BROOKFIELD UNITARIAN CHURCH


Notes from a visit & talk by Mrs Ellis from Brookfield Unitarian Church (the daughter of a former minister).

Long before the people of Gorton could worship where they wished, and not just in the orthodox church, (Eg.the church of England & St. James's), they met in an upstairs room of a house somewhere at the junction of Abbey Hey Lane & Cross Lane.

Nobody knows quite where because the Worshippers, where in real, trouble if the meeting place was known, so it was kept a secret They met in an upstairs room, and when they had gathered as many as they thought were attending they pulled up the ladder to stop people spying on them. As time went on these people were allowed to worship and to meet publicly, so they built a chapel in Gorton Vale on Far Lane. The chapel was built and next to it was a little cottage were people would have there lunch before or after the service because they had travelled on horse back from villages such as Denton, Reddish, Openshaw & Levenshulme. The entrance to the chapel was on Far Lane, which was then the main road into the town of Manchester. Far Lane, then over Maiden's Bridge, along Old Hall Street (Hengist Street), along Wellington Street and on to the town of Manchester, so it was quite a journey for a lot of people. It was a good thing that they had somewhere to sit and take a breather and perhaps have something to eat before they set of back.

Gorton Dissenters Chapel - Built in 1703
Very little remains of the old chapel. One thing is the mounting block which is just inside the gates beside the Lodge and has the date 1103 on it, the date the old chapel was built. The other thing is a small communion table made out of the old ordinance table built for the time when we had a Junior Church in the schoolroom. One or two memorial plaques were transferred from the old chapel into the new church.

I can remember the graveyard around the old chapel - though I never saw the old chapel - that was already demolished. You could walk around the graveyard and read the stones on the graves. You could envisage the sort of people who were pobably buried there.

Later on in the 1800's it was obvious that the little chapel was far too small for all the people who wanted to worship there, so it was decided to build a new church. Mr Beyer & Mr Peacock who owned the big engineering firm of Beyer & Peacock were great friends and they worked very well together. However, when it came to their religious beliefs, one belonged to the Church of England and the other was a nonconformist. I suppose you could say they built a memorial to themselves, because they decided they would each endow some money to the church. Mr Beyer built St. James's and Mr Peacock decided to build Brookfield, so that is what happened. To try to urge the work men along to see which could beat the other in finishing first, it was decided that the first completed would be given a peal of eight bells. Brookfield, got the eight bells.

We haven't a group of Bell Ringers at the moment but there are quite a lot of campanologists throughout the country. Periodically, we get a letter to say they are doing a tour of the district and ask if they can do half an hour in Brookfield Tower. When I was a kid I used to remember it quite distinctly. We haven't any recordings. St.George's have but I haven't head that for a while.

So, we've got the bells, and I hate to have to tell you, I can just remember which year it was. I'm too frightened, to look it up actually! I recall, as a little girl, when they were rehung and having these massive eight bells standing along the path, at the front of the church. Apparently they were hung originally on oak beams and, as you rang the bells, they rocked from side to side and would eventually damage the steeple. So,they had to come down and be placed on steel girders. The biggist one weighed 13cwt.2qtrs. So it was a massive weight. Going down to the smallest ones which weighed in the region of 4cwt. We wonder how they got them back up the tower, because there is no trap door in the tower floor. I often think they took it out and then put it back again. Each bell is inscribed with the names of the Peacock family.

A lot of interest was shown in the building of the church and when you come to visit Brookfield you can try to find the corner stone. I can't because instead of laying it, so you can all read the inscription it has been laid with the inscription on top and the other stones placed on top of it. So, quite honestly, we dont know where it is. It seems so extraordinary. Go round the Sunday School and you can see foundation stones with inscriptions showing who laid them, but not the corner stone of the church, so just where it is we are not sure.

Special stands were erected for the events. Someone said they couldn't have put them at the front of the church as they would be on the main road (Hyde Road), but you see it wasn't the main road as we know it. Even if the road went through, it was nothing like as busy as it is now. You could hold the traffic up at that time without being in trouble for making everybody late for work. There were twelve hundred people on these stands who watched the ceremony of laying the corner stone. That was on Saturday October 30th 1869.

It was decided that the following inscription be put upon a copper plate and deposited under the corner stone which read:

Erected for the worship of God Anno Domini 1869 by Richard Peacock of Gorton Hall, Civil Engineer and Justice of the Peace, and presented by him to the congregation of Protestant dissenters assembled for worship in an old Chapel near this site called Gorton Chapel and bearing the date 17.03.1886 Minister Rev. G.H.Wells M.A. Building Committee; David Brown, Thomas.Clay, William Hadwell, Richard Peacock, George Henry Grimshaw, and George Henry Wells.

Brookfield Church (summer 1999)
A sovereign, a florin, a shilling, along with a copy of the Enquirer (which is the national Unitarian paper) the Unitarian Herald, Manchester Guardian, Examiner, The Times, Courier and Reporter newspapers were also placed under the plate, in a glass bottle. The Mallet that was used was presented to Mr. Richard Peacock, but later returned to the Minister in 1928. It used to be in a glass case on the window sill in the vestry. Well,the glass case is still there but, in some mysterious way, the mallet has vanished. The Trowel which was also used at the time, made of solid silver with a beautiful filigree handle, also went.

The trowel was returned to Brookfield by an American who apparently, as a hobby, collected guns, really old ones. He had read in a paper in America an advertisement for a collection of guns for sale from somewhere in Scotland. He bought this collection, had it shipped to America and found amongst it this silver trowel. He read the inscription on it and went to the trouble of finding out to whom it belonged. He returned it so that's why we now have it under lock and key.

The church was almost finished before a name was thought of. At first it was to be Brook Meadow Church, but this was then changed to Brookfield, the name by which it is still known. Across the road, there used to be a row of houses, Brookfield View, before they demolished them and built Brookfield Home flats. So the name is used in various places round about.

To try and show that the church was built to worship God in a free religious faith, the Trustees asked the Principal of the Home Missionary College - which was our denominational College in Victoria Park Manchester - if he could make some suggestions for paintings in the Church. Mr Peacock engaged and brought up from London, an artist to do the murals that are there. Unfortunately, he is an unknown artist.

As you look into the chancel, looking forward to the Communion Table, on the left hand side you have a mural of Moses who holds the Ten Commandments in his arms. I am quite intrigued that, for some reason, he has six toes on one foot. That has definitely been there from the beginning. It doesn't matter how often its cleaned or touched up it still has six toes on one foot and five on the other.

On the other side we have got the Good Shepherd, or Jesus, with the Lamb in his arms. This shows the love and concern of Jesus for us and for all people.

Above the chancel we have seven angels proclaiming the new covenant and singing "Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth Peace" in Latin.

Not long ago, (I suppose it's been under two years), somehow a kestrel got into church. It was only a young one and hadn't the wisdom to find its way out under the arch, back to the chancel to find the hole through which it had entered. In trying to find, its freedom, he knocked quite a lot or paint off our angel. It was very sad. We had it restored but I'm afraid to say that some of the paint is peeling of again. The church is of an age now, as you can well understand, that there is quite a lot going wrong.

Apparently, on the roof, the slates are as good as when they were put on, but the Victorian nails which held the slates, are wearing away. So, it isn't the slates that are leaking, it's when the slates slip and the water gets underneath that the damage is caused, and there is no point in spending money on redecorating inside until the roof is secure. You might find yourself needing your umbrella up as we did not long ago just behind the tower That's been cured but it came in again after the snow.

Between the old and the new covenants there is this beautiful stained glass window. The church Trustees thought so much or it that it was boarded up all through the last war to save it. It's done in four panels with four plants that are mentioned in the Bible. There's the palm tree with the inscription 'the righteous shall nourish like the palm tree', next to it, the rose, and 'the desert shall bloom like the rose', then next to that is the lily. Of course that says, 'consider the lilies or the field'. The last one is the true vine. At the very top is the lamb with the flag or St. George in his paw. I can't find the true meaning or that lamb. You'll find it with all the Moravian's things and quite a few religions seem to have this same picture of the lamb with the same flag. Whether it's just a representation of The Good Shepherd and that is one or his lambs, I don't know.

Brookfield Church (summer 1999)
In 1934 the church and school decided they would have a new banner for us to carry in the good old Whit walks. You remember the good old Whit walks? We wouldn't have been seen away from them, would we in those days? We decided we would have a new banner and were very fortunate at that time to have a lady who was an art teacher, but she was also an artist in her own right. She planned the banner end saw to it being sewn. Only the other day, somebody recalled how because of its size, it ment they had to have somebody on the top pushing the needle through and someone had to pull it through and push it back again from underneath. This banner has Moses on one side, Jesus on the other, and the four plants in two panels on each side or the banner, which is in the church as well.

The reredos in front of, but below the window forming the back of the communion table has the four evangelists in stone, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with a lot or ornate Victorian carved woodwork. With all the nice scroll bits; it is beautiful, but it is not easy to dust. We were in Liverpool Catherdral recently and they were cleaning their high alter; not high meaning religiously, but high in height. They had a scaffolding and were sucking the muck out with a vacuum cleaner, and that is probably the only way you can clean behind these beautiful carvings.

So, we have these beautirul ornate carvings and the four evangelists each with their own symbols. Matthew has his Angel by his foot, Mark the Lion, Luke the Bull and John the Eagle. When you come out of the church, if you look up to the tower, on the top or it, before it goes into the spire, these four symbols are there again, as the four gargoyles. We thought these were drainage ducts, but only one or them is and the other three are solid.

The communion table itself is absolutely solid oak. It has some very nice embroidered panels to it which were again designed by this lady from our own church and she has brought the picture or the lamb down to the centre panel. I did two of those. I didn~t think I could embroider, but this lady was such that she convinced you that you could. I've never done anything like it before, or since, but they are there and I am very pleased that I have.

As you walk down the church, the pews have beautiful carvings on the ends or them. Above the granite pillars are the pictures of famous men who made a very important contribution to the educational development and to religeous beliefs of the protestant dissenter. Although we are known as Unitarians, all marriage certiricates have to be marked as protestant dissenters. That'show we are registered somewhere.

The pictures over the granite columns start with St. Peter and St. Paul; King Alfred and the Venerable Bead; Eurazmus and Whycliffe; Servitus and Calvin; Baxter and Sercinus; Channing and Priestly.

The plaques around the church are some from the original chapel and some from after the first World War. One of the most interesting is the one bearing all the names of the ministers of the old chapel and Brookfield church from 1707. Amongst them is George Henry Wells who served at Brookfield for over 40 years and saw the transition from the old chapel to the new church. Outside the church you can see a bronze plaque to the memory or Richard Peacock which was cast at the foundry of Beyer Peacock.


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Brookfield Church Graveyard Plan
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