Around the year 1829 the vicar of St. Mary's in Todmorden, the Reverend Joseph Cowell, proposed that the church should be either rebuilt or enlarged at its present site. Another proposal was that it should be removed to another site in the town and a completely new church be built.

A new church was the accepted proposal and was to be built on the site of the new vicarage and cemetery, which had already been erected on land given by Samuel Greenwood of Stones. Lewis Vulliamy from London was the architect. The corner stone was laid at Whitsuntide on 29 June 1830 amidst great celebrations. A procession was led from the old churchyard to the new and many crowds of people had gathered to hear the speeches by the various dignitaries and watch the stone being laid.

The money for the building costs of the new church came from the Million Pound Act. This was an act which had been passed in 1820 after a survey had shown that no new churches had been built since the reign of Queen Anne. £1 million was allocated for new churches to be built in industrial areas for the middle and lower classes and the money was found from the indemnity money paid by the French after the Napoleonic Wars. They were built to rigid budgets and were very plain.

Building progressed rapidly and the new church, which came to be known as Christ Church, was opened on 15 April 1832. The Rev. Joseph Cowell was the vicar and had been the main instigator and driving force for the new church, a fact that he later came to regret.

There was a great division amongst the population of Todmorden and many thought that the new church had been built for the benefit of the rich and the clergy. One family in particular, great church goers, when asked why they didn't attend the new church, replied:


"You have not built yon church for Todmorden and Walsden folk, but for

the rich and those who live up in Harley-Wood"

Maybe they were thinking of the terms of the Million Pound Act.

Pews had been taken from the old church to put in the new and the last thing to go was the organ. It was acts like this that so annoyed and upset the people and they looked upon them as a desecration of the church. When the organ was removed from the old church it had to be renovated before it was thought suitable to grace a brand new church. The cost was £85 and the re-opening took place at Christ Church on Sunday April 5th 1835. There was a grand concert and the singers were Miss Sykes, Mr. Tom Parker, tenor, and Mr. Womersley, bass. They were paid one guinea each, whilst the organist, Mr. William Greenwood, was paid 2 guineas.

This was Miss Sykes' first public appearance and she was later to go on to great fame as Mrs. Sunderland the "Yorkshire Queen of Song". Queen Victoria and Prince Albert once personally complimented her on her success and outstanding ability as a singer.

In 1835 the rents from the seats were estimated to fetch the vicar £41.7.6d a year.

In 1836 a three-day bazaar was held in a marquee in front of the vicarage to raise funds for the installation of a new clock and bell in the tower. It raised in total over £474, which was £115 more than was needed.

By 1844 this sum had made £44 in interest and this was paid to the treasurer of the National School fund. The clock cost £99 and was made by Mr. Taylor and the bell cost £130 and was made by Mears of London.

Rev. Cowell, on hearing and seeing how the new church had split the townsfolk, was heard to comment that he acknowledged that it was the greatest mistake of his life, and that he wouldn't rest until he had restored the old church and had it reopened for worship again. In 1840 he was the head of a petition delivered to the vicar of St. Chad's, Rochdale, to try and make Christ Church into the parish church of Todmorden and to reopen St. Mary's. This would make them separate from St. Chad's, which would no longer be the parish church. It was argued that Todmorden had grown to a population of 10,000 and they could pay for the upkeep of both their churches. Todmorden also paid dues to St. Chad's and thought it was time that this stopped. The signatures of the men present at this petition were:

Joseph Cowell, Incumbent

John Crossley, Scaitcliffe

James Taylor, Todmorden Hall

William Greenwood, Watty Place

James Greenwood, Hare-hill

John Buckley, Ridge-Foot

James Fielden, Dobroyd

H.G. Mitchell

W. Scholfield

James Fielden

Henry Buckley

John Ratcliffe

William Sagar

H. Heyworth

Thomas Thomas


The Reverend Cowell did not see his dream come to fruition as he died in 1846, but he was the first to plant the seeds of an idea, which would come to be a reality twenty years hence.

In 1846 Rev John Edwards took over the post as vicar. He was a senior curate at St. Chad's, Rochdale and a bachelor. This being so, his mother looked after him when he took the living at Todmorden and saw to his domestic arrangements until his marriage later in 1846 to Louisa, the daughter of Dr. Molesworth, his previous employer.

It was unfortunate that Rev Edwards had a speech impediment, as it was possibly one of the causes of the dwindling congregation that took place during his incumbency. It was a very unhappy state of affairs and to try and remedy this he appointed two or three curates and things improved a little.

He served Todmorden until 1864 when ill health forced him to retire. He died on 16th April 1864 at Ashburton House, Bedford, at the early age of 47. His son, Walter Molesworth Edwards, was involved in a disaster at sea which he was lucky enough to survive. On 11th. January 1866 the steamship "London", which was sailing from London to Melbourne, sank, claiming the lives of about 270. Sixteen of the crew were saved, Walter being amongst them.

Louisa Edwards, the widow of the Rev. Edwards, later wrote a diary of a visit she made to India in 1883. At the time of her visit, her sons, Lionel Edwards and Guilford
Lindsey Edwards, were engineers engaged on railway construction at and near Habrah and Dum Dum in Bengal, and at Gauri Bazar, Gorakhpur, respectively. Her brother, Guilford Lindsey Molesworth (K.C.I.E. 1888), was Consulting Engineer to the Government of India for State Railways. The diaries are illustrated with water-colour and other sketches, maps, plans, and photographs. The diary is held at the British Library, details of which can be seen HERE. (information supplied by Alan Longbottom)

An account by John Travis written in the 1860's tells the story of the pulpits and other items in the church.

"There was once a tier of three handsome pulpits, with a grand sounding board over the highest of the; those had been removed and something commoner than oak substituted, being placed in somewhat different positions. The oak handrail and handsome cast-iron banisters had been removed, which formerly went round the communion space, and new deal rails were put in their places. The parson wanted things more open and common, he having various movements to go through in those places, which had to be witnessed in order to have the desired effect upon the worshippers. The old sacred iron-work was sent to the foundry to be melted down and cast into profane machinery or other things; and the late Mr. John Horsfall of Roomfield Lane purchased an oak ecclesiastical pulpit, which he presented for use in the New Methodist Chapel."

The next vicar for the Todmorden churches was Rev. Plow, who, on Sunday 12th August 1866, preached his first service. Little was he to know of the tragic events that were to take place in 1868 and continue to be remembered to this day.


During the Rev Plow's time as vicar it was discovered that Christ Church had never had the legal rights passed over from St. Mary's for marriages and baptisms. So possibly this was another cause for the rift between the two sets of supporters of the two churches. Finding out that they were not legally married must have been quite a shock. The Rochdale Vicarage Bill resolved it in 1866, and it also made Todmorden a parish in its own right with Christ Church as the parish church. St. Mary's was reopened as a chapel of ease. The wish of the Reverend Cowell was realised.


The vicarage and church about 1868

please click image to enlarge


The basic facts are that MILES WEATHERILL was courting a servant at the vicarage called Sarah Bell. Sarah had gone home to York and Miles had followed her, where he learned that another housemaid by the name of Jane Smith had been causing mischief between the sweethearts. He returned to the vicarage, killed Jane and also injured the vicar, Rev. Plow, and his wife. The vicar died from his injuries and Miles was sentenced to death and hanged.

The vicarage today


The congregations of both St. Mary's and Christ Church held a meeting in August of 1868 and decided that a stained glass window should be placed in the east end of Christ Church in memory of Rev. Plow.

After this terrible event it fell to the Rev. Molesworth of Bedford to try and bring the church back to a more normal situation. He was the son of Dr. Molesworth, vicar of Rochdale, and he was appointed on the 4th April 1868. He tried very hard to patch up the differences between the old and new churches, but he was insistent that Christ Church should be the recognised parish church. St. Mary's wasn't working as a chapel of ease and various solutions, including one of making two new parishes, were thought of to help the situation. None of them proved satisfactory and the Reverend Molesworth resigned in September of 1875 to take the post at the rectory of Washington in Durham, leaving Todmorden once again in need of a new vicar.

In November 1875 the church was reopened after being closed for 2 months for painting and repair. A new organ had also been installed, built by Messrs. Gray & Davison of London and it was used for the first time on this occasion.

The new incumbent was the Rev William Augustus Conway. He was a native of West Derby and the vicar of St. James, Heywood, and had been recommended by the Rev. Molesworth. He took the post in January of 1876 and took his first service on March 1st which was Ash Wednesday. His induction took place on March 4th and the Rev. Canon Raines, the vicar of Milnrow, led the service. On the 12th September 1877 Rev. Conway had the pleasure of taking the service when his daughter, Miss Marian Augusta Salisbury Conway, married Mr. T Howarth Ormerod of Ridgefoot House. He died in Blackpool on 23rd September 1883 aged 62 and was buried at Christ Church, Todmorden on 27th September. By all accounts he was a large and powerful man, but for some reason, was known locally as "Little Billy". His daughter Marie Louise died in 1882 and there is a memorial plaque inside the church to her memory. His wife, Anna Marie, lived on to the age of 85 and died in 1902 being buried alongside her husband.


Photograph by kind permission of Richard Jeffery

(Please click photo to enlarge)


Marie Louise Salusbury Conway

second daughter of the Rev. William Augustus Conway and Anna Maria his wife who died March 2nd 1882 aged 30 years

Erected by her loving mother.

The next vicar of Todmorden was EDWARD RUSSELL.

Edward Russell was born in Dorking, Surrey, in 1843, the third child and eldest son of Edward James Richard Russell and his wife Eliza Browne. He married Mary Georgiana Baron at Heywood in 1875 and they had 9 children, 6 of them born in Todmorden.


He studied at St. Mary Hall Oxford, gaining a B.A. (1st. class Theol.Sch.) in 1870 and M.A. in 1875. He was made a Deacon in 1870 and ordained Priest in 1871. He was appointed as Vicar of Todmorden in 1883 and served that community for the next 27 years. He was forced to resign his duties due to failing health in 1910.

Photograph of Canon Edward James Russell

by kind permission of Richard Jeffery


A full transcription appears beneath the enlarged photograph, kindly supplied by Richard Jeffery

(Please click to enlarge)

In March of the following year Canon Russell died. He is buried at St. Annes-on-Sea in Lancashire. The congregation of St. Mary's and Christ Church erected a tablet in Christ Church to his memory.

One of the more enjoyable times of his incumbency must have been the arrival of the peal of bells at Christ Church, a gift from Hannah Howarth in memory of her siblings. He is shown here, 4th from left, when the bells were delivered. His name is engraved on the number 7 bell for posterity.

The peal of 8 bells arriving at the church in 1897

Grateful thanks to Roger Birch for the photograph

The Bells of Christ Church
Hannah Howarth was born at the Royal George Inn, Todmorden, along with her siblings George, James, Sarah and Mary. The family was associated with this Inn and the Golden Lion for many years. They were thoroughly ordinary people and no-one went away from the Golden Lion discontented or dissatisfied. On 1st. May 1884 they retired and went to live at Vale House where they lived as a happy filial family. George died in 1885, brother James in 1888 and sister Mary King in 1888. Hannah decided to donate a peal of 8 bells to Christ Church in memory of her deceased siblings.

Miss Hannah Howarth


Extracts from the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge

Almanac for 1898

On Saturday, June 19th. 1897, there was a dedication service on account of these handsome gifts, and as the Sunday School Whitsuntide treat was fixed for the same day, the events were combined, the scholars attending the dedication service before repairing to the field at Dobroyd Castle, (which Mrs. John Fielden once more kindly placed at their disposal), for their games. Soon after 2 o'clock a procession was formed at the Parish Church, headed by the school banner and the Todmorden Brass Band, which marched as far as Bridge End, Shade, and then back to the church; at Shade, the scholars attending the Branch School joined, making a procession which was watched with interest.

There was a good congregation in the church to witness the dedication the close of the service the ringers from St. Peters Church Walsden (conducted by Mr. C.W.Lord) rung the first peal; subsequently the Unitarian Church ringers (conductor Mr. J.W.Greenwood) rang a peal, the ringing being continued for about 2 hours, and the bells proved very sweet-toned.......

Miss Howarth's eleven sweet-sounding bells were founded by Messrs. Taylor of Loughborough, and are supplementary to the old bell, which has done duty for 61 years. In the ringing room there is an arrangement whereby tunes can be played on the bells, and Todmorden will often hear their grand music tinkling and booming in the air.

Generous Miss Howarth completed her day's work by standing a nice supper to several and sundry (122 in all) at the restaurant of Mr. Alfred King, Gandy Bridge, Todmorden. There was the vicar in his humorous vein showing that a happy Christian can laugh better than an unhappy un-Christian! The Archdeacon was quite poetic, and compared the sound of bells to the song of birds. And there were other toasts and responses, and God Save the Queen! and all the rest of it, and Todmorden entered into its annals another list of generous friends, and one more important and never-to-be-forgotten day.



Around the rim of them are the words:

1.   To God the Father

2.   To God the Son

3.   To God the Spirit

4.   Three in One

5.   Be honour, praise

6.   And Glory given

7.   By all in Earth

8.   And all in Heaven

The other three bear Latin inscriptions. Bell number 8 also sets forth:

"this peal of eleven bells was presented to Todmorden Parish Church by Miss Hannah Howarth, of Brocklyn House, in memory of her brothers and sisters deceased, in the year of our Lord 1897, being the sixtieth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria."

Bell number seven bears the name of Edward J. Russell, MA., vicar; Arthur S. Roberts, MA., assistant priest; Samuel Fielden JP., and W.A. Sutcliffe, wardens, Caleb Hoyle, first Mayor of Todmorden.

The following were the bell ringers:

Treble....Mr. Chas. Barker

No.2......Mr. John Baumforth

No.3......Mr. James Richards

No.4......Mr. Heyworth Barker

No.5......Mr. John Kay

No.6......Mr. Thomas Greenwood

No.7......Mr. Willie Greenwood

Tenor....Mr. John Crowther



Extract from "Concerning Todmorden Parish" by C.G. Ramshaw


"... the ringers, along with Canon Russell, who had just looked in, had an alarming experience a couple of years after the introduction of the bells. One of the best rings they had thus far accomplished was almost at an end, when the rope of the big tenor bell broke. The ringers immediately stopped, but the big bell went on, the rope cracking up and down with a report like a pistol. It was naturally feared someone might be caught in it; no corner of the belfry seemed safe. Then the long iron gas pendant was caught. It was only a short struggle. The rope was victorious, and in the darkness which prevailed, rope and pipe together swung dangerously. Those present trembled for the window, for of course they could see nothing. Fortunately, however, the sweep of the bell wheel soon subsided, and the incident closed without more serious mischief..."

"... In the bell chamber are some interesting commemorative tablets, The first to be placed there was that of the change ringers who visited Todmorden for the purpose of ringing a peal on the new bells a while after dedication. It is as follows:


Lancashire Association Rossendale Branch.


On Saturday , January 22nd, 1898, in three hours and four minutes, at the Parish Church, Cox's six-part peal of grandsire triples—the first peal upon the bells, which were founded and placed in the tower in 1897 to commemorate the sixtieth year of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

F. Howorth
J. Shepherd
J.H. Brown
W. Law
H. Whitworth
W. Ashworth
J.E. Standring
J. Jackson

Changes, 540; conducted by John Shepherd.

Edward J. Russell. Vicar.

William Albert Sutcliffe and Samuel Fielden, Churchwardens.


The other, a marble tablet with letters inlaid with lead, is as will be perceived from the following copy, still more interesting:

On Saturday. March 21st, 1903, a peal of grandsire triples of 5,040 changes, John Holt's ten-part was rung in this tower in three hours 14 minutes, being the first peal completed by the ringers of this church

Treble, Charles Barker

No. 2, James Richards

No. 3, James Whitehead

No. 4, Heyworth Barker

No. 5, John Edward Rowland

No. 6, Luke Suthers

No. 7. William Crabtree

Tenor, John Crowther.

Conductor, James Richards

Steeple-keeper, William Greenwood

People's Warden, John Barker

Vicar's Warden, William Albert Sutcliffe

Vicar, Canon Russell, MA

Erected by W. Crowther, clerk


When Christ Church closed in 1992 the peal of eight bells was transferred to Towcester in Northamptonshire and made up their peal to twelve. These eight bells are historically significant as they are one of Taylors' early true-harmonic peals. The story of their life after leaving Todmorden for Towcester can be read HERE.   So part of Christ Church lives on in another county and it's bells continue to be heard over the town of Towcester on a Sunday morning, still calling parishioners to worship.

In 1886 a new chancel and pews on the nave were installed. The total cost was £1,800. In July of 1892, burglars stole some cloths, which were used for Communion service, and they were valued at more than £40. It seems that stealing from the church isn't such a new phenomenon as we think.


In 2004, a private buyer bought the church, saving it from either demolition or development. It is being lovingly converted into a home, and although the plans may take 10 years to reach fruition, it is already taking shape. The body of the church will remain void, with the lovely stained glass windows and mosaics left intact. We wish the couple luck in their venture.

Sadly, vandals gained entry during its empty years and cut off the heads on the frieze depicting the Last Supper that graced the wall behind the alter.


Please click on the photo for an enlargement and transcription or description. These may take a while to download.





Memorial to Thomas Ramsbottom
Memorial to Thomas Eastwood Sutcliffe
Memorial to Will Lord of Langfield House




Memorial to the Taylor family of Todmorden Hall
The pulpit 
The view looking to the front of the church




The view towards the front of the church
The front of the church
The view to the rear of the church




The aisle
The font

The Burial Ground

Much of the graveyard is kept mown, but with some gravestones in a dangerous condition, it is difficult to maintain any sort of order. Parts are very difficult to access, although valiant attempts are made to keep it under control, and some of the graves are neat and tidy.


The Sexton's book containing details of the occupants of most of the graves (but not all) has been transcribed, often with more details than the memorial inscription. Some missing graves have recently come to light, which do not appear in the Sexton's book.

All the gravestones have been transcribed, thanks to the Todmorden Antiquarians. Many of the gravestones have photos.

These can be seen by clicking the links below:



ROWS 1 TO 15


ROWS 16 TO 34


ROWS 35 TO 49


ROWS 50 TO 69


ROWS 70 TO 84




The church has been closed to the public for several years. The photograph is owned by Richard Jeffery who has generously given his permission for it to be used on our site.

(Please click on the image for an enlargement.)




Harry Allister

William c Allister

Robert Barker

John Albert Barker

Will Barnes

John Blackwell

James W Crowther

William Claxton

John W Crossley

Willie Cockroft

Albert Dean

Fred Dawson

John W Eastwood

Harold Ellison

John W Ellison

John W Firth

Alick Gaukroger

Harold Greenwood

Fred Greenwood

Walter Greenwood

Henry Greenwood

Harry Helliwell

James Holdroyd

Walter Jackson

James Laycock

William Mitchell

James Mitchell

Robert Newell

Tom Close Naylor

William Ormerod

John Phillips

John W Phillips

Leonard Pilling

Joseph Potts

Walter Parkinson

George W Roberts

Frank Simpson

George D Stansfield

J W Sunderland

Norman Sutcliffe

Percy Smallwood

Thomas Skelton

Fred Smith

Fred Taylor

William Walton

John H Wadsworth


Eternal rest give to them O Lord and Thy eternal light shine upon them