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The Church of Old St George, Stalybridge
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

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Old St George Church, Stalybridge Old St George Church, Stalybridge

There have been 3 churches at Cocker Hill, which although built on "good sandstone grit”, have had their foundations weakened by layers of shale and loose earth.

St George was originally built as a chapel of ease, a building for those who could not easily reach the parish church in Ashton. The first Church was built on the site in 1776 and was consecrated as the “Chapel of St George in Staley Bridge within Ridgehill and the Lanes in the Parish of Ashton Underlyne”. The first cotton mill in the small village was built in the same year, bringing an influx of workers.

However, the first vicar James Wardleworth wrote :- ” My Chapel had ye Misfortune of Tumbling down on Friday 15th May, 1778 and it is uncertain when it will be rebuilt………” It would seem that the land slipped and that the back and side walls of the Chapel simply collapsed, but the rebuilding was completed fairly quickly and the second Church reopened in March 1780.

In 1821 there were reported to be 450 people in regular attendance. The Reverend Isaac Newton France was appointed in 1822 and there followed a turbulent time for St. George’s. Rev France had previously been a curate in Ashton and was reported to have created divisions throughout the church there. His unpopularity with the congregation and his constant battle with the church wardens caused numbers in the church to decline, as reported in a petition sent to the House of Commons: “The Chapel at Cocker Hill under his incumbency was deserted to a great extent”.

In 1835 Rev France persuaded the church’s patron that a new church was needed due to the unsafe condition of the old one, so by 1840 when it was built all the people were expected to transfer to the new building. They were reluctant to do so and petitioned the Bishop to allow them to keep the old church open. It was made safe and re-opened with a new vicar on the 29th September 1843. The congregation and the church’s income increased, and as it was making more money than the new church Rev France tried to return to claim his share of it.

In July 1846 the doors of the church were locked against Rev France, and the terrible 4 years that followed witnessed battles between the Churchwardens and Rev France who were both guilty of regularly breaking into the church and changing the locks. These altercations attracted thousands of onlookers.

By the time Rev France died in 1850 the church door was completely destroyed and many windows were smashed. But, once again the Cocker Hill Chapel was restored and re-opened on the 4th December, 1850.

The old church’s troubles were not yet over as it suffered a further major landslip in 1877, which made the church so unsafe it was closed again in 1882. Services continued in the school until the church re-opened in 1888.

The church was finally closed in 1967, due this time to falling attendances as well as general disrepair. Old St. George’s was demolished in 1968.

Old St George Dramatic Society Old St George Dramatic Society c.1885
Photographs by kind permission and © of Tameside Local Studies & Archives

References:

'Two into One will Go' by Paul Denby, ISBN 0 9515993 0 5, available via the church website at www.stg.org.uk

www.cockerhill.wordpress.com
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