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A brief history

Christ Church Wharton 1843–1993

(A brief history prepared to celebrate the church’s 150 anniversary)

Wharton has existed for many years. It is recorded in the Domesday Book, which notes the presence of two Saxon manors and records it as a township within Davenham parish. There was, in Wharton, the Nun House. However, this was not a convent but land and farm owned by the Benedictine Convent in Chester. The income from this land helped to support the work of the convent. There was never a house where nuns lived in Wharton. It was not until 1835 that the first chapel was built at the instigation of John Furnival, a curate of Davenham. It was built to be a challenge to the growth of Methodism in the district. This first chapel, which was never consecrated, is often believed to have been somewhere near Wharton Bridges. However, there is no record of this. From the very earliest maps of the area it would seem the church was on the present site from as early as 1840. The church was consecrated on June 26th 1843 by the Bishop of Chester, John Bird Summer. The following Sunday John Armstrong, the then curate, recorded his first baptism in the new church of Clara Stelfox. George Stelfox, Clara’s father later became one of John Lowthian’s Churchwardens in 1856. He remained in office until 1874. The first burial in the churchyard was not until August 18th when John Armstrong buried Hannah Hatton aged 27. In the early records of burial entries it is not unusual for six out of eight of the entries to be for children aged 3 or under.

John Lowthian who became the first vicar arrived at Wharton in 1845, This was a difficult time in the history of the Church of England. 1845 was the height of the Oxford Movement This was a movement to restore the Anglican Church to its place as the true catholic church of England. It seems that John Lowthian was regarded with great suspicion by some of the local people who were strongly Methodist He is supposed to have simply replied to his detractors, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. However, it is unlikely that he was involved in the Oxford Movement as his father-in-law was John Jackson, the vicar of St Chad’s, and a known evangelical. Jackson would not have let his daughter marry a man whose churchmanship was so radically different to his own in an age where these things were taken most seriously. Although the church was built in 1843, the vicarage was not built until 1848. Until the house was ready Lowthian lodged at St Chad’s vicarage. The vicarage, which cost £673.14, was built out of two cottages, which stood where the church car park is now. It was not until the end of 1849 that Wharton became a parish distinct from Davenham. The church building was then extended by the addition of the nave and the tower. The newly extended church was consecrated on December 20th 1849 by Bishop John Graham. The total cost of the building work was £1574.10.7d. The clock was paid for by Mr John Dudley and cost £50 and is still in use today. The donations to pay for the work included gifts from the late Queen Mother and the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner. However, most of the money was given locally or from Prestwich where John Lowthian had been curate for three years. The first wedding was on January 21st 1850 between George Lownes and Mary Chesters. According to the register neither of them were employed. The second recorded wedding that year was between Ambrose Greenwood, the schoolmaster, and Elizabeth Gerrard who was only 16. In January 1859 John Lowthian set out to visit his father-in-law the Rev. John Jackson at Over Vicarage. On his way he was thrown from his horse and a day or two later he died at St Chad’s Vicarage from the injuries he received. His funeral was held at St Chad’s where he was buried. He was only 43 years old and had been the first vicar of Wharton having been pastor of the church 14 years. In memory of him the stained glass window at the east end of the chancel was given. It was not until March 10th 1860, after the death of John Lowthian, that Wharton was finally declared to be a separate parish and no longer a district of Davenham Parish.

The second vicar of Wharton was John Samuel Bage in memory of whom the window at the West End of the nave was given. In 1874 he was succeeded by the Rev Thomas Davis. Though he was vicar only for 2 years he did make an impression. Once he was at a schools meeting when one man spoke saying, “Well, to my mind….” at which point Thomas Davis said “Yes, but are you sure that your mind is God’s mind?” He in turn was succeeded by the Rev Christopher Cay who was vicar from 1876-1891.

In the second half of 1891 Rev Robert Eden Henley became the fifth vicar. He was to be the longest serving vicar being in office from 1891-1933. Before coming to Wharton he had been the curate of Holy Trinity, Chester for 6 years. He remained as vicar until his death on May 7th 1933 on a Sunday afternoon between services. The church was built of brick and it was only later clad with sandstone The last major alteration was the extension of the chancel in 1913. The work was completed and the newly altered Church reconsecrated October 18th 1913 by Bishop Francis Jayne. In 1920 the present organ was installed having been commissioned by Mrs Newall in memory of her only son J H M Newall who was killed on November 13th 1916 on the Western Front. Mr Henley never married but was looked after by a housekeeper, Mrs Pirnm who was a very formidable lady. He was a faithful parish priest but not a great record keeper. He kept the records he had to for baptisms, marriages and funerals but after 1896 he never bothered to keep a service register to record either the services in church or how many attended. He was a natural gentleman being well connected socially. His manners were always impeccable He was very much a Victorian gentleman always wearing a frock coat and hat when he was out and about the parish. But he was also a man who could be strict when the occasion required. There is a story of how boys used to take the apples from his trees- ‘I would wait till the vicarage lights went out then they would sneak in. However one evening Mr Henley switched off the lights and then and when the boys arrived he was ready with a quick clip around the ears! Mr Henley was keenly interested in the local children. He encouraged those boys who could sing to join the choir, which he used to take for an annual choir half day out to Chester and a trip up the River Dee. He used to spend much time with Wharton School avidly overseeing its enlargement and improvement. He also used to get the school children to keep the graveyard tidy for which they would paid a few a few pennies. He was an old fashioned priest and if you ever stop on your way into church you can read the epitaph on his grave which simply says “He went about doing good.” There is also a window in church in his memory, which was set in place on the first anniversary of his death.

The next vicar was Rev E M B Southwell. Mr Southwell was a very keen scout being a relative of Lord Baden-Powell. During his brief 5 years as vicar the scouts and cubs flourished. It was during this time in 1937 that electric light replaced the old gas lighting in the Church. His successor was Duncan Baird. Though he was vicar until 1945 from 1940-1945 he served in the forces as an army Chaplain. He was in turn succeeded, briefly by Kenneth Ashworth who was succeeded in 1947 by Rev T D Coleman-Harrison. Sholto Douglas who was the next vicar in 1952 was a man of great generosity who is still remembered fondly, especially for the size of the church choir. Albert Brookes who succeeded him in 1955 was an energetic priest and organised a number of events including a number of nativity and passion plays as well as being a keen handbell ringer. Tom Clarke who was the next vicar in 1962 unfortunately died after being in Wharton only a very short time. He was followed by Walford Oliver also in 1962. During his time relations between the different denominations began to be developed. He was also actively involved in the redevelopment of the Princess Street area. John Higgins who came next in 1972 was vicar only for a couple of years before leaving to train as a social worker. The next vicar was John Minns who was here for ten years from 1974. Unfortunately his ministry was restricted by a number of periods of ill health. However, it was during his time that the present church hall was built. The present vicar is Tim Herbert. Since he came in 1985 much work has been done on the church and hall including redecorating, rewiring and carpeting throughout. At the same time the church has continued to grow slowly. Much has changed in Wharton Church over the last hundred and fifty years but even so the appointment of the vicars still remains the responsibility of the Rector of Davenham, recognising the historical origins of the Parish of Christ Church, Wharton.

Tim Herbert Vicar (1985 – 1993)

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