Salford Christ Church - A History

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Lancashire Gotoarrow.png Lancashire Parishes Gotoarrow.png Salford Christ Church, Lancashire

The Collegiate Church had fought to retain it's ability to require payment for marriages in the Ancient parish of Manchester despite the need to build other churches to meet the needs of the huge expansion of population on both sides of the River Irwell. 
In 1827 the Trustees Church Building Act was passed which granted to anyone building a church, the right of nomination in perpetuity, and their successors. The first church to be built under the Act was Christ Church : Salford. Early in 1828 a group of twelve men, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Robert Gardner, founder of the great Manchester textile firm of Tootal, Broadhurst Lee, wrote to the Commissioners for permission, under the Act, to build a church and claimed the right to nominate the Incumbents, a right contested by the clergy of the Manchester Collegiate foundation under their Royal Charter. To remove any possible doubt another Bill called "The Trustees Church Building Act" was inspired by the Salford Committee and passed through Parliament in 1831. This second Act became law on 5th October, yet further legal opinion was taken to satisfy the Trustees that their right of Presentation was fully protected before finally committing their new church to the rule of the Established Church. On 29th October 1831 Counsel stated that they "will be secure against any attempt on the part of the Collegiate body to interfere with their rights". Within three weeks of the passing of the 1831 Act, on 4th November, Christ Church was consecrated and Hugh Stowell appointed its first Incumbent, the one and only preferment he held and that until his death. The total cost of the original building (the spire was not added until 1843) was only £6,075 - 16s - 41/4d but optimism must have overrun the sponsors for when it was opened there was an outstanding debt of £3.750 - 10s - 7d or well over 50% of the cost.

Christ Chuch was located at the end of Acton Square in Salford with the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal at the rear of the Church. The Canal Company changed its affection for the new form of bulk transport - railways. In 1838 the Manchester, Bolton and Bury line opened with its terminus situated in Salford. The population figures exploded as people crowded into the limited accommodation of the village and in no time the picturesque half-timbered houses had been demolished and replaced by brick high density, back-to-back terraces which became notorious as "The Classic Slum". Into this needy area came one man whose name can still be found in many places in the Diocese - Hugh Stowell (e.g. St. Matthew's, Bolton, is flanked by Stowell Street). 

It was actually with great reluctance that Bishop Bloomfield of Chester licensed this firebrand, evangelical Curate of Huddersfield, to be in sole charge of St. Stephens. In his generation the preaching and influence of Canon Stowell eclipsed that of Bishops, Deans and Residentiary Canons.

Hugh Stowell born 3rd December 1799 was the son of a Manx clergyman of the same name noted for his piety and simple eloquence. Young Hugh was educated privately and then in 1818 went to St. Edmund Hall, Oxford where he graduated in 1822. He was ordained the following year by the Bishop of Bristol and licensed to the curacy of Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire . In 1824 he moved to Huddersfield for a second curacy and stayed about two years before coming to Salford and transforming the congregation of Salford St Stephen, Lancashire within a few weeks of his arrival, to "standing-room only". Men of Stowell's ability were in great demand and it was obvious to the townsfolk of Salford that if their young minister was going to stay in the town then a church of some grace must be provided to counteract the many attractive offers which would come from beyond the ancient Manchester Parish boundaries. It was equally apparent that the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church would never offer Stowell one of the churches in their Patronage; in fact they took all possible measures to hinder the St. Stephen's curate and his friends.

In Christ Church the Building Committe created for Stowell a preaching house, seating 1,300 people for his oratory, its huge central three-decker pulpit and capacity offering Stowell an oppurtunity to be a large influence on Salford and its development. Stowell actually laid the first stone on 28th April 1830 of the church built "in Acton Square beyond the Crescent". The architect was Mr.Thomas Wright and the builder Mr. James White.<br>Stowell's influence centred at Acton Square was considerable in the Church and County. He was one of the founders of the Church Pastoral Aid Society and an ardent supporter of the Church Missionary Society forwarding an average of £500 per annum to its work from his congregation. In recognition of his labours he was in 1845 appointed a Canon of Chester Cathedral, in 1851 an examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Manchester and subsequently Rural Dean of Salford. There was also a good measure of parochial charity in Hugh Stowell's work, not least his advocacy of education. In 1831 the Hulme Street School was opened as a Sunday School, and in 1839 another school, in Hope Street, opened as both a Day and Sunday School. When the great discussion arose in Manchester on the education question he took a prominent part on behalf of the religious party. He spoke for more than two hours persuading the House ,"not to sanction any system of general education of which the Christian religion is not the basis". His educational policy was direct and simple, "either Christianise it or crush it".

Hugh Stowell made enemies as easily as friends. When he was invited to speak at the meeting of the Manchester Church Congress he was howled down by rows of Ritualist curates. He was a Protestant of vigilant nature. It is said he, more than anyone else, was responsible for ensuring the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Salford was built where it is and not within his own Parish. He agitated for the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill and was for more than twenty-five years President of the Manchester and Salford Operative Protestant Association. So outspoken and bitter was his condemnation of the Roman Catholicism that he was taken to Court in 1840 by one priest for his libelous attacks. Stowell only proved his innocence after an appeal to the Court of the Queen's Bench.

The main population growth of Salford took place towards the middle of 19th century. In 1821 there were 25,700 inhabitants and by 1841 probably 40,000. If steps had not been taken by Stowell and others to divide the Parish of Christ Church it would have had about 60,000 folk living within its borders by 1880. In 1841 Salford St Bartholomew, Lancashire , the first of four new churches whose parishes were to be carved out of Christ Church, was built, largely through the influence of Hugh Stowell by the Ten Churches Association and one of his former curates was appointed its first Minister. This church closed on the first Sunday in 1974 and was demolished in 1975.

In 1856 the small Waterloo Church of St. Pauls, Ellor Street, was built and a portion of the district of Christ Church assigned to the charge of its Incumbent. It is somewhat ironical that after Christ Church had been demolished the residual Parish area was transferred to the care of St. Paul's.

The decision to demolish Christ Church was not taken lightly as it was scheduled under the Town and Country Planning Act as of architectural merit with it's fine interior of square Georgian period. On 17th September 1957 a faculty for demolition was granted in the Manchester Diocesan Consistory Court and the actual work done in Summer of 1958. The last words of the Christ Church saga belong to Bishop Warman when he preached the centenary sermon. "When during the last few days I was reading a history of the Church of England, written by a churchman who had not very much sympathy with the Evangelical Movement, I came across this passage: "Evangelicalism touched the great towns of the North,' invaded them; captured their pulpits and, perhaps chiefest among them, Hugh Stowell conquered Manchester".