St Paul’s Church, Compstall — A History
by Neil Keith Mackay©

St Paul's, Compstall

An American visitor to St. Paul's Church, Compstall, observed perhaps irreverently that "God sure chose a beautiful place to build His house." The visitor had driven slowly down Compstall Brow in early spring. The curtain of green foliage that screens St. Paul's as each year fulfils its promise was only in its glorious budding infancy. Through the trees he had glimpsed the solid comfortable lines of the Church drawn against a background of gentle green and wooded slopes.

Irreverent or not, the American was quite right. Set well back from the winding road the Church has a time stopping quality. Here there are no soaring spires, no attempt at grandeur on a large scale. Totally unpretentious architecturally, St. Paul's has a simplicity and economy of line that fits its station as a village church.

To this day it mirrors its origins. It was built, as indeed Compstall village was built, for the workpeople by their employers as part of a grand design for living in what was essentially a feudal system. For if, as our American visitor suggested, God chose a beautiful place to build His house,

He chose men with feet well and truly on the ground to build it for Him. Men who, by the late 1820s, had laid the foundations of industry in Compstall and harnessed the power of the River Etherow to drive their mill machinery. They were men of the Andrew family from Rochdale, Lancashire, who were already prominent in the rapidly developing cotton industry of the North West of England.

In Compstall they built and owned a village and its inhabitants. In a frenzy of activity, the like of which has not been seen since, mills, print works, houses and people transformed the area into a growing, thriving community. Workers came from far and near to settle - Lancashire accents mingling with those of Scotland and Ireland.

In its own small way Compstall became an industrial frontier town and as the neat new streets filled with immigrants under the paternal gaze of their founder, the empire of George Andrew the First flourished alongside other cotton giants of the era.

In his little kingdom the power and influence of George Andrew was unassailable. He may also have had a sense of humour not traditionally attributed to mill-owners. He is credited by a local historian with the following quotation ....

"The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; but Compstall and all within is Juddy Andrew's."

Certainly, even to this day, no corner of this Cheshire village is untouched by the influence of the Andrew family and it is not surprising that the workers' spiritual welfare should eventually occupy their attention.

Perhaps Juddy Andrew decided to take in a senior partner to share his empire!

For in 1839 work began on St. Paul's Church and by 1841 the building was completed. It was comprised of nave and tower only and cost about two thousand pounds, three quarters of which sum was provided by George Andrew and his brother Thomas. The remainder was the result of donations from villagers and Stockport Parish and Diocesan Funds.

On 23rd May 1841 the Lord Bishop of Chester consecrated the Church and baptised the first son of Thomas Andrew. After the service, according to a report of that time, the Bishop, clergy and several invited gentlemen had dinner at Mr. Andrew's home.

The Church was built to hold 700 people. Diarists of the era recorded that the extensive cotton spinning and manufacturing establishment of George Andrew and Sons gave employment to upwards of 2,000 persons.

St. Paul's was then in the township of Werneth and the Parish of Stockport, as was Gee Cross on the other side of Werneth Low from St. Paul's. They later divided and although the official title of the Church is still St. Paul's, Werneth, to avoid postal confusion and quite properly identify the Church with its integral partner — the village —Compstall has been substituted for workaday purposes.

It was at first a daughter church of St. Mary, Stockport, but separated in 1875. Five years later Gee Cross was made a separate parish and St. Paul's took on the identity it bears today.

In 1848 on July 1st, eleven members of one family with ages ranging from six to twenty-four years were baptised. Two years later the first wedding was recorded on the l4th of February — appropriately enough St. Valentine's day.

In 1852 the vicarage was built at a cost of four hundred and fifty pounds. A splendid home, it is reached by a short flight of steps a matter of yards from the entrance to the Church.

As the Church began its long association with the village, Compstall became a community rather than just a collection of houses, works and people: the Church became inextricably involved with the fabric of village life. Church records reveal that on l8th September 1855 eleven persons from the same family were baptised together, the eldest being thirty-four and the youngest four years old.

In 1886 the chancel was added and the first part of its cost came from money collected by the children of the school built alongside the Church. When dedicated, the chancel fund was still in debt and twenty-four people in the village pledged to take up shares of the debt. Churchwarden John Simpkin made himself responsible for the collection of the money but never succeeded in his task a fate that has befallen many collectors before and since.

In 1891, to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee, a new font was installed by the Vicar and congregation, and six years later a surpliced choir made its appearance.

In 1905 the flourishing Church commemorated the loss of its Vicar of forty-eight years, Rev. W.H. Hopkins (1856-1904) by extensive renovation and enlargement of the vestry, church organ and general redecoration. Four years later the foundation stone for the new Parish Hall was laid and in the cavity were placed all current coins up to one shilling, photographs of Rev. W.H. Hopkins and Rev. J.W. Chaplin-Wilkinson (1904-1914) who was the current Vicar, two leaves of the Men's Class Register dated 1849, two leaves of the Women's Class Register dated 1859, a complete register of all current scholars, copies of The National Church, The Chester Diocesan Gazette and the local weekly newspaper, The North Cheshire Herald. The building was completed the following year at a cost of two thousand, two hundred and ninety pounds and was opened by the Lord Bishop of Chester, Dr. Jayne.

In 1936 a new Altar and Reredos in English oak were dedicated by the Bishop of Chester, Dr. Geoffrey Fisher, on March 22nd.

Much of the history of a church can be found where its former congregation lies — in the churchyard. St. Paul's is no exception. The gravestones bear witness to the family names of the village, recording an era long past as the changing tide of industry and economics eventually removed from the area the original reason for its existence. Situated to the south-west of the

Church the graveyard falls away gently to Gigg Brook. Opposite the west door of the tower is the Andrew memorial and at the south-east corner of the chancel is a memorial to a child who lived at nearby Compstall Hall.

Two World Wars, the decline of the cotton industry, the shift of population related to their work .... all have changed the face of Compstall. Long gone are the Andrew family. Gone, too, their mills. Yet the name lingers on stubbornly. On 1st September 1970 the only public house in Compstall changed its name from the Commercial Hotel to The Andrew Arms.

Through it all, St. Paul's Church has remained in good and lean years - as a spiritual rallying point for the villagers of Compstall. If "Compstall and all within" no longer is Juddy Andrew's, his Senior Partner is still flourishing within the strong stone walls of St. Paul's.

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