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3 August 2003

 

 

 

History


The foundation of St.Edward's parish began on 1st April 1872, with the lease of a plot of land in St.John's Street, Hey, to the Rev. Fr. Charles Grymonprez, the then Rector of St.Mary's Oldham. The original church was built as a "Chapel of Ease" for St. Mary's parish in Oldham. The building housed both the school and the chapel and the first Mass was celebrated towards the end of 1872.   In 1875, the status changed, and from a chapel of ease for St. Mary's, St.Edward's became a separate mission with its first rector, Fr. John Ryan.  The presbytery, attached to the school/chapel, was added in January 1884. 

This building continued in use until May 1900, when a new school/chapel was opened in Spring Lane. The St. John Street building  became a Men's Club, then, very briefly, a School for Physical Culture, before being leased to the Air Raid Protection service for 5 years from 1939. It was sold into private ownership in December 1947. The building is currently owned by a Catholic family.

 A larger parcel of land in Springside - now known as Spring Lane - was purchased by Fr. James Hanrahan, but it was Fr Michael J Ryan (who arrived in 1898) who was to see the new school/ chapel built. This new building housed the school on the ground floor, and the chapel on the first floor. The first Mass was celebrated in May 1900.

The presbytery was replaced in 1959, at a staggering cost of 9306.15s.9d.

With the increase in residential building in the Lees area, the population of the parish continued to grow. In 1959, the then parish administrator, Fr. Frances Kilfoyle, first arranged transport for the Catholics of Holts to attend Sunday Masses, and it was he who saw the beginning of work on the chapel of ease at Holts. Sadly, Fr. Gilfoyle did not see the finished chapel of ease, or the modernised school. He died on his 50th birthday, 8 June 1963. The chapel of ease, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, was opened on 25th February 1964 and served the people of Holts until 1991. It was built as a forward planning measure for a larger congregation than was ever realised, and it was difficult to protect an isolated building, which was frequently vandalised.

Whit Sunday 1965 saw the first united service in Lees, when Episcopal permission was given for St.Edward's to take part with children from Sunday Schools of other denominations in the annual "Whit Walks" The procession through the streets ended with a service in Lees Market Place, on the site now occupied by the library. Later that year,  St. Edward's took part for the first time in the Civic Service of Remembrance in Lees Cemetery, a tradition that continues today. In 1966, the parish priest, Fr.John Duddy, hosted a meeting with Rev Harold Buxton, Rev M Arundel (from the Church of England) and Mr. Swales (Non-conformists)  which resulted in an agreement to hold regular meetings to talk about biblical matters etc. The parish has continued to enjoy closer ties with the other denominations in the area, not least on a social level.

The parish continued to grow, and on 2 March 1981, the children and staff from the school, led by the headmaster, the late Frank Maguire, walked from the school in Spring Lane to the long awaited new school, in Rowland Way, almost within sight of the original school/chapel in St. John St. The site is shared with Hey with Zion school, giving both schools the luxury of extended grounds with shared all weather football and grass rugby pitches. The lower floor of the church building then began a new life as the Parish Hall.

There was a pressing need for a new church, not least because the steep stone steps made it difficult for the elderly and infirm to attend Mass. There were various suggestions for the modification of the old building, but these proved impractical.

In 1987, the week  after Fr. Dolan's Silver Jubilee celebrations, there was a fire in the church. Bishop Kelly, on a visit to inspect the damage, gave permission for building of the new church to start, in spite of the lack of funds.

Fr. Dolan's appeal for assistance from anyone with building skills was answered by two parishioners who owned a construction company, plans were drawn, approved by the parish, and building of the present church began.

Photographs of St.John St Chapel and Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel courtesy of The Oldham Chronicle