A SHORT HISTORY OF ST PETER’S
Written for its 150th birthday by John Hedges
”Have you seen St Peter’s Church
’Tis a Gothic edifice
Of excellent design.”
This is the first verse of a poem by the Rev W B KIRK
of St Peter’s from 1882 to 1900. It is contained
in a book of poems about Ashton, published only a year
after Dr KIRK’s induction. Perhaps we should be
grateful that Dr KIRK describes his book as a “few
verses,” for some of it is very poor poetry, but
there is no doubt about his interest in Ashton and his
appreciation of St Peter’s church. The poem about
St Peter’s is long – twenty-three pages –
by one who had learnt in one year a great deal about local
folk. He certainly realized how much St Peter’s
”My reasoning for describing
St Peter’s is merely
Because the parishioners
Love their church so dearly.”
Dr KIRK is remembered as one who “preached Jesus
only” – according to the memorial tablet.
There could be no better memorial than that for a priest
The full list of incumbents of St Peter’s Church
Dr W B Kirk
1824 — John HUTCHINSON
1847 — John HANDFORTH
1848 — T. W. MORRIS
1865 — William OGDEN
1882 — W. B. KIRK
1900 — T. W. PUGHE-MASON
1923 — A. J. PHILLIPS
1927 — L. A. OWEN
1954 — Robin BARSLEY
1961 — David SUTCLIFFE
1965 — John HEDGES
The foundation stone of this “Gothic
edifice” was laid by Dr LAW, Bishop of Chester,
on 24th October, 1821. It is one of the “Waterloo”
churches. The Napoleonic Wars following the French Revolution
had ended in 1815, and to show their gratitude for victory,
the Parliamentary Commissioners voted one million pounds
to the Church of England. Large, imposing churches were
to be built with this money, so that English people might
see how grateful the country was for peace at last.
St Peter’s received £12,000
from the Parliamentary Commissioners, leaving only £2,000
to be raised locally. A medal struck in 1821 states that
“the area of the church will be 142 feet long by
65 feet wide and will be capable of containing 1,800 persons.
The height of the tower will be 128 feet.”
Francis GOODWIN, of London, was the architect
and he was able to see his work completed on 12th December,
1824, the date of its consecration. As the population
grew and more houses were built for the mill workers,
St Peter’s was to serve the people of the western
side of Ashton. They were hard times for the working class
people. The Napoleonic Wars, the end of which caused St
Peter’s to be built, had left England a colossal
National Debt. Rates and taxes were extremely high. And
working conditions in factory and field were such that
would never be allowed today. It was not unusual for men
to starve to death.
The Church of England generally did not
show up well as a champion of the workers’ cause.
Usually, the parish churches remained remote from the
poor, leaving hope in the hands of the Methodist Movement.
Many people will have looked across the open spaces towards
the large, impressive St Peter’s and noticed the
employers going there to their very special pews. Probably
they thought of the Church as they thought of the boss:
“Master was master then; man had now’t to
do wi’ it.”
The Rev John HUTCHINSON, assistant curate
at the Parish Church of St Michel and All Angles, was
the first Vicar of St Peter’s. He was able to use
chalices and patens presented by the Parish Church and
these are still in use today (1974).
If the Church was sometimes remote from
the workers, it was soon to come in contact with their
The Welbeck school was built in 1835,
the Victoria Street school in 1871. Many children
of the area were educated at one or both of these
buildings and thus came to know the Church from an
early age. Few were to become worshippers, yet none
can have failed to benefit in some way from the Christian
education received. Both schools have now been replaced
by the building on Oxford Street.
People visiting St Peter’s church comment on:
The east window, placed in church
The oak panelling, installed in
The peal of eight bells, fitted
The imposing nature of the building,
both within, and viewed from any direction outside;
The well-kept churchyard, laid out
by the Corporation Parks Department in 1973.
One hears many stories of how full the church
used to be on Sundays. Church attendance was a more recognised
characteristic of family life in the last century, but
St Peter’s has been blessed with a succession of
fine Vicars. William OGDEN and William KIRK were noted
preachers. The former’s gravestone says of him that
“he consistently preached and taught the single
doctrine of the truth as it is in Jesus.”
The Rev T W PUGHE-MASON is remembered by
many parishioners. He was the Vicar from 1900-1923; and
started disastrously! Unwittingly turning East for the
Creed, as is the custom in the larger part of the Church
of England, he caused a furore. The congregation had been
used to Dr KIRK’s Irish Protestantism. No doubt
they feared that a Papist had come amongst them! The parish
divided into those who remained faithful to St Peter'’
and its new Vicar and those who left to form the Victoria
This Mission continued in existence long
after Mr PUGHE-MORGAN had ceased being Vicar. It succeeded
in bringing the Gospel to the southern half of the parish.
People felt “at home” there, and left the
church to the monied people who lived on Manchester Road
and Richmond Street.
Nevertheless, Mr PUGHE-MORGAN exercised
a deeply spiritual ministry and many still remember him
with gratitude. Whilst he was Vicar, St Peter’s
raised large amounts of money. The schools were improved.
The churchyard walks were asphalted. The church was re-floored,
and oak panelled. The chancel was raised. Electric lighting
was installed. The church was redecorated. The baptistry
was relaid in mosaic. The bells were restored . . . What
Mr PUGHE-MORGAN also started the parish
magazine; organised a very popular Church Lads’
Brigade; and arranged for a Mission to be conducted in
the parish. In 1920, the Electoral Roll was formed, and
the first Parochial Church Council elected.
All was going well. It was the hey-day of
the cotton trade. Edward VII was King. There was a feeling
of well-being in the air . . . The Great War of 1914-18
soon disturbed all that. So many lives were lost or ruined.
Embittered by the war, men lost faith in God and gave
up interest in the Church. The downward trend was starting.
Hearses at the
In the midst of all this trouble, there
came the great explosion from a munitions factory at the
bottom of William Street. Forty parishioners were killed,
many injured, and the damage to property was extensive.
It is probably the greatest tragedy to hit this parish.
Already badly shaken by war, the people now received this
cruel blow. The hearses gathered at the Market Ground
for the funeral service.
Through all this, Mr PUGHE-MORGAN ably led
his parishioners, proving himself their spiritual leader
through good and ill.
In 1923, the Rev A J PHILLIPS was inducted
to the living. He stayed for four years, to be replaced
by the man who stayed longer than any other. L A OWEN
was Vicar here for twenty-seven years and is spoken of
affectionately by all who knew him.
Mr OWEN provided the stability, necessary
after Mr PHILLIPS’ short ministry and the upheavals
of the closing years of Mr PUGHE-MORGAN’s ministry.
He inherited the problem of a divided church (the Victoria
Mission) and a divided Sunday School (Welbeck Street and
Victoria Street). Much of the rivalry between the two
schools was anything but friendly. Mr OWEN came as a peacemaker.
Over the years he earned the love and respect of the majority
of the parishioners. They thought of him as their “father
But the Second World War came and crippled
faith and churchgoing much further. The Vicar’s
son was killed in action, a shock from which Mr OWEN never
fully recovered. His ministry was not the same after the
War and he eventually retired in 1953. He was a great
Robin BARSLEY came “to get things
going again.” He must have had a hard time following
Mr OWEN, but it is amazing how much was done in his ministry.
The church had been allowed to deteriorate and a weekly
“Save the Church” collection raised £5,000
in two years. St Peter’s was cured of dry rot, redecorated,
and generally made beautiful once again.
The next task was the construction of a
vicarage to replace the large building on M<anchester
Road. This was completed in 1957, a fine house, far more
welcoming that the old one.
A Christian Giving Campaign was held and
the Envelope Scheme came into being. This had a highly
satisfactory start but tailed off over the years, mainly
due to people not fully understanding the meaning of Christian
Stewardship. We give our money, and our whole lives, to
God, in response to his complete giving of himself to
us in the person of his own Son.
This was mainly material progress. David
SUTCLIFFE came to be Vicar in 1961 with a full grasp of
the Gospel and an intention of bringing as many as possible
into a knowledge of the Christian life. He made a great
impact on young people. The time was ripe for spiritual
renewal and the congregation grew in numbers. At last
the Church of St Peter’s began to be a church of
the people and this was helped a lot by the establishment
of the weekly Parish Communion, to which all the faithful
are welcome to partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord
David SUTCLIFFE gave of himself so
completely for the people of St Peter’s, that it
was inevitable that his would be a short incumbency. He
left in 1965, to be replaced by the writer of this booklet.
The work of worship and ministry goes on. People are baptized
and married and, at the last, buried from, this grand