History of the Church of St James the Great Haydock
Eric Lowe

Preface by Fr Paul Nener and
Fr Rodney Middleton


The last history of the Parish of St James the Great, Haydock, was written to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Parish. We have just completed 129 years, and Eric Lowe has kindly offered to up date the history. It gives us pleasure to preface the work with these few remarks. The history seems as if it is the story of successive Vicars! This is inevitable since each Parish Priest leaves his own mark and style on any Parish. Sensible parishioners retain what is beneficial, and forget those things which fail to meet their needs, or become outdated. Despite this, what we have here is actually a history of a Parish and its people, in particular the faithful worshippers over 129 years. It is the story of an Anglican parish firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England - a tradition that goes back to quite early days in the 'Oxford Movement'. It was in this movement and its aftermath that St James' was a pioneer in the North of England. The Church itself bears witness to this tradition, not only because of the external signs, important as they are, but also, more significantly, because of the immediate sense of prayer, devotion and holiness that inspires even the most casual visitor to our Parish church. There are few sacred building which so wonderfully enfold one with a sense of the presence of God. This cannot be told in history, nor can it adequately be described in words. It is the reality which has to be sensed and experienced by the worshipper, and the individual at private prayer. It comes about we believe, because generations of worshippers have offered their prayer together, because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, because of the careful attention to beauty and order, because of the images and ornaments which point us to heaven, and because the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar is offered regularly, day by day and week by week, for the living and the dead, who together make up the Body of Christ in this place. A church building ought to point to the continuity between heaven and earth, and behind these following stories, many of which seem quite ordinary and to some people quite uninteresting, there lies this reality. Any parish history will naturally be tales of doings of ordinary people, but these people form a living community. They are the local manifestations of the Church Catholic - The Body of Christ. They are His agents in the world. Without such ordinary, holy folk in the churches and chapels of the world, the eternal message of God's love would eventually wither away and be lost. All people need God, and those who read this book cannot be exceptional. In this world whilst individualism, material gain and a constant search for entertainment seem to dominate our society, it is salutary to look at a place like St James' where the important things are community, generosity and the quiet beauty of holiness. This is how God is allowed to shine through and make his presence felt. We should like to thank Eric Lowe for all the time, care and devotion which he has applied to the preparation of this book. We hope the history of an ordinary parish church, its people and its life, will give readers some sense of the joys and sorrows of the Christian pilgrimage lived over several generations - generations who, under the inspiration of many devoted leaders, began to glimpse something of the glorious vision of the eternal God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rodney Middleton
Vicar 1995 - present

Paul Nener
Vicar 1983 - 1995


Author's Footnote:
The author wishes to apologise for any omissions and for not mentioning many individual people - the latter a deliberate policy. However, the work of all who help in the parish is gratefully acknowledged, including the clergy, the church council and other officials, the organisations, the choir and the servers, the sacristans and cleaners, the Sunday school teachers and those who work so hard in the churchyard. For us who live away from Haydock, it is always a joy, an inspiration and a privilege to visit St James' and to return home refreshed by its atmosphere of peace, prayer and holiness. Remember too, the souls of all the faithful departed who worshipped at St James' and in their time helped make our beloved parish church so very beautiful. Our thanks to them also. So begins a new phase of the history of a parish church, both ordinary and extraordinary. The history will continue as God blesses the parish of St James the Great, Haydock. And to the same God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be all praise, majesty, honour and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Eric Lowe


Early History of the area and its church
article posted 4 August 2012

In AD 1168, Orm, the first recorded lord of the manor of Haydock, owed money to the King, Henry II. Until this money was paid, the King ‘eclipsed’ part of Orm's lands in Haydock, and this event is perpetuated by the name Clipsley Lane today. Some 700 years later, plans were made to build a church in this vicinity, the approximate centre of Haydock, to serve the growing needs of the district's Anglicans. The church was never built on that site - the reason why will be revealed in this brief history. Haydock is an ancient place. A stone spindle wheel found here suggests human occupation during the later Stone Age, whilst some thousand years later, the Romans built a road north from Warrington, which passed through the eastern parts of the district. After the Norman conquest, the Haydock family as lords of the manor, grew in importance and in 1330, Sir Gilbert de Haydock founded a chantry in the Winwick church 'for a fit and honest chaplain who was to pray for the founder by name in every Mass'. Sir Gilbert and another local knight also rebuilt the nave and tower of Winwick church adding the Haydock coat of arms high on the battlements. He was also granted permission by Edward II to make a park at Haydock, a now famous racecourse.

In 1387, a later Sir Gilbert asked the Bishop of Lichfield to licence the oratory in his manor house for divine worship. Haydock was at that time still in the diocese of Lichfield, that of Chester not having been created until 1541. This oratory was almost certainly the first place of Christian worship in Haydock, but sadly was destroyed when the manor house was demolished to make way for the East Lancashire Road. The holy water stoup from this oratory bearing the arms ofthe Haydock family, is preserved at Lyme Hall in Cheshire. Lyme Hall is the seat of the Legh family who acquired the Haydock estates when the last of the main Haydock line, Joanna, married Sir Peter Legh in 1414. After this, the Haydock chantry in Winwick church gradually became wrongly known as the Legh chantry. The Legh family continued to own lands at Haydock, and in 1795 they built Haydock lodge in the park made by Sir Gilbert de Haydock in 1344.

Several branches of the family lived here including the Claughtons, who provided the Anglican church with two bishops in the nineteenth century. Thomas Legh Claughton was born at Haydock Lodge in 1808, made Bishop of Rochester in 1867 and subsequently iirst bishop of St Albans in 1877. His brother Piers Calverley Claughton was bom at Haydock Lodge in 1814, and later as rector of Elton, claimed among others to have introduced the service of Harvest Festival to England. In 1859, he was made Bishop of St Helena, and subsequently, Bishop of Colombo. Earlier, Haydock was the birthplace of a Roman Catholic martyr, Edmund Arrowsmith, born at Piele Hall in 1585. After training and ordination abroad, Fr Arrowsmith retumed to practice a clandestine ministry in south Lancashire, but was caught, and later hanged, drawn and quartered at Lancaster in 1628. His hand is preserved in the Roman Catholic church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith in Ashton in Makerfield. Fr Airowsmith was beatiiied in 1929 and acclaimed a saint in 1970. The site of Piele Hall, his birthplace, is now covered by a row of shops near the west end of Sherlock Avenue in Haydock. Haydock grew slowly throughout the centuries, the inhabitants continuing to worship at their ancient parish church at Winwick, then later at churches built nearer such as Downall Green and Ashton, when Haydock became part of those parishes. Coal mining began to increase during the early 19th century and consequently, the population of Haydock rose dramatically from 734 in 1801 to 1994 in 1851. In 1830, when the population had reached 934, some of the inhabitants held a public meeting to discuss the provision of a new school which would replace the old cottage school which had functioned from about 1760 on the site of the present vicarage. The Haydock National School was opened in 1837, the main room being used on Sundays for church services conducted by clergy from Ashton. However, by 1861, the population of Haydock had risen to 3615, making the schoolroom quite inadequate for church services. The building of a parish church was discussed and it was decided to plan a large parish church on land in Clipsley Lane opposite the now demolished old vicarage, and roughly at the centre of Haydock. However, to solve the immediate problem, it was decided as an interim measure, to build a chapel of ease attached to the National School, which would later become a mission chapel to the new parish church. The parish was formed from parts of the two Ashton parishes of Holy Trinity and St Thomas, the former's rector being appointed patron of the new parish. Work soon began on the new chapel and it was dedicated in the name of St Alban when the foundation stone was laid. This chapel, our present Lady Chapel, was so built that at the West end, large doors could be opened into the schoolroom to provide extra nave seating. The simple gothic chapel was built by George Harris of St Helens to designs by W. and J. Hay of Liverpool at a total cost of £1350. Built mainly of brick with stone dressings, the chapel consist of a 40 it by 20 it nave, and a 16 it square chancel rising by six steps to the altar. A south west porch and a north east vestry completed the building, which though simple in design, was richly furnished by giits from parishioners and friends, and as a contemporary account stated 'fully fitted up for Catholic worship'. Many of these furnishings are still in use, including the pulpit and the font. However, early in 1866 when the petition for consecration of the new chapel-of-ease was being prepared, it was discovered that no such consecration could take place without converting the chapel into the parish church of Haydock. Eventually the congregation agreed to this change, but more money was needed since a burial ground had to be provided for the new parish church. Finally, on Tuesday, December 11th, 1866, the new parish church of St James the Great and its burial ground were consecrated by Bishop Jacobson of Chester in the presence of many local clergy and Alan Greenwell and Alexander McLeay, respectively vicar and assistant curate of the new parish.