The church of Our Lady and St John

History of the Parish

From very early times the landed proprietors of Chorlton were the two families of Barlow and Trafford, and it is in connection with the Trafford’s that we first hear of any ecclesiastical establishment in the district. This was the private oratory granted to Sir Robert de Trafford in 1367 by the then Bishop of Lichfield. Chorlton was then, as it remained until recent times, a low-lying tract of agricultural land, dotted with farms and a tiny collection of houses near which, in 1512, thanks to the other landed family, the Barlow’s of Barlow, the first church was built. This was a small black and white building dedicated to St. Clement, Pope. Booker, in his "History of the Ancient Chapels," gives a picture of it. It was of the same style as the still surviving pre-Reformation church of St.Laurence, at Denton, though, apparently, much smaller. This church of St. Clements was not a parish church, but a chapel-of-ease served from the parish church of St. Mary’s at Manchester that now serves as the Protestant cathedral. The names of the priests who first served this chapel, the numbers of their congregation-on this point all records so far published are silent.
Thirty years after St. Clement's was founded the reformation came, when Henry VI11 revolted against and despoiled the church, and at Chorlton, perhaps, as elsewhere, the Popes name disappeared from the Mass, replaced by that of the English king. His son's minority saw the new religions from abroad imported into England, the Mass abolished, the altars defaced, and the church ornaments sold. At Didsbury they brought 5/8 and the chapel 13/4. Denton chapel was sold for one pound. At Chorlton the chapel was, seemingly, not put up for sale, but the church ornaments went for 2/4. It is good to know that when the final catastrophe came under Elizabeth the priest who served Chorlton chapel was not among the few of the Manchester clergy who apostatized.
But Chorlton's great glory is the record, in these days of trial, of its chiefs, the ancient family of Barlow. The Barlow’s were Lords of Barlow (Boars Wood), and lived at Barlow Hall from the time of Edward 1 (1272-1307). With the Trafford’s of Trafford and the Premonstratensian Abby of Cockersand they were the owners of Chorlton. The reign of Edward VI found the head of the family, Alexander Barlow, Member of Parliament for Wigan, and no doubt a foe to innovation, since in the succeeding reign (Mary, 1553-1558) he was the great supporter of the Catholic Revival at Manchester. When this short-lived revival ended and the last Catholic Warden of Manchester, Laurence Vaux, fled before Elizabeth's Commissioners, it was to Alexander Barlow that he consigned for safety the deeds of the Collegiate Church. He met his death a Confessor for the Faith, arrested in that August night of 1584 when over fifty Catholic gentlemen of the county were carried off to goal in one great round-up. Alexander Barlow was imprisoned in the new goal improvised in the old Catholic chapel that stood midway on Salford Bridge (the Modern Victoria Bridge replaced it in 1838), was transferred hence in 1585, and died still a prisoner in the same year. He lies buried in the old Collegiate Church.
His son, a second Alexander Barlow, succeeded him, "that most constant Catholic" the Douay Diary calls him, and to whose constancy the fines he paid over a period of thirty years, as the Recusancy Rolls record, bar eloquent testimony. Three years bore he died he made his will and therein tersely described himself: “I die a true, perfect recusant Catholic “(1617).
The next Barlow third Alexander, son of the second was equally staunch. He was listed in 1641 as refusing, with his wife and family, to sign the Protestation drawn up by the Parliament against the revival of Popery, and the family were noted as by this time "living in Salford in very reduced circumstances," ruined by fifty years of continued heavy fines. This Sir Alexander was the brother of two famous Benedictine monks Rudesina Barlow, the Provincial of the restored English Congregation and founder of the Abbey, now at Stanbrook, and Ambrose Barlow, the Martyr.

Ambrose Barlow, born at Barlow and christened at Didsbury in 1584, educated at the English College, Valladolid, and by the Spanish Benedictines, came on the English Mission in 1617. He spent the twenty-four years of his priestly life in south-east Lancashire, a man of most ascetic life, as even the Protestant writers admiringly testify. The touching story of his arrest on Easter Sunday, 1641, by the Vicar of Eccles, must be read in Challoner's "Missionary Priests". He was tried at Lancaster and there put to death with the customary barbarities in the September of the same year. But the sacrifice of this great house was not even now complete. A later generation saw Anthony Barlow still a recusant and paying a double land tax as such, and his two sons attainted for high treason as Jacobites.

From this attainder-whether because they proved their innocence or no? They were relieved before their father’s death in 1723. Thomas, who succeeded, became involved in some obscure domestic troubles and died in Lancaster Castle a prisoner, for an alleged attempt to murder his wife. This lady appears not to have been a Catholic, and it is with a lawsuit with her husband's property that we hear the last of "the Popish Chapel" at Barlow Hall, 1734.

Catholicity was revived in Chorlton in 1892, after a lapse of three hundred and thirty-three years, this was effected by the Very Rev. Jerome Vaughan, O.S.B., who desired and was authorised to start a Religious Order in Chorlton under the title of St. Gregory, the special object of which was the conversion of England by means of outdoor lectures and sermons to non-Catholics. After a short residence in Edge Lane he secured a large house and grounds in Barlow Moor Road, now occupied by Pemberton Arcade. This church and residence was called St. Peter's Priory. After Prior Vaughan's death in 1896, it was found impossible to carry out the terms of contract with the vendor of the property, and accordingly the estate was sold. It was then determined by Bishop Herbert Vaughan to establish a Secular Mission in Chorlton and Fr. Paul Dootson was sent. In May, 1897, Fr. Frederick Holt succeed Fr. Dootson, and in the June of that year the land and buildings known as the Chorlton High School were purchased, and this property has been used during the thirty years for the purposes of Catholic Worship. The dedication of the Mission was changed from St. Peter's to that of St. Augustine. In 1916 Fr. Holt was succeeded by Fr. Joseph Kelly


The Site of St. Augustine's was the hall attached to the old St John’s School on High Lane and the corner of Chequers (Church) Road.

The new church dedicated to Our Lady and St. John the Evangelist was begun in March, 1926. The church was blessed on Saturday, June llth, 1927 and the first Mass said on that morning, the next day, Trinity Sunday, June 12th, the Bishop of Salford, Dr. Thos. Henshaw, said Pontifical High Mass and gave Pontifical Benediction. Mgr. F. Gonne presided. The Right Rev. Mgr. Joseph Kelly is parish priest and Fr. Herbert Bolger assisant priest. The site, on which the new church is built, together with the new presbytery and other houses on the land, was bought in 1917 from Mr. Rains and the chief rent on the property redeemed in 1918. The reason for the re-dedication of the parish was twofold: there is already in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester, the famous old parish of St. Augustine's, and this led to much confusion in having two St. Augustine's in Chorlton, Manchester; and, secondly, Mr. and Mrs. John Leeming have bequeathed their money for the building of the church in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and it seemed proper to perpetuate the memory of their goodness by making the dedication of the new church that of St. Mary and St. John.

This document was written in 1927. Author: Unknown.

Copyright © 2008 Anthony F Walker
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