Heritage Guide to St. Thomas’ Church

Our heritage guide lists some of the interesting features of the Grade 2 listed building of St. Thomas’ Church,  built in 1868 by the Lancaster architectural partnership of Paley and Austin.  Christians believe that the ‘church’ is made up of people; not stone, wood and building materials.  However, this is a place where God can be found and worshipped.  Week by week the faithful meet in church to pray for the world and to share the Good News of Jesus.  We hope that as our visitors look around they will find peace, and be led to look beyond the beauty of the physical place to the creator of the world who loves us, and to whose glory it was built. We are grateful for the support of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in the form of a Culture Recovery Fund grant during the COVID 19 pandemic which helped with the funding of our hard copy heritage guides in church and our Children’s Ladybird Trail, and offer this online version of our heritage guide for anyone who cannot visit us in person.

The Font

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2 : 38

At Baptism we begin our spiritual journey which is why the font is usually quite close to the door of a church.  In Baptism we are cleansed of our sins and become one with Jesus in his death and resurrection.  In the Church of England this often takes place when someone is an infant but people of any age can be baptised. 

The original stone font was given in 1868 by E G Paley, architect of the church, and Gilbert Greenall, its first patron.  

The Baptistry window depicts four scenes: Moses saves the people of Israel through the Red Sea, Jesus blesses the children, Jesus is presented in the Temple, Jesus is baptised by John in the River Jordan.  The inscription reads, “To the glory of God, and in memory of William Arthur Ingram Hayes, born Dec 6th 1852, died June 30th 1853.”   William’s father, the Revd William Hayes, was vicar of the parish from 1852 to 1875. During this time the original church was demolished and the present one built.

The Churchwardens’ Pew

The office of churchwarden dates back to the Middle Ages. Then as now they were the Bishop’s officers in the parish, his eyes and ears. At each end of the pew are the churchwarden’s staffs, symbols of the power they once held as Civil and Church Officers.  This pew is the only one specially reserved in the church today. 

The West Window

The glorious West window (the west wall is the rear wall of the Church) was created by Heaton, Butler and Bayne.  It depicts scenes from the life of Jesus: The Adoration of the Magi, Jesus with the priests in the Temple, the commissioning of Peter and Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  The inscription reads, “The gift of Gilbert Greenall, John, William and Peter Whitley, 1868.”

Clear Windows on the North Wall

Although the church is rich in stained glass, the windows on the North wall are clear because it was originally planned that the church should have a North aisle: arches would have replaced the windows. However there were no funds available and the North aisle was never built.

The Pulpit

“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.”  2 Corinthians 4 : 5

The preaching of the Gospel has from the early church until now been the way in which Christian faith has been proclaimed and explained.  Being a Christian is a journey of faith where we are learning all the time more about God’s love for us and how to be followers of Christ, applying the teaching of the Bible to our daily lives.

The pulpit dates from 1868 and is situated at the entrance to an original transept which was known as the Greenall Chapel, where the patron Gilbert Greenall and his family sat for services.  They had a private door in the north wall of the Chapel to enter the church for services.  In the 1950s the pews were removed and it was screened off to provide a Choir vestry. 

The window in the choir vestry depicts the Transfiguration, and its inscription reads, “The gift of Gilbert Greenall of Walton Hall.”

The Chancel and Sanctuary

“Be filled with the Spirit,as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts,giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Ephesians 5 : 18 – 20

Worship of God almost always involves singing his praises.  The Bible tells us that in heaven the angels are forever singing before the throne of grace.  We, God’s children on earth, join with them in praising God’s holy name.

The organ was built in 1880 by Alexander Young and refurbished in 1963. 

The wooden chancel screens were designed by William & Segar Owen, architects of Warrington.  They commemorate and name those who lost their lives in the First World War, known at the time as the Great War.

When the church was originally built in 1867, there were only sufficient funds for basic work in the chancel.  However at the death of the first vicar of the present building (Rev William Hayes died in September 1875 after twenty three years of ministry), plans were in hand to make a lasting tribute to him.  A meeting was called by John Whitley and James Tinsley, the churchwardens, to consider the form of such a memorial. It was agreed to begin a fund to erect a reredos (the frame for the altar affixed to the East wall) in the chancel. This had been the desire of Rev Hayes, who had already obtained a design by Mr R Reynolds Rowe F.S.A. the Ely Diocesan Surveyor, chosen from several submitted. At the same time, through the generosity of John and Peter Whitley, the walls and roof of the chancel were decorated and a new organ installed.

A committee consisting of Sir Gilbert Greenall, Bart. M.P., Rev R Greenall (Vicar), Rev T S Toft (Curate), Messrs. John Whitley, James Tinsley, Peter Whitley, James Crossley, Alderman James Hepherd, Robert Davies, WF Lane and others was formed.  Mr Tinsley was Treasurer and Mr Grindrod (schoolmaster) the secretary.

The original white brick lining of the chancel was removed and the north and south walls were relined with Ancaster stone to form a frame for the richly coloured Majolica panels. The communion rail steps are Dark Pennant, a carboniferous limestone quarried near Bristol. The altar rests on a platform of polished dark Devonshire marble. The shelf above the altar is a magnificent block, taken from the Plymouth breakwater, with five polished agates of “unusual size” from Frankfurt on Main along the edge.  This symbolises the Church as a ‘breakwater’ from the cares of life, while the agates represent the five wounds of Christ.

The Reredos is in polished Derbyshire alabaster, with 14 inset Majolica tiles showing: sacred symbols of Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet); Chi Ro (the first letters of ‘Christ’ in Greek); the Star of David (as Jesus is known as the ‘Son of David’ in the Bible); a winged ox, an eagle, a winged man and a winged lion (symbols of the Gospel writers St Luke, St. John, St. Matthew and St. Mark); a Dove representing the Holy Spirit; the Lamb of God representing Jesus; the five wounds of Christ; the Pelican feeding her young from herself (a symbol of Jesus shedding his blood for us); IHS intertwined (standing for “ISEUS Hominum Salvator” or “Jesus,  Saviour of Mankind”); a cross with four crowns for Jesus Christ, King of Kings.

In the centre of the reredos is a white Latin cross on three steps, in polished Mexican onyx, with red cornelians set on the arms. It stands against a background of polished black marble and is surmounted by a canopy of green and red polished serpentine from Cornwall.

Over the reredos is a string course of polished Plymouth marble, which forms the inner sill of the East window.

The marble, alabaster and stonework in the chancel area was set by Mr Ricket of Little Abingdon Cambridgeshire.  All the Majolica tiles were made and fixed by Minton, Hollins and Company of Stoke on Trent.

The Altar

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” I Corinthians 11 : 23 – 26

The altar is at the centre of our worship, so is positioned at the focal point of the building.  It reminds us of the table at which Jesus sat with his disciples and shared the Last Supper.  Jesus tells us to do this in remembrance of Him until he comes, so every week we meet at the altar and share bread and wine to be spiritually fed and reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross and his glorious resurrection victory over sin and death.

The East Window

The East window is by Clayton and Bell and depicts the events of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus: the betrayal of Jesus by Judas; the agony in the garden; the trial before Pilate; meeting the women of Jerusalem; the Crucifixion; Jesus’ removal from the cross; the laying of Jesus’ body in the tomb; the women being told of the empty tomb and the Resurrection; a vision of angels.  The inscription reads, “To the Glory of God. A gift of Susannah, wife of Gilbert Greenall of Walton Hall, 1868”.

On either side of the window is a panel of Majolica tiles showing wheat and grapes, symbols of the Eucharist.  Above the panels, also in tiles, is the word “ALLELUIA”, expressing the response of the people. The rest of the wall is finished in polished Parian cement, now painted blue with a pattern of stars: originally it was painted with the words of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.

The credence table on the left of the altar is of polished pink marble from St Marychurch Torquay, resting on a shaft of dark Plymouth marble.

On the south wall between two windows is a three quarter length figure of St Thomas, the patron saint of our church.  Known sometimes as ‘Doubting Thomas’, the fact that most people know about him is that he asked to see proof of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He was later a missionary, spreading the Christian message to many parts of the world including India.  He is regarded by Indian Christians as the patron saint of India and is also the patron saint of architects, builders and stonemasons.  Thomas was martyred at Myalapore, Chennai –  the spear in his hand in the picture is a symbol of his martyrdom.

The south chancel windows are both by Clayton and Bell. The left window shows Martha and Mary with Jesus, and Mary anointing the feet of Jesus.

The right window shows the women at the tomb on Easter morning and the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden.  The inscription on both windows reads, “To the glory of God, the gift of Emily Ford, 1868”.  Emily was the sister of Eleanor, wife of the Revd. William Hayes.

The Chancel ceiling

The bays of the ceiling are decorated with painted figures symbolising the majesty of Christ. The Rose of Sharon and tendrils of the vine and passion flowers are interspersed with the Greek names of Christ surmounted by golden crowns.  The panels on the outside are painted Cerulean Blue with mirrored stars of gold. The six middle panels are painted with figures of angels, some carrying censers to represent the verses from the “Te Deum” inscribed beneath, “To thee all angels cry aloud and Seraphim and Cherubim do cry”.  The decorative painting was done by Messrs Chandley of Warrington, while the figures are the work of Miss Mary Farren of Cambridge.  The faces represent churchwomen of the time and are on the north side: Laura Hancock, trumpet;  Kate Thackery, harp;  Caroline Waters, censer and on the south side : Molly Wyne Jones, sister of R I Jones, a director of the brewery, trumpet; Elizabeth Tofts, sister of the then curate and later vicar, T S Tofts, violin; and Mary Farren, the artist, censer.

Other references to individuals can be seen on the Bishop’s chair, next to the credence table, where the arms have figures of St Edith on the left, for Edith Greenall, daughter of the then vicar Revd R Greenall; and St Lucy on the right, for Miss Lucy Whitley, daughter of Mr John Whitley, partner at the brewery and churchwarden.

The chancel and sanctuary were dedicated and brought into use on Easter Day, 21 April 1878.

The Eagle Lectern

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119 : 105

Sunday by Sunday the Word of God is read from the lectern during our services.

Lecterns are traditionally in the shape of an eagle.  There are various explanations for this, ranging from the eagle symbolising St. John the gospel writer, to Christ as ‘the Word of God’ at the beginning of his Gospel. The flying eagle is thus a suitable emblem from which God’s word is read, reaching (we hope) the ends of the earth. The eagle is also thought of as the bird which flies nearest to heaven. 

The Lady Chapel

“Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ “

Luke 1 :  46 – 47

The Lady Chapel is so named after Mary the mother of Jesus, often referred to as Our Lady.  It was formerly known as the Memorial Chapel to serve as a permanent memorial to those of the parish who had lost their lives in the Second World War, just as the chancel screen commemorates the dead of the First World War.  An appeal was launched, however due to the fact that substantial changes to the church furnishings were to be made, it was 1951 before permission was obtained for the work to go ahead.

The screen and fittings were made by Gillam of Sheffield.

The chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester on October 12th 1952, coincidentally, on  the 114th anniversary of the consecration of the first church of St Thomas.

On the exterior of the wooden screen are carved badges and coats of arms on the top panel.  From the lectern they are:-

The arms of the Counties of Cheshire and Lancashire, as different parts of the parish have historical links to both.

The arms of Sir Gilbert Greenall, who was one of the first churchwardens.  He was the patron, with the right of appointing the vicar for most of the 19th century.

The arms of Lord Daresbury the head of the Greenall family, whose eventual heir is the current patron.

The badges of the Mothers’ Union, Girls’ Friendly Society and Church Lads’ Brigade.

The arms of the Royal School of Church Music and those of the National Society, representing the efforts made in the early 19th century to provide schools for the poor.

Inside the chapel are carved:

The symbols of St Thomas: at the top of the screens are a set square and spear representing his trade and the manner of his death.

St Werburgh, the original patron saint of Chester Abbey (now the Cathedral). Her shrine can still be seen in the Cathedral.

The arms of the Diocese of Chester founded in 1541 by Henry VIII. It originally stretched from south Cheshire to the Lake District. Today it consists of the old county of Cheshire with the River Mersey as its boundary. As a result of this the majority of Warrington has always been in the Diocese of Liverpool. Stockton Heath has always been in the Diocese of Chester.

The arms of the Diocese of Lichfield. Prior to 1541 Cheshire was part of the huge midland diocese, whose cathedral was sometimes at St John’s Chester and at other times Coventry, eventually settling at Lichfield.

The arms of the Archdiocese of York.  Chester diocese is in the Province of York and under the direction of the Archbishop of York: also the arms of the Archdiocese of Canterbury.

The badges of the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy.

At the left of the altar you will notice a wooden case: inside is The Book of Remembrance listing all those from the parish who died in the Second World War.

Over the altar the East window depicts the Wise and Foolish Virgins.  The inscription below the window reads:-  “In affectionate remembrance of Edward Gaskell, who died April 17th 1849, and Rebecca his wife who died April 10th 1866”.  Their elder daughter, Agnes, married Robert Davies, who was born in Warrington on October 10th 1826, educated at Boteler School and founded the solicitors, Robert Davies & Co. He held the position of churchwarden at St Thomas’ for many years.

The window in the South wall of the chapel depicts John the Baptist calling the people to repentance and Paul preaching at Angora in Athens. The inscription reads:- “Ricardus Greenall, Archidiaconus Cestrensis, Obit 1867”.  Translation  reads:-  “Richard Greenall, Archdeacon of Chester.  Died 1867”.

Archdeacon Greenall was the twin brother of Gilbert Greenall of Walton Hall. Though well known as a brewing family, they were less well known as an ecclesiastical family. Richard served at Stretton, and his two sons at Grappenhall (Thomas) and Christ Church Latchford and Stockton Heath (Richard).

The South Aisle Quiet Area

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4 : 6 – 7

Prayer is a conversation with God where we communicate our innermost thoughts and desires, and God replies to us in the quietness of our hearts.

In the area next to the Lady Chapel which is dedicated for private prayers and the lighting of candles, there is a Book of Remembrance for the departed of the parish.

There are two windows in the wall of this South aisle.  The first shows Jesus blessing the children.  The inscription reads:-  “To the glory of God and the memory of Horace Goad Crosfield, the beloved son of John and Eliza Crosfield, born January 27th 1874 and died September 27th 1880”.

The Crosfields were another industrial family who lived locally. John was the youngest son of Joseph, founder of the soap making family.  Born a Quaker, John regularly worshipped at St Thomas’ but still constantly expressed the Quaker philosophy. Despite this the family graves can be found in the churchyard; two sisters, a daughter, his son, Horace, his first wife, Eliza and John himself.

The second window depicts the Annunciation.  The inscription reads:- “This window, the gift of parishioners and friends of Robert Davies of Birchdale, who died February 24th 1902 and Agnes his wife who died July 19th 1900”.

The Tower and Bells

“Praise him with resounding cymbals.  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Psalm 150 : 5 – 6

Our bells ring out to call people to worship and to proclaim that we are here in the midst of our community, a fellowship praising our Lord God.

The tower’s entrance and steps are situated outside the building: this is because when the church was built there were no funds for a tower. In fact it was some ten years before it was built.

105 steps lead to a splendid roof-top view, but it is only open by special appointment.

The church has been fortunate to have a ring of eight bells donated to us from St. John the Baptist Church Bollington on its closing.  A further two bells have been donated as a memorial to the wife of Ashley Pugh.

The original bell from the old St Thomas’ School cast in 1826 and re-cast in 1937 is still chimed before services.

With the help of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Chester Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, and donations of time as well as money from many others we have been able to have the tower strengthened and repointed, and now our bells ring out for weddings and Sunday services.

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