Built in the Early English style by a Mr Atkins, a Manchester architect, the first church was 74ft. 10in, long and 44 ft. wide, excluding the altar stairs and an entrance, and it possessed a wooden steeple 87ft. high. There were, too, galleries on three sides of the interior, and the pulpit stood in the middle of the church. But for five years there was no organ - the singing was led by a string band.
Monday, June 5, 1837, was selected as the day for the laying of the foundation stone. Openshaw went on holiday for this event, with feasting and a procession, in which those taking part included the clergy and the committee responsible for the erection of the church; the Sunday school children and their teachers and superintendent the Openshaw band; the township and parochial officers of Openshaw and Gorton; the deputy constable of Openshaw and Droylsden; and workmen, walking three abreast, from the dye-works, bleachworks and Clayton coal pits.
It was almost two years before the church was completed and licensed for Divine worship. The new St. Barnabas' was opened on Easter Day, 1839, and in the following October the then Bishop of Chester. Dr. John Bird Sumner, consecrated the place during a service at which the collection raised amounted to £56 - a formidable sum in those days.
According to the architect's plan, the pew rents would have amounted to £230 a year, but in 1844 they yielded only £70, of which £16 was paid to the churchwardens for incidental expenses. In 1845 this £16 was increased by a further 20 per cent from the revenue from pew rents to help to meet an annual deficit of £26.5s. in the incidental expenses account.
The church early became a factor in the social life of the parish, for the first baptism took place there on March 21, 1839, the child being Elizabeth Bradbury, daughter of John and Betty Bradbury. The first burial - on October 9, 1839 - was also that of a child, Thomas Hesford, who was two years and nine months old when he died. Indeed, of the first 100 burials at St. Barnabas', no fewer than 76 were of persons under 21 - most of them were under ten.
Apparently the clergy had actually been accustomed to digging the graves themselves until 1944, when a gravedigger from Gorton Cemetery was employed for the purpose. Four years later, burials ceased at St. Barnabas' churchyard under the Burial Grounds Order of that year, the last funeral to take place being that of Elizabeth Ann Walters, aged 71, on October 27, 1948.
Not until 1840 was the church licensed for the solemnisation of matrimony. The first couple to be married there were Job Hartley, a carter, and Ann Buckley, whose wedding day was on February 23, 1841. Until 1844. when Openshaw was constituted an ecclesiastical parish, the incumbent was styled the perpetual curate, and although in 1847 Openshaw was included in the new separate diocese of Manchester, it was not until March, 1864, that the living became a rectory under the Manchester Parish Division Act of 1850.
As the population of Openshaw increased, it was found necessary in 1879 to build the "Tin Tabernacle", which still stands opposite St. Clement's Church. This tabernacle, originally a mission church of St. Barnabas', and dedicated to St. Luke, was intended to serve those who lived some distance beyond the canal.
Water was laid on in the church in 1881, and to mark the jubilee of the building, the side galleries were removed - which made the interior of the church much lighter - and the choir gallery renovated by substituting open pitchpine benches for the old pews at each side.
Dry rot, which had attached the church many times, was found in 1948 in the main beam of the roof above the gallery. That was repaired, but in October, 1959, just after it had been decided to spend some £500 on further repairs, evidence of dry rot was again discovered. Inquiries were ordered and the building was found to be so affected by both dry rot and wet rot as to be unsafe.
One of the most rewarding chapters in the history of St. Barnabas' is that of the Sunday school and the church day school. As has already been said, the Sunday school came into existence before the church itself and the existence also of a day school so long ago is a forceful reminder of the keen interest which the Church took in education long before it became compulsory.
Many evangelistic campaigns have been held at St. Barnabas', but oddly enough information about them is lacking except in two cases. In April. 1947, a campaign was led by Capt. McKee of the Church Army, and on April 19 a social evening was the means of introducing him to the parishioners.
The work of the old church came abruptly to an end in November, 1959, when extensive damage by dry and wet rot was discovered. The Rector and the Churchwardens, Mr. T. Penketh and Mr. C. Manstan, consulted with the Archdeacon of Manchester. and, after talks with the Parochial Church Council, it was decided to demolish the old church and build a new one, as the cost of restoration would have been too great. Services were held in the Parish Hall, and for just over two years that became to all intents and purposes the Parish Church.
After the old church had been pulled down, work on the new structure began in the early part of 1961. An Appeal Fund had been launched in the February of 1960, based mainly on a weekly collection among the houses of the parish. Nearly two hundred collectors went round each week for two years, collecting from the parishioners. Of the 2,880 houses in the parish, about 2,000 subscribed.
The main bulk of the money, however, came from the people of the parish. When the appeal closed, after two years, the sum of £21,850 had been raised for a new' church.
The foundation stone was laid on St. Barnabas' Day. June 11, 1961, by the Archdeacon of Manchester, the Venerable Arthur Selwyn Bean.
The church was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend William Derrick Lindsay Greer, D.D., on March 3. 1962. Being built on consecrated ground, the building was already consecrated.
The first services were held the next day, Quinquagesima Sunday, March 4.
But when all is said and done, only the outward and visible signs of church life can be described. Who shall gauge the extent of the spiritual influence which this church has exerted on those who have worshipped there? Clearly no historian can, however close his association with its activities; only He Who has motivated its affairs from the very beginning and to Whose honour and glory the congregation now opens a new chapter in its history.
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