A video tour exploring the history of St Mary's in Nether Alderley

The Church of St Mary, Nether Alderley

The Church of St Mary – where bodysnatchers did their worst - Credit: James Balme

Cheshire Life's history man on the trail of past times in Nether Alderley.

The affluent Cheshire village of Alderley Edge is a beautiful place in its own right but I wonder how many people are aware that very close to Nether Alderley Mill, down a quiet country lane known as Church Lane there is a history story dating back to at least the early 14th century.

Down this lane there is a fascinating time capsule telling the story of feuds, the lives of the Stanley family throughout medieval times and beyond, as well as a hideous crime carried out in the early 19th century. 

In the Domesday book of 1086 Alderley is mentioned as ‘Aldredeli’. By 1327, in the time of Edward III (also known as Edward of Windsor), the name had changed to ‘Alderlegh’ 

As we reach the end of Church Lane we come across a rare former schoolhouse built in 1628 by Mr Hugh Shaw. The building stands in the grounds of St Mary’s Church, known as St Lawrence’s in medieval times and is still used by the community. But all has not been peace and sociability here with conflicts and disputes throughout the centuries.

Indeed in the 18th century, one such dispute boiled over when the vicar fell out with the churchwardens resulting in a fit of temper and the destruction of ancient documents. One parishioner was heard to mutter that it was a really sorry state of affairs.  

The most notable of conflicts at St Mary's, however, was between the Stanleys of Alderley and the Fittons of nearby Gawsworth. In 1598 a feud was to break out between the two families in a dispute over space within the church.

Most Read

A member of the Stanley family wrote that on the Feast of St Matthias the Apostle, being 24th February, his chapel was ‘cut down’ during the night.

A row was to erupt with Sir Edward Fitton, so fierce that the Stanley family stated that Sir Edward truly deserved his reputation as the Fighting Fitton. Eventually, the dispute was settled when it was agreed the Fittons would use the ground floor while Stanley’s held the upper floor. 

In 1821, while digging in the churchyard a 14th century stone font was found, believed to have been buried to protect it during unrest at the end of the English Civil War and the trial and execution of King Charles I. The font was fully restored and returned to use in St Mary’s in 1924. 

In1830 the corpses of two women were stolen from the churchyard by body snatchers. One of the women was from Great Warford while the other came from nearby Stockport.

When the perpetrators were brought to trial it was found that the 1830 statute book made no allowance for body snatching and therefore was not a crime. However, the two perpetrators were found guilty of stealing wedding rings from the bodies and duly imprisoned.   

Things to look out for
The Old Schoolhouse built in 1628 
The stone mausoleum of the Stanley family built in 1909  
Ancient Yew tree, over 1,000 years old 
Fourteenth-century stone tower of St Mary’s church 

My film, A Tale of two Saints, shot at Nether Alderley, can be viewed for free with many other local history films by visiting my channel, youtube.com/Tvpresenter4history 

READ MORE: 6 great walks near Alderley Edge

For more videos exploring the history of Cheshire go the TVPresenter4History Youtube channel

Or you can keep up to date with James’ latest travel at facebook.com/historymancheshirelife 

Comments powered by Disqus