The History of Trinity Presbyterian/URC church, Bowdon

In 1992 the church at Bowdon celebrated 125 years of history.
Melvyn Roberts wrote a history for the occasion and reproduced here.

Trinity. the Church on 'The Downs'.

    Historically, the story of the Downs is simple and uneventful. Over 100 years ago, its slopes were covered with fertile pastures and richly cultivated gardens, with here and there a farmstead and a few isolated cottages with white washed walls and thatched roofs. The roads were narrow and winding, bounded by thick hedgerows and overhung with leafy boughs. The principal path by which the villager climbed the hill to Bowdon was by a road from the present Railway street; which wound by way of Higher Downs and the Firs to the grey and historic Bowdon Church.

    In the Civil war of 1644, Bowdon Downs was disturbed by no incident more important than that it was the halting place of the army, commanded by Prince Rupert, in the operations for the relief of Chester which was, at that time, besieged by Sir William Brereton, a prominent parliamentarian leader. It was told by William Davenport, a Royalist Chronicler of Bramhall, that Prince Rupert marched up to Cheadle, where the Parliamentarian forces ran away.

    A description of the Downs would not be complete without some account of the various religious causes which, at different times during the course of the last century established themselves in the neighbourhood. The first place of worship to be built was on the Downs and was destined to become the birthplace for five churches - three Congregational, our own Trinity Presbyterian, now the United Reformed Church and the Baptist church. About 1830, the first place of worship built was a small building erected in the garden of a Mr Grafton at the foot of the Downs, by the followers of a clergyman who had seceded from the Church of England. The building was on the right hand side of the road looking towards Bowdon, and some parts of it may be traced in the gable behind one of the shops.

In memory of "Lockie", died 26th April 1981

     And so it was, that in the same modest Chapel in which the previous churches had been established, that the Bowdon Presbyterian church held its first service on the 22nd December 1867 The first Session, which was appointed on 7th January 1868 consisted of a minister and elders from the Manchester Presbytery. On 19th November 1868 the Rev W.T. Johnston, afterwards Dr Johnston, was called to take charge. He accepted the call and was ordained the following January. Mr Johnston was a native of Greenock, was educated at Glasgow University and had officiated for a year in Free St John's, Edinburgh, and for a year in Woolwich. On his appointment to Bowdon, the membership of the congregation on the roll was 35, and there was a small Sunday school.

Mr Johnston who resigned in December 1885 to undertake ministerial duties in Worcester had seen in his pastorate the congregation greatly increase and so in 1870 it was decided to build a new church. The site selected was in Delamer Road, where a handsome church was erected in the Gothic style of architecture. The appearance of the building was enhanced by a spire of 120 feet in height. Adjoining the main building was a fine lecture hall. The church cost in excess of £6,000, and was opened on September 22nd 1872. The spire, however, has since caused problems. In 1935 it was necessary to demolish and rebuild the spire at a cost of £73, by 1970, however, the upper part had become dangerous again, and in March 1971 the upper section was removed, this time at a cost of £975.


Drawn by Basil Morrison.

    Special reference must be made to the founding of the Trinity Mission, perhaps the earliest and certainly the most successful of the congregation's attempts at Christian outreach. In 1883 the Manchester City Mission, which had formed a Mission in a small room in Victoria Street, Altrincham, some time previously, decided not to re-appoint a full time missioner. Thereupon, the work was taken over by a number of volunteers from Trinity. Under the new leadership, the mission outgrew the house in which it was formed after eight years and in 1891 a new Mission Hall in Stamford Street was opened. The bulk of the funds for the building of the new mission were raised by a mammoth three days sale of work. The new building was in a strategic position, for at the time the whole of that area, including the site of the present Station House, was densely populated. For many years the mission stood at the heart of a busy and populous "parish" and up to the last war had a most active life of its own. The mission finally closed and its building was demolished in 1967, but many remember its great contribution to the spiritual and social life of Altrincham, and we can honour the vision and the efforts of those who responded to its challenge. The fact of the mission added a new and important dimension to the life of our congregation and opened a window upon the needs of the community beyond Trinity's four walls.

Towards the end of the 19th century, people made their own
entertainments, and every church was a centre of social activity. At Trinity, Bowdon, the Dorcas Society was in full swing and a literary society, 82 members strong, was holding Shakespearian Readings and listening to lectures on the ethics of Tolstoy; while at the mission, there was a flourishing Girls club, a Mothers Meeting and a series of the ever popular Lantern Lectures. The new church on Delamer Road was gradually beginning to assert itself in the community. In 1900 the first United August services were held with the Downs Congregational Church and continued until the amalgamation of the two churches in 1974.

The Rev. W.T. Johnston was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Cunningham, who was inducted on 10th March 1887. Mr Cunningham's brief pastorate ended with his sudden death whilst attending a meeting of the Manchester Presbytery on 10th September 1888. The Rev. Wilson Cowie, who accepted the call of the church, was inducted in September 1889. He held the pastorate until his death, after a short illness, on 27th February 1901. His ashes, and those of his wife, are buried beneath Trinity, close to the chancel. Mr Cowie was succeeded by the Rev. R.M. Gray on 6th October 1901. Mr Gray was followed in May 1913 by the Rev. R.J. Wright who left in September 1918 to take charge of the Somerset Road church in Bolton and on 26th March 1919, the Rev. Lewis G Tucker was inducted as minister. At the end of May 1934, Mr Tucker resigned to take up the pastorate of St Andrews Church, Cheltenham, and he was succeeded on the 13th February 1935 by the Rev. G Armstrong Bannister whose services continued during the years of the Second World War until January 1945. The outbreak of war took away many of Trinity's men and imposed many new restrictions, but the work went on, often under great dificulties.

During the ministry of Revd R Hutchinson, recovery after the war was a slow business, but gradually the membership began to increase and the children's church to revive, probably due to the fact that there was more movement of young families coming into the area, and it was at Trinity that they found a really warm and sincere welcome.

The more recent history of the congregation is fairly fresh in our minds, but it was felt for some time that the interior of the church needed some attention, so in 1963 the central pulpit was removed and a new pulpit was placed in the Transept, and the chancel area was newly carpeted, a new communion table and Elders chairs were donated, and the adjacent walls were panelled. Behind the communion table was hung a curtain on which was fixed a plain wooden cross. These new furnishings were dedicated in January 1964 by Emeritus Principal R D Whitehorn of Cambridge.

In the field of leadership at Trinity, there are numerous records of long and faithful service. We have been richly blessed by a long and faithful ministry exercised by the Revd David Howell-J ones, who was called to Trinity as a young man in 1959 and remained for almost 30 years. In recent years there has been an excellent supply of members well fitted for the duties of elder and manager, and it is strange to recall that more than a century ago, there was difficulty in persuading any of the members to accept election for the Eldership. We should not, however, forget the countless ways in which many members of the congregation continue to take part in services to the community or their work in connection with the wider church.

After the departure of Revd Howell-J ones, there followed Trinity's longest interregnum, during which time services were led by members of the church and by many visiting laymen and clergy including some from other denominations, a demonstration of the ecumenical fellowship that exists in the district.

Trinity welcomed its present minister, Revd David Westhead on 20th September 1991, and we look forward to a long and happy association with him and his family.

Long may Trinity continue to minister here in Bowdon.

Melvin Roberts.

The original chancel.

The Macdonald Windows
     The stained glass windows high above the Chancel were donated by me Macdonald family in memory of Mr Charles Macdonald, who was a Session Clerk at Trinity from 1883 until I909.
    The windows were designed and made by Percy Bacon and portray three pairs of men and women representing three supernatural, theological, or Christian virtues, Faith , Hope Chanty, and Three of Plato's cardinal or natural virtues, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. Prudence, the seventh virtue is not shown, the artist may have chosen an appropriate 'Trinity' design.
    The Artist and Designer, Percy Bacon was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy during the latter part of the l9th Century and the early part of the 20th Century, his work both in glass and and wood was commissioned for a number of churches both in Great Britain and abroad .
    He was strongly influenced by the work of Edward Burne-Jones.
Window 1. Temperance
    A man clad in the whole armour of righteousness, stands upon fire and serpents representing temptations, holding a sword in its scabbard, tightly bound to the hilt with cord, signifying self control.
Window 2. Justice
    A Woman holding an unsheathed sword and scales.
Window 3. Fortitude
    A warrior with a dart resisting shield. On which there is a lion rampant, signifying bravery. He has the breastplate of righteousness and the sword of the spirit. His feet are planted upon a rock.
Window 4. Faith
    A female figure with a winged head, symbolising swiftness of thought 0n the nimbus, or halo is a sun, for fervour, a new moon for purity, and stars for guidance. The torch in her right hand symbolises spiritual light. The light behind her shines very brightly on a sunny day. The Cross is the emblem of salvation, the book in her other hand is the Bible.
Window 5. Hope
    A male figure dressed as a Pilgrim on Life's rough way, holds a small flask and a cockle_shell, suggesting scanty provision of the worlds goods.
His use of a rough staff shows that the path is difficult, but that_he is pressing on. His eyes look upward to the object of his journey. His emblem held by an Angel in the tracery right above is the dove with the olive branch looking for a restring place.
Window 6. Charity
    The figure of a mother tramps upon a bag of gold which is as nothing when compared with love. Roses spring up in her path, the baby is helpless but for her. The faming heart on the shield above is the emblem of love.

Communion set

The new chancel, just before closure.

The Christmas Tree and Nativity scene complement the pulpit.

The session room.

SITE MAP for Altrincham United Reformed Church HISTORY PAGES
Historical Archives
Typical work for Charity and the Community:
Christie Hospital .....Tikwere, Malawi
Members Contributions to Exhibitions and Presentations.

WWII- Christmas 1940 - the blitz on Altrincham.
Extract of a talk given to Stamford Park Junior School