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.


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

  1. Appleton D (Ed), Diocesan Yearbook 2012, Diocese of Shrewsbury, 2012
  2. Williams J, St. Mary’s Middlewich 1891-1991, privately published for the centenary celebrations
  3. 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 Johnde Offord 1330 Fr Andrew de Offord 1342 Fr Johnde 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 June 1961
Fr Kevin Daley
(Asst Priest)
December 1945 September 1947
Fr Philip Patrick Down June 1961 June 1971
Rt Rev J J Brewer July 1971 September 1978
Fr John O’Gorman
(Asst Priest)
July 1971 April 1975
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 September 1999 Current
Deacon Tony Ford July 2004 Current
Deacon Chris Wells July 2015 Current