St James Church & School: early beginnings
Daisy Hill Church and School, created out of the Parish of Westhoughton
As early as the 1840s steps were being taken to subdivide the parish of Westhoughton by creating an Ecclesiastical District out of the southern part, and combining that with a part of the Parish of Atherton. This suggestion was made in the Westhoughton Parish magazine of 1875 (the year of the magazine’s first issue) but the ecclesiastical history of the area goes back further, at least to the 1840’s.
The Vicar of Westhoughton at that time was a man of deep faith and great foresight, the Rev. James Richard Alsop and the town was experiencing hard times with a high proportion of the population receiving poor relief, some people completely destitute, and 240 cotton looms and 285 silk looms idle. Indeed, Westhoughton was described as one of the poorest and most destitute places in the Diocese. Mr. Alsop was well known for his work on behalf of the weavers and for inaugurating schemes for public works in the area. He was especially interested in education and besides giving private lessons to augment his stipend, every night of the week he taught the young men who worked in the mills or down the mines and his wife had classes for women and girls. It was during Mr. Alsop’s incumbency that a school was opened in 1841 at Daisy Hill, financed by Westhoughton Old Chapel (the fore-runner of St. Bartholomew’s Parish Church). This early school stood on the same site as the present (old) school and was used for a number of years as a Day and Sunday School. A new school was opened on the same site early in 1869 when the Rev. Kinton Jacques was Vicar of Westhoughton. Besides being used as a Day and Sunday School it was furnished so that services could be held in it and Bishop Fraser, Bishop of Manchester, preached the opening sermon there a year later, on the 25th August 1870 (the day after he had consecrated the new parish church of Westhoughton). The jubilee of the original foundation was marked by the presentation to the school by Miss Haddock of a silk banner.
The Church works on behalf of the people for better government
The incumbency of Mr. Jacques from 1869 to 1899 saw a period of great growth in Westhoughton parish life but in his early years he had made himself very unpopular by his persistent efforts for better local government. Nothing sums it up better than the song sung in public houses at the time:
“Of its filthy state
There’s been complaints by Parson Jacques
And a few more saints.
Churchwardens and millowners too said,
‘Nowt but a Local Board would do“.
A Local Board, the predecessor of the Westhoughton Urban District Council, was duly established in 1872. Mr Jacques was very much involved with the local community, dealing with matters such as the water supply, sewage disposal, street lighting, besides education and the church life of the area. During his incumbency more than £34,000 was spent on church and school extensions in the area so that by 1875 there were nearly 1,000 pupils in church schools in the parish out of a population of about nine thousand people. It was not only children who benefited: in 1887 there were Missions for the Navvies working on the new railway being cut through Daisy Hill. Besides all this it was Mr. Jacques who helped forward the efforts begun at Daisy Hill which culminated in the building of the church.
Daisy Hill, a quiet little hamlet.
One of the histories of the area describes this southern part of Westhoughton as “the quiet little hamlet of Turner Hill, better known as Daisy Hill”. One hundred and twenty five years ago the hamlet had no church. There was the school, a row of cottages where the New Rock flats now stand, a farm on the present site of the Cricket Club, and no houses on Hindley Road next to or opposite the school; there were scattered farms, cottages at the lower end of St. James Street known as “The Walks”, a row of cottages near Bellhouse known for obvious reasons as “Ivy cottages”, and just over the small bridge near Fine Hoskers was a group of three cottages called “Little Egypt”.