Offord         1330 Fr Andrew de Offord       1342 Fr John de Leysthorp  
 
1349 Fr John Bele                 1352 Fr John Folvill               1361 Fr Thomas Fraunceys  
 
1402 Fr John Tochet             1429 Fr Thomas Thikenes      1459 Fr John Heynes
 
1484 Fr John Bressnel          1494 Fr William Sutheworthe
 

Clergy who served the parish of St. Mary    (based on the Baptism Registers)

Fr John Moore                             August 1866
Fr  Charles Coelenbier                  July 1872                    November 1875
Fr Augustine Tremmery                February 1876             May 1883
Fr Dennis Cregan                         September 1884          October 1890
Fr James O’Grady                         February 1891            March 1898
Fr John Ryan                                April 1898                  February 1902
Fr James Ackwright                      March 1902                July 1909
Fr Patrick Kearney                        August 1909               February 1917
Fr John Miller                               February 1917            December 1924
Fr William Kinsella                        March 1925                September 1926
Fr Augustine Byrne                       January 1927             March 1931
Fr John Wilkinson                         April 1931                   July 1961
Fr Kevin Daley (Asst Priest)           December 1945           September 1947
Fr Peter Walton (Asst Priest)           April 1975                 July 1975
Fr Peter Morgan (Asst Priest)          September 1975        August 1978
Fr Dennis Marmion                        September 1978         August 1987
Fr James Farrell                            September 1987         April 1991
Fr Geoff O’Grady                           May 1991                  September 1999
Fr Peter Dutton                             Sept 1999                   Current                       
Deacon Tony Ford                          July 2004                    Current
Deacon Chris Wells                        July 2015                    Current
 
 

[1] Appleton D (Ed), Diocesan Yearbook 2012, Diocese of Shrewsbury, 2012