Our Lady and the Apostles has such a rich history and today continues to play an important part in the life, not only of its parishioners, but in the life of the Stockport community. The original parish was called St Philip and St James before it became Our Lady and the Apostles….
In November 1799, the Rev. James Blundell, a secular Priest from Southport and educated in Lisbon, was directed to take charge of the small congregation of Stockport, with charge also of the Catholics of Macclesfield and Sutton. His first Mass as the resident Priest was celebrated on the first Sunday of Advent that year.
During the years following the Reformation, the Catholic faith in our area had been kept alive at Sutton Hall near Prestbury. It was from here that our parish could trace its beginnings. It is said that Sutton Hall had never been without a Priest since Elizabethan times and, through marriage, it was connected with Bramall Hall near Stockport.
In the second half of the I8th century, punitive measures against Catholics were relaxed. In 1776 a chapel, dedicated to St. Chad, was opened in Rook Street, Manchester (a site now occupied by Lewis Ltd., Market Street). Immediately after celebrating Holy Mass for the Catholics of Manchester, the Priest would ride a distance of some 21 miles to Sutton to say Mass for the Catholics of Macclesfield and Stockport. The Catholic population of Manchester increased rapidly and, in 1794, a new site was obtained in Mulberry Street for the Church of St. Mary (The Hidden Gem).
It was the Parish Priest of Manchester, the Rev. Rowland Broomhead, and his curate, the Rev. Richard Thompson, who set about collecting funds to establish a Mission in Stockport. An apartment was hired, the rent commencing on 1st May 1798 and the first Mass being celebrated on 22nd July 1798. The Rev Thompson, assisted by the Rev Broomhead, continued to ride out from Manchester each Sunday for the next 16 months to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (during this period 13 baptisms were recorded) until, in November 1799, Fr James Blundell was appointed.
THE FIRST 50 YEARS
The appointment of the Rev. James Blundell established the first Mission in Stockport. It is the generally held belief that the first Mass to be celebrated in Stockport since the Reformation was said in a rented apartment in Windmill Street, at the corner of Edward Street. It seems certain that this apartment was the site of the first established Mission, but documents mention a small room in Hempshaw Lane as serving the needs of the Rev. Richard Thompson and the Rev. Rowland Broomhead in their early ministrations, and also that the Rev. Thompson opened the Mission on 22nd July 1801.
However, whether the first room used was in Windmill Street or Hempshaw Lane, or whether the date referred to was the first Mass of 1798 or the official opening of the Mission Room in 1801, it is certain that the Rev Blundell took up residence at 50 Union Street, and thereby established himself as the first resident Priest or Rector of the Mission in November 1799.
The first ‘Chapel’ is described as a room fitted with benches to seat 70, and the Catholic population was said to be 300 in number. The Rev. Blundell had need of a more permanent Chapel and, to this end, set about the task of fund raising. He sought subscriptions throughout Lancashire and Cheshire and we see, from a letter he wrote to the Rev. M. Rigby of Lancaster in April 1800, that he found Stockport “a wretchedly poor place”.
By 1801 Rev Blundell had raised enough money to buy a plot of land in Edgeley about five minutes
walk from Windmill Street. Here he proposed to erect a Chapel, the yearly chief rent being recorded
In 1802, the foundation stone of the new Chapel was laid by the Rev. Richard Thompson; the bricks for this Chapel and the adjoining Presbytery and Boys’ School were made on the site. On 1st May
1803, the feast of SS Philip and James, the Chapel was opened and dedicated to these two saints. The sermons were preached by the Rev Rowland Broomhead and the Rev. Richard Thompson, the Priests whose efforts had begun the Mission.
Stockport was developing into a manufacturing town and over the next 20 or so years, the population doubled in size. The congregation also grew over this period and the Rev. James Blundell continued to serve the people of Edgeley He retired in 1825 to Singleton in the Fylde where he died on 7th September 1839. He was buried at the Willows Chapel, Kirkham.
In November 1825, the Rev. Blundell was succeeded by the Rev. William Keily, an Irish Priest from Waterford who had been educated at Maynooth College.
The end of the Rev. Blundell’s time in Stockport and the Rev. Kelly’s arrival coincided with a period of social upheaval. There was post-war unemployment (soldiers and sailors returning from the
Napoleonic wars), union unrest, poor social conditions and, added to the English Catholic population, there was an immigrant Irish population looking for employment. It was a time of industrial strikes and attempted reforms: Stockport people had been involved in the Peterloo massacre of 1819.
The town had grown so that the houses on the hillsides and brows appeared to be piled upon those in the valley, whereas westward through Edgeley, few buildings would be seen. The water supply was from wells and newspapers of the time record such weather conditions as the great storm of 1822 which carried off the sails of the windmill on Edward Street, and a great flood in 1828 which raised the river Mersey 20 feet above ordinary level. It is not surprising that the conditions of the poor were made worse by the lack of sanitation and, with medical care almost non-existent, that disease was rife Cholera and Typhus claiming many lives.
The Rev. Keily ministered closely to these people, working tirelessly to improve their lot, instituting proceedings on their behalf in the local Magistrates Court and obtaining whatever medical help was
available. It seemed almost inevitable that, after visiting the homes of his flock for most of the 12 years of his Ministry, he would succumb fatally to Typhus fever.
As a tribute to his memory a stone tablet was placed in the wall of St. Philip and James Church and a prayer was published entitled:
‘The Orphan’s Lament’
for the loss of their charitable indefatigable shepherd the late Rev. William Keily who departed this life on the 29th March 1838 in the 42nd year of his age after a short but severe sickness caught in the Sacred discharge of his Religious duty.
Due to the still increasing Catholic population in the 1830s, the Church of SS Philip and James had been considerably enlarged with the addition of a Tower, side Galleries and a larger Vestry. It had been re-opened on 23rd September 1832 by Dr. Abraham, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.
In 1838, the Rev. Thomas Newsham took over the Mission, having been some time before appointed assistant to the Rev. Keily. On the death of Rev. Keily, the Rev. John Dowling was appointed assistant to the Rev. Newsham for a few months and was succeeded by the Rev Richard Gillow, who remained in Stockport for about four years before moving to North Shields,
After his departure, the Mission could only support one priest, namely the Rev. Newsham, who remained in Stockport for six years before being transferred to St. Anthony’s,
Liverpool in September 1844.
To be continued……