The History of the Parish Church of St Thomas' Newhey
The Church was built in 1875 as a replica of Holy Trinity Church, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, which had been erected fifteen years previously. It is made of Bath stone which gives it a clean and shining appearance during the day, and a translucent appearance at night, especially when the moon is out.
In 1875 the foundation stone of the present Church was laid by the late Mr. James Heap, who with his brother Benjamin, gave the money for the erection of a Church in Newhey in memory of their father, Mr. Thomas Heap, of Cliff House, Newhey, the site of the present Milnrow Memorial Park. In the Church there is a memorial tablet to Mr James Heap erected by his mill employees, and both he and his wife are buried in a vault near to the south-west porch. These are indeed fitting testimonials to the Church's benefactors.
What is now the parish of Newhey was part of the ancient parish of Rochdale in medieval times. Later, when Saddleworth became a separate parish, the whole of what was the Milnrow Urban District Council was included in that parish. Later again, the township of Butterworth grew up in the parish of Saddleworth, and Newhey was included within that.
It was in the nineteenth century that Butterworth became the new Milnrow, and it was the clergy of Milnrow Parish Church who conducted the first Anglican Services in Newhey. These were held in what is now the Day School in Huddersfield Road. Built in 1865 at a total cost of £853 3s. 3d., the Day School was used as a place of worship until the Church was built in 1876.
Describing the School, a Rochdale contemporary newspaper said on November 4th, 1865:
’We are glad to record that a want, long felt by the inhabitants of the populous district of Newhey and Haugh, in the parish of Milnrow, has at length been supplied by the erection of the National Day and Sunday School, at Newhey, at a cost of nearly £1,000. We may congratulate the promoters upon the success of their labours, the school being a very neat and commodious building, which cannot fail to give satisfaction to the subscribers to the building fund. Divine Service was celebrated therein last Sunday afternoon and evening; the sermon in the afternoon being preached by the Rev. Canon Raines, incumbent, and that in the evening by the Rev. J. S. Doxey, the recently appointed curate. Mr. Benjamin Heap presided at the harmonium. The collections on behalf of the School amounted to £30. Including the collections at Milnrow Church three weeks ago, for the same object, the total sum collected now amounts to £57 18s. 6d. Divine Service will henceforth be celebrated in the new School every Sunday, and there will be a week-day Service on Wednesday evenings. A certificated master, Mr. Alfred Barnes, has been appointed to the charge of the Day School, which will commence on Monday next.’
Contributions and a grant made up the rest of the cost, and it is interesting to note that there were 234 children at the School when it opened-125 boys and 109 girls. Worship continued in the School until the Church at the top of the hill was consecrated by the then Bishop of Manchester, on St. Thomas’ Day, 21st December, 1876.
The beauty, grace, and proportion of the Church are seen not only on the outside-and from a distance-but from the inside too.
The Church contains many striking features. The building has a simple cruciform plan, with the Holy Table or Altar at the East end against the wall, and a Children’s Corner and a Memorial Chapel respectively in the two transepts.
The font by the West door was given by the teachers and scholars of the Church School in 1876, and dedicated to the name of the Ever Blessed Trinity. It is decorated with eight carvings depicting scenes from the Bible, some of which are quite unusual. One of Noah and his family leaving the ark shows elephants and giraffes in the background. Another depicting the baptism of the Ethiopian eunoch shows the mules of his chariot in the background. A panel showing Moses leading the people across the Red Sea also vividly depicts Egyptian soldiers and horses being overwhelmed by the returning sea. Another panel shows a beautiful carving of the blessing of the children. We also see Simeon holding the infant Jesus, Our Lord’s baptism, and the Day of Pentecost.
When the Church was completely renovated in 1913, panels bearing the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and The Lord’s Prayer, were added to the wall near the font. Later, just after the first world war, stained glass was put in the East window, the whole of the interior of the Chancel was refaced with stone, and panels containing the names of all who lost their lives or served in that war were erected above the font. Another war memorial-to those who died in the second world war-was erected in the form of the Memorial Chapel and oak case with a Book of Remembrance, and consecrated by the Right Rev. J. Leonard Wilson, Dean of Manchester, in June 1949, while the Rev. John Edwards was vicar.
There is surely nothing more pleasing to the ear than the sound of bells across the meadows. In this connection St. Thomas’ has been noted for its bell-ringing. It has had its share of enthusiastic ringers who have shown keenness not only in their ringing but also in the care and attention they have given to the bells and the ringing-chamber.
It was in March, 1968, during the ministry of the Rev. George Bowman, that the original peal of eight bells was replaced by a lighter peal of eight bells, the dedication being performed by the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev. William Greer.
Since then the bells have been heard pealing out on most Sunday mornings. Teams come from far and near to ring in the tower.
Also in the time of Mr. Bowman as vicar, the Church organ was dismantled, cleaned and renovated, at a cost of about £1,100. Incidentally the organ is much older than the Church as it was brought from elsewhere for installation in St. Thomas’ when the Church was built a century ago. When Mr. Arnold Fell, our longest-serving organist, first came to the Church in 1927, it was lit by gas and it was not until the early 1930’s that an electric blower was installed. A 'tracker' instrument, it has not been made to benefit from pneumatic or electro pneumatic action. But it has served the Church excellently over many years.
On Friday the 21st December 2007 an arsonist set fire to the oil tank at the rear of the church. The resultant fireball entered the church building completely destroying the organ, the organ loft and severley damaged the main Chancel roof. Our new organ is from St Peter's Church, Loughborough the renovations of which were by George Sixsmith & Son, Organ Builders, Mossley, Lancashire
The Church has had twelve incumbents in its history, including. The incumbents were: The Rev Graham Linley, The Rev. Stephen Tomline, The Rev G. White, the Rev. T. W. Wareham (who stayed 45 years), the Rev. J. N. Keeling, the Rev. Albert Clarke, the Rev. John Edwards, the Rev. R. F. Thorne, the Rev. William Lumley, the Rev. George Bowman, the Rev. James Henderson and the Rev. William Evans.
Between the years 1880 and 1890 there were also three curates-incharge-the Rev. R. Pearce (1880-84), the Rev. F. I. Horsefield (1884-87), and the Rev. E. A. Fewtril (1887-90). The last named married Miss Mills, a grand-daughter of Thomas Heap, in whose memory the Church had originally been built.
The first vicar, the Rev. George White, was instituted as Vicar of Newhey by the Bishop of Manchester on 29th April, 1876. Thereafter, for four years, he worked unsparingly until his health broke down.
For the next ten years the parish was under the care successively of three curates, until in 1890, the Rev. T. W. Wareham was appointed. His was a remarkable ministry here and did not end until he retired in 1935 at the age of 76. He continued to live in Newhey, but when his wife died in1943, he went to live in Sutton Coldfield near his son Geoffrey. He died at the age of 91 in 1950 and the grave of both Mr. and Mrs. Wareham is in St. Thomas’ Churchyard.
Mr. Wareham was succeeded by the Rev. J. Nevill Keeling, whose short ministry here was shot through with youthful enthusiasm. During his time he re-organised the Primary Department of the Sunday School and started the Free-Will Offering Scheme. On leaving Newhey, Mr. Keeling became a chaplain in the Royal Air Force in which he served until 1960, when he was appointed Vicar and Rural Dean of Brighton, and made a Canon and Prebendary of Waltham in Chichester Cathedral.