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 Sensible parishioners retain what is beneficial, and forget those things which fail to meet their needs, or become outdated.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

Fr Richard Ambrose Reeves

article posted 4 August 2012

The Rev R.A.Reeves was instituted to the parish of St James the Great on April 15th, 1937. Before this, he had worked in London, Scotland and for the Student Christian Movement in Geneva. His main task in Haydock was to consolidate the work of his very popular predecessor by further teaching of the church's beliefs and duties. This he did most ably, but with a minimum of sentiment, which at first was not fully appreciated by his new congregation, who were accustomed to more rather more emotional sermons. He stated by reorganising the many societies and groups which had grown up at St James', explaining in the parish magazine that, ‘whatever the nature of the organisation, its only justification for existing is that it is serving a useful purpose for some section of the church, and in so doing is ministering to the well-being of the church as a whole'. During his first year in office, the altar servers were incorporated into a guild, the senior Sunday School changed to a youth fellowship in June, holding meetings in the church and the vicarage, and the Men's Society was reconstructed with its first meeting in August. The Women's Guild was formed from the Dorcas Society and the Women's Fellowship, whilst the Girl's Fellowship was disbanded and its members integrated into the newly formed groups. Much encouragement was given to the middle and infant Sunday schools, and in 1937, there were 220 children in regular attendance. A missionary association was formed with some 70 members, who worked and prayed for the church overseas. In 1938, the choir, under its organist, Alan Greenough, held the first of a series of annual festivals, the 1939 festival including works by Mozart, Handel and Mendelssohn. In 1939, the St Nicholas Guild was formed following a teachers training week in November of that year, and in 1941, the King's Messengers and the Youth Fellowship council were started. However, Fr Reeves was not only interested in the regular congregation at St James', and in 1938, he began, helped by his curate and congregation, a great evangelistic campaign to preach the faith throughout the parish. After dividing the parish into four sections, a year of intensive work was spent in each section, with open-air sermons and services, processions, visits and cottage meetings. Fr Reeves insisted that nothing could be achieved without hard work, and undoubtedly, some of his helpers were overworked. The success of the campaign owed much to those members of the congregation known as bishop's couriers, who publicised the activities in their sectors. Fr Reeves and his wife were very interested in the arts, and music and drama became a feature at St James'. The Merseyside String Orchestra, recruited from members of the Liverpool Philharmonic, gave concerts in the church and schools, and nativity, passion and other plays became a notable feature of the parish. These included the passion plays 'Christ crucified' and 'Prisoner of hope', nativity plays 'The Crown of Light' and the 'Story of Christmas in mime’, whilst the pageants 'The Christian year' and 'Te Deum' were performed for the patronal festivals of 1937 and 1938. In addition to his more active work in evangelising the parish, Fr Reeves urged study of the bible and other books of interest to churchgoers. He formed a bible study group which met monthly, and he wrote reviews of relevant new books in the parish magazine, thus encouraging interest in the church library. Quiet days of prayer were held in church and were particularly comforting during the early war years. Church repairs also concerned the parish, but naturally to a much lesser extent than earlier. However, the church interior was decorated, minor repairs were done to the parish room and church exterior, and a new heating system was installed. Obviously, the war affected much of Fr Reeves' work in the parish, bringing with it the problems of parishioners in the armed forces, the safety of children in the schools during air raids, and the 'blackouts' at night, an obvious problem when lighting a large building like the church. On Christmas Eve, 1940, because of the blackout and possible air raids, it was not known until the very last moment if the Midnight Mass, which Fr Reeves had introduced on Christmas Eve, 1937, could be celebrated. It was celebrated, and proved a most moving experience for the congregation. The effects of the war were even more dramatically demonstrated in 1941, when many evacuees from bomb ravaged Liverpool sought shelter in St James' church and schools. In 1942, Fr Reeves wrote of his interest in the Industrial Christian Fellowship, which had been formed after a meeting at Malvern, to solve the problems of workers in industry. A study conference was held at St James' in May 1942, resulting in the formation of a study group which met regularly to discuss problems facing the Fellowship. One welcome development during Fr Reeves' time in Haydock was the slight improvement in relations between the clergy of St James' and the vicar of its daughter church of St Mark. That relations had been strained is obvious from incidents already mentioned, but a step forward was noted when the vicars of both parishes travelled to, and walked together into, their first meeting of the Prescot Deanery Chapter. Fr Reeves and Mr Billingham (vicar of St Mark's) improved harmony between the two churches, but it was a long time before greater inter-church activity became a fact. Fr Reeves was appointed Rector of Liverpool early in 1942 and was inducted in the bomb-ruined church of Our Lady and St Nicholas in June the same year. His five years as vicar of Haydock made a great impact on the parish, his work being helped by Mrs Reeves and their children, who took active parts in parish affairs and sustained their interest after leaving Haydock. In 1949, Fr Reeves was consecrated Bishop of Johnnesburg, and his former parishioners at St James' presented him with two mitres to celebrate the event. In South Africa, he fought a brave campaign against the evils of apartheid, publishing several books on the problem. His controversial relations with the South African authorities eventually made his position as bishop quite untenable, and after they expelled him he returned to England in 1961. He served as assistant bishop of London from 1962 to 1966, and then was appointed assistant bishop in the diocese of Chichester from 1966, also serving at the same time, as priest-in-charge, then rector of St Michael's, Lewes. Bishop Reeves retired to Shoreham-by-Sea, and died there on December 23rd, 1980, his ashes being interred in the graveyard of St Mary's. Several memorial services were held, including one at St Paul's Cathedral, London, for this brave and holy bishop.