Calveley Church is one of the "secret" churches of Cheshire. No standing on a hill with a steeple to act as a beacon, it needs to be sought down winding country lanes, hidden behind trees, and even when you get there you may wonder for a moment whether this is it a church and not perhaps a farm or farm building.
But, yes, you are there and the cross beam over the porch welcomes, you, The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, as you pass by the nailed oak porch door and through the. studded leather entrance doors, to find yourself in what is indeed a church
You know at once that you are in a warm, friendly place, where people have worshipped through their lives, handing on the baton to their children and so on down the generations. The story is told in the glow of polished wood and the feeling that this is a place that has been cared for by hands that took over from parents' hands, a place where lives have been lived out and watched over.
You would have to, have been around during the first half of the 20th century to remember Calveley Hall, long associated with the leading families, of Cheshire, including the Calveleys, Davenports, Grosvenors and Midwoods.
As with similar Halls, a private Chapel had been associated with Calveley Hall from earliest times. It is by no means certain when, or. where within the Hall, the first chapel was built, but Bagshaw, in his "History and Gazetteer, 1850", refers to today's building, saying that it was first licensed for worship in about 1838, when the Vicar of Acton took the, services
The De Knoop family enlarged and refurbished it in 1911, making use of an old coach house to provide a large room (now the vestry) for the use of the choir and clergy at the west end.
It was at this time that the main body of the church, thought to have once been a threshing barn, was renovated. The plaster was removed from the ceiling to expose the beams, a dado of oak panelling was added throughout, and the piece de resistance was a richly wrought oak screen marking the entrance to the chancel. This has elaborate pilasters and an ornate cornice bearing the words, Laudate Dominum.
The organ was rebuilt by a Mr. Samuel Whiteley and the stained glass windows were installed by Messrs. Powell of Whitefriars, London.
You can imagine how proud Calveley was of its newly refurbished church. Tickets were sold for the grand re-opening, which took place on the 10th, November, 1911, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The organ was played by Samuel Whiteley and the choir sang several anthems.
Calveley Church Choir was well known and regularly sang at other Cheshire churches, Mr. Tom Lupton, the local Funeral Director and Plumber, being the Choirmaster.
Perhaps he was a hard taskmaster. It is interesting to note, in an extract from the Bunbury Parish Magazine of July, 1917 that the choirboys from Calveley went on strike on Whit Sunday.
Fortunately, they were back in their places and singing well for the November re-opening.
Only a few years later, England was at War and Calveley men were among those who joined up and took their places on the Western Front during the Great War. Calveley Hall became a Hospital. Every available room was commandeered and the church, too, was turned into a hospital ward full of wounded soldiers.
When peace returned in 1918, normality returned to the Hall and to the church, which continued to flourish with its excellent choir and a Sunday School of about 80 children.
Throughout its long history as a place of worship services were conducted by the Vicars of Acton, Wettenhall and Bunbury, and the church was financed by the families who lived at Calveley Hall.
Mrs Betty Edge, still living in Calveley at the farm where she was born, Mrs. Joan Cowap, now living in Bunbury, and their friends and families remember the days of their childhood, after the Great War when Calveley Church was the focus for many local events. At that time their Vicar, shared with Wettenhall, was Mr Connolly, who lived in the Vicarage near the end of Calveley Lane (still there but now a private house).
They remember the Sunday School parties held in the Hall Garage, and the summer Sunday School trips to Rhyl, an excited train load of children setting out from Calveley Station.
They remember the garden parties organised by various Vicars' wives, and. the Whitsun procession, when the Sunday School, led by choirboys carrying the banner, paraded from. Mr and Mrs Ravenscroft's house, "The Haven" (now re-named" The Spinney"), along the lane to church for a special service
They particularly remember the annual Sunday School Nativity Play, rehearsed for weeks beforehand, with teachers and mothers busy with costumes to be performed in church at Christmas.
Then came the Second World War. Once again, Calveley men were called away, and once again the Hall was required for War Service, this time to house, evacuees. The family went away. But the people of Calveley made the town children and their teachers as welcome as they could: everyone gave pieces of furniture, clothes or whatever else was needed.
The War ended and the evacuees returned to their homes, but Calveley Hall remained empty, and for almost 10 years the worshippers themselves became responsible for the upkeep of the church and the Vicar of Bunbury for the staffing and services.
In 1947, there was a royal visit, when the King and Queen toured the area, taking in the Railway Station, the Hilbre and Calveley Church.
But the old order was changing. In 1951 the Hall was suffering from dry rot and was no longer habitable. The estate was to be split up. Mr George Foster, of Newcastle under Lyme had bought the buildings with a view to demolishing them.
This was a crisis, as the church also was intended to go. The residents and worshippers of Calveley got together. Rowland Yearsley John Ravenscroft and others of their friends gave donations and organised fund† raising efforts and were able to raise the sum of £500 to buy from Mr. Foster the church and surrounding land. In 1952 the Hall was demolished, but the people of Calveley had secured their church.
They owned, ran and financed it for several years, until it came under the charge of the Diocese and was designated a daughter church of Bunbury
In 1984, major refurbishmentswere again carried out, this time by the Manpower Services, money again being raised for this by worshippers and residents of Calveley, who worked hard, organising many fund raising events.
Work goes on: a new boiler has been installed and plans are currently afoot to install a toilet and to carry out a major overhaul and cleaning of the organ.
Alas, the number of worshippers has dwindled.
Where there was a well trained and famed Church Choir there are now empty choir stalls, except on those rare occasions when a visiting choir, such as Bunbury's, comes to the church. The days of 80 children in the Sunday School and all the liveliness of Sunday School parties, processions and Nativity plays are just a memory. Even the congregation of faithful worshippers grows less and less: there have been as few as four on more than one occasion.
Yet the population of Calveley has grown, particularly in the area round the former Railway Station where the houses of The Chantry have been built.
Perhaps the new Calveley residents have not yet discovered that they have a church. Perhaps it is time to go exploring the lanes ......
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