My ParishA teenage member of our wonderful Kerala community gives an account of growing up within the Parish of Our Lady of the Angels & St. Peter in ChainsI have been a member of Our Lady of the Angels & St.Peter in Chains(OLSP) for just over seven years, and it has been my second home ever since I first came to Stoke. But originally my family came from the south coast of India, from the state of Kerala, which is a predominantly Catholic area. The Christian faith in the Kerala region stemmed from the proclamation of the gospel by St.Thomas himself, and from the singular seed of faith planted by St.Thomas the apostle, the community has managed to flourish over the years. When I first arrived at the parish, with my family, we received a warm welcome by everyone in the parish and most importantly Father Thai. Although Father Thai is no longer our parish priest, what he did exemplifies the spirit of the parish and that sense of community and belonging that is clearly present at OLSP. Father Thai greeted us at the door, and immediately made us feel welcome as a member of the parish community, not hesitating to ask if I wanted to be an altar server. As a young person in the church, altar serving is one of the jobs that I have done throughout my time at OLSP and I have been very fortunate to serve under priests of such great calibre like Father Thai, Father Michael and of course our current parish priest Father George. And before his retirement, Deacon Tony was also a very important part of the parish, guiding us whenever we needed assistance and was a leading figure in the church. Furthermore, our MC(Master of Ceremonies) Paul Brown has also been exceptional in helping out my fellow servers and I during our time on the altar: always on hand to point us in the right direction or keep us in line. Not only that, but for our younger children the parish provides multiple activities to keep them engaged in the church. Nearing Christmas and Easter, there are often multiple colouring competitions, organized by our parish musician leaders Rob and Teresa, for children of all ages to take part in, with prizes for all. These competitions show the community spirit of our parish and encourage the younger ones to take a more active role in the church. Not only that, but our parishioners are kind enough to selflessly provide liturgies for children who have not yet received their holy communion, which allows them to grow in understanding of their faith, by listening to Gospel readings and doing the relevant activities. OLSP also has a very close connection with St. Thomas Aquinas primary school, and occasionally we have family masses, in which the children conduct the readings and play instruments as the backing track for hymns. All of these things help ensure that the younger generation remains an important part of the church and helps secure their futures as Christians. Father Michael was our parish priest for three to four years, and we all had a deep bond with him and were truly sad to see him go, however his replacement would end up to be just as brilliant. Father George has now been our parish priest for just over two years, and considering he came from India and took over the role as priest in just a few months, he has been a great asset to our parish, and we are very grateful to have him. Fr. George has performed all the masses without rest and has helped to bring the community together in these tough times. One of the best examples of our parish community coming together as one was last year when we held our inaugural parish feast, with Father George celebrating the mass, and our helpers at the church organising food and arrangements for afterwards. The events and recreational activities helped to strengthen the social bond within the church, and the procession from the church to our primary school venue was a strong proclamation of our faith to the public. The day was a memorable occasion for all of us, with over two hundred of our parishioners coming together to celebrate on that day, and this is just one of the many events we hope will happen in the upcoming future. For me, as a youngster, having grown up in this church, there are many unforgettable occasions which I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. From our annual Christmas Eve masses to the Easter Sunday 12pm masses, all of these invoke a special memory, being there with all the wonderful people in the church and being able to celebrate mass at these momentous times during the year. One of the things that inspired me the most about our community was seeing the older generation coming to mass every week, reading on the altar and helping take care of the church whenever necessary. Personally, for me, these things instilled the faith deeper in my life and our parishioners should be role models for all us, and I aspire to be like them. So, as we move forward during these uncertain times, I hope that many more young people are attracted to the light of Christ, and that our parish community continues to grow evermore, and I would like to express my gratitude to our beloved Father George and all those who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure things run smoothly. May the peace of Christ be with all of you. – Joyel George
The following parish history is drawn directly from a booklet printed in 1988 commissioned by Father Kevin Dunn. It is replicated here in digital form for the edification of those interested in the history of the parish and with the permission of the current parish priest. All copyright remains with the original contributors and chief authors of the pamphlet. Authorship (where known) is attributed beneath each excerpts and the original acknowledgements appear at the end of the page.
FOREWORDA history of a living community is always incomplete. It can never do full justice to the many men and women who in deeds both small and great have built the community.I am sure that Father Edward Daniel when he celebrated the first Mass in Stoke-upon-Trent in 1838 never dreamed of the growth and progress that the new mission would make in the years that followed.There is a beautiful article written in 1909 in the Staffordshire Catholic Chronicle on the death of Stephen Sanders. It relates how he and another family were the only Catholics in the Stoke and Fenton districts. The other family were presumably the Maguires. The article relates how Stephen Sanders had a great store of memories of the early days of the mission in Stoke. “The business which has been carried on by Mr Sanders through the whole of his life was established by his father in 1829, about the time of the Emancipation, who came to the district of Draycott. The days were those which were troublous, and the Mother Church of North Staffs at Cobridge was alone was provided for the Faithful. They were the days too of the apprentice system, and it is interesting to learn that the Passionist Fathers (amongst whom were Father Ignatious Spencer and Father Dominic) when serving at Cobridge would invariably call at the Sanders’ home and the apprentices having been assembled together, instruction would be given. The Fathers’ stayed the night and it was one of the earliest duties in the life of the late Mr Sanders to go through the surrounding ways and act as ‘Scout’ informing the people of the Priest’s presence in the neighbourhood. Mass would be said in the home, the Sacraments administered, and people shriven…and the next day, the Passionist Preacher went on his journey. Not only, therefore, has the Faithe been kept in the family, but the ‘outposts’ established by them have helped forward the spread of Catholicism.Mr Sanders himself was the oldest member of the congregation of the Church of Our Lady and the Angels, Stoke.It is to such men and women that we owe a great debt of gratitude. I hope that this history will be read with this in mind so that we can give thanks to God for his 150 years of Parish life.
SPECULATIONA local historian was asked if he could shed light on the history of the Parish of Our Lady of the Angels and St. Peter in Chains. His reply, though somewhat speculative, was revealing. “St. Paul wrote a letter to the Romans. He was imprisoned in Rome by the Soldiers of the Emperor Claudius. It was his Legions that conquered Britain and many Roman soldiers could have been Christian. There was a Roman settlement in Trent Vale….!” Now, it is questionable whether there were Christians in Trent Vale during the Roman Occupation but there is evidence of pottery making by the Romans on the site of the present St. Joseph’s College. The Romans’ built a road from Little Chester via Rochester to Chesterton and it forded the Trent at Stoke, which was fortified by a stockade. It is pure speculation to suggest that the origins of the Parish could be traced to St. Paul; indeed it is the stuff of legend and myth, but it is good to dream that the roots of the Parish go back so far.
REALITYAround 500 AD King Wulfhere ruled the Kingdom of Mercia. His wife was a Christian and she had two sons, Willfaas and Ruffin, and a daughter, St. Werburgh. St. Chad converted the two sons to Christ. The King in rage had the two sons killed, but later he too, influenced by St. Chad, became a Christian. St. Werburgh founded an Abbey at Trentham, which was sacked by the Danes in 875. It is not known when the Church was was first established in Stoke. The very name (“Stoches”) is Saxon and means the Place – the place of worship to serve the district. There was a Saxon church near the present Anglican Church, St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains). A name shared, with others, by the Tower of London and York Minster. The first real evidence of Christianity in Stoke on Trent is the Saxon Cross shaft of the early 8th century, with the unique Staffordshire Knot design found in the churchyard in 1876. In 1085 the church itself was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was the Mother Church of the Potteries from which came the other old Church at Burslem. These two churches served the area. The other centres of the Faith were the Cistercian Abbey at Abbey Hulton founded in 1223 and the Hospital of St. Loye (St. John) to the south of the present City General Hospital at the junction of London Rd and Newcastle Lane founded in 1437.
THE REFORMATIONAt the beginning of the Reformation both Religious Houses were dissolved. In 1538 Hulton Abbey was suppressed. The Chapels of Our Lady St. Nicholas and St. Catherine of Stoke Church were destroyed. So too was the Hospital of St. Loye. Through the Penal times when the Mass was forbidden and Priests were outlawed, the Catholic Faith was kept alive by a few Catholic families. Towards the end of Cromwell’s rule, 1657, it is recorded that 1,000 Catholics lived in a large part of Staffordshire and that two Catholics are recorded as living at Boothen near Stoke, and six living in the Penkhull area. Some of the Catholic families that kept the faith alive from the Reformation the Catholic Emancipation in 1829 were the Biddulph’s and Bagnall’s at Rushton Grange, and the Draycott family of Painsley Hall, Cresswell near Cheadle. There was a Catholic Priest in the Cresswell area continuously from 1652 and for much of the previous hundred years. The farm at Rushton Grange was a Mass centre. in 1717 it is reported that “a farm called Rushton Grange is settled to the Popish clergy at Douai.” It is from this centre that the Catholic Church emerged and the Parishes of the North of the Potteries were established. The Parishes of the south, however, were established in Caverswall.
THE BEGINNING OF THE MISSION AFTER THE REFORMATIONFather Kevin Dunn, Parish Priest (1988)In 1811 Walter Hill Coyney and his Catholic wife, Mary, leased Caverswall Castle for a community of French Benedictine Nuns who were exiles from the French Revolution. The Nuns opened a Chapel at Normacot and the Chaplain, Father Henry Richmond, built a small chapel in Longton in 1819. These were the times of rapid expansion in the Potteries. The area had been no more than a scattering of villages, of farms and local pottery manufacturing. With the Industrial Revoution the area was booming. Prior to 1750 Stoke-upon-Trent had been little more than a few houses around the Church. The main centre of population was Penkhull (“The hill at the edge of the wood”). The area had grown so rapidly that the population trebled in fifty years and by 1832 the Potteries had two members of Parliament. The working conditions in the growing pottery industry were awful. The reports of the time speak of cramped, dimly lit conditions in small workshops. Women and children working long hours with little pay and the whole area covered with smoke belching the pottery chimneys and the fumes from Shelton Iron works. The comment of Bishop Ullathorne could be applied to the whole area when he referred to Longton as the “Town of sin and mud”. In August 1822 Father Edward Daniel had been appointed as the first resident Priest at Longton. Father Daniel looked after Stoke, Fenton and Newcastle. It was Father Daniel who came to Stoke to establish the mission in 1838.
NEW BEGINNINGS. 1838-1988The destitute condition of the Chapel in Back Glebe Street, Stoke, had already made a deep impression on Mother Margaret, who in the previous January (1851) had established a small community in Longton. She had, as yet, no actual interests in Stoke when she wrote:
“We went yesterday to the Chapel at Stoke and oh…I cannot tell you what I have felt since. A total want of all things. Our Lord and God in a pewter Ciborium…we must do something for the place.”
THE PRESENT CHURCHThis began the long association of the Dominican Sisters with Stoke. It was as early as 1866 that Stoke Convent became a Priory and by 1869 the community numbered twelve.As no suitable site for the building of a Convent could be found in Longton, Mother Magaret gladly accepted an offer made by Fr. William Grosvenor, of a piece of land on Cliffe Bnk already purchased by his Parishioners for the purpose of building a Church. Additional land was bought by the community in 1854. In 1855 Father Dowring succeeded Father Grosvenor and a contract was signed for the building of the nave and aisles of the present Church of Our Lady of the Angels and St. Peter in Chains and for a small part of the convent. The architects were Joseph and Charles Hanson of Clifton, Bristol, and the builder, Mr. William Collis of Longton. The contract was for £2,940, over £1300 more than the legacy. The balance was soon obtained and in 1855 a contract amounting to £1,116 was signed for the building of the church and presbytery. The nave of the church was begun in August 1856 and opened for services on 8th September 1857. In June 1884, it was decided to complete the church and add a choir and chapter room for the Sisters. The ground for the new Sanctuary was staked out on the feast of St. Peter in Chains (1st August). While these foundations were being dug it was found that the church arch had no foundation. This added to the expense. In 1884 the foundation stone of the sanctuary was laid by Bishop Illsley. Inserted in the stone is a bottle containing coins and a parchment scroll. There is a cross on the pillar that marks the spot. On 29th May 1885, the Rosary Altar was consecrated by Bishop Illsey. He also solemnly consecrated the church on 19th August 1885. Prior to all these building works at the church, on New Year's Day 1857, Father John Spencer Northcote succeeded Father Dowring. Father Northcote helped in the initial stages of the work on the church with a considerable loan, which he later turned into a gift. He erected the beautiful oil paintings of the Stations of the Cross in 1865 and gave a set of crib figures in 1875. Monsieur Leo Arnoux gave the tiles around the church in 1898.
SCHOOLSReligious instruction had been given at the house of the Maguires from 1839. A school was opened in Back Glebe Street in 1850 and may have continued until 1859 when the Sisters opened St. Peter's School for girls and infants to the east of the convent, in a room we now call the Guild Room. This school was rebuilt in 1876. St. Thomas' School for boys was opened in Lonsdale Street in 1876 and remained there until 1915 when the Northcote Memorial School for boys was opened in Knowl Street. The two schools were reorganised in 1931, the girls school becoming St. Thomas' School and the boys school becoming the Mixed Secondary School. In 1976 St. Thomas' Primary transferred to new buildings in North Street. The Dominican Sisters had opened a High School for girls in 1857 at the convent and had built new buildings in 1881 near to the girls and infants school. In 1905 they began building a pupil/teacher centre but in fact it became St. Dominic's High School. In the reorganisation of the Staffordshire schools it was combined with Blessed Thomas Maxfield School and eventually became St. John Fisher High School.