The Story of
For more than 500 years a church has stood on the site of St. Mary's at the head of the Calder Valley, making it the oldest centre of Christian worship in Todmorden. For many years it was the last outpost of the west Pennine Bishops, having begun life as part of the vast ancient Diocese of Lichfield, which was founded by St. Chad in the year 669. It passed into Chester in 1541, Manchester in 1847, and only became part of the Yorkshire Diocese of Wakefield in 1928 after the formation of the Diocese of Blackburn. From about 1536 the Yorkshire part of the town was served by a chapel at Cross Stone only about a mile away but 300 feet higher up the valley side. Until fairly recently, the valley between the two was often flooded and always marshy. Towards Burnley, the chapel at Holme in Cliviger is known to have existed in 1552. In the Rochdale direction, Littleborough chapel is thought to have begun life about 1470, Most of these neighbouring foundations have been completely rebuilt at various times over the years: not so with St. Mary's Todmorden.
A nervous passenger, travelling on a rather old looking Dakota, asked the pilot how old the plane was. The pilot replied, "It all depends which part of the plane you are touching . . . . this isn't just one plane; it's made up of parts from dozens of planes". You would get a similar sort of answer if you asked the age of the present fabric of St. Mary's: it all depends where you are standing at the time.
The base of the square tower is certainly the oldest part, as the well worn spiral steps testify; and note too the carved faces outside on either side of the west window. A study of the exterior stone work shows clearly that the top of the tower is newer: it was raised in 1860 when a new clock was installed and the bell of 1603 recast. A fine weathercock is the crowning touch.
When the church first began it is hard to tell. Very few records were kept in the old days and important papers have a habit of being lost or destroyed, not always accidentally, so that we are not sure when St. Mary's was founded. But it would seem to have grown up between 1400 and 1476.
Dr. Drake, Vicar of Rochdale from 1790, thought that there would have been a chantry or "field kirk" as early as 1400. This small chapel would have had no boundary wall and would not have been used regularly for all the sacraments of the Church; but by the 1470's there would be the nucleus of the present church and our tower dates from then. John Travis in his "Notes etc. on Todmorden District" (1892) includes a quotation referring to 1476 but does not state its source.
By the Royal Injunction of Henry VIII in 1538 (which also commanded the setting up of Grafton's Great Bible in English in all Churches and chapels for the regular instruction of the people in the Scriptures and for the checking of certain superstitions) the clergy were ordered to keep a register of all marriages, births and funerals and to store it in the parish chest. Whether this decree was obeyed in Todmorden we do not know as no records survive from that period. The registers of the Parish Church at Rochdale date from 1582 and our local ones from the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy and the English Church after the death of Oliver Cromwell.
When Canon H. W. Hodgson was Vicar of Cross Stone he was given a parchment by the then town clerk, Mr. Herbert Garrett, which Mr. Garrett had found among some old documents he had been asked to classify and record. It was nothing less than the original faculty granted by Archbishop Sterne in 1697 to the Church of Cross Stone giving them the right to Baptise and to bury and so avoid the long trek to Heptonstall (a much earlier foundation of about 1260 A.D. on a high spur above Hebden Bridge) which journey, says the faculty, was hazardous and often impossible in winter. Some such faculty must have been issued to St. Mary's by a Bishop of Lichfield to avoid the necessity of going to St. Chad's at Rochdale in whose parish the Todmorden chapel stood; but no one knows where it is now. The earliest reference to a priest in connection with Todmorden is in 1445 when, on September 4th, Thomas Marshall, "chaplain", became possessed of certain lands here. But there is no other evidence that he was in charge of St. Mary's.
In 1489 it is recorded that Sir Edmund Howarth was definitely "chaplain of Todmerdine". ("Sir" was a common mediaeval title for priests and does not mean that he was a knight of the realm.) From this date a full list of curates has been worked out. Most likely, until a priest's house was built near the church and regular services were established, a minister would travel the nine miles from Rochdale at certain times of the year.
There were a number galleries in the 18th century building. The parish records include a list of pew sitting in 1778 which states a total of 694 seats for "upgrown persons" with over 300 of them being in various "lofts" (including 27 in the west end reserved "for the use of the singers only"). The pulpit used to stand in the centre of the south side and there were galleries all round the other three sides. The pulpit was a three decker, the parson read the service from the middle desk and preached from the upper most; the clerk sat at the lowest one and there gave out the hymns and notices and led the responses. In 1800 an official document described the church as having no chancel but a threelight east window and a marble topped communion table on a semicircular raised enclosure one step above the church floor. In 1805 the first organ was installed in the south west gallery. In the same year it was agreed to build a vestry at the north east corner. There were other ambitious schemes about this time to build a new tower with a peal of bells but they were never implemented. In 1813 the galleries were altered and it was said that 743 persons could be accommodated.
With the opening of Christ Church in 1832, St. Mary's became redundant and the organ and pews were moved to the new church. They were later replaced but a relic of the old furniture existed until the closure of Christ Church in 1992 in the form of a panel from the end of one of the old pews, inscribed "This pue belongeth to John and Anthony Crossley at Skaitclif 1724". There was quite a bit of local feeling against closing the old church. Something had to be done, however, as the old church must have been very dark and crowded. Various suggestions were put forward including the rebuilding of St. Mary's as close as possible to the old site but eventually it was decided, though by no means unanimously, to build a new church in the new grave yard where the sacristy Sunday school had been since 1819. Government grants were available at this time towards the cost of new churches in growing areas. Joseph Cowell was the Priest and he transferred his ministrations to the new building. There was a tablet to his memory at Christ Church and a small plate, now on a pew end at St. Mary's to a child of his who died in 1823. The old church was then used only for occasional funerals in the old graveyard (which was itself closed in 1857) and for storing equipment for the market.
In 1847 St. Peter's Church was built at Walsden to serve that part of the Todmorden Chapelry. This removed about half the population that was formerly catered for by the Curate of Todmorden. Nevertheless, local agitators succeeded in enlisting the support of the Archdeacon and the Bishop of Manchester (James Prince Lee) having promised money for the renovation of St. Mary's and the stipend of a minister. The Diocese of Manchester had only just been created and one wonders if a bit of Empire building was going on.
In 1853 the Bishop claimed to have discovered a fault in the legal documents concerning the consecration of Christ Church (by the former Bishop of Chester who was by this time Archbishop of Canterbury). This resulted in poor John Edwards curate since 1846 being informed that he was not legally incumbent of the chapelry but only Christ Church, that the ancient endowments and privileges of St. Mary's had never been properly transferred to the new church, that the right of nominating a minister to the old had lapsed to the Crown, and, furthermore, that all the weddings performed in the new church were not properly valid and would require an Act of Parliament to set them right. All this despite what was obvious and well-known intention at the time of consecration that Christ Church should replace St. Mary's. Dr. Molesworth who was Vicar of Rochdale, Patron of Todmorden, and father-in-law to Mr. Edwards, had a pamphlet published in which he laid out the case and suggested that the Bishop must have a personal grudge against him and his family in refusing to set right the other matters. Copies of all the documents relating to this controversy are preserved in the Todmorden Parish records. Having had their own churchwardens accepted by the Archdeacon, the local party reopened St. Mary's, altered the tower, and conducted their own services and Sunday school. They could find no clergy willing to assist them except a Moravian minister from Rochdale and the rather eccentric Vicar of All Saints Habergham, Burnley.
This situation came to an end in 1866 with the passing of the Rochdale Vicarage Act when the legal anomalies were swept away and the last Curate, the Rev. Anthony John Plow, was left with St. Mary's as a chapel within the newly constituted Parish of Todmorden and with Christ Church as the Parish Church. Mr. Plow was murdered in 1868. A booklet "Murder at the Vicarage" telling the story of this episode has been published, Miles Wetherill was hung in Manchester for his sins.
Since this time the old church was in regular use until 1988 despite being so close to the Parish Church. Having two churches in such a position in one parish did cause problems but over the years clergy and people learned to live with the peculiar arrangement and even, at times, to see the funny side of it. Though the question of whether we were making the best use of our resources in keeping two buildings going was a serious one. They were used alternately for Sunday worship.
In 1987 history was repeated when both churches were in need of extensive repairs â€“ it became impossible to keep two churches going. The decision had to be taken to close one and renovate the other - but which one?
The vote was very close close â€“ St Mary's won the day by by just a few votes. It was a heart-rending decision to make - losing your church is indeed a great loss.
St Mary's was stripped to its shell, the original oak beams were treated and re-used but the interior furnishings are new.
The church was re-dedicated on 7th September 1992 and Christ Church was closed.
Â We now have an up-to-date warm and welcoming well used church and hardly a day goes by when there isn't something happening here.
I find it amazing where all the money came from to do the work - the total cost of the renovation amounted to £400,000 a credit to the church officials and members.
Looking back I think we made the right decision.
The building that used to be Barclays Bank has now been demolished and work has now on landscaping the site. This will greatly improve the church surroundings and its outlook.
We are very grateful to the benefactor who bought that ugly building and gave the land to the church