I also wondered, as the local curate started it all, if there were any church records about the beginning of NSHS. So, by a circuitous route via Crockfords Clerical Directory, St Michael`s Wigan and St David`s Haigh, I managed to contact the treasurer from St John`s. He said the only thing he could help me with was a copy of “The History of St John the Baptist Church, New Springs” by Harold E Fairhurst. This turned out to be a great addition to my research as NSHS was mentioned!
It was a pamphlet written by the church warden in 1947, the 50th anniversary of the church, when the district was made into its own parish. It told how St John`s began in 1865, when the growing population needed a church nearer that the parish church at Haigh. They began their Sunday services, and a Sunday school in the Sawmills. A chap called John Christopher was superintendent (may be it was he who audited the 1883 balance sheet).
The premises were entirely unsuitable and when the Countess of Crawford became aware of the situation she stepped in with her “liberal and practical help.” The Earl built a temporary church of corrugated iron and the Countess “generously supplied” the furnishings. The church was dedicated in 1871 and the Earl`s “generous action” built the school in 1873. (I love all the sycophantic descriptions to The Earl and Countesses in these historical reports, completely ignoring the fact that it was the people they were being generous to who were making their money for them.)
The temporary church was planned to last 7 years, but a long industrial depression set in and the “old Iron Church” as it came to be called, was used for 27 years. (So that`s interesting – NSHS began at a time of industrial depression). During this time the Rev. C.H. James arrived as curate until 1886. In 1890 the church was considered beyond repair and they decided to raise the money to build a permanent church. The congregation raised £300 themselves and the usual suspects – The Earl, gentlemen such as Mr Alfred Hewlett and Mr W H Hewlett of Wigan Coal and Iron Company (The same ones that liberally subscribed to NSHS) gave financial help.
The next step was to find a site for the new church. “With continued generosity, Lord Crawford offered a site near the schools on land occupied – and still occupied – by the New Springs Horticultural Society” What a cheek – he tried to give the allotments away to build a church! According to the pamphlet “there was, however, some doubt as to the suitability of this ground for building purposes, and also, it was judged to be too near one end of the district and too far from the centre.”
Why did the Earl think it was OK to give the land away? I had been reading through the minutes of the society and there was a tradition of inviting the current vicar to be chair of the society. This must have created an interesting conflict of interest and I imagined some stormy committee meetings. However, there is no mention in the pamphlet of any objections from the plot holders so maybe the society wasn’t thriving and the allotments had become rundown, and the Earl thought no one would mind if he gave the land to the church. In the event the site wasn`t suitable, the new church was built elsewhere and the allotments continued.