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The Church of St Mary, Hale
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

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The Church Sign for St Mary, Hale. Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
The Church Sign for St Mary, Hale
Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
 
The Church of St Mary,Hale. Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
The Church of St Mary,Hale
Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
 
The Church of St Mary,Hale. Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
The Church of St Mary,Hale
Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley

An ancient establishment, the chapelry of St. Mary was mentioned in a suit of 1260(1). The church tower dates from the 14th century whilst an original black and white timbered building was replaced in 1758/9 by a church of red sandstone with a slate roof(1). Restorations were carried out in 1874, when a northwest vestry was added, and in 1903 but much of the building was destroyed in 1977 having been set alight by vandals. Designated as a Grade II* listed building by English Heritage, St Mary’s underwent complete restoration in 1979-1980 by the architects Buxeby and Evans when the roof and interior were replaced. During this restoration work the foundations of the narrower, timber-framed, church were discovered. The original six bells, which had also been destroyed in the fire, were replaced by a peal of six steel bells from Christ Church, Bootle, plus two bronze bells(2), whilst the 17th century oak pulpit was a gift from York Minster(3).

Many of the church’s nineteenth and early twentieth century registers were lost and others damaged by the fire. However, earlier registers and the Bishop’s Transcripts are held at the Lancashire County Records Office at Preston while the remains of the later registers are held at the Cheshire Records Office at Chester.

The church was originally a parochial chapelry of the parish of Childwall. As early as the time of the Commonwealth, the church commissioners recommended that Hale should be made a parish church because of the distance from Childwall. However, it was not until 1828 that the building was designated a separate chapelry with a perpetual curacy(1). Today, St Mary’s is an active Anglican church in the deanery of Widnes, the archdeanery of Warrington in the diocese of Liverpool.

In St Mary’s churchyard can be found the grave of the 'Childe of Hale’, John Middleton., According to contemporary accounts and his epitaph, Middleton, who was born in Hale, grew to the height of "9 feet, 3 inches" (2.80 m). The inscription on his grave shows him to have been born in 1578, although the closest reference reported to have been found in the parish registers was 1573(4).

 
The Grave of John Middleton ( Childe of Hale ). Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
The Grave of John Middleton ( Childe of Hale )
Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley

Because of Middleton’s size, Gilbert Ireland, the local landlord and Sheriff of Lancashire, hired him as a bodyguard. When King James 1 stopped by in 1617 to knight Ireland, he also heard about Middleton and invited both of them to the court, which they attended in 1620. In London, the King presented Middleton with a dress of purple, red and gold. Brasenose College, Oxford, has a portrait of Middleton in this dress and the painted outline of his hand. Middleton beat the King's champion a wrestling match and received £20 as reward, a large amount of money in those times. However, it is recorded that on his journey home, ‘his comrades rob'd him of what he had so that he was oblig'd to follow the plow to his dying day.’(3) Having died impoverished, John Middleton was interred at St Mary’s churchyard on the 23rd August 1623(4). He was buried in the Hale churchyard with an epitaph, "Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton the Childe of Hale. Nine feet three." A local public house, called "The Childe of Hale", commemorates Middleton.

 
The Childe of Hale Public House. Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley
The Childe of Hale Public House
Photograph supplied by and © of Dave Cleverley

References:

1. 'Townships: Hale', A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3 (1907), pp. 140-149.

2. ‘The Sound of Bells’

3. 'Hale' - Halton Borough Council.

4. The Registers of the Chapel of Hale in the Parish of Childwall Lancashire Parish Register Society Preston 1951 vi

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