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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly St Thomas' Church
I was stuck in a traffic jam in an unfamiliar part of town. Feeling anxious because I was late for an appointment, I decided to take a detour. This took me down a road I’d never driven down before. I happened to glance down a side street of old terraced houses and spotted a grand piece of architecture fronted by a row of imposing neo-classical style columns. It seemed so out of character for the area. Curiosity got the better of me and I had to find out more. I made a mental note to revisit.
Fast forward a few days and my mum had listened to my trial podcast Pull Up A Chair. This seemed to pique her interest in my photowalks. I felt sure she’d enjoy coming with me to explore a town she’d lived in for 50+ years - perhaps I may even glean ‘insider’ snippets of information from her. Secretly I felt a little smug that I was about to introduce her to a beautiful location unknown to her until now! The beauty of St Thomas' Church awaited us.
I took some photos from outside the church gates. The columns would've formed part of a grand entrance. At the time the church was built it stood in a prominent position on the main route from London right up to Carlisle the north of the England. As new roads were built to accommodate increasing volumes of traffic the church was bypassed and became hidden away and possibly forgotten by many. It no longer stood in a dominant position. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a wall of ugly graffiti. It shocked me that someone would do this to a church - a total lack of respect.
Momentarily I was distracted by the old stone steps. I imagined the thousands of worshipers who'd trodden up and down this stairway over the last couple of centuries.
The entrance to the church was grubby and unwelcoming. I felt uneasy. Not the sort of place you'd hang around for too long. A passer by stopped beside me. I often notice that a camera in hand has this effect. People seem to like to chat - to add their ’two- penneth worth’ as we say around here. The proud working-class folk of Stockport are generally a friendly bunch. He told me that as night closed in the church grounds became a haven for drug addicts and to look out for discarded dirty needles. Sometimes they were also present during the day too but it was comforting to me that the gardeners were here today and so likely that the druggies would stay away.
My journey to rediscover Stockport had a shaky start. This post has troubled me. Part of me didn’t want to publish this side of my home town of Stockport. But then I thought I want to be honest and the reality is that whether we like to admit it or not, all towns, I’m sure, are troubled with similar problems to one degree or another. It's just ... well I didn't expect to find it in the doorway of the church. As I glanced up I saw someone looking down on me.
The building is certainly worthy of further exploration. It's tells a story of great historical significance and one I'd never heard before.
The church was consecrated in 1825 and is still in use today. Interestingly it's known as a Waterloo Church and was one of a hundred built with funds from the government as a thanksgiving for victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It's Grade 1 listed by English Heritage and considered to be a building of national importance.
The church doors were locked so I could only imagine the beauty of the stained glass viewed from inside.
There's an ongoing restoration fund to repair the building back to former glory. The building has been placed on English Heritage's register of buildings 'At Risk".
I spotted the stonemason's mark on the weathered stone by the foundations.
My mum, I noticed, was particularly moved by the rows and rows of gravestones which were full of babies and young children - a sad reflection of infant mortality in the 1800s.
Ornate stonework lies crumbling. The engrained dirt is a reminder of the smoke which would've constantly hung in the air in this mill town.
In recent years the local council has inspected the old gravestones in the churchyards and marked those considered to be a danger. I wondered about this one - it must've suffered a hefty blow of some kind - I hoped not an act of deliberate vandalism which is not unknown around these parts.
From the entrance and in the distance I spotted a reminder of the the past when Stockport was a significant player during the Industrial Revolution. During these times the town was crammed with textile mills. In particular it was known for hat-making and some of my ancestors were hatters. In 1844 Friedrich Engels described Stockport as being "renowned as one of the duskiest, smokiest holes in the whole of the industrial area" . Although many of the old mills have been demolished over the years, there are still many to see - this is high on my list of places to explore further.
I hope you enjoyed my still around St Thomas' Church. My thoughts are that it's hidden gem of rich historical significance and very worthy of a visit. I've asked around and I've not come across anybody who knows that it stands here even though it lies just a short walk from the town centre. I'm happy that English Heritage is keeping an eye on it. I hope it serves the local community for many years to come.
Kelly L McKenzie(non-registered)
As a port city, Vancouver has a huge problem. One minute you're wandering through some high end shops and then you round a corner and find folks lining up for a free meal. It's deeply entrenched here and a side that the tourism people would like to keep quiet. When I was little my parents would drive us around the area of "skid row" on Christmas mornings so that we could see that not everyone had everything.
Once again, you've touched me with your incredible photos. I hope you and your mom are able to get out for another trip together soon.
Fascinating Helen, I have never heard of Waterloo churches. I think that most towns have a drug problem a sign of the times. It doesn't excuse it but I can't help but think that more outreach programmes are needed. We have a park in Taunton that regularly has to be cleared of needles and other paraphernalia and it's right next to a primary school...
Awesome place. Full of rich details and decay. I hate graffiti. Some vandals recently did some on the mausoleums in the big cemetery in the city. I just think, how disgraceful. No respect was ever taught to those individuals.
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