|St. Mary's, Thornton-le-Moors, 2001
Grid Ref. SJ 442 746. Date: 9 June 2001
|St. Lawrence, Stoak, 2004
Grid Ref: SJ 424 734. Date: 18 June 2004
St. Mary's is about 1 mile to the south of the Manchester Ship Canal and just south of the Stanlow refinery. When I visited, in June 2001 it was locked and both the churchyard and path were overgrown. The site is mentioned in Domesday as Torentune, where there was said to be a church and a priest. A fragment of an inscribed Anglo-Saxon cross, dating from the 10th or early 11th century was found in church in 1982. (Victoria County History, Vol. 1.)
Raymond Richards relates that the church was formerly known as St. Helen's and occupies the site of a former Saxon chapel. It is built of the red Cheshire sandstone which is characteristic of the region. The current church dates mainly from the 14th and 16th centuries. The 16th century tower was partly destroyed by fire in 1909 and rebuilt in 1910. Prior to 1861 the church served the the townships of Thornton-le-Moors, Elton, Hapsford, Dunham Hill and Wimbolds Trafford. In 1861 a church was built at Dunham Hill and in 1891 Dunham Hill and Hapsford became a separate parish. The Victorian "restoration" of 1878 is now seen as, like so many others of the period, to be unsympathetic. At that time, all the roofs except the chancel were replaced by pitch pine but the oak hammer-beam roof of the chancel remains. There are monuments in the church relating to the families of Bunbury, Cottingham, Gerard and Harwood.
While St. Mary's at Thornton-le-Moors finds itself now very close to the Stanlow refinery, St. Laurence at Stoak, near the river Gowy, is now besieged on the south and west by the M56 and M53 and on the east by the Shropshire Union Canal and the River Gowy. Stoak is about 1.5 miles SW of Thornton Le Moors a mile SE of Little Stanney and four miles north of Chester. Richards notes that the current church was largely rebuilt in 1827 with further renovation in 1811-12. He quotes Ormerod as stating that in the mid 14th century the church was a fine building with four bells but was falling into decay. It is believed to be on the site of a Saxon chapel. In the rebuilding, the north wall of the nave was retained but most of the rest was demolished. The tower also dates from 1827. The Bunbury family worshipped at this church for many years but their tombs are no longer visible. Richards notes that Stoak has the finest collection of memorial panels in the county. They resemble hatchments and were believed to be made by the Holmes family, who were heraldic painters in Chester. Richards was making arrangements for their restoration at the time of his book (1973). The church was closed when I called and clearly another visit is required to see these panels.
The parish registers are complete from 1543 and the churchwardens' accounts, although they have many gaps, go back to 1677. The list of incumbents starts at the end of the 13th century with Master Andrew, whose appointment date is not known. His successor, Robert de Hulme was appointed in 1291.
Old Cheshire Churches, with a supplementary survey of the lesser old chapels of Cheshire, completely revised and enlarged by Raymond Richards, first published in 1947 and reprinted by E. J. Morten, Didsbury, 1973.
There are no remains of Stanlow Abbey to see now: the site is occupied by the refinery complex. However, because of my interest in Whalley I have abstracted from Ormerod's History of Cheshire, a few notes on Stanlow and the subsequent move of the monks to Whalley. The place name has had various spellings in the past including Stanlawe.
George Ormerod in his History of Cheshire, (Vol. ii page 397), mentions the extraparochial township of Great Stanney, adjacent to Stoak or Stoke. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 the land was granted by the Earl of Chester to the Barons of Halton. It was part of the fee of the Lacy family.
However, in 1178, John, 6th Baron of Halton and the Constable of Chester founded a Cistercian house on a small eminence arising from the marsh. He endowed it with some land and the vills of Mauricaceston and Staneye. John then departed on the crusades and died in 1190 in the Holy Land.
Radulphus was the first Abbott of Stanlow and on his death in 1209 was succeeded by Osbern. Randle, Earl of Chester, granted him a deafforestation of the domain of the abbey, presumably so that timber could be used in construction. Henry d'Espenser gave the vill of Wynlaton to the abbey and Roger de Lacy gave land in Rochdale during this period. Osbern was succeeded by Charles then Peter. During Peter's abbacy John de Lacy made very substantial gifts to the abbey comprising the church of Eccles and half of Blackburn, Stanynges, Hardern and Newton. Edmund de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln and the son of John de Lacy, gave the second moiety of Blackburn to the abbey. He was buried at the abbey in 1258. Peter was succeeded by Simon, some time before 1259 and he obtained ratification of the recent donation of land from the Council of London, the Bishop of Chester and the Chapter of Coventry.
Peter was succeeded by Richard de Thornton for just one year, prior to his death in 1269, then by Richard Northbury who died in 1272. The last abbot at Stanlow was Robert Hauworthe. According to the Chronicles of St. Werburgh's Abbey in Chester, there were serious floods in 1279 at Stanlow then in 1287 a violent storm destroyed the the church tower. Two years later a fire destroyed much of the abbey and a second inundation flooded it to the depth of three feet. The Cistercians appealed to Pope Nicholas IV to remove to land granted by Henry de Lacy at Whalley. The abbey was to have the revenues of the church at Whalley and this caused a dispute with the patron. It was agreed that the number of monk would be increased to 20 and that four should remain at Stanlow.
Stanlow remained a cell of Whalley Abbey until the Dissolution when it was acquired by Sir Richard Cotton. It was sold by his son, George Cotton, to Sir John Poole and passed through this family until the death of the Rev. Sir Henry Poole, baronet, in 1820, when the manor and estates were sold to the Marquess of Cholmondeley who sold them to the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral.
The monks of Stanlow built a grange in Great Stanney and on their removal to Whalley in 1296 left it in the custody of Roger Harefoot, one of the monks. After the Dissolution, Great Stanney was acquired by the Warburton family but it was then obtained by Henry Bunbury in 1544. Ormerod, writing initially in 1818 notes that from the time of Charles I, both Great and Little Stanney descended through the Bunbury family to Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, whose heir General Sir Henry Edward Bunbury sold them to the Dean and Chapter of Chester Cathedral.
The History of the County Palatine and City of Chester, incorporated with a republication of King's Vale Royal and Leycester's Cheshire Antiquities, 2nd Ed., by George Ormerod, revised and enlarged by Thomas Helsby, Esq., published by George Routledge and sons, Ludgate Hill, London, 1882.