History of St Mary's

History of the Anglican Chapel of St Mary’s

Before the present chapel, there have been two previous chapels, one some argue dating from the C12th, the second (given the amount of repairs and the dating of a painting of 1791), probably built in the C18th before the third and present building erected in 1867. 

The First Chapel at Whixall ?1100 to c1700

There is some evidence to suggest that the first chapel in Whixall existed in the reign of Henry 1 (1100-1135) - though the evidence is from a report of a lost document which had been 'very difficult to decipher'. Lands were conveyed in the reign of Edward 1 (1272-1307) to maintain a ministry at Whixall because Prees was too far to travel to. There was certainly a 'preste' provided for in 'Wycksayle' in the 1540-50s. An image of this early chapel appears on a map of Wem of 1641 which you can see above. In a national survey of 1655 the chapel was described as a 'verie antient faire Chappell, decently Adorned with wainscon Seates or pewes.' It was said to have served 'above 400 soules', 'the Word of God [being] constantly preached in the worst [of] these Disturbed times' (the survey was taken during the English Revolution, 1642-1660)! Remember that the chapel started off as a Catholic chapel, and ended up as Anglican!

The Second Chapel at Whixall, c1700 to 1866

Decay of the First Chapel The second chapel was probably built on the same site as the first. We don't know the exact date that it was built, but it will have been around c1700-1701 which was when a new graveyard was consecrated. It was not perhaps built to the highest standard since much money was spent as early as June 1723 when Prees vestry voted £10 'towards ye repaire of Whixall chapel'; in 1732 £100 was allowed ‘towards ye Reparing of Whixall Chapel.' Several other payments for repairs were made during the 1730s.

Growing the Second Chapel! 

The second chapel was constructed without north and south transepts as can be seen in a watercolour of 1791. Bagshaw’s Gazeteer of 1854 says that the chapel was 'enlarged and beautified' in 1826. These were the north and south transepts which created 'a plain unpresuming edifice of brick erected in the form of a cross...' The space in the transepts added 155 sittings to the 245 that already existed. Kelly's Directory (1856) described it as being 'a plain brick building, with nave, transept, chancel, wooden turret and one bell’. The bell had to be mended in 1856, and again on 5 November 1860 - this might be a clue to the possibility that the bell was rung on Guy Fawkes Night. We know that the second chapel had a clock as John Grosvenor was having to fix it in 1855, as well as clean and repair it in 1856, 1860, 1861; clock cords were still being bought as late as June 1866. Chapelwardens’ accounts show us that William Lewis received £13 for building 'a stone wall Rounde wixall Chapel', while William Rogers received £6 13s 10d for providing '2 iron gates & fenceing'. Decay of the Second Chapel: damp! 1846 was clearly a worrying year for the chapelwardens. They paid £47 13s 6.5d for '2 Cramps & 4 screw pins', suggesting that the chapel had suffered some serious structural damage. In May 1847, the chapelwardens noted that the interior was 'not free from damp'. It was noted that the roof was only 'partially provided with spouting' and there were 'no drains’. ‘They are much wanted.' <span style="font-size: 1rem;">Mr Pool was paid 3s 11d in 1856 'for draining pipes, Whixall'. 1861 saw John Heath do lots of small jobs, such as mending pews and pew floors, but his most costly work was 'at the Spouts'. Clearly it was the dampness of the site which caused the second chapel to be knocked down (see the next section on Chapel 3) and possibly accounts for the end of the first chapel. 

The second chapel was destroyed in order to provide for the foundations of the third chapel half a mile further north, the present St Mary’s. The remains of the second chapel were valued at £50. The time of the destruction may have been around November 1866 as a churchwardens’ voucher notes 3s 6d spent on 'Printed 50 Notices Breaking windowes'.

The Second Chapel and the Funeral Hearse 

Part of the second chapel was left standing, the remains of the north transept forming an outhouse for Whixall's funeral hearse. This may well have originated in the fact that the authorities left a portion of the Church standing originally 'for the performance of the Burial Service'. The transept acquired two new doors to allow the passage of the hearse. In order to house it the pews were pushed back against the Walls. Another hint of its previous life was the fact that you could see old hymn books on the floor. The Second Chapel: Aftermath (2) A thoughtful phone call to Shropshire Record Office on 6 August 1970 by Archdeacon Austerbury informed the archivists that the 'disused chapel at Whixall' had 'collapsed last night'. The archdeacon said that the area had 'become so over grown with trees and bushes that few local people knew it existed or that the inclosure was a burial ground'.

The Third Chapel 1867 - 

The third chapel was described in 1894 as 'of brick with stone columns and dressings, and consists of chancel with north vestry and organ chamber, nave and north aisle of four bays, and bell turret over the entrance to the chancel.' The style is described as 'late Early English'; its architect was the famous Victorian architect, G.E. Street. It is worth noting that despite the specific origins of Whixall's 3rd chapel, it was actually part of an Anglican building and rebuilding programme in the mid-nineteenth century.

The third chapel was built to celebrate the service of the local Archdeacon John Allen. The decision to build a new church seems to have been taken at an archdiaconal meeting of rural deans at Eccleshall in Nov 1862. Whixall Church was described as 'being in a condition the badness of which could scarcely be exceeded’. Some argued at the meeting that the 'decay and damp' made it 'quite unfit for the sacred purposes for which it was consecrated, and to have rendered the present building incapable of restoration'. In other words 'nothing short of a new church' would be enough - particularly as the existing site was 'extremely low and damp'. The Rev George L. Yate of Wrockwardine may have been the one who suggested both the building of the chapel and that it might be linked to 'a testimonial' to Archdeacon Allen. Yate intended it to be built in 'a plain but ecclesiastical style' for c£1,500. An appeal was made; by December 1862, they had raised £946 13s 0d with the Bishop of Lichfield providing £100 of this himself; the fund grew 'without any pressure' until they had as much as £1,400.

By April 1866, Whixall Church had been contracted for. 'The old materials' (i.e. the bricks from the second chapel) had been valued at £50. Rev John Evans laid the first brick in 1866. In October 1866 the walls of Whixall Church were said to be 'partly up' but that the stonemasons were giving 'much trouble' having gone to work on Cloverley Hall instead! By April of 1867, it was 'all but completed'; once the churchyard had been fenced, it would be ready for consecration. Bishop Lonsdale consecrated it on 12th of Sept 1867.

At a meeting of clergy and vestry in November 1877, celebrating Archdeacon Allen's 30th year as archdeacon, the Bishop of Lichfield said that 'as a practical proof of their sincerity, they should undertake the completion of the restoration of Whixall Church, a work which the Archdeacon had very much at heart', given that 'the interior had never been properly fitted up.' Allen preferred this to a portrait or other project. An appeal was made to both clergy and laity and £364 was raised - and this excluded the £100 which the Rev John Evans 'had generously given the church'. The Herald reported that £580 was at the disposal of the committee concerned. Naturally, Archdeacon Allen was very pleased and declared:

'The completion of the interior of Whixall Church, so that that fabric may be, in the best sense, comfortable for the worshippers, is to me a most acceptable form of the expression of your kindness. I trust that your loving purpose may be so blessed as to be an effectual help to the prayers and the holiness of the parishioners of Whixall.'

It was some time before the work was underway. We have an original piece of the flooring which gives us a date: 'This floor was laid by W. Felton & W. Evans from Mr Prices Coleham Building Yard, Shrewsbury, June 8th '78'. And this was just the date of the flooring – the pews and lighting needed to be added. Certainly, when in 1887 there was an evensong, it was noted that because 'evening services are not the rule', 'lamps as yet have not been provided'. In fact, one of the concerns behind the building of the Church was to ensure that it was not built with pews 'owned' by parishioners. The present pews have never been ‘owned’ in this way, with the rich at the front and the poorer at the back!

The church has a variety of interesting of features.

Addenbrooke's Six Engavings

We presently have three engravings hanging in the nave of the church. These were bought for the church by J.J. Addenbrooke in July 1900.

Originally, there were six reproduction Dore prints. They illustrate incidents connected with the life of the Lord. Addenbrooke promised to give a series of sermons bearing on the events so illustrated.

The three still hanging in the Church are called:

• The Vale of Tears

• Christ Entering Jerusalem

• Christ Leaving the Praetorium

The Painting after Caravaggio.

One Maureen Fletcher from the Ironbridge Museum inspected the picture & informed the Rector that it could be 17th century & estimated that it would cost £400-£600 to repair damage so revealing its importance.

The Old Altar Table

In May 1970, the Rev R.E. Williams observed that the old table was believed to have come from the Second Chapel.

The ‘Old Font’

The ‘Old Font’ was described as such when it was sold by the chapelwardens to a ‘Mister Haris’ for just 5 shillings in 1852 or 1853! It has come back to the church; this seventeenth century font would have come from the first chapel.

The Third Chapel, the Organ, the bellows and the Graffiti

The Organ

We no longer have a ‘church band’ that plays each week for services. Music in the chapel is now accompanied by an organ. The school closed on the 16 November 1900 'as the Organ in the Church is to be opened on that date by the Bishop of Shrewsbury, and a tea is to be held in the Schoolroom.'

The Bellows

Originally, the bellows had to be pumped. The addition of electricity was a source of great relief to the bellow-pumpers – and to the organists who were not always sure that the there was going to be enough puff in the pipes! Thus a box inside the organ chamber entitled B.O.B Derby, represents the electrification of the organ. It was installed by Charles Whiteley & Co. (Organ Builders Chester, Victoria Organ Works, Crane Bank, Chester), in April 1959.

The organ and graffiti!

Graffiti: Names of ‘Blowers’

A variety of names appear – John Bishop, D. Duck (!), Leonard Heath (between 1928 and 1930), D. Heath (7.4.41), William Gregory, E. Gregory, M. Bishop (1952), D. Black (17 June 1928), A. Heath. These are likely to have been ‘blowers’ - G. Thomas specifically says that he ‘blowed’.

Graffiti: Pictures

There are a number of pictures – several outlines of hands, several gentlemen, a man on a bicycle, a man on a horse, a man with a cap, a man with a hat to name but a few.

Graffiti: Messages

There are two very contrasting messages. One affectionate message reads:

‘Freada Astley, Phillis Tomlinson are idiots’.

Rather more exciting is this:

‘Arthur Lyman 6 July 1919 Peace Celebrations’

The Church as a centre of Social and Religious Activity

One new Drama Group at St Mary’s was described by the PCC in April 1970 as ‘going well – it is for all ages & for both parishes [it included Edstaston]. It is hoped to present the first one-act play at the Garden Fete in the summer’. In the 1990s a new Drama Group was established and ran for over a decade. Previously Brownies had been established in 1986. 1986 sees a Church Flower Festival from which the 'spin off' had been the formation of the History Group. The History Group produced a book on local history and in particular to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St Mary’s Church.

Vestry meetings in 1935 recorded in the Whitchurch Herald, noted that the Sunday School had grown, now 59 scholars. The annual party was held on 24 January 1947, where they were entertained by Professor Dustini of Wem. Rev Schottelvig distributed gifts from a Christmas tree to the children. Sunday School scholars presented the Story of Bethlehem 'to a crowded congregation at the Parish Church.' Schottelvig directed the performance, while the costumes had been made (predictably enough!) 'by the ladies of the church', while Mrs R.W. Bishop played the organ. The June 1947 fete made money that was going to be put to the Sunday School outing to Rhyl. There have been various Sunday schools at St Mary’s; within the last few years an attempt to expand its numbers found its way both into local press and on to television. Very recently an afterschool was group was established by the church at the local school and this draws the children into church and has established connections such as Christingle services.

The Third Chapel and the Choir

The third chapel also had a choir. One group was led by the curate, the Rev W. Waldren, in 1887. Waldren actually composed an anthem 'The earth is the lord's' consisting of a chorus and solo for the afternoon service, and had trained the choir for a fully choral evensong where the responses were sung to Tallis and others. It was 'a bright and hearty service'

The choir sang ‘Oh, give thanks’ by Semper at the harvest festival of 1912, with a quartet of Mrs Roberts, Miss Preston, Mr John Preston and Mr Elias Preston. One choir book remains, 'Church Hymns with Tunes' edited by Sir Arthur Sullivan, published in 1905. It was in Whixall by 1911 and used by J. G. Allmark; in 1912, it was used by G. Edge.

The choir played an important role at special services. Thus in 1914, the choir sang at the funeral of Mrs Elizabeth Dawson, the widow of John Dawson, the churchwarden who has a plaque in his honour. She was the one who donated our marvellous lectern to his memory. St Mary's Choir, in surplice, led Addenbrooke's funeral cortege from his vicarage in the autumn of 1934. In October 1947, they sang at the harvest services with the Bishop of Shrewsbury preaching; they sang the anthem 'Let everything Praise the Lord' and the solo was taken by Mr Lus Preston.

The choir was maintained by voluntary funds – and became quite a social institution. In 1900, a dance on the Vicarage Lawn led by Whixall Brass Band (as it was then called) started at 7.30 and went on to nearly midnight - all the proceeds were for the choir's trip to Barmouth. By 1914, the Whitchurch Herald was claiming that the 'choir trip dance on the Vicarage Lawn in the month of June' had become 'an established annual event'. Whixall Silver Band played till midnight. In 1947 the choir went to Blackpool, returning home at midnight.

Community events included 'rites of passage'. The way in which funerals are reported in the Whitchurch Herald reflects the declining significance of the burial as a unifier within the community - though in our period, they were clearly important, with nonconformist and Anglican alike attending in great numbers. Two excellent examples are those of Mrs John Dawson which brought together both the Rev Addenbrooke and the Rev T.N. Oliphant - Anglican and Nonconformist, and that of the Rev. Addenbrooke. By the turn of the century, the parish had an impressive hearse, supported by a Parish Hearse Fund and Hearse Committee. Burials were taken very seriously in Whixall.

Ministers could help build community spirit. The Rev John Evans gave himself plenty of time, serving in Whixall, 1845-1887. He started well for in 1846 his parishioners quickly ensured that the pulpit and the desk at the chapel were hung with a new 'velvet Cusion and A Cover'. He gave the land and £100 for the building of the third chapel. He provided the site for, and almost half of the cost of, the National School. A vicar poet, he wrote poems about his parishioners - as well as one 'Written for the Children of the National School', a kindly warning about being beastly to 'the little birds that chirp and sing' - but enough of that! Evans acted at the heart of the community. Chairman of the celebrations for Victoria's Silver Jubilee, he headed the procession on the day and was given 'hearty cheers'; in 1887, he was said to be 'untiring in his energies both for the spiritual and temporal welfare of his people.' The Whitchurch Herald obituary said Evans was 'esteemed alike by Nonconformists and Churchmen.' The Rev J.J. Addenbrooke, was a significant figure at Whixall - and ultimately a unifying one. In 1900, having been in Whixall 11 years, he admitted in the intimacy of a Rural Deanery meeting that it was 'difficult and almost impossible to get a real hold on the people, until they had been visited in sickness'. So in terms of pastoral visits, 'Church people should certainly have preference over those who are hostile or indifferent.' Such a group would have included 'dissenters'. Yet Addenbrooke went on to win the affection of the community. His Herald obituary noted that he played an 'active part in many local activities' and so 'won the affection of all classes of the community.' Consequently, 'Practically the whole of the parishioners were present at the funeral...' He was a member of Whixall Parish Council, Chairman of Whixall Nursing Association and the National School; a supporter of Coton Cricket Club and Whixall Horticultural Society. But he appealed not only to all classes, but also all denominations. This was true even in death - for he expressly wished that representatives of the different denominations should act as coffin bearers.

Thus the Rev Evans gave a sermon at the anniversary of the local Oddfellows Lodge held at the Pheasant Inn - where, in the evening,, 'the company went on the Green and kept up the dancing merrily until the shades of evening set in.' The Addenbrooke family were a party to the Whixall Annual Invitation ball in February 1898 - when the dancing went on to 3 am. There was some debate over the provision of beer at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 - the funds raised were not to be used to buy any - clear Church influence here. Just as Evans, minister of Whixall before him, Vicar Addenbrooke was appointed chairman. Importantly, in terms of representing the whole community, Ainsworth, Parish Council chairman and a Methodist, was made secretary. The celebration carried this a stage further. It began with a 'united service' in church. The Congregational Minister, Holt, read the lessons while the Vicar, Addenbrooke preached the sermon. Addenbrooke made a point of noting 'the good work accomplished by Nonconformists.' The procession then went significantly to the areas in Whixall with key Methodist chapels - Welsh End and Hollinwood. A 1000 persons sat down to tea. This was roughly equivalent to the population of Whixall. Nonconformist and Anglican alike celebrated the Queen's jubilee - and they did so together. This sense of community was heard again at the Oddfellows anniversary celebrations of the same year - where 'Ministers of all denominations' were toasted. The Vicar Revd David Baldwin was involved in outreach by being part of the Drama Group in the 1990s.