Our Story

2014 is the Quincentenary of St James Ashworth, it was established as a “Chapel of Ease” in the parish of Middleton in 1514 which is a great cause fro celebration. Some of the events we have organised to celebrate our Quincentenary are listed on the Latest News page, to visit click here.

St James Ashworth and two neighbouring dwellings crown a hilltop 3 miles from Rochdale and Bury, and 1 mile from Heywood.

St James is popularly known as Ashworth Chapel and the Egerton Arms, a former brewery and pub, now a private house, is known as “t’chapel house”.

The parish consists of 1000 acres of farmland bounded by 2 steeply sided brooks, the Cheesden and the Naden.

Through the middle of the parish Ashworth Road climbs from 400 ft at Simpson Clough to 1000ft at Ashworth reservoir.


The church is known to have been in existence since 1514, having been built during the reign of Henry VIII by the Holt family as a chapel of ease in the parish of Middleton; hence the persistence of the name  “Ashworth Chapel”.  Thomas Holt, who built the chapel for the use of his tenants, officiated there as priest.

During the Civil War, 1642—1646, the Holts were Royalists and the estate was sequestered in 1643 and only recovered in 1646 on payment of £551.  During this time a Presbyterian minister, Henry Pendlebury, was foisted on the congregation, but was not supported by the inhabitants and, with no maintenance, had to leave.

In 1650 the church commissioners declared that Ashworth Chapel was fit to be declared a parish church in the Parish of Middleton. The Holt family had always allowed £4/year for the chapel, and this was later increased to £20 and £30 by a grant from the Middleton Rectory.

In 1671 Richard Whitehead created a rent charge of £6/ year on a house called Wallbank in Whitworth, half for Ashworth Chapel and half for Heywood Chapel.

The estate was then mortgaged to Sir Ralph Asheton and then sold to Samuel Hallowes in 1700 for £3960.

In 1737 an endowment fund from Samuel Hallowes and from the governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty and from others of £600 produced £30/year.

By 1751 The Chapel produced £30 from land and £20 from pew rents. In that year Thomas Ferrand bought the Ashworth estate with borrowed money.  Later he borrowed money from the curate and wouldn’t pay his pew rent.

In 1768 he had to sell the estate to Samuel Egerton of Tatton and it remained in his family until 1942.

The church, with the exception of the chancel, was enlarged and rebuilt in 1789.

There is no specific information in our sources how this was financed but there are extensive references throughout the period 1671-1789 of collections, tithes, rents   and donations from “benefactors” keeping the church going.

On the death of Rev Joseph Selkirk in 1832, the patron of the living, William Egerton Esq, appointed The Rev D Rathbone as incumbent. [By an act of Parliament in 1865, the holder of the living at Ashworth was designated a Vicar, and Ashworth became a parish in its own right in 1867.]


The Parish

Until the industrial revolution farming was the main occupation of the tenants—sheep, cows, pigs and poultry, alongside the cultivation of oats which were ground at the estate mill.  Wool was spun and woven into cloth sold at Rochdale market.

The coming of the textile industry in the 1800’s changed the valley dramatically.

The population rose to 2000 people with over 14 mills operated by water power and later some by steam power. In the mid 19th century there was even a disastrous fire in a coal mine in the valley, hard to imagine now, for although the remains of the fulling mills, weaving and spinning mills, a bleach works, and a paper mill can still be discerned, the cottages and houses attached to each mill have completely disappeared.

Ashworth thus became the focal point for a large population and the church, rebuilt in 1789, was enlarged to its present shape in 1837, and Ashworth became a parish in its own right in 1867.

The increase in population encouraged David Rathbone, vicar from 1832 to1871, to open a school for the children in a room over the dairy at Hall farm.  He and his wife both taught there for an annual fee of £8, which was donated by Wilbraham Egerton.

David Rathbone was an influential figure because by 1838 he had persuaded Lord Egerton to build the small schoolhouse with its distinctive leaded windows on School Lane.  During the l8th and early 19th centuries it was quite common for upwards of 300 people to be served teas in the schoolhouse on festive occasions.

By the end of the 19th century, however, these small textile mills in country districts were closing down and industry became concentrated in the towns.  Not only did the population in Ashworth dwindle, but we became surrounded by the new churches being enthusiastically built during Queen Victoria’s reign, St Paul’s, St Michael’s and St Clement’s.

And so our Parish has gone full circle, back to the Grade 2 listed cluster of cottages round Ashworth Hall and twenty farms scattered over a large acreage.  The schoolhouse, in use as a day school until the beginning of the 20th century, is now used as the Parish Hall and Sunday school.

In 1949 it was found necessary to unite the benefice with St Paul’s Norden.

It is possible that the expectation was that this small parish would not survive separately for long.

St James has not, however, stood still while maintaining our independent identity and adherence to the Book of Common Prayer.

Electricity arrived in the Fold in 1953 and was installed in the church in 1960 when the gallery was removed and the building re-roofed.

Under the strong leadership of the Rev Noel Proctor, further improvements included a garden of remembrance in the churchyard, refurbishment of our Benson organ, toilets installed in church and hall, and kitchen units fitted at the back of the church so that we can serve refreshments during musical events and special services.

Improvements have continued over the last ten years, particularly to the church hall.

All this has been achieved by the hard work of the congregation and tremendous support from the farming community.  A church keeps going because of the commitment of the people.  It is more than buildings and surroundings.

A small congregation, who do not all live within the bounds of the parish, keep worship alive for 52 weeks of the year.  Our members belong to St James for a variety of reasons, historical, family, bereavement, or chance.

Our special services, Easter, Harvest and Christmas are packed by our wider regular worshippers!  As a rural parish, we also try to mark Rogation days.

We are very aware that many people have but tenuous links with Christianity, that many do not give God a thought from one special service to the next.  Nevertheless if the church were not there when needed we would have failed in our mission,  “Go ye out into all the world…….“ (Jesus told us)

All the world includes here in our own parishes.

It may not be obvious that baking a potato pie for 30, or struggling to set up fifty tables and a loudspeaker system is “ministry”;  these events, however, require teamwork in their execution and serve three purposes:-

Fun, fellowship and fundraising.

 The purpose of ministry is to strengthen all Christians in their witness in, and to, the secular world and we will continue to try to maintain this ministry, to make the parish hall a focus for the whole community, and the church a hill-top beacon to all who pass by.

We are fostering our links with St Paul’s through occasional joint services, the craft club and walking groups and supporting each other’s social events.  And we look forward to continued co-operation with the 10 other churches in Churches together in North West Rochdale, the local ecumenical group.

In these uncertain times, with a looming shortage of ordained clergy, we hope our mainly BCP services at 3pm offer an alternative to people of the area and we warmly welcome all visitors and friends.