A short introduction to the Parish Church of St. James the Great, Ince
Compiled by Andy Ankers and Simon Eardley, after 'A Cheshire Parish' - Revd F.G. Slater (1919)
An ancient legend has it that our parish church was originally intended to be built in the northern portion of the parish, on the high ground overlooking the River Mersey. For some reason or other the good fairies disapproved of that very inconvenient situation and night after night carried the stones to the opposite side of the valley. The builders gave up the struggle, and the church was erected where is stands to-day.
Our parish church is dedicated to Almighty God, in honour of St. James the Great. No-one knows the date of the first church in Ince but looking at the list of previous vicars of the parish, one can but guess at the answer. It is a fact that a church stood here in Norman times, but no trace of that building now remains (the last fragments of Norman work in the shape of mouldings above the door in the south porch were destroyed in 1854). Our present building is a mixture of ages and is built of Manley stone (quarried some four miles from the village.) The chancel and tower date back to the 15th century and the nave was re-built with the north aisle added in 1854, so much so that the building was re-consecrated in that year.
The chancel and the nave are not quite in a straight line (this arrangement is known as a weeping chancel.) If you stand by the font and look towards the altar you will notice that the chancel diverges to the north. Two explanations are given. One is that it is meant to symbolise the droop of our Saviour's head upon the cross. The other, perhaps less fanciful, is that it is an attempt to point the direction of the chancel (otherwise called its orientation) toward that quarter of the heavens in which the sun rises on the feast day of our patron saint, St James, 25th July.
The measurements of the building are as follows:
- Length of chancel: 38 feet / 11.69 metres
- Length of nave: 50 feet / 15.38 metres
- Length of tower: 13 feet / 4 metres
- Width of chancel: 18 feet / 5.54 metres
- Width of nave & aisle: 45 feet / 13.84 metres
- Width of tower: 10 feet / 3.07 metres
- Height of tower: 51 feet / 15.69 metres
The stained glass windows in our church have, over past years, been criticised by some as being of poor taste. This is a matter of opinion - what do you think?
In the chancel are two windows by the renowned stained glass designer, Charles Kempe (1837-1907) which are opposite each other and represent the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.) These windows present a challenge! Kempe's private mark, the wheatsheaf, can be found within one of the windows if you look carefully. The windows were given by members of the Cheshire Hunt in memory of Edmund Waldegrave Park Yates who died from a fall in the hunting field in 1896.
The east window in the sanctuary dates from the mid 19th century and depicts the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord. A similarly designed window in the east end of the north aisle shows St. Peter, St. James and St. John. Of perhaps more interest is the window on the north side of the nave in memory of Eric Helsby who was a gifted artist and lover of the countryside. St Francis of Assissi is depicted on the left and St. Werburgh on the right together with many different forms of wildlife.
The carved 'Nativity' chair sits in the north side of the sanctuary and most likely belonged to a John Bellis, Yeoman of Great Barrow, who was born in 1634 (the date immediately beneath the carved group of the Nativity.) Two shields flank the initials I.B., one with an elaborate cross crosslet, the other with a Welsh goat and the further carvings of flowers and leaves. Each arm of the chair is composed of two fishes with their tails intertwined. John Bellis was the father of the Revd. Robert Bellis, Vicar of Ince, who was buried here in 1721.
A magnificent brass chandelier, with its twelve branches, was presented to the church in 1724 by Mr George Wynne who had bought the Ince estate in 1722. The chandelier bears the following inscription (most likely added after Sir George's death):
'The gift of Sir Geo : Winne Barᵗ : late Lord of this Manner of Ince : Anno 1724'
This Sir George Wynne built Leeswood Hall, near Mold, and set up his famous white gates there.
The twisted altar rails date from the 17th century. The chancel also contains the funeral hatchment of Mrs Elizabeth Jane Park (a large 'lozenge' shaped frame showing the deceased's heraldic family arms, crest and supporters.) Mrs Park was responsible for the substantial restoration of the church, completed in 1854. Our church records note the grateful thanks of the parishioners as follows:
'We the undersigned on behalf of ourselves and the Inhabitants of Ince generally beg leave most respectfully to offer you our grateful and sincere thanks for the great solicitude for our best and everlasting interest you have shewn in the restoration, at your sole expense, of our venerated Parish Church from a dilapidated building to the present costly and beautiful structure, thereby affording us the increased means of comfort and convenience in worshipping our Heavenly Father.'
The lectern, cast in brass in the traditional shape of an eagle, is in memory of Captain Park Yates. The stone font probably dates from the 1854 restoration.
Within the tower arch stands the organ, built by Nicholson and Lord of Walsall, which was dedicated:
'To the Glory of God this Organ was given by the inhabitants of Ince and their friends and dedicated Wednesday, March 28, 1906. F. Clifton Smith, Vicar. W. Greenway, T. Darlington, Churchwardens. Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.'
Tower and bells
The tower clock, made by Morland of Chester, with one white dial looking north, is also dated 1854 and strikes on the hour only. It requires winding once a week with twenty one turns on both weights, one for the clock and one for the strike. There are three bells housed in the tower although sadly these are not matched. The two lighter bells are dated:
1622 with the inscription 'Jesus Bee our Spede'
1636 with the inscription 'God Save our Churche'
The third treble bell was installed at the restoration in 1854 and is inscribed 'C. & G. Mears Founders London 1854' with the clock made to strike upon it.
In his book, 'A Cheshire Parish', the Revd F.G Slater writes perhaps a fitting conclusion to his short summary of our church:
'With no very striking architectural features or wealth of ancient woodwork our parish church always favourably impresses the casual visitor, while it is best loved by those who know it best.'
A short history of St. Mary, Thornton-le-Moors
Compiled by the Rev. Michael Bishop (Vicar 1978-1990) with a short addition by Simon Eardley
The first clear record of a church at Thornton-le-Moors is to be found in the Domesday Book which records (in 1086) a church and a priest at Thornton. It seems very likely that the church stood on the present site - especially as in April 1982 there was discovered in the foundations of the chancel a small section of the shaft of an Anglo-Viking cross which has been dated by archaeologists as from the late 9th or early 10th century. Presumably it would have been standing when commissioners of William the Conqueror came to make their record of the village. The cross shaft, still visible in the nave has on it an inscription which reads “God.help” - the rest is lost. On the shaft there are carved three figures which the experts believe to be depicting the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The church at Thornton formerly served all the five townships of the ancient parish: Thornton-le-Moors, Elton, Wimbolds Trafford, Dunham Hill and Hapsford. Then in 1861 a church (St. Luke’s) was built at Dunham Hill to serve that village and Hapsford. Dunham Hill and Hapsford became a parish in its own right.
The present St. Mary’s is largely a 14th century building. The chancel, side aisle and nave being from the early part of that century and the tower from the later 14th century. The present vestry - formerly known as Elton Chapel was added in the 16th century (Tudor times). The porch was added in the late 17th century (see the date carved over the door). The chancel arch was added after 1845, covering the doorway which once led to a rood loft (a screen on which would have stood a cross - traditionally with statues depicting St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary). The top of the tower was rebuilt after a fire in 1909 in which the bells fell from the tower. After being recast they were rehung. The inscriptions read as follows:
- Jesus be our speed 1625
- William Wright : Samuel Norfolk Wardens 1708
- Gloria in excelsis Deo I.C. W.E: Wardens 1625
- The church of Thornton-le-Moors is presented with this bell and clock in fond remembrance of the late Revd Doctor Perryn of Trafford Hall in this parish by his deeply attached widow, Elizabeth Massey Perryn, Lady of the Manor of Wimbolds Trafford, 1879. J. Pover J.H.Lewis Churchwardens
In addition all the bells are inscribed:
Destroyed by fire March 29, 1909 Recast 1909 H.B.Moore Rector James Warburton, Tom Johnson Churchwardens
A tour of the church
On the left inside of the door can be seen the Charities Boards which record Parish Charities. Note the reference to Thornton School. Historically this stood in the churchyard “from time immemorial” until the 19th century when a school was built at the junction of Green Lane and Cryers Lane. This school closed in 1963.
The font dates from the late 17th century. Note the wooden hatchments on the west and north walls. There together with the wooden hatchments in the chancel were painted by Randle Holme in the 17th century as memorials to those named on them. Details are to be found nearby.
Careful examination of the tower walls reveals the existence of a number of masons’ marks - the “autographs” of the craftsmen who built it.
By the north wall there is to be seen the fragment of an Anglo-Viking cross shaft referred to earlier in these notes. Near it is what was thought to be an old font dating from 1673. This was found in the garden at Thornton Green although experts now dismiss the font claim and regard it rather as possibly a garden ornament.
The pulpit is in memory of Canon Barker who died in 1878 as the church was in the midst of restoration. A stained glass window in the choir vestry commemorates this restoration.
The lectern is one of the many gifts of the Perryn family of Trafford Hall (see the inscription). No vestige can be seen of the doorway which led to the rood - this having been covered by the chancel arch in the 19th century.
The chancel roof is the original hammer beam roof, of simple design, with the rafters set flatwise as in medieval practice, not on edge as in later roofs. A ceiling once hid this fine roof from sight.
The panelling in the chancel is made from old pews, some still bearing the occupiers names. It had been removed to Thornton School but was brought back in 1931.
Notice the hatchments. The canvass ones are Victorian and the wooden ones by Randle Holme in the 17th century.
Small brasses besides the choir stalls commemorate and date from the same period as the wooden hatchments.
The altar and communion rail are dated 1694. Thornton is one of the very few churches which conform to the instructions of Archbishop Laud to “encompass” the altar rails on all three sides. Some authorities suggest that these rails were hidden during the Commonwealth period to avoid their destruction by Puritans.
The screen between the chancel and the present vestry were given by Canon and Mrs Dixon in 1935. The door was given later in memory of William Fletcher. The organ is another memorial to the Perryn family whose family vault is under the chancel.
The east window was given in 1898 by Joseph Pover of Elton Hall (which stood close to the spot where the present vicarage and the Church Hall now stand in Elton).
The present vestry was formerly known as the Elton Chapel. Note in particular the memorial to Rector Rowland Chambre. The rectory which he greatly refurbished was demolished in the early 1970s and stood across the road from the church.
The south aisle contains at its east end a wooden screen which was transferred to its present position when the vestry was moved from near the font in the 1930s. It formed part of the vestry screen there.
The parish chest, dating from 1732, has three locks - the 18th century’s security system requiring the presence of all three key holders before it could be opened.
In the south wall by the chest are the remains of a piscina - this indicates that there was almost certainly an altar here at one time - presumably before the Tudor extension consisting of the Elton Chapel was added.
Outside the church
There are two graves of particular note, both near the vestry gate. One, a table tomb (with a tree growing from its foot) is a listed building! Not far from it (near the top of the steps into the new part of the churchyard) there is the grave of a village blacksmith with an interesting epitaph:
My sledge and hammer lie declin’d, My bellows too have lost their wind. My fire’s extinct, my forge decayed My vice is in the dust now laid My coal is spent, my iron gone My nail is drove, my work is done.
A noteable figure in history
The names of some 47 incumbents of Thornton-le-Moors are known to us. Of these, there is no doubt that the most notable was Bernard Gilpin (Rector, 1550-1553) who almost became a martyr.
Gilpin was the nephew of Cuthbert Tunstall, Archdeacon of Chester who later became Bishop of Durham. Bernard Gilpin himself was a native of Westmorland, educated at Queen’s College, Oxford. After King Henry VIII’s refoundation of Cardinal College as Christ Church College, Gilpin was elected one of its first students. Disapproving of the doctrinal changes and disgusted by the robbery of Church property, he had serious scruples about giving his support to the reforming movement and in 1552 (whilst Rector) he preached to King Edward VI at Greenwich on the subject of Sacrilege. He found the persecution under Queen Mary hateful and became outspoken in advocating a reformation of clerical standards. Under the protection of Tunstall, he was made incumbent of Houghton-le-Spring and Archdeacon of Durham. He narrowly escaped being a martyr under Queen Mary as, when on the way to London to be burnt at the stake, he was delayed by a happy accident - he broke his leg. Before he was fit to complete the fateful journey, the Queen died and the sentence of death was revoked. His return to Houghton-le-Spring was celebrated by exalting friends and parishioners. Under the new Queen - Queen Elizabeth I - he was offered the Bishopric of Carlisle and the Provostship of Queen’s Oxford.
In the years that followed he made many long missionary journeys in the north of England, earning him the title “Apostle of the North.” His unbounded liberality and unsparing denunciation of abuses brought him a very large following, including the Puritans to whom he was doctrinally opposed.
Thornton-le-Moors can be justly proud to have been associated with one of the great Englishmen of the Reformation era - one who bravely stood for right, whatever the consequences for him might be.
There is one relic dating from the time when Bernard Gilpin was Rector. The church posses a Communion Cup which bears the date 1567. In addition there is a silver gilt communion set given in memory of Elizabeth Massey Perryn who herself gave the clock and tenor bell.
In 1977 a new Parish of Thornton-le-Moors with Ince and Elton was formed encompassing all three villages and Wimbolds Trafford. The Parish Church of St. Mary closed in 1999 and was vested to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust in July 2009 following a £350,000 restoration project to secure the building for future generations. Although no longer used for regular worship, we are able to open the building for six special services per year, details of which can be found in our ‘Events’ section.
A history of Elton Methodist Church and Methodism in our parish
Compiled by Peter Allan, September 2016
The non-conformist presence in the parish goes back over 300 years. It was Edward Gregg from Hapsford Hall who in 1686 persuaded a young Matthew Henry to base his ministry in Chester. And like Methodist preachers of today, Matthew had a 'plan' - a timetable of services he would take in the outlying Cheshire villages such Elton and Bromborough.
Methodism in this part of Cheshire can be traced back to 1807, when two preachers from the Potteries were granted permission to hold a 'Camp Meeting' at Mow Cop, on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border. A similar meeting 12 years later south-east of Crewe began the Tunstall revival. From this came the 'Cheshire Mission' with many new 'Societies' formed and new chapels built by the Primitive Methodists, of which Saughall is an early example.
Elton Methodist Chapel - now a private dwelling - is located on Ince Lane, Elton, between our two village pubs. This simple rectangular building, converted from a barn, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1995. Supported by the Ince fishermen and local farmers, the chapel once had its own choir and its Sunday School continued into the 1990s.
Formal co-operation between Methodists and Anglicans began in the 1990s under Methodist Minister, Rev. Ian Coverdale and Anglican Vicar, Rev. John Hudghton and included an ecumenical service every Thursday morning at the chapel. Since the building was closed at the end of August 2010, these services have continued on Wednesday mornings at the Church Hall, Elton.
That same year marked the inauguration of our 'Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnership.' Now part of the Wirral Circuit, Methodist ministers and local preachers regularly conduct Sunday services at St. James, Ince.
Famous preachers from the past include Henry Bowers (Mayor of Chester), Rev. James Travis and Mr Beresford Adams.