The church itself and two smaller rooms are both available for hire and use by charities, and by educational and non-profit organisations. Please refer to the Open Door page on this site.
St Mary’s is a Grade 2 listed building. It was built as the parish church of Alsager in 1898. The only building in the town where over 400 people can gather in warmth and comfort, it's used not only for services and quiet prayer, but also for meetings, classes, concerts, exhibitions and fund-raising events - by schools, charitable organisations and other non-profit organisations.
The church is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, of whom little is known. She's said to have come from a village north of Tiberius, near the lake of Galilee. She was a follower of Jesus and was present at the foot of the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus. She went to the tomb to embalm the body, as was the custom, but the tomb was empty. There the angel appeared to her to tell her that Christ had risen. Unable to comprehend, she wept, and then Christ himself spoke to her. According to a legend of the Greek church, she went to Ephesus with St. John, whom she married there. The legend tells that after dying in Ephesus she was buried in Constantinople.
Until the last decades of the nineteenth century Alsager was part of the parish of Barthomley, which meant the residents had a three mile walk along muddy lanes and across fields to worship. When the Rev. George Skene became rector of Barthomley in 1880, he felt that the pastoral needs of the Alsager people were not well cared for. The town's population was growing (mainly due to the railway). There were four non-comformist chapels, and no free pews at Christ Church.
With the help of village benefactors, a corrugated iron chapel (known locally as the Tin Tabernacle) was erected in the centre of the village in Crewe Road. This mission room (now at Hassall Green and painted in glorious pink) was a focus of village life for thirteen years.
In 1883, after many functions and fund-raising events, the decision was taken to erect a permanent church.
Designs were prepared by the architect Hubert J. Austin for a church built of Staffordshire sandstone in the perpendicular (Gothic Revival) style. The building work began in June 1894, the foundation stone laid by Lord Haughton.
By December 1896 the church was ready for worship with a temporary tiled roof where the steeple should have been and with an incomplete North aisle. Many items were donated including the lectern, chairs, kneelers and linen. On the completion of the new building it was proposed to the Bishop of Chester that Alsager should separate from Barthomley making it an independent parish with its own vicar.
The Venerable Archdeacon Woosman opened and dedicated the church on January 8th 1897. The church was consecrated on St. Peter’s Day.
Gradually the furnishings, including the pulpit, were acquired through donations from local benefactors, but it was forty years later in 1937 that the north aisle was completed. The exterior is still unfinished and 100 years later the ‘temporary’ roof is still in place above the west window.
As a young man Austin commenced work as an architect after passing an R.I.B.A. exam and joining the practice of Sir George Gilbert Scott. He remained there until 1867 acquiring experience in London. He won an architectural competition for a church in Kent which enabled him to travel through Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. His love of the Lake District and an offer to join E.G.Paley in a partnership in the area seemed too good an opportunity to miss. He remained with the practice for forty-five years and was the main architect for the ecclesiastical work until his death in 1915.
Austin’s churches can be divided into three categories – first the small country churches, second large urban churches in towns and cities, and third small low cost churches built for mining and industrial communities, using brick and faience, in an imaginative way. His grandest church is St. George, Stockport.
The original builder designed the richly carved choir-stalls, and many of the furnishings were donated, including the pulpit and altar.
The tiles on the chancel floor are examples of the work of the Campbell Brick and Tile Co. of Stoke-on-Trent. The fleur-de-lis pattern represents stylised lilies and was a popular design of the period.
The recent acquisition of a new nave altar, and of new chairs by public sponsorship, has greatly enhanced the interior with colour and warmth.
The Stained Glass
The Goss memorial window in the South Aisle features St. Michael and St. Gabriel in an outstanding design by Karl Parsons, which was executed in glass by the London company of James Powell and Sons in 1926. Karl Parsons’ whole career was devoted to stained glass. In 1899, at the age of 15, he became apprenticed to Christopher Whall at his studio in Hammersmith. Whall was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, and an undisputed doyen of artist craftsmen in stained glass. By 1908 Parsons was one of the studio’s principle assistants and in partnership with Whall he designed the apse windows for St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. That commission was a great success and enabled Parsons to set up his own studio. During his short life (he died aged 50), he received many commissions for works in Europe, New Zealand and Africa, the finest of which is in Johannesburg Cathedral. As Karl Parsons himself said “Painting, sculpture, tapestry and every other craft we appreciate by the light that falls on it. But stained glass we can only see by the light coming through it. The glass worker, in fact, designs in coloured light.”
As the church is dedicated to St Mary Magdalene the windows illustrate episodes in her life. The main subject in the east window is that of the Risen Lord appearing to Mary after the Resurrection, and below are two small subjects illustrating Mary at the Entombment of Christ, and visiting the tomb on the Resurrection morning. The other windows illustrate the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, ‘The calming of the Tempest’, ‘Healing the sick’ and ‘Feeding the Five Thousand’. Below these are the angels bearing shields of Humility, Love, Faith and Hope. These windows were also made by Powell for the sum of £1,050 in 1927.
In 1933 the west window and some of those in the south aisle were also made—again by Powell. In the centre panel of the west window St. Mary Magdalene is holding the box of precious ointment with roses, symbolic of love. Other lights include St. Mary of Bethany reading a book, Martha who represents ‘Service’ and various emblems representing, amongst other things, bread and wine.
One of the windows in the south aisle represents St. Mary Magdalene. The two smaller lights at each side show Martha and Mary of Bethany. In the main light at the top, there is a portrait of St. Mary Magdalene and at the bottom there is a picture showing her drying Christ’s feet with her hair.