A Brief History

In 1511, Newchurch was a ‘Chapel of Ease’ to the Castle Chapel of St Michael, Clithero, in the Diocese of Chester administrated by the Cistercian monks of Whalley Abbey which was situated within the parish of the parochial church of Clithero. Whalley Abbey closed with the dissolution of the monastery in 1537. The township of Newchurch stretched from Bacup to Rawtenstall with a population of about 1000 people. St Nicholas is the third church on the site. The first church was thought to be made of wood and erected in 1511, dedicated to the ‘Chapel of Our Saviour in Rossendale’.

In 1550, Edward VI was king when the inhabitants of Newchurch petitioned for the Church to receive the full rights of a Parish Church, which was granted. An extract from the petition reads:

“Whereas about the space of thirty eight years or thereabouts the inhabitants of the said forest at their own proper cost and charges made a chapel of ease in the forest of Rossendale. The charges of every one of them hath been an honest minister who hath with all diligence ministered to the said inhabitants there in the said chapel God’s most holy word. Also the said chapel and the said minister hath been sustained and maintained by and with the good devotions and charitable rewards of the well disposed inhabitants of the said forest. And every one of the said inhabitants have given several sums of money, some more, some less, some chattels, and some of them such as other gifts and rewards as hath been meet, requisite and needful to and for the intent and purpose of maintenance of the said chapel and minister as the commodity and profit of those things given as are before remembered have sufficed to the sustaining of the said chapel and funding of the minister there”

It was rebuilt in stone in 1561 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and re-dedicated to the Holy Trinity—the octagonal stone columns with splayed caps, within the church, are thought to date from this time. A consecration stone in the porch bears the initials of Elizabeth 1, dated 1561 with the Royal Arms of England including French fleur-de-lys.

A faculty to construct a loft or gallery at the West end of the church is dated 23rd October 1725. The Church East end was pulled down in the reign of King George II, and the nave enlarged in 1753, by seven yards, upon the instigation of Mr John Ormerod of Tunstead and Mr John Hargreaves of Newchurch. The Church was pulled down in 1824 during the reign of King George IV.

Originally there were no balconies on the North and South side of the church but one was erected in the extension of 1753 above the altar. Access to this balcony was from the outside of the church by a set of steps as seen in the picture.



Church from 1561 to 1823

The present church dedicated to St Nicholas was started in 1824 and consecrated on the 12th September 1826 by the bishop of Chester—Dr Blomfield. A stone plaque over the West door is lettered and dated: GEO 1V REX 1825. The new organ supplied by Messrs. Bewsher and Fleetwood of Liverpool at a cost of £220, was played for the first time by Mr Andrews, of Manchester, Professor of Music. The Architect of the new church was Matthew Atkinson, a Malster, of Bacup, and Messrs Thomas Ashworth and Bros. supplied the stone from Seat Naze. John Haworth and Brother from Fearns were the builders.  Balconies were constructed above the North and South aisles and the East balcony was removed.

Following the consecration a Confirmation was held: 230 girls and 139 boys. In 1825 Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year. Vis: at Christmas, Easter, trinity and the first Sunday after St Michael’s Day. By 1829 this had increased to seven times a year. The average Sunday congregation in 1829 was 1050 and increasing—the population of the parish being 5500. It wasn’t until 1891 under the Rev. Herbert Bury, that Holy Communion was celebrated every Sunday.


On May 31st 1867 the Parochial Chapelry was declared a Rectory by Order in Council. The London Gazette of June 7th shows:

“To all to whom these presents shall come, we the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England send greeting: whereas it has been made to appear to us that certain tithes or rent charges in lieu thereof, arising within the Parochial Chapelry of Newchurch-in-Rossendale, in the County of Lancaster and in the Diocese of Manchester, belong to the Incumbent of the Church of such Parochial Chapelry: now we the said Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England acting in pursuance of “The District Church Tithes Act1865,” do hereby declare that from and after the time of the publication of these presents in “The London Gazette” pursuant to the provisions of the same Act, the said Church of the Parochial Chapelry of Newchurch-in-Rossendale shall be, and be deemed to be a Rectory.”

In July 1896 a contract was signed with Messrs Langshaw & Sons of Whalley for new canopied choir stalls at a cost of £425.00 and in July 1897 a contract for a new chancel was signed; the East window of 1858 was relocated and the pulpit moved forward to the bottom of the chancel steps. The graves within the church were rationalized and a new concrete floor was laid in the Nave [the parishioners had been complaining about the smell of dead bodies] topped with wood block flooring. A new mosaic pavement at the front of the nave was matched to the floor in the new chancel. Some encaustic tiles from the old floor were relocated at the bottom of the South stairwell. The box pews were replaced with American Oak bench pews. The balcony fronts were painted and grained to harmonize with the new pews.

A bazaar was organized to help raise funds for a new chancel and realized £1050 after expenses which was a considerable amount in those days. The final cost was £2436-18-0 of which a Mrs Law gave £1000. The Architects Preston and Vaughan were engaged and the Building Committee contracted Messrs. Moore of Rawtenstall to carry out the work. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop James of Manchester, after due ceremony, on Saturday October 23rd.1897 dedicating the church ‘to prayer and to the praise of the most Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’


The records reveal that between 1707 and 1708 seven of the eight churchwardens resigned. It was surmised by the Rev. D . Rathbone (curate) in 1902, that this was probably due to a falling out over something as controversial as new seating for the church—could this be when the box pews were introduced—they are dated 1708?

It is thought that the large number of churchwardens was due to there being four townships in the ancient Chapelry. Two churchwardens were chosen for each township namely: Dedwenclough; Tunstead and Wolfenden; Backup and Lench; Brandwood Cowpe and Dean. In 1926 there were six churchwardens and two sidesmen. In 2007 the decision was taken to reduce the number of Churchwardens to two in line with the new regulations of the General synod and to limit the continuous years of service to six years.


The new chancel was consecrated in 1898 but it wasn’t until March 1902 that there was a grand reopening ceremony reported in the Rossendale Echo. The new chancel had cost £2436-18-0 of which the church had managed to raise £2310-18-1. consisting of a donation of £1000 from a Mrs Law of Heightside, and £100 from the Duke of Buccleugh—Lord of the Manor.

The pulpit was later removed with permission from the diocese, on 24th May 1983, to balance the proportions of the Chancel.

Parts of former box pews, some with C18 dates and inscriptions, were used in 1901 to form a dado along the aisles and the paneling of the vestry, some dated and inscribed. One dated 1708 is inscribed with the initials of eight Churchwardens and another with the name of Oliver Ormerod.

The Churchwardens names in Latin form, were: Ricus Ashworth, Georgius Hargreaves, Ricus Ormerod, Abramus Nuttall, Ricus Heap, Jacobus Ashworth, Aegidius (Giles) Hoyle, Henricus Ashworth—as recorded at the time, in the Diocesan Registry at Chester now at Preston

The area around the church has changed a lot with perhaps the Boar’s Head being the principle survivor having been built in 1674. The old rectory built in 1852, was demolished in the early 1960’s, and a new one was built in the grounds in 1961.

During the building of the new church in 1824, a license was granted on 22nd March 1824 for performance of divine service in the Free Grammar School of Newchurch at the top of the Bridleway.

The present seating of oak pews date from the reordering of the church following the building of the new chancel in 1897. Each pew seating 10 people was donated by members of the congregation and groups within the church at a cost of £12.4.0. The pews bear brass plaques to this effect.

In 1512 Lettice Jackson left buildings and land to form the ‘Newchurch Chapelry Estate’, and this was able to pay the Rector’s Stipend each year for over 450 years! As late as 1960 it could still pay his stipend, but now all Priests are paid from a central fund managed by the Church Commissioners and the Diocese of Manchester, and supported by the Parish Share—a sum of money which each parish has to find each year towards the stipend of its priest and the running of the Diocese of Manchester. The Diocese of Manchester was established on 10th August 1847 by Order in Council.

In the 1890’s the church was very actively used and collections averaged about £20 a month but appeals were still made, even then, for more giving to finance the work of the church. There were approximately 4 funerals a week, which reflected the poor and often non existent arrangements for the care of the sick; the church funded two Parochial Nurses who were available to all for free. Of the 81 deaths recorded in 1896, 28 were of children under the age of two years. In July 1903, the Committee of the Parish Nurse Fund reported ‘that during the year the Nurses have paid fourteen hundred and thirty visits.’

Around 1920, Mr W Hardman was moved to write in his ‘History of Waterfoot’ [p40]; ‘Through the centuries it has stood , and still stands, like a beacon on the hill, visible from nearly everywhere, reminding man of his hope of immortality, its precincts and its soil hallowed by associations with, and the dust of, many generations of our forefathers.’

Nothing has changed!


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