It has only been quietly publicised, but the fact is that Cresswell is to be the centre of a major historical anniversary this year.
We will see the 200th birthday of St Mary’s Church, the oldest Catholic church in north Staffordshire; and the first of some special history exhibitions at the church is being mounted on the weekend of 6th & 7th February.
Built with his own bare hands
In 1791, for the first time in 400 years, it became legal again for Catholics to own places of worship, and so a tiny church was built in Cresswell next to the existing priest’s home at Lees House.
However it was soon supplanted, in 1816, by the present building. The new priest, Father Thomas Baddeley, who had only been at Cresswell a year, managed to persuade the then lady of the manor, Lady Mary Stourton, to put up the necessary funds to build a whole new church.
The Stourtons had succeeded the Draycott family to the ownership of the local Painsley estates; and Lady Mary was a staunch Catholic.
Lady Mary is also said to have later paid for the famous Annunciation window in the church (which is rumoured to have been devised by the famous designer and architect Augustus Pugin).
Father Baddeley must have been quite an energetic man. The story goes that he built the church himself, using his experience of having been a bricklayer in his former career. Sadly, he lived less than nine years after completing this project, dying at just 36 years old; he was reported to have died of sheer over-work.
St Mary’s was the first purpose-built Catholic church in north Staffordshire since the Reformation, and so became known as the region’s ‘mother church’. However, many others were to follow of course, much grander in design, until St Mary’s was eventually relegated to being just one simple parish church of many.
The exhibition, in a few days time, is one of the first events being put on to celebrate the St Mary’s 200 Project.
Parishioners there have been working hard to make the year a special one – and we’re told that two of them have already created three beautiful embroidered panels celebrating stages of the parish history. Also, some wonderful old photographs have been found (some in the loft of the presbytery!); and other photos have been gathered from collectors all around Draycott.
Incidentally, if you think you might be able to identify the subjects of some the photographs, please click this link and check out the photo album to see what you recognise).
The high spot of the year will be the visit of the local Archbishop, in May. By then the repairs of the frontage of the church should be complete, which will be a bonus.
If you are a history buff, there is an excellent guide to the story of Catholicism in Draycott & Cresswell, from its earliest times back in the Middle Ages up to the present day. You can download it by following this link.
However, as you’ll read in that guide, there are a number of strange mysteries to do with St Mary’s down the years… and we’ll be coming back to them before the twelve-month is out!
Happy birthday St Mary’s!
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