St Pauls Church,
Compstall A History
by Neil Keith Mackay©
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
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
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
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
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
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.