Rooted in 1770 – still growing in 2020!
This page gives you some history of our church, both the one we have now and the ‘old’ one. Our present church is on Sunny Avenue in Bury. It was built in the 1960’s on land given by Lord Derby back in 1914. Originally it was to be a daughter church to the old St John’s, which was built in 1770. So, we marked our 250th anniversary in 2020!
The first St John’s was located on the ‘Rock’ Bury. That building is gone, but it was approximately where Costa Coffee is now near M&S! However, you can still see some memorials in the garden nearby. It was built as a Chapel of Ease for the Parish Church of St Mary when the population in Bury started to grow because of the woollen trade.
In the 1800’s the textile industry was undergoing a revolution. This was thanks in no small part to local inventors such as John Kay, from Walmersley, who invented the flying shuttle – and Samuel Crompton from Bolton, the inventor of the spinning mule.
For a fascinating insight into some of the early church-goers on the Rock, including Robert Peel senior, please follow this link. There’s also one of the best photos of the exterior that you’re likely to come across.
The church largely served the population between it and St Mary’s. At the time, much of the land on either side of Walmersley Road (i.e. our current parish) was open moorland with a few isolated dwellings. It also served the area to the east of Bury – but this changed with the construction of St Paul’s in 1841.
A new parish
In 1862, St John’s ceased to be a chapel of ease and became a parish in its own right. Below is the Reverend Edmund James Smith, who was the first Rector of the Parish of St John. The Reverend Smith served from 1858, having previously been minister of the chapel, to 1884. Reverend Smith was a Fellow of Worcester College , Oxford.
The start of this new parish coincided with an extremely difficult time in Bury and neighbouring towns. The cotton industry here was dependent on supplies from the southern states of America. During the American Civil War, those supplies were cut-off, first by a Southern boycott, then by a North imposed blockade. The 1850’s had been a period of unprecedented growth and over-production of cotton goods, and the interruption in supply caused widespread distress and unemployment in Lancashire.
The New York Times of November 26, 1862 reported that Bury had 50% unemployment in the mills with only a very small proportion of those left in work being in full-time employment. A Bury Relief Fund was set up in September 1862 and ran till March 1865, giving some measure of support to those not receiving any other kind of poor relief. This support included provision of food and clothes. St John’s is listed as one of the distribution centres.
St John’s Church School was opened in 1869. Some of the children there were part-timers, the rest of the time working at the local mills. The town’s Fire Station was opened in 1880, within St John’s parish, and the Hospital in 1882. That year also saw the start of construction of St Mark’s Church, with consecration the year following. The parish boundary for St John’s was to the left of Walmersley Road up to Limefield, with St Mark’s taking the area to the right.
The photo directly below was taken in 1927 and shows the interior of the old St John’s, complete with gallery. The second is a side-chapel.
Here’s another interior shot below. We’re not sure which year this was taken but note that the ‘three decker’ pulpit was centre stage and the decoration around the top of the window is different too. This pulpit was initially replaced with a wrought iron one popularly known as “Paddy Hudson’s birdcage”. It was replaced in it’s turn by the wooden one seen in the 1927 photo.
Below is the Choir on the 1961 Whit Walk. The photo is taken in Union Square. There were that many Whit Walks that Bands were in high demand – and they came from as far away as Langwith Colliery in Nottinghamshire.
After the large gathering of all Church of England churches in Union Square, those from St John’s would then process to the old St John’s on the Rock for a brief service – and then make their way to the old St John’s Infant School on Hornby Street. In the afternoon, people made their way up to St John’s field where it was games for the children with refreshments provided by a team of volunteers.
And here’s the Mothers’ Union, also on a Whit Walk. The picture includes Mrs Salisbury and Mrs Hutchinson.
Here’s one from much earlier. We think late 1920’s judging by the headgear. The dome in the background is the old indoor Market Hall.
Below is a colour photo of the interior of St John’s. It shows the wedding of Alan and Shirley Whitehouse on 28th October 1961. Note the stained glass window, helped by what was clearly a very sunny day for late October. Thanks to the Whitehouse’s for permission to show this.
Our current church hall on Parkinson Street is built on the site of Seedfield Mission Church. The Mission was housed in “Temporary Buildings” and opened for Worship on the 21st February 1914 during the time that Richard Plantagenet Hudson was vicar at St John’s. The Mission was established to better serve those in the northern end of the parish, as more suburban housing was established here at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century.
The photo below was taken on the north side of the Mission in 1946/7. Those present in the photo include: Trevor Holt, David Hogg, Geoffrey Spencer & Bill Turner.
At right angles to the Mission Church, where the present Chancel is and the Vicar’s vestry and Choir vestry are, was the Mission Hut. It was built in 1925 and catered for regular monthly dances, Summer & Christmas fairs, youth club and meetings. From 1956 most of the church services were held here due to the poor condition of St John’s on the Rock.
Below is a picture from inside, taken at some point in the 1960’s, of a fine looking bunch of people enjoying an even finer spread.
The church’s one foundation
The picture below shows Emma Holt breaking ground on the new site for St John’s Church on Sunny Avenue. Emma was the eldest parishoner at the time.
The Foundation Stone was laid on a sunny day, Saturday 8th September 1962. The picture of the ceremony and the notes below are thanks to David Howard, son of Sam and Barbara.
The church was then finally Consecrated on Saturday 6th June 1964. According to the Service sheet for the Consecration, there was originally intended to be a bell tower added at a later stage – but that never happened.
The church was built during the incumbency of Rev. Arthur Hulse. Arthur was the Vicar of St. John’s for a further 14 years, out of a total of 24 years service to the Parish of St. John.
In 1970 we celebrated 200 years of the Parish of St John. There’s some really interesting archive film available of the Anniversary Service which can be seen on this You Tube clip. The service is roughly 7 minutes into the clip.
Above the altar we have a sculpture of Christ. It’s pictured below with Michael Bostock, who was warden at the time, just before it was put into position. To get an idea of scale, Michael himself was over 6ft tall.
The 9ft sculpture is constructed of fibreglass and a cold-cast coating of aluminium. It was made from a clay model by Derek Isaac & Cynthia Chapman and was dedicated in January 1972 by the Bishop of Manchester.
The initial clay model was made by Leicester teacher and artist David Merriman, who had met our vicar Arthur Hulse whilst on holiday in Wales.
David said of the figure “I have attempted to portray a Christ in Majesty… He has risen superior to physical pain. In the face I have tried to express resignation, compassion and yet authority.”
Rev Arthur Hulse also oversaw the building of our Church Hall on the site of the Seedfield Mission Church. It was dedicated on the 12th March 1972, by the Right Rev. Kenneth V. Ramsey, Bishop of Hulme.
Following Arthur Hulse we have had:
- 1978 Huw Glyn Thomas
- 1987 John Bernal Kelly
- 1994 Robert William Lawrance
- 2001 Ian Jack Stamp
- 2013 Dave Thompson
In July 1983, Huw Thomas co-ordinated the Parish of St. John joining with that of St. Mark to become ‘St. John with St. Mark’ Parish. The church of St. John then became the Parish Church of the new united Parish. Unfortunately St Mark’s was pulled down due to problems with the building. Looking back in the history books, an earlier attempt to combine the parishes had been made in 1924-1926, but was apparently ‘vigorously opposed’.
The parish of St Mark’s had been formed out of the parish of St Paul’s. The Rector of Bury had given land for a church school to be built in Brook Street in 1852. The vicar of St Paul’s, Rev John Walker, gave permission to hold services there and the Rev Thomas Wolstencroft was placed in charge of it. As more houses were built in Hudcar and Freetown, the congregation there became separate from that of St Paul’s and a ‘Conventional District of St Mark’ was formed in 1873.
Consecrated by the Bishop of Manchester in October 1883, St Mark’s Church was constructed in just under a year from when it began. Its cost was around £5,800 with many of the fittings and furnishings donated by friends of St Mark’s. Much of this seems to be thanks to the efforts of the Rev Bigland Withers. He had been curate at St Paul’s but was made Curate-in-Charge of the St Mark’s District when it was formed. Rev Withers oversaw the construction and fundraising of the new church but sadly passed away within a few months of its completion.
The current Salvation Army Citadel was later built on the site of St Mark’s Church but you can still see the old church gates and the War Memorial.
Back at the ‘new’ St John’s Church, Ian Stamp’s incumbency saw improved comfort levels in the hall by having double glazing and new wall panels fitted.
We also had an extension to the hall completed in 2009 and this became a Community Library run by the Bury Metro Libraries. The extension included a new kitchen, used by both ourselves and the library staff. Sadly the Library was closed in December 2017 due to re-prioritising of Bury MBC funding.
On Sunday 18th October 2010 we held a service at Christ Church, Walmersley and afterwards at St John’s Church Hall to celebrate the inauguration of ‘The United Benefice of Walmersley Road Churches’. This marked the bringing together of our two parishes under the care of one Vicar.
Thanks to a very generous donation we replaced the original wooden framed large West Window of St John’s at the end of 2015 with a double glazed metal framed window.
A new history
And so now we’re making our own history for someone else to write in the future! We’d love you to be part of that so please come along if you don’t already.