The History of Albion URC
Albion United Reformed Church is a Gothic style grade II* listed building erected in 1895.
Albion Church began its ‘Independent’ worship around the year 1780 in a house in Church Street, moving to a room in Oldham's factory, Peaceable Street (now Fleet Street) in 1793, but it failed after a few years. However, in 1815 an old room in Crickets Lane was used for worship. Amongst the worshippers was a Mary Smith who later married Dr. Robert Moffat whom she joined in South Africa and their daughter married David Livingstone.
In April 1817 a Refuge Chapel was opened on Penny Meadow and the following year Jonathan Sutcliffe commenced his ministry lasting 33 years. Four years later a Sunday School was added which by 1863 was replaced by a new building on Penny Meadow, substantial financial contributions coming from Hugh Mason, a local Mill owner. By 1869 this had become a Day School under the headship of Abraham Park who remained for 50 years.
The school closed in 1926. The Refuge Chapel became too small for its increased parishioners and in 1834 purchased a number of nearby cottages which, when rebuilt was named Albion Chapel. It was here, in 1837, that the first Dissenting place of worship in the United Kingdom performed a wedding ceremony, the Act only just becoming law. By 1889 the Albion Chapel on Penny Meadow again became too small, its use being better served as an extension for the Day School, but a new site for the Chapel needed to be found.
The Earl of Stamford who owned large areas of land in and around Ashton had refused an extension to Albion Chapel’s building on Penny Meadow stating “no dissenting chapel will ever be built on my land”. However, Albion’s magazine editor, a Mr. D.F. Howorth, was the proprietor of a long established private school which occupied an ideal site for the new Chapel just a few hundred yards away from the Parish Church and it was agreed to purchase this land and erect a new Chapel.
The architect chosen was Mr. John Brooke, who had been responsible for the restoration of Ashton Parish Church just a few years before.
The Gothic design of John Brooke ARIBA is in every respect the rich man’s Dissent overtaking the Anglican – Albion was clear-eyed about it and the following decision was taken, “In speaking of the contemplated sanctuary, it is desirable to use the word ‘Church’ in place of ‘Chapel’ in all references thereto…as Nonconformists we ought not use a word, given to our place of worship, signifying a place that is inferior to the Parish Church”.
On completion the Church was said to be the most beautiful Congregational Church building in England, mainly of Gothic design with glorious stained glass designed by Sir. Edward Burne-Jones and installed by Wm. Morris. The entire structure is in stone, the inside, however is red sandstone. The Church is early perpendicular on the orthodox medieval cruciform plan of nave, aisles, transepts, chancel, and seating a thousand. It is a restrained riot of stone screens, Dantzic oak wainscotting, teak and woodblock and encaustic tiled floors, hammer-beam roofs, tracery-filled and angel-finished, the angels in the choir clasping – as they do in Manchester Cathedral – harp and trumpet, cymbals and hand-organ. The Burne Jones windows show the virtues and graces of the Christian character. There is also a magnificent Lewis organ.
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ALBION FELLOWSHIP – HISTORY Hugh Mason
Quite some time ago whilst searching through archives at Manchester Central Library, I came across a letter written by Hugh Mason MP to Mr Bostock (the chemist who wrote so many of the poems relating to Albion and its people). The letter is obviously referring to some refurbishment at Albion Chapel, built 1835. The letter reads:
Dear Mr. Bostock, How I feel so much the need of making our old sanctuary lightsome and wholesome as our own living rooms that I will make a little sacrifice – and I offer to give one third of the entire sum if all the people put together will do the two thirds. Some may say it is extravagant – some will always say so – never mind them.
Now I tell you, I honestly and sincerely believe that more souls will be saved and better preaching done, and certainly better listening, and altogether more happiness and comfort and prosperity got when we have taken away the gloom and darkness and heaviness of God’s House as the spending of a bit of God’s money that I venture to ask my colleagues the deacons to buckle up and shell out. It will be a very great improvement. We shall use less gas I have no doubt one third less and get twice the light and perfect ventilation. We are now set on doing the best work in decorating, plastering and ventilating that has ever done anywhere. We shall let more pews and have better attendance. And the work will last until you and I get to Heaven if we live until we are a hundred. Believe me. Very Truly, HUGH MASON
24th July 1881 - 33 Euston Square, S.W.
The above I think shows Hugh’s sincere Christian commitment and it is therefore perhaps fitting that we take a look at the Mason Memorial Tablet which is now in Albion Church.
The Mason Memorial Tablet, originally placed in Albion’s Old Chapel following the passing of Hugh Mason in 1886, was dedicated at a special service on the 14th March 1887. The service was led by Mr. Hutchinson’s address, when he giving an account of Hugh Mason’s life in connection with the Albion Church. Mr. Harrison and Mr. Park moved and seconded a vote of thanks to Miss Bertha Mason for unveiling the Tablet and their speeches referred to the useful life Hugh had spent in connection with Albion Church and how all its interests had been dear to him, all its organisations for usefulness had been helped by him, and how its members had been stimulated by his stirring words and his liberal gifts. As Mr. A.E. Reyner could not attend he wrote – “Dear as the memory of Mr. Mason must be to all Ashtonians, to the worshippers at Albion Chapel it must be doubly and trebly dear, for to us Mr. Mason was not only eminent as a citizen, but also by his labour, generosity, unflinching courage, and , above all, by his consistent Christian conduct he greatly helped to build up the influence of our religious circle, so we shall also greatly treasure the memory he has left behind.”
The Memorial Tablet was created by the artist Mr. Swynnerton and he gave a description of the symbolic references he had used whilst creating the Tablet:
“The deceased gentleman was first of all a Christian, and the main idea and the most precious part of the Christian religion I took to be the hope of immortality, through the Lord Jesus Christ. In trying to express this, I went back as far as I could to the early Christians, and copied the symbols which they inscribed on their martyr’s grave. One was the monogram used to represent the name of Christ. This symbol was sometimes only rudely scratched on stone over the graves of the martyrs put to death, as they knew, in the early ages of Christianity. There were also the other Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the “First and the Last” mentioned in the Scriptures. Then I put on the tablet the Latin word Resurgam, ‘I shall rise again’ which also gave hope. That was directly over the tomb. The tomb was a representation of the house of the dead, with its doors, and then there was the angel coming on the resurrection morn and opening the door, as if saying, “Arise, thy light is come!” Then below there was a representation of Mr. Hugh Mason, and the inscription, “In memoriam, Hugh Mason, of Groby Hall, Ashton-Under-Lyne, born 30th January 1817, died 2nd February 1886, whose memory is held in love and honour by the members of the Congregation by whom this tablet is erected, Albion chapel, Ashton-Under-Lyne 1886.”