Parish History

A BRIEF PARISH HISTORY  

St Hugh of Lincoln (now St Hugh & St John ) is a daughter-parish of St Vincent de Paul in Altrincham. In 1929 Canon Hugh Welch, St Vincent ’s Parish Priest, bought Timperley House, a dilapidated Victorian mansion with a useful piece of land near the junction between Manchester Road and Park Road. It was here that Fr Peter Burke, the first Parish Priest, lived and celebrated Mass in a chapel formed by knocking two rooms together. In 1930 Bishop Hugh Singleton gave permission for a ‘temporary’ church to be built, for he was not convinced the fledgling parish would continue to grow. This building, dedicated in December 1931, lasted 50 years as a church, and served as the Parish Hall until 2015 when it was demolished and replaced with a new building. Sadly, Fr. Burke’s frail health was not improved by the conditions in the damp old house and he was soon forced to retire. His successor, Fr Thomas Butler, had the presbytery built, a pleasant, typically 1930s house which has stood the test of time very well.  

West Timperley (formerly mainly market-gardeners’ fields) rapidly became covered with semi-detached estates and the population grew fast. The parish soon acquired the first of a succession of curates, enabling a Mass also to be celebrated once a week in the Church of England Community Rooms in Timperley Village. Fr. Butler began campaigning vigorously (despite opposition from both Councillors and local people) for a parish school to be built on Timperley House’s spare land. To help raise funds he had a church hall put up on the spare ground, for social activities. School plans were temporarily derailed when new legislation made the land by the church too small for the purpose. In 1937, however, he was able to buy the land just over the canal on which St Hugh’s school now stands, though many more years passed before the school was actually built. He also encouraged the founding of an SVP Conference – for there was real poverty in the area to alleviate.  

Fr Butler died suddenly in January 1952. He was succeeded by Fr. (later Canon) Joseph Briscoe, who set himself two great objectives: to win permission for a parish school, and to replace the temporary church with a permanent, and larger, building. The old church was bursting at the seams on Sundays. 

In 1957 the acquisition of a large house on Thorley Lane meant that the Timperley Village people could have a priest of their own. The Parish of St John the Baptist was established, and Fr. Joseph Taggart, then curate at St Hugh’s, was appointed Parish Priest. Three years later the new parish had its own church, designed by Francis Reynolds in traditional style, long and narrow with a separate baptistry. But the creation of the new parish did not seem to take as much of the pressure off St Hugh’s Church as had been expected: it was still packed on Sundays. So, in 1962, Fr. Briscoe acquired the adjacent house and grounds of Abbottsford Lodge. But plans for a new church again came to nothing. All available money had been spent, not only on St John’s Church but on schools as well – Blessed Thomas Holford and St Ambrose, and at long last on the much-needed St Hugh’s Catholic Primary School. (After the war, the campaign for a school had begun again, with the same old opposition. It was only in 1962, thanks to the intervention of Leslie Lever, a Jewish MP with a great interest in education and an admiration for St Hugh who had protected the Jews of Lincoln, that the battle was won.)  

In 1974, plans were afoot to build the Racecourse Estate (now Sale West), and so the parishes of St Hugh of Lincoln and All Saints in Ashton-on-Mersey agreed to share the cost of another junior school (St Margaret Ward) on Cherry Lane, the building of which would incorporate a Mass Centre. No change was made at that time to parish boundaries: the chapel there was served from St Hugh’s.

It was not until February 1979, shortly after Fr. Michael Dyson had succeeded Canon Briscoe, that the decision was finally taken to replace St Hugh’s ‘temporary’ church. Dedicated on 13th December 1981 , exactly 50 years after the dedication of the ‘temporary’ building, the present church is open-plan, easy to maintain, and purpose-built for post-Vatican II liturgy – in the words of the architect, Anthony Bean RIBA, ‘a pyramid roof supported on a perfect square’. The old church was then converted (with a little help from Trafford Council and a great deal of ingenuity and voluntary work) into a large and busy Parish and Community Centre.  

Almost immediately afterwards, in 1983, the St. Margaret Ward community was established as a parish in its own right, carrying off a sizeable portion of St. Hugh’s congregation together with a section of All Saints parish too. But despite the loss of numbers Fr. Dyson’s successor, Fr. Denis Maher, was a great fundraiser, and the debt on the new St Hugh’s Church was speedily cleared. In 2000 Fr. Anthony Myers, the present Parish Priest, secured permission to have the narthex extended and made into a more useful space, including facilities for baby-changing and for the disabled. 

In September 2008 Fr. Denis Herlihy, Parish Priest at St. John’s for 27 years, retired. The shortage of priests meant there was no one available to replace him, and so the decision was taken to reunite the Parish of St John the Baptist with its mother parish under the new name of St Hugh and St John. The church of St John the Baptist closed after Mass on Trinity Sunday, 7th June 2009, after serving the parish for 49 years but permission was given for the community to continue using the ground floor of the presbytery, and for one of the rooms to be turned into a small chapel. For the next eighteen months, until November 2010, Mass was celebrated there once per week on a Thursday and daily Eucharistic adoration continued, along with the weekly charismatic prayer group, other devotions and meetings.

Then, following a diocesan review of resources and after consultation with those involved, the decision was reluctantly taken to close the presbytery too, with effect from the beginning of Advent 2010. The intention at the time was to demolish both church and presbytery and sell the site for redevelopment. The demolition eventually took place in April 2013, and the site was sold to Churchill's in 2014 for retirement homes. Some of the money realised was used to replace the Hall at St Hugh's.  Demolition of this building (the former church) began in March 2015, and there is now has a purpose-built hall on the site.

On a brighter note, the Living Waters Prayer Group from the former parish of St John's continues to meet in St Hugh of Lincoln Church, daily adoration now takes place in St Vincent ’s, Altrincham, and the former separate SVP conferences have amalgamated and meet weekly in St Hugh's porch.