The Old Church




      No reference is made in Doomsday Book to the ancient church of St.Werberg but there is strong evidence that it existed in Saxon times. In the Arley records, William Boydele, "Priest of the mediety" in 1194, confirmed a gift made "to St.Werberg and her Chapel at Warburton". It is also extremely unlikely that any Norman founders would dedicate their church to a Saxon saint whose race was considered to be degraded and conquered. The compilers of the Great Book were not specifically required to mention churches in their survey although they generally did record such information.

      Early in the history of Cockersand Abbey, the White Canons of St Norbert established a cell or priory at Warburton in 1190 on lands granted by Adam de Dutton, from whom the Warburton family originate. Adam gave half of Warburton for this purpose, the other half or moiety was owned by the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem and, by deed dated 1187, Garnerus de Neapolis, Prior of St.John, granted this to Adam.

      The Charter granted by Adam records that with the consent of his wife Agnes "... he has given to God, St.Mary and St.Werberg - to whom the existing church of Warburton is dedicated - and to the Canons of the Premonstratensian Order here serving God, a moiety of the vill of Warburton in free alms, for the health of the soul and body of John, Constable of Chester (died 1190) and his ancestors, and for the health of the soul and body of Roger, Constable of Chester (died 1212) and his wife," who were evidently alive at the time.

      This small cell existed for a relatively short span of 80 years for in 1270 Abbot Roger surrendered "all gifts which Adam of Dutton made to us and our house of Cockersand, in Warburton" to his son Geoffrey de Dutton except for 8 oxgangs of land which Geoffrey confirmed to the Canons by Charter. In return, the Abbot undertook that either he or the Convent there (i.e. Warburton) would find a chaplain to minister to Adam's soul. However, in 1271, the Abbot and the Convent sold all their rights at Warburton including the advowson of the Chapel to Geoffrey de Dutton II for the sum of 80 marks.

       The reason for the Priory's return or recall to the mother house at Cockersand is not yet fully known but evidence suggests that, like other religious orders of that day, they grew lax in discipline and it is probable that the visiting Bishop considered it more desirable for them to return to the parent body than be exposed to the temptations of material benefits.

       St. Norbert, the founder of the Order, was born at Xanten c.1080 and died in 1134 at Magdeburg. He came from a noble Rhineland family and spent many years of his life as a courtier. His conversion was sudden and dramatic. In 1120 he and a young priest, Hugh of the Fosses, started a community of Canons regular in the valley of Premontre, near Laon. From a modest beginning it developed into the Premonstratensian Canons. Their way of life fell between that of monks and friars of the following century.

       No trace of the Priory buildings at Warburton remains, but a field adjoining the old Rectory is known as Abbey Field or Hey. Indeed they would have had little opportunity to build an abbey on any elaborate scale within the short time they remained. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that they acquired the ancient Saxon church for their use. The gift confirmed by Boydele in 1194 substantiated this since he was already "priest of the mediety". Further, it is known that John de Dutton, son of Adam, was buried in the church in 1190. In fact, Adam, in his deed of transfer of the mediety to the Premonstratensians, gives as one reason, "for the soul of my son John who lies buried there".

       The original church building was rectangular of wattle and daub* construction and thatched roof. It covered the area of the present nave. The oldest parts are the North wall and main pillars. Ormerod suggests this wall to have been part of the Norbertine Chapel (12th century). This is probably true since they acquired the church already extant. Authorities have, however, asserted that the pillars and North wall formed part of the Saxon church destroyed in their resistance against the Norman invaders.

      No systematic restoration has ever been made; each generation has added to, rather than altered, the work of previous generations and Newton aptly observes "is a monument to the inhabitants for 1,000 years".

      The extent of the present chancel in the first repairs of 1645 is not definitely known but probably an addition covering the area (without the sacrarium) was made at the time.

      Drinkwater, the family Bailiff of Warburton, in 1722 records: "the Church floor was flagged and beautified and gallery made by Arnold Drinkwater and others". Square holes in the pillars can still be seen where the supporting beams to the gallery were placed. On the South wall is a built-up doorway which gave access to the gallery stairs. The flagged floor was covered with rushes renewed each year at the Rush Bearing festival. This custom continued until 1813 when wooden floors to the pews were installed. The festival was led by Morris dancers. Apart from the annual entry in the church accounts "for 10/- for cutting and carting rushes to the church", the only remaining evidence of this happy day is the annual holiday known as Rush Bearing Week.

      In the same year (1813) the old vestry was opened into the church to form an extension to the small chancel and a new vestry added to the South side of the church tower. More than 230 was expended on repairs and alterations and this sum would have been increased had it not been for the fact that the actual work was undertaken by local labour. Oak and deal timber costing 68 was purchased at Liverpool by the churchwarden, John Lowe, and the local carpenter, Luke Winstanley, who had it transported by river barge to the quay in Poolacre Lane.

      There are many persons buried beneath the flagstone floor of the church, but the inscriptions or identifications have been erased by the passage of time and at the hands of workmen who, under the instructions of the incumbent of 1857, floored the sacrarium and chancel with fancy tiles.

      Five rectors are interred beneath the chancel floor: The Rev. Grimshey, 1699; John Yates and wife, 1732; Timothy Featherstonehough and wife, 1766, and two unidentified.

      The Rev.Grimshey is marked by a brass plate with the following inscription:









      Four Drinkwater graves are also in the aisle and chancel. A flat gravestone adjoining the Grimshey grave is that of the Rev. John Battison, curate-in-charge, who died in 1778, and his wife, who was a member of the Drinkwater family of Bent Farm. Several of the flags in the chancel floor are the shape and size of flat gravestones, but no inscriptions can be seen. No further interments took place in the chancel until the ashes of the Rev. G. Egerton-Warburton in 1925.

      In 1895 the church underwent considerable repairs. The pews of 1813 were removed because of woodworm infestation. The best selected were fitted in the North side of the nave and the little chancel, the South side being left open. The font was removed from the North side of the nave to the rear of the church, whilst the oak pillars encased in plaster in 1857 were cleared and restored to their original condition. The roof, however, remained under lath and plaster until 1867. At the same time a survey and record of the graveyard was undertaken. The graveyard was extended in 1903 by the inclusion of a portion of the Rectory gardens - a gift from the Rev. G. Egerton-Warburton - and enclosed by a wall, the cost of which was borne by the parishioners. There are a number of recent burials from Hollins Green, Rixton, etc., and this, incidentally, indicates the interim between the closure of Hollins Green churchyard in 1891 and the opening of the new cemetery.

      During recent repairs to the inside of the church an inquisitive Irishman engaged on the site returned to the church after his companions had left, for some purpose best known to himself. It appeared that whatever he sought culminated in his lifting-up of one of the gravestones in front of the Communion rail, to discover not coffins but (according to him) a passage which led down to the river. It would seem more likely that it was a vault into which he fell.

      A further tunnel discovery was recently made at Park Farm. Whilst draining and clearing a pond, an opening in the side of the bank was discovered which gave all the appearances of a tunnel. It was flanked and roofed with stone slabs and approximately 5 feet in height. There appears to be little connection between these two incidents, although it was claimed that the tunnel ran to the church. This is rather unlikely as it would necessarily have to pass through marsh land which is now below the river bed level. Possibly it served the purpose of a secret escape from the manor house to a point beyond the moat or was a sluice from the pond for drainage into the moat.

      The North and West walls of the church had painted upon them a number of texts and the Lord's Prayer but these have been obliterated by many coats of whitewash. Two distinct series have been traced, one upon the other with coats of whitewash between. The walls of the chancel were similarly decorated. In 1811, 10.7.8 was expended in "relettering the Commandments etc.," and 1.9.0. spent on liquor for workmen. In 1830, 12 was paid for whitewashing the church interior and two women were employed for 16 and a half days cleaning up afterwards.

      About the end of the 16th century, a lean-to aisle of sandstone was built on to the North side of the chancel as it was then. It was built by William Warburton, of Warburton Park, and became known as park pews. A little later, the other side of the chancel was extended and the little chancel and vestry were added. These were built partly of sandstone and the upper portion of brick similar to those used later in the church tower. A bricked up doorway to this vestry can be seen and is also recorded on the rough plan contained in Arnold Drinkwater's diary which shows a path from this door direct to the Rectory.

      In 1711, the tower was built and sacrarium added by funds provided by a mize or special rate levied on all householders. The rate varied from 1s.3d. to 3.2s.6d. each, according to their position or value of their holding.

      The belfry contains one bell weighing about six hundredweight cast in 1575. At equal intervals around the rim appears this date, the founder's initials, "R.B.", and six fleur-de-lis. Being much older than the tower, its presence may suggest an older tower or that the bell was purchased secondhand. So far no evidence has been found to support either case. The bell frame and wheel are both made of oak, but are now unsafe and the bell cannot be rung.

      The retaining wall on the South-East side of the churchyard was partly built in 1832 and completed in 1845. The great chestnut tree was planted in 1832. Prior to this, the churchyard sloped down to the green and was surrounded by a growing hedge. Arnold Drinkwater, in his records, made a plan showing the fence or hedge divided into lengths of from four to seven yards and each length assigned to a parishioner, who was held responsible for keeping this portion in a neat and good condition. William Warburton was allotted five yards on the East side and Charles Warburton four yards, both of whom appear on the pew seating plan also made by Drinkwater. The enclosure plan also denotes that there were four entrances to the churchyard. The main gate is in approximately the original position. A smaller gate leading to the Rectory grounds opposite the West door is indicated and two stiles - one on the South and the other on the North side.

      Warburton church was "free" and not subject to Episcopal jurisdiction. References to this is found in many old wills and documents expressing the wish "to be buried...in the free chappell at Warburton..." This accounts for an entry in the church register relating to Joshua Barnet, who is described as Curate of Warburton and buried there on June 24th, 1684, but he was in fact a non-conformist ejected from the living of Wrockwardine, Shropshire.

      In 1857, the Rev.Daniel Beaufort attempted to modernise the church. The sacrarium and chancel including the graves of several rectors were covered with fancy tiles. The ceiling of the chancel was painted to represent the sky, with sun, moon and stars, and the walls painted and stencilled. The pillars and ceiling were encased in plaster. The horizontal beam across the chancel front bore the words "This is the gate to heaven". The gallery was removed and the singers or choir were seated on either side of the chancel. The oak altar rails were moved to the nave end of the chancel, every alternate upright being cut out and used to continue the rail along the sides of the chancel. The remainder of the space was filled in with new uprights turned to match the originals. All the new wood was ordinary white wood. In 1869 an organ was installed. The whole of these alterations were undertaken without a faculty and cost 140, to which the parishioners subscribed only 33. This seems to indicate their dissatisfaction and his general unpopularity.

      The Rev.Beaufort must have inherited this enthusiasm for reform or modernisation from his grandfather, who more or less demolished his Irish country church and built a miniature pastiche of Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, in its place!

      In the year 1867 the roof of the nave was repaired, in the course of which the ceiling was stripped off and the old beams and rafters exposed. The oak pillars were left encased in plaster but were painted brown to match the beams. Mr. Rowland Eyles Egerton-Warburton, Squire of Arley and owner of Warburton, defrayed the greater portion of the cost of these repairs.

      In 1880 it was proposed that the church should be rebuilt but this was successfully rejected and in consequence a new and larger building was erected in Bent Lane at a cost of 9,000, borne by Mr. R. E. Egerton-Warburton from the revenue of shooting rights over the manor and specially accumulated by him for the purpose. With the dedication of the new church in 1885, the old church ceased its parish function and gracefully retired into mellow sleep amongst its trees and gravestones.

      But the outward tranquillity belied the unrestrained activities of the death watch beetles which were ravaging the beams and timbers until, 42 years later, in 1927, the whole structure was seriously threatened. The parishioners were thus faced with a grave situation involving the very fate of the building.

      There was, however, little doubt as to the outcome of their special meeting called to consider the problem, for the church throughout many generations had not only been an integral part of the village life but, in later years, was revered as a memorial to one of their most respected and loved rectors - the Rev. G. Egerton-Warburton, who in 1880, had saved it from extinction in the rebuilding scheme.

      A restoration fund was launched and soon 750 was raised. The task of restoration, without in any way destroying or detracting from its ancient and original setting, was achieved under the expert guidance of the Ancient Monuments Society.

      The Manchester City News, a provincial newspaper, also came to their aid and by the proceeds of a subscription fund made it possible to replace timbers with old oak purchased from Birch Hall, Rushholme, which at that time was being demolished. It is of interest to note that during the roof repairs it was found that an old pump had been used as a beam and cartshafts as rafters which, as Newton observed, is " an indication of either the thrift or poverty of the parish at the time they were put in".

      Thirty-one years later, the presence of the death watch beetle again became apparent and although minor repairs had previously been effected and paid for from parochial funds, it was obvious to the Rector, the Rev.Vernon Lester, that damage far more serious than realised was being done within the beams and timbers and threatened the collapse of the roof.

      The parochial church council therefore decided to obtain the expert advice of Dr. William A. Singleton, M.A., Ph.D., B.Arch., F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A., of Prestbury. His careful examination confirmed the Rector's suspicions and he estimated that some 2,000 would be required to meet the cost of the minimum work necessary for the preservation of the old building. This presented a formidable problem for, being a rural district with a small number of inhabitants and affected by the economic stringencies of the period, the income of the church was already taxed to the utmost to maintain the new church fabric.

      The church council were therefore faced with the severe decision of either raising this sum or watching their ancient and beloved church crumble into ruins on the very site where for at least 1,000 years the people of Warburton had worshipped.

      With typical resolution and faith in their undertaking, an appeal for 2,000 was launched, and within twelve months 1,400 had been raised. Of this sum, 350 was made by Messrs. James Thornley & Sons at the ancient mill, for which purpose the premises were turned into a fairground; 250 was granted by the Historic Church Preservation Trust; 24 taken in a collection following a recital of music in the new church by the Sale Music Society and the remaining 775 was raised by public subscription.

      Restoration work was commenced without delay and the worst-affected parts, mainly in the timbers over the chancel, successfully treated.

      The floorboards in the "little chancel", greatly damaged by dry rot, were replaced by stone flags. The wooden louvres in the tower were replaced by stone ones and the tower made safe. The whole interior received a coat of whitewash.

      The total cost of repairs incurred an expenditure of 1,300. The balance was therefore used in an endeavour to restore the churchyard and graves to a higher standard of care, and the construction of a car park outside the church gate.

      It is worth recording that the land used for the latter purpose was originally the last portion of glebe land and therefore, technically, the Rector is the owner of the car park!

      During the repairs to the floor of the small transept or "little chancel" several bones were unearthed and submitted for examination to Manchester University. They were declared to be those of a male buried about 1700. This would infer that either this burial took place just prior to the building of the transept or were the remains of an important person buried later beneath the floor. The bones were re-interred before the new flags were made.

      Among the fabric still in the old church is the Communion Table, originally an early Tudor oak dining table five feet four inches in length. The top framing is carved on all four sides. It was probably acquired during the first restoration of 1645. The brass candelabrum is of about the same period and of Flemish design. Originally it carried six candles, but three arms have been broken off.

      The font, octagonal in design and originally standing on a square base, was cut out of a massive piece of sandstone. On the side is inscribed "William Drinkwater the keeper 1603". Yet this date is some eight years later than 1595 which appears on the oak pinnacled font lid, which at one time was elaborately painted and gilded. Drinkwater's date, therefore, does not necessarily infer the year the font was made. In fact, in his diary, Arnold Drinkwater refers to a font cover being made in 1579. Because of vandalism the cover has been removed and is now preserved in the new church.

      The pulpit dates from 1600 and is the most ornamental piece of fabric in the church. Hexagonal in shape, its oaken sides are carved in conventional Elizabethan design, very similar to the panelling in Bent House, which Drinkwater built in 1600.

      Arnold Drinkwater in his diary records "1719 church chest made about this time - 1.6.6." In his official entries concerning church fabric he gives the cost as 4.6.8. However, it is very much older and his entry probably referred to the date of purchase. It is a massive oak construction, iron bound with three iron locks securing two lids. Three separate keys are required to open it and these were held by the priest, church warden and the treasurer and could be opened only when all three were present. This is now housed in the new church and contains many valuable records and volumes including a Charles I Prayer Book, the Town Meeting Books, The Baptismal, Burial and Marriage Records since 1648, handcuffs used by the town constable, and a prayer book, 1820, used in the old church. This is noteworthy in so far as in the Prayer for the Royal Sovereign the name of the monarch has been altered on three occasions by three successive incumbents. Attached to one of the pillars near to the site of the pulpit is a wrought iron hourglass stand for the use of the preacher when timing his sermon. Stag horns were also affixed for hats and cloaks.

      In the oaken door beneath the tower is a hole used by grave watchers when body snatching was a serious menace. The view from the spy hole covers the only part of the churchyard which cannot be observed from the windows. These human ghouls made full use of the stone steps which led down to the river bank at the West end of the churchyard.

      The East window was installed in 1857 by the Rev.Beaufort during his "modernisation" of the church. It is a crude piece of work made by Wailes of Newcastle at a cost of only 29. It is unusual since the "Resurrection" occupies the centre panel instead of the "Crucifixion" as is generally accepted.

      Two brass candlesticks once stood on either side of the Communion Table. These are now in use in the new church. They were acquired in 1841 by the Rev. George Herron during his travels in Spain.

      The sun dial to be seen on the South side of the churchyard was purchased in 1769 but, is dated 1765. Although the records show the cost of positioning as 1.15.10. no mention is made of the cost. It is curious that this ancient timepiece is now sited in the shade of a great yew tree and therefore useless. Perhaps it was moved from an open site to afford more burial space.

      The date stone 1645 over the built-up doorway which at one time led to the gallery was renewed in 1877 by Rowland Eyles Egerton-Warburton. He was well-known as the blind poet of Cheshire. On the South side of the nave is a brass tablet with the following inscription of his composition:


The date which a stone of this building bore

Till weathered by time and wind of heaven

Was graven above on the wall once more

One thousand eight hundred and seventy seven.

      There are several gravestones with curious inscriptions; one without a name or date, but judging from the lettering it would appear to be of the 17th century: "Here lies poor sister Phoebe 1773".

      The majority of the flat gravestones are of mid and latter 18th century and have engraved upon them a warning in rhyme to those who by chance or design read them. On the Battison grave in the chancel is an example:

In the cold earth and under feet as I

Who e'er thou art, thou reader soon must lie;

Then trust in Christ, all kind of evil shun

Nor fix thine heart on aught beneath the sun.

      In the graveyard is another on the grave of a girl who died in 1771:

All ye who come my grave to see

As I am now so you must be;

Prepare in time, make no delay

For I my youth was called away


      In older times the North side of a churchyard was regarded as outside the pale and many persons strongly objected to being buried there. The left side of the church looking towards the Communion Table was known as the devil's side and most old churchyards, therefore, have more graves on the South than the North.

      The earliest grave in the Warburton churchyard, according to Newton, is that of Margaret Leigh - 17th February, 1683 - but the wills and records so far searched indicate that burials took place long before that date and that there must be more gravestones yet to be uncovered.

      Ormerod, in his history of Cheshire, states that three stone coffins were found on August 9th, 1816, almost level with the surface of the ground and partly covered with grass. They were described as follows:

  1. Seven feet long upon which was carved a cross fleury with two

     branches at the side and head formed of four lozenges joined by stalks

     in the form of a cross.

  2. Eight feet long, rising to a ridge in the middle like a roof.

  3. Three feet long.

      These were covered up and no trace now remains except the stone coffin and slab stones in the church. This coffin was found in 1865 a few inches below ground. It is 7ft.3ins. in length rising to a ridge in the middle, and is the coffin described by Ormerod as 8ft. long. There is also a sepulchral slab 3ft. in length which might have been the lid of the 3ft. coffin. This slab has on it in relief the cross fleury etc., exactly as described by Ormerod on the 7ft. coffin. There is also a portion of a red sandstone slab showing part of an incised cross which may be part of the lid of the other coffin. All these are very old and probably contained the remains of the Abbots or Priors of the Norbertine Priory. They may also be the coffins of early Warburtons as there is recorded a John de Dutton being buried at Warburton in the 12th century. This would explain the presence of the small coffin.

      Warburton graves are referred to later.

      In this crowded graveyard there is also a yew tree more than 1,000 years old which undoubtedly provided bows for Cheshire archers at Crecy, Agincourt and the Wars of the Roses. At the battle of Blore Heath, the Cheshire bowmen wore the emblem of a white swan and fought for Queen Margaret. Their death toll was so great that Cheshire was in mourning for generations. Archers Field, situated opposite the old church, was the site of the practice field for the bowmen.

      Warburton men served on the Crusades and in the campaigns, for it is known that Geoffrey de Dutton fought under the Black Prince in France and Sir Peter Warburton also served in France in the Wars of Henry IV and Henry V.

      The pre-Reformation churches were not seated throughout and the sermon held a very minor place. In those days people just came and went as they desired, using what benches there were to rest upon, possibly after an arduous journey. But with the advent of long preachings following the Reformation, pews became a necessity particularly as absence from church was illegal. Naturally, this legal obligation increased the congregation and gave rise to increasing accommodation by building galleries such as that erected by Drinkwater and others in 1722.

      Drinkwater's pew plan shows a pew sited immediately behind that of the Clerk and marked "Wm. Warburton", whilst to the left are three pews indicating "This apartment belongs to Park - it being built by Mr Warburton..." Opposite, on the right of William's pew, is another marked "Park Pew built of the family of Mr W. of Partington".

      Two copies of the plan loaned by the late Miss Drinkwater show a different but significant prefix. One states "Mr. Warburton" whilst the other clearly shows "Wm. Warburton". Which of the two is correct is still in some doubt, but may have considerable bearing both on William's forebears and also Warburton Park. A further entry in his Land Valuation of Warburton in 1720 shows that he included those belonging to William (1693-1788) and added to William's list a note "This added to Park".

      In all probability the pew plan was prepared shortly after their erection. Many churches were fitted in this way in place of simple benches except for the chief landowners. The church assessments were levied on the houses and lands of the parish, and it became the practice to allot space for pews in respect of houses above, presumably, a labourer's shack and for the right to occupy the pew to pass with the freehold, leasehold or shorter period of tenancy. During this period they were often re-allotted as additional houses were built, usually only in the case of masters, some of whom provided pews for their servants. It was common also for pews to be erected for the occupiers of houses in different townships and labelled as such as indicated by "Mr. Warburton of Partington".

      The inference can be safely drawn that William Warburton and Mr. Warburton of Partington were separate individuals.

      Adjacent to the church and situated on the South West of it is the present Rectory.




*Wattle and daub was an old method of wall building in which twigs or sticks were secured between the upright frame pillars. A mixture of clay and straw was then pressed into the gaps followed by a coat or skimming of plaster to complete the wall.







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